Book Review: “Thirsty Mermaids” by Kat Leyh

Thirsty Mermaids is an adult graphic novel that took me by surprise. When I put this book on hold I was expecting it to be full of cutesy mermaids and silly summer adventures. What I got was much more refreshing. The merpeople in this book come in all shapes and sizes and their motivation to come ashore was not to chase a handsome prince, but to pursue more of a drink that they discovered on a sunken ship — alcohol!  In pursuit of more partying, Pearl and Tooth convince Eez to attempt a difficult spell that allows them to trade their fins for flip flops. The spell successfully gives them legs, but after a night of fun at the bar they find themselves not only hungover but stranded — they don’t know how to undo the spell so they can be merpeople again and return to the sea. With the help and kindness of the Thirsty Mermaid’s bartender, they learn how to navigate the world on land.

This adult graphic novel is a ton of fun to read, and I really enjoyed the fact that the art didn’t involve the cutesy mermaid vibes that I was expecting. The author also did a really good job illustrating the feelings of body dysmorphia in the character Eez, who needs to connect back to their body before they can connect back to their magic to get back home to the sea. I recommend this book if you were a fan of graphic novels like Nimona by Noelle Stevens and the Moonstruck series by Grace Ellis, Kate Leth, Caitlin Quirk, and Clayton Cowles. 

Review by Megan Hultman, Circulation Assistant

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Book Review: “The Tender Bar” by J.R. Moehringer

This critically acclaimed memoir has been on my “to read” pile for years.  The recent news that George Clooney is directing an Oscar-bait adaptation starring Ben Affleck made me finally crack it open.  I devoured it, and I’m truly sad that I didn’t get to it earlier.

At its core, this is a story about a fatherless boy seeking something he feels he’s missing.  JR’s mother is an incredible advocate for her son.  As many such stories go, she works hard to give JR a good life. The bond between mother and son is beautiful.  The extended family with which they live is a vibrant cast of characters – some sane, some cruel, some strong, and some tragically flawed.  One summer, JR’s mom asks her brother, who tends bar at a popular watering hole, to keep an eye on her son.  What begins as a tag-along trip to the beach for a 12-year-old with his uncle’s friends morphs into evenings at the bar as everyone gets to work.  JR immediately connects with these men; they acknowledge him in a way that he craves.  His education at the edge of the tender bar shapes much of his life’s journey.

Any story that features a bar as a major character and role model is going to include some heartache.  JR’s maturation from tween to Ivy-League student to young professional is anchored at the bar.  His concept of manliness and self-worth is so tightly tied to the welcome he receives at the bar that it inevitably impacts relationships and professional prospects.  Yet JR’s story doesn’t moralize about the pitfalls of his lifestyle.  In this memoir, life experiences are formative without judgement. 

If you haven’t already caught this coming of age story, it’s a worthwhile read.  If you prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, check this one out.  I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this film in the near future.  Now’s your chance to be “in the know!”

Review by Development Director Emily Read.

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Book Review: “Witch Hat Atelier” by Kamome Shirahama

Witch Hat Atelier is an eight-volume Japanese manga series about Coco, a young tailor’s daughter who dreams of being a witch. In this series, magic is kept a well-guarded secret that only a select few are allowed to practice. Coco’s dreams become a reality, however, when a master witch comes to town and Coco finds out how magic spells are cast: using symbols drawn on objects and paper. Everything goes wrong however when she copies down symbols from a book about witches she treasured as a child and finds that she has turned her mother into stone. The book destroyed in the spell Coco cast holds the key to undoing her mother’s curse. Now apprenticed to the witch who visited her town, Coco trains to become a witch in order to gain access to a magical library, where she will find the information she needs to save her mother. 

I am on the fourth novel in this series and I have been utterly enchanted by the world the author has built, both in the illustrations and the storytelling. Coco’s tale is full of interesting settings and characters that I am excited to learn more about as the books progress. Coco herself is very sweet and determined and is in general a very likeable main character. I would recommend this series to anyone who also liked The Ancient Magus Bride series or movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Little Witch Academia

 

Review by Megan Hultman, Circulation Assistant.

To request a copy of the first book in the series, click here.

 

Book Review: “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” by George Saunders

George Saunders has been teaching a graduate level course about short stories in Russian literature at Syracuse for twenty years and his new book encapsulates this course. He includes seven stories by four writers (Chekov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Gogol) and then goes into a discussion and afterthought to help us process them and become better readers. Honestly, if I hadn’t put off two weeks of school reading to finish this book, I would just start it over again immediately. I’ve never read anything like this, (though I tend to have that thought every time I finish one of Saunders books).

Saunders explains that the stories he chose are not necessarily each author’s best works but are perfect for discussing different aspects of reading. He writes so accessibly, like the Russian writers themselves but in a completely different voice, that it feels as though you are actually in his class, and I’m certain that it will change the way I read. This book is as much textbook as it is pleasure reading but it doesn’t feel it.

Saunders finishes the book with a discussion of what reading fiction means to him and it’s just so perfect. He frames it in terms of relating to others with the utmost respect and it is such common sense but so beautifully phrased and so unlike the discourse you find on the internet. His final chapter embraces the true joy in not only reading but in letting your guard down and allowing your beliefs to be questioned by constantly learning new information. I can’t wait to reread Lincoln in the Bardo through the lens of these discussions now. (And Fox 8! And 10th of December!)

Review by Sarah Maciejewksi, Children’s Room Staff.

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Book Review: “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V.E. Schwab

Addie LaRue is stuck in a loop. For the pandemic reader, Addie’s loop is a delicious escape from our own daily repetitions. She isn’t tied to her cell phone, the indoors, a demanding family, or a mind-numbing work-from-home job. Addie isn’t tied to anything at all—at least, no thing we would consider real. She has the kind of freedom most people only dream of: the freedom to travel widely, eat delicious food, wear the latest fashions, learn a dozen languages, attend symphonies and exhibitions, and mingle with the great minds of modern history. But, V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a classic be-careful-what-you-wish-for tale, and freedom comes at an extraordinary price.

Discovering the confines of Addie’s curse is what makes this a book worth reading, so I won’t spoil the details. The main character starts with almost nothing—except youth, beauty, and artistic talent—and, over three grueling centuries, she manages to enjoy the finest things in life. Despite the power her curse brings, Addie faces hurdles familiar to any hardy heroine. Without money, family, or reputation, she has to beg, borrow, sell, and steal her way into the upper reaches of society, which seems to be the best place to find food, warmth, and comfort. She has help, but help comes at a price too. Addie prefers to rely on her own wits and willfulness. Ever the optimist, her singular goal is to make a real impact on the world.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is V.E. Schwab’s newest book. The stand-alone novel is a departure from the author’s usual habit of writing series, which include the Shades of Magic series for adults, The Archived series for young adults, and the City of Ghosts series for middle grade readers. 

Read this book if you are interested in how people relate to each other, have a passing interest in art history, or dream of traveling to familiar places in unfamiliar times. Read it for the story more than the writing. Be forewarned: Henry, who we meet in the second act, is little more than a plot device with a sad fatal flaw. You may come away from the fantasy with more questions than answers. But if you’re yearning to go on a journey, meet new people, or commiserate with another lonely heart, this might be the book for you.

Review by Jill Piekut Roy, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

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Book Review: “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart

This is a book that was on almost every “Top Ten” list for last year, and won the 2020 Booker Prize.  I loved it, but I have hesitated to review the book because it is sad, gritty, and difficult. Reading a long book that recounts the many horrors of a poor family splintered by alcoholism may not be the escape you seek right now.  But for me, Douglas Stuart’s book (his first published novel) is well worth the investment.

The story is set in 1980s Glasgow.  At the very beginning, we briefly meet Shuggie Bain as a teenager. We learn he is living alone and scraping by working in a supermarket. The rest of the book then details the long and tragic story of how he got to this place.  It is a simple sequence of events on the surface.  His parents’ marriage fails, and his father (Big Shuggie, a taxi driver) moves his ragingly alcoholic wife (Agnes) and their three children to a poor, dirty neighborhood on the outskirts of Glasgow, a public housing tract surrounded by slag piles and inhabited mostly by large, hardscrabble families of unemployed miners.  Big Shuggie doesn’t look back, and rarely checks in on them.  He has already taken up with another woman.  

Little Shuggie, the baby in the family, seems like a tiny, sad adult. He has a teen-aged sister who has already begun distancing herself from Agnes and her siblings; she escapes by marrying and moving to South Africa.  Shuggie’s brother hangs on to his menial day job (and to Shuggie) for as long as possible but eventually leaves, too.  Shuggie, now a preadolescent, must cope with and care for Agnes.  There are short stretches of hopefulness in their story, but of course, all does not end well.  Agnes always strives to maintains appearances, and to overcome her addiction, but in the end cannot beat it.

Complicating things further is the fact that Shuggie is gay.  He knows he is different. Everyone he encounters notices; they comment — sometimes obliquely, sometimes cruelly — and always with disapproval.  Except for his mother. For all her other flaws (and there are many), she knows who he is and loves him unconditionally.  

The writing is beautiful and relentless. Stuart fills his pages with lots of authentic Glaswegian dialect, and the agonizing and often violent details of the lives of the poor and marginalized. He shares both the humanity and the cruelties of the people at this time and in this place.  Shuggie is a fighter that you will come to adore, a faint bright spot in a lot of darkness.

Review by Roberta Jordan, Outreach and Instruction Librarian

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Book Review: “Landslide” by Susan Conley

In Susan Conley’s latest novel, Landslide, we meet Jill, wife of a fisherman and mother of two teenage boys (or wolves, as Jill refers to them). After a fishing accident leaves her husband injured and hospitalized in Canada, Jill must go it alone with her sons in their small fishing village in Maine. It’s no easy task—seventeen-year-old Charlie is preoccupied with a new girlfriend, and Sam, sixteen, is still reeling from a personal loss, acting out and becoming someone Jill struggles to understand. She tries to mother her boys and support her husband, all while battling doubts about her marriage and the stark realities of what it means to live in an isolated town whose existence is tied to a vanishing way of life.  

Told in spare, poignant, often humorous prose, Landslide is an exploration of motherhood, family, marriage, and the detrimental pressures we put on boys and men to suffer their griefs alone in silence. This novel looks at how the place we are raised—or the place we end up—shapes us into the people we become, for better or worse. Conley also brings awareness to Maine’s dying fishing industry, a theme readers in our community will no doubt recognize and find all too familiar.

 

Review by Shannon Bowring, Technical Services Coordinator.

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Book Review: “Beavers” from the Superpower Field Guide Series by Rachel Poliquin

Beavers (Superpower Field Guide) by Rachel Poliquin is a book that offers an inside look at what makes the ordinary beaver EXTRA-ordinary! Did you know that beavers have unstoppable teeth, paws of power, and a turbocharged superstink?  I didn’t know that either until I read this first book in this four-book (so far) series. Rachel Poliquin introduces the reader to the real world abilities of ordinary beavers through two fictional beaver characters, Elmer and Irma. 

Sounds confusing, but it’s not! This book is loaded with mind-blowing facts about the beaver, including history, anatomy, habitat, and other stunning beaver characteristics. Beavers have their own transportation system! Who knew? This book has it all.  Beavers (Superpower Field Guide) is a richly-illustrated book and is the first in a series that is laugh-out-loud funny, with page-turning facts and lively and endearing characters. The retro-style illustrations by Nicholas John Firth move the story along and add humor that also engages the reader. 

I’ve started the next book in the series, Moles, and the facts are deep, so I’ll keep digging. Look for other books in the series including; Moles, Ostriches and Eels.

Book Review by Katy Dodge, Head of Children’s Services

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Book Review: “Alternative Lives” by Roger D. Skillings

Alternative Lives is the first short story collection by Bath-native Roger D. Skillings. In it, the author reflects on the homes, families, and acquaintances of a fictionalized youth in Long Reach, Maine. The characters, boys and men, are coming of age in the mid-20th century, in a world their elders don’t recognize. They are curious, detached, and moral—with damning exceptions.

The stories share a sense of trouble, mystery, and loss, often fueled by the grown-ups’ gossip around a comfortable family hearth. In “The Agent,” a realtor struggles to evict an aged friend who continues to occupy the mansion he just sold to an up-and-coming capitalist. In “Before the Funeral,” a young boy overhears the ancient secret of his great aunt, deceased after a century in hiding. “The River” is about a poet trapped by an impenetrable belief in his own mind, who falls tragically in love. In each story, time passes, people live and die, and a familiar place is expertly constructed. Out-of-town settings are treacherous and bewildering. In “The Sons of Abolition,” a draft dodger is embarrassed by his bigoted bunkmates at a Mississippi Air Force base. In “They,” the racism of two Mainers in Boston brings tragedy.

Alternative Lives was published in 1974, with six more collections and two novels to follow. Later stories focus on Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the author lived most of his life, beloved by the local arts community. Skillings passed away in Provincetown on January 15, 2020. 

Patten Free Library’s copy of Alternative Lives was recently donated by Skillings’ longtime friend and Morse High School classmate, Malcolm Hamilton. The book is a fascinating reflection of our town in a time of great change.

Book review by Jill Piekut Roy, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian.

To request a copy, click here.

“The Poison Eaters and Other Stories” by Holly Black

This collection of short stories by young adult author Holly Black wasn’t short on anything I look for in her novels. It was gripping, magical, dark, and utterly lovely. Each character draws you in with their unique voice and story, making it hard and exciting to move on from each tale. The tone of each story was distinct enough but also tied in well with the others; it felt curated and thematically consistent, not just a random collection of her works. As a longstanding fan I appreciated seeing some of her earlier work before it fully developed and short stories that tied into some of her previous and future works such as the Modern Faerie Tales series and the “Coldest Girl in Coldtown.”

If you are interested in getting lost in some dark fantasy involving fairies, vampires, and some creatures and curses unnamed, then I recommend picking up this collection. 

Review by Megan Hultman, Circulation Assistant

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To see all our staff reviews, click here.

 

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