Book Review: “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares”

I recently read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares and fell in love with it!  It’s co-authored by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Netflix has been pumping out new series to watch, and Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is one of their recent releases.  I hadn’t watched it yet, but I spotted the book on the YA shelf, so I decided to try it. 

What a fun read!  It starts with Dash finding a red notebook on the shelves of a beloved bookstore.  A mysterious girl wrote a series of riddles and challenges in it.  He is curious and decides to play along.  The book follows Lily and Dash criss-crossing New York, completing dares and getting to know each other by writing in the notebook, passing it back and forth.  I enjoyed their playful banter in the notebook.  I love books that switch between characters’ points of view, and this one has Lily and Dash’s sections alternately written by the two co-authors, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, respectively.  You wonder if they will ever meet and what they will think of each other when they finally meet in person.  Will they like the in-person version, or will they wish they had stayed inside the notebook?

Since I finished the book, I have started watching the Netflix series.  It is different than the book, as it always is, but it has been a fun ride as well.  I highly recommend both as a fun escape from pandemic life.

Review by Amanda Walden, Children’s Room Staff.

To request this title, click here.

Kanopy Movie Review: “I Am Not a Witch” (2017)

I watched this movie as part of our preparations for the Library’s upcoming “Armchair Traveler” Series, which starts later this month.  It is available through Kanopy, the Library’s free video- streaming service. 

This award-winning film — by a Zambian-born, Welsh-raised director named Rungano Nyoni — is set in present day Zambia.  The movie opens as a mini-bus arrives at a local tourist attraction. The people on the bus have paid to come see a crude “pen” filled with witches, all of whom are tethered by long white ribbons.  The women are dressed for their part, but are old and tired; they seem distant and bored.  The tour guide assures the visitors that the ribbons are necessary because it keeps the witches from flying away and killing people. (These women do not look like killers.)   By the time I had taken in what was going on in this little tableau, the scene switched.  This technique continues: the whole film is a series of short, stark, satiric snapshots of the witches and their exploiters. 

We then meet a little girl who ultimately is given no choice but to join this strange coven.  She appears out of nowhere as a local woman is carrying water home from the local water hole. The woman is startled by the sudden presence of the girl, and drops her water container.  Her frustration with the wide-eyed, silent child is palpable, and even when the girl tries to replace the lost water, the woman wants retribution.   This leads to a scene in the local police station, where she accuses the girl of being a witch and demands justice.  There is a vocal crowd outside that adds to the tension you feel for the little girl, who remains silent. She will not admit to being a witch, but cannot defend herself either.  She is ultimately sent to join the other witches; they name her (Shula), and become her advocates and teachers.

From this point on, the child actress who portrays Shula steals the show.  With each little tableau that follows, Shula’s experiences (and facial expressions) reveal the ridiculous exploitation all these women are subjected to by the weirdly backward and corrupt local government.  She enjoys some moments of local celebrity, both humorous and sad.  In the end, you realize that the only real choices presented to her and the other witches are to behave and submit to being labeled and tethered, or to risk the dangers of cutting the ribbon.  (The girl is warned early on that such a choice could result in being turned into a goat and being eaten.)  The movie’s short, tense scenes lead you straight to the point where Shula makes her choice.

There are still real “witch camps” throughout Africa, so even though Nyoni’s movie has dream-like qualities to it, as well as moments of absurd silliness, it’s clear that the film’s message is grounded in a pretty harsh reality.

This is a movie that will definitely keep your attention to the end, even if you can’t quite figure out what’s going on.  It was good enough that I felt compelled to read more about the film when it was over.  And I think it would be worth watching again to pick up more about Nyoni’s intention and the subtle details that I probably missed the first time around.


Review by Roberta Jordan, the Outreach and Instruction Librarian.

To get started using our Kanopy subscription, click here.

“Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love” by Dani Shapiro

In 2016, at age 54, Dani Shapiro’s life took quite a turn. On a whim, she sent in a DNA test kit to a genealogy website.  As it turned out, her father (or the man she identified as such) was not her biological father. Almost miraculously, some friends were able to use genealogy websites to help her identify and reach out to someone who very likely was.  Her biological father was in the twilight of his life, happily married, with kids and grandkids, and never dreamed that he would ever hear from any child resulting from an anonymous sperm donation made when he was a poor medical student at Penn.

Shapiro also learns that she is not biologically related to her half-sister, as she thought she was, and that her biological father was not Jewish. Shapiro was raised an Orthodox Jew, and was taught to take pride in the history of her Eastern European ancestors. To discover she was only half-Jewish was a shock to her foundations, and deeply challenged her sense of self.  At the same time, she admits that the discovery helped her come to peace with the feeling that she had never really fit with her family or her community. “I knew in a place beyond thought that I was seeing the truth — the answer to the unanswerable questions I had been exploring all my life.”   

Both Shapiro’s parents had died before the DNA test, so Shapiro can’t get to the story at its source. She takes the reader on quite an amazing journey of discovery: she digs up as much as she can about her family and her parents’ relationship, about how she was conceived, about her new identity and how it impacts her faith, and about the evolution of medical ethics. She also pursues a relationship with her biological father and family as compassionately and gently as possible. (No spoilers.)  You struggle with her throughout the journey, and of course, you know that there can be no real resolution in the end. 

In the end, the book is not so much about the discovery of her true father’s identity, but the meaning that she makes of everything she learns. She slowly comes to accept a new sense of her heritage, seeing her “family” as a construct of memory, history, biology, and experience.

As an amateur genealogy buff, I found this an engaging and thought-provoking read. I have found a few skeletons in the closet as I construct my own family trees, but I can’t imagine making a discovery like Shapiro’s. I admire how she came to grips with this huge family secret, and the fact that had been kept from her for so many years.  Shapiro has written several other memoirs before this one, and I look forward to reading them as well. 

Review by Roberta Jordan, the Outreach and Instruction Librarian. 

Click here to request a copy. 

To see a list of our staff favorites for 2020, click here


Book Review: “Anxious People” by Frederick Backman

Frederick Backman has a gift.  He is at once an aloof observer and conspiratorial in his commentary, while challenging the status quo as absurd and celebrating life’s mundane moments.  His works are though-provoking, funny, and just a touch melancholic.  Anxious People is no exception.

The story deftly takes the reader to a police interrogation room, an apartment open-house, a tragic event decades in the past, a therapist’s office, and several other locales of various significance.  The central event is a hostage situation after an attempted bank robbery.  The hostages are each interviewed by the police after the perpetrator disappears.   While attempting to glean details about the bank robber’s demeanor, motivation, etc., we learn a lot about the hostages.  Their struggles, losses, insecurities, and outlooks all seem to color their perceptions of the event.  The police officers have some interpersonal issues of their own, and they affect the investigation.  The individual interviews are comical, and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the officers as they grow increasingly exasperated. 

As the reader learns more about the situation, the line between accountability and compassion begins to blur.  The nature of crime becomes difficult to articulate.  Actions that are never accountable to a court of law are exposed as devastating, life-changing tragedies.  Along the way, we also get to witness true love through simple gestures that can so easily become complicated by outside expectations.  

By the end of the book, each character seems to have their own path to redemption for whatever burdens they’ve been carrying.  Hope and forgiveness seem to light the way.  It’s really a wonderful feeling to take from a book as we approach the holiday season and the darkest days in our calendar year.  This was one of my favorite reads this year and I hope you enjoy it, too!

Book review by Emily Read, Development Director

To request a copy, click here.  

Do you want to share your favorite book of the year?  Join us on Wednesday, December 9 for “Weekly on Wednesdays,” in which anyone can share a two-minute book talk on their favorite read(s) of 2020.  Click here for the details.  

Book Review: “The Once and Future Witches” by Alix E. Harrow

I loved this book! It was the second selection for a book group I recently joined called “The Coven.” I was not optimistic when I realized that ALL of the titles we would read would most likely be in the SciFi/Fantasy genre, and I struggled with this book for the first 75 pages or so. I was encouraged by my girlfriends to keep going, and I am so glad I did!  I soon came to the point where I couldn’t put it down.

The storytelling is elegant and “magical,” the characters are well developed and distinct, each having their own backstory in addition to the experiences they share as siblings, co-conspirators, and lovers. There is enough true history in the story to make it relatable and recognizable, but the author has also taken great liberties to invent an imaginary world. Harrow refers to herself as “a professional liar” and relies on the old adage that “the best lies are the ones that are based on the truth.”  This feminist adventure story is a fierce and beautiful homage to the power of women in all their forms, including the three female archetypes represented by the Eastwood sisters, the mother, the maiden, and the crone.

Here’s a book summary from Goodreads:

“In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive. There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.”

Review by Leslie Mortimer, Adult Services Manager.

Click here to request a copy. 


Book Review: “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

At the beginning of this novel, Jack and Mabel are preparing for their first winter on their new homestead in Alaska in 1920. Still reeling from the loss of their baby, the couple struggles to connect with one another amid the brutal wilderness. On the night of the first snowfall, Jack and Mabel set aside their grief and build a girl made out of snow.

The next morning, their creation is gone, but they spot a young girl running through the trees. The child, who calls herself Faina, hunts with a red fox and survives by herself in the woods. As the novel progresses, the couple comes to see Faina as their own daughter, even though she only stays with them for the winter and disappears into the mountains when the snow begins to melt each spring. Mabel is convinced Faina is not a real girl at all but a character straight out of the books she read as a child.

This novel is based on Russian fairy tales and is filled with magical elements, yet Ivey manages to make the story believable through a command of character and sensory detail. The characters in this novel are vibrant, empathetic, and deeply human. When I read Ivey’s descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness, I can taste snow on my tongue, feel my toes grow numb with cold, smell wood-smoke wafting out of a cozy log cabin. Because of these vivid details, the reader feels as deeply rooted to the landscape as Jack, Mabel, and Faina. This is a great book to read if you want to curl up and lose yourself in another world that feels at once familiar and surreal.

Review by Shannon Bowring, Tech Services Coordinator 

Click here to request a copy. 

Book Review: “The Lions of Fifth Avenue” by Fiona Davis

In 1913, Laura Lyons lived in the New York Public Library’s superintendent’s apartment with her husband and two children.  While her husband managed all of the caretaking duties of the busy and awe-inspiring library, Laura raised her children and wrote an amusing column for the library’s newsletter about her family’s experience living in the famous building.  Vassar educated, Laura begins to dream of more for herself and applies to the Columbia Journalism School.  Soon, she is a student juggling a full course-load in addition to navigating the demands and prejudices of early twentieth-century women while also supporting her husband’s efforts to write the great-American novel in his precious spare time.

In 1993, Sadie Donovan holds her dream job as the curator of the New York Public Library’s famous Berg Collection.  As she prepares for a huge new exhibit, her story begins to weave with that of her grandmother, the famous feminist essayist Laura Lyons.  What unfolds is a tale of self-discovery, mystery, and chafing against expectations for both women.  It’s an enjoyable read that feels timely given everyone’s current adjustment to making our homes function as workplace, school, canteen, and place of respite and rest.  Living in a New York City Public Library employee apartment seems like the ultimate work from home opportunity!  

Fans of historical fiction, women’s history, family dynamics, romance, and whodunits will find something to like in this book.  Find yourself a comfy chair and allow yourself to be transported to NYC of yesteryear and contemporary times.  

Review by Emily Read, Development Director

Click here to request a copy. 

Book Review: “Nat Turner” by Kyle Baker

Nat Turner by Kyle Baker was an incredibly emotional and eye-opening experience. It is the true story of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion, which took place in Southhampton County, Virginia in 1831.  Told in graphic novel format, Baker uses vivid, wordless images alongside excerpts of Turner’s confession to convey the brutalities of slavery and the details of Turner’s life story, which ended with his execution for leading the bloody slave revolt.  Library Journal gave this book a starred review, calling it “suspenseful and violent.”  

Baker’s retelling is historically  accurate; he lets readers come to their own conclusions about whether Turner was a hero or a monster.  Baker’s approach to the material helped me understand more fully the atrocities of slavery, and I was especially interested in reading about Turner’s religious righteousness and his firm convictions about his destiny.  

Nat Turner was originally self-published as a serial in four issues. The four parts are preserved in the complete work, which also includes an afterword by Baker and a teacher’s guide. Baker has won numerous awards for Nat Turner, both for the writing and the artwork, including: the Glyph award for Best Artist, Best Cover, and for Best Story of the Year, 2006; the Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, 2006; and the Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album — Previously Published, 2009.  This work also received an Eisner Award nomination for Best Limited Series, 2006; and Harvey Award nominations for Best Writer, Best Artist and Best Single Issue or Story, 2009. 

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

Click here to request a copy. 







Book Review: “That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story”

That Can Be Arranged is a lighthearted, funny, and colorful graphic memoir that details author Huda Fahmy’s love story, which happened to be an arranged marriage.  Huda guides us through what it was like growing up as a Muslim woman and trying to balance both familial and personal expectations for relationships.  The way she navigates the path between choice and tradition is very encouraging, but her stories are also hilarious. She sorts through suitors, dates with chaperones, and negotiates arranged marriages as well as any Jane Austen heroine. We get to live through bad dates and gossiping aunties, but also learn the lovely story of how Huda met her crush and now husband Gehad. 

I recommend giving this a read if you are looking for something sweet and fluffy to warm up these rainy days. The courtship between Huda and Gehad is really adorable, and I definitely enjoyed learning more about significant aspects of Huda’s culture, religion, and traditions along the way.  

This review is by Megan Hultman of the Circulation Desk.  

Click here to request a copy. 

Book Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid

Well, THIS was disturbing. Maybe not a book to read in 2020? I picked this up because the horror movie forums I follow were raving about Netflix’s new film version of it and I wanted to read it first. Now I can’t tell if I’m excited to see it or dreading it. Not really; I’m excited. Online fans mentioned how David Lynch-like it is (the movie), and they’re correct, but the book also has a real David Cronenberg and Chuck Palahniuk feel to it. In other words, it’s haunting. 

The book seemingly starts out with a routine (if maybe a little tense) trip to a farmhouse for the introduction of a new girlfriend (the narrator) to her boyfriend’s parents. We get mostly her inner dialogue and anxiety about her partner, Jake, and whether to end things. We’re given just enough of the relationship to think that maybe she should just stick it out, that this seems pretty workable, and then they arrive at the farmhouse and everything you thought you’d intuited is gone and never comes back and it’s one harrowing scene after another and you wish and wish they were just back in the safety of that car trip. Fueled by tiny, cryptic chapters that allude to an unknowable yet obviously terrible tragedy, this books speeds along stopping only occasionally for the reader to think “Wait. What? NO. NO. NO.”

I honestly don’t know if I’m recommending this or not. I loved it and think many others will too but it tore up my brain and soul — so just know that going into it, okay?

Review by Sarah Maciejewski of the Children’s Room. 

Click here to request a copy. 



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