Category Archives: Books, Movies, TV & Music

July Books I’m Excited About

This post contains affiliate links.

As you may know, I work as a library director, though I don’t talk about it too much here on my blog. One of the primary aspects of my job (and by far my favorite) is collection development. I love, love, love ordering books and I love, love, love getting all the new ones in. With that in mind (and with the suggestion from a friend!), I thought I’d start a monthly feature about what is being released and what looks especially interesting to me.

Typically I read non-fiction, horror, and suspense, but really I find all genres have books that I enjoy. I’ll include info on releases I think other people might be excited about too, or those that are getting a buzz that I would recommend to library patrons. These are all books I have ordered for my library and I’m excited to share my picks with you. And by all means, if you’re looking for suggestions for anything in particular feel free to contact me! So on with it, right?

Cover of The Only Good Indians

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones | July 14th, 2020

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Why I ordered it: This has got to be one of the most anticipated books of the year. I started hearing about it several months ago, and I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival. I don’t love bloody, slasher horror. I love horror that is haunting, that makes you examine your world. From what I hear, this book fits the bill.

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay | July 7th, 2020

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Why I ordered it: I am a huge fan of Paul Tremblay. I devoured his last book, Cabin at the End of the World, in a weekend. (And typically I’m a slow reader.) So honestly, I added this to my July purchases just because he’s an author I like. Reading the description, it seems like the plot sounds a little familiar, right? Quarantine… crazy world… I know there will be twists and I can’t wait for this one, too!

The Bright Lands by John Fram | July 7th, 2020

The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

Why I ordered it: This debut novel from John Fram is a supernatural thriller, and the premise sounded intriguing. I don’t really understand “high school football” culture because it’s not something I grew up with, but I feel like it could be an interesting backdrop to this story. I will warn you that the book does have strong language and some explicit content if that is a concern.

The Lost & Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs | July 7th, 2020

In the wake of a shocking tragedy, Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming but financially strapped bookshop in San Francisco. She also becomes caretaker for her ailing grandfather Andrew, her only living relative—not counting her scoundrel father.

But the gruff, deeply kind Andrew has begun displaying signs of decline. Natalie thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted living facility to ensure the care he needs. To pay for it, she plans to close the bookstore and sell the derelict but valuable building on historic Perdita Street, which is in need of constant fixing. There’s only one problem–Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to sell. Natalie adores her grandfather; she’ll do whatever it takes to make his final years happy. Besides, she loves the store and its books provide welcome solace for her overwhelming grief.

After she moves into the small studio apartment above the shop, Natalie carries out her grandfather’s request and hires contractor Peach Gallagher to do the necessary and ongoing repairs. His young daughter, Dorothy, also becomes a regular at the store, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works.

To Natalie’s surprise, her sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new connections, discoveries and revelations, from unearthing artifacts hidden in the bookshop’s walls, to discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

Why I ordered it: Susan Wiggs is a popular author, so I know many people who will check out this book. But beside from that, I think the story sounds heartwarming and positive.

A Walk Along the Beach by Debbie Macomber | July 14th, 2020

The Lakey sisters are perfect opposites. After their mother died and their father was lost in grief, Willa had no choice but to raise her sister, Harper, and their brother, Lucas. Then, as an adult, she put her own life on hold to nurse Harper through a terrifying illness. Now that Harper is better and the sisters are living as roommates, Willa has realized her dream of running her own bakery and coffee shop, bringing her special brand of caretaking to the whole Oceanside community.

Harper, on the other hand, is always on the go. Overcoming a terrible illness has given her a new lease on life, and she does not intend to waste it. When Harper announces her plan to summit Mount Rainier, Willa fears she may be pushing herself too far. Harper, for her part, urges Willa to stop worrying and do something outside of her comfort zone—like taking a chance on love with a handsome new customer.  

Sean O’Malley is as charming as he is intriguing—a freelance photographer whose assignments take him to the ends of the earth. Soon Willa’s falling for him in a way that is both exciting and terrifying. But life has taught Willa to hedge her bets, and she wonders whether the potential heartache is worth the risk.  

Life has more challenges in store for them all. But both sisters will discover that even in the darkest moments, family is everything.

Why I ordered it: It’s Debbie Macomber! Enough said.

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby | July 14th, 2020

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland…or die trying.

Why I ordered it: Lots of buzz. Lots of great reviews. I enjoy crime fiction, and flawed characters who have the best intentions and I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement around this book.

The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands by Jon Billman | July 7th, 2020

These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors.

It’s a tricky thing to write about missing persons because the story is the absence of someone. A void. The person at the heart of the story is thinner than a smoke ring, invisible as someone else’s memory. The bones you dig up are most often metaphorical. While much of the book will embrace memory and faulty memory — history — The Cold Vanish is at its core a story of now and tomorrow. Someone will vanish in the wild tomorrow. These are the people who will go looking.

Why I ordered it: I am obsessed with stories of disappearances, and I have been as long as I can remember (thanks, Unsolved Mysteries). But this book doesn’t focus as much on those who have disappeared, as those who go looking for them. It’s a fresh perspective and I just know that some of these stories will tug at my heart.

The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace | June 30th, 2020

Before he became an award-winning writer and poet, Brian Sonia-Wallace set up a typewriter on the street with a sign that said “Poetry Store” and discovered something surprising: all over America, people want poems. An amateur busker at first, Brian asked countless strangers, “What do you need a poem about?” To his surprise, passersby opened up to share their deepest yearnings, loves, and heartbreaks. Hundreds of them. Then thousands. Around the nation, Brian’s poetry crusade drew countless converts from all walks of life.

In The Poetry of Strangers, Brian tells the story of his cross-country journey in a series of heartfelt and insightful essays. From Minnesota to Tennessee, California to North Dakota, Brian discovered that people aren’t so afraid of poetry when it’s telling their stories. In “dying” towns flourish vibrant artistic spirits and fascinating American characters who often pass under the radar, from the Mall of America’s mall walkers to retirees on Amtrak to self-proclaimed witches in Salem.

In a time of unprecedented loneliness and isolation, Brian’s journey shows how art can be a vital bridge to community in surprising places. Conventional wisdom says Americans don’t want to talk to each other, but according to this poet-for-hire, everyone is just dying to be heard.

Thought-provoking, moving, and eye-opening, The Poetry of Strangers is an unforgettable portrait of America told through the hidden longings of one person at a time, by one of our most important voices today. The fault lines and conflicts which divide us fall away when we remember to look, in every stranger, for poetry. 

Why I ordered it: I love poetry and feel that it does not get the attention it deserves. Poetry channels so much feeling and emotion and humanity, and yet over the years it’s been elevated to some kind of unreachable literary form that “normal” people can’t enjoy, which is not true at all. Poetry is for everyone, and I think this book sets out to show that’s true! I’m excited for this one to arrive.

So there you have it… just a few of the July releases that seemed to pop out at me. I feel like this month there was a good variety. I’ll be sure to pass on anything I missed and I’ll try to do this again for August if anyone’s interested!

An Evening With Yo La Tengo

One of the most fun things about this year was being able to get back out there seeing live music. I love going to shows. It’s what I did through college and when I was living in Boston afterwards. Of course, when you have little ones it’s not so easy to just head out to a concert. That’s why I’m enjoying it so much now!

This week Drew and I went to see Yo La Tengo play at BSP Kingston. It was a treat to see such a great show locally (just around the corner from my huband’s office). I’m not a YLT superfan, but I definitely listened to my fair share of their music in college, and I am so happy that we got to see them play live.

Yo La Tengo at BSP Kingston

Yo La Tengo at BSP Kingston

The room was really neat — lots of decorations and lights. However, it was so hot in there. I plunked down $3 for a Diet Coke just because I was starting to feel dehydrated. That wasn’t so much fun, but after a cool beverage and some ice I felt better.

Here we are being all hip and cool and Kington-y (ha — yeah right)! Actually, we were just goofing around because I loved the string lights. 

Yo La Tengo at BSP Kingston

But it was a great date night and one more band I can cross of my “must see” list.

Belly at Royale

One of the nicer things about our kids being a little bit older is that it is way easier to do things without them. Like go to concerts. Sixteen years ago I could barely fathom having the energy to go out to dinner, let alone head out to a club to see a show, but now we can. And we do! Thursday night we drove out to Boston to see Belly play, and to say it was amazing is an understatement!

Belly at Royale

Belly at Royale

Belly is one of Drew’s favorite bands, and I have always liked them a lot too. Back in March we saw Tanya Donelly play a show with Kristen Hersh. And it was great, but seeing Belly rock out was just the best. No opening act. Two awesome sets. And an encore. I heard the three songs I really wanted to hear (Super-Connected, Feed the Tree, and Low Red Moon), and it was so much fun!

Belly at Royale

Belly at Royale

Belly at Royale

Belly at Royale

I love the new music on their new album, Dove, and seeing them play these songs live just gave the music a completely new dimension for me.

Next up, we’re going to see Yo La Tengo in a couple weeks. But this time the show is a little closer — actually it’s across the street from my husband’s office, so that’s rather convenient!

Book Review | Real American: A Memoir, by Julie Lythcott-Haims

I received a free copy of Real American: A Memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Real American: A Memoir

As a librarian a lot of books find their way across my desk, as you can imagine, but I am drawn to biographies and memoirs and always have been. I love learning about people’s individual histories, and Real American: A Memoir is no exception.

About the Book

Real American: A Memoir
by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Holt, $27 (288p)
ISBN 978-1-2501-3774-6

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the daughter of a white British mother and an African-American father. Julie was born in Africa in 1967, but her family moved to the United States when she was very young. This book chronicles her life as a bi-racial young woman in the 1970s, while living in Palisades, NY, and Madison, Wis. The book takes us through many pivotal life experiences that almost everyone shares — playing with neighborhood kids, going to prom, getting that college acceptance letter, navigating college life, experiencing love and disappointment — universal moments.

It didn’t matter that her father was an accomplished physician (and Assistant Surgeon General of the United States in 1977) and that her mother was loving and encouraging — racism was a fact of life that Julie could not escape. After graduating from Stanford University, Julie married a Jewish man, adding another layer of complication in her quest for self-understanding.  

My Review

Lythcott-Haims writes with honestly and vulnerability. I did not grow up in a very diverse town, so I found many of Lythocott-Haims’ experiences eye-opening. The author spent a good deal of time struggling with issues of race and identity — what does it mean to be mixed race and how do you fit in, especially as a young adult during that time period? — and to ultimately moving toward healing and self-acceptance. We all can relate in some way to being an outsider, or not fitting in with the people around you. When we are in high school and college, even the most average person (whatever that might mean to you) tries to figure out who they are and where they stand. But the author’s struggles were much more than average.

Real American: A Memoir

Real American: A Memoir wraps cultural moments (from seemingly simple things like watching “The Cosby Show,” and noting important movies to reflecting on Hurricane Katrina, the election of President Barack Obama, and the impact of Black Lives Matter ) around the author’s personal life. While reading I couldn’t help but reflect back upon where I was during these time periods and what I was doing. While reading this book I felt like the author was talking to me. Her writing style is so personal that it draws the reader in immediately. I soaked up every word, and I know it is a book I will go back to and read again. 

Real American: A Memoir

Real American: A Memoir is insightful and poetic, raw and honest. I think that this is an important book to read, especially given our current political climate. There’s no denying that the world we live in is racially-charged and I think that more than ever, we need to really try to know and understand each other. Whether or not you consider this book out of your “comfort zone,” I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy because it will no doubt have a lasting effect on you. Learn more about the book on Real American: A Memoir’s Publishers Weekly page.

Win A Copy of Real American: A Memoir

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway details:
Prizes: One of 10 copies of Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Dates: September 1 – September 29, 2017
Entry: Readers may enter the giveaway via the widget and by posting ONCE to Twitter and including: @DeanJulie and the hashtags: #RealAmericanMemoir and #CLVR
Notification: Winners will be randomly selected and notified by CLEVER by October 6, 2017
Terms & Conditions: Age 18+ | US resident only | Only one winner per household

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

{More Catch-Up} R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

I’ll be honest here: as a pre-teen (because “tween” did not exist in the late 80s), I was a Christopher Pike girl. Chain Letter got me hooked. But my husband has a crazy love for R.L. Stine that didn’t start until he was in college. It’s a long story involving his band, someone’s girlfriend and R.L. Stine’s book The Girlfriend. We had a huge box of Fear Street novels in our attic, our boys both enjoyed the “Goosebumps” series, and Laura likes watching the likewise-named TV show on Netflix. So the excitement level at our house when I learned that R.L. Stine was coming to Rhinebeck was seriously off the hook.

At first, Drew hemmed and hawed a little. I love going to author events. Sometimes, though, the reality of who that author is can disappoint. There can be an attitude that shatters your image of how awesome they are. But I convinced him 🙂 So after the Sheep & Wool festival back in October, we headed over to Oblong Books for this super-cool Halloween event! R.L. Stine is rebooting “Fear Street” and has been making the rounds to promote his new book.

R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

I’ve been to a lot of signings in my day, but this was certainly one of my favorites. Stine didn’t just read from his new book and answer a couple questions. He told stories. Stories about growing up. Stories about how he thought of book titles. He took tons of questions from kids in the audience. He connected with everyone there. And not only that, but he was willing to sign anything that people brought up. Sometimes there’s a limit, sometimes it’s just the author’s latest work. But R.L. Stine signed a stack of books for us (including some really old twist-a-plots that Noah adores).

R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

Drew told him the story involving his band, his friend’s girlfriend, and the book. Mr. Stine seemed amused.

R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

The kids had such a great time, and what a thrill to meet such a prolific writer! 

R.L. Stine at Oblong Books

Thanks, R.L. Stine and Oblong for hosting an event that my kids (and husband!) will remember for a long time!

Mad about Mad Science the Card Game

Some of you may have noticed the widget over there to the right, the one about something called “Mad Science the Card Game.” If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then chances are you’ve heard all about it, but in case you haven’t, let me tell you!

Several months ago, my husband came up with a concept for a card game. It involved funky creatures, a diabolical scheme, and many cheesy puns. He drew everything freehand (and had some help from our boys, too), and we did a lot of play testing to make sure the game played out the way it should. Then he decided to put it up on Kickstarter to gain some interest.

Basically, it’s a way for him to pre-sell the game. When you pledge your support, there are a variety of incentives (including the game itself, optional expansion packs, and tee-shirts… sorry no golf ball logos though). Here’s a video we made gives you a better idea about what Mad Science the Card Game is all about:

We’re getting close to our goal of $1,500, which isn’t a lot — there’s no profit at this level. All the funds will go toward ordering game packs for our backers and to place in retail outlets, for marketing, and for other related expenses. Although it’s not a “kids game” per se, it is definitely family-friendly!

It’s so exciting when people are interested in something you created from scratch! Drew was interviewed for a locally-based podcast (I’ll put up the link when it’s ready), and he was also interviewed for the super fun blog All Geek to Me.

We’re really hopeful that we can make this happen. Please check it out on Kickstarter, and help us spread the word!

step right up!

I’ve always loved circus imagery. There’s something magical about the acrobats, the big top, even the creepy clowns. So as I was trying to plan Lulu’s 2nd birthday party, somehow I came upon some circus party ideas and decided that this was the theme for the day!

Luckily, my little peanut prefers that I hold and rock her while she naps, so that leaves me with a solid hour and a half of surfing time when I can research ideas. Already my inspiration file is full! I think this just might be both the prettiest and the easiest party I’ve ever pulled off (aside from our wedding). The food will be simple and reminiscent of the circus of course: hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn. I’ll add fruit salad and a nice veggie tray so there’s something at least a little healthy. The color scheme will be red and light blue (I prefer the vintage look to the crazy bright colors). And this gives me the opportunity to finally sewing some pennants! I’ll use them as party decorations and then I can hang them in Lulu’s room (as I’d originally planned to do).

I’m early in the planning stages, so you can come along for the ride. I’ll be sharing photos, links, and ideas as I come up with them. Circus and carnival parties seems to be quite popular now, and why wouldn’t they be? It’s such a fun, happy way to celebrate!

her bright smile haunts me still

cordelia's dad at the iron horse

What a super amazing weekend! Friday night Drew and I went to see Cordelia’s Dad play at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. They’re one of my favorite bands and I’d never seen them live. Drew, on the other hand, actually toured with them back in the Rosemary Caine days. We met up with Drew’s friend Jeremy (who we haven’t seen since our wedding 10 years ago!) and had dinner at Bueno y Sano (a mainstay of my college diet years ago) before the show. It was as delicious as ever. Then we headed over to the club for the show.

I also got to see my friends Jess and Chris who I haven’t seen since the Sheep & Wool Festival last October. It was awesome seeing all these great people — it just made a fantastic night even better! The show itself was as amazing as you’d expect. If you’re not familiar with the band, Cordelia’s Dad is kind of hard to explain. They have their own body of 100% original work, but they might best be known for taking traditional early American folk songs, stories, poems, and so on and setting them to music which more often than not could be described as indie/punk. If you want to take a listen, I found this video of their rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” from Friday’s show. It gives the uninitiated a great sense of what they do.

Here are a few more photos:

cordelia's dad at the iron horse

cordelia's dad at the iron horse

cordelia's dad at the iron horse

The first set was acoustic, and the second set was electric. Both rocked! They don’t play together all that often because individually they’re very busy with their own projects these days, but hopefully they’ll reunite again soon. I know I’ll be there.

amazon gift card deal

It’s cold and icy again today. I don’t know about you, but this kind of weather makes me want to curl up with a good book. (Of course it also makes me consider purchasing an appetite suppressant because all I want to do is eat brownies and cookies and scones!) Anyway, while I do try to purchase my books from my favorite local bookseller, let’s face it — sometimes you just can’t pass up an online deal at Amazon. Today Living Social has a great deal — you can purchase a $20 Amazon gift card for just $10*. I snatched one up and you probably want to, too!

*Disclosure: this is a referral link. If three people purchase their deal through my link, I get it for free.