Scene | Great Reads

Great Reads – July 2021

Firekeeper’s Daughter

By Angeline Boulley

Daunis Fontaine is a biracial young woman who has struggled to fit in among the community of her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie and the nearby Ojibwe reservation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. After a series of tragic deaths and brushes with criminal activity, Daunis must go undercover to root out corruption to protect her community. This story is a rich union of Anishinaabe language and tradition that blends seamlessly with a crime investigation set in mid-2000s Michigan. One of my highlights of the year has been reading this debut novel from Angeline Boulley. Although the book is written for a teen audience, this crime thriller is immensely enjoyable for readers of all ages. At times heartbreaking and yet full of healing, this book explores every facet of family and community.

 

The Guncle

By Steven Rowley

“The Guncle” is a hilarious and heartwarming novel about an unsuspecting uncle having to care for his niece and nephew over the summer. Patrick, lovingly known as Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short) has always loved spending time with his niece and nephew during short visits and holidays. But as a once-famous sitcom star living in Palm Springs, he doesn’t have much time for children with his Hollywood lifestyle (think Auntie Mame, but with a gay man). When tragedy strikes and leaves the six- and nine-year-old in his care, he must learn fast to push aside his own grief to care for his brother’s children. A witty novel about love and family, the depth, humor, and heart of this story will have you reaching for the tissues and laughing out loud.

 

 

Humankind: A Hopeful History

By Rutger Bregman

This thought-provoking take on the innate goodness of humanity was a grounding read. Rutger Bregman is a Dutch historian who has studied and written about history, philosophy, and economics. His book examines several moments in history in order to debunk long-held myths regarding whether humans are by nature selfish and self-interested. He takes us through stories from apartheid in South Africa, World War II, and stories of survival on deserted islands to explore the idea that humans are ultimately wired for cooperation rather than competition. He builds on his research to propose new ways to structure work, school, and other organizations that can benefit from this theory of human nature. A positive take on our relationship with our fellow man, it was an interesting read that explored many aspects of history and social science.

 

 

“When someone dies, everything about them becomes past tense. Except for the grief. Grief stays in the present. It’s even worse when you’re angry at the person. Not just for dying. But for how.”

Angeline Boulley, "Firekeeper's Daughter"

Great Reads – June 2021

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

By Mark Sullivan

In 1943 in Milan, Italy, Pino Lella is a teenager who is more concerned about chasing girls than a war that still feels so far away. But when Milan is bombed and his family home is destroyed, Pino begins working in secret for the Allied Forces. Through circumstances out of his control, he becomes a driver for a Nazi General in Italy, but his position soon allows him to uncover secrets for the resistance. The book is based on the real life of Pino Lella, and Sullivan spent three weeks interviewing Lella to learn as much as possible about the man’s experiences resisting the Nazis in Italy. Though this is a fictional account of Lella’s life, many of the harrowing events are based on real events, and it is a fascinating story of courage during World War II.

 

A Lowcountry Bride

By Preslaysa Williams

This sweet romance set in Charleston, South Carolina is a perfect read for summer. As a Black Filipina, Maya is working hard to make a name for herself at a bridal fashion design house in New York, but her boss doesn’t see the beauty in Maya’s original designs. When her father has an unexpected fall back home in Charleston, Maya rushes home to help him. There she meets Derek Sullivan, a retired Navy captain with struggles of his own. After the passing of his mother last year, Derek is struggling to keep his mother’s former business afloat. The bridal boutique was everything to his mother, and he will do everything he can to keep the business alive to one day pass on to his own daughter. However, he is still reeling from the tragic death of his wife and struggling to raise his teenage daughter. Maya and Derek work together to make their dreams, and love, blossom.

 

My Remarkable Journey

By Katherine Johnson

This memoir from NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (as portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures”) finally let’s Johnson tell her own story in detail. She began working on the book alongside writers Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore to chronicle her amazing life. Born in West Virginia in 1918, Johnson lived an amazing 101 years before passing away in 2020. Johnson delivers an amazing and grounding memoir about her life as a Black woman in science, but also gives us a century of racial history in the United States as well as the role of educators at segregated schools and historically Black colleges and universities that gave her the tools to pursue her dreams. A fitting reminder of the importance of education, Johnson is an inspiration.

 

 

“Maybe that’s all it takes for the future to exist, Pino thought. You must imagine it first. You must dream it first.”

Mark T. Sullivan, "Beneath a Scarlet Sky"

Great Reads – May 2021

Arsenic and Adobo

By Mia P. Manansala

This hilarious new cooking-themed cozy mystery will have your mouth watering over the delicious Filipino food and laughing at the outrageous aunties of Lila Macapagal. Lila has just recovered from a breakup gone bad and moved back to her hometown in Illinois. While helping at her aunt’s struggling restaurant, a notorious food critic falls over dead right into a bowl of food. To make matters worse, the dead man is Lila’s old ex-boyfriend, and the police think she is the perfect suspect. With few resources at her disposal, Lila decides that the only thing to do is to take matters into her own hands. She starts her own investigation with the help of her friends and a few gossipy aunties. Perfect for fans of Diane Mott Davidson and Joanne Fluke. 

 

An Easy Death

By Charlaine Harris

This genre bending series from the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books (also known as HBO’s “True Blood”) combines fantasy, westerns, and alternative history in an action-packed story starring gunslinger for hire Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose. Set in an alternative 1930s United States, the country has fractured after the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In this bleak world, magic exists but is often wielded for nefarious purposes. Though Lizbeth distrusts magic, she agrees to assist two Russian wizards in their quest to track down the last descendant of Rasputin, in hopes that his blood may be able to save their young tsar’s life. This story is a fast-paced thrill ride full of magic, the supernatural, and Old West style gun fights.

 

The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in WWII America

By Bradford Pearson

In 1942, the United States government forced 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and sent them to concentration camps. At the base of Heart Mountain in Wyoming, 14,000 people were incarcerated in ill-constructed housing. Despite enduring racism, cruelty, and harsh winters, the men, women, and children did their best to recreate the communities of their former homes. In the fall of 1943, the camp’s high school started a football team, the Eagles. Amid the joy of the game, the young men were divided over the government’s disruption of their lives, including their eligibility to be drafted to the front lines. Pearson weaves a detailed and well-researched tale that honors the resiliency of unlikely heroes during a dark and complex moment in American history.

 

“In typical Filipino fashion, my aunt expressed her love not through words of encouragement or affectionate embraces, but through food. Food was how she communicated. Food was how she found her place in the world. When someone rejected her food, they were really rejecting her heart.

Mia P. Manansala, "Arsenic and Adobo"

Great Reads – April 2021

Libertie

By Kaitlyn Greenidge

Inspired by the life of one the first Black female doctors in the United States, this work of historical fiction set in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn follows the coming of age of Libertie Sampson. As a free-born Black girl, Libertie struggles to find what freedom really means for a Black woman. Her mother, a practicing physician, wants her to go to medical school so they can practice medicine together. But Libertie is not so sure of a life in science. Urged by her desire to live her own life, she accepts the proposal of a young man from Haiti. Though he promises a marriage where they will be equal partners, once the couple arrives in Haiti, Libertie discovers that she is still expected to be subordinate to him. Libertie must find for herself her own freedom, and her story will resonate with readers today and beyond. 

 

The Survivors

By Jane Harper

Going home is not always easy. For Kieran Elliot, returning to his hometown brings up memories that are best left buried. Set in a small coastal community in Australia, Kieran’s parents are struggling to make ends meet and to deal with the absence of his brother, Finn. Kieran is visiting the area with his young family when a body is discovered on the beach. Long-held secrets start to come out, and Kieran’s own guilt over past mistakes continue to haunt him as old, unanswered questions resurface. Full of atmosphere and suspense, Harper builds a small-town crime thriller full of secrets, gossip, and regret.

 

The Eagles of Heart Mountain: A True Story of Football, Incarceration, and Resistance in WWII America

By Bradford Pearson

In 1942, the United States government forced 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast and sent them to internment camps. At the base of Heart Mountain in Cody, Wyoming, 14,000 people were held behind barbed wire fences in ill-constructed housing. Despite enduring racism, cruelty, and harsh winter conditions, the men, women, and children housed there did their best to recreate the established communities of their former homes. In the fall of 1943, the camp’s high school started a football team, the Eagles. Amid the joy of the game, the young men were divided over the government’s disruption of their lives, including their eligibility to be drafted to the front lines despite their imprisonment. Pearson weaves a detailed and well researched tale that honors the resiliency of unlikely heroes during a dark and complex moment in American history.

 

“The only good poem I’ve ever written is you. A daughter is a poem. A daughter is a kind of psalm. You, in the world, responding to me, is a song I made. I cannot make another.”

Kaitlyn Greenidge, "Libertie"

Great Reads – March 2021

The Berlin Shadow: Living with the Ghosts of the Kindertransport

By Jonathan Lichtenstein

In his memoir, Jonathan Lichtenstein documents his father Hans’s journey from Nazi-occupied Berlin as a child refugee on the Kindertransport. The Kindertransport was an organized rescue effort that brought nearly 10,000 children to the United Kingdom in the months before the outbreak of WWII. Hans, a German Jew, lost most of his family after Kristallnacht, and wanted nothing more to do with his German Jewish culture. Growing up in Wales, Jonathan and his siblings struggled to understand their father. As Hans grows older, he and Jonathan set out to retrace his journey back to Berlin. This is a deeply moving memoir about time, trauma, and family during one of the defining moments of modern history.

The Echo Wife

By Sarah Gailey

In this mind-bending science fiction thriller, scientist Evelyn Calwell discovers that her husband Nathan is cheating on her. And not just with any woman, but with Martine, a woman who looks remarkably like her. When Evelyn discovers that Martine is her genetically cloned replica, made possible by her own research, she is even more horrified to find that Martine is pregnant, and Nathan wants a divorce! But cold, workaholic Evelyn is even more shocked when sweet Martine calls her in a panic: Nathan is dead. The two women decide to cover up his death, and the consequences that follow are a non-stop ride of twisting thrills and dark humor.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

By Sonali Dev

The first book in a series of Jane Austen-inspired retellings, Sonali Dev introduces us to the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty who have built their lives in San Francisco. Dr. Trisha Raje is a renowned neurosurgeon, but her professional success isn’t enough for the powerhouse Raje family. A mistake from her youth has plagued her relationship with her family. If only she could find a way to redeem herself. Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine, on the other hand, has struggled to achieve the little success he has. And though catering for the Rajes offers the chance to make his culinary career, his interactions with Trisha test his patience as her arrogance and ignorance are constantly thrust in his face. A perfect, slow-burn romance showing the importance of family and reminding us that first impressions are often deceiving.

 

Deserve was such a strange word, throwing out both blame and accolades with equal mercilessness. Society’s skewed scale for assigning a value to human beings. How many times had he been judged and found lacking? Was there ever a way to measure what anyone deserved? Or was it just another way to pretend that the randomness of the universe made sense?”

Sonali Dev, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors