The Letters Project: A Daughter’s Journey

And it is quite a journey!

TitleThe Letters Project: A Daughter’s Journey
AuthorEleanor Reissa
Publisher, Year &
Pages
Post Hill Press, January 2022,
272 pages
Summary from PublisherThe Letters Project is about big history, the Holocaust, but it is also an extraordinarily intimate personal narrative—a rare blend of informative, poignant, excruciating, startling, humorous, and ultimately inspiring storytelling.

In 1986, when her mother died at the age of sixty-four, Eleanor Reissa went through all of her belongings. In the back of her mother’s lingerie drawer, she found an old leather purse. Inside that purse was a large wad of folded papers. They were letters. Fifty-six of them. In German. Written in 1949. Letters from her father to her mother, when they were courting. Just four years earlier, he had fought to stay alive in Auschwitz and on the Death March while she had spent the war years suffering in Uzbekistan. Thirty years later, Eleanor—a theatre artist who has been on the forefront of keeping Yiddish alive—finally had the letters translated. The particulars of those letters send her off on an unimaginable adventure into the past, forever changing her and anyone who reads this book.”
GenreNonfiction, Biography, History, Multicultural
ThemesJudaism, Survivors, Europe
Who should read this book?It’s a no-brainer that if you’re Jewish, you will want to read this book. But also for those who enjoy biographies and storytelling.
Why I liked itEleanor Reissa, whom I’ve known as a singer and enjoyed in concert, has now written a phenomenal book. When I saw the title of this book, I was immediately drawn to it as someone of roughly the same age and someone who has also discovered letters when cleaning out my deceased mother’s apartment. Reissa sets us up for the impossibility of her journey with a chicken bones story that shows her personality and her imagination. That she decides to follow the path that the letters are beckoning her towards is another aspect of her personality which seems more and more endearing. She shares all the emotions very honestly with her readers and we learn all about her unusual family situation. It seems hardly possible that she could grow up not knowing very much of her parents’ history, but her parents were of the generation that thought it “wasn’t nice” to tell children sad stories. With both of her parents gone, it’s up to Reissa to find out her family history with the help of the letters she finds and a few older relatives. Reissa’s writing style is wonderful. After all, she is an entertainer and she understands flow both verbally and in the written word. I had to stay up late at night to finish this book because I couldn’t put it down, though I sometimes had to pause and take a deep breath. What a book!!
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An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World

Are you ready to change the world? Instructions found here.

TitleAn Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World
AuthorPatrice Cullors
Publisher, Year &
Pages
St. Martin’s Press, January 2022,
288 pages
Summary from Publisher“In AN ABOLITIONIST’S HANDBOOK readers will learn how to:

– have courageous conversations
– move away from reaction and towards response
– take care of oneself while fighting for others
– turn inter-community conflict into a transformative action
– expand one’s imagination, think creatively, and find the courage to experiment
– make justice joyful
– practice active forgiveness
– make space for difficult feelings and honor mental health
– practice non-harm and cultivate compassion
– organize local and national governments to work towards abolition
– move away from cancel culture

AN ABOLITIONIST’S HANDBOOK is for those who are looking to reimagine a world where communities are treated with dignity, care and respect. It gives us permission to move away from cancel culture and into visioning change and healing.”
GenreNonfiction, Reference, Young Adult
ThemesRacism, Politics, African American
Who should read this book?Grab it! This book is a badly needed revelation. Read it! And if you read Cullors’ previous work When They Call You a Terrorist, you will probably want to read this as well. And if you’re in the school system? Yes, totally.
Why I liked itI dare you to read this book and not get excited. And that sentence came to me right away after just reading the first few pages. . There is a brave new world out there.
I read her previous book and found it very engaging. This one is another keeper.
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Defending Britta Stein

Britta–a feisty and determined 92 year old

TitleDefending Britta Stein
AuthorRonald H. Balson
Publisher, Year &
Pages
St. Martin’s Press, September 2021,
352 pages
Summary from Publisher“Chicago, 2018: Ole Henryks, a popular restauranteur, is set to be honored by the Danish/American Association for his many civic and charitable contributions. Frequently appearing on local TV, he is well known for his actions in Nazi-occupied Denmark during World War II—most consider him a hero.

Britta Stein, however, does not. The ninety-year-old Chicago woman levels public accusations against Henryks by spray-painting “Coward,” “Traitor,” “Collaborator,” and “War Criminal” on the walls of his restaurant. Mrs. Stein is ultimately taken into custody and charged with criminal defacement of property. She also becomes the target of a bitter lawsuit filed by Henryks and his son, accusing her of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Attorney Catherine Lockhart, though hesitant at first, agrees to take up Mrs. Stein’s defense. With the help of her investigator husband, Liam Taggart, Lockhart must reach back into wartime Denmark and locate evidence that proves Mrs. Stein’s innocence. 
GenreFiction, Thriller, Historical Fiction
ThemesJustice, Judaism, Immigrants, Europe
Who should read this book?I think many readers–especially Jewish ones– will enjoy this book and the history is certainly worth knowing.
Why I liked itThis was my first Balson read and I normally avoid books about the Holocaust because they tend to trigger something in me. However, I was intrigued to read about the role of the Danes during this horrible period as I’d heard just a bit about their brave actions. The story of Britta is just a vehicle for presenting this history and it works fairly well, though the reader just wants the story to continue without all of the stops and starts. The actual trial and the work of the lawyer may have been one of the highlights of the book.
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The Cat Who Saved Books

I love, love, loved it! You want to get this book.

TitleThe Cat Who Saved Books
AuthorBy Sosuke Natsukawa, Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Publisher, Year &
Pages
HarperVia, December 2021,
208 pages
Summary from Publisher“Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and the cat and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners. 
Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, the cat and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter . . . 
An enthralling tale of books, first love, fantasy, and an unusual friendship with a talking cat, The Cat Who Saved Books is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper. “
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Fantasy, Highly Recommended, Multicultural
ThemesCats, Friendship, Japan, Life
Who should read this book?A real wow book… five stars and going on to my Highly Recommended List. Read it!!
Why I liked itWhat an absolutely wonderful surprise of a book! This book gave me everything I needed in the moment. Cats, books, Japan… three of my favorite things. But wait—there’s more. So MUCH more! Read for the fantastic story or read for the message. Yes, many messages on how to live life, but not the least bit preachy. Is it corny if I say it is Zen? The word Zen comes up precisely zero times, but empathy and compassion are mentioned. Again, not in a preachy way at all. The points of the books are proven by dialogues and puzzles. Is it Good vs. Evil? Again, kind of. A hikikomori loses his grandfather and a talking cat comes along and asks for his help. Books are in danger! And if that premise doesn’t speak to you, then I am not sure I know who you are. And Kudos to the translator… I can see where there must have been some challenges. So glad to get this to the English speaking world!
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Real Easy

Multiple POVs will keep you on your toes with this one!

TitleReal Easy
AuthorMarie Rutkowski
Publisher, Year &
Pages
Macmillan Publishers, January 2022,
320 pages
Summary from Publisher“It’s 1999 and Samantha has danced for years at the Lovely Lady strip club. She’s not used to mixing work and friendship—after all, between her jealous boyfriend and his young daughter, she has enough on her plate. But the newest dancer is so clueless that Samantha feels compelled to help her learn the hustle and drama of the club: how to sweet-talk the boss, fit in with the other women, and make good money. One night, when the new girl needs a ride home, Samantha agrees to drive: a simple decision that turns deadly.

Georgia, another dancer drawn into the ensuing murder and missing person investigation, gathers information for Holly, a grieving detective determined to solve the case. Georgia just wants to help, but her involvement makes her a target. As Holly and Georgia round up their suspects, the story’s point of view shifts between dancers, detectives, children, club patrons—and the killer.

Drawing on her experience as a former dancer, Marie Rutkoski immerses us in the captivating world of the club, which comes alive with complicated people trying their best to protect themselves and those they love. Character-driven and masterfully plotted, Real Easy gets to the heart of the timeless question: How do women live their lives knowing that men can hurt them?”
GenreFiction, Thriller
ThemesWomen, Work
Who should read this book?It’s an eye-opener and worth reading if you’ve always wondered why any woman would work in a strip club.
Why I liked itHow often do you get to read a mystery that revolves around the characters of a strip club and goes into the details of their lives and situations? I was intrigued by the premise and I was not disappointed. The mystery unwinds through the lives of the strippers and gradually we eliminate suspects and figure out who the real killer was. It is presented well— though you have to work to keep track of all of the names.
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Here We Are . . . on Route 66: A Journey Down America’s Main Street

Iconic, iconic, iconic…. and dreamy!

TitleHere We Are . . . on Route 66: A Journey Down America’s Main Street
AuthorJim Hinkley
Publisher, Year &
Pages
Motor Books, January 2022,
208 pages
Summary from PublisherHere We Are . . . on Route 66 explores and celebrates iconic landmarks and cultural touchstones associated with America’s most famous highway—and guides you to some lesser-known gems just off the beaten path.
At nearly a century old, Route 66 remains the embodiment of the classic American highway. Written by an acknowledged authority on the subject, wonderfully illustrated, and presented in a manner that allows you to dip in and out, Here We Are . . . on Route 66 is a must-have for your Route 66 bookshelf.”
GenreNonfiction, Reference
ThemesTravel, Southwest, Midwest
Who should read this book?I think this will have a lot of appeal to American history buffs. There’s enough here to entice you to go further if that’s what rocks your boat, and everyone else can just settle back and dream we’re riding down Route 66, eating at diners, and staying at motels with neon signs to welcome us.
Why I liked itDon’t we really all want to get our kicks on Route 66? It’s just so iconic and endlessly fascinating to many of us, which is why I was happy to get an advance copy of this book. It is much as expected—filled with stories of many of the stops on the route and wonderful photographs. The author has dug deep into history and fully researched each stop’s history and presented us with tidbits of the kind of history that many of us enjoy. It’s a very good coverage of each location and the balance between text and illustrations is great.
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No Land to Light On

The plight of two innocent Syrians caught up in trump’s world

TitleNo Land to Light On
AuthorYara Zgheib
Publisher, Year &
Pages
Atria Books, January 2022,
304 pages
Summary from Publisher“Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging.

When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly in Jordan, the night before his visa appointment at the embassy. Hadi flies back for the funeral, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day his flight is due to arrive in Boston, Sama is waiting for him at the airport, eager to bring him back home. But as the minutes and then hours pass, she continues to wait, unaware that Hadi has been stopped at the border and detained for questioning, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo.

Worlds apart, suspended between hope and disillusion as hours become days become weeks, Sama and Hadi yearn for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed up together.”
GenreFiction, Multicultural
ThemesRefugees, Family, Childbirth, Middle East, Politics
Who should read this book?Anyone with an interest in the effects of trump’s travel ban and with a heart for refugees.
Why I liked itA sweet, sad, and unique love story. It’s a quick read and a real heartbreaker. I think I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to have a taste of what trump’s antics meant for those unfortunate Syrian refugees caught up in it. It’s important history that we should remember and Zgheib has presented it in an effective way. Your heart simply breaks reading about the plight of these young people and their families. I look forward to reading more from this author.
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The Last House on the Street

Curl up with this book and get immersed!

TitleThe Last House on the Street
AuthorDiane Chamberlain
Publisher, Year &
Pages
St. Martin’s Press, January 2022,
352 pages
Summary from Publisher“1965

Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.

2010

Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident—a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.”
GenreFiction, Mystery, Historical Fiction, Privilege
ThemesWomen, Civil Rights, Community, The South, Racism, Romance
Who should read this book?Pretty much something for everyone. It reads smoothly and the reader will not want to put it down until the end, so I recommend starting to read it when you have the time to immerse fully. If you lived through the sixties, you’ll enjoy it even more.
Why I liked itI was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book which jumped between 1965 and 2010. It’s eye-opening to read about the voter registration and civil rights movement from the perspective of a young sheltered white girl in the South and to watch her surprise and growth when she gets involved for the summer.

And who doesn’t love a love story, which is what this book is–along with being a mystery, historical fiction and a view of social justice. It illustrates privilege without using the word and is a good read for people who think they don’t like history.
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You Never Get It Back

Elegant, yet also gritty

TitleYou Never Get It Back
AuthorCara Blue Adams
Publisher, Year &
Pages
University of Iowa Press, December 2021,
186 pages
Summary from Publisher“The linked stories in Cara Blue Adams’s precise and observant collection offer elegantly constructed glimpses of the life of Kate, a young woman from rural New England, moving between her childhood in the countryside of Vermont and her twenties and thirties in the northeast, southwest, and South in pursuit of a vocation, first as a research scientist and later as a writer. Place is a palpable presence: Boston in winter, Maine in summer, Virginia’s lush hillsides, the open New Mexico sky. Along the way, we meet Kate’s difficult bohemian mother and younger sister, her privileged college roommate, and the various men Kate dates as she struggles to define what she wants from the world on her own terms.

Wryly funny and shot through with surprising flashes of anger, these smart, dreamy, searching stories show us a young woman grappling with social class, gender, ambition, violence, and the distance between longing and having.”
GenreFiction, Literary Fiction, Short Stories
ThemesWomen, Travel, New England, Family
Who should read this book?If you like short stories, you’ll enjoy this. This is a book that can be reread and no doubt the reader will discover new insights each time. Though I generally am not a fan of short stories, I loved this book. And it is just gritty enough!
Why I liked itThis is a beautifully written book of connected short stories. Adams is a true wordsmith; she is able to paint a complete picture for the reader without simply gushing out words. It feels as if each and every word is carefully and thoughtfully chosen and it creates a wonderful reading experience as the reader is able to enter Kate’s world as almost more than an observer. I enjoyed the sense of place that each story evoked and seeing how Kate and her family evolve throughout the book. I did not want it to end and as we all know, that’s a very good sign. This is a book that can be reread and no doubt the reader will discover new insights each time. I am not a fan of short stories, yet I loved this book.
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African Town

Prepare to have your eyes opened by this unforgettable tale

TitleAfrican Town
AuthorCharles Waters, Irene Latham
Publisher, Year &
Pages
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, January 2022, 448 pages
Summary from PublisherChronicling the story of the last Africans brought illegally to America in 1860, African Town is a powerful and stunning novel-in-verse.

In 1860, long after the United States outlawed the importation of enslaved laborers, 110 men, women and children from Benin and Nigeria were captured and brought to Mobile, Alabama aboard a ship called Clotilda. Their journey includes the savage Middle Passage and being hidden in the swamplands along the Alabama River before being secretly parceled out to various plantations, where they made desperate attempts to maintain both their culture and also fit into the place of captivity to which they’d been delivered. At the end of the Civil War, the survivors created a community for themselves they called African Town, which still exists to this day. Told in 14 distinct voices, including that of the ship that brought them to the American shores and the founder of African Town, this powerfully affecting historical novel-in-verse recreates a pivotal moment in US and world history, the impacts of which we still feel today.”
GenreYoung Adult, Multicultural, History, Literary Fiction
ThemesAfrica, African American, The South, Community, Racism
Who should read this book?This book belongs in every high school library and American History class. I’m pretty sure you could do a whole semester on this book alone.
And, adults? You should all read it!
Why I liked itOnce I started reading this book, I found it almost impossible to put down. The style, the story, the characters… all excellent. I only vaguely knew about this town and nothing about its history. Once I’d finished reading the story itself, I was immediately engaged with the back matter and wanting to know more and more. That’s a very good sign for a book.

I like that it presented different voices. I’m not sure how I feel about the moments of happiness and the positivity that was expressed while the characters were still enslaved, but I suppose that, too, was a reality. And it lends itself well to discussion. I hope it will find a very very wide audience. Five stars for both content and the educational value.
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