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Booklists Recommendations

International Women’s Day

by Adult Services Librarian Leann

With origins in socialist and communist political movements in the 20th century and second wave feminism in the 1960s, the United Nations recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1977. According to the UN, “it is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.” March is also recognized as Women’s History Month in the United States.

The world has been ravaged by the pandemic since the last International Women’s Day and in the United States, communities which were already underserved have been especially hard-hit by rates of serious illness, death, and economic hardship. Likewise, there have been shocking, but perhaps not surprising, reports of the myriad ways in which the economic collapse brought on by the pandemic has singularly and negatively impacted women. The Brookings Institution released this report which helps summarize the complex range issues now facing working women, stating bluntly, “COVID-19 is hard on women because the U.S. economy is hard on women, and this virus excels at taking existing tensions and ratcheting them up.” A lack of access to childcare, traditional gender roles inside and outside the home, the fact that women are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs, and a lack of support and critical infrastructure for families and working women are all contributing factors making the impact of COVID-19 especially hard on women.

The dramatic impacts of the pandemic on women in particular highlight how much there is still to address in the United States–and globally–if we hope to achieve gender equity. International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate and reflect on the achievements and struggles of women past and present, and take action for the future.

Here are 6 of my suggestions of books written by women, about women. Enjoy!

Required Reading: Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall | print / digital

From as far back as the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States, mainstream feminism has been plagued by either outright racism and/or the idea that feminism is, can, and should be, a color-blind philosophy. Feminism is bound up with all the other -isms: classism, racism, capitalism, tribalism. They’re inseparable, so talking about them at all can be complicated and overwhelming. Mikki Kendall, however, gets to the point with critical clarity in Hood Feminism stating, “true feminist solidarity across racial lines means being willing to protect each other, speaking up when the missing women are not from your community, and calling out ways that predatory violence can span multiple communities.”

For the History Buff: A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell | print / digital

Viriginia Hall’s story is exceptional in the specifics: she was an intelligent, savvy, single young American woman traveling the world and working for a living in the 1920s and 30s, and eventually became the first British spy in Vichy France, establishing its most essential network of informants, which was critical in winning the Allies the war. Her story, however, is all too familiar in the broad strokes for women in a male-dominated profession. Time and time again, Virginia was underestimated, undervalued, and underappreciated for her hard work, dedication, and skill. Nevertheless, through sheer determination and willpower, Virginia pursued the life she wanted for herself with astonishing results.

A Memoir: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado | print / digital

According to the publisher’s website, In the Dream House, “is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.” Author Carmen Maria Machado explores her experience of a traumatic relationship with a charming but volatile woman using second-person narrative and painful honesty. NPR’s Gabino Iglesias says in their review, “this book is a scream that ensures visibility, a chronicle of truth that weights more than a thousand theories and all the efforts to erase the reality of abuse in lesbian couples.” This revolutionary memoir is not to be missed. 

Essays that Hit Different: Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino | print / digital

The essays from this collection that I think about the most are called, “Always Be Optimizing” and “The Cult of the Difficult Woman.” Jia Tolentino’s adroit, sharp, and witty essays are a critical commentary on our culture made to feel deeply personal. She structures the book around nine different themes, including: being a person on the Internet, deified productivity, pop Feminism, and so forth. Not every essay is entirely relatable for every reader, but if you are an internet-using human, prepare to feel very seen.

The Multigenerational Family Saga: The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz | print / digital

This debut novel from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Connie Schultz is centered around a small blue collar town in Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. To anyone who’s lived in Ohio, Schultz’s novel will immediately feel familiar. The story follows four generations of women in the Anyplace, Ohio town against the backdrop of World Wars and the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s, with attention paid to the setting to make it feel uniquely Ohio. All of the characters in Erietown must face dreams deferred, make hard choices, sacrifice for others, and find identity and meaning in their relationships to each other. Readers of historical fiction and those who like generational family stories will enjoy The Daughters of Erietown

For Fun: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite | print / digital

Fast paced and darkly comic, Oyinkan Braithwaite tells a story about sisterhood and the struggle – and power – of being a woman through the lens of an embittered Nigerian woman who realizes her beloved and beautiful sister is a serial killer. My Sister turns the classic competitive sister trope on its head. Sure, one sister is always cleaning  up the other sister’s messes, but in this case, the messes are murdered boyfriends. The plot intensifies when the murderous sister sets her sights on someone a little too close for comfort. Oyinkan’s style will make your heart pound with equal parts dread and delight. 

For the romantic check out this post!

And be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming BPL Podcast episode, Investing in Women w/ CEO Kelley Griesmer coming out March 12 at 12AM! To honor Women’s History Month, in this episode, Leann sits down with Kelley Griesmer, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, to talk about the wealth gap, the importance of investing financially in women, and the new Enduring Progress Initiative focused on breaking down barriers to racial and gender equity.

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Booklists Recommendations

A Romance for Every Reader

by Adult Services Librarian Leann

Romance books are hitting the mainstream like never before. Have you ever heard of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton book series? No more do we shame people for reading delightful little paperbacks with scantily clad pirates or kilt-wearing-Scottsmen! (Or rather, we shouldn’t.) “Romance” is for everyone. Don’t believe me? Ask bestselling, blockbusting series like The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or Outlander. Try to name a popular TV show, movie, or book that doesn’t include some sort of romance intrigue or love triangle. Even highfalutin literature is mostly about love or love lost or unrequited love. Let’s face it people, Where the Crawdads Sing is a romance novel and that’s okay.

In literature there is a bias against Romance. There is a pervasive belief among readers that a novel, where the driving plot device is a romantic relationship, cannot be considered Literature and is therefore unworthy of their time or critique. Readers often call books with romantic elements their “guilty pleasure.” I’m here to assure you, however, that it’s actually extremely fine to really like romance books. Liking romantic stories and reading romance novels actually does not correlate with intelligence levels among readers. Nor does it discount a book from being well written, plotted, and researched.

Likewise, while there are loads of paperbacks with heaving bosoms queens or 12-pack-ab cowboys taking up a lot of space in the romance zeitgeist, not every romance novel is based on Twilight fanfiction. Romance as a genre is just as varied as any other and we’re here to celebrate it!

Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the warm sultry waters of romance fiction or you’ve been camped out on the banks of Lake Romance for years, here are some of my top romance novel recommendations:

Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
For readers who are romance-curious and looking for political escapism.

Request Title | print / digital

If I were choosing a best-in-show for romance, this would be it. This book is all the gay romance you’ve ever wanted wrapped up in a compelling, lovely, spicy package. The set up is a classic rom-com scenario: extremely handsome and quintessentially charming First Son of the United States is in a public feud with the devastatingly gorgeous and properly polite Prince of England. A phony friendship-for-publicity’s-sake ensues and leads to, well, you guessed it, romance.

Red, White, and Royal Blue is for readers who love a bit of drama and lots (and lots) of kissing but also want the story to be well plotted, the characters to be developed, and the writing captivating. Quality does not have to suffer just because a story might be a little outlandish or, in the case of Royal Blue, a fantasy paradise of inclusivity. 

Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft
For readers of historical fiction, star-crossed lovers, and people who like to cry during movies

Request Title | print / digital

Jenny Ashcroft creates gauzy worlds based on real historical times and places. Meet Me In Bombay is the second-latest in her oeuvre of heart wrenching historical love stories where the characters’ interior lives are disrupted by the devastating consequences of circumstances beyond their control. In Meet Me in Bombay, on the eve of 1914 in British occupied India, a young couple falls in love. He’s a soldier and as war unfolds across Europe, he’s shipped off to fight. The woman’s wealthy family encourages our young heroine to move on and forget her soldier. Will the lovers be able to reconnect? When the soldier is injured in battle and loses his memory, that question becomes even more complicated and the answer even more harrowing.

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole 
For readers of thrillers and those who enjoy when the main characters fall in love during their adventure. 

Request Title | print / digital

We know that gentrification is scary, but is it also…sexy? True, this book is actually a thriller, but Alyssa Cole was previously best known for her work as an author of paperback romances! In When No One Is Watching a Brooklyn neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and Sydney, who was born and raised there, finds the prospect disorienting and almost frightening. When Theo, a handsome stranger she’s not even a little bit interested in, butts his way into her research for a historical walking tour, Sydney realizes that not everything is as it seems in the old neighborhood.

When No One Is Watching has all the elements of a modern psychological thriller paired with adroit social commentary and, you guessed it, plenty of steamy romance. This book is in the same tradition as Get Out, in the vehicle of Rear Window, with a classic odd-couple romantic intrigue. 

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
For seasoned romance readers and new-to-the-genre readers who want something that’s light but still grounded in reality.

Request Title | print / digital

Can romantic comedies centering a straight relationship feature strong, capable, career-driven women who have a realistic and supportive network of friends and families? Can they have a main character who views romance, not with either cynical skepticism or dogged devotion, but as an enhancement to life? Can romantic comedies be light-hearted and heart-warming but also offer nuanced representation of multiracial relationships and modern love? Let me introduce you to author Jasmine Guillory. You might know her for her 2018 work, The Wedding Date and she’s been churning out lovely, readable, steamy, upbeat romantic comedies ever since.

Party of Two features an independent young black woman who moves to LA to start her own law firm. She meets a cutie at a bar and, oops, it turns out he’s a well-known senator. Party of Two follows the lovebirds as their initially secret romance hits the front pages and their bond is tested by intense media scrutiny, and the pressures of celebrity and politics.

The Awakening: The Dragon Heart Legacy, Book 1 by Nora Roberts
For readers who want a bit of fantasy with their romance or a bit of romance with their fantasy.

Request Title | print / digital

Nora. Roberts. Does. Dragons. Now. Yes, that Nora Roberts! You can’t do a romance list and not include Nora Roberts and lucky for us in the same way that steamy romance is becoming less declassé for the masses, so too has fantasy risen from the murky depths of nerdom to claim its rightful place at the front of the Popular Media race. It doesn’t really even matter what the story is about exactly, because as previously stated: Nora Roberts + dragons.

Here’s what you need to know: The Awakening involves two worlds—one with magic and one in Philadelphia, there is a young woman in her twenties who discovers some real wild secrets about herself and her family. Then, we go to Ireland, a place we all know is lousy with magic portals and fairies, etc. Oh, and she’s been dreaming about a silver-haired elusive man who she’s never met who calls her by a different name and tells her to “come home.” That sounds like an excellent set-up for a steamy paranormal romance to me!

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Booklists Recommendations

BPL Staff Favorites of 2020

by Adult Services Library Associate Nichole

As 2020 comes to a close, I asked staff to reflect on their favorites books, movies, and albums from this year. Some staff found it easy to narrow it down, while others couldn’t choose just one! Here are the BPL staff favorite books of 2020:

  • Christian’s PickThe Lucky Star by William T. Vollmann | print
  • David’s PickCOVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One by Debora MacKenzie | print
  • Hannah’s Pick Wilderness Chef: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Outdoors by Ray Mears | print
  • Juliana’s Favorite Memoir This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire by Nick Flynn | print
  • Juliana’s Favorite Fiction Read Writers & Lovers by Lily King | print / digital
  • Leann’s Science Fiction Pick A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green | print / digital
  • Leann’s Favorite Thriller The Guest List by Lucy Foley | print / digital
  • Nichole’s PickBeing Lolita by Alisson Wood | print
  • Sue’s Pick Deacon King Kong by James McBride | print / digital

Our favorite films from 2020 include:

  • Christian’s Pick Feels Good Man *currently unavailable through the CLC
  • Juliana’s Pick The Devil All the Time *currently only available on Netflix
  • Nichole’s Pick The King of Staten Island | DVD / Blu-Ray

And finally, our BPL staff favorite albums from 2020 include:

  • Christian’s Pick Heaven to a Tortured Mind by Yves Tumor | CD
  • Hannah’s Pick Old Flowers by Courtney Marie Andrews | CD
  • Jeff’s Pick Lianne La Havas | CD / digital
  • Juliana’s Pick Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers | CD
  • Kim’s PickWomen in Music Pt. III by HAIM | CD
  • Nichole’s Pick Circles by Mac Miller | CD / Vinyl / Digital

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Staff Book Reviews

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

A book review by BPL team member, Leann.

For a long time, I didn’t *get* Anthony Bourdain. I thought he was just one of those machismo-fueled, egomaniacal celebrity chefs, who chose to be mean instead of having a personality. I finally picked up Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and decided that I wasn’t wrong. But, I wasn’t right either. After reading Kitchen Confidential, which is part memoir, part restaurant-world-exposé, I still think Anthony Bourdain was a lot of those things. He was also, however, an incredible writer, a loyal friend, a champion of the underdog, hard-working, cutting, clever, and harshly self-effacing. He wasn’t mean to anyone who didn’t deserve it—at least by his piratical professional kitchen standards—and he definitely had a personality.

As is often the case with memoirs and non-fiction, it’s not so much the topic that is important, but the way in which it’s delivered. It seems unfair that someone should be so gifted: a world-class chef who was able to write both pointedly and poignantly about his halcyon childhood, smoking cigarettes on the beaches in France, while relaying deplorable details about the seedier side of the restaurant business. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain ties his stories together successfully into a narrative package that isn’t so much poetic as it is earnest, insistent, and fun. Between sizzling commentary on dining dummies who order fish specials on Monday and damning indictments of kitchen tools like the garlic press, Bourdain’s passion for food, but also for people, shines through.

It’s Bourdain’s personality, in the end, that will keep you reading. The book was written in 2000, so some of the “culinary underbelly” is now common knowledge, but Bourdain’s trajectory to the top and his frank recounting of his journey there is fascinating even to those with only a mild interest in food or restaurant life. The knowledge of Bourdain’s death by suicide in 2018 throws a lot of Kitchen Confidential, and especially Bourdain’s opinions about himself, into sharp, tragic relief.

It was a special treat to listen to Bourdain narrate Kitchen Confidential on Libby. You can almost hear his spit fly at the mic in disdain when he describes hoity-toity restauranteurs who disrespected his Honduran kitchen staff or the calamity of an incompetent vegetable guy. I recommend Kitchen Confidential to anyone who loves food, restaurants, travel, and for those readers who liked Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler or gritty, darkly funny memoirs. If you like Ruth Reichl, and especially her memoir Save Me the Plums, I would cautiously recommend Kitchen Confidential to you, especially if you’ve been meaning to read Anthony Bourdain. I read the books back-to-back and I’d say they are two sides of the same, extremely well-written, well-fed, coin.

Below are some discussion questions about Kitchen Confidential. Spoilers ahead!