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  • Writer's pictureAlaina

2022 Staff Favorites - Part 1: Sharon's Favorites

The staff at Berwick Public Library had a great reading year, and we want to share some of our favorite books we read in 2022! First up, we're sharing some of our director Sharon Kelly's favorites!

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

"For three women living through WWII, the threat of war poses very separate issues - that is, until their lives become intertwined in the most tragic of circumstances!"

First of all, I love historical fiction, especially when it is written well - which Lilac Girls certainly is! Martha Hall Kelly does an incredible job of introducing her characters, setting the scene, and following them through their trials and tribulations in the most seamless fashion. You literally befriend her characters, bond with them and miss them when you have to put the book down. She writes the type of story that you can't wait to dive back into, and you will find yourself saying "just one more page, just one more page" until you realize you have read far too late into the night already! Lilacs Girls checks off all the boxes for a fantastic read, and most unbelievably, it is based on real people and events - Caroline Ferriday and the so called "Rabbits" from the Nazi concentration camp for women - all of them existed. You will cry, laugh, and fall in love with all of these characters as you travel through their journeys with them and all of those blurry eyed mornings will be well worth the effort. This book is five stars!

Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly

"Lilac Girls introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. In the Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army."

I picked up Sunflower Sisters before I realized that I missed Kelly's book number two Lost Roses, but fear not, I will be reading that one just as soon as I am caught up on my current reads! I just love her writing and her incredible stories! You can always tell when a historical novel has been well researched and Martha Hall Kelly does a great job and it shows! This story is another one that takes a particular time period and several very different women, and weaves the storyline along their lives, while connecting them all so easily. It is another book that you will be arguing with yourself that you simply must put down before your alarm goes off and it is time to get up! It is a book that transports you back to an era in our country's history that is not easy to read about, but so important that we do. Kelly brings history to life and her characters become real. Love this book and I can't wait to go back and read book number two!

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

"A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession and injustice across American history Kentucky, 1850."

When I first read the reviews of this book, I thought it looked quite interesting, but I usually shy away from books based on animals, in case they are sad! I have read other books by Geraldine Brooks and I loved them, so I didn't want to just discount this one. I love Brook's writing style, and her stories are complicated, but not confusing. They are rich in content with very well developed plots and characters. People of the Book was a particular favorite of mine! So, with this in mind, I made a deal with myself - if the horse in the book (or any animal) is abused, I would stop reading it! I will tell you that this book is not free from some moments when I thought that I would have to put it down, not horrible, not terrible, Just a couple of "ok, well, if this gets worse, I will stop." It didn't get worse and in fact, it actually was a great ending! Notice that I didn't say "a happy ending" which I did on purpose. This book is a story about slavery, racism, poverty and power. It is a story about the bond between a young boy and a bay foal, who share a love and trust so strong, nothing can come between them. It is a story of the making of a champion, the lost story of unseen Black horsemen who made them winners.

Ok, so you can see the pattern here - historical fiction will always be my favorite!

West With Giraffes, by Lynda Rutledge "An emotional, rousing novel inspired by the incredible true story of two giraffes who made headlines and won the hearts of Depression-era America...The Great Depression lingers. Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder. They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic." What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to become Southern California's first giraffes at the world's first female directed zoo! So, when I ordered this book for the library, I thought, what in the world is it about? Giraffes, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, WWII? Yes - all of the above and more! This book and the journey of the giraffes across America incorporate so much social history and relevance. It is suspenseful, and frustrating, sad and happy, each chapter tempting you into the story even deeper. You will love the characters -especially the giraffes who prove that animals have their own wonderful personalities just as much as the people do! It is another animal inspired book that I most certainly finished, loved and am happy to recommend and I loved the ending!

Let me deviate from my favorite genre to prove that I do read other things besides historical fiction. I recommend all of these and enjoyed them all for different reasons:

Made me happy and laugh out loud: The Guncle by Steven Rowley I had the library's book discussion group read this novel and although they liked it, they didn't give it a five star. I loved it! I loved the characters and they all made me laugh, giggle, and smile. It was great fun and a great story.

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson

This book is so funny, and honest, and crazy, that you forget that it is about very serious and debilitating illnesses - depression and anxiety. Jenny candidly talks about her life long struggle with both and is able to use humor to describe what it is like for her and her family to cope with. I did laugh out loud throughout this book and not in a mean way, it was just that she is so darn funny! She wants you to laugh, she wants you to relate, she wants you to see what life is like for someone who has depression and anxiety. She wants you to learn, and I truly did. I loved this book and have so much respect for Jenny. She is true artist, painting a dark, bleak, picture for us, using the light of humor and laughter.

A murder mystery (something I usually don't gravitate toward): The Maid by Nita Prose I LOVED the main character, Molly Gray, in this book!! I can't say this enough. She was sweet, and innocent, and lovely, and, and, and, very gullible. Raised by her "Gran", who by the way knew how special Molly was, tried to prepare her for the world without her. It wasn't easy for either of them, but Molly lived her life, never not thinking about what her Gran would tell her to do - until she met the man of her dreams that is! So much fun and personality in the characters surrounding this mysterious murder at a very high class hotel. You will be swept up in all the intrigue!

Real life lessons which might be more interesting to librarians - but it speaks to a bigger social issue for sure: Overdue: Reckoning with the Public Library by Amanda Oliver

Who doesn't love libraries??? Well, there is a lot packed into this little book. It makes you think about what libraries are all about now - what they are dealing with, what is expected of them, how they function. It was very eye opening indeed. The reviews of this book by librarians were harsh. They criticize the author for writing such a negative narrative after only working in a particular public library for six months. I think of it a little differently - how much time do you really need to work in a place to see the danger, the neglect, the social, spiritual, and humanistic degradation of people suffering from drug addiction, mental illness and poverty day in and day out can be soul crushing. There are so many challenges facing public libraries today and there is no gentle way of describing some of these serious problems, and why they happen. It is an eye opener for sure!

Great stories for our times: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult A love story about the whole Covid lockdown. I feel like we have already forgotten how hard this all was on us. This novel was great to dive back into a time and we all can relate!

Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay What a beautiful story! Alaina recommended it to me and I recommend it to everyone I know. It is truly a wonderful read....that is all I will say, except that I am not a great cook, and that is not a prerequisite to enjoy this beautiful book!


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