Sarah Recommends!

What book from your childhood had the biggest impact on you as a reader?

   The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling was the first book I remember reading all on my own, and being proud because it was a big book with big words and small print. What resonated most with me though was a story called “The Undertakers” in The Second Jungle Book, the lesser known but equally wonderful sequel. Having gone back to it several times over the years, I know it rewards frequent returns to the sinister domesticity of the characters, the grinning malice folded in with the humor.


What was your favorite 'adult' book that you read as a teenager?

   Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was long preceded by its reputation, for obvious reasons, and I’ve oscillated wildly in my feelings about it over the years. Until Lolita, I had only thought of the unreliable narrator as a literary device, known enough to identify it in a paper, but Humbert Humbert was the first fictional character to disorient me so thoroughly as to change how I read forever. 


After years spent as a bookseller, what is a hidden gem that you wish more people knew about?

    Not enough people, in my experience, have read T. H. White’s transportive fantasy, The Once & Future King, and this is one of the small tragedies of our time. Written for children, but demanding in a way that nothing else I can think of is, the three-part novel’s themes are beautifully constructed engagements with metaphysical, moral, and political questions, all buoyed by White’s wry, almost melancholy, sense of humor.


Who is an author that you have just recently discovered?

   I’m the type of annoying bookish person who is suspicious of recommendations (please don’t judge my own recommendations on this, the books are really good, I swear), and Jeanette Winterson is one of the writers I resisted for years even as everyone I knew kept pushing her on me, in the utter certainty that I would love her. When I did finally give in, I gave in with The Passion and couldn’t get enough. Fortunately for me (and maybe for you!) Winterson is extremely prolific and will sustain you for many a housebound evening.


What is a book that you enjoyed unexpectedly -- whether because of subject matter, genre, style, etc?

    I barely read kids’ books as a kid, and, to be fair, I don’t remember them being written with the same care and intelligence as today’s kids’ books are. I don’t remember what drew me to Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon, but once I started, I couldn’t tear myself away from it. Though written for middle readers, the story is challenging in its themes and concerns and, not gonna lie, pretty terrifying in places. Barnhill’s world-building is intricate and surprising and her characters hit all the right notes—never saccharine, tediously righteous, or simple, this is a book for thoughtful children and grownups who think kids’ books are just for kids.


What was the best book you've read during quarantine, or during the pandemic in general?

    This is a hard one! I was not one of the people that devoured every plague book ever written when the pandemic started—early on, I learned I couldn’t confront any material that was too real, too long, or too sad. Fortunately, once you realize that about yourself, know that there is a wealth of books that will engage you at your least focused, least patient, and most viciously ill-disposed toward the human race. I’m going to cheat here because the books are so tiny! Raven Leilani’s Luster, Hilary Leichter’s Temporary, Leigh Stein’s Self Care, and Lucie Britsch’s Sad Janet are four novels about weird women doing weird things and they do not want your thoughts!


Read below for book recommendations from Sarah...

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No One Is Talking About This: A Novel Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9780593189580
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Published: Riverhead Books - February 16th, 2021

The last few years have seen a number of books “about the internet,” both fiction and nonfiction, and all have run the risk of becoming irrelevant as soon as smartphone technology changes even slightly, or a new social media platform comes into being. Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This is one of the ones that successfully circumvents this problem. The novel’s second-person narration follows the protagonist as she experiences social media and the internet as though by osmosis. Referred to only as “the Portal,” the internet and its inhabitants swirl around her, her attention snagging now and then on the odd piece of content, which must be processed and engaged with quickly, almost instinctively, before it stops mattering.

Strung together from flashes and impressions, the narrative follows the protagonist, who has achieved fame through the virality of her social media posts, as she travels the world for speaking engagements, addressing crowds of followers, even as she doubts whether she really is an expert—can she be an expert if her entire relationship with the phenomenon in question is purely reactive? Or is she uniquely possessed of a natural instinct for this kind of exploration?

All the while, the material world pushes on the edges of this intangible realm—a “dictator” scrambles to power in an extremely thinly veiled analog to our very own vile and smarmy tyrant, and his depredations filter down from the global to the painfully personal.

In her previous writing—her criticism and her wonderful memoir, Priestdaddy—Lockwood has established herself as one of the smartest, funniest writers writing today, and this, her first novel, only reinforces it. But in No One Is Talking About This, Lockwood applies her wonderful turn of phrase to tragedy and how it intrudes on our lives, expanding to fill our horizons; but this devastation—smallest of small consolations, perhaps—creates the conditions for compassion and the kind of grace that can transcend difference."

-- Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Things in Jars: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781982121297
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Published: Washington Square Press - September 29th, 2020

"For anyone who enjoyed Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, Imogene Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock, or other period mysteries starring anachronistic but vivid characters, this book will be a hit. Set in Victorian London, the narrative follows Bridie Devine, Britain’s first female detective. Bridie’s unique perspective, and what we might call heightened sensitivity to the odd and the strange, make her a gifted sleuth, and she has a knack for inspiring unshakable loyalty in unexpected hearts.

Kidd populates her London with characters that inhabit their environment with the same ease and seamlessness as Dickens’s denizens of London's underbelly; and, like Dickens, she makes free use of supernatural elements that she includes so casually you could miss them, and even though the novel is crammed to the gills with plot, it moves with such sinuous fluidity it never feels like too much.

Things in Jars was the first book I read from Jess Kidd, so I was very excited to discover that it’s her third novel and she has several more projects of various kinds in the works. Read this on a three-day weekend, maybe when the weather is bad -- you will not be disappointed."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Lightness: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062905321
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Published: William Morrow - June 16th, 2020

"Sixteen-year-old Olivia arrives at the Levitation Center, an ashram perched at the tip of a mountain, more removed from civilization than physical distance would suggest. Olivia is looking for her father, a frequent visitor at Buddhist retreats across the country; he was last seen at the Levitation Center, months prior.

When she arrives at the Center, Olivia finds herself sharing a cabin with other girls her age, all with the distinct air of having “been bad.” Serena -- dark-haired, magnetic, and mysterious -- is the immediate focus in whichever room she wanders into, as are, to a lesser degree, her handmaidens, Janet and Laurel. When Serena begins to take an interest in Olivia, Olivia nearly forgets why she’s here: Serena, both otherworldly and more insistently real than anyone she’s ever met, is rooted in the present in a way that seems to dissolve her past, and she needs something from Olivia.

The Lightness has been compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Heathers, and The Craft: the Levitation Center has the same enclosed, echo-laden quality that makes commonplace events take on a monstrous significance, and as you read you have the queasy sense that these girls are running downhill and eventually, their momentum will take them straight over some terrible edge."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Frankissstein Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780802149398
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Published: Grove Press - September 22nd, 2020

"When Frankissstein first came out, I was skeptical of the title -- surely Winterson was above this particular brand of wordplay? But I put myself in her hands. The book is split into the perspectives of Mary Shelley, beginning with her time at Lake Geneva with Percy Shelley and Byron and her writing of Frankenstein, and Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor in modern-day Britain with an interest in AI and genetic modification.

Frankissstein is not a delicate chandelier of a novel the way The Passion is, but there are these crystalline sections, usually the musings of Mary Shelley as she contemplates death, womanhood, and the inequity that seems inherent to the human condition. Beset by bad weather, creeping damp, and looming poverty, never fully recovering from the loss of one pregnancy before she’s pregnant yet again, Mary’s mind is roiled by her hatred of her own physical limitations and her passion for the bodies of those she loves: her husband and the babies she loses time and again.

Where Mary thinks of her condition in terms of earthbound matter, Ry is drawn into a world populated by a crackpot cast that would jettison the body entirely: AI and genetics specialist, Dr. Victor Stein, with whom Ry is professionally and romantically involved; Ron Lord, founder of a company that is making more and more advanced sexbots; the devoutly Christian but businesslike Claire, who believes that the quest for everlasting life is a godly pursuit; and, on the periphery of the novel, Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the monster he created, stalking him over land and sea. Eventually, the Ry sections really do become incorporeal as the characters become disembodied voices in an underground bunker filled with the cryogenically frozen bodies of the hopeful who had themselves suspended indefinitely until a time they could be revived in a world without death.

Though Frankissstein sometimes seems like it hasn’t decided what it wants to be (perhaps mirroring its subjects), Winterson revisits the themes of self and gender with her wonted, quick grace, her characters batting around both mundane and abstract ideas that explore humans’ responsibility to each other and their creations, as well as humanness itself."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Self Care: A Novel Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780143135197
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Published: Penguin Books - June 30th, 2020

"Are you reserving all your intellectual labor for real life? Can you only reread and rewatch things you can recite from memory because new material is too taxing? For a while this summer, I found I was incapable of sustained focus on any book that asked anything of me in terms of patience or trust or any very complex thought.

Self Care insinuated itself pinkly into my to-read pile: short, plot-driven, radiating millennial vibes that were yelling at me on an instinctive level. If you’re on the hunt for well-written, highly readable, literary trash with a satirical edge and find that your mood these days only really responds to material that mercilessly savages qualities you recognize in yourself, this is the book for you.

Maren and Devin are the two cofoundresses of Richual (ugh), a social media/wellness platform reserved for women, purporting to uplift them out of their various trying circumstances by creating the conditions in which they could nurture themselves -- there’s no problem so big that the right skincare regimen or colon cleanse can’t fix it. Like many such brands, they are providing a real comfort to many with few options for addressing their own needs. But urged at the point of the rapacious capitalism of their “angel” investors, functioning always at breakneck speed to keep pace with the wildly oscillating social media metrics that will make or break their company, Devin and Maren are always in danger -- even with the best intentions, with their own overwhelming problems to manage -- of becoming the bad guy.

In the guise of an unforgiving, often hilarious satire, Self Care explores issues of privilege (obvious and insidious) in all its forms (whiteness, prettiness, maleness, wealth), the societal demands on women that are both alleviated and exacerbated by social media “communities,” and what it means for women to get and, importantly, keep a seat at the table. For what it’s worth, I think this book got me over whatever block was keeping me from enjoying reading.

For those of us who prefer a heads up about this kind of thing, Self Care does include instances of sexual violence."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A true (as told to me) story Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780525654711
Availability: Not in stock, usually ships to store in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - March 17th, 2020

"Told from the perspective of a dead woman whose force of character is in no way diminished by her death, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me is writer/comedian Bess Kalb’s debut, a memoir told through her relationship with Bobby Bell, her maternal grandmother and the “Me” of the title. The “story” is told more or less in chronological order but is liberally punctuated with text messages, emails, transcriptions of voicemails, and dreamt and imagined exchanges between the two women.

The book was a joy to read -- I got through it in a weekend and it was an emotional tornado. Composed of the momentous occasions you'd expect -- graduations, deaths, and weddings -- and the deceptively smaller, quieter ones that take on magnitude with time, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me is a portrait of how we unshakably take root in each other."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Essex Serpent: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062666383
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Published: Custom House - April 24th, 2018

"There’s a lot happening in The Essex Serpent, much of it sleight of hand: Perry has us consumed with the status of the serpent, the very idea of which is terrorizing the villages around the Essex marshes, and drawing studious naturalists from London. Is it there or isn’t it? Because until we know, we have no idea what kind of book this is--is the beast a judgment from the Almighty? Or an aquatic anomaly, some creature believed extinct but still living? Or is it something completely innocent, warped into a monster by a willing mind? Meanwhile, the characters, vibrant and compelling, sneak up on us and usurp our fascination with the serpent.

Perry’s hit on a fruitful seam in British history: Essex in the 17th century was the site of witch trials and a real panic about a mysterious creature in the water, and simultaneously, class resentment was simmering in London. The cast includes characters at every level of society: Cora Seaborne, a young widow who can’t help but be relieved at the death of her emotionally and physically abusive husband and the privilege she’s inherited; her bright but withdrawn 11-year old son, Francis; Martha, her passionately Marxist companion, dead set on housing reform; Charles and Katherine Ambrose, unapologetically wealthy but generous; Drs. Luke Garrett and George Spencer, one a brilliant but tortured surgeon, and his friend, endlessly supportive and a glutton for punishment; and the Ransomes: the Rev. Will, a foil to Cora’s rationalism and dedicated to his parish; his wife Stella--fey, beautiful, and tragic; and their brilliant, charming children. And that’s not even the entire cast: even characters with walk-on parts are memorable but Cora in particular, is incandescent."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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This Is How You Lose the Time War Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9781534430990
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Published: Gallery / Saga Press - March 17th, 2020

"It’s hard to talk about this book without giving too much away because the narrative arc isn’t all that complex. This lack of bells and whistles means all the heavy lifting falls to the central conceit of this strange, effervescent story.

Simply put, this is an epistolary novel where the epistles are so much more than ink on paper, literally. Red and Blue are adversaries and correspondents, shapeshifting, time traveling creatures only recognizable by their capacity for love, suspicion, and self-sacrifice.

Their worlds are at war with each other and each of them is their faction’s finest operative. That their vicious competition and professional admiration should morph into love is, obviously, the only course it can take. Any communication, let alone a romance, is expressly forbidden and punished in highly inventive ways that would make simple death look like a picnic. And yet they persist.

The letters are gorgeous: Blue and Red are the kind of lovers that rejoice in each other’s cleverness and need no one else because they’re so consumed with keeping each other fascinated; theirs is the kind of pyrotechnic connection that will make you jealous of them. The fluidity of their exchanges would be remarkable with just the one author, but I marveled at how the two authors collaborated on this. Did one pick a character and stick with her? Or did they trade characters? In any case, their exchanges are an absolute delight. It’s a little book, but you’ll find yourself reading some of these letters over and over again."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780525510895
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - July 7th, 2020

"At first blush, Fleishman Is in Trouble, Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, is about the dissolution of a marriage and its resulting (often hilarious) carnage, set amidst other marriages (past, present, and potential); about the humiliating vagaries of middle age, and the steady ebbing of hope for a diminishing future (funnier than it sounds). Unexpectedly, it becomes a meditation on identity, trauma, and empathy, whether you can ever truly know another person despite achieving all the closeness that’s humanly possible, whether one can grow to forgive or whether one simply succumbs once more to habit, whether one can ever grow up at all.

The result of Brodesser-Akner’s tricks is that I was often left feeling disoriented, but in a way that felt sharply instructive—to switch between perspectives, especially perspectives on the same event, should be disorienting. The lesson is not groundbreaking, but the way the author has folded it in will force you to confront it anew."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Organs of Sense: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781250619440
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Published: Picador - August 18th, 2020

"I only had to read the barest synopsis of this book before knowing I would love it. This is Sachs’ debut novel but he had a “collection” of “short stories” out a few years ago. Let me explain the scare quotes: the book, Inherited Disorders, is really just the same premise recycled over a hundred times: what happens to the father-son relationship when the father dies? That book was composed of fragments I remembered as delightful, so when I learned that The Organs of Sense follows Leibniz as a young man, heading to the Bohemian mountains to ascertain whether the eyeless astronomer, who predicted a solar eclipse that no one else sees any signs of, is mad, a con man, or a genius poised to shatter the laws of optics, I knew it would be wonderful.

Structurally, the book is simple. Leibniz is a largely silent interlocutor—every now and then he commits a piece of marginalia to his account which, we are told, is being submitted to an academic publication, Philosophical Transactions. The blind astronomer, looking through the largest telescope ever made, is voluble and clever in a self-aware Panglossian way, and Leibniz, so committed to logic that even the astronomer’s patently ridiculous syllogisms make sense to him, is his wide-eyed Candide. It’s probably useful to know that Sachs wrote for the Harvard Lampoon and studied atmospheric science in college, which makes for dense, potentially impenetrable material, but it’s leavened by his affectionate familiarity with his subject.

The big reveal at the end is what happened to the astronomer’s eyes. It wasn’t until late in his career, after becoming the Imperial Astronomer and mathematics tutor for the Habsburg family, that he was, quite vividly, blinded by the plucking out of his eyes. Just as the astronomer was at the mercy of a mad king, Leibniz and, by extension, the reader, is at the mercy of the astronomer’s dubious and unending tale. And just as the astronomer dreads the end of his usefulness, we dread the end of his hysterically funny, but I should mention, sometimes absurdly violent, story."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Florida Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781594634529
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Published: Riverhead Books - May 21st, 2019

"Though they bear no connection in terms of plot or premise, many of these stories are concerned with a young woman, usually a wife and mother, struggling with the roles she’s chosen, or that have chosen her. Hers is a subdued struggle, but in a powerful pathetic fallacy—hurricanes, floods, and storms tear through the book—it’s reflected in the natural environment with none of her ambivalence."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Familiars Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780778309017
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Published: Mira Books - October 1st, 2019

"The Familiars is a historical novel set in the early 17th century in Lancashire, the site of a spate of witch trials during which large numbers of women, mostly poor, were rounded up and hanged on suspicion of witchcraft. I picked it up this fall during a streak of reading exclusively witchy and witch-adjacent fiction and found it hit all the right notes.

Our heroine is Fleetwood Shuttleworth, the gloriousness of whose name isn’t reflected in her, at first, timid character. Seventeen and wholeheartedly in love with her handsome husband, Fleetwood is pregnant for the fourth time. What should have been a joyous occasion is tainted with fear—Fleetwood has never carried a child to term and has become convinced that another pregnancy will kill her; but if she doesn’t produce an heir, she’ll be cast aside by her husband, who yearns for children.

Fleetwood’s optimism returns when she meets Alice Gray, a strange, fey woman who just happens to be a midwife. Fleetwood immediately engages Alice’s services and finds that her firm but gentle ministrations and her herbal concoctions have her feeling better than ever—everyone notices her renewed appetite and vigor, and the vaunted maternal halo of serenity that had never appeared during her prior pregnancies. To the modern reader, however, it should be clear that Fleetwood’s friendship with Alice deserves at least some of the credit. The two women—girls, really, young as they both are—find much-needed companionship with each other.

Of course, Alice is one of the women accused of witchcraft—specifically, the murder of a child—and is jailed in a truly monstrous dungeon with a host of other women. As expected, Fleetwood’s health begins to fail rapidly, and the story becomes a race to free Alice before the baby comes. The obstacles (read: men) in Fleetwood’s path are numerous and, nearly cartoonishly, slavering for the destruction of the “witches.” Admittedly, Halls’ villains are somewhat one-note but the effect is compelling—the bad guys are truly loathsome, and you will genuinely fear for the safety of Fleetwood and Alice. And fear you should—Halls doesn’t soften the precarity of these women’s circumstances and there is no guarantee that Fleetwood and her child will make it or that Alice will slip the noose."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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A People's History of Heaven Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781643750422
Availability: Not in stock, usually ships to store in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - January 14th, 2020

"This is Subramanian’s second novel and straddles the line between YA and adult fiction, by which I mean that this is going to be super fun for everyone. Set in a slum called Heaven—there’s a busted sign marking it as such in Sanskrit lettering—the novel is narrated by a collective voice that encompasses five young girls: Banu, who doesn’t do that well in school but has a natural affinity for construction and engineering, and the soul of an artist; Joy, a transgender girl with great academic promise and a starkly realized sense of self; Deepa, whose blindness means her parents take her out of school even earlier than the other girls; Rukhsana, who must manage the sense that her queerness is at odds with her Muslim faith; and Padma, whose family left their village for Bangalore in search of, ironically, a better life that has failed to materialize.

We meet the denizens of Heaven as they prepare to stage a protracted resistance against the destruction of their home to make way for some new construction project, but this impending disaster quickly becomes the background against which the girls’, their mothers’, and their grandmothers’ lives play out. We learn that this isn’t the first time the people of Heaven have had to block the paths of bulldozers, that they have a learned distrust of the government, that they can no longer hope to be rescued by the voluntourists that visit them and take photographs and publish their findings in foreign newspapers, that they have learned, through repetition, that at the last, women only have each other.

There’s a lot here that’s difficult to read—arranged marriages, the marginalization of women and trans people, forced sterilization, the dangerous realities of being lower caste—but there’s a lot that will uplift you too. We see women work tirelessly to make the lives of their daughters better, and sometimes succeed; public school teachers who work harder than their paychecks warrant to help their students break the cycle of poverty; and most delightfully, we see the girls as they lift each other out of their impossible circumstances with grace and humor."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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It's All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I've Drawn It Instead Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781449480424
Availability: Not in stock, usually ships to store in 1-5 Days
Published: Andrews McMeel Publishing - January 31st, 2017

"This is Ruby Elliot’s first and very likely only book, which is an indescribable shame, because she is so wonderfully hilarious, even as her work demonstrates a person at her lowest ebb. Immediately memorable and distinguished by scribbly, deceptively untidy linework, It’s All Absolutely Fine is an illustrated account of a period of depression, brightened by flashes of charm and humor."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal) Cover Image
$9.95
ISBN: 9781616207465
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Published: Algonquin Young Readers - April 30th, 2019

"The Protectorate is a small, grim city, an island in a sea of noxious fog, which comes off the Bog that covers the world. The denizens of this city haven’t been swallowed up by this miasma because they are part of a precarious truce with the malign forces that inhabit the world outside the periphery of the Protectorate: every year, a procession winds its way from the city proper to the edges of the forest, as far as they’ve ever gone. With them, they carry a baby that will be the year’s sacrifice. The infant is left just outside the forest as an offering. When the procession leaves, the baby will be taken, and the Protectorate will be spared another year.

The story of how the Protectorate became the last bastion of humanity is sustained by a Guild of Elders who prescribe strict asceticism for the citizens and, of course, extremely suspiciously, lead much more lavish lives themselves. Their regime is propped up by a warrior/scholar class, composed entirely of women, trained and led by the Head Sister.

One year, the infant sacrifice is especially difficult: the mother is ferocious and fights off the Elders. The Sisters must get involved, and after the baby is taken away, her mother is locked away a madwoman. The scene is so powerfully disturbing that an Elder-in-training gives up his robes forever, but cannot save the child.

At the edge of the forest, the baby wails and cries. A woman hurries through the forest towards the sound. When she reaches the child, she gathers her up as though she’s had practice, straps her to her chest and sets off, away from the Protectorate. The woman is Xan. She’s five hundred years old and has been making yearly visits to the rim of the forest for centuries, taking abandoned babies and finding them loving homes in the Free Cities, on the other side of the forest. The babies are called the Star Children and everyone knows they’re special. But this baby, a little girl with a crescent scar on her forehead, tugs at Xan’s heart, and she can’t give her up. Luna is powerfully loved by a woman so consumed with sorrow that it’s turned into a source of tremendous magic, and by a witch with enough love in her to envelop whole cities and towns, and gives off a strong whiff of destiny, even as a baby.

I’ll stop here lest I spoil it, but know that Barnhill is doing some very complicated work here: the book will be emotionally challenging for young readers, but has some truly excellent and memorable emotional anchors in its characters that will make it enjoyable. Read it together."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations Cover Image
$20.00
ISBN: 9780399589065
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Published: One World - March 24th, 2020

"Good Talk spun out from a Buzzfeed piece about a conversation Jacob had with her mixed-race son as the country prepared for an election that gave every indication of being especially vicious. Jacob is a first generation American of Indian descent. Her husband is white and Jewish, and around 2015, their eight-year-old son develops some curiosity about the fact that he looks more like his mom than his dad, that an orange blob on the TV is suddenly yelling about brown people, and what it means to look like him in a country that is suddenly hostile. The end of the Obama presidency—which was a cause for the entire world to celebrate—and the prospect of having a woman in the White House for the first time, coupled with the steadily escalating rhetoric of the alt-right, long considered a vocal but powerless group on the lunatic fringe, made America an acutely confusing place. Jacob writes of how her son’s questions ran the gamut from questions like, "Did Michael Jackson lose his other glove?" to "Is it bad to be brown?" and that through their conversations, she realized that she had taken some things for granted.

The election of a vile man brought out the vileness in a lot of people, not just in the US but across the globe. In hindsight we can identify all the telltale signs of this rightward, nationalist, racist shift, but when it came, it came out of the blue, and then sharpened into the sting of betrayal—this was not the country Jacob’s parents had immigrated to, not the country she had brought her son into.

This book made me sad but it’s also really funny. Jacob’s parents are a delight and her representation of their arranged marriage is nuanced, thoughtful, and genuinely representative. Jacob writes of exploring her sexuality as a teenager and in college: being exoticized by white men while she in turn exoticized lesbians and participated in racist stereotypes. She doesn’t spare herself and her recollections are cringey and devastating and hilarious, creating an unusually full self-portrait, since this is a graphic memoir and characters appear as cut-outs collaged into different settings. It’s a quick read but will sit on you for a while like a brick, which is just as well—this is a story to dwell on."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780316357906
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Published: Back Bay Books - May 8th, 2018

"It’s not surprising that there’s so much potential for hilarity in the infamously mad customs of the Victorians but Therese Oneill’s handling of them is especially wonderful. Aimed squarely at the idly entertained fantasies of readers of the Bronte sisters or Edith Wharton, Oneill’s premise begins, “Hello slattern,” and goes on to explicate the major components of a Victorian gentlewoman’s life and character, with chapter titles including “Menstruation: You’re Doing It Wrong,” “Courtship: Not-Talking Your Way into His Heart,” and “Being a Good Wife: How to Avoid His Eventual Resentment for as Long as Possible.” Highlights include a section on how a single woman must comport herself out in the world, making sure not to walk “fast, slow, firmly, skittishly, with a straight spine, a relaxed spine, a proud face, or a shy face,” lest one be taken for a prostitute or a country girl, or tempt kidnappers.

Unmentionable combines a fascinating and informative exploration of women’s lives in Victorian times and a single, excellent joke sustained for 300 pages."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Heads of the Colored People: Stories Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781501168000
Availability: Not in stock, usually ships to store in 1-5 Days
Published: 37 Ink - January 22nd, 2019

"The thread that runs through this debut collection is the burden of being the only black person in a white space, performing blackness but also taking great care not to exemplify the stereotypes that have hamstrung black people for centuries. Thompson-Spires navigates this pretty volatile territory with a truly delightful lightness—in “Belles Lettres,” the highly educated and accomplished black mothers of two little girls in a majority-white private school slip notes into their daughters’ backpacks that escalate from passive aggressive to outright cruel. Their self-sabotaging competition with each other is heartbreaking but in this author’s hands, also unexpectedly funny. In the title story, what should be just a ridiculous situation devolves into tragedy. Two black men cross each other’s paths—one, Riley, is a cosplayer with blue contact lenses and bleached hair who is often accused of self-loathing and inauthenticity but he’s really just an anime and manga enthusiast in addition to being comfortably and happily black; the other, Brother Man, is the writer of a dystopian comic series and selling it without a permit who is often, due to his large and imposing appearance, considered intimidating. When Riley ignores Brother Man’s pitch, Brother Man takes his shoulder and turns him around—this brief exchange spirals rapidly into violence and the news flattens the two men into stereotypes: thug, criminal.

The ridiculousness of these situations does not make their subjects ridiculous—the absurdity of the circumstances puts a point so fine on the stories that they pierce our understanding with unexpected precision, surprising us with the weird composition of our own emotional response: laughter accompanied by a sinking feeling. Every story takes sharp and sudden turns, even when they’re concerned with the commonplace—the friendship between two black girls, from different schools and different neighborhoods, who run into each other at the mall; the strained relationship between two university professors of color who have to share an office—that encapsulate both the sheer variance of the minority and/or female experience as well as the sad, tedious commonality that exists throughout."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Normal People: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781984822185
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Published: Hogarth - February 18th, 2020

"Are we all fanatics for Sally Rooney yet? Like any reasonable person, I was a bit skeptical when she started being hailed as “the voice of a generation.” As a millennial, I tend to bristle at the notion of being categorized, but now that I’ve read both Conversations with Friends and Normal People, I have to admit there’s something to it. Reading both novels, I was repeatedly struck by how much of it I recognized, how many conversations I had had myself or overheard others having. This isn’t to say that all of it is strictly enjoyable—recognizing myself in bright, bookish, but self-absorbed teenagers with stilted speech and mannerisms made me cringe at least as often as it made me laugh, but Sally Rooney has accomplished something truly marvelous in capturing a type as well as she has.

If adulthood is learning to reconcile oneself to the diminishing returns of love and romance, Marianne and Connell, the main characters in Normal People, have failed to achieve it. Most of us recognize that we will never recreate the feeling of first falling in love—physiologically and emotionally, the novelty is an integral part of its force and its magic. Anyone that strains to replicate it is bound to be disappointed. This is Marianne and Connell’s tragedy: unable to find with anyone else what they’ve found with each other, they are bound together forever, even as it destroys their ability to move past the pain and insecurities that first bonded them. To make matters worse, they never develop the callus that takes away the sting of disappointment and loss so each setback is as keenly felt as if for the first time.

I recognize that this makes them both sound absolutely insufferable but let me add that this heightened sensitivity also makes them compelling: because they never grow jaded or cynical, they are voracious for experience and, smart as whips but genuinely earnest, are a pleasure to observe as they process their feelings for each other, their privilege, their responsibility to other people and the world, art, death, and family."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening Cover Image
By Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda (Artist)
$9.99
ISBN: 9781632157096
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Published: Image Comics - July 19th, 2016

"Writer Liu and illustrator Takeda have created a rich, dense world in Monstress: Maika Halfwolf, our heroine, is on a quest to avenge her mother’s death. When we meet her she’s been picked out of a slave camp by Cumaean “witch nuns” to be one of several lab rats. She and the other children selected are Arcanics, powerful human/Ancient hybrids, and are used to harvest and study “lilium,” a mysterious substance Arcanic bodies produce. Ancients are deities who tend to appear as oversized animals. What the Cumaeans don’t know is that Maika’s body is host to an immensely powerful being that emerges, tentacled and monstrous, whenever she is threatened.

Over the course of three volumes (collecting the first 18 issues) we see Maika and her, in the absence of more information, demonic parasite tear through enemies as they hunt for information about Maika’s mother Moriko, a researcher who died trying to learn about the Shaman Empress, the first Arcanic, with whom we learn Maika has some connection.

Liu’s predominantly female and gender diverse cast is composed of characters laboring under their own burdens, not unexpected in a world reeling from a war between humans and magical beings. For a people displaced by war and living in a society rife with racial prejudice and sudden violence, morality is composed almost entirely of grey areas. Heroine though she may be, Maika is ruthless and unkind, though not cruel without reason. At the start of her quest, we might think she’s determined to find her mother’s killer out of love but as events unfold and we catch glimpses of Maika’s childhood, we learn their relationship is much darker, and it’s not love that motivates Maika.

Takeda’s gorgeously intricate illustrations show a world powered by a mix of magic and steampunk technology. Though her color palette is restricted to earthy greens and browns, her line work is extraordinarily detailed and rewarding to examine. The abundance of minutely decorated clothing, skies massed with constellations, crammed interiors, and profuse foliage gives Takeda occasion to demonstrate her artistry to wonderful effect.

Monstress was an unexpected favorite for me—I picked it up on a whim one day, sucked in by Maika’s thousand-yard stare in a child’s face—and now the wait between issues feels longer every time."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Washington Black Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780525563242
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Published: Vintage - April 9th, 2019

"This is Edugyan’s third novel and like its predecessors, Washington Black has a strong adventure novel vibe—there’s a daring escape and some swashbuckling—but for me, the most interesting element of the story is the inner life of the title character. We first meet Wash when he’s around ten years old, sticking close to Big Kit. The two are waiting with the other plantation slaves as their new master arrives. When Erasmus Wilde, dressed in white and with a pallid countenance to match, descends from his carriage, Wash is seized by a sudden chill and the certainty that this is an evil man.

Wash has been under Big Kit’s protection for as long as he can remember. He was born on the plantation but Kit remembers being free and fighting her captors. Immensely strong and intensely protective, Kit stands between Wash and harm but her own love has a violent undercurrent shooting through it. This means that Wash has never known love in which there was not an element of fear, an element that reemerges when he meets Titch, the master’s contemplative younger brother, a man of science, with none of his sibling’s delight in causing pain. Assigned by chance to help Titch with his research and experiments, Wash discovers a natural talent for illustration and an aptitude for science. To his credit, Titch encourages Wash’s skill and is by all accounts a kind master. But Edugyan subverted my expectations by never once lapsing into the trope of an unlikely friendship blossoming between two characters worlds apart but driven together by the universe—it’s doubtless that Wash loves Titch but the knowledge that Titch could murder him with impunity never leaves him, and it shouldn’t because it never stops being true.

Edugyan doesn’t shy from Wash’s circumstances: he lives in a world where his life means nothing and his reprieve is so precarious—it all depends on the goodwill of a man who could abandon whatever responsibility he feels for this child for whom he feels a great deal of affection, even love, but who has added complications and risk to his life that he needn’t bother with. And Titch can only do so much and endangers himself by helping Wash. Wash is hunted for years and lives with the constant awareness that his expectations will always be restricted, and he’s one of the lucky ones. Around the arc of his life, the lives of the slaves that never made it off the plantation are conspicuously present, to him and to the reader."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards #1) Cover Image
$8.99
ISBN: 9780553588941
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Published: Del Rey - June 26th, 2007

Combine Fagin’s crew of child thieves with the Italian Job and Al Swearengen-level elaborate obscenity and you will get something approximating Scott Lynch’s wonderful Gentleman Bastard series. We start in an alternate world that’s similar to ours in all the important ways but Lynch parcels out small but significant differences: not one but two moons; slightly askew human physiology; 19th century technology achieved through alchemy; and perhaps most unnervingly, we learn that our characters are living in the ruins of a world once inhabited by mysterious beings called the Eldren. All we know of them is that they’ve left behind eerie, indestructible structures, which have been coopted by humans.

But the focus of the three (so far) books is the coterie of thieves who call themselves the Gentleman Bastards who are devoted to their craft: not for riches but for the thrill of the endeavor, the five thieves spin convoluted schemes involving intricate disguises, acrobatic cat burglary, financial fraud, and cheerful violence to take joyous advantage of the wealthy nobles that govern their city-state (think of their part of the world as a pre-unification Italy—political instability is integral to the Bastards’ plans). When we meet them, they’re at the height of their careers, reveling in their own success (“Richer and cleverer than everyone else!”), but their triumphs attract the wrong kind of notice.

This series is such a pleasure to read but I feel obligated to mention that a fourth book has been in the works for six years. Once you read the first three, you will be desperate for what’s next and it will be a hard wait. But take it from someone who’s read all three about seven times now: it’ll be worth it. And if it’s any comfort, as of this writing, the fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, is slated for an August 2019 release, which gives you plenty of time to get through the first three brick-heavy volumes."

--Sarah, Longfewllow Books


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Madness Is Better Than Defeat Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780804172189
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Published: Vintage - January 15th, 2019

"I’ve been telling people this book (if, gun to my head, I must compare) reminds me of Catch-22 and season 9 of Archer, the one on the island. Complete with a rogue CIA agent, a fugitive Nazi soldier, a shady branch of the U.S. government, a psychotropic fungus, an ancient Mayan temple and (possibly!!) its resident deities, Beauman’s fourth novel is a time-jumping fever dream of a story. In the 1930s, two separate groups of Americans are impelled to converge on a spit of land in the Honduran jungle, the site of an ancient temple, newly discovered. One, a film crew from Hollywood is trying to shoot a movie called Hearts in Darkness; the other group has been contracted to disassemble the temple, cart it back to New York, and reassemble it there. If the movie’s title wasn’t enough suggestion for you, the Conrad connection is really driven home when these two groups become embroiled in a standoff that lasts twenty years. They form a society, make and break alliances, birth a new generation, but never try to leave. But why has no one come to rescue them? Why do they not try to leave the island on their own? What really guided them here and what is keeping them?

Understand that this is just the barest synopsis—even when you believe you’ve finished peeling narrative layers, you’ll be surprised to find another. The structure of the novel is not only non-linear, but has a cyclical quality and spirals in on itself, thematically and geographically. The characters have a larger-than-life, avatar-like property that nevertheless leaves them seeming possessed of depth and substance: the villains are supremely villainous and there are no heroes. When I finished the book I felt like I’d been holding my breath for ages and had just come up for air."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Tin Man: A Novel Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9780735218765
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Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons - April 9th, 2019

Until I’d made it over two-thirds of the way through Tin Man, I thought it was an exercise in beautiful formalism—aesthetically pleasing, demonstrating the author’s technique and flair for spare but entrancing language, but with no intention to surprise you with a plot development. The book is split into sections; divided by chronology but also by character (mainly Ellis, who is the closest thing we have to a protagonist); and I feel obligated to mention, is the saddest thing I’ve read in quite some time. Through Ellis’s perspective, we travel decades through time, following his life from child- to adulthood, receiving his experience in real time. He has a difficult upbringing: his mother dies young but remains incandescent in his memories; his father is emotionally inept and abusive; and he grows up in a time when “manhood” was heavily prescriptive. But like many lucky kids, he’s able to make family out of friends—alongside the adults who take an interest, Ellis also finds Michael, who is more soulmate than just a best friend.

I shouldn’t say more, lest I give too much away, but as a reviewer it’s an odd position to be in because plot seems to be the least important element of Tin Man. I don’t mean to suggest that nothing happens—because so much does—but we learn things in such an oblique, insinuated, sideways manner that even revelatory information seems to sneak up on you.

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Home Fire: A Novel Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780735217690
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Published: Riverhead Books - September 4th, 2018

"Readers familiar with Sophocles’ Antigone will find the staggering coincidences, melodrama, and high-minded themes that make up Home Fire relatively easy to accept. For those who are not, it’s useful to go in with the knowledge that this is really an opera masquerading as a novel. As a novel it’s overwrought, but as a piece of supposedly realist fiction reveling in the tragic form and its own fantastic nature, it’s deeply affecting and memorable.

British Muslim siblings Isma, Aneeka, and Pervais Pasha are burdened with a terrible family secret, and orphaned to boot. When their paths cross that of Eamonn Lone and his father, Karamat, the new British Home Secretary, the bottom drops out of all their plans and things begin to unravel, not only for the Lones and the Pashas, but across the international landscape.

Shamsie’s depiction of what it’s like to be a Muslim in a Western country is a truth writ large, so it wants a willingness to go along and a suspension of disbelief to appreciate it. The narrative takes a sudden turn after a deceptively subdued beginning, and then progresses at breakneck speed to what we all immediately know won’t be a happy ending.

Had Shamsie hesitated even slightly over the sentimentality of the novel, there’s a chance it may have failed. But the author embraces it wholeheartedly, and the reader must too."

-Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Less (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize): A Novel Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780316316132
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Published: Back Bay Books - May 22nd, 2018

"I recommend this to anyone on the hunt for a book that’s beautifully written but doesn’t make you confront the human condition in that distressing way that all fiction seems to do nowadays.

The structure of Less will be familiar: Arthur Less is on a sort of pilgrimage, at the end of which lies self-discovery, self-realization, self-love, something of that sort, but as we know, it’s the journey that matters. In a magnificent feat of evasion, Arthur—a moderately successful writer nearing fifty—accepts every invitation he’s received—award ceremonies, writers’ residencies, destination birthday parties—in order to avoid attending the wedding of Freddy, his former lover of nine years.

Consumed with his looming irrelevance, stagnating career, and moribund love life, Arthur is drawn to others with similar preoccupations: in Paris, a man in a marriage that’s lost its spark who remains out of a complicated blend of obligation and fear; in Morocco, a woman who gives up love the day she turns fifty; a group of aging writers that cling together for mutual protection, giving awards to themselves. A character once refers to Arthur as “skinless”—that is, not just without defenses but also without artifice—and by some unlikely trick, it’s Arthur’s profound vulnerability and naiveté that gives him any chance to escape despair, obscurity, and loneliness.

Some of the magic of Less is in the stories that are begun but then spiral off into the unknown to finish themselves, and this seems to be Greer’s particular gift. It doesn’t seem right to refer to these characters who are seen once and then never again as peripheral or to treat them as vehicles for Arthur’s own development because they give every impression that they are just as full and complex as our endlessly charming protagonist."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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White Teeth: A Novel (Vintage International) Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780375703867
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Published: Vintage - June 12th, 2001

"Critic James Wood took an uneasy view of White Teeth when it first came out in 2000, when Zadie Smith was just barely out of university. Even as he took issue with her version of not magical but “hysterical realism,” he deposited her in the same class as Rushdie, Pynchon, Delillo, and Foster Wallace (all equally guilty of writing “big, ambitious novel[s],” all the “children of Dickens”), so at the very least she kept illustrious company. Wood, a pretty restrained writer himself, complained of the “glamorous congestion” of White Teeth, by which he meant the sub-plots and the sub-sub-plots; the extravagantly interconnecting lines between characters; the fundamental strangeness of these characters’ very existence. They are mostly members of various immigrant communities in London, voluble and florid of speech, whose circumstances are wildly unlikely and virtually impossible, yes, but Smith is more concerned with individual characters as parts of a whole--London, humanity, what have you.

With all due respect to Wood, the elements that he found confounding are the very elements that made this such an enjoyable novel to read and re-read. Wood is right about the lack of solid characterization but the inconstancy of identity is part and parcel of postmodern fiction—it permeates everything from literature to film to standup comedy, and Smith’s characters’ environment is at least as important as they are. White Teeth is, among other things, a formal exercise, a flourish of technique, and Smith keeps a bunch of flaming chainsaws spinning in the air with rare, if any, accidents."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780553510744
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Published: Knopf Books for Young Readers - June 4th, 2019

"If you’re anything like me, child protagonists’ penchant for diving headlong into peril gives you terrible anxiety. So I was an instant fan of Malcolm Polstead, the 11-year old hero of La Belle Sauvage, a prequel to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which first introduced us to Lyra Belacqua. Where Lyra was famously but thoughtlessly brave, leapt first and rarely thought about it, and operated more on momentum and adrenaline than actual planning, Malcolm is cautious and deliberate, but no less courageous.

Malcolm’s parents run an inn in a village outside Oxford and their clientele includes all sorts of interesting people from London and Whitehall and the University. When three shadowy and powerful men stop at the inn and ask questions about an infant being kept at the nearby convent, Malcolm is drawn into a convoluted plot involving a terrifying, fascist arm of the Church, a handful of resistance fighters, a group of nuns, and a creepy, menacing stranger with the strangest Daemon anyone had ever seen. The narrative unfolds against the worst—magical, some say—flood Britain remembers.

The infant is, of course, Lyra, but before she becomes the heroine of The Golden Compass and the following books, she has to make it to Jordan College, where familiar readers first met her. La Belle Sauvage documents that journey, as Malcolm and the sullen but charming Alice repeatedly risk their lives to bring Lyra to sanctuary in Malcolm’s much-loved canoe.

I have to admit I was nervous about revisiting a world that had meant so much to me as a kid, but it took about two pages for the nerves to be dispelled by Pullman’s leisurely but tight plotting, some familiar characters and a host of new ones. I can’t wait for the next book."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics Cover Image
$13.95
ISBN: 9780393356977
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - May 14th, 2019

"In Tyrant, Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt makes a nominal pretense of this not being yet another Trump book, which I appreciated because do we really need another Trump book?? That said, Tyrant feels most like a close reading of the History plays with special emphasis on the rise and fall of despotic rulers with some incidental topical not-so-subtext. Because Greenblatt never comes right out and says that he intends the book as a grim warning of our near future if we’re not careful, the effect is sort of eerie and oblique and a gradual chill sets in as you read. The point Greenblatt makes is that Shakespeare’s tyrants, imagined 400 years ago by an author who was careful to keep at least two centuries (if not millennia) between himself and the historical figures he depicted (lest he draw the wrath of some powerful party), are still relevant comparisons to today’s tyrants. The machinations of Richard of York, Richard III, and Macbeth; the madness of Lear and Leontes; the fall of Caesar and Saturninus; all have their mirrors in modern dictators and yet, we keep allowing history to repeat itself.

Regardless of the distressing subject matter, it’s a great pleasure to read Greenblatt on material he has such affectionate familiarity with, practiced but not too serious. Most readers will be in on the joke just from the cover, with all of us being so keenly alive to the political perils of our time, but Greenblatt’s tone is tongue-in-cheek; he stresses that the situation is dire, but not irrecoverable; and if nothing else, Shakespeare makes the medicine go down."

--Sarah, Longfellow Books


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Americanah Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9780307455925
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Published: Anchor - March 4th, 2014

Americanah follows Ifemelu as she cuts a meandering path from Lagos to Princeton. In brief, it’s a story about feeling slightly alien in your birthplace, and the vague sort of guilt that comes from assimilating a little too easily, a little too well, in another country. And then there's that other sort of immigrant experience, which makes you yearn for home.

Adichie dives into the complexities of race, gender, and culture, in a deeply personal way as she sketches the life of an immigrant on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as that of the expatriate returning home.

Arguably, this book is even more relevant now than when it was first published in 2013. Read it read it read it."


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The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Cover Image
$19.95
ISBN: 9780691178325
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Published: Princeton University Press - September 19th, 2017

With the matsutake mushroom as a touchstone, The Mushroom At the End of the World is a philosophical and scientific engagement with a variety of subjects, including genetics (and epigenetics), biodiversity, cultural syncretism, immigration, global economies, the possibility of freedom and what it means to have it (and not have it), and international relations—and that’s not even all.

The matsutake is said to be the first thing that grew in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings and is in fact impossible to cultivate because it requires a devastated environment to thrive; further, the matsutake and other mushrooms play a significant role in making unforgiving conditions hospitable for other plant-, and by extension, animal life.

 The matsutake is present then, at both beginnings and ends, making it an apt if optimistic symbol of our times. Tsing would also like to think of it as a mirror: the mushroom, a “companion” species, is emblematic of the hybridized, unruly, and utterly opportunistic nature of ecosystems, both around us and inside our bodies.

Tsing is an anthropologist by education with a lyrical turn of phrase which is displayed to full advantage in the book, a series of short, montage-y chapters, some dwelling on place, some on memory, and a number of involved but still buoyant dips into scientific explication, which only add to the fluid poetry of this unlikely ethnography.

—Sarah, Longfellow Books