Amaranthine April Staff Picks
Appraising an amalgam of alluring arts, read April’s staff picks!
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Go As A River was in a stack of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) on my desk and I picked it up a few days before its release date, thinking there was a chance I might finish it before then. I didn’t, but I was enchanted by it immediately and amazed at how much I had enjoyed it when I did complete it.
Considering the basic elements of this book, it shouldn’t have appealed to me. It’s the story of a young woman coming of age. It’s historical fiction. It’s a debut novel. These are topics and genres I normally don’t gravitate toward, but I’m so glad I did. The author, Shelley Read, taught writing in Colorado for years before publishing Go As A River. What I enjoyed most in this book is the main character, Victoria Nash. By drawing a complete picture of Nash and her tribulations, Read also portrays the tribulations of small-town life in Southwest Colorado between the late 1940s through the early 1970s. In following Nash, her family, and those she encounters, you’ll learn about farming peaches, transplanting peach trees, flooding out towns to make reservoirs, and resilience, in humans and in nature.
“Shall I choke you, Cat,
Or kiss you?
Really I do not know.”
In honor of poetry month, let me introduce you to this little book that captures the very essence of our feline friends on its pages. With a combination of serious, stirring, and silly poems, Cat Poems is sure to entertain you until the end! As a cat owner myself, it had me laughing out loud at times and tearing up at others, truly a rollercoaster of emotions, just like owning a kitty!
Anais Nin was one of the first women known to explore fully the realm of erotic writing, and certainly the first prominent woman in the modern West known to write erotica. She is not only a erotic writer but she published and printed her own books and shared with the world her journal collections with such vulnerability.
This was the first of her works that I read as of four years ago this month. I was traveling through the redwoods living in my Subaru when I walked into a tiny little bookstore and came across this book. Tattered and old with ink writing in the margins; it looked loved. I was so excited to read something of hers. I craved to release myself from the chains our society put on me from the time I was born. I had been in a relationship recently where I couldn't be free to express, and explore myself. I wanted to come out of the shadow of men, but to be quite honest though I had no idea what that looked like or how to express myself really. Anais Nin had also experienced these difficulties and had ideas and feelings and she unapologetically wrote about the suffering of women and even men. At that time these were revolutionary and she didn’t stop when people denied her she chose creative expression over the simple comforts of staying on the path more traveled. I was so inspired by her dedication to herself. She is shameless and unapologetically herself.
She is a dreamer, poet, and a voice in women activism, even today. This book in my eyes is an excellent introduction to her works.
Clara Lucas’s Magic is broken and she can’t fight it anymore. After a disastrous meeting with the Council of Magicians, her magic takes over in a moment of fear and she accidentally causes poisonous flowers to grow and root in her fathers chest, fatally wounding him. Unfortunately, the only person who can help is her old best friend Xavier, the youngest new addition to the council, who has been ignoring her for the past 5 years. Xavier’s asking price to help Clara is too steep, but she will sacrifice anything to help her father. Will the sacrifice be worth it?
This is a wonderfully cozy fantasy romance read for teens and adults alike! It was easy and enjoyable to read, and went perfectly with a cup of tea and a gray snowy day.
Jennifer A. Nielsen's new book Iceberg once again brings history to life for young readers. On board the Titanic, young stowaway Hazel Rothbury dreams of being a journalist one day. She hopes this dream will save her from the factory work she is on her way to America to procure to help support her family after her father's death.
After learning about a fire in the engine room of the ship, Hazel is sure she can write a newspaper article people will want to read. Upon further investigation, she discovers even more safety concerns and other secrets. When Hazel makes friends with a first class passenger, a young crew member and an older woman, she is able to get a glimpse of life on board the ship from multiple perspectives. For any young reader fascinated by this famous ship, this is a must read. The brave, ambitious, curious protagonist who is not afraid to literally stand up and ask hard questions to those in charge will inspire young and old readers alike. As the horrific disaster quickly unfolds, Hazel gives us a glimpse of the very worst and the very best of human behavior.
This is such a beautiful story that highlights the deep connection and wisdom of nature in traditional Indigenous storytelling. A family is packing up their log cabin and belongings to move deeper into the woods for the winter. Along the way, Zoo Sap falls out into the snow. Without a second thought, all of the animals of the woods come to help keep Zoo Sap warm until his father can come and find him. It was beautiful to see the immense gratefulness and respect that Joo Tum had for the animals that helped keep his son safe. This book also has stunning illustrations by Rebekah Raye, which tie the whole winter world together. This is a perfect read-aloud for families to begin highlighting the true deep importance of our connection to the natural world.
Readers, prepare yourself to be immersed in the intoxicating power of fragrances, feel the tranquility scent provides, connecting your soul to memories, to nature, and that is only the beginning of the treat this read has in store for you! Taking place between India and Paris, from courtesans to master perfumers to classical paintings, to marital relationships, this complex story has so many twists that it’s a fast, but pleasurable read! Author Joshi continues this story with the same characters from The Henna Artist and The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. One thing is certain, I will NEVER think about a classical painting in the same way!
Emilia Hart's debut novel Weyward is a provocative and engaging tale that spans centuries. In this novel, the reader follows three Weyward family women; Kate, Altha, and Violet as they each overcome great adversity in their respective time periods and channel their inner spirit to survive. It was beautifully woven and unique as all three stories interconnect in a very unexpected and emotional way. Each woman is faced with challenges of oppression, patriarchy, ridicule, and exile. The chapters jump from timeline to timeline which keeps the novel fresh and there are multiple moments of suspense as you rush to finish one chapter to get back to a different timeline! I could not put this book down and I have recommended it to all the fierce witchy women in my life. It is a great reminder that women are strong, resilient, and innovative and we have been for centuries.
Once again Rebecca Serle has managed to emotionally compromise me. Her understanding of human connection and the complexity of our emotions never fails to get under my skin. This novel tackles the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, and how those relationships are so fundamental in how young women grow and develop into adults. Add in a little time-slip, and you get a mourning woman faced with developing a friendship with her own, now younger, mother. It is such an interesting dynamic to watch, and had me wondering about what my relationship with my mother would have looked like had I known her in her 20s and 30s. It’s a fun mental exercise, and Serle pulls it off flawlessly.
Upon its Pre-release, Mouth to Mouth was described as ‘One of the best things to come out of 2021’, so naturally, I had to read it. Freethinking, homeless hippie, Jeff, saves multi billionaire art dealer Francis from drowning. In a search for closure, Jeff begins to stalk Francis, and becomes obsessed with what the art dealer does with the life he owes to Jeff. This obsession drives Jeff to force himself into Francis's life, workplace, and family.
A psychological thriller about the moral corruption of wealth, and the extent to which we are entitled to live our lives the way we wish, Mouth to Mouth is a novel that will occupy your thoughts for weeks to come.
Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses, has a treat in store for readers! This is a painful story of a family with more “skeletons in the closet” than is imaginable! Sallie Kincaid has spent years emulating her bigger-than-life father, Duke, a successful Prohibition “rumrunner” and the most wealthy land-holder in Virginia. Sallie is an independent, tough, mountain girl, whose father treated her fair but never special. When Duke dies in an accident, Sallie finds she has quite the pair of shoes to fill! Yet, in the end, after discovering the secrets of her family tree, Sallie comes to understand that her pride in being a Kincaid is sheer nonsense. Does it really matter who’s an outsider and who belongs, who’s legitimate and who’s born out of wedlock, who gets the inheritance and who doesn’t? Author Walls develops the characters in such a way that I will truly miss the Kincaid family, and remember the message: Be careful who you put on a pedestal!
Add a little bit of Derry Girls, a little bit of Ladybird, and a dash of family tragedy, and you’ve got The Gospel of Orla. This reads like a 14 year old’s stream of consciousness, and is just as frustrating and bare. Orla’s mother died, leaving an alcoholic father, her sister, and a huge gap in the family. Desperate to escape her everyday landscape, Orla plans to run away to Ireland and live with her aunt. It’s all meticulously planned out. Then Orla meets Jesus, who may or may not be a vampire. But he can bring the dead back, and she wants her mom.
This is a darkly humorous, kinda heartbreaking exploration of growth, grief, and running away. It’s a beautiful and quick read, perfect to get you thinking.
This complex story took Nguyen Phan Que Mai seven years to research and write, and it’s powerful! She compassionately looks at the pain of the Vietnam War era, both past and present, from the perspective of US soldiers fighting and later returning to South Vietnam, as well as the young Vietnamese women who participated in the sex industry initiated by the American military presence. The result of this situation were the Dust Children, Amerasians, born from the wartime unions between American men and Vietnamese women, who faced cruel discrimination. This story demonstrates the effects of war, beyond deaths and injuries, confirming that at the end of war, whoever wins, the PEOPLE lose!
For lovers of language, linguistics, and culture, this is a remarkable read. Not only is it a translated work from Japanese (which is always interesting to read and interpret), it also deals with a curious linguist in a near future dystopia where knowing English is a disadvantage because you are forcefully sent away to America! The linguist travels around the world with a group of people he acquires along the way, including a woman who has made her own “homemade language” to communicate with people, tracking down one of the last native speakers of Japanese. This book was super thought provoking and fun to read! I am patiently awaiting the next two books in the trilogy.
If you read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, don’t expect the same type of story, but be prepared to relish a completely different narrative that is equally as good! Bodie Kane, the narrator of the story, lived through the murder of her roommate in the mid-1990s. Twenty three years later, Bodie returns to the school to teach a two week long class, which rouses in her a need to interrogate her past and face what really happened to her roommate. She has some questions for a lot of people. This clever page-turner of a story addresses the issues of sexism, racism, bullying, adult abuse of minors, police corruption, societal inequalities, and righting past wrongs. It’s a powerhouse of a story!
I was required to read this for my English class. However, I was very excited and couldn't put it down after I started it. Kya lives in the marsh, she sees the herons along the shore, the gulls in the lagoon, the bullfrogs in the mud, and her family leaving. One by one her family leaves her and she learns to take care of herself. The towns-people don’t understand her and often refer to her as marsh trash. The girl who lives alone in the marsh is a perfect suspect when the town's prized football player dies. Or was he killed? A thrilling tale exploring the beauty the wild can hold. If you are looking for a deeper read I would encourage you to explore the wilderness civilization boundary as you read. Our society views the wild as a place to go that is different from us. We seek to control it and often lose interest when we tame it. Effectively taking the wild out of the wilderness.
If you’re looking for a charming, funny, neurodivergent, and heartfelt queer romance story, look no further! Alexei and Ben can’t help running into each other while hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. Choosing to hike the PCT because an attempt to come out to his very conservative parents went very wrong, Alexei isn’t sure how to feel about the much more outgoing, upbeat Ben. Ben is very interested in Alexei, but hiking the PCT to help start over from a series of unhealthy relationships and life choices isn’t the most opportune time to meet someone. But love can bloom in almost any circumstance. This is a ‘Happily Ever After’ story by the fabulous queer author Kelly Anita that can’t be beat!
I am in love with this book. It is so sweet, so gorgeous, so lovely, the perfect book to be swept away by. In The Lives of Puppets is a soulful retelling of Pinocchio set in a far away future populated by robots and scraps. In a forest, far away from anything, there is a curious collection of houses, robots, and one human. Vincent, the human, spends his days looking for useful things in the scrap yard and fixing up decommissioned robots.
This book made me think about free will from a unique perspective, it made me wonder at our world again, it made me feel warm and fuzzy. It’s a beautiful book, please read it!
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Dystopian fiction has always seemed to me like a static genre, with the same themes, same character archetypes, and same overall commentary. Wool tosses all of that up in the air, and profoundly changed my outlook on what “dystopian” could mean. Bleak, gritty, and stunningly realistic, Wool takes place on a ravaged Earth, where all that remains of humanity has taken to living underground in massive Silos. There are many regular rules that survived as holdovers from a bygone era, but with one notable addition: talk of the outside, or leaving the silo is strictly forbidden, by punishment of being expelled from the Silo. So when Holston, the current sheriff of the Silo, asks to leave, everything is turned on its head. Hugh Howey, using the same formula established by Orwell and Bradbury, wrote a completely new kind of dystopia, one that is heavy with paranoia, distrust, and claustrophobia and pulls the reader close to its greasy, industrial atmosphere. Wool, like any good dystopian fiction, forces the reader to take a second look at their environment and to truly analyze the life they’re living.
This short novella was captivating throughout all 150 pages. Muriel Barbery tells a story of a woman who is half Japanese visiting Japan for the first time for her estranged fathers funeral. Through letters and instructions from her father’s assistant, Rose is sent on a journey retracing her father's life, and in the process, she finds herself falling in love with the place, and with a person.
This one is for your dreams. Not the ones that will succeed, not the ones that will fail, but the dreams that exist and fuel all of us. The dreams that burn and warm us at the same time. Reading this poem, and listening to Reynolds perform it is like being seen for what I want and what I will likely never have in the kindest way possible.
I consider Bukowski to be one of the quintessential American poets, and some of my favorite lines he wrote over the years focused on his cadre of cats. Touching, funny, sometimes crass, and always tinged with Bukowski’s signature brand of deprecation, this slim volume compiles the best verses about cats written over the course of his career. My particular favorite is the poem another casualty:
he’s in the penalty
only wanting to
I’m a “seasoned” wife, married for 50+ years, and found this book to be hysterical, but oh, so true! The poems reflected my own feelings and experiences, and reassured me that I’m not the only married person in the world to feel this way! Whew! I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did. Share it with your significant other, as it will enhance your conversations and result in a lot of laughs!
This is a window poem. It speaks to experiences I will never have, but would like to understand as best I can. Inheritance is about the physical manifestations of ancestors, specifically through Black hair. How many Black women have been told to ‘fix’ their hair, to whiten it and themselves. It is a celebration of self love in the face of a society hell-bent on encouraging self-hate to anyone who doesn’t fit in a white little box.
I’ve become more familiar with record producer Rick Rubin in the last few years through his podcast, Broken Record, which he produces with Malcolm Gladwell. Rubin’s success as a record producer is notable in that he works in a variety of genres and he has a knack of working with established artists and successfully reworking their sound and approach, generally by simplifying things and focusing on the music.
Rubin’s style in interviewing artists on the podcast is chill, simple, and engaging. He leads his subjects to spaces where they reveal much about their creative process. It makes sense, then, that Rubin himself is also articulate about tapping into the creative process, and he has done that in The Creative Act.
The book is organized by dozens of short chapters which Rubin suggests can be read out of order, depending on your interests. I read it in order and found that it was most provocative when I read many chapters in a long reading session, as it reinforced the key theme – simplicity. There is creativity in all of us and it is most easily accessed when distractions are minimized and authenticity is maximized.
I’m typically bored by business books but will consider sharing chapters and suggested exercises from this book with my colleagues.
Have you ever wondered what lies beneath this realm? Are demons real? Is the devil? The answer lies in the town of Sicily, where twins Emilia and Vittoria live. A seemingly quiet town, soon runs red as witches turn up dead. Vittoria is one such victim, filling Emilia with vengeance. Emilia will do anything to find her sister's murder. A story worthy of the seven circles of hell, get ready to stay up late intrigued by demons, princes, sins and romance.
Puzzles, riddles, secret passages, a fortune, a family, and Avery. Avery's whole life is turned upside down when she inherits a fortune from someone she's never met. The deceased billionaire's family is less than pleased that their grandfather's money, assets, and estate is now Averys. The plot thickens as clues are found and alliances are formed. A perfect read for fans of Mr. Lemoncello's library and the 39 Clues. Be careful who you trust and keep your enemies close and remember why kill two birds with one stone if you could kill twelve.
In a world full of rags to riches stories, Esperanza Rising serves as a refreshing contrarian. Esperanza is the only daughter of a fabulously wealthy plantation owner in Mexico, but on the night of her birthday, her father is found dead on the road just outside of their property. Esperanza and her mother are then forced to flee from their home and immigrate to California. Within a few weeks, Esperanza is displaced from the heights of prosperity to the depths of American racism and poverty, and is forced to adapt to her new life as a farmhand.
Esperanza Rising is a beautiful, woman-led story about familial love, feminine strength, and what parts of life truly fulfill us.
This book is a celebration of nature, from nature’s point of view! Told through words and full page illustrations (which also tell the story) this is not a fantasy, but rather based on scientific facts, relating to the interconnectedness of all living things. It is the story of two little Sycamore tree seeds, on a journey to find a place to grow, and carries a strong environmental message: We must all care for our fragile planet! This book is full of deep metaphors, allowing the reader to reach his own depth of meaning, which is actually a good thing, because reading the story at various stages of your life will deliver even deeper meaning! I loved this book, and YES, it got me thinking, big time!
If you liked The Invention of Hugo Cabret by the same author, then I know you’ll love Big Tree!
Ella Enchanted is, by far, one of the best children’s books I have ever read. Ella is a spunky, insubordinate young lady with a knack for learning languages, but on the eve of her birth she is cursed with unconditional obedience.
Ella’s quest to break this curse takes her across kingdoms, through encounters with elves, ogres, fairies, and princes. Ella Enchanted is a phenomenal story that helps young girls to unlearn Disney’s meek and passive ideals, and inspires us to pursue our own independence.
An amazing rendering of the first 39 Clues book! I was so excited to start reading this. I find graphic novels can be more engaging to read. This is a perfect book for your readers looking to start an awesome series! A great mix of adventure, friendship, history and anagrams. Amy and Dan are given a choice, a million dollars each or a clue. If they choose the clue it may lead them to a treasure this world has never seen. So what will they decide? Play it safe or risk it all. I guess you'll have to start reading to find out what they choose. Happy reading!
Dog Man: Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea: A Graphic Novel (Dog Man #11): From the Creator of Captain Underpants (Hardcover)
If you want to be the favorite uncle, hip grandma or just cool grown-up friend, gift the new Dog Man book Twenty Thousand Fleas Under the Sea to the 5-10 year old in your life. Admittedly, I have a hard time following the intricate plotline, my young friends have no trouble and are obsessed with these books. I personally appreciate how Pilkey uses literary classics as inspiration for his titles. As a former teacher, I love these books because they are inspiring a generation of young students to love reading.
This is a great picture book about resilience and how to get through hard times. The message of putting down your worries, doubts, and fears, even temporarily, will resonate with any adult and is an important skill to impart upon children. Peter Reynolds uplifts every story with his excellent illustrations, and this is no exception. As usual, every picture book I recommend is a great read-aloud option!
When I heard that this gorgeous book had recently been banned in a Florida school district, I raced to our shelves and immediately bought a copy! Written by Black Panther actress Lupita Nyong’o, Sulwe is a sweet, feel-good story about a little girl who struggles with self-love due to the dark color of her skin. When she embarks on a journey among the stars, little Sulwe begins to see herself in a new light and learns to accept that she is beautiful too! Stunningly illustrated and spreading a heartwarming message about self-acceptance, it is a great read for all ages! Get out there and read banned books, everybody!
I love the idea of becoming friends with crows, ravens, and magpies. The fact that this book is about a little girl who finds a friend in a crow in quite the unconventional way made me smile from ear to ear. This is a great book to read while also making sure to point out all the little details in Bonnie Lui’s illustrations. I love that the outlandish story Chloe tell to an unbelieving audience is eventually proven true and she is vindicated to the people who didn’t believe her. It was such a fun romp through the woods for any adventurous kid.