The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry, recommended by Debbie

1939 London – Hazel, 14, and her sister Flora, 5, are evacuated due to the bombings.  They are chosen by Birdie and her son Harry.  Living in a cottage along the River Thames, Hazel distracts Flora by creating a mystical world they call Whisperwood.  One day Flora disappears.  Since she was playing near the banks of the river, it is assumed that she has drowned.  Twenty years later, Hazel comes upon a book written about Whisperwood.  How could anyone know about their secret place?  The author goes by the name Peggy Andrews and lives in America.  Hazel contacts her and sets up a meeting in London.  Meanwhile, Dorothy Bellamy, a journalist, has been trying to get to the bottom of Flora’s disappearance.  Dorothy and Hazel agree to meet Peggy together in London.  How does Peggy know about Whisperwood?  Is Peggy really Flora?  Will Dorothy help solve the mystery?

What the Dead Know: Learning About Life as a New York City Death Investigator by Barbara Butcher, recommended by Megan S.

Barbara Butcher spent 23 years moving up the ranks of the New York City medical examiner’s office, including 9/11. In this memoir, Butcher candidly recounts her experiences: what led her to the job, the haunting and desperate scenes she saw as part of it, and the way she and others around her dealt with it (or didn’t). I’ve read a few books on forensics and criminal investigations, and sometimes they can blur together, but I found Butcher’s memoir frank and interesting throughout. It’s also interesting to read about 9/11 and how different her work was after the attacks. 

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, recommended by Ella

Avery Grambs finds herself in the middle of a dangerous game when an eccentric billionaire leaves her his entire fortune, snubbing his grandsons. The stakes are high for everyone involved. This was a fun and easy read!

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, recommended by Karen

Have you ever wondered about the lives your parents lived before they became your parents?  Do you think you know everything about them and their lives prior to your arrival?  In the novel Tom Lake, the main character’s daughters wonder about these things… and ask their mother while staying at home at the family cherry orchard in Michigan during the pandemic.  The stories are told in both present and past timelines, going back and forth to weave an interesting tale of love, life, choices made, and family.   While the author’s geography of Michigan is a bit off, the writing is well done and the story flows nicely, mirroring the play “Our Town.” 

December Staff Pick: The Bookbinder by Pip Williams

In World War I-era Oxford, twin sisters Peggy and Maude work in the book bindery for the university press. They live a simple life on a canal boat, always together, but Peggy wants more. This book explores the nature of knowledge, class, and gender; the war is a backdrop as we follow Peggy’s growth over the course of several years. She studies, works, volunteers with the war wounded, works with Belgian refugees, makes new friends, and falls in love. Members of our staff book club enjoyed this novel, saying it’s full of unique perspectives. We felt we learned a lot from the novel’s setting (both historical and physical) and the bookbinding work that the sisters do.