Heather's Picks

Heather found her way to Phoenix Books after retiring from full-time teaching. Her primary interest is in fiction, but she also ventures into poetry, nature, gardening, biography, history, and mystery. Lately, she has been reading some middle grade fiction to help young people.

Reviewed by: 
Heather
The Serpent King Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780553524024
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Crown Books for Young Readers - March 8th, 2016

The teens - Dill, Lydia, and Travis - form a bond of friendship in a rural Tennessee town. Each one feels the outcast for different reasons. Dill’s father, a Pentecostal minister, lands in jail for viewing kid porn. Dill is inadvertently blamed for his father’s failings. At the same time, Dill does not take up snake handling or drink poison in the tradition of the Pentecostals. Instead he has a gift for writing music. Eventually Lydia inspires Dill to apply to MSTU in Nashville and to begin a new life, unburdened by his parents’ debts and narrow view of the world. Travis, likewise, is humiliated by his classmates and his father for enjoying fantasy and wizardry. Travis’ older brother Matt died in Afghanistan, and Travis’ alcoholic father cannot accept the loss well and abuses Travis for being weak.

Lydia, on the other hand, comes from a loving, stable family. Dr. Blankenship and his wife, who encourage Lydia’s obsession with fashion and a blog she created to communicate with her followers. Ultimately, Lydia inspires her friends to pursue their dreams. The book contains tragedy, but it also inspires.

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one."
--Dolly Parton


Reviewed by: 
Heather
Commonwealth Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062491794
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - September 13th, 2016

When Bert Cousins shows up uninvited to Franny Keating’s christening party in Southern California, Bert kisses Franny’s mother Beverly. This kiss sets in motion the dissolution of two marriages. Over a time frame of 50 years, the novel explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. The Keating and Cousins children spend time together in Virginia and California. They bond based on their shared disappointment in their parents and genuine affection for one another.

When Franny has a relationship with the renowned author Leon Posen, she shares the story of her family which becomes the source of his successful novel. The novel’s success forces the children to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and their deep loyalty to one another. Patchett’s novel is a meditation on the inspiration, interpretation and ownership of stories.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781101965184
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Ballantine Books - January 3rd, 2017

Booker writes passionately about his commitment to the common good. As the first African-American elected to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey, Booker writes of his time as mayor of Newark, NJ, (2006-2013) and his efforts to reclaim the city for the people. While he celebrates the ideals of individual excellence, self-reliance, and personal responsibility, Booker reminds us that the greatest accomplishment required mutual effort and shared sacrifice-values echoed in The Declaration of Independence. At a time when cynicism pervades politics, Booker expresses optimism if we choose to work for the common good. His track record in Newark - including living in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods - shows us what is possible if we have empathy and connect to one another.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781594634635
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - March 8th, 2016

What is not yours, is not yours by Helen Oyeyemi.  Named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists,Oyeymi writes a collection of short stories where each  contains a key, literal or metaphorical.  For instance, in "'Sorry Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea'" involves a "house of lock" where doors can be closed only with a key-with surprising, unobservable developments. If you like magical realism, Oyeyemi will explore the boundaries between coexisting realities. She makes us think about about what is public and what is private.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
A Man Called Ove Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781476738024
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Washington Square Press - May 5th, 2015

Swedish author Backman's novel tells the story of widower Ove whose wife represented the color of his life.  At first, Ove appears as a most unlovable character until the author shares the backstory that accounts for his view of the world. Written both with dark humor and satire, Backman shows us how one man's life is transformed when he connects with those of his neighbors.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
We Should All Be Feminists Cover Image
$7.95
ISBN: 9781101911761
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Anchor Books - February 3rd, 2015

Award winning author of Americanah, Adichie envisions a more compassionate world where men and women are happier and more true to themselves.  She also delivered this inspiring essay as Ted Talk.


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Heather
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781451697728
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Atria Books - April 5th, 2016

True story: Inky, the octopus, recently escaped from a New Zealand Zoo. Octopuses are amazing escape artists. Naturalist Montgomery invites us into their world. While an octopus has no central nervous system, it can recognized objects 30 yards away with amazing chemoreceptors in its tentacles. It can squeeze a ten foot body through a two and a half inch opening.  Clever, playful and curious, octopuses, Montgomery asserts, deserve respect as "conscious" beings. This book is more than an anthropomorphic study.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
Everything I Never Told You Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780143127550
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - May 12th, 2015

When the Lee's teenage daughter is found dead in a nearby lake, Ng holds us spellbound to find out what has led to her death. Ng explores issues of race and gender, personal histories of the characters that precede Lydia's disappearance while holding us close to the idea of family. She makes us ponder what is given, what is withheld and what can never be known. We feel their grief.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
The Automobile Club of Egypt Cover Image
By Alaa Al Aswany, Russell Harris (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780307957214
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - August 18th, 2015

Al Aswany reminds me of a modern day Dickens. As a talented storyteller, he weaves a tapestry that shows how some characters could transcend oppression while others are crushed by it. Certainly the tension that existed between the corrupt Egyptian king and British colonials and the native Egyptian workers reminds readers that the need for freedom has been an ongoing struggle.
The author creates dramatic tension as he tells the story of 4 adult children of Abd el Aziz. The daughter emerges as a strong female character.  Aswany is compared to Nobel Laureate Mahfouz.


Reviewed by: 
Heather
Leaving Before the Rains Come Cover Image
$31.26
ISBN: 9781594205866
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Press - January 22nd, 2015

Written with the same poignancy that Jeanette Walls expresses in The Glass Castle, Fuller shares her love of Africa while at the same time showing the hazards that colonialism caused. Fuller weaves the tale of her romantic doomed family against the backdrop of her mother's remembered childhood.


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