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.

And After The Fire, by Lauren Belfer

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Heather
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And After the Fire: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
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ISBN: 9780062428516
Published: Harper - May 3rd, 2016

As both historical fiction and a mystery, Belfer’s novel captures readers’ interest when Susanna Kessler’s uncle, a WWII veteran, wills her an unknown J.S. Bach cantata that he took from an empty Jewish house in Weimar, Germany.  Originally Sara Levy, music student of Wilhelm Bach, is asked to keep the manuscript hidden, as it contains anti-Semitic lyrics. 

The plot moves back and forth between the current time and Prussia in the late 1700s and early 1800s when salons allowed for people of different backgrounds to intermingle. 

The novel unravels the mystery of whose handwriting appears on the manuscript “keep in a private cabinet” and in whose hands it was safeguarded until the end of WWII.  Belfer did compelling research on music history and demonstrates how Sara and Samuel Levy overcame prejudice to make enduring contributions to society.


News of the World, by Paulette Jiles

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Heather
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News of the World: A Novel Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: Not in stock. At Our Partner Warehouse: Usually Ships in 4-7 Days.
Published: William Morrow - October 4th, 2016

A veteran of two wars, Captain Kidd travels from Texas town to town reading the news to the local people to earn a living.  He accepts responsibility for returning ten year old Johanna to her aunt and uncle in San Antonio.  Johanna’s family was killed by the Kiowa, and she lived as a captive with them for four years.  A dangerous journey for both of them - Kidd eventually wins the trust of Johanna.


The Golden Age, by Joan London

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Heather
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The Golden Age: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
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ISBN: 9781609453329
Published: Europa Editions - August 16th, 2016

Two young people - Frank and Else, both polio victims - are convalescing in a recovery home, “The Golden Age,” in Australia, where they fall in love.  Their families, their physical therapist, Lidja, their peer Sullivan - all contribute to their ability to heal and lead productive lives.  Jonas Salk’s development of the polio vaccine in the 1950s would have spared them the disease.  A book that affirms the goodness in people.


The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner

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Heather
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$17.99
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ISBN: 9780553524024
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


Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

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Heather
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Commonwealth Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062491794
Availability: Not in stock. At Our Partner Warehouse: Usually Ships in 4-7 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.


United, by Cory Booker

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Heather
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United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good Cover Image
$17.00
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ISBN: 9781101965184
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.


What is Not Yours, is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi

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Heather
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What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours Cover Image
$27.00
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ISBN: 9781594634635
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.


A Man Called Ove, by Frederik Backman

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Heather
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A Man Called Ove: A Novel Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781476738024
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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.


We All Should be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Heather
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We Should All Be Feminists Cover Image
$8.95
ISBN: 9781101911761
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Published: Anchor - 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.


The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery

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Heather
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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781451697728
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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.


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