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Susan's Picks

Susan Voake, former librarian at the Marion Cross School, lives in Norwich with her husband and springer spaniel. She collects antique dolls, buys and sells Victorian ladies' sentimentalia and ephemera, bakes yummy cookies and enjoys visiting her daughters and their families, treasure hunting, or working in her perennial garden.






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Finding Dorothy: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525622109
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Ballantine Books - February 12th, 2019

Don’t you love a good backstory? Finding Dorothy gives us the intertwining of two-- Judy Garland preparing for the 1938 MGM production of the Wizard of OZ and Maud Baum, wife of L. Frank Baum, attempting to preserve the legacy of his beloved character. The Oz books have been analyzed and deconstructed for years as has the showmanship of Frank Baum, but less has been written about his extraordinary wife, daughter of Women’s Rights activist and suffragette, Matilda Gage. Maud’s story before and after Frank is detailed in a novel meticulously drawn on the facts of the lives of the fascinating individuals it portrays. After reading this novel, even though you may have seen The Wizard of OZ seventeen times, you might decide to watch it just one more.

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The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062674951
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - December 31st, 2018

One of most famous designer gowns of the 20th century is now exhibited at Buckingham Palace for all to see. Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown was the talk of the nation, a sparkling subject of excitement and anticipation in the dark, depressed days of 1947, when England was still rationing and London was still covered with rubble. Jennifer Robson weaves the story of the creation of this dress through the lives of an English seamstress, a French refugee embroiderer and a 21st c. Canadian woman, fascinated by the beaded floral pieces left to her by her grandmother. Juxtaposing the bleak details of London living day to day with the luxuries of Norman Hartnell’s fashion house and the intricacies of beading and embroidery, Robson also creates the heroes, villains, and heartthrobs that keep us turning the pages. By the way, if you are planning a trip to England, don’t miss this gown!

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Clock Dance: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525521228
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - July 10th, 2018

As Willa Drake reminisces about her past, four powerful events stand out, but it is an unexpected moment of her sixth decade that sets the stage for the rest of her life. Such an engrossing read! I will never ignore another saguaro cactus. I very much liked the quirky characters and the wonderful notion of how dance might express one's perception of time passing. Chapters zipped by so quickly that I was quite disconcerted when I realized only a few pages were left. Take this book on vacation. You will not be disappointed.

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He Cover Image
ISBN: 9781635060577
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Published: Quercus - May 2018

Within a colorfully detailed landscape of Hollywood from the earliest days through the 1950’s, John Connolly paints a portrait of Stan Laurel as the classic tragic clown. His image on the screen masked the sad reality underneath. Adoring of but forever in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy, his life story makes a superb soap opera. Here John Connolly presents it as the stuff of legend written with intentional style. “He” is never mentioned by name. “Ollie” is the referent for Mr. Hardy. Every other man’s name is written first and last, every time it appears. Repetition and text layout provide a poetic structure to the prose. Recommended for classic film buffs and nostalgia fans.

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The Taster Cover Image
ISBN: 9781496712271
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Published: Kensington - January 30th, 2018

Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler - as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal  - to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.

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Fools and Mortals: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062250896
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Published: Harper Paperbacks - January 8th, 2019

London 1595. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth enjoys a good play, and her Lord Chamberlain is the patron of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ so that William Shakespeare’s Theatre should not be harassed by the Puritan government who would close down all these dens of Satan if they could. The Chamberlain’s daughter is to be married at Christmas and a wedding play would be the perfect entertainment. What might William devise? The historical background is set for this superb fiction focusing on Shakespeare’s younger brother and struggling actor, Richard, and the first performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cornwell’s attention to the language, smells and textures of 16th century London make the dream a vivid reality for the reader. An excellent choice for those who love Shakespeare and historical fiction.

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The Annotated African American Folktales (Annotated Books) Cover Image
By Henry Louis Gates (Editor), Maria Tatar (Editor)
ISBN: 9780871407535
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Liveright Publishing Corporation - November 14th, 2017

Hallelujah!  Let's begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields.
Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.The Gates/Tatar collection begins with four classifications of African tales followed by fifteen groupings of African American tales.  An elucidating essay introduces each section with additional essays explicating specific aspects of individual tales. The volume is illustrated throughout but ends with images of tale telling sites and illustrations from Paul Laurence Dunbar poems and Uncle Remus tales.This is a beautifully formatted volume, a must purchase for libraries and highly recommended for families as well.

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The Memory Trees Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062366238
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Published: Katherine Tegen Books - October 10th, 2017

Twelve generations of Lovegood women, from Rejoice to Verity, devote their blood and toil to a hardscrabble Vermont apple orchard. Adjacent is the wealthy Abrams family, coveting the Lovegood land since the 18th century and feuding with Lovegoods over life and property for 250 years. We meet Sorrow Lovegood at sixteen, living in Miami and trying to remember the details of the tragic death of her sixteen year old sister Patience eight years before. Determined to pull herself out of the fog which literally and figuratively surrounds the Lovegood orchard, Sorrow returns to Vermont to revisit the past . Some mysteries are explained, others are not.  An interesting YA read. 

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The Cottingley Secret: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062499844
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Published: William Morrow Paperbacks - August 2017

Admission: My childhood belief in fairies lasted decades beyond the Peter Pan matinee where I clapped and cried to bring Tinkerbell back to life. When a spiritualistic family friend passed away and left me a collection of 1920's fairy photos and A. C. Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies, I was ready to be a true believer once again. Hazel Gaynor was too. She has taken the account of the Cottingley fairies and given it breadth and depth through the lens of family and children.  We meet Frances and Elsie, the girls who staged the infamous fairy photos, but connect to this story though modern day Olivia, bookbinder, disenchanted fiancee and inheritor of a beloved antiquarian bookshop, who as a child lost her mother and as an adult  is now losing her grandmother to Alzheimers. A sweet and gentle story written for adults but appropriate for young adult readers as well.

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Mr. Rochester Cover Image
ISBN: 9781455569816
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - March 20th, 2018

It is a formidable task to authentically retell a classic, though many try with varying modicums of success. I tend to be skeptical of re-visits to novels-- especially stories I've loved and re-read many times over.  So it was with a bit of trepidation, as well as anticipation, that I began Mr Rochester. Delight of delights! It was totally satisfying. The tone is apt as is the rise and fall of action from chapter to chapter. The atmosphere and details are spot on. Within the 400 pages only one phrase did not ring true. If you loved Jane Eyre, I think you will find the back story of Edward Fairfax Rochester totally engrossing and the re-emergence of Jane, seen through his eyes, to be just right. Enjoy!

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Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep Cover Image
By Eleanor Farjeon, Charlotte Voake (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780763690557
Availability: Special Order (call or email to check availability)
Published: Candlewick - February 7th, 2017

When I was a school librarian, I discovered “Elsie Piddock“ in Eleanor Farjeon’s collection, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field. I read the story aloud to third graders yearly and watched twenty rapt faces reciting jump rope jingles, and cheering the satisfying finale. It never failed to thrill and my eyes welled up every time. I was delighted in 2000 to find Candlewick had acquired the rights and published the tale in picture book form, choosing Charlotte Voake as  the illustrator. Charlotte (not a relation of whom I’m aware) with her whimsical, ethereal, energetic line drawings is the perfect successor to Edward Ardizonne who illustrated the original story. Fast forward to 2017. Kudos to Candlewick for re-issuing Elsie Piddock this year in a child’s hand-size version that is perfect for a story of fairies, families, tradition, and the determination of a little woman to confront tyranny and corporate greed. An unusual combination for a picture book? You bet it is. Truly a story for all time, but especially relevant today as it was when it was originally published in 1937.

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Victoria: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250045478
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Griffin - September 26th, 2017

The longest reigning monarch in recent history. The icon of an era. Published to herald the PBS series that describes the making and testing of the young queen, Daisy Goodwin’s novel elucidates the early life and times of this unusual woman. Perhaps some characters are a little too villainous or sympathetic—there are many ways to interpret the historical record—but this is a fast paced, engaging read, particularly for anyone interested in the 19th century. Pair it with Julia Baird’s recently published biography, Victoria the Queen: an Intimate Biography of the Woman who Ruled an Empire for an intriguing  compare and contrast.

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The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101885956
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Del Rey - June 27th, 2017

A Russian folktale? Yes!! The deep Russian winter, the enormous tile stove, Baba Yaga, the evil stepmother, the two daughters, the Tzar, the woodcutter, and perhaps even a firebird or two.  They are elaborated here in sensual detail. If you loved these stories as a child, you will gobble this novel as an adult.  If you never had the opportunity to read or hear a Russian folktale,  this is your chance to indulge in a close to mystical experience.

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Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs, and Stories from an African American Childhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375870880
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Published: Schwartz & Wade - January 10th, 2017

Parents, nursery and primary teachers rejoice! Patricia McKissack has collected a wealth of hand claps, jump rope rhymes, circle games, spirituals, gospel music, folktales, parables and fables from her childhood in the American south. She presents them together with background information in a wonderful volume illustrated with the swirling watercolors of Brian Pinkney. This is a must purchase for libraries. Families will want to have their own copies, too. 

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Nine Women, One Dress: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101972281
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Anchor - July 25th, 2017

A delightful summer read for all you fashionistas out there. Every season there is an 'IT' dress, determined by those steely critics viewing a couture collection from the front row. This is the story of one of these dresses told from the perspective of nine very different men and women. You’ll love the master pattern maker in his final year of production and sympathize with the fresh face runway model who presents the dress to the world. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s funny, and a bit touching besides. Just the book to take to the beach or to anticipate Fashion Week, whichever you prefer.

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The Muse: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062409928
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Ecco - July 26th, 2016

Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, vividly recreates the Andalusia of 1936 and London of 1967 in her story of a young Caribbean immigrant and an unusual painting by a little known Spanish artist. Mysterious identities, love, betrayal and family secrets create an absorbing novel that fans of A Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Art Forger and Lisette's List will thoroughly enjoy.


My Mrs. Brown: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501108617
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - April 18th, 2017

With a nod to, and I would like to imagine, the blessing of, Paul Gallico, William Norwich introduces us to kindly Mrs. Brown, an aging 21s-century thrift shop and beauty parlor assistant who dresses in her self-sewn gray and brown wools and lives in her own little row house in Ashville, Rhode Island.   It is an Oscar de la Renta, classic black wool suit in the inventory of a great woman of Ashville that propels Mrs. Brown on a journey to purchase such an extraordinary piece of fashion history from the New York design house itself.  For those who delighted in The Queen Takes the Train and other tales of quietly determined women over fifty, My Mrs. Brown will brighten your day and perhaps even compel you to pursue a extravagant dream of your own.

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Echo Cover Image
ISBN: 9780439874021
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Scholastic Press - February 24th, 2015

An extraordinary harmonica changes the lives of three talented musicians in this lyrical story that moves from the enchanted world of a fairy tale forest to the very real world of the second world war. Recurring themes of bigotry, loyalty. loss and  love echo through the movements which rise to an emotional crescendo at Carnegie Hall. A wonderful novel for young people celebrating the power of music. 

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