All posts by mspelmanlibrarian

Our Favorite Mysteries!

We are so excited about “Books with Barsky”! This is a fun new opportunity on campus—hosted by the venerable head of our Upper School, Mr. Barsky—to gather, gush, and discuss books we’ve read on the pre-decided theme or genre.

In honor of the chosen genre of mystery for our first meeting on December 9th, we’ve compiled some of our favorite twisty, crime-solving-keeps-you-guessing-till-the-end books. Apparently we are fairly loyal to the Queen of Mystery, Agatha Christie, but we have other recommendations as well… Happy solving!

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson was fast-paced, exciting, and engaging. -Anoushka C. ‘26

I am currently reading A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, and I really like the plot sequence and the protagonist. -Alana B. ‘26

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The A.B.C. Murders. One of the funniest murder mystery books I’ve ever read. -Ritu B. ‘24

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I loved the plot twists and the raw, horrifying narrative that Flynn presented throughout the book. -Hita T. ‘23

I loved Devil In the White City because it captured glamour and grit all while staying true to nonfiction. -Paulina G. ‘23

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is classic Agatha Christie and, moreover, details a thrilling story (those who know, know). -Rupert C. ‘23

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie. I was cautious about venturing beyond Poirot to a standalone Christie novel, but this is such a compelling, self-contained mystery with a plot twist and writing voice I’ll never forget; part of the fun, even, is figuring out which characters to trust—and they all have a stake in what truth may come to light—when there’s no omniscient detective, twirling his mustaches, separate from the action. -Trisha I. ‘24

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I enjoyed it because I have a bad habit of trying to guess the twist in a novel and despite this habit I can confidently say that I never could’ve predicted the truth. -James B. ‘24

Announcing the Winners of The Second Annual FanFiction Contest!

This year we had a fantastic turnout consisting of imaginative, fantastic, beautifully written pieces. We are so honored by those who opted to share their passion and talents with us. Thank you to all who submitted their writing. Without further ado:

First Place ($50 Barnes & Noble Gift Card)

 Anatomy by James B. (Frankenstein)

Second Place ($40 B&N Gift Card)

 想いよひとつになれ – Feelings, Become One by Silver (“Love Live! Sunshine!!”)

Third Place ($30 B&N Gift Card)

 A Most Dangerous Squid Game by Jason S. (“The Most Dangerous Game” x  “Squid Game”)

Fourth Place ($30 B&N Gift Card) 

The Man by Jessica W. (The Raven)

Here Come the Waterworks: Books that Made Me Cry Actual Tears (By Ms. Pelman)

I don’t seek out tearjerkers. Sometimes people want to read a sad book, I don’t know why—perhaps because a good cry is cathartic, or they feel a need to commiserate, or to wallow, or just to feel something strongly… Whatever the reason, it’s not wrong. The reason people choose what to read is never wrong, it’s just what they gravitate towards in the moment, and that is the beauty of choice. Even though I don’t actively seek out sad books, they still happen. Think about it, you sit down to watch a movie that you know a little about, and it ends up making you cry. You didn’t anticipate it, but that’s how it goes. I don’t cry easily or very often, so it’s rare for a book to move me to tears (like actually needing a tissue). When they do, though, holy cow. That book becomes indelibly marked in my memory. I remember—not only what was happening in the book when I cried, but what year it was, where I was sitting, what position I was sitting in, and what I did immediately after putting the book down. Before I tell you what these books were, I would like to note that the emotion elicited by books (or movies, or music for that matter) is exceedingly personal and context matters. For instance, a book that made me lie on the kitchen floor and blubber like a baby would very likely have little effect on me now. All I’m saying is that reading a book about death right after your beloved grandmother dies may be a trigger (speaking from personal experience). At any rate, here, in no particular order, are a few that had that effect on me:

Before I Die by Jenny Downham 

A terminally ill teenager makes a bucket list of what she wants to do before she dies. See above about blubbering on the kitchen floor…

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry 

A big fat dusty tale of the old west with so much heart. I spent roughly a month with these lovable characters (it’s 960 pages!). I was suffering from a bout of pneumonia at the time, so escaping into their world was most welcome, and at times, very intense.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The now contemporary classic about a high school girl finding her voice, her strength, and powerful artistic expression while working through the horrific trauma of being raped. I mean… I didn’t really stand a chance here.

The Great Believers By Rebecca Makkai

A book about the AIDS crisis set in 1980s Chicago. Let’s just say there was a beautifully wrenching moment with a cat that utterly destroyed me. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I don’t even need to provide an explanation here, do I?

Honorable mention: I’ll be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan, and Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. What books made you cry? Leave ’em in the comments!

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher (Review by Hita T. ’23)

The Twisted OnesThe Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Melissa, known to close family and friends as Mouse, only had one job: clean her late grandmother’s house in North Carolina. Her grandmother was unfortunately a hoarder, but she could clean it up. No problem at all. However, in the process, she discovers her late step-father’s journal, which is filled with seemingly nonsensical rants. Mouse is quick to disregard the rambling, chalking it up to his deteriorating health, but when strange happenings start to occur, it becomes increasingly clear that perhaps his journal held more than just the ramblings of an old man. Driven to figure out what’s going on and spooked by an unplanned night stroll (courtesy of her dog Bongo), Mouse begins to uncover secrets in the woods, and the deeper she digs into it, the more terrifying it becomes…
Kingfisher does a brilliant job of spinning a modern take on the folklore of The White People, as it is horrifying yet entertaining at the same time. The narrative is filled with realistic humor and conversations and during the more action packed scenes, the reaction seems to be just right; there is no exaggeration of fear nor is there apathy towards the events. Even though I’m not the most avid horror reader, I absolutely loved this book and would definitely recommend it. —Review by Hita T. ’23

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The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba (Review by Maggie Y ’24)

The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 (The Wandering Inn, #1)The Wandering Inn: Volume 1 by Pirateaba
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first web novel. It is an interesting concept, and it was still being written and updated as I read. The Wandering Inn is set in a video game-esque world, with classes (ex. [Soldier], [King], [Florist], etc.), skills, and levels. Following the view of Erin Solstice, a girl who comes from ‘our’ universe and is suddenly dropped into this one, the story documents her adventures in this world as an innkeeper. There’s the occasional side chapter following other characters in this world, but the main focus is on Erin. The first volume might admittedly be considered lacking by some, but I found it to have a decent start. However, the author noticeably improves in their writing abilities as the book progresses; battles and other character interactions are well-written, and the world building becomes all the more immersive and detailed.

The Wandering Inn is a beautifully crafted story with plenty of developed history and places. There isn’t a lot of emotional conflict, so I think it might be less appealing for people who solely enjoy those types of books. However, this novel felt almost personally tailored to my interests. I value world building so much in a good story, as well as the idea of a video game world. If you do too, be prepared to read it well into the night. —Review by Maggie Y ‘24

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Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Midnight Sun (Twilight, #1.5)Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Midnight Sun has been long-awaited for many Twihards. Honestly, the original series is pretty mediocre, but I wanted to see what the hype was about with this new release. And I was pleasantly surprised?

what was good
1) Bella: her personality is so much more interesting, and I loved learning about her
2) more backstory on the Cullens
3) Edward’s perspective: it was fascinating going through Edward (and by proxy, everyone else’s) thoughts
4) ALICE CULLEN: do I need to say more?

what was bad
1) unjustified creepy stalking
2) unjustified over-protectiveness
3) extensive repetition and redundancy: this book could have been like 400 pages if an editor had stepped in

Overall, I can’t decide if this is worse than the original or better. I think that this one paints the romance in a better light since Bella actually has a personality. On the other hand, this narrative went on and on for 25 whole hours while the original is MUCH shorter. But, hey, I felt 12 again and that’s the most I can ask from a vampire romance book about a creepy, stalker dude. -Review by Anika F. ’21


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The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris (review by Ritu B. ’24)

The Truths We Hold: An American JourneyThe Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself well-versed in politics; sure, I skim the newspaper headlines every weekend (or so) but the bulk of my opinions on politics stems from topical memes and, of course, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. If this sounds like you, and it’s getting harder to pretend you don’t live under a rock when conversation turns to the upcoming elections, then keep reading.
I picked up Kamala Harris’s autobiography hoping to understand the background of the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, but my entire world view had shifted by the end. In The Truths We Hold, the arc of Harris’s life, from her humble upbringings to vast political victories, unites with a not-so-subtle Democratic agenda to create a highly captivating read. I greatly admired her approach of translating political triggers into real stories. She strives to highlight the voices of actual people, from victims of the subprime mortgage crisis to separated families at border entry points. Readers familiar with Michelle Obama’s Becoming will find Harris’s book more political and op-ed-like as opposed to a meticulous memoir, but nonetheless, just as inspiring and educational. Anyone interested in becoming interested in the elections will love The Truths We Hold.
—Review by Ritu B. ’24

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Devolution by Max Brooks (review by Mrs. Vaughan)

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A small group of Seattleites populate a new community on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, enjoying both the beauty of their natural surroundings and excellent electronic connectivity. Necessities are delivered regularly by helicopter, which can also ferry them to first class medical attention if needed. Perfect, right? Not so much when Mt. Rainier erupts unleashing disaster and cutting off these pilgrims from their supply chain. Worse yet – the shrinking natural environment has precipitated a conflict between them, and folklore become real: a small but hungry band of Bigfoot.
Fans of Max Brooks’ World War Z may be a bit disappointed in his long-awaited effort – another fictionalized oral history of Armageddon, just a different setting. Still, this sophomore attempt is, like his first, cleverly written. Here the oral histories take backseat to the found journal of resident Kate Holland, creating a more consistent through line than Z. Brooks has done his legwork (again) and weaves in much historic, folkloric, and scientific research about the Yeti, the Sasquatch and less familiar versions of the oversized primate. Characterization is varied, dialogue rings true and the suspense is palpable. True, this is not World War Z, but Brooks’ fans and horror fans won’t want to miss it! — Mrs. Vaughan

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Daisy Jones & The Six (review by Emma A. ’21)

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

About a page into the book, I was completely hooked! Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of the rise and fall of a fictional band in the 70s. The story depicts unconditional love, addiction, self-help, and the golden era of rock, all while set to a soundtrack of some of the best made up songs I have ever read. Loosely modeled off of Fleetwood Mac, the drama and events of the novel are so realistic that you will have to keep telling yourself the band doesn’t exist!

The novel is divided into parts, each progressing through the story of the whimsical, carefree Daisy Jones and the emerging musical powerhouse The Six. Daisy and the band’s stories begin to intertwine and new group dynamics emerge and are tested. The characters are each imperfect in their own ways and there is a sense of humanity given to each of them. Unsurprisingly, my favorite character was Daisy. Daisy is headstrong, stubborn, self sabotaging, and possesses natural born talent, but she grows and develops over the course of the story. As the novel was told in an interview format, each character was reflecting on the decisions they made in the past while providing commentary and witty remarks. Each character’s voice emerged distinctly and proved a testament to their personalities.

This book was honestly a perfect shelter in place read for me and a great addition to my favorite books of all time list! I found myself eager to keep reading and couldn’t put the book down (I finished it in one night!). The story is incredibly engrossing and realistic, and though I grew up in the 2000s, I felt fully immersed in the bustle of LA and the rock scene of the 70s. -Review by Emma A. ’21

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