Posted by: montclairlibrary | October 23, 2020

Witchy Books

Witchy novels, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

Witches pop up in all sorts of stories and settings, not just horror stories and fairy tales – from the halls of academia to Gilded Age New York, from ancient Greece to modern Salem, from literary fiction to fantasy, from scary to romantic to funny. This list is a mix of adult and YA books; there are a lot of good YA witch books, maybe because teenagers, like witches, often feel like outsiders. Books about witches also seem to be awesomely inclusive, so if you’re looking for books that embrace a range of cultures, gender identities and body types, you’ve come to the right genre.

(Quoted descriptions are from the books’ publishers unless otherwise noted.)

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (FIC BARRY)
In 1989, “a high school field hockey team discovers that the witchcraft of their Salem forebears may be the key to a winning season.” This book is “dense with ’80s iconography–from Heathers to Big Hair” and celebrates “teen girldom in all its glory” and variety.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (FIC HARKNESS)
When Yale historian and reluctant witch Diana Bishop discovers a magical manuscript, she attracts the attention of vampires, including the menacing but very attractive Matthew Clairmont. Also a TV series.

The Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (FIC HARROW)
Witchcraft and women’s suffrage! “In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box. But when the Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement.”

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman (FIC HOFFMAN)
The new pre-prequel to the much-loved Practical Magic and its prequel, The Rules of Magic tells the “the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men.”

Circe by Madeline Miller (FIC MILLER)
Miller fleshes out the story of the witch Circe from The Odyssey as the daughter of the sun god, banished from immortal society, hones her powers and interacts with a broad cast of characters from Greek mythology, from Daedalus to Medea.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (YA FIC THOMAS)
“In Yadriel’s traditional Latinx family, women become brujas and practice healing magic, and the men become brujos and help spirits to the land of the dead. Yadriel is a man, but his family refuses to let him complete the ritual to become a brujo because he’s trans. With the help of his friend Maritza, Yadriel completes the ritual without his family’s knowledge. When Yadriel’s cousin is murdered afterward, he and Maritza try to find out why — but in doing so, they accidentally raise the ghost of Julian Diaz, another murdered teen. As the three try to help Julian and discover what happened to Yadriel’s cousin, Yadriel and Julian begin to fall in love. This fun and delightful young adult contemporary fantasy recently became the first novel written by a trans author to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list.” (Buzzfeed)

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas book 1) by Zoraida Cordova (ebook, YA)
“Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she’s not sure she can trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.”

The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams (YA FIC WILLIAMS)
“After new student Cassandra Heaven joins seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl’s babysitters club, the girls learn that being a babysitter really means a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from evil.”
Or, as Cosmo put it, “What if the Babysitters Club were…witches?” Also an ebook.

Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz (FIC DeLaCRUZ)
“Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid live in North Hampton, out on the tip of Long Island. All three women lead seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret– they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. When mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town and a young girl disappears over the Fourth of July weekend, they realize it’s time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.” Also a TV series.

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (FIC McKAY)
“New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women — some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance — find work as mediums. Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions.” Or, as Cosmo puts it, “For those who wish Edith Wharton was just a little witchier.”

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (YA FIC MAHURIN)
“If you’re looking for a magical trilogy that’s big on romance, start with Serpent & Dove. Lou is a witch in hiding, forced into a marriage with Reid, a man who’s sworn to burn every witch he can expose. Theirs is a slow-burn romance that readers will root for.” (Bookriot) Also an ebook.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe (FIC HOWE)
“Connie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America – especially women’s home recipes and medicines….But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows. When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a centuries-long deadly curse.”

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson (YA FIC ANDERSON)
“While investigating the supposed suicides of her best friend, Riley, and mean girls June and Dayton, sixteen-year-old Wiccan Mila Flores accidentally brings them back to life.”

Posted by: montclairlibrary | September 5, 2020

Book Club Sept. 15

Flavors of Oakland cookbook

Please join us via Zoom Tuesday, September 15 from 6:30-7:30pm to discuss our next Oakland-themed book selection, Flavors of Oakland by Elazar Sontag and Anya Ku. This cookbook – written by a pair of authors who were still in their teens at the time – profiles 20 Oakland residents and the stories behind the recipes they chose to share.

Extra credit: If you’re interested, we’ll have time for people to share the story of a recipe that’s significant to them – it should be a fun way to get to know our neighbors and stay connected!

We’ll be sending the Zoom link to book club subscribers next week – if you’d like to be added to the list or have any questions, please contact

Posted by: montclairlibrary | August 1, 2020

Pandemic Reading

Plague Fiction, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

So, I’ve had this book list theme idea simmering for a while, dating back to the days when epidemics seemed to be things that happened in far-away places, like zika and ebola…And then the current pandemic made it seem too real to talk about plague fiction for a while. But, while my own reading tastes tend toward escapism in times of stress, sometimes good fiction can help you process a situation or gain perspective, too. (And judging by the hold lists for most of these books, a lot of people are going that route.)

Authors dating back to Boccaccio and Chaucer have set their stories against the backdrop and aftermath of plagues and the social upheaval they bring.

Plagues in literature can be the central driving force of the story, as in The Plague by Albert Camus (see also Kevin Chong’s 2018 retelling, which moves the action to present-day Vancouver, and this article comparing the two) or background noise, like the 1918 flu epidemic that may or may not be killing New York City’s elite in the mystery A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang.

They can be based on real times and viruses, like the 1918 Flu epidemic in Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider (based on Porter’s own experiences during the epidemic), or invented like the virus that leaves some survivors with magical powers – some good and some evil – in Nora Roberts’s Year One.

But like all fiction, books about plagues shed light on the human experience and our hopes and fears.

Plague literature ranges from almost-forgotten vintage stories like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (published in 1826, but set in a futuristic Britain) and Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (1912), which takes place 60 years after “the great pandemic of 2013,” to classics like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death and Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, to modern classics like Stephen King’s The Stand, Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, to eerily prescient recent novels like The End of October by Lawrence Wright (more on it here) and A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen.

Whether you like your plague stories funny, spooky, political or filled with zombies, there’s something out there for you, including:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This story centers around a traveling Shakespeare company in the years after a fictional swine flu epidemic has killed most of the world’s population.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller – “Surviving a pandemic disease that has killed everyone he knows, a pilot establishes a shelter in an abandoned airport hangar before hearing a random radio transmission that compels him to risk his life to seek out other survivors.”

Zone One by Colson Whitehead – “In this wry take on the post-apocalyptic horror novel, a pandemic has devastated the planet. The plague has sorted humanity into two types: the uninfected and the infected, the living and the living dead.” – Goodreads. That’s right, it’s a zombie novel by Colson Whitehead.

The Rationing by Charles Wheelan – As a mysterious new pathogen threatens America’s population, governments and pharmaceutical companies maneuver to control the supply of the drug that can treat it.

Severance by Ling Ma – “A survivor of an apocalyptic plague maintains a blog about a decimated Manhattan before joining a motley group of survivors to search for a place to rebuild, a goal that is complicated by an unscrupulous group leader.” – NoveList. The author has “described [it] as an ‘apocalyptic office novel’ with an immigrant backstory.” (BBC)

Wilder Girls by Rory Power – In this YA book that’s been compared to Lord of the Flies, three best friends are “left to fend for themselves when their island boarding school is quarantined…a situation that is further complicated when one of them goes missing.”

The Blondes by Emily Schultz – “A hilarious and whipsmart novel where an epidemic of a rabies-like disease is carried only by blonde women, who all must go to great lengths to conceal their blondness.”

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton – “Sensing something is wrong with his owner, a domesticated crow abandons the only life he ever knew to discover that humans are turning into zombies and he must use knowledge gleaned from his TV-viewing to save them.”

Note: Most of the books referenced here are also available from OPL as e-books – search for the titles in Encore and sort by Format on the left menu, or browse the “Popular Choices” links on the right side of the book listing page for more options.

Further reading:
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of thoughtful and thorough lists and analysis of plague literature cropping up around the internet these days. For more suggestions see:

A really beautiful essay by Michiko Kakutani about NYC under lockdown, with some solid book recommendations and references, too

Why Reading Pandemic Lit Gives Me Hope

Reading your way through a pandemic

A novelist who was writing a book about a pandemic and how the actual pandemic affected her plans

So for probably January, much of February, I thought, “This is very topical. This is great. When people come to read this, they’ll go, ‘Oh, she’s looking at what’d have happened if that small pandemic got out of control.'” Then by mid-February, I was just thinking, “Oh dear.”
— Naomi Alderman

What we can learn from pandemic fiction

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: What we can learn from literary history

How the 1918 flu pandemic shaped 20th century literature

Someday we’ll look back on all of this and write a novel

And book lists from:
Publisher’s Weekly
Bookriot and more Bookriot
New York Times

Stay well, Oakland.

Posted by: montclairlibrary | July 1, 2020

Book Club Update

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Heads up: We’ve decided to move our discussion of Melanie Gideon’s Wife 22, originally scheduled for July 14, to August 11 to give everyone a little more time to get a copy of the book now that Sidewalk Pickup of holds is available at select branches. (The ebook is also available for checkout.) Please plan to join us (probably via Zoom – details to follow) August 11 from 6:30-7:30pm. Hope to see you there!

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 18, 2020

Poems-in-Place: “I Remember” by LaLa

I Remember
By LaLa

So I thought you seemed familiar, I looked into your eyes and they looked so

I really don’t know why, they drew me in and they haven’t let me go

De-Ja-Vu, Did you ever say that to me before

Impossible, I just met you, we never had a long conversation, or never shared
an invocation

When you’re near, I feel so safe, when your away, I fear you will never return

What did you say?

I saw you in a dream only I was fully awake, I saw you riding on a camel in a
dusty fog

I could see the pyramids in the distance moving further away as you rode
steadfast my way

My eyes were partially covered and my headdress was heavy almost as heavy
as the jewels that adorned me

But my heart was light and iridescent anxiously awaiting my King

Oh did I embarrass you no need to blush, this is only some sort of stupid
crush; I probably made it all up

What, you don’t think I’m nuts you felt it too, a familiarity of sort, something
infallible to the touch

You’ve actually wanted to bring it up, but you felt foolish and believed I would too. Now certainly we must agree this is some sort of De-Ja-Vu


All rights reserved.

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 17, 2020

Poems-in-Place: “Repeat Performance” by Grace Marie Grafton

Repeat Performance
By Grace Marie Grafton

It isn’t a matter of starting on time, no apology needed.
Personal grief must be respected when exhuming a body,
careful handling of prevailing emotions as well as material
parts. The few hairs, the bony eminences, the area
around the eyes. Does any expression remain?
Eerie, how clothing can capture a sense of life.

Easy to understand why people like a cemetery, quiet life
still exists, grass, some trees, the bugs birds need,
the birds bugs need for transformation. One body
into another, maybe why a cemetery can materialize
its earnest peace. The visitors singing their silent arias.
The dead expecting to understand nothing of what remains.

I could argue with the gods, I could say, “Why remain
so unknown and cold? Are you cold? Do you live
in an amoeba or in the peacock’s tail? I need
to have more than a packet of seeds and a body
that continues to prove its reticence to materialize
perfection.” This brief, brief time, my tiny area.

Where blessings come from. The perfect apple paring, air
after the first fall rain, how we finally understand remainder
in long division. Years do divide into increments, life
during the eager stages when the corduroy shirt met the need
for personal expression. The mad dash when the body
drives crazily into the maelstrom of sex, to materialize

again, raucous dance against the only wall that matters.
Cemetery wall. We are driven by death, mocking area
of in-expertise. The popularity of homicide dramas remains
uncontested. A poet writes repeatedly about road kill, life-
blood smeared into macabre art on pavement canvas. We need
to carefully lift one tissue away from another, sniff the body’s

cessation, ask again, “Is this the way my own dear body
will cave in on itself?” Try to figure out what matters,
is it possible to call plaintively enough into the void – area
as closed off to us as the gods – “What part of you remains?
Can you whisper me one word? Maybe ‘love,’ maybe ‘life’,”
meaning of course, that life after death is all that we need.

Every pearl of matter, the atrocious armature on the alligator’s
body, the lively comb shaking on the stellar jay’s head,
the universal need to remain like a scent in the air.

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 16, 2020

Poems-in-Place: “Just Beyond” by Joanne Jagoda

Just Beyond
By Joanne Jagoda

I try to recall
cousin Celia’s third husband
you know…what’s-his-name
or that actor from Breaking Bad

but names elude me
hover just beyond reach
wily fugitives
from my once impeccable memory

they hang in that murky space
I can no longer reach with alacrity

sit defiantly on the tip of my tongue
so bratty– they sneak home at three in the morning
when they wake me up
and give me the finger

I used to spout the prologue of Romeo and Juliet
answer the questions on Jeopardy before the buzzer

this aging thing– it’s a bitch
hey, this is me who danced to the Doors
I thought I would surely dodge that bullet

and I don’t get why bad memories linger
like the burnt smell after a fire
stuff you wish you could forget
why can’t those thoughts
retire for good to that place of hazy recall

ah…but it’s the faded snapshots I treasure the most
sweet images of good times
ebbing and flowing like gentle currents
gathering on the banks of my mind—

I will fight against this aging thing
but I fear the battle is just getting started.

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 15, 2020

Poems-in-Place: “Juliet” by Mary Mackey

Today’s poem is by Mary Mackey, from her new collection The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, which won the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for the best book published by a small press.

by Mary Mackey

I was a green girl
fourteen and fresh
my breasts curled
so tight in my chest
that they ached
time pulled through
my body like sap
and I thought love
grew everywhere
like milkweed

Romeo was a human
we drove over the state
line near the end
of spring
and were married by
a judge in stripped
who loaned us a
cigar band
for a ring

I said
look how the dogwood is
in bloom
like the lips of small children
in the naked woods
and Romeo said
let’s stop
for a cheeseburger

I said
when I see a river
I imagine a mouth
at the end
that could swallow us

I said
this is the beginning
of a great adventure
I said
I have escaped
into love
and I’ll never be
unhappy again

but there was wax
to take off the kitchen floor
and diapers to wash
and Romeo snored
and I found that love
grows around the heart
like the bark on a
and we had three
and nobody died
and you can wait forever
for the balcony scene

© 2018 Mary Mackey
From The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems

Posted by: montclairlibrary | April 14, 2020

Poems-in-Place: “Not as Sweet” by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Not as Sweet
By Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

This one is not as sweet
As the one before it
I was taken in by its good looks
The rich green color
The dark and perfect striping
I thumped it
Sniffed it
Weighed it in my hand
And then I took it home

With the first cut
The signs of heartbreak were there
Thick, tough and resistant to my instruments
It fought the quartering
Railed against separation from the rind
Exacted revenge by making me the fool
Tissue paper flesh should be discarded
But I am hungrily devoted
To the bland watery chunks
Tasteless and diluted as they may be
To partake is to be the same

Fighting the seduction of inviting aroma
And the whispers that outside pretty
Means the inside is just as
Because you know when they get together
They don’t always tell the truth

This one is not as sweet
As the one before it
And even knowing that
I sprinkle the sugar
And devour it anyway


Copyright © 2010 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Posted by: montclairlibrary | March 26, 2020

Books set in Oakland

Fiction set in Oakland, a list by the Friends of Montclair Library

At our last book club meeting (back when we still had in-person meetings – man, I remember it like it was two weeks ago…), some of you asked for recommendations of other books set in Oakland. Here are some places to start:

And if you’re interested in non-fiction books about Oakland, see our previous post about Oakland history books.

Did we miss any? Leave a comment and let us know if there are Oakland books we should add to our list.

Speaking of the book club: We’re working on a way to host our May book club discussion of Telegraph Avenue virtually via Zoom. The library’s license on the ebook version has run out so it’s not available through the library, but as of today it’s still available as an e-audiobook through the Hoopla app. Or, if you can afford it, support a local bookstore in these tough times and buy a physical or electronic copy through them – A Great Good Place for Books, which has partnered with FOML on a number of events, sells ebooks through Kobo and e-audiobooks through, and also has some ability to order physical books for delivery while they are closed. Many other Bay Area bookstores have similar set-ups, if you have a favorite.

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