Café au Lit: Coffee and Book Pairings

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: hot drink season. When the weather turns cold, I stock my cabinet with dessert-flavored black teas and mocha mixes, and I chill sweet, chocolatey stouts and porters in my fridge. For many of us, it’s the perfect time to curl up with a favorite drink and a good book. (Or Netflix. No judgment.)

I’ve been doing my part to encourage this pastime with Books Over Coffee, a monthly book club where I tasked myself with pairing bags of ground coffee with whatever title we’re reading. It’s a little challenging and a whole lot of fun, and a coworker suggested I share the combinations I came up with. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed sampling the candidates.

Read: The Overstory by Richard Powers 

Drink: Birds & Beans Wood Thrush medium roast from Birds & Beans 

Bird-friendly coffee like Birds & Beans is grown under the shade of trees and doesn’t contribute to deforestation. It’s a fitting brew to sip while reading Richard Powers’ epic love letter to trees, which spans the lives of nine characters and about 23 hours of listening time for you fellow audiobook fans. Settle down, brew yourself a pot, and imagine you’re sitting at the base of your childhood tree as you start the narrative’s journey.

Read: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay 

Drink: Dark Magic dark roast from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters 

Dark Magic is a staple of Keurig machines everywhere – just like how demon possession is a long-running horror trope. And to horror nerds like me, there’s something magical about the meta-narrative on the genre that you’ll find within the pages of A Head Full of Ghosts. The story is creepy enough on its own, but the references to Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft, The Exorcist, and contemporary horror writers will raise your spirits like a strong, hot drink on a cold winter night. If you love darkness, you’ll enjoy this unholy matrimony of book and brew.

Read: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett 

Drink: Black and Tan from Eight O’Clock Coffee Company 

Angels and demons, good and evil, stark prophecy and satiric comedy are blended together in Good Omens, a collaboration from two prominent fantasy authors. It’s only fitting to accompany it with the bold and mild blend of Black and Tan. The laugh-out-loud jokes are delightful dollops of cream and sugar – and when you’ve drunk the last drop, you can have a second helping by watching the Amazon Prime miniseries.

Read: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay 

Drink: Veranda Blend blonde roast from Starbucks 

Like the aesthetics of those blonde, sun-kissed Californian twins in the Sweet Valley High books, books which Roxane Gay devoured as a teen and scrutinized with her cultural commentary as an adult author, I find light roasts bland, ubiquitous, and unsatisfying. (If I’m feeling especially contrarian, I might say the same about Starbucks as an institution.) My distaste for light roasts – and the marketing for this one nods to both unattainable beauty standards and classism! – makes it the perfect tag-along while Gay pokes holes in pop culture, politics, feminism, and other topics in this book of essays.

In all fairness to Veranda Blend, this month’s book club hasn’t met yet, so I haven’t tried it. The blend may throw me a major twist like the best thrillers, or offer me that cloying tannic quality euphemized as “fruitiness,” like a well-reviewed literary novel that falls short of expectations. What will you be sipping when you curl up with your next read? (Or Netflix. No judgment.)

Eight Entertaining Reads for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is here! Here are 8 fun books for kids and adults to celebrate the season.

KIDS:

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. Illustrations and rhyming text present some of the different ways a well-behaved dinosaur can celebrate the eight days and nights of Chanukah. By the award-winning team behind the internationally best-selling How Do Dinosaurs…? series.

Meet the Latkes by Alan Silberberg. Lucy Latke’s family is a family of potato pancakes. After lighting the menorah and gobbling the gelt, Grandpa Latke tells everyone the Hanukkah story, but it’s up to the Latke family dog to set the record straight.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl. It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel are excited to light the menorah in their family’s new apartment. Unfortunately, their Hanukkah box is missing! Luckily, their neighbors happily help, offering thoughtful, often humorous, stand-ins each night. Just as Hanukkah is nearly done, Max and Rachel, inspired by the shamash (‘helper’) candle, have a brilliant idea: to celebrate the Ninth Night of Hanukkah as a thank you to everyone!

The Golden Dreidel by Ellen Kushner. After receiving a one-of-a-kind Chanukah gift—an enormous golden dreidel—Sara discovers that there’s much more to the dreidel than meets the eye when she spins herself into a whole new world and must rely on her courage to find her way back home.

Chelm for the Holidays by by Valerie Estelle Frankel. Celebrating Jewish holidays has never been sillier than in Chelm, the Village of Fools! While the Chelmites try to solve problems—like outsmarting bees to get Rosh Hashanah honey, and keeping Hanukkah menorah candles lit without enough oil—their foolishness causes even more chaos.

ADULTS

Holiday by Candlelight by Laurel Greer. Is a Hanukkah miracle right around the corner? This year, Dr. Caleb Matsuda could do without holiday cheer. After an avalanche robbed him of his ability to practice surgery, he struggles to make it through each day. He may be intrigued by new colleague Garnet James, but she’s also a search-and-rescue volunteer who could be in danger at any moment. If only she wasn’t perfect for the man he used to be…

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer. When her publisher insists that she write a Hanukkah romance, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, a Jewish woman with a secret career as a Christmas romance novelist, unexpectedly finds inspiration when she encounters a childhood acquaintance at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah.

The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan. The co-founder of a popular sex-education platform joins forces with a young rabbi who would save his cash-strapped synagogue to host a seminary series on modern intimacy. This book includes a thoughtful look at faith, and a romance featuring a rabbi!

Books With a Twist

You’re going along, innocently reading your novel, when suddenly the earth shifts beneath you – an unexpected plot twist! You thought you were reading one thing, but suddenly everything you thought you knew goes out the window. If you love a book that surprises you, that turns you inside out and upside down, that makes you toss it down and say “what just happened?“, then we have some reading recommendations for you.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. In this classic with a kick, en people, each with something to hide, are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. One by one, the guests reveal the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. You will assume you are reading about a jealous ex-wife. You will assume she is obsessed with her replacement – a beautiful, younger woman who is about to marry the man they both love. You will assume you know the anatomy of this tangled love triangle. Assume nothing. 

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. When a violent death rocks her close-knit gymnastics community weeks before an important competition, the mother of an Olympic hopeful works frantically to hold her family together in spite of being irresistibly drawn to the crime.

One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke. While on a sun-soaked Greek island for a bachelorette party to celebrate Lexi’s upcoming wedding, six very different women discover that someone is determined to make sure Lexi’s marriage never happens—and that one of them won’t leave the island alive.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. Every anniversary Adam and Amelia exchange traditional gifts–paper, cotton, pottery, tin–and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

The Girl From Widow Hills by Megan Miranda. Rendered famous in childhood for her miraculous survival of a dangerous storm, a young woman changes her name and struggles to hide from the media before waking up one evening to find a corpse at her feet. And then the fun begins.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. The secretary of a successful psychiatrist is drawn into the seemingly picture-perfect life of her boss and his wife before discovering a complex web of controlling behaviors and secrets that gradually reveal profound and dangerous flaws in the couple’s relationship.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, come to Shutter Island’s Ashcliffe Hospital in search of an escaped mental patient, but uncover true wickedness as Ashcliffe’s mysterious patient treatments propel them to the brink of insanity. The basis for a motion picture directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson.

Without her husband’s knowledge, Christine, whose memory is damaged by a long-ago accident, is treated by a neurologist who helps her to remember her former self through journal entries until inconsistencies begin to emerge, raising disturbing questions.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. When a single mom and a teen girl are found murdered at the bottom of a river in a small town weeks apart, an ensuing investigation dredges up a complicated local history involving human instincts and the damage they can inflict. By the bestselling author or another twisty novel, The Girl on the Train.

True Crime for the Faint of Heart

I used to love true crime. For my first research paper in high school, I wrote about the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese and the phenomena of the bystander effect. In college, Investigation Discovery was my background noise while working. More recently, murder podcasts and true crime audiobooks accompanied my commute to work, and I unwound with Netflix miniseries that dissected cold cases.

But my tastes are changing. Death got a little too close to me over the last two years. A podcaster made me question the ethics of finding entertainment in another’s pain. And becoming a parent obliterated my tolerance for stories where terrible things happen to small and vulnerable beings. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still fascinated by the darkness. I just need to be more selective. Minimal death and violence. Minimal gore. Thefts, forgeries, con artists. White collar crimes. Maybe the occasional plane crash or disaster.

So I present you with an updated list of true crime stories in various formats for those who, like me, have to say “hard pass” to serial killers and kidnappers.

Flying Blind : The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison. A fast-paced look at the corporate dysfunction–the ruthless cost-cutting, toxic workplaces, and cutthroat management–that contributed to one of the worst tragedies in modern aviation.

Bad Blood : Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. Recounts the story behind Theranos, the medical equipment company that misled investors to believe they developed a revolutionary blood testing machine, detailing how its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, perpetuated the lie to bolster the value of the company by billions.

Empire of Pain : The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe. Presents a narrative account of how a prominent wealthy family sponsored the creation and marketing of one of the most commonly prescribed and addictive painkillers of the opioid crisis.

Midnight in Chernobyl : The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham. Journalist Adam Higginbotham’s definitive, years-in-the-making account of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster–and a powerful investigation into how propaganda, secrecy, and myth have obscured the true story of one of the twentieth century’s greatest disasters.

Confident Women : Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer. The art of the con has a long and venerable tradition, and its female practitioners are some of the best– or worst. Telfer introduces us to a host of lady swindlers whose scams ranged from the outrageous to the deadly.

The Gardner Heist : The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser. Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and committed the largest art heist in history. But after thousands of leads, hundreds of interviews, and a $5-million reward, not a single painting has been recovered. Worth a total of $500 million, the missing masterpieces have become the Holy Grail of the art world and one of the nation’s most extraordinary unsolved mysteries.

Teen Book Reviews: the “Raven Cycle” series

Teens: did you know that you can earn community service credit for writing a book review and submitting it to us? Today, we’ll hear from someone who did just that. Find out more about how to earn community service hours from home at cheshirelibrary.org/teens/.

The Raven Cycle consists of four books, all reviewed below. WARNING: Possible spoilers exist.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The Raven Boys is the first book in the Raven Cycle, and is the story of four prep school boys, Adam, Ronan, Gansey and Noah, who embark on a journey to find the deceased Welsh king, Glendower. Adam is a poor farm boy with an abusive father, while Ronan is a somewhat scary and viciously protective friend, and Gansey is an extremely passionate and extremely wealthy boy who simply wants to find Glendower. And Noah… well we don’t know a lot about Noah other than that he is friends with the other Raven Boys.

Blue, the daughter of a psychic, also finds herself swept up in the quest to find Glendower, while she tries to make sense of the prophecy her mother has given her; that she will cause her true love to die. Despite coming from a family of clairvoyants, Blue does not possess the ability to see into the future. Although she initially dislikes the snobby, prep-school boys, she later becomes close friends with all of them.

The four boys spend practically all of their time together, at their school Aglionby Academy, and at their own place, Monmouth Manufacturing. Gansey leads Adam, Ronan, Noah and Blue, on the quest to find Glendower which proves to be both frustrating and dangerous. Gansey and his friends find themselves competing with Mr. Whelk, their high school Latin teacher. Mr. Whelk has his own reasons for finding Glendower, which are revealed later as the race to Glendower commences. Blue and the Raven Boys uncover shocking secrets and supernatural powers as they try to find Gansey’s king.

The Raven Boys is a beautifully adventurous novel with many supernatural elements and crazy occurrences. I also enjoyed the witty humor of many of the characters as well as their unique personalities and hobbies (and their secrets). Overall I would definitely recommend this book. But get ready to read the next three Raven Cycle books (which are just as good or maybe even better than the first,) because this book ends on a cliffhanger.

4 stars.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The second book in the Raven Cycle focuses more on Ronan rather than Gansey. The Dream Thieves focuses on Ronan’s ability to bring items from his dreams to the real world and his struggle with controlling this power. Ronan tells his friends Gansey, Blue, Adam and Noah, about this skill early in the novel. Ronan and his friends had already been on a supernatural quest to find “Gansey’s king”, Glendower, who is a deceased Welsh king. At Aglionby Academy, the private school that Ronan, Adam and Gansey attend, Ronan’s brother, Declan is badly beaten by a sinister man who calls himself the Gray Man. The Gray Man was hired by a powerful man who wants to find the Greywaren, an object that can bring items back from dreams. Even though Declan knows his brother is the Greywaren and that it is not a physical object, he keeps his mouth shut to keep his brother safe.

Meanwhile, in the hunt for Glendower, Ronan finds himself accidentally bringing horrifying and powerful creatures back from his dreams. Ronan and his friends have to battle Ronan’s uncontrollable dream-nightmare creatures while continuing the quest to find Glendower. Simultaneously, Ronan is being hunted down by the Gray Man, who is out to kill Ronan because of his ability to bring things back from his dreams. This book is fantastic, and possibly my favorite out of all four of the Raven Cycle books.

The stakes have definitely been raised since the last book, with all of the characters experiencing more risks in the quest to find Glendower. Meanwhile, Ronan battles some deep internal issues which manifest in the things he brings back from his dreams, which can sometimes be dangerous. This book is great and I highly recommend it!

5 stars.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in the Raven Cycle, which continues the tale of Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah and Blue, and their quest to find Glendower, a dead Welsh king, whom Gansey feels a strange connection with. This connection has led him to embark on a quest to find Glendower, a quest that he drags his friends on as well.

After the friends discover Ronan’s ability to bring items and creatures back from his dreams in the previous novel, it is discovered that Adam also has a unique power. Henrietta, Virginia, the town where the book takes place, has a large ley line running directly through the town. Blue’s family of psychics are very familiar with ley lines, which emit energies that psychics are able to harness to help see the future. These energies are also responsible for the various supernatural occurrences in Henrietta. Adam discovers that he can harness the power of the ley lines with the help of Peresphone.

Meanwhile, the Raven Boys and Blue discover a new threat in an artifact collector, Colin Greenmantle who targets Blue’s mom, Maura. As the group continues their search for Glendower they discover many strange and supernatural occurrences. The Raven Boys and Blue navigate new territories, and encounter unexpected surprises in their quest to find Glendower. Blue and her family unveil new prophecies that tell terrible fates for some of the characters, and reveal hidden secrets. I really enjoyed this book.

Although I feel like the other Raven Cycle books are better, I still really enjoyed this book, and I know that the Raven Cycle would not be complete without Blue Lily, Lily Blue. This book sets the reader up perfectly for the last book in the series, The Raven King.

4 stars.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Reviewed by Mia V.

The Raven King is the final book in the Raven Cycle series, which completes the story of the Raven Boys and Blue, as well as their search for Glendower. Noah, the friendly ghost-friend, Ronan, with his powers in pulling objects from his dreams, Adam with his power to harness the energy of the ley lines, Blue the psychic’s daughter and Gansey, their fearless leader, face many challenges in finding Glendower.

Their quest has stretched out for a very lengthy period of time, and has taken a toll on many of the characters. However this quest for Glendower seems it may finally come to a close, though not without many obstacles and near-death experiences. One of which occurs when Gansey and his friends make a major blunder by awakening a demon which is set upon “unmaking” the world. Meanwhile, Cabeswater is in danger of dying due to a strange sickness. As black ooze drips out of the beloved trees of Cabeswater, Gansey and his friends become increasingly more concerned about the health of Cabeswater. Perhaps more terrifying, Adam, with his deep connection to Cabeswater, finds himself falling apart along with Cabeswater.

The quest to find Glendower becomes increasingly complex as new threats rear their ugly heads and time begins to run out. The final book closes the series with a dramatic flare as prophecies are tragically fulfilled and demons are fought. Additionally, during The Raven King, romantic relationships that were hinted at during the previous books are finally made official.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventurous books that involve the supernatural. The Raven King closes off the Raven Cycle with a fantastic ending that helps finish the Raven Boys’ story, while leaving an opening to other related books in the future (like Call Down the Hawk). All in all, highly recommended.

5 stars.