Walker's Bookshelf

International Women’s Day

March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, here is a list of debut novels written by diverse female authors.
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Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham

Abraham’s fierce debut follows four Nigerian siblings living in Lagos from childhood in 1996 through early adulthood in 2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike, and their younger brothers, Andrew and Peter, spend their early years in a relatively stable middle-class family. Then their mother loses her government job and their father wastes the rest of the family’s savings in a get-rich-quick scheme. Soon after, their mother leaves for New York, their father takes off for parts unknown, and the kids are left in the care of their grandmother. As the girls grow up, Ariyike becomes involved in a Pentecostal church and eventually marries its charismatic leader, while Bibike takes a series of more secular jobs. Both are sexually exploited time after time. The chapters involving their brothers focus on the horrors of life in a boarding school—incessant bullying by the older students, food deprivation—which the sisters can’t attend because they must work to support the family. The novel’s strength lies in its lush, unflinching scenes, as when a seemingly simple infection leads gradually but inexorably to a life-threatening condition, revealing the dynamics of the family and community along the way. Abraham mightily captures a sense of the stresses of daily life in a family, city, and culture that always seems on the edge of self-destruction. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 11/11/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 45, p)

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Anappara’s witty, resonant debut tracks a series of child disappearances from an Indian slum through the  eyes of a nine-year-old boy. Jai lives with his friends Pari and Faiz in a slum next to a rubbish dump and the  crowded Bhoot Bazaar, part of an unnamed city constantly beset by smog. An opening tale of a local benevolent ghost named Mental introduces the  children’s shared magical thinking. When Jai and his friends learn that one of their classmates, Bahadur, has been missing for several days, Jai, a fan of police shows, decides that he and his friends will do their own detective work and find Bahadur since the  police show little interest in the  matter. Jai’s carefree nature lends a lighthearted tone to an increasingly grim tale as more children disappear and his team of sleuths find evidence pointing to a serial killer. His quest is aided by Pari’s voracious reading habits, which make her the  better detective, and Faiz’s Muslim faith, which helps them stay on  course when his community is blamed for the  kidnappings. Interspersed with the  trio’s investigation are single chapters devoted to each of the  disappeared children. The  prose perfectly captures all the  characters’ youthful voices, complete with some Hindi and Urdu terms, whose meanings, if not immediately obvious, become clear with repetition. Anappara’s complex and moving tale showcases a strong talent. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 12/09/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 50 , p)

The Eight Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
*COMING SOON: March 17, 2020

Meet Alexa Wú, a brilliant yet darkly self-aware young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her shrink Daniel; her stepmother Anna; and her enigmatic best friend Ella. The perfect trio of trust.

When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman’s club, she catches the attention of its shark-like owner and is gradually drawn into his inner circle. As Alexa’s world becomes intimately entangled with Ella’s, she soon finds herself the unwitting keeper of a nightmarish secret. With no one to turn to and lives at stake, she follows Ella into London’s cruel underbelly on a daring rescue mission. Threatened and vulnerable, Alexa will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her most dangerous obstacle.

Electrifying and breathlessly compulsive, The Eighth Girl is an omnivorous examination of life with mental illness and the acute trauma of life in a misogynist world. With bingeable prose and a clinician’s expertise, Chung’s psychological debut deftly navigates the swirling confluence of identity, innocence, and the impossible fracturing weights that young women are forced to carry, causing us to question: Does the truth lead to self-discovery, or self-destruction? — Publisher’s Description

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

Daré’s captivating first novel opens with  14-year-old Adunni hearing the  devastating news from her father that, instead of returning to school as she has longed to for three years, she has been sold in marriage to a much-older neighbor in their Nigerian village. Adunni is distraught, as life with  a husband, his two other wives, and his unrestrained young children is exactly the  fate from which, according to her deceased mother, having an education would spare her. Desperate to improve her life, she flees to the  city, where to support herself she accepts employment as a rich family’s servant. But why was the  position vacant? The  reasoning behind her predecessor’s departure is just one of the  things Adunni seeks to learn while in Lagos. Daré’s arresting prose provides a window into the  lives of Nigerians of all socioeconomic levels and shows readers the  beauty and humor that may be found even in the  midst of harrowing experiences. Although the  problems and antagonists Adunni faces would challenge even capable adults, she defies almost everyone’s expectations and not only survives but thrives. — Nicole Williams (Reviewed 1/1/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 9, p35)

The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen

Nguyen’s lyrical, sweeping debut novel (after the  poetry collection The  Secret of Hoa Sen) chronicles the  Tran family through a century of war and renewal. As middle-aged writer Huong revisits her native Hanoi in 2012, she reflects on the  lessons shared by her late grandmother Diệu Lan (“The  challenges faced by Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the  tallest mountains . If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks”) and chronicles their journey of survival during the  Vietnam War. Huong was 12 when bombs encroached on Hanoi, where she lived with Diệu Lan after her mother, Ngọc, a physician, left to search for her father, a soldier in the  NVA. After an evacuation to the mountains , Diệu Lan “opened the  door of her childhood” to Huoung with stories of being raised by a wealthy family to pursue an education and resist old customs such as blackening her teeth. Diệu Lan also describes the  harrowing truth of the  Việt Minh Land Reform, during which her family’s land was seized in the  spirit of resource distribution, encouraging her to question what she’s been taught in schools. Grandma and Huong return to Hanoi and find their house decimated, and Ngọc, who survived torture and rape while imprisoned by South Vietnamese soldiers, comes home without Huong’s father. In a subtle coda, Nguyễn brilliantly explores the  boundary between what a writer shares with the  world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 01/06/2020) (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 1, p)

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AARP Tax Aide Locations

AARP Tax Aide Locations

The AARP Foundation Tax Aide Program offers free, individualized tax preparation assistance to anyone, especially to those who are 50 years of age and older as well as for those who cannot afford costly tax prep service.

AARP membership is not required. The AARP Foundation Tax Aide Program Volunteer Team is IRS certified.

Here are the locations near the library where you can go:

    426 Bridge Street Westbrook, ME 04092
    Tax Help Schedule: Saturday 9am – 12pm
    Operating Hours: Monday thru Friday 5:30am – 9pm, Saturday 7am – 7pm, Sunday closed
    Notes: Appointment preferred. Walk-ins are acceptable, if time permits. Last appointment is at noon.
    299 Main Street Gorham, ME 04038
    Tax Help Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday 9am – 12pm
    Notes: Appointment required. Last appointment is at noon.
    257 Canco Road Portland, ME 04103
    Tax Help Schedule: Wednesday 9am – 1pm
    Operating Hours: Mon thru Sunday 7:30am-7:30pm
    Notes: Appointment is required. Last appointment is at 1pm.
    400 Deering Avenue Portland, ME 04103
    Tax Help Schedule: Tuesday 9:30am – 2:30pm
    Operating Hours: Tuesday thru Thursday 9am – 5pm; Friday 9am-3pm; Saturday, Sunday, and Monday closed
    Notes: Appointment is required.
    53 Baxter Boulevard Suite 202 Portland, ME 04101
    Tax Help Schedule: Thursday 9:30am – 12:30pm
    Operating Hours: Monday thru Friday 9am – 5pm, Saturday and Sunday closed
    Notes: Appointment is required. Last appointment is at 12:30pm.
    5 Monument Square Portland, ME 04101
    Tax Help Schedule: Wednesday 10am – 5:30pm
    Operating Hours: Monday thru Thursday 10am – 7pm, Friday 10am – 6pm, Saturday 10am – 5pm, Sunday closed

For more information about the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program and to find out about other locations, please visit

– (MD)

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Quick Review: ‘Within Plain Sight’

When a dismembered body of a young woman is found in an abandoned lumberyard at Portland, ME, Detective Sergeant John Byron is called to investigate. He notices certain similarities with murders committed by a serial killer known as the Horseman around the Boston area.

As with any good crime fiction story, there is more to the case than what it seems. This recent installment of the Detective Sergeant John Byron series has all the elements that make for a great police procedural. Within Plain Sight may be one of Coffin’s best yet.

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The Satapur Moonstone

Sujata Massey followed her Edgar Award finalist book, The Widows of Malabar Hill (2018), with another captivating mystery featuring the female Bombay lawyer, Perveen Mistry.

Set in 1922, in a remote state of Satapur, a tragedy has befallen the royal family when the maharaja suddenly dies. Jiva Rao, the maharaja’s ten-year old son, finds himself the new maharaja. This presents a problem though since he will not be able to rule the princely state of Satapur until he reaches the age of eighteen. The widowed maharani Mirabai and the dowager maharani Putlabai disagree about the young maharaja’s education. Mirabai wants his son to go to England, while Putlabai insists that her grandson remain in the royal palace. Perveen soon finds herself involved and quickly discovers that there’s more to the situation than a simple family dispute.

The Satapur Moonstone delves into the cultural, political, and social dynamics of 1920s India. Massey’s novel is filled with descriptions of the breathtaking Indian countryside, scrumptious food, and fashion of the era. The characters are well-drawn. Readers will root for Perveen Mistry as she breaks boundaries and proves that women are capable of greatness. What is most fascinating is how Massey explores the social divisions found in India’s caste system. Altogether, Massey’s The Satapur Moonstone gives us a fascinating glimpse into both the Parsi and Hindu culture as well as the history of India under British rule. The Satapur Moonstone makes for a very engaging historical mystery and comes highly recommended.

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A Window into the Past

There are a lot of ways that we, as readers, connect to literature. By providing a window into the past, historical fiction not only helps us understand a particular historical time period but also encourages us to empathize with others from a different time and a different place.

Here is a list of historical fiction novels you can borrow in the library now.

by Courtney Maum

What it is: 15-year-old Lara’s recounting of her heiress mother’s scheme to smuggle a group of Surrealist artists out of Nazi Germany and install them at Mexico’s posh Costalegre resort.

Inspired by: the complicated mother-daughter relationship of American socialite Peggy and painter Pegeen Guggenheim.

Why you might like it: Structured as a series of diary entries, this novel juxtaposes keen observations of Costalegre’s bohemian guests with a lonely girl’s quest to become an artist in her own right.

The Women of the Copper Country: A Novel
by Mary Doria Russell

Starring: Labor activist Annie Clements, who in 1913 led a strike against a Montana copper-mining company.

Is it for you? Closer in tone to Doc than The Sparrow, this well-researched historical novel unfolds from multiple perspectives, all rendered in lyrical prose.

Want a taste? “Running lengthwise down the peninsula’s center, like the blood gutter of a bayonet, are the richest copper desposits on earth.” 

The Ventriloquists: A Novel
by E.R. Ramzipoor

Belgium, 1943: Ordered to produce pro-Nazi propaganda, a group of journalists and resistance fighters instead publish a parody newspaper mocking the Fuhrer, knowing full well it will be the last thing they ever do.

Why you might like it: Inspired by true events, this well-researched novel boasts a briskly paced storyline, a balanced blend of humor and suspense, and an LBGTQIA-diverse cast that takes turns narrating.

For fans of: Paul Goldberg’s The Yid, which similarly unspools a madcap scheme to thwart fascists by a group of marginalized intellectuals.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
by Petina Gappah

What it’s about: The harrowing 1,500-mile, nine-month journey undertaken by the African servants of Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone as they transport his body to the coast of Tanzania.

Narrated by: cynical Halima, the band’s cook, and loyal Jacob Wainwright, educated by missionaries following his manumission.

What sets it apart: Livingstone is a minor character in Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s novel, which “captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail” (Kirkus Reviews).

The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott

What it’s about: The CIA’s plan to smuggle copies of Boris Pasternak’s banned novel Dr. Zhivago into Moscow as anti-Soviet propaganda.

Starring: Russian-born secretary-turned-spy Irina; her handler Sally, with whom she begins an affair; and Pasternak’s mistress, Olga, who refuses to incriminate her lover and lands in the gulag. 

Want a taste? “Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was, ‘Can you type?'”

The Shadow King: A Novel
by Maaza Mengiste

Ethiopia, 1935: Orphaned Hirut joins the fight against Italy’s invading army by serving as bodyguard to the “Shadow King,” a stand-in for exiled Emperor Haile Selassie.

What sets it apart: Not only does this lyrical novel by the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze depict a lesser-known conflict, Hirut’s journey from servant to soldier offers a change from war stories that portray women exclusively as casualties or refugees

The Sweetest Fruits
by Monique Truong

What it’s about: The peripatetic life of writer Lafcadio Hearn, the son of a Greek mother and an Irish father, who works as a journalist in the United States and Martinique before settling in Japan.

Why you might like it: Four women — Hearn’s mother, his wives, and his biographer — reveal different aspects of a protean man as he reinvents himself.

For fans of: iconoclastic biographical novels with multiple narrators who describe their relationships with charismatic men, such as T.C. Boyle’s The Women or Louisa Hall’s Trinity.

The Hunger
by Alma Katsu

What it is: a chilling, often visceral retelling of the Donner Party’s ill-fated overland journey, in which supernatural forces stalk the wagon train.

Is it for you? While this well-researched novel adheres closely to the known facts, the introduction of elements such as lycanthropy and ghosts may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

For fans of: menacing historical horror à la Dan Simmons’ The Terror or F.R. Tallis’ The Passenger.

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In-Depth Book Review: Manhunt

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer tells the story of the murder of Abraham Lincoln and the subsequent search for those involved in his death.

The characters and plot in Manhunt are quickly revealed. The central characters around which the entire story revolves—Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth—are introduced within the first four pages. They are quickly established as having diametrically opposed outlooks on America’s future—Lincoln embraces one of hope and reconciliation while Booth seeks a chance to avenge the South’s defeat. By the end of the book’s Prologue, Booth has vowed that Lincoln will never live to deliver another speech.

Manhunt moves along at a brisk pace because, at its core, it is a “race against time” story. There are two competing stories present in Manhunt, one is Booth’s race to escape his Union pursuers; the other is the U.S. governments race to capture those who conspired to assassinate President Lincoln. The book’s pace is not slowed by the fact that there is more description than dialogue. Swanson’s use of language creates a “you are there” feeling and inserts the reader directly into the story. While Manhunt is written in a very detailed manner, it is not densely written. Swanson makes effective use of original sources—letters, manuscripts, affidavits, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books, and memoirs.

The story is very conventional and has a straight-line plot—the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators. Save for the book’s final chapter, prologue, and epilogue, all of the action in the story occurs between April 14th and April 26th 1865. The primary characters in the story—Booth, his fellow conspirators, and the Union Army pursuers, are constantly reacting to events around them. This helps the story move forward at a quick pace. Despite knowing the ultimate outcome of the story—the capture of all of Lincoln’s assassination conspirators, Swanson creates a compelling storyline in which the reader is kept on the edge of their seat wondering if Booth is ultimately going to be able to escape.

Each of the characters in Manhunt is vividly written and fully drawn, albeit in a dispassionate manner. Their thoughts and actions are presented in rich, lifelike detail. Both Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth are depicted as immensely talented, yet tragic figures whose lives intersected one fateful night at Ford’s Theatre. Both inspired tremendous feelings of love and hate as well as fierce loyalty and dedication. Each was surrounded by people that idolized them and who would go to great lengths to support and defend them. The secondary characters in Manhunt are made up of these very loyalists—individuals dedicated to either finding Lincoln’s killer or dedicated to helping Booth escape the Union dragnet. Each character is presented with all their complexities and contradictions fully intact. Because of this, it is easy for the reader to identify with the characters feelings and emotions. It allows the reader to stand in their shoes.

Manhunt reads like a well-crafted suspense novel. The suspense gradually builds over the course of the book. The reader is constantly kept on edge about whether or not Booth and his fellow conspirators will ever be caught. Manhunt is also filled with the type of lush historical detail that makes the reader feel like they are back in 1865. While Manhunt tells the story of Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent search for his killer, the tone is never bleak or overly dark. Rather, Manhunt is written in the type of compelling manner that leads readers to want to continue turning page after page in order to see what is going to happen next. Manhunt is both colorful and complex in tone, which makes it a very enjoyable read.