Catherine T.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I was feeling the need for a good book to escape into and Alix E. Harrow really delivered with whimsical prose and a fantastical story in The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019).

Set at the turn of the 20th century in Vermont, we follow the story of January, a young mixed race child in the care of a wealthy collector, Mr. Locke. Her guardian employs her father to travel the world searching for and obtaining rare treasures and curiosities, which are then added to Mr. Locke's extensive collection or sold at secretive auctions.

At the age of seven, while on a trip to rural Kentucky with Mr. Locke, January opens a dilapidated blue door amongst some ruins in a field and is briefly transported to another world, a world that smells of salt and stone, a world that feels strangely welcoming. Her few short moments there leave her wondering if it was a real memory or just her imagination. Then, at the age of 17, her father disappears while on one of his trips and a book mysteriously appears in a treasure chest in Mr. Locke's collection—a book that carries the scent of adventure and other worlds and tells of ten thousand 'doors'. And so begins an upheaval of January's life and the opening of new doors.

Lovers of Narnia and The Time Traveler's Wife will enjoy this beautifully written book, full of the power of the written word, love, and strong female characters.

Catherine T.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

​Though not your typical road trip movie, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was a huge hit in Australia back in the 90s and quickly became a cult movie with its outrageous costumes and classic disco music.  Featuring veteran actors, Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, and Bill Hunter, this film follows the adventures of a group of drag queens who take their show on the road to the Australian outback.  In need of money, they accept a job to perform in Alice Springs, quite a journey from their hometown of Sydney.

Traveling in a fantastically repainted school bus, they head out on a road trip through the outback, bringing us comedy and drama as they interact with the locals along the way.  The flamboyant crossdressers raise a few eyebrows in the country towns they pass through and while there is some intolerance, there is also education and tenderness.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994, R) is a highly entertaining lighthearted film, but be warned that it does include a lot of coarse language and will have you humming disco hits for days afterward.

This movie is on our list of favorite LGBTQ films. Discover more on our website.


Catherine T.

How We Disappeared

Set in 1940s Singapore, How We Disappeared grapples with the tragic history of 'comfort women' in World War II. These young local girls were taken from their families at gunpoint and subjected to years of brutal rape by the occupying Japanese forces. If they managed to survive the war and return home, instead of being welcomed back with open arms, they were often shunned by their family and neighbors.

We follow the story of Wang Di, who was taken from her village by the Japanese army in 1942. Almost 60 years later, she is now an old woman, but has kept her painful past a secret for all this time. Her husband has just passed away and she is struggling with her new lonely life and her overwhelming memories. At the same time, Kevin, a 12 year old struggling at school and home, loses his grandmother. In her last delirious hours, she whispers a confession to him, a secret about her son that she has kept since the war. Kevin is determined to unravel this mystery in the hope that it will help with his father's depression.

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019) interweaves several different narratives to create a suspenseful story that also focuses on the beauty of friendship and human relationships.

Catherine T.

Boy Swallows Universe

A coming of age story set in the gritty, drug-ridden streets of suburban Brisbane, Australia in the 1980s. Despite the ugly background of criminals, violence, and poverty, this is a beautiful story of a boy finding his voice and destiny.

Twelve-year-old Eli Bell is surrounded by drug addicts and dealers. His brother, August, is selectively mute, his babysitter is an ex-con renowned for multiple jailbreaks and his stepfather Lyle is involved with the local heroin dealing business. Eli has a big dream to become a journalist on the crime beat. He's honing his writing skills by exchanging letters with a criminal in jail and practicing being observant while accompanying Lyle on his drug deals. When everything starts to go wrong, Eli will rely on his skills and contacts to survive.

With secret rooms, heroin deals, a jail break-in and missing people, this book doesn't lack for action. It also shines a light on the strength of parental and sibling relationships. A tough upbringing can result in unbreakable bonds.

Boy Swallows Universe (2019) is an entertaining debut from Trent Dalton, loosely based on some of his real life experiences.



Catherine T.

The Stationery Shop

Set in 1950s Tehran, this ill-fated love story features teenagers Roya and Bahman. Roya's favorite place is Mr. Fakhri's stationary shop and she goes there every Tuesday after school to indulge her love of novels, poetry, and everything stationery. It is here that she meets Bahman, a young political activist and, despite parental disapproval, class differences, and Iran's political unrest, their love blossoms.

The story actually begins 60 years later in Boston. Raya has spent her adult life in America as an immigrant, always wondering why the love of her life never showed up to their rendezvous in a city square amidst a violent coup. Out of the blue, she discovers that Bahman is a resident in a nursing home nearby. Will visiting him finally give her the answer? Has their love lasted a lifetime?

I really enjoyed this romantic tale by Marjan Kamali, who writes very evocatively of the 1950s streets of Tehran. Her descriptions of Persian food had me looking up recipes, especially for the cooling melon ice that she mentions multiple times in The Stationery Shop (2019). I went out and bought some cantaloupe the next day and it was just as refreshing as I imagined!



Catherine T.

The Night Tiger

Set in 1930s colonial Malaysia, The Night Tiger follows the adventures of several local children amidst a spate of mysterious deaths, which some people are attributing to the mythical weretiger.

Ren, an 11-year-old house boy, is on a mission to find the severed finger of his recently deceased master, an old British doctor. He needs to bury the finger with the doctor's body before the 49th day after death to ensure the doctor's soul will be at peace.

His story merges with that of Ji Lin, a young girl working at a dance hall to earn extra money to pay off her mother's debts. One night while dancing with a salesman, she ends up with a mysterious item from his pocket, a preserved human finger. Her subsequent search for the owner of the finger leads her and her brother, Shin, into intrigue and danger.

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (2019) interweaves the supernatural and Malaysian folklore with themes of colonialism and class and gender divides, all mixed together in an intriguing murder mystery.



Catherine T.

A Farmer’s Road (2015)

This documentary follows a couple who own and operate Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign, Illinois.  The couple were both academics in the field of soil science and decided to put all their knowledge to the test.  They bought a plot of land surrounded by cash crop farmers' land and transformed it by way of practicing a more sustainable type of farming.

Throughout the film, they share with us their setbacks and successes as they plant an orchard, kitchen garden, and start raising goats. The main product of their farm and creamery is the variety of goat cheeses they produce, which have found a loyal following at the local farmer's market and at various Chicago restaurants.  They have also started a tradition of summer farm to table dinners showcasing local produce.

It was educational and heartwarming to watch A Farmer's Road about a local business where they are promoting sustainable agriculture and small scale diversified farming.

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Catherine T.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (2019)

I loved this epic high fantasy from Samantha Shannon. Yes, it is a big book, but it is a standalone novel, so no waiting for a sequel and the nonstop adventure will make the reading quick.

Taking inspiration from old legends, Shannon has created a world with hints of our own and includes a wonderful collection of mythological creatures. This world is currently facing the imminent return of  'the nameless one,' 1000 years after he was trapped in the abyss. Will Sabran, Queen of Inys, produce an heir to protect her country from this threat? Ead Duryen has been sent from the South to infiltrate the court to protect the Queen, but can she maintain her anonymity whilst attacking cutthroats and wyrms? Across the abyss in the East, Tane is preparing for her trials in the hope of becoming a dragon rider, but will the appearance of a stranger put her future in danger?

The Priory of the Orange Tree is an incredible tale full of assassins, religious differences, legends, ancient magic, political intrigue, dragons and pirates. And it has a fantastic cover too!

Catherine T.

Golden Child by Claire Adam (2019)

In her debut novel, Claire Adam takes us on a tragic, thought-provoking journey to rural Trinidad. The Deyalsingh family struggles financially, but father, Clyde, finds it hard to accept help and feels suffocated by his wife's extended family. Their twin sons, Peter and Paul, are at the difficult age of 13. Peter is the 'golden child,' both academic and diligent, while Paul has always been deemed mentally challenged due to complications at birth.

The story revolves around the sudden disappearance of Paul when Clyde is faced with a parent's worst nightmare. Claire Adam's Golden Child is an emotional roller coaster of a book!