Local Author Spotlight

Our community is home to a large number of outstanding authors. To celebrate them, we will offer – every two months – an introduction to a different children's or adult author who resides or works in one of the four towns in our school district and who has published a new book within the past year. The selection shall be made by a vote of our librarians. Happy reading!

See More Books by Local Authors!

September – October 2023
Sabina Murray


Why did you write your new book?

Muckross Abbey, my latest book, is a collection of ghost stories. I conceived the book as such — all ghosts — because I love reading books like that. I like classic Victorian-style ghost stories, the kind written by M.R. James and E. Nesbit and Charles Dickens. I like the classy creep of writers like Daphne du Maurier and Henry James and Edith Wharton. I don't really go in for gore. So being steeped in literature like that, and having grown up in a big Filipino family where we were always telling ghost stories, I felt inspired to work in that genre. As a writer, I also wanted to reclaim that basic storytelling vibe after my last two books, The Human Zoo, which is very political, and Valiant Gentlemen, a book that required a nearly insurmountable amount of research. In Muckross Abbey, I got to focus on narrative and imagination, and it was an immensely engaging, challenging, and enjoyable experience.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

I read a lot, fiction and nonfiction, and I travel a lot. I got stuck on the tarmac in Dublin for three hours at the end of August and the book I had with me was a history of rabies written by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. The book made me grateful that I was just stuck in a plane and not battling rabies. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus not only explores the disease that has affected culture for millennia, but also various historical figures who were finished off by it, the effects of hydrophobia, rabies' contributions to myth and literature, and also our enduring relationships with dogs. In many ways, it hit many of my favorite areas of interest.

What was your favorite book growing up?

I read a lot of ghost stories growing up — I liked being scared — and the usual kid's fare. The books of C.S. Lewis were read over and over, but the all-time favorite has to be Watership Down. Why? I'm not sure. I liked rabbits. Most kids do, but beyond this the book was so enthralling to me. It's not exactly a kid's book, although I would say that children do understand things like fascism and persecution more than we give credit for. I'm not alone in my love of Watership Down. If you say you loved Watership Down to someone who also loved (and likely still loves) Watership Down, it's like a secret handshake: you share something profound with that person. I chose to answer this question because I think it's very important to remember how we read as children, not for edification or because a book was well reviewed, but to lose ourselves completely in another world.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?


Recent Books by Sabina  (see all of her books)

Sabina's Favorite Books  (with her comments)

I probably have fifty or maybe even 500 favorite books, but I came up with a quirky list because these are the ones currently on my mind.

  • Bibliolepsy by Gina Apostol — Edgy, brilliant, and bawdy, this book is actually about someone's obsession with books and seems to ask the question, is loving the written word capable of determining one's life? It's a wildly entertaining book and very funny. I highly recommend it.
  • Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett — This book is so mesmerizing and expertly researched that it made me want to write books that require research. It's a different sort of feat to immerse oneself in the past, to make the past somehow more present than the present. And it's an adventure. Hours tick by, the phone is unanswered, the email unheeded, cold pizza for dinner...it's that kind of reading experience.
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters — This is a ghost story and likely why it's on my mind at present. But beyond the requisite creepiness, it is also a book about class and longing. The writing is finely wrought and the pacing throughout is admirable. This is a very fun read.
  • The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris — The surrealists were a wacky bunch and they lived large. Arranged by artist, these exquisitely written portraits ranging from Salvador Dali to Dorothea Tanning capture the madness of art. Read them one at a time or binge read the whole book to the extent that waking hours permit. I did the latter.
  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence — My next book is on Lawrence of Arabia, so I had to read this, and I'm very glad I did. The work can be a bit uneven in tone. At times the language is elevated to make the action seem the stuff of Arthurian legend. At others, we are presented with journalistic accounts of various maneuvers in an almost perfunctory manner, but the overall ambition of the project and the fascinating time that it represents make it gripping. One does have to acknowledge that Lawrence was only a player in the Arab initiated, planned, and executed Arab Revolt, but the cast of characters, stakes, and setting kept me turning page after page. After page. The book is very long.

July – August 2023
Sarah Dixwell Brown


What is your favorite local place to go for inspiration, relaxation, or peace and quiet? Why?

Almost every day I go hiking in the Holyoke Range or on the trails near Amethyst Brook. It's my time for being alone, quiet and amazed by leaves, efts, and the occasional owl. If I can get into the woods for a while, it usually helps me write when I get home.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

I love the Jones Library. I still have my original, cardboard card and librarians generally admire it when I check out books.

What is it like to be a writer during a pandemic?

The pandemic intensified the already-existing isolation of being a writer. This was hard, but it also helped me finish my book. So many of us had too much strange, empty time on our hands. I didn't know at the outset that all that time would end up benefiting my writing, even though I was much too lonely.

Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

So many people in the Valley helped me all throughout the process of researching and writing my book – my critique group, librarians, archivists, academics, fellow writers, kind friends and family.

Why did you write your new book?

I wrote my book because I got obsessed with the need to understand why my seven greats grandfather decided to judge his king and sentence him to death. The king was England's Charles the First, who was beheaded in 1649. I also wondered why my father named me after that king killer but never told me the story. What was that about? I still don't know!

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

Two very different books I've enjoyed immensely are Sarah Ruhl's memoir Smile and Jonathan Meiburg's sweeping A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey.

Do you have a website for your books which you would like to share?

My website is sarahdixwellbrown.com. I also made and narrated an audiobook version of Regicide in the Family that's available from audible.com.

Sarah's book has won a literary award from the Connecticut Society of Genealogists!

Sarah Dixwell Brown - Author Photo

New Book
by Sarah

Sarah's Favorite Books  (with her comments)

  • Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto — I love this book for its brilliant, humorous, deft touch throughout the novel. Although it came out in 1988, it has a transgender woman who is one of the main characters. How many libraries would ban it now? Not the Jones!
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden looks deeply at what happens to children who are abandoned and/or neglected by the adults who should be caring for them. It teaches children that it's possible to heal from traumatic loss.
  • Astrid Lindgren's Mio, My Son pits a child protagonist against great evil. In the gentlest way it looks at the atrocities wrought by humans, then shows that love and friendship can triumph.
  • E. B. White's Charlotte's Web is a work of genius. I read it over and over.
  • I could go on and on about George Eliot, Jane Austen, Maya Angelou, Mark Twain, Jia Tolentino, Theodore Dreiser, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, but I must stop.

May – June 2023
Nyanyika Banda


How did you decide what recipes to include in The Official Wakanda Cookbook?

My goal in developing recipes was to celebrate the foods of the African diaspora.

Do you have a special library memory or story?

The Jones Library is very special to me. It is where I got my first library card. My grandmother brought me to the library when I was in kindergarten. I remember the office and the way the light came in through the window on Amity Street. I was told to give my signature and I was so nervous because I was still figuring out how to spell my name. It is a special memory and I still have that library card.

Is there a member of this community who has been instrumental to your writing?

I was a young poet enthralled with Emily Dickinson and her story. It was my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Shumway, who introduced me to poetry.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

While I was on Martha's Vineyard last summer I purchased a used copy of Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. I grew up reading her books and was a young adult when the book first came out. On the island I looked forward to posing up in my beach chair and reading everyday. It was magical.

What was your favorite book growing up?

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb is a book that I read as a young adult and have turned to throughout my adult life. It's just beautifully written and tragically empathic.

New Book
by Nyanyika

Nyanyika's Favorite Books  (with her comments)

March – April 2023
Megan Dowd Lambert


Why did you write your new book?

The stories in my Every Day with April & Mae early reader series are inspired by my three daughters and their friendships. It’s still too rare to see girls of color as protagonists in early reader books, and I love how illustrators Briana Dengoue and Gisela Bohórquez depict April and Mae as they navigate social / emotional learning and go about favorite activities — soccer, baking, reading, writing, making music, making art, playing with their pets, watching movies, camping, and more! My other new book, Book Bonding: Building Connections Through Family Reading, is a collection of essays I’ve written over the past two decades about reading with my seven children, now aged 5 – 25. I hope it will invite readers to reflect on how shared reading experiences can help parents and other caregivers build strong and lasting connections with the children in their lives.

What was the last book you enjoyed reading?

With my kids: The Infinite Questions of Dottie Bing by Molly B. Burnham (middle grade); How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner (nonfiction); and Impossible Moon by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Tonya Engel (picture book)

Reading on my own: My "day job" is at Modern Memoirs, Inc., a private publishing company specializing in memoirs and family histories that my husband and I bought from its founder, Kitty Axelson-Berry, in 2019. So, I read a lot of memoirs and history books! I’m currently listening to A History of France by John Julius Norwich as I prepare for a heritage trip to France with my dad, who has conducted extensive genealogical research into our family history. As for memoirs, last year I bought my mom and myself copies of Viola Davis's Finding Me: A Memoir and we called each other daily to talk about it.

What is a favorite book from when you were growing up?

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, which I wrote about in this blog post on the Modern Memoirs website.

Recent Books by Megan  (see more of her books in our collections  |  see all of her books)

Megan's Favorite Books  (with her comments)

January – February 2023
Austin Sarat


What is it like to be a writer during a pandemic?

Writing was salvation, or if not salvation, a consuming distraction. I really geared up in two different genres, my usually academic fare and also op-eds / public commentary. The latter is somewhat new, but it provided an almost all-consuming way to vent about what was going on outside beyond the COVID cavern that my home became. I found new outlets – CNN, The Washington Post, Slate, The Hill and fell in love with the form, 800-1000 words. Get to the point, avoid jargon, say something that draws on expertise but has a social, legal, or political pay-off. I found myself alternating between my two genres and that also offered a way to vary the pace and keep myself fully engaged as a writer.

Why did you write your new book?

My new book, Lethal Injection and the False Promise of Humane Execution, continues my several decades long exploration of America's death penalty. It offers the first book-length examination of this nation's latest execution method of choice and the promise that this method will put people to death safely, reliably, and humanely. I wanted to illuminate the way capital punishment has been, and is, sustained by the illusory quest for a perfect execution technology. If the United States is to continue killing inmates in our name, in the name of the people, we have a duty to confront the complex meanings of state killing. I wrote my book in the hope that it would contribute to achieving that goal. It is written for a general audience and tells the story of the quirky and compelling characters who brought us lethal injection and the people who it has been used to kill.

Austin Sarat - Photo

Recent Books by Austin  (see more of his books in our collections  |  see all of his books)

Austin's Favorite Books  (with his comments)

Authors Previously Spotlighted

Alan Goodman

Corinne Andrews

Edward Bruce Bynum

Robert H. Romer

Joseph J. Ellis

Patricia Romney

Martín Espada

John Clayton

Barbara Elleman

Pawan Dhingra

Martha Ackmann

Jonathan Adolph

Lawrence Douglas

Annye C. Anderson

Artemis Roehrig & Corrine Demas

Ilan Stavans

Ocean Vuong

Christopher Benfey

Micha Archer

Joanne Creighton

Bruce Watson

Aaron Becker

Charles Mann

Holly Black

Lewis Mainzer

Nicole Blum & Catherine Newman

Michael Ponsor

David Hyde Costello

William Taubman

Rich Michelson

Madeleine Blais

Cammie McGovern

View our earlier Local Author Spotlights by year: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018 & 2017 | Or browse more books by local authors