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This year “Home for the Holidays” has a slightly different ring to it, and as the days get darker and colder it might seem daunting to have to spend more time inside our homes. We asked the LVA staff what media they have enjoyed this year that allowed them to explore our Commonwealth without leaving home. We hope you find something to brighten your winter hours! Note: Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.



Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott – This biography, which reads like a novel, weaves together the stories of four noteworthy women who challenged the contemporary social order during the Civil War years. These captivating yet little known stories bring to life the actions of Belle Boyd, Emma Edmonds, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, and Richmond’s Elizabeth Van Lew as they each find a way to participate in America’s bloody civil conflict. – Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist
Girl in Black and White by Jessie Morgan-Owens – Having moved to Virginia from Massachusetts a few years ago I was intrigued by this narrative that takes place in both places and lays bare the racial prejudices of the whole country, not just one specific region. Mary Mildred Williams, a light-skinned enslaved child in Virginia, was used by abolitionists in the North as an example of a “white slave” in order to drum up support for abolition among white northerners, since, as is unfortunately still too often the case, people had more empathy for a person that they felt they had more connections with, including skin color. – Jessi Bennett, Digital Collections Specialist
Dopesick by Beth Macy – The author’s outstanding journalistic skills are once again on display in this raw, heartrending depiction of the opioid crisis plaguing small town America, particularly Appalachia. Macy takes a national problem and makes it a personal story. With a reporter’s eye, she not only tells the story of grieving parents and struggling addicts, but also of the unscrupulous doctors and pharmaceutical companies who’ve enjoyed the profits of death and destruction. She also highlights the unsung efforts of those on the front lines of the battle against opioid addiction who, with limited resources and support, attempt to save lives every day. – Vince Brooks, Senior Local Records Archivist


Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Crosby – Set in Virginia, Blacktop Wasteland follows Beauregard “Bug” Montage, a father, husband, and mechanic who finds himself unwillingly pulled into his former life of crime that he had long left behind. A Southern noire with fast-paced car scenes reminiscent (but better!) of Fast & Furious, Virginia author Cosby so perfectly describes the empty, winding country roads of rural Virginia and I could practically see cars flying down them. Beyond racing cars, this crime fiction also offers a lot to reflect on about racism and classism and Cosby excellently pulls apart and shows us through Bug’s story how and why sometimes crime seems to be the only viable option. – Emma Ito, Education & Programs Specialist
Furmidable Foes by Rita Mae Brown – Wonderful book for anyone who enjoys books set in the Charlottesville/Crozet area. – Cindy Church, Continuing Education Consultant
An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole – Alyssa Cole’s historical romance pairs two Union spies in Civil War Richmond. Cole’s heroine was inspired by the real-life Mary Richards Bowser, a Black woman who worked as a spy in the household of Jefferson Davis. Her fast-paced, groundbreaking novel upends the tropes of Southern romance fiction. – Rebecca Schneider, Senior Reference Librarian
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – The first volume in Maggie Stiefvater’s young adult fantasy quartet blends witchy magic, slow burn romance, and electric prose. When Blue Sargent befriends a group of students from the elite boys’ prep school in her small Virginia town, she finds herself reckoning with ancient magic, a cursed romance, and real-world questions of class and privilege. – Rebecca Schneider, Senior Reference Librarian
Mattaponi Queen by Belle Boggs – Each story in Belle Boggs’ debut collection is a pitch-perfect evocation of rural life along Virginia’s Mattaponi River. Boggs’ stories are equal parts warmhearted and clear-sighted, and her accessible writing gives voice to a region that’s rarely been represented in literary fiction. – Rebecca Schneider, Senior Reference Librarian


The Good Lord Bird – Based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird tells the story of abolitionist John Brown through the lens of a fictional character named Henry Shackleford AKA Onion. Though fictionalized, it was inspired by real historical events and people, from the Bleeding Kansas battles over the legality of slavery in the future state to revered figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harper’s Ferry resulted in his capture, sentencing, and execution by the Commonwealth of Virginia. By turns comedic and poignant, The Good Lord Bird explores how we remember John Brown—a religious fanatic? a madman? a man deeply committed to the ideal of freedom for all? There are no easy answers, but this entertaining miniseries has prompted me to look into the records held by the Library of Virginia related to Brown. – Sonya Coleman, Digital Engagement & Social Media Coordinator
Harriet – My husband and I saw the movie Harriet (rented from Redbox) earlier this year. What a brave woman and what an inspiring story! And it was fun while watching to try to pick out the places in Virginia in which it was filmed—places like Petersburg, Richmond, Powhatan, Cumberland, and Mathews (even though the real Harriet Tubman story took place in Maryland). No wonder the scenery was so beautiful and yet so familiar! – Diane Woodson, Accounting Specialist


Southern Nightmare – It’s about the investigation into the Southside Strangler, Timothy Spencer, and Spencer’s notoriety as the first serial killer to be caught and convicted using DNA evidence. As a resident of Southside Richmond, it wasn’t particularly pleasant to listen to gruesome details of incidents that literally took place blocks from my house. Still, it was fascinating to listen to the details of the investigation and to learn how this case kickstarted the push for DNA forensics as a major component in the prosecuting of criminal cases, majorly changing modern law enforcement. It is also hosted by a Richmond local, Richard Foster, who also wrote a book by the same title, and who I feel gave the whole saga a more reverent tone than many true crime podcasts do, respecting the humanity of the victims and their families instead of purely focusing on the spectacle of it all. – Mary Ann Mason, Local Records Archivist

Digital Humanities

How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering from The New York Times – This article focuses on Richmond using archival and current data overlaid on maps to show how red-lined neighborhoods still suffer from the decisions of the past. It is not only eye-opening but the format is very interactive and eye-catching. – Jessi Bennett, Digital Collection Specialist

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