Our staff reads and recommends a diverse world of books. Here are some of our recent favorites - not necessarily new books, but ones that grabbed us. And if there's a certain staff member whose selections dovetail with your interests, you can discover more of our staff's individual favorites here.
For children's and teen picks, click here.
“Thank you for this rainy day,” is all I could say as I plowed through Jennifer Egan’s new novel, Manhattan Beach (Scribner $28 pub date 10/2/17) . From the first few pages, where Anna Kerrigan goes with her father to meet Dexter Styles for business, I was hooked. With more twists than a mountain road and shocking revelations, the story of the Anna, her father, and Styles sped downhill to an explosive ending. The time period is World War II, but most of the novel takes place state-side where Anna is one of few female divers aiding in the war effort. There’s so much to talk about—Anna’s disabled sister who was such an interesting character, graft and corruption in the thirties and forties, the effect of war on civilians, love, lust…I could go on! Egan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit from the Goon Squad, is one of our most versatile and powerful writers. I predict this one will be a winner too. (Manhattan Beach is the November selection of the Signed First Editions Club.) -Mamie
First in a series, this book kept me on the edge of my seat. It was funny and witty, which aren't always the same thing. It was badass while leaving room for emotions, was detailed without boring me, and Bianca St. Ives was fierce, sexy, smart, and alluring. It has the richest of backstories which is developed slowly over the course of this fast-paced thriller, including a shocking reveal at the end, of course, meaning I am counting down the days until book 2 (sometime in 2018). This is the first Karen Robards I've ever read and I am proud to admit I am a new KR/Bianca St. Ives convert.
I find this series both fascinating and frustrating. Impeccably researched and presenting as true a portrait as possible of what life was like for the very real Kopp sisters in the nineteen-tens, this series brings social issues to the forefront in a way few other mystery series do. The writing is sharp and engaging, but I find myself straining to cast off the sexist yoke placed upon these women even as I turn the pages faster to find out what happens next. -Broche
Evil sorcerers, killer cults, and haunted houses aren't quite so scary to the black families that were made to endure institutional racism in “Jim Crow” era America. This novel follows one such family as they encounter both supernatural and real-life horror, while also delivering an entertaining adventure full of unique and likable characters. -Jon
This is a monumental book! 608 pages of soldiers' stories, generals' denials, and politicians' lies. First Bowden gives Ho Chi Minh's remarkable back story - his time in exile as a pastry chef in New York City, his letters to President Wilson and President Truman that were not read, and finally his rise to power. Then Bowden puts you on the streets of Hue with the soldiers at the front. They drop to the ground - shot in the head, shot in the throat, shot in the back. Bowden dedicates the book to Gene Roberts, the New York Times reporter who sent out an honest, first hand account of the battle. Brutal and heartbreaking history. -Helen
With The Stolen Marriage, Diane Chamberlain has reached a new height in her creative journey. Much of the story is set in Hickory, NC during the mid-1940s. The world is at war; divisions between the races are stark and the polio epidemic is rampant in the U.S. Like many small towns, Hickory was charming but insular and wary of outsiders. Nevertheless, compassion won out as its people helped to build a polio treatment center that accepted victims from near and far. Against a meticulously researched factual backdrop, Diane creates a poignant tale of love and loss that brought me to tears more than once. This is a great book and I could not put it down. -Sam
The kidnapping of Patty Hearst was a cultural touchstone of its era, yet I never felt I truly understood what happened. Toobin's meticulously researched book presents all the facts (and the conflicting stories) in a very easy-to-digest way. Though Toobin seems to have reached his own conclusions about the events of Patty Hearst's kidnapping and life on the lam, it never feels like he is trying to convince you of them. The reader is allowed to decide which side of the argument they fall on. However you interpret the events laid out in this book, it's a very enjoyable read. -Craven
Though by no means professional detectives, Veronica Speedwell, and her partner in crime, Stoker are back in another mystery. An unexpectedly royal familial source asks Veronica to look into the case of a high-society gent who is about to hang for the murder of his mistress. Lots of behind-the-scenes machinations, both helpful and threatening, provide direction and impediments as the lepidopterist and taxidermist use their powers of observation, their fighting skills, and their insatiable curiosity to prove whether this man should swing from the gallows or be rescued from the hangman's noose. - Broche
Hi! It’s the Apocalypse! Yes, the end of the world has finally come after all this time. At long last, Heaven and Hell are preparing for final battle.
That particular bit of news creates a wee problem for a pair of friends who also just so happen to be celestial beings (an angel and a demon) charged with keeping an eye on humanity. The problem? Well, you see, they’re rather fond of Earth and, despite our inherent flaws, they like us as well. Besides, the Apocalypse would just create all sorts of bother that they would rather not have to deal with.
What follows is a comedy of errors as the two combine their efforts to stop things from getting out of hand. Preferably, before afternoon tea if at all possible. Good Omens is delightful read from start to finish!
Maranatha Road is brimming with hushed secrets that will seem familiar if you’ve ever caught wind of the quiet gossip that flows around a small town. Debut author Heather Bell Adams delivers an emotional punch in this moving tale of two strong-on-the-outside-but-tender-within women individually trying to figure out a way forward after tragedy strikes. I fell in love with the deeply-drawn characters and wanted to give their hands a reassuring squeeze. The gorgeous prose and rich description of life in the NC mountains may inspire you to pack your bags for a road trip. -Michelle
Told in vignettes from the perspectives of women who loved a superhero (and lost their lives because of it), The Refrigerator Monologues bring to light the sexism and injustice often portrayed in comic book culture.
Many of the stories are clear homages to popular characters, finally giving them a voice previously stifled by their abruptly ended story lines. The voices were all so unique and stunning, you can barely tell they're written by the same author. -Amber
My weak spots are trains, westerns and mysteries, so I was compelled to pick up The Western Star (Viking $28),
the latest title in the Walt Longmire Mystery
series by Craig Johnson. I flipped through the first few pages and tried to feign disinterest -- as a brooding Western lawman would do -- but I failed spectacularly and found myself riding alongside Walt Longmire, back to his early days as a deputy with the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department. Longmire is transported back to his early law enforcement days by a picture taken then of himself and two dozen sheriffs in front of a locomotive ready to embark on a train journey across Wyoming. His efforts to stay alive then as the adventure unfolded along the rails serves as the backdrop for Longmire's current challenge to confront his darkest enemy. The gun- and book-toting Longmire, and the cast of unique characters on the Western Star were entertaining and intriguing travel companions who kept me guessing as I rode the rails with them for miles through the Wyoming wilderness. -Belinda
Craig Johnson will be at QRB with the book on September 15 at 7:00 p.m.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a cynical and haunting sci-fi noir novel from Tom Sweterlitsch, an emerging giant in the genre. After a random terrorist attack destroys Pittsburgh, a virtual copy is reconstructed and is where Dominic, an insurance investigator and Pittsburgh survivor, spends most of his time mourning his past. A routine cold case becomes an obsession and a hunt for a missing girl becomes a conspiracy. And as everything intertwines, Dominic fights to preserve his memories which are being systematically altered. Interesting topics include tech and privacy and the perversion of American politics. "Look here!" -Jon
Sometimes, after I’ve read a great book by an author, I judge! When I picked up a copy of James McBride’s new collection of stories, Five-Carat Soul, I was prepared to be disappointed. How could he top The Good Lord Bird? Was I ever surprised in the best way possible! These stories have all the magnificent qualities of the National Book Award winning novel: quirky and poignant and hilarious characters amid life in myriad situations, humanity at its most human presented in beautiful writing. A couple of multi-story combinations read like novellas, and satisfied my craving to know more about the most interesting of those characters. McBride has set the bar high once again. -Mamie
A dark and engaging fairy tale set in modern New York. It tells the story of Apollo Kagwa, an African American rare book dealer, as he confronts witches, faceless ghosts, trolls (internet and actual trolls) in order to save his family. Draws heavily from modern anxieties about race, parenting, and technology. Exists somewhere between Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There and Rosemary's Baby.
Daniel Kehlmann's novella You Should Have Left (Pantheon $18) sent shivers down my spine and kept me asking, "Just what is happening here?" A screenwriter tries to break through writer's block during a vacation with his family at a house in the German mountains, but soon finds himself confronting sinister and physics-defying phenomena. I picked this up looking for a quick and entertaining read, but the story grabbed my wits and tossed them into its skewed events--and compelled me to read it again. A deliciously frightening tale. -Belinda
Shadow of the Lions is an engrossing, literary thriller that kept me turning pages late into the night. Matthias Glass is haunted by the look of deep betrayal he saw in his best friend's eyes - that was 10 years ago, right before Fritz Davenport vanished from the Blackburne School campus without a trace.
Since then Matthias has tried to out-run the burden of guilt he felt - and still feels - for Fritz's disappearance by hurling himself into the fast and furious life of a writing sensation. The fame flame died as quickly as it sparked, however, and Matthias returns to Blackburne School to teach, only to get caught up in the past and confront unexpected dangers connected with his friend's disappearance. -Belinda
Thoroughly researched and expertly written, Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns (Vintage $17) is a gracefully crafted testament to the millions of individuals who collectively would become known as the Great Migration. The epic journey spans half a century and encompasses millions who individually made the decision to leave the Jim Crow South for supposed promised lands North and West. Their collective decision changed every facet of American Society: from economics to politics, literature and music, sports and popular culture. Told primarily through the perspectives of three very different individuals, The Warmth of Other Suns is mainly a story of Americans wanting to live out their lives on their own terms, and [spoiler] that's just what they did. -Ceewin
Curtis Dawkins is a flat-out great writer who is also incarcerated for life in a Michigan prison for a drug-related homicide. The stories he tells in The Graybar Hotel are small masterpieces of the daily drama of prison life, reminiscent of John Cheever or Raymond Carver. In deceptively simple sentences, Dawkins pries into the inmates’ complex relationships with each other, their coping mechanisms, and their lives on the outside that brought them to where they have ended up. A transformative reading experience.
I was completely immersed in Estep Nagy's We Shall Not All Sleep, a perfectly constructed novel of two families vacationing on an island in Maine during the Cold War summer of 1964. Nagy contrasts the warm, idyllic, beautifully rendered setting with the chill of manipulations and deceptions both personal and political. The family dynamics could best be summed up by the father, who explains to his young son how important it is to ‘learn when to lie, to whom, and to do it well.’
“Books, for me, are a home. Books don't make a home — they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and space. There is warmth there too — a hearth. I sit down with a book and
I am warm.”
Jeannette Winterson is a master of the written word. Her memoir is devastatingly beautiful, as it explores her childhood adopted by religious zealots, discovering herself and her sexuality, and how literature saved her life. -Amber
In Daniel Wallace's new novel, Extraordinary Adventures, we meet dutiful, unassuming (and lonely) Edsel Bronfman, who is suddenly galvanized into action when he must find a companion in order to be eligible for an all-expenses-paid trip to the beach. Whether you see a bit of yourself in Edsel, or you know someone like him, you'll be routing for him as remarkable events and characters unfold. A funny, perfect read for the summer! -Kent
I knew nothing about Nina Riggs until I saw an essay of hers in The New York Times “Modern Life” column entitled, “When a Couch is More Than a Couch.” When the piece came out, Riggs was dying of cancer at the way-too-young age of 37. The column was lyrical and honest, and I knew that I wanted to read more of her writing when the memoir of her illness, The Bright Hour, came out. The memoir is full of the same honesty and beautiful prose (she was a poet). I read of her physical and emotional pain, and I witnessed the anguish of her husband and two young boys, yet there was nothing maudlin about the way she told her story. A descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Riggs has peppered the chapters with quotes by Emerson and her favorite essayist, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Although the story is heartbreaking, I came away from it with a renewed commitment to plucking the day, and great admiration for her willingness to share her story with us. Nina Riggs died on February 26 of this year. -Mamie
If you love golf and relate to the Pinehurst and Southern Pines areas of our state, you will connect with Dodson's latest book. Entertaining and insightful, this is his personal account of his life in pursuit of completing his bucket list including experiences with famous golfers, good friends and other interesting characters. Dodson's storytelling is fascinating. He also addresses the future of golf and where this wonderful game is headed. - Linda
Two thumbs up: In her new novel, the author of the best selling Little Paris Bookshop ventures into the culture and vistas of Brittany. The book centers on Marianne who, after years of a thankless, miserable marriage, has had enough. She makes her way from Paris to the coast with no purpose other than ending her life. In the quaint coastal town of Kerdruc, her suffocated soul collides with her will to live. - Samantha
Another sumptuous tale from the best-selling author of The Little Paris Bookshop. While this tale weaves its way from Germany to France following downtrodden Marianne on her journey of self-discovery, the reader will be enthralled by the luscious language of food and the vivid descriptions of the sea and the countryside, and will revel in the self-fulfillment and true love that Nina George's characters all find. - Broche
This could be the black comedy I've been waiting for all my life! While employing unique strategies to cope with the recent death of his wife, K. becomes quite literal-minded and loses his baloney filter. Through a series of absurd events he becomes the host of a reality TV show in which he confronts people with the truth, with disastrous and hilarious results. Currie walks a tightrope of comedy over a gaping chasm of heartbreak. This is a perfect satire of modern American culture. - Tony
On Mother’s Day, I took some time to rest and read. I was well into the new book by Elizabeth Strout, Anything is Possible, when I came to the story entitled, “Mississippi Mary.” In the way such things happen, this story is about a mother’s love for her daughter. The story was so poignant and moving (well, I do have three daughters!) that at one point I had to stop reading and take time with my thoughts and feelings before I could finish. Anything is Possible, like Strout’s award-winning book, Olive Kitteridge, is an episodic novel—stories about recurring characters. In the new book, the stories revolve around the title character in My Name is Lucy Barton, her family, and her community. Although the mother/daughter story was my favorite, each of the stories in this novel exhibits Strout’s powerful way of getting into the hearts of her characters and of her readers. - Mamie
In her luminous memoir, The Glass Eye (Tin House, pb 15.95), written following the death of her father, Jeannie Vanasco takes us on a tender journey through her childhood and early adulthood. I was completely immersed in Jeannie's life and her affectionate and vivid portraits of her parents, especially her dad, who was 60 when Jeannie was born and completely devoted to her. Jeannie is a gifted writer with a unique voice and the story of her family's mysteries, including her discovery of a dead half-sister with her same name, and, of course, her father's glass eye, are compelling and haunting. The Glass Eye is reminiscent of other memoirs of grief and madness, but that makes this absorbing book sound darker than it really is. Vanasco's humor and intelligence shine through her journey of loss. -Sarah
What a fascinating, delightful read! The acclaimed writer and renowned conductor taped their conversations about many different musical topics: Glenn Gould's recordings of Brahms; the works of Mahler; how different conductors approach the same piece; Ozawa's decades-long career conducting many of the world's great orchestras. This book will be enjoyed by any every classical music lover -from the layman to the formally trained musician. By the way, it would make a terrific Father's Day gift! - Samantha
The Book of Polly is a delightfully funny, yet poignant exploration of a mother-daughter relationship. Polly is an eccentric, older mother (she becomes pregnant at age 58); her daughter Willow, is an anxious 10 year old. Willow worries her mother will die any moment (!) due to her advanced age and her devoted affection for Virginia Slims. This is “southern quirky” at its best. I loved it. - Abbe
I had the absolute best time with this book! It's a droll, misguidedly 'insider' Rock biography that chronicles the misadventures of The Hollywood Brats (from London, not Hollywood! But brats, to be sure!) on the London scene of the early 70s. The story is great, absolutely; but the amiable yet constant dishing of Andrew Matheson is what puts this over the top. His opinions are so very firm - and his faith in his own success so terribly tragic - that his grudging acceptance of what transpired comes across as pure grace under fire. Seventies London, Glitter Rock, slums, organized crime, true camaraderie, horribly bad timing, sleazy label guys: all present and gleefully, downright mirthfully recounted. Dig it, please. - Matt
Two thumbs up for this one:
This is an eye-opening account of heroic people who refused to give up as Europe fell to the Nazis. They came to Great Britain, calling it "Last Hope Island," to fight until the bitter end. Polish pilots became the most aggressive pilots in the air. When the leader of a French underground spy ring was captured, his young secretary took over. After giving his estate to the Allies to use as a military hospital, a Scottish lord led the soldiers who defused bombs. A fascinating history full of new personal stories from World War II. - Helen
The contributions of smaller Allied nations (such as Norway) are often overlooked in WWII histories. In the starting days of the war, governments and partisans in exile congregated in London. Lynne Olson (Citizens of London) returns to its setting to detail how refugee communities came to England’s aid (among them, Polish and Czech pilots for a decimated RAF) and England to theirs. All didn’t go swimmingly, but all realized that England indeed was their Last Hope Island against Hitler. - Rosemary
Brian Van Reet is the latest in a growing wave of authors who have rendered their experiences serving in Iraq and Afghanistan into powerful and important literature. Told from the perspective of combatants on both sides of the war in Iraq, Van Reet’s beautifully written debut novel is a thrilling page-turner as well as a reminder that for many who fought in these wars, there were no winners and losers. Only losers. - Tony
One of the things I like about Margaret Atwood is that she pulls no punches in her story telling and Oryx and Crake, her 2003 novel, the first in the MaddAddam trilogy, is no exception. In this work of speculative fiction (the author's own designation), Atwood examines many of the issues that trouble world -- genetic engineering, the internet, violence against women, overpopulation to name a few -- in the story of Snowman, a man with a mission sojourning in a post apocalyptic world. Snowman (aka Jimmy in his pre-apocalypse life, the ailing guardian, more or less, of the Crakers, a genetically engineered humanoid species) is nearing starvation and must travel to a now deserted genetic research facility to find supplies. As readers follow Snowman on his quest across a shattered landscape and through his encounters with various genetically altered other animals and a series flashbacks involving his former life with his best friend Glenn, the "mad scientist" who precipitates the apocalypse, and the mysterious and beautiful woman they both love known only as Oryx, they learn of his world as it is and how it came to be. As always, Atwood's writing is crisp and engaging; she creates unforgettable characters in an unforgiving world. - Ken
I'll refrain from encapsulating these stories by subject matter - it's not so useful a strategy when dealing with stories as taut, sardonic and kinetically cinematic as Eric Puchner delivers here so handily. These slices of life set place and mood perfectly, so simply and easily that I'd like to read a novel based on each. No matter how unlikely the scenario - some are plenty unlikely indeed - the characters are fully represented as flawed humans. It's downright refreshing: more, please! - Matt
In his new novel The Moon and the Other, set in the near future on the moon, John Kessel again demonstrates his visionary and compassionate eye. Through a lens of gender roles as they play out in the political clash of a matriarchy -- The Society of Cousins, and a patriarchy-- Persepolis, and in the lives of several of their citizens, Kessel explores human desire, expectation, emotion and alienation. Pointedly, too, Kessel gives keen insights into how technology and coercion, in one form or another, affect our existence. - Ken
Be forewarned: this book will make you very, very angry. Now we may look at early 20th Century attitudes toward radium with shock (radium toothpaste? Jockstraps?). Corporate America knew the danger, even if consumers didn’t. And no one was more vulnerable than the literally glowing women who painted the in-demand radium dials of watches and instruments. Their years of suffering and legal conflicts led to safer working conditions for others. Think of their legacy when someone cavalierly proposes rolling back worker protections. - Rosemary
Daniel Magariel will be here Wednesday, August 9, at 7 pm.
A shocking tale of abuse and survival, One of the Boys is a harrowing yet beautiful debut novel. After a bitter divorce, two brothers are spirited away from their mother to start a new life in New Mexico with their father. It quickly becomes clear who is at the center of this dysfunctional whirlwind of a family. Narrated by the younger of the two unnamed boys, the desperation and brutality he describes is tempered by the innocence and hope of a child forced to grow up far too soon. - Tony
Which do you – should you – trust more: intuition or information? The Undoing Project tells the story of two Israeli psychologists whose collaboration revealed myths and truths about the human mind’s decision making process. This is an intriguing story of two men whose curiosity about how we think presented provocative and revolutionary evidence of the influences from within that guide us. The Undoing Project may very well give you pause to re-think the way you think. - Belinda
The horrific scenes in this book are seared in your memory. Tyson takes you back to 1955 and puts you in the middle of the teenager's murder. Relying on extensive research and the only interview the woman involved has ever given, Tyson recounts the crime, the aftermath and the trial. The saving graces of this story are Till's mother, his uncle, one witness, the judge and the prosecutors. They emerge as heroic. Tyson writes a powerful, unrelenting closing where he blames everyone responsible from President Eisenhower on down. All the way through this book, the image of young Emmett Till – fun loving and helpful to his single mother – hovers over the shocking story. - Helen
Garrels, former NPR reporter and author of Naked in Baghdad, has spent years in Russia talking with people from all walks of life. She illustrates in a deeply personal way the lives of ordinary citizens caught in a changing political landscape. She explores the support that Putin has in spite of his abuse of power. A timely look at a country that most of us do not understand. - Rene
New Jersey native son Springsteen shares the story of the foundations of one of the biggest musical acts in the modern music industry. Despite their successes, things have not always been easy for either Springsteen or the members of the E Street Band. Finding inspiration from their individual and shared lives, these musicians parlayed those experiences into iconic music that has found favor with listeners worldwide.
Written in a disarmingly easy-going style, Springsteen successfully relates to audiences regardless of their exposure to his music. Whatever your starting point, Born to Run makes for an entertaining read. - Bud
“As all of our male voices are gone to war, the village choir is to close. – The Vicar” Thus begins the story of the women of Chilbury, England in the early days of WWII. Follow five of these women through their letters and journal entries through hardship, romance and a bit of a mystery – you will love these women as I did, from the first page. Keep calm and carry on – singing! - Julia
The difficult position of being a new bride as her husband spends the next two years with the Confederate Army haunts the main character--and the reader! Her pregnancy during his absence, and the mysterious death of the child, provides the backbone of this Civil War era novel. Told entirely through letters and diary entries, this book intrigued me from page one. - Julia
This is one of those books that sounds utterly ridiculous when you try to describe it: talking elephants in space! But the author creates such wonderful characters and builds such a unique, dynamic universe, that I totally fell under the spell of Barsk. This beautifully written adventure is full of heart and wonder as well as complex concepts of morality, science, and spirituality. Talking elephants in space: yes! -- Tony