Recent Staff Picks
In The Storm, Arif Anwar does something that I love: He brings together several disparate characters in astonishing ways. The players are Honufa, an East Pakistani mother caught in a literal and figurative storm as she is separated from her husband and son; her friend, Rina, who has taken Honufa’s son to a safe place; and a Bangladeshi man, Shahryar Choudhury, trying to find a job so he can stay in the US. Honufa’s story begins in 1970, while Sharyar’s takes place in the present day (2004). Anwar tells them in alternating chapters. I continue to believe that reading novels like this reinforces my compassion for those unlike me who suffer in ways I cannot imagine. --Mamie
This is a perfect book for our times when we need an escape from the harshness of the day. Berg has given us a good story with characters we quickly come to care about. It is a book with hope and with miracles and happy endings! I really enjoyed it! --Rene
Take a charismatic man with writer’s block and a lot of opportunity, and what do you have? John Boyne’s new novel, A Ladder to the Sky. Maurice Swift will stop at nothing to steal, well maybe borrow, or perhaps merely help bring to light another author’s work. Dead or alive, stranger or relative, no one is safe from his thievery. This is an amazing satire that you will not want to put down because Maurice Swift will have you under his spell too. The novel is so different from Boyne’s other works which are different from each other, proving that Boyne certainly doesn’t suffer from writer’s block! --Mamie
In 2010, performance artist Marina Abramovic began a 75 day "exhibit" at the Museum of Modern Art. She sat, silent, at a small table. Any visitor was welcomed to sit across from her for as long as he or she wished. This book is a fictionalized consideration of the impact of this exhibit and, indeed, of art in general on those who experience it. This is also a story of love - complicated, inconvenient, inevitable love. I found myself underlining passage after passage of Rose's gorgeous prose. After reading this book, watch the youtube video of the visit to Marina's table by her former lover Ulay. It provides a visual exclamation point to a powerful novel. --Samantha
Celebrated author, Haruki Murakami, returns with another novel exploring the mysteries of the human condition. Those familiar with Murakami’s works will know that the questions that he explores are difficult ones and the answers are potentially stranger and harder to embrace.
A Japanese painter of minor works, recently separated, takes up residence in the home of a master artist. To date, the painter has never felt truly connected in any meaningful way to the various commissions of art that have thus far been his body of work. However, the chance discovery of a hidden painting by the master artist awakens something inside the painter and starts him on a journey of discovery.
While fans of Murakami’s earlier works will know that they are in for a treat with Killing Commendatore ~ new readers will come to celebrate the mysteries and delights that are hallmarks of Murakami’s work. --Bud
What an appropriate novel to bring us into the midst of war as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of WWl. Lucius is a young medical student in Vienna when war erupts. He wants to practice, not just study, medicine so he volunteers. Rather than a well-organized field hospital he is posted to a freezing, typhus ravaged commandeered church in a Carpathian Mt valley. The other doctors have fled. Remaining is a mysterious nurse named Sister Margarete. What Lucius gets is a crash course in battle wounds and PTSD. "The story that unfolds in this forsaken place is so captivating that you may feel as unable to leave it as Lucius does". - Ron Charles. "The Winter Soldier achieves a deeply affecting balancing act, drawing us into the crushing agony of war while simultaneously stirring our hearts with an inspired and touching love story." - Georgia Hunter. By the author of The Piano Tuner. --Rene
Toll begins her book by comparing an herbiary to a bestiary: both are fantastic, imaginative works, not intended to be used as scientific texts. That describes this whimsical book perfectly, with its fanciful descriptions of each plant as an anthropomorphized character and rituals and reflections that relate to the plants' properties.
This book is excellent on the strength of its pictures alone. Every page is stunningly illustrated with unique interpretations of each plant. The included oracle cards are a beautiful bonus. --Kaley
“This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.”
A loved one disappears. After months of fruitlessly searching, a funeral is held allowing those left behind to grieve & mourn. Then, things start getting weird.
Reports are coming in from all over: Specifically, the dead may not be dead. Not only that, there is much more to the story ~ something on a grand scale that defies easy explanations.
Welcome to Night Vale fans will easily recognize the author Joseph Fink as one of the creators of that same podcast. Here in Alice Isn’t Dead, Fink establishes himself with a story that will delight readers from all over as well as leave them with questions and improbable answers as to what may/may not be going on out there. --Bud
If this picture doesn't convince you, nothing will.
Everything about this book is wonderful. From a technical standpoint, the photos are gorgeous, and Marttila has a way of photographing each cat so that their individual personalities shine through.
Really, though, just look at the book. Do you need to be convinced?
I don’t read any Stephen King now, but his story collections Different Seasons and The Bachman Books remain some of the most memorable reading I’ve ever done. I was reminded of what was so compelling about the King short stories when I read Friday Black (Mariner $14.99) by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. People are pawns, forced to behave in humiliating ways for entertainment or financial gain. The state of race relations is a recurrent theme. One of the most haunting of the stories is “The Lion and the Spider,” which weaves an African fable into the story line. I’m hopeful we’ll be seeing more of this very talented young writer. --Mamie
Destroy All Monsters is North Carolina author Jeff Jackson's debut with a major publisher (his previous novel Mira Corpora, a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year, was published by indie press Two Dollar Radio). This is a story about an epidemic of concert shootings, the death of rock and roll, small town living and growing up. For fans of: John Darnielle, David Lynch, Rachel Kushner. --Jason
We first meet Cyril Avery in 1945 as he tells the story of his 16-year-old pregnant mother being denounced from the altar by the parish priest and kicked out of her rural Irish hometown. From his birth in Dublin, we experience Cyril’s life in seven year increments for the next 70 years. Cyril discovers that he is gay early in his life, and must endure the cruelty and hypocrisy of a society dominated by the Catholic Church. And while the book has plenty of tragedy and heartbreak, it is also one of the funniest books I have ever read. After enjoying his company for over 500 pages, I was truly sorry to say goodbye to Cyril. --Tony
The hallmark of Simon Van Booy's writing is its precision. There is not a superfluous word in his work, yet he is able to convey the deepest emotion; the details of a landscape, the nuanced import of a sideways glance. If you've never read his work, I urge you to read this. And if you like it, please read his novel Everything Beautiful Began After - a brilliant work of literary fiction. P.S. He was one of Nancy Olsen's favorite authors. --Samantha
Paula Saunders’ book, The Distance Home, is the perfect read for book clubs. It is the story of a marriage falling apart, two children driven by the dysfunction of that marriage. It is the story of offspring who want things that their parents either embrace or disparage, and how this approval or disapproval propels them into adulthood. There is a third child about whom little is said, but even that is the story of how family drama often leaves a child unnoticed. There’s a bit of all our families in this novel, a debut, and that recognition is what will make for a great discussion. --Mamie
Reading Leif Enger's Virgil Wander was pure pleasure for me. I loved his debut, Peace Like a River, and am happy to say that 17 years later he still has the same touch: humorous, yet also poignant and complex, with a memorable cast of characters in a richly detailed Minnesota setting. Virgil is a low-achiever who runs the local old-time movie house in a small declining city on the banks of Lake Superior. Rune Arledge, a kite-flying transplant from Norway, and Galen Pea, a 10-year-old obsessed with catching the 200-pound sturgeon he blames for his father's death, are two more resilient characters in a marvelous cast I quickly grew to love. Classic and modern movies are a recurring theme, along with a robust plot involving a local hero, a malevolent movie maker, and an upcoming town festival. Virgil Wander is one of those novels you are eager to return to, are loathe to finish, and keep thinking about long after the last page is turned --Sarah
Becky Shaw is the main character of The Reservoir Tapes (Catapult $22), but she is not one of the narrators of this novel by Jon McGregor. The atmosphere is sinister. A good many of the people in the village, including Becky, seem to be harboring a secret. Thefirst chapter is in the form of questions from a reporter who is investigating Becky’s disappearance while on a trip with her parents. We get to know all twelve narrators through their association with Becky, but it is Becky we know the best when the novel ends. The story is not tied up in a pretty bow; and I’m still trying to puzzle out what it all meant, which makes it great for a book club discussion. (I’ve also ordered Reservoir 13, the winner of the 2017 Costa Award, which is set in the same village. I want more of Jon McGregor’s storytelling.) --Mamie
In these nerve-racking times, I was searching for a book that is, simply, fun. This is it! It is subtly satirical, irreverent, not particularly deep (my apologies to Mr. DeWitt if it was meant to be). Let me put it this way: As Hurricane Florence blew through and the power went out, this was my stalwart companion. I loved it! --Samantha
Sharon Blackie explores the philosophical and psychological history of disenchantment, and how Western society came to be so thoroughly and determinedly disenchanted with the world. In the face of the trauma this has caused (in the form of increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and physical manifestations of stress), she offers up an alternative: enchantment, or falling in love with the world and all its complexities. Don't underestimate this work. Blackie has a strong background in neuroscience and doesn't hesitate to dive into academic texts spanning psychology, philosophy, and folklore. --Kaley
Obvious comparisons will be made between Waiting for Eden and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, but aside from the fact that they are about soldiers severely incapacitated by their war injuries, they are very different. The narrator is a soldier friend who died when Eden was injured. His omniscient point of view brings us deep into the psyche of all the characters. A great deal of the conflict in the novel is experienced by Eden’s wife, Mary. Difficulty in conceiving a child was a source of great bitterness in the marriage, and once the child is born, Mary must make decisions about how to involve the child in her father’s horrible situation. Mary is also tasked with making end-of-life decisions for Eden, a decision made more burdensome by his ability to communicate with the people in the hospital room. I read this book in one day, overtaken by a morbid fascination. It reinforces my feelings that wars are about people, not principles. --Mamie
This most personable of rock biographies reveals Jorma to have been one of the more sensible members of Jefferson Airplane (or that he'd like to be thought of as such). It's not the best-written of its ilk, but it's comprehensive and diary-based, so if it happened, here it is: no picking and choosing. The years of Hot Tuna are covered extensively, as is his recent life, and I'm surprised at the clarity with which the entire affair is recalled. Includes extensive lyrics and photos. -Matt
My favorite book of this year so far. I've read critiques calling this book "fun". I can't roll with that, exactly--I certainly grasp the anxiety-raising roller coaster feel, but this coaster wants to jump the tracks. It's terrifying! Even the simplest stories here start from a place of fundamental altered reality, throwing me seriously off balance. Given limited space, I simply must praise psychopharmacological first-person nightmare "The Trees of Sawtooth Park" to the highest; it's vivid and deeply upsetting. I bet the adventurous among you can handle it. --Matt
If you’re a reader this is a book you will keep handy and pick up when you have a few minutes to spare and then end up missing appointments, skipping meals, not hearing your phone, and scribbling lists on whatever scraps of paper you have at hand. Richard Mustich has put together a collection of must-read books, both whimsical and serious, and written a charming description about each book and author. He writes with so much respect, appreciation, and humor that this should be the 1001st title to add to the list. His selections include fiction (from classics to contemporary genre), nonfiction, and children’s books and are accompanied by delightful illustrations. No surprise that Mustich is a bookseller: 1000 Books is like the best of bookstores where discovery lies on every page. --Sarah
It's 1970. A pregnant Carly grieves for her husband, killed in Viet Nam. Now she learns that her unborn daughter has a heart condition that will be fatal upon birth. If only it were a few decades later, the concept of fetal surgery might be a reality that could save her baby. Upon that premise, Diane Chamberlain will take you on the ride of your life! She weaves a complex, totally believable plot made spell binding by her ability to create vivid characters and to communicate the depths of human emotion. I began reading Dream Daughter late one night. I finished it at 5 a.m. the next morning. When I say I couldn't put it down, it's no cliché. Literally, I could not put it down. --Samantha
Raw, unflinching and at times graphic, The Line That Held Us is a riveting story that held me spellbound knowing that hope rarely prevails over mistakes, no matter how unintentional. But maybe this time . . . . A terrible mistake that he cannot undo sends Darl Moody to Calvin Hooper, his best friend since childhood, for help. The two men devise a plan they hope will minimize the fall-out to themselves and those closest to them. But consequences soon manifest and threaten not only the two men but a widening circle of unsuspecting family, friends and their North Carolina mountain community. The characters in this gripping story are forced to ask themselves how far they will go to protect those they care about most; and if they fail, what effect will that have on them? The author's talent for vivid descriptions and his precisely effective prose pulled me into the characters' desperate circumstances, as they yearned for relief from their fear and pain. --Belinda
An achingly beautiful novel, Where the Crawdads Sing tells how Kya Clark was abandoned by her family and shunned by townspeople yet has managed to survive, and even thrive. Against all odds she finds beauty and comfort among the wildlife of the North Carolina coastal marshlands and, with help from the kind owner of a bait shop and the sporadic instruction of a boy from town, flourishes among the flora and fauna. She is content until the outside world crashes into her wildlife haven and she is arrested for murder. A beautiful story of an indomitable spirit, I was enchanted by Kya’s optimism and resilience to overcome the cruelties that life waged and to seek out and celebrate beauty in her harsh world. --Belinda
Kill the Farm Boy was pretty much everything I was promised and hoping for: Princess Bride meets Monty Python with all the crudeness and social commentary. If you enjoy picking out the pop culture and fairy tale trope references, this will be a ton of fun for you. Even though this could definitely be a standalone, I'm excited to hear that there will be more tales in Pell! --Amber
A twisting, dark interpretation of Shakespeare's King Lear, it centers around Lear's daughters and the wild, fantastic island where they live. A mad king, star propechies, war, and three daughters: a warrior, a scholar, and a priest fill the pages of this immersive novel. Steeped in magic, madness, greed, and love, this story gets into your bones. Perfect for dreary winter days, the prose will transport you. --Caroline