Staff Picks - 2011 June

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Staff Picks June 2011 (700KB)
To read Ann Patchett at her best is to be transported by a style and language that somehow renders itself all but invisible in the service of the graceful unveiling of her tale. Her new novel takes us to exotic Brazilian locales but remarkably, despite the striking jungle setting, it is the internal story and characters that ultimately transport us. ~ Jon Fine

A provocative and enthralling novel that sets modern pharmacology against folk science at a research station in the Amazon jungle, forcing us to question our definitions of loyalty, love and honesty. Patchett's most accomplished so far, and that's saying a lot. ~ Louise Jones
The Upright Piano PlayerThe Upright Player Piano by David Abbot

David Abbott's first novel, The Upright Piano Player, brings to mind some wonderful comparisons. It reminds me of a Cezanne painting. Each character and each event is a like a perfectly applied brushstroke--critical to the whole and so perfect that you can't imagine changing one thing. It also reminds me of Pulp Fiction. Not the violence, which is mild, but the structure, the editing and yes, the end...~ Stan Hynds
Vaclav & LenaVaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Contemporary Russian immigrant life in Brooklyn, experienced by two youngsters. A love story that is charming, witty and poignant, but also cruel and disconcerting. As magical as Vaclav's childhood dream of emulating Harry Houdini. ~ Louise Jones
Year of WonderYear of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Ms. Brooks' first novel is about the devastation caused by plague in a small, 17th century English village. As the scourge begins to take its toll, the inhabitants are faced with a wrenching choice: flee and risk spreading the contagion or remain and face almost certain death. Harrowing, unflinching, and inspiring. My favorite book by a great contemporary author. ~ Alden Graves
The Summer of the BearThe Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

Quirky but believable family dynamics are at the heart of this story of intrigue set primarily on an island in the Scottish Hebrides. Past and present march towards each other as the death of a British diplomat is investigated in Cold War Europe, while his young son struggles to understand his loss. A very absorbing and satisfying novel. ~ Karen Frank
The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

If you take an inclination toward committing heartless murders out of the equation, Charlie and Eli Sisters aren't bad guys. As a matter of fact, they emerge from the pages of Patrick DeWitt's wonderfully entertaining new book as two of the most memorable characters from the Old West since Gus and Call rode across the prairie in Lonesome Dove. This is an adventure story that is as full of twists and turns.... ~ Alden Graves
Death of a WriterDeath of a Writer by Michael Collins

Murder mystery, academic foolery, spoof of the publishing world combine in a literary work that blends complex characters and a puzzling plot. ~ Louise Jones
Claire Dewitt And The City Of The DeadClaire Dewitt And The City Of The Dead by Sara Gran

A wonderful and delightful zany heroine solves a mystery in post Katrina New Orleans. Gran has an original and fresh voice. This plus an interesting plot and characters make for a highly entertaining read. ~ Sarah Knight
PlainsongPlainsong by Kent Haruf

A murder in the dusty and depressed town of Bakersfield, California coincides with the filming of location scenes for "Psycho." Among the characters in this intriguing and ambiguous novel are a hunky bartender, his lovelorn mother, an innocent young woman aspiring to be a singer, Janet Leigh, and Alfred Hitchcock. Totally original work that dares to leave some questions unnervingly unanswered. ~ Alden Graves
My Side of the Mountain

Book discussion & hiking at the Equinox Preserve
The first book, My Side of the Mountain, is for the June 21st 2011 adventure. PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED. INFO: email
To End All WarsTo End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

Occasionally a book gets written that is so stirring that readers simultaneously want to savor and go slowly yet feel irresistibly compelled to read it in a single sitting. This is that kind of book. The author should need no introduction...the subject matter demands permanent engagement. Even the Queen must step sideways past the poppies when entering Westminster Abbey. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION ~ Bill Lewis
A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New EnglandA Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transform -ation of Public Life in New England by David D. Hall

Reform was in the air during the early 1600s in both Old and New England. No, the Puritans were not paragons of liberty and tolerance but they were way ahead of their former countrymen. A leading scholar elegantly puts things in perspective. Not for everyone...but if you're serious about the Puritans don't hesitate. ~ Bill Lewis
Tangled WebsTangled Webs by James B. Stewart

Four individual stories of prominent people with an arrogant disdain for telling the truth and a child's faith that they won't get caught doing it. Mr. Stewart is not terribly judgmental with this well-heeled quartet and it must of been a terrible temptation because none of them -- Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds, Scooter Libby (a wheel in the "I don't recall" administration), and Bernard Madoff -- ever admitted their patently obvious guilt. A fascinating read about a facet of contemporary life that is all too common in America. ~ Alden Graves
FeathersFeathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson

Hanson, a conservation biologist, traces the development of birds and their feathers - why, when and how - taking us from research paleontologists to a shop in Las Vegas that dyes feathers by hand for costumes. Fascinating, informative, entertaining and highly readable. ~ Louise Jones
C StreetC Street: The Fundament -alist Threat to American Democracy by Jeff Sharlet

Sharlet returns to the now infamous townhouse in Washington where men convinced they have been chosen by God gather to cover their behaviour. Seldom has megalomania been approached so sanctimoniously, but the scary part is that these guys are serious. ~ Alden Graves
33 Revolutions Per Minute33 Revolutions Per Minute by Dorian Lynskey

From Billie Holiday to MIA, from lynching to globalization--a stirring celebration of the protest song that is both hip history lesson and a mixtape that could change the world. ~ Charles Bottomley
IncognitoIncognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

Absorbing and accessible, this is a great explanation of the latest advances in the field of brain/mind issues. Eagleman uses the phrase "team of rivals" (coined by Doris Kearns Goodwin) to describe, for the scientifically ignorant, just what researchers think is going on! It is comforting to know there are still way more questions than answers, yet I felt newly enlightened. ~ Karen Frank
Half A LifeHalf A Life by Darin Strauss

A most powerful and unforgettable memoir! When he was 18 years old the author killed a girl in an unavoidable accident. This is his story about the rest of his life and how he dealt with the trauma, the guilt and the profound effect this had on every waking moment, every relationship, and every decision he has had to make since then. This is a book you should take your time with and read with compassion. ~ Liz Barnum
Jack the Ripper and the Case For Scotland Yard's Prime SuspectJack the Ripper and the Case For Scotland Yard's Prime Suspect by Robert House

This is a thoughtful, cautious, and thorough examination of the opinion held by a number of highly-placed Scotland Yard officials that the series of grisly murders in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888 were committed by a 23-year-old Polish immigrant by the name of Aaron Kozminski. Although the author never presents their conclusion as irrefutable proof of Jack the Ripper's identity, he makes a very convincing case that the police had found their killer and were forced by circumstance to keep his identity quiet. ~ Alden Graves
Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure In Local LivingFarewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure In Local Living by Doug Fine

Doug Fine moves to the New Mexican desert with the goal of kicking his fossil fuel habit and getting off the grid. He has no experience whatsoever with ranching, farming, or any of the things people need to be self-sufficient. To top it off, he's a Wal-Mart addict. He kicks his addiction early in the book and makes no secret of the fact that he asks for help whenever he can. He also buys two goats to help him get his other habit off-grid: ice cream.

A few solar panels and one veggie oil run monster truck later, Fine is well on his way to reaching his goals. He plants a garden (several times, due to many crop-decimating hail storms), installs a solar hot water heater and gets himself some chickens. He almost makes the tasks seem simple (given the right friends and enough money, of course). He certainly makes it sound fun, especially with all of the humorous and well-placed recipes (rattlesnake stew when he discovers a rattlesnake near his home, although in this case the rattlesnake escapes unharmed).

The part that I found most interesting was his veggie oil car. I had all but forgotten about these little miracles with my obsession to buy an electric car and power it with solar panels. Of course a much cheaper option is to get an old diesel car and convert it to veggie oil. The image of a massive fuel-guzzling truck roaring around town spurting out chinese food-scented emissions is almost too good to pass up!

My only criticism of this book is the lack of sources. Throughout the story Fine drops a few facts and figures having to do with energy and resource consumption, typical statistics to find in a book on environmentalism, but he sites no sources. Where did this information come from? There is no bibliography, no where to go for further reading. If he picked these facts up from the internet, what are the websites? Who did the studies? Who collected this data? I've never come across a book with facts that lacked sources and I found the whole thing confusing.

All in all, it was a great book. Doug Fine is a humorous writer and a great story teller. At 200 pages it's a quick and enjoyable read but still full of insight. I picked it up, thinking it looked like fun. Turns out you can judge a book by its cover, because fun it is. ~ Krysta Piccoli