Staff Picks 2018 May

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VarinaVarina by Charles Frazier. A beautifully crafted novel, by the author of Cold Mountain, about one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve encountered in recent fiction. Based on historical research - letter, diaries, memoirs - much of Varina’s character is rounded out by Frazier’s brilliant imagination. The novel goes back and forth in time from pre-Civil War, through the actual war from the southern perspective, post-war, and up through the early 20th century. Family, marriage, slavery, race relations, battles lost, women's roles - all are explored stunningly here. ~ Barbara Morrow


Women in SunlightWomen in Sunlight by Frances Mayes. Three women, facing major changes in their lives, have a chance meeting at a new retirement community where they are expected to live out their days. But instead of settling down, they decide to embark on new adventures by renting a villa in Italy for a season. The journey leads them to new friendships, long-forgotten interests, and a desire to live an Italian way of life. I loved this book! ~ Suzanne Rice
A Lucky Man: StoriesA Lucky Man: Stories by Jamel Brinkley. These nine stories about contemporary urban life are written with a surgeon's precision. The difficult relationships between fathers and sons, teenagers and their friends, and men and women are told from the perspective of a man who walked the streets where his characters live. Alternately gritty and tender, the author's ability to relate human triumphs and failures ultimately lends a universality to the book that lifts it beyond the perimeters that confine most attempts to explore the black experience in America. ~ Alden Graves
That Kind of MotherThat Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam. What constitutes a family? In this story, a white family adopts the child of their African- American nanny after she dies in childbirth. The nanny's adult daughter is pregnant herself, overwhelmed with grief and stress, and allows this to happen. The real story is the evolution of this complicated family post-adoption. A very thought-provoking novel! ~ Shirley Cagle
WarlightWarlight by Michael Ondaatje. All the superlatives apply to this wondrous novel. One can feel the fog and the lurking shadows of post war London where two siblings are abruptly left in the care of men who might be mobsters. The Moth,The Darter, and the entire cast are never quite what they seem. Whether cruising down the Thames in a mussel boat or understanding the importance of stegophilists for espionage, readers will be captivated by every twist and turn. I give this a standing ovation for every single element. His writing here is utter perfection. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
The Optimistic DecadeThe Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel. Heather Abel packs so much good stuff into this hugely appealing novel exploring the grand themes of idealism and disillusionment. Set at a summer camp on Colorado's western slope before the outbreak of the Gulf War, Abel's young characters struggle with what it means to lead a meaningful life, how to care for and about a place of fragile beauty, how to navigate strong cultural differences, and how not to get caught having sex. A very thoughtful romp! ~ Stan Hynds
Speak No EvilSpeak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala. An exquisitely written book about a Nigerian American caught between two worlds. Niru is a privileged senior at a prestigious private school in Washington on his way to Harvard, struggling with his sexual identity and his relationship to his conservative and very traditional Nigerian parents. It also explores his friendship with his best friend, who happens to be a girl who is in love with him. The denouement is devastating but totally believable, and leaves you breathless and saddened at our cultural response to “other” ~ Barbara Morrow
CirceCirce by Madeline Miller. This is a retelling of The Odyssey from a female perspective. Miller captures the quandary Circe finds herself in, being both divine and yet having human tendencies and desires. Tightly woven and rich in texture, the book has an ancient feel, but it is wholly its own entity. Spectacular. ~ Maeve Noonan
The Mars RoomThe Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. Romy’s life is gritty and wretched. Working as an exotic dancer at the Mars Room, she has attracted a "regular" and the association leads her to a prison sentence and the loss of the most precious thing in her life – her son. The author depicts the bleak reality of her existence perfectly and yet, as this book draws you in, you keep hoping for Romy’s redemption. An excellent read! ~ Shirley Cagle
First PersonFirst Person by Richard Flanagan. Kif Kehlmann is a writer at the end of his typewriter ribbon when he gets a potentially life-saving offer: to act as the ghostwriter for Siegfried Heidl, a conman who has swindled governments and had billions pass through his fingers. The problem is Heidl is as cavalier with facts as he is with other people's money ... and soon the word "deadline" starts assuming a different meaning. With a Booker Prize resting on his mantelpiece, Richard Flanagan (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) has penned a loosely autobiographical, bitterly satirical tour de force perfectly attuned to our "fake news" times. First Person leaves the reader exhausted by both laughter and anger. Be careful when handling: This novel draws blood. ~ Charles Bottomley
Saving Sin City: William Travers Jerome, Stanford White, and the Original Crime of the CenturySaving Sin City: William Travers Jerome, Stanford White, and the Original Crime of the Century by Mary Cummings. District Attorney William Travers Jerome's name rang out like a death knell to a criminal element that had previously acted with impunity in turn-of-thecentury New York. His most infamous case was the cold-blooded murder of the renowned architect and dedicated hedonist, Sanford White, by the husband of Evelyn Nesbit, the celebrated Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. An atmospheric and exciting recreation of an era that pulsed with the kind of tacky, vulgar glamour that seems uniquely American. ~ Alden Graves
Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily LifeSkin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Reading Taleb is often disorienting as he challenges core beliefs underpinning modern Western culture. It can also be frustrating as he jumps around from one idea to the next, causing the equivalent of intellectual whiplash. Skin in the Game is no exception. But, ultimately, the extra effort and commitment required to read the book – like taking a cold shower – is bracing and thus eminently worthwhile. Dare to read this book. ~ Sam Baker
Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and FoundBeneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King.

The rape of a prominent white woman unleashes the fury of a vicious, bigoted sheriff whose outrageous methods are either sanctioned, excused, or ignored by officials in Lake County, Florida. This is both an unsparing examination of the deep-seated racism that permeated the state like a virulent plague and an eloquent tribute to the few brave souls who stood up and resisted it. Inspiring and horrifying, and a worthy continuation of the story that began in Mr. King's Pulitzer prize-winning Devil in the Grove.

~ Alden Graves
Fascism: A WarningFascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright. The author has not gone soft. She only waits until page 4 to tell the world what she thinks of the current administration. Endeavoring to keep it short, Albright skewers history through personal and professional narratives as thoroughly as she ever did using her famous pins (see a previous book, Read My Pins). This is a timely read if ever there was one. Well done Madam Secretary! ~ Maeve Noonan
The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American LifeThe Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life by Joyce Lee Malcolm. Benedict Arnold: brilliant military commander, shrewd businessman, accomplished sailor, and generous benefactor, is remembered only as America's most famous traitor. Malcolm frames Arnold's adventures within the wild, violent, and highly uncertain War of Independence, where envy, jealousy, political pettiness and micromanagement demoralized Arnold to the point where switching sides, to him, became the noble course of action. ~ Mike Hare
Giant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American FilmGiant: Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Edna Ferber, and the Making of a Legendary American Film by Don Graham. The evolution of my third all-time favorite movie, from the publication of Edna Ferber's bestseller about Texas to the tragic death of one of its major stars shortly before filming was completed. This was a troubled endeavor almost from its inception. Director George Stevens' penchant for meticulousness ran directly counter to Jack Warner's concern for the budget. Stevens speculated, after the movie was finished, if World War II had been any harder to experience. ~ Alden Graves
The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of CulturesThe Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures by Antonio Damasio. In this important book that synthesizes a lifetime project aimed at challenging conventional wisdom in consciousness studies, Damasio helps us reconcile two of the great conundrums in Western thought: 1. How we can understand human culture and mind as simultaneously unique yet ordinary in the grand scheme of evolution. and 2. How we can understand body and mind as fundamentally complementary rather than dualistic. ~ Sam Baker
Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering MealsGraze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals by Suzanne Lenzer. "Our favorite "cookbook!" Gorgeous photos to serve as inspiration when cooking for or entertaining smorgasbord-loving friends and family! It has been a great addition to our kitchen. ~ Mia Nassivera
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third ReichBlitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. An astounding cocktail of drugs, including cocaine concoctions and a predecessor of crystal meth, were ingested by German soldiers, officers, and leaders through much of World War II. The deadliest addict was Hitler himself, whose dependency ravaged his body while Europe OD'd on war. ~ Mike Hare
Papi: My StoryPapi: My Story by David Ortiz. Retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Big Papi, is a one of a kind champion, a big man with a big heart and the rightful owner of one of the most storied careers in modern sports. The previously unattainable World Series championships (unreachable without him?), the PED accusations, countless opponents and teammates , behind-the-scenes machinations of the Red Sox organization, and the ever-present Boston media; it's all here! Ultimately, spoiler alert, we do learn that there are still some role models and heroes left in the world. Papi! ~ Jon Fine
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. The question Jonathan Haidt sets out to answer in this profoundly original and surprisingly readable book is offered by the subtitle. Although originally published in 2012, Haidt's work has only become more relevant and timely as American society and politics continue to polarize. Required reading for anyone who wants to stop being part of America's growing partisan dysfunction. ~ Sam Baker