Staff Picks 2019 August

The August Staff Picks can also be viewed or printed as a PDF (1.6MB)
August 2019 Logo
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A NovelOn Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel by Ocean Vuong. This is one beautiful book–transcendent and painful with a poet’s prose. Vuong, as reviewers have said, creates a new kind of immigrant novel. Written as a letter to a mother who cannot read English, the autobiographical narrator Little Dog shares his family history–his grandmother who married a veteran of the Vietnam war, his mother working in a nail salon, and himself growing up in Connecticut. Gorgeously constructed with recurring leitmotifs, Little Dog takes us through his impoverished childhood, instances of xenophobia, discovering his sexuality, and his love for a tragic young boy. This is a book for our moment: our fraught political moment, immigration, the opioid epidemic, the difficult inheritance of Vietnam are all here. Gorgeous, destroying, and unforgettable. ~ Dafydd Wood
Travel Light, Move FastTravel Light, Move Fast by Alexander Fuller. After her father dies, the author realizes the world she had written herself out of contained the life his laid-back nature had composed. In her newest memoir, Fuller reconsiders her father's role in shaping her world, exploring ideas about "forever," a concept she now recognizes as untenable in her. She talks with her sister, who like the author, was sent to Africa's best white boarding schools, which opened opportunities for them when they left Africa. Now, finding herself unable to eulogize her loss, Fuller realizes that the "peace and calm" her father lived by were the same concepts which continue to elude her as an adult. ~ Ray Marsocci
Heirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant WomenHeirloom Kitchen: Heritage Recipes and Family Stories from the Tables of Immigrant Women by Anna Francese Gass. This wonderful book is far more than a cookbook of delicious recipes. It is a scrapbook and celebration of immigrant women and how THEY make, and have made, America great. Gass traveled around the country cooking with grandmas who came from around the world. Everything I have cooked from this book is delicious—from the Spanakopita to the Pastitsio (which she rightly describes as the love child of lasagna Bolognese and Fettucini Alfredo) to the Brodo di mamma e polpette (made, successfully by my 10 year old son). I’m going to work my way through each recipe! ~ Dafydd Wood
Time Song: Journeys in Search of a Submerged LandTime Song: Journeys in Search of a Submerged Land by Julia Blackburn. Blackburn has combined memoir, travelogue and history in this journey to a lost land known as Doggerland, a name given to the land that used to connect Great Britain to the rest of Europe and is now submerged beneath the North Sea. We are treated to a treasure hunt through history in the way the author guides us through this intriguing land and the flora and fauna that inhabited it. An absolute gem of a book! ~ Becky Doherty
The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the BorderThe Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantu. In this raw look at the life of a Texas Border Patrol Guard, the author writes of the reality of a failed system where the humanitarian efforts of search and rescue take a back seat to the capture of drug smugglers. His vivid descriptions explain how those protecting the U.S. borders can become indifferent to the human sacrifice of those trying to cross over to a better life. An important read for anyone wanting to understand the border patrol's mandate. ~ Suzanne Rice
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro. A whirlwind of information, this book delves into the mind of Shakespeare and the massive political, religious, and social influences surrounding him the year he wrote some of his most famous and well-loved plays (King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra). Meticulously researched, enticingly written, and full of life, Year of Lear lends incredible insight into the life of the Bard, piecing together what we know of Shakespeare, the writer, his world, and creating an image of what may have been the man. ~ Meg Kemble
Cocktails for Drinkers: Not-Even-Remotely-Artisanal, Three-Ingredient-Or-Less Cocktails That Get to the PointCocktails for Drinkers: Not-Even-Remotely-Artisanal, Three-Ingredient-Or-Less Cocktails That Get to the Point by Jennifer McCartney. A comedic book at heart, this is perhaps my favorite cocktail guide. These recipes are full of as much wry wit as rye whiskey, as much dry humor as dry vermouth. McCartney—author of such impulse-buy classics as The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place and The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy—has crafted the perfect counterpoint to all those fussily pretentious mixology books brimming with elaborate, ornate cocktails you’ll never make. Grab some white wine (serving size: one bottle) and start drinking like a normal again! ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth. This book is just as sweet as the title promises. In a time when our economy is roaring but our resources are dwindling, author Kate Raworth dares to take a stand. She combines economics and environmentalism in an inspiring fashion as she begs the question: Why can’t the people AND the planet prosper? Thoroughly-researched yet easily digestible, this work has something for everyone. ~ Patrick Molluso
Illuminations: Essays and ReflectionsIlluminations: Essays and Reflections by Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin was one of the most brilliant and enigmatic thinkers of the twentieth century. His meditations on everything--art, technology, history, literature, violence, the nature of existence itself--might just help you see the world in a new way. ~ Ramsay Eyre
Deep RiverDeep River by Karl Marlantes. This is my favorite kind of book; a big family saga that is rich in history! The story follows members of the Koski family, who left Finland and settled in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s embedding their lives in the logging industry. It's rich with personal trials, politics and memorable characters. It is a book you can get lost in for hours! ~ Liz Barnum
Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5)Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson. After nine years, Atkinson has brought us the next chapter of Jackson Brodie’s life. We find him a little older, maybe wiser, and now living in a quiet seaside village, occasionally visited by his teenage son. In his role as a private investigator, Brodie has been working more predictable jobs, like his current unfaithful husband, suspicious wife surveillance case, until a chance encounter with a suicidal man, throws him back into a high level investigation along side ex-colleagues from the police force. We enter the sinister world of organized crime, and a roller coaster of intrigue and violence begins. If, like many of us, you’ve been waiting for a new Jackson Brodie novel, this will not disappoint! ~ Becky Doherty
The NeedThe Need by Helen Phillips. This is a genre-bending novel exploring motherhood and identity. The author leaves her readers to wonder while highlighting the dualities of domestic life. Phillips' gorgeous prose illustrates that the mundane is often just that, but sometimes it is sacred. A deeply immersive human story. ~ Hanna Yost
The Devil Aspect: A NovelThe Devil Aspect: A Novel by Craig Russell. The year is 1935. In a Medieval castle in the mountains of Czechoslovakia, six of the country's most vicious killers are held in an asylum for the criminally insane. Psychiatrist Viktor Kosarek is eager to begin treatment on these inmates, in the hopes of someday finding a cure for their madness. In nearby Prague, a series of brutal Jack-the-Ripper-like slayings have the city living in terror. As clues are uncovered, the answer appears to lead to the asylum and its depraved inmates. This tale will keep you up at night, turning pages and triple checking the locks on your doors. ~ Sarah Donner
The ChainThe Chain by Adrian McKinty. Rachel is living every parent's worst nightmare–her child has been kidnapped. Oh, but it gets worse. So much worse. In order to get her daughter back safely, Rachel must kidnap and possibly even kill another child. And so continues the diabolical scheme known as The Chain. This is an intensely gripping and horrifying mystery with surprisingly intellectual mythological roots. I devoured the whole thing in one evening. ~ Ashley Castle
The Nickel Boys: A NovelThe Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead. Bigotry needs a disguise. It might be cloaked in white bed sheets or it might lurk on the immaculately tended grounds of a school. It existed at the Nickel Academy unbeknownst to most people until the exhumations began on a part of the campus known ominously as Boot Hill. Elwood Curtis was a young black student with a promising future until he accepted a ride in a stolen car and was sent to Nickel, where the state of Florida consigned all their troubled and abandoned boys. Although the new novel by the author of The Underground Railroad is set over a century later, the signs that denote a dead end to most black lives in America are still firmly implanted, withstanding the buffets of change, and challenging our comfortable notions that we have come a long way since the Civil War. ~ Alden Graves
Ask Again, Yes: A NovelAsk Again, Yes: A Novel by Mary Beth Keane. After finishing the last few words of this magnificent novel, I leaned back in my chair, put my hand over my heart and whispered to myself - now that was truly astonishing. Mary Beth Keane has woven an unforgettable narrative of family, life, friendship and love. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
The Escape Room: A NovelThe Escape Room: A Novel by Megan Goldin. An absolutely addictive read. Welcome to the world of Wall Street finance where everything is think big, get rich, die trying. Tensions are mounting as four coworkers all attend an obligatory escape room challenge. They think it's meant to be a team building exercise, but what happens when they find they're really trapped, and why does one of them have a gun? This story unravels like a perfect mystery and thriller combo to its readers. ~ Hanna Yost
Chances Are . . .: A novelChances Are . . .: A novel by Richard Russo. This is vintage Russo. Why? The marvelous cast of characters, the sparkling dialogue, the texture, the slow and tantalizing posing of questions, secrets and revelations. It's a novel where you know from the beginning you are in the surest of hands and you want to delay the end for the pleasure of being there. Bookended by two weekends, decades apart, at Martha's Vineyard, Chances Are is about four college friends. One goes missing, perhaps forever, after the first weekend in 1971. What happened to her? ~ Stan Hynds
Evvie Drake Starts Over: A NovelEvvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel by Linda Holmes. Evvie Drake has found herself widowed from a man she was in the process of leaving. Evvie is filled with guilt during this time of grieving and groping with how to move on. Her best friend Andy suggests she rent her attached apartment to his friend, an ex pro-baseball star. The two are both struggling with where to go next in life and when their friendship leads to romance, they ultimately discover their relationship is exactly what the doctor ordered. If you're looking for a light, fun summer read–this book is it. ~ Jen Grigsby
A Different DrummerA Different Drummer by William Melvin Kelley. A black farmer destroys his home and livestock and leaves the land where he has lived his entire life. The incident triggers a mass exodus of African American inhabitants in a state in the South. This unusual and powerfully effective story of racial subjugation, reminiscent of William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, is written with an unerring perception for both white and black sensibilities. A rediscovered masterwork in the canon of Southern literature. ~ Alden Graves
The Right Swipe: A NovelThe Right Swipe: A Novel by Alisha Rai. Alisha Rai's books never disappoint. The Right Swipe has all the humor of a great romantic comedy, but also boasts a deeply complicated heart, and handles big ideas with a deft touch. I know I'll be reading this one again and again. ~ Rachel Person
MalinaMalina by Ingeborg Bachmann. Malina is life! Organic and visceral, Bachman paints a shattered portrait of an unnamed woman, and in reading this, I fell in love and became lost myself, as the narrator does, in the personas of this book. Mostly lost in the western world, Malina holds up to the greatest works in our western cannon. It's a dazzling spectacle of female identity that transcends gender constraints to become a truly sublime piece of fiction. ~ Alex Bell