Staff Picks 2019 July

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The SnakesThe Snakes by Sadie Jones. A beautifully crafted novel that builds tension in a manner that grips and does not let go. A young professional couple goes on vacation, stopping by a hotel that is run by the wife’s brother where they are surprised by the unexpected arrival of her parents. When tragedy strikes, the true nature of this anything but normal family is slowly and shockingly revealed. Capturing many of today’s issues, this is such a brilliantly told story, I can’t recommend highly enough. Gripping, suspenseful, and sublime. ~ Becky Doherty
Naturally Tan: A MemoirNaturally Tan: A Memoir by Tan France. A wonderfully authentic memoir by one of the beloved Fab Five from Netflix’s Queer Eye. We get to meet the real Tan France, from his childhood growing up in the north of England, his various jobs in the fashion business, to marrying his love-at-first-sight husband and moving to Utah, and, of course, getting the dream job which has made him one of the world’s sweethearts. This reads like an intimate chat with him. I thoroughly enjoyed it. ~ Becky Doherty
SolitarySolitary by Albert Woodfox. Woodfox’s insider story of a life lived deep in the bowels of the unjust, inhumane, violent, sadistic, and vile world of the American “justice” system may not be for the faint of heart. It is, by turns, appalling and nauseating, horrific and yet inspiring. An indoctrination by Black Panther prisoners to a noble mission of both bettering himself and the lives of his fellow African Americans gave him a lifetime of strength, determination, grit, and grace to endure the endless prison purgatory that has taken down the souls of countless men. Woodfox manages to stand tall, for himself and for others no matter the cost. A most impressive tale. A most impressive man. ~ Jon Fine
Ballpark: Baseball in the American CityBallpark: Baseball in the American City by Paul Goldberger. The parks where our national pastime is played are gloriously revealed on these insightfully written and beautifully illustrated pages. Ballparks, for over a century, have reflected and defined urban America by their sometimes tasteful and sometimes brutal architecture, by their relationship with surrounding buildings, streets, and highways, by their idiosyncrasies, and, at their heart, by furnishing a timeless green oasis. ~ Mike Hare
Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! by Mike McPadden. Where were you in 1982? After American Graffiti roared into theaters, the great American teen comedy flourished in drive-ins, video stores and late night cable TV. They provided an entire remote-controlled generation with much needed instruction on anatomy, collegiate pranks and sometimes even real life. This is a laugh-a-page guide to the high and low points of this now bygone genre, from the immortal Fast Times at Ridgemont High to the gonzo likes of King Frat. ~ Charles Bottomley
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the WorldThe Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. Melinda Gates has written an impressive memoir, not only about working in impoverished countries to improve the plight of women, but also her growth and evolution as a woman with a voice. Being married to Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, challenged her to assert her role in their philanthropic endeavors, and to garner the self confidence to speak about the importance of women’s roles in changing the dynamics of developing cultures. She tells an inspiring story and one we can all work toward. ~ Barbara Morrow
Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American DivideSpying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz. In his final book, Horwitz follows the same routes Frederick Law Olmsted took in touring the U.S. South in the 1850s, using as often as he can the same modes of transportation. Olmsted, young and idealistic, was on an assignment for the still-fledgling New York Times while Horwitz was researching the same southern landscape he had previously witnessed and reported on in books about the Confederacy. This is an imperative read for all, but especially for anyone who fears history repeating itself. ~ Ray Marsocci
This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual FreedomThis Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hagglund. A new philosophy for our time that’s still rooted in the past. I burned through this book so fast I forgot it was 400 pages. I even reread passages I enjoyed, because it was so engaging and thoughtprovoking. Anyone interested in Knausgård’s My Struggle series will devour it. This is my new favorite philosophy book. ~ Alex Bell
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway RevolutionSomething Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution by Todd S. Purdum. This is a most engaging history of perhaps America’s premiere songwriting duo of the 20th century, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Chock full of the details of both musical geniuses’ creations from their beginnings, as well as the chronology of their personal stories. Purdum’s work is both engaging and musically astute. These are the talented icons behind the classic shows my mother lived and breathed as I was growing up and I can still see the record jackets lying on the record player; Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and of course, my favorite, The Sound of Music, to name but a few. ~ Jon Fine
Evvie Drake Starts Over: A NovelEvvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel by Linda Holmes. A sweet and funny debut novel that grapples with what to do when life doesn’t work out the way we planned. The pitch-perfect small town setting and snappy dialogue kept me smiling throughout. ~ Rachel Person
How Not to Die AloneHow Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper. The grim premise of this book is belied by its delightful characters, waggish humor, and sunny tone. In the end, it’s not dying, but living, that counts. ~ Mike Hare
The Last House GuestThe Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. Megan Miranda’s latest thriller is set in the bucolic New England beach town of Littleport, Maine. Despite its staid exterior, the town is rife with scandals, rumors, and dark pasts. There are plenty of twists and turns as the book jumps back and forth in chronology, though the voice of Avery, the narrator, is consistent throughout. It’s difficult to know who to trust, including Avery, as the commonly accepted narrative of her best friend’s suicide begins to unravel and some of those nasty secrets rear their ugly heads. ~ Ashley Castle
The Gone Dead: A NovelThe Gone Dead: A Novel by Chanelle Benz. Billie James returns to her family’s dilapidated home on the Mississippi Delta after being raised by her colorfully eccentric mother. She decides to look closer into the sudden death of her father, a noted African-American poet, when she was only four years old. The local authorities don’t offer much help and Billie begins to suspect that she is inquiring about an incident that a lot of people would prefer to forget. Both atmospheric and intriguing, this debut novel boasts richly developed characters and, like the murky waters of the river than runs close to Billie’s shack, exudes a sense of subtle menace and danger. ~ Alden Graves
The Parade: A novelThe Parade: A novel by Dave Eggers. There are elements of classic fantasy and science fiction in this novel and, yet, total realism fills each page. Nothing really happens, yet everything happens. There are no flashy shoot outs or car chases. The war-torn landscape will remind you of historical battles (WWII) or modern battles (Syria). This is every country and no country. While a book this size should take one only a few hours of uninterrupted reading, do not rush through. There is too much going on and the ending will take time to digest. ~ Jeanette
Call Your Daughter HomeCall Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera. From the moment I was crouching alongside Gertrude in an alligator infested swamp, I was hooked by her story, just as I would be by the other two main narrators–Retta and Annie. Together, they tell of their rural lives in a southern town just after the Civil War, where race and class are mighty burdens and where women, despite their station or class, reach out to nurture, keep vigil, and rescue one another. A first rate novel with great depth, terrific writing, and vibrant characters.~ Nancy Scheemaker
Bad Axe County: A NovelBad Axe County: A Novel by John Galligan. Heidi Kick has her work cut out for her. On top of drenching storms, drug dealers, sex traffickers, and the disappearance of two young women, she has to cope with members of her department who don’t like the idea of a woman police chief. This is a tough, energetic mystery/ thriller in which the author exhibits a fine sense of pacing and atmosphere. His collection of seedy characters who populate the hollows and hills of Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, are memorable on the printed page, even if they are to be avoided at all costs anywhere else. ~ Alden Graves
A Chain Across the DawnA Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams. While The Stars Now Unclaimed was a fun space fantasy full of magnificent creatures, locations and scenarios, its sequel, A Chain Across the Dawn, truly improves on it. Esa is a much more emotionally resonant protagonist than Jane was in Stars, the new supporting character is a welcome breath of innocence, the antagonist is terrifying and the events that transpire are heart-wrenching. I already recommended Stars but now I must insist: on the strength of Chain alone, you must read this series. ~ Andrew Bugenis
Housekeeping: A NovelHousekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. Every sentence of Robinson’s debut novel is perfectly constructed. This is her first and perhaps finest novel, a story of family tragedy that orphans the narrator and her sister. When their brooding, quirky aunt arrives to raise them, rivalries simmer and reputations are altered forever. Masterful and hauntingly beautiful prose pulls this slow-burning book to its lingering conclusion. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau