Staff Picks 2019 March

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The River: A novelThe River: A novel by Peter Heller. Two college friends get a lot more than they bargained for when they embark on a canoe journey through the Canadian wilderness to Hudson’s Bay. While a forest fire rages towards them, the men are drawn into another battle for survival that might prove to be more deadly than either the flames or the stretches of roaring whitewater ahead of them. This is an intense, compulsively readable adventure story, written by an author with an intimate knowledge of challenging the dangerous twists and turns of unspoiled rivers and the skill to explore the darker twists that exist in human nature. ~ Alden Graves
Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark SideEvil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side by Julia Shaw. This book could easily be a thousand pages long, and might be a better book if it was, but there is at least enough here in its roughly 260 pages for the reader to find a basic understanding of why labeling people as evil or inhuman is a misconception about our species. It also becomes an easy way to place blame and visualize people more as monsters without acknowledging the darker sides of our own selves, and the grave responsibility we all share but largely ignore. ~ Alex Bell
Burned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn'tBurned: A Story of Murder and the Crime That Wasn't by Edward Humes. One year after Jo Ann Parks lost her three children when fire engulfed the family's tiny apartment, she was arrested for murder. Many of the findings by investigators that were used to send Mrs. Parks to prison for the rest of her life were rooted in largely discredited theories that attempted to define the quixotic nature of fire. Established authorities were reluctant to accept the new scientifically-based findings, especially those concerning a phenomenon called flashover, and their recalcitrance virtually condemned many people to long terms behind bars. This involving book by a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist is as much about the constantly evolving science of fire detection as it is about a terrible tragedy and a potentially devastating miscarriage of justice. ~ Alden Graves
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the PresentThe Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. This is a crucially important book in contrast to Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and more in the vein of Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins. Treuer has written a new classic that confirms that, although Native Americans have suffered enslavement, diaspora, and both cultural and physical genocide, the tribes have also persevered, adapted, and often thrived. This is a passionate, articulate, and expertly documented reassessment of American history from a very different perspective by a successful Native American author. ~ Maeve Noonan
Sounds Like Titanic: A MemoirSounds Like Titanic: A Memoir by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman. Everybody knows about lip-syncing. But fake playing? Believe it. In the early 2000's, the author made a living playing violin in front of dead microphones while loud recorded music by "The Composer" for whom she worked enraptured his adoring fans. In addition to being as kooky a true story as I have recently encountered, this is also a moving coming of age memoir. Hindman grew up in rural West Virginia, went to college at Columbia University, and wanted nothing more than to be a journalist in the Middle East. An expressive meditation on identity and authenticity. ~ Stan Hynds
How to Be Invisible: LyricsHow to Be Invisible: Lyrics by Kate Bush. The publication and presentation of Kate Bush's lyrics are a perfect match with their creator. No photographs, grandiose dedication, or acknowledgement. Only her words, her masks, her elusive, enigmatic, dark, challenging, and breathtaking persona. And to think: there's music, too. ~ Mike Hare
The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary FilmNotes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig. This book is a tonic for what ails us in the modern world, and Haig’s is the hand to guide us through the new societal pitfalls. Do you check your phone too often? Do you count your worth in Instagram likes of Facebook friends? Does the news keep you awake at night? Listen to the voice of reason in these pages, and take a deep breath of fresh air. Haig lets us know it’s going to be alright, that we’re enough, and gives us the perspective to see it. ~ Becky Doherty
The Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean VoyagersThe Seabird's Cry: The Lives and Loves of the Planet's Great Ocean Voyagers by Adam Nicolson. A wonderfully written and accessible book, that covers the lives of many sea birds; fulmar, puffin, guillemots, for example. We are introduced to the rich lives these birds lead, the way they feed, play, socialize, and their relationships with each other and their watery world. Nicolson voices the cry of our ocean birds to their plight, and dwindling numbers. This is a beautiful book, but also a brutal one, revealing all the ways we are harming our wildlife, whether deliberately, or by way of apathy. ~ Becky Doherty
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (The Dark Star Trilogy #1)Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. This fantasy novel from the Booker-winning Jamaican novelist draws not on Germanic mythology but African. The emotional core of this book is a formerlyenslaved talkative giant, an "ogo," with a heart of gold, giant brass knuckles, and vast guilt named Sadogo. James’ imagination, prose, and brilliant use of unfamiliar source material is entrancing. It’s a really cool book, and a wonderfully fresh unforgettable universe with a thrilling quest narrative. ~ Dafydd Wood
EnchantéeEnchantée by Gita Trelease. Set in 1700s Paris on the brink of revolution, Camille Durbonne is a girl caught between worlds. Orphaned, with an ill younger sister to care for, and an abusive, gambling brother to fend off, Camille turns to the only means she’s left with—la magie. What begins as turning scrap metal into coins to buy food soon turns to dangerous magic that has her gambling with her life at the heart of the Palace of Versailles where even magic may not be able to save her. ~ Hanna Yost
Lost Children Archive: A novelLost Children Archive: A novel by Valeria Luiselli. A timely novel involving themes of our current immigration system and Native American history. The author delves into the complexities of love, loss, marriage, and family set against the harsh landscape of the American West. A powerful, eloquent exploration of the way we choose to preserve our past through sight and sound. ~ Whitney Kaaz
A Woman Is No Man: A NovelA Woman Is No Man: A Novel by Etaf Rum. A multi-generational novel about three extremely different women who exhibit the complexities of what it means to be a female Palestinian in a place as liberal as New York City. Rarely have I come acrross a debut novel that has hit me so immediately and intensely. Although this story is simultaneously heartbreaking, uplifting and anger-evoking, it will captivate and educate in a way that makes you wish the novel went on forever. ~ Laura Knapp
The Wolf and the Watchman: A NovelThe Wolf and the Watchman: A Novel by Niklas Natt och Dag. WOW! What a wild, tumultuous and disturbing ride. Against a backdrop of a depraved, putrid, and venal 18th-century Stockholm, this is an intricately written literary mystery about two men trying to solve a brutal murder. As they slowly learn the bitter impetus for the crime they must come to terms as well with man’s inhumanity to his fellow man and attempt to rectify it somewhat. Not for the weak of heart, this novel stays with you long after you finish it. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Leading Men: A NovelLeading Men: A Novel by Christopher Castellani. It’s 1953 on the coast of Italy and Truman Capote throws a party. That’s where we meet this beautiful and atmospheric novel’s main characters, Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. Add a young Swedish starlet whose own story extends to modern day New York. The glitterati and the literati mingle, as do the fact and fiction, in this heartbreaking novel by this marvelous writer. ~ Stan Hynds
Thin Air: A NovelThin Air: A Novel by Richard K. Morgan. For fans of Morgan’s Altered Carbon comes another fast gritty mystery set on Mars. Hakan Veil is a cybernetic former merc coerced into a bodyguard job for an audit team from Earth. Like Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon, Hakan Veil is a shoot-first-ask-questions-later character. Great pick if you want a kick-ass, cybernetic military murder mystery. ~ Ben Parker
The Lost Night: A NovelThe Lost Night: A Novel by Andrea Bartz. In hipster Brooklyn in the late 2000s, Lindsay Bach tries to piece together a fateful night in which one of her friends commits suicide...or does she? This drug-induced, alcohol-infused book moves at such a clip you will not want to put it down! If you like Marisha Pessl try this author’s first novel! ~ Whitney Kaaz
Last Night in NuukLast Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen. Friendships, families, and affairs are often frayed among five young Greenlanders. Their stories interweave as gender identities, loyalties, and commitments collapse and rekindle in an arctic country awash in alcohol, alight with nightlife, and fueled by lust.~ Mike Hare
The Lost Flowers of Alice HartThe Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. Readers will be captivated by the life of Alice Hart, the momentous chapters of her not so simple life, the symbolism of Australian wild flowers throughout the story line, and the shimmering success of this author’s storytelling finesse. Beautiful line drawings adorn each chapter - every one a pearl and a perfect tribute to floriography. Readers who enjoy strong and true female characters will be awash in them here. A full-hearted and exciting debut. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom: A StoryMary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom: A Story by Sylvia Plath. This tidy, troubling tale on a train can be read as a young woman’s vivid defiance of expectations, a society’s aversion of responsibility, or even as a draft of a Twilight Zone episode. The woman’s slowly mounting claustrophobia and thirst for escape foreshadow the well-known arc of the author’s life. ~ Mike Hare
An American MarriageAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Coming from different backgrounds, it was inevitable that Roy and Celestial would face challenges, but when Roy is sent to prison for 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit, the cracks between the couple become fissures. Two decent, loving people, whose delicate marriage has been ravaged by a racist society, inexorably move away from each other. Unsparingly honest about the vulnerabilities of human bonds. One of the best books of the year, by far. ~ Alden Graves