Staff Picks 2019 May

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The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A NovelThe Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: A Novel by Juliet Grames. Stella Fortuna's brushes with death began in a poor mountain town in Calabria where she was born. Her father had left for America to make his fortune and returned home only occasionally. A sibling arrived nine months after each one of his visits. Stella fiercely protected her younger, slower sister. When Stella was nineteen, her father decided to take the family to America, where he expected her to fulfill the traditional role of women at that time. Her brushes with death continued. Grames writes beautifully and her descriptions of life and her portrayals of people in a large extended Italian family in America at that period are fascinating. A wonderful story told with gusto and love. ~ Sarah Knight
The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan WildsThe Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert. Don't ever think the era of adventurers or explorers is over. They are still very much alive and well, as the author and her husband can attest to. They take on an epic journey by themselves through the arctic circle, over 4,000 miles of walking, paddling and avoiding bear attacks. You may not make it yourself, but with such beautifully descriptive writing, you will feel like you have seen it. ~ Becky Doherty
Wild at Home: How to style and care for beautiful plantsWild at Home: How to style and care for beautiful plants by Hilton Carter. Carter's passion for plants leaps off these beautifully photographed pages. Plant purchasing, potting, pruning, positioning, propagating, watering, and fertilizing are illuminated. When the green friends settle into their places, home becomes a sanctuary of living, breathing art. ~ Mike Hare
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the RipperThe Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. They were more than just victims. They had names. They all aspired to escape from the mean, dreary lives that they inherited. Whether it was through their own weaknesses or through cruel vagaries of fate, they ended up on the dark streets of London in the fall of 1888. There, they encountered the person who would consign their names to history. This is a literate, exhaustively researched, and compassionate study of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. It brings into sharp relief the pitiless degradation that the poor were forced to endure and is as much an indictment of a misogynistic and cruelly unjust society as it is the sad chronicle of five lost lives. ~ Alden Graves
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to SurviveMaid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. As a new young mother, the author left her abusive partner to become a homeless single parent. This is her story of dedication to herself and her baby, of struggling to meet the demands of social services, how she cared for her daughter, put herself through undergraduate school, and broke away from the shelter system. Most would have quit before trying. Stephanie starved. She cried a lot. She cleaned homes for the middle class, and she wrote this courageous memoir. If you want to truly understand what millions of Americans face every day, and how easily this can happen to many more, this book can help you. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives RevealedMaybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb. I was thinking maybe I should talk to someone and then there was this book. Gottlieb has written a compassionate and entertaining memoir from both sides of the couch. So to speak. She tells the stories of four patients whose lives the reader comes to care deeply about while she herself goes into therapy. Physician, heal thyself? No. Human being, be honest with thyself and do something really difficult. Gottlieb is as fine a writer as she is a storyteller. I was sad our sessions had to end. ~ Stan Hynds
The Book of Mini: Inside the Big World of Tiny ThingsThe Book of Mini: Inside the Big World of Tiny Things by Kate Esme Unver. A fascinating book about tiny things such as an ice cream sundae, Chanel handbags, a tiny Windsor chair and, best of all, tiny cell phones. Almost any object you can think of may be rendered as a tiny object in this book. The book is organized into sections which include Itty- Bitty Flora, Diminutive Wildlife, and Wee Objects. Wonderful photographs, interviews with other collectors, and even a tiny book also contribute to giant-sized pleasure. ~ Sarah Knight
Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of IndependenceSigning Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese. Delightful dossiers on the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. For every luminary like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, there stands George Clymer, Carter Braxton, Francis Lightfoot Lee, and other forgotten patriots who deserve remembrance for willingly placing their fortunes, their families, and their lives at risk with their signatures. ~ Mike Hare
SHOUTSHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson. This memoir is electric. This writing of hard truths is so important. As with her powerful, award winning young adult novel Speak, the author shares her story of sexual violence, a tidal wave that immersed her two weeks before high school and sent crashing waves and ripples throughout the rest of her life. Refusing to drown, she wrote. She writes. She speaks. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Stay Up with Hugo Best: A NovelStay Up with Hugo Best: A Novel by Erin Somers. This is an entertaining romp through the sunset of the career of just-retired late night talk show host Hugo Best as told by his surprise guest for the weekend at his estate. The hollow but evercoveted role of celebrity in America, the eternal insecurity of entertainers at any level of success, the destructive force of fame on family and the inescapable stain of indiscretion in the public eye are all on the menu for the weekend. This is an enjoyable, tragicomic ride to the other side of the tracks and a chance to be a fly on the wall at the rudderless finale of a comedy semi-legend's career in the immediate aftermath of its...mercy killing. ~ Jon Fine
Henry, Himself: A NovelHenry, Himself: A Novel by Stewart O'Nan. Affectionate portrayal of Henry Maxwell the year he turns 75. His life is revealed in short, engaging chapters: he's a retired engineer with a wife, dog, troubled daughter, aches and pains, memories of a life well-led yet pocked with regrets, and despite the odds, hope for joy in the years to come. In content and style, O'Nan's work deserves comparisons to Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell, a magnificent mid-20th Century American novel. ~ Mike Hare
Dark ConstellationsDark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac. Teetering stylistically between satirical narrative and anthropological reportage, with timelines in three different eras, Dark Constellations is a perplexing psychosexual tour of the admixture of botany and computation, of magical realism and plausible dystopia. Each character’s sexual development is viewed from a lens both scientific and poetic, but with an almost clinical distance that gets stranger and more distorted the further back it pulls. Timelines in the future echo those in the past as characters experiment with hybrid species, hallucinatory orchids, viruses both biological and algorithmic, and hacker-inspired technological leaps in surveillance and connectivity. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
Courting Mr. Lincoln: A NovelCourting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel by Louis Bayard. A triumph of language and historical detail, Bayard’s novel creates a vivid portrait of a young, aspiring Lincoln while Mary Todd absolutely shines as his equal in intellect and wit. A vastly entertaining novel that will have broad appeal. ~ Stan Hynds
If I Had Two LivesIf I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood. This book asks some potent questions. What is the best way to love another being? What defines a family? How do our earliest alliances direct us throughout life? In elegant prose this powerful novel follows the journey of a Vietnamese girl growing to adolescence in a military camp, her solitary immigration to America, and her ultimate trip back to Vietnam with her own little girl. Read this debut for unforgettable lessons in kinship.~ Nancy Scheemaker
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors: A NovelPride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors: A Novel by Sonali Dev. This joyous riff on Pride and Prejudice captures the sly satire of the original and features a wealthy Indian- American surgeon heroine accidentally falling for a chef. Do not under any circumstances read while hungry; the food descriptions will make you desperate. ~ Rachel Person
A Devil Comes to TownA Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig. A stranger comes to town, promising a village of writers the chance to see their work published. The catch is he's the Devil, who has come to devour the souls of everyone and bring the town to ruin. You are the only person who knows the truth. An old-world style folktale about mob mentality and the fear of evil that stems from human vulnerability. If you could kill the Devil, would you? ~ Alex Bell
The Mobius Strip Club of GriefThe Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone. Stone imagines her grief as a purgatory of sorts, set in a metaphysical strip club. The title references the poem "The Möbius Strip of Grief," written by her grandmother, the notorious Ruth Stone, and its imagery is heavily referenced. Stone also invokes her mother in avian metaphors throughout. Haunting, strange, and oddly compelling. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
Cape Verdean BluesCape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa. Fascinating and complex in its language and tone, this collection speaks to Barbosa’s relationship woes, her identity as a black woman, and her Cape Verdean roots. A Bennington College graduate, Barbosa peppers her debut with odes to jazz, island life, and references to the traditional Cape Verdean song "Sodade." Check out her series of "Strology" poems for a sample. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
MiddlegameMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire. This is one of those books where I never minded the page count because I didn't want the story to end. Akin to later Harry Potters in length, darkness, and quality, this story follows twinned characters from their early childhood through their intertwined destiny. You will be drawn in as inevitably and fiercely as they are. ~ Katelynne Shimkus
A Memory Called EmpireA Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. Reading sci-fi and fantasy books usually makes me want to be the cool and awesome characters featured, but A Memory Called Empire adds a new one–foreign ambassador to the center of an empire steeped in poetry, elevated by meter and rhyme, and, yes, enough intrigue to fill any number of epic poems, all while trying to keep my tiny home nation’s secrets and sovereignty safe. This is well worth the read for anyone fascinated by the workings of an unfamiliar imperial court. And if you're not already fascinated? You might be after reading this. ~ Andrew Bugenis