Staff Picks 2019 October

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The Water DancerThe Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Hiram Walker was born into the hell of slavery in Virginia. His father was the master of the plantation. His mother left while he was a child. Hiram possessed an extraordinary gift and he would use it to bring others trapped in the dark misery of bondage into the light of freedom in the North. This is a powerful and eloquent chronicle of the devastation wrought by an institution that should still shame the nation’s consciousness. The novel is infused with mysticism and the redeeming power of love and family. Coates constantly reminds us that man’s capacity for inflicting cruelty is only surpassed by the indomitable will and determination of the victims of that inhumanity to triumph over it. ~ Alden Graves
The Shadow KingThe Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. The Shadow King is an expertly written, meaty, and sublime novel about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during World War II. It is a complex book that flows with ease while exploring hard subjects— slavery, rape, gender dynamics, racism and, of course, the horrors of war. You will find yourself reading sentences twice for the sheer beauty of them, and wading deeper into the layered meanings of Mengiste’s world. The characters are fantastic and ring true. Highly recommended. ~ Chris Morrow
Someone We Know: A NovelSomeone We Know: A Novel by Shari Lapena. How well do you know your neighbors? In a small suburb, a teenager has been sneaking into houses and a woman is found murdered. Smiles come undone, dark secrets are exposed, and everybody becomes a suspect in this whodunit. Like a real-life Clue game, you sift through the stories and the evidence alongside the detectives, trying to figure out the truth. Fast-paced and twisting; I read this entire book in one day. I couldn’t put it down! ~ Angela Turon
The World That We Knew: A NovelThe World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman. A Jewish woman summons up a golem to protect her daughter during the child’s perilous journey from Berlin to escape Nazi persecution. Although the girl resents her guardian assuming a role that once belonged to her beloved parent, a bond develops between the pair, making her mother’s final admonition to her even more difficult to obey. The author, as she did in The Museum of Extraordinary Things, seamlessly weaves history with thrilling fiction, adding an element of folklore to this moving story of tenacity, courage, and faith. ~ Alden Graves
The Dutch House: A NovelThe Dutch House: A Novel by Ann Patchett. After the death of their wealthy father, a brother and his sister are told by their wicked stepmother to leave the amazing glass house in which they were raised. The pair devise an ingenious scheme to get even. The author adds some deft contemporary touches to a story that seems to have garnered its inspiration from classic fairy tales. The relationship that exists between the siblings is touching, infuriating, frustrating, and, if you have a brother or a sister, often familiar. As she demonstrated in Commonwealth, Patchett’s gift for creating strong emotional bonds between the reader and her characters is again on dazzling display. ~ Alden Graves
A Bitter Feast: A NovelA Bitter Feast: A Novel by Deborah Crombie. The latest from an author who has become a favorite of mine. What starts as a simple—and rare—family vacation morphs into a fatal accident that leads to murder. Set in idyllic Cotswolds with its gorgeous countryside replete with sheep and border collies, local pubs, amazing food and libations. The author has developed multiple storylines and points of view which were never confusing, only intriguing. The characters are deep and complex. You will be absorbed in it to the very end. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Black Light: StoriesBlack Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons. Set in Texas, these short stories are odd scraps of messy relationships told with one of the strongest debut voices I’ve read in a long while. Parsons’ sparse descriptions and intimate details are immediately satisfying. Whether they’re discovering their sexual selves in scuzzy motels or searching roadside cow pastures for hallucinogenic mushrooms, her characters are boldly and seductively amplified. Keep an eye on this one. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
David Mogo, GodhunterDavid Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa. A fun urban fantasy but with the twist of being “Nigerian God-Punk.” Pantheons of gods have fallen to earth. It’s up to David Mogo to see if he can at least save Lagos. ~ Ben Parker
A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1)A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1) by Joe Abercrombie. The beauty of Abercombie’s work is that all of the books are interlaced, allowing flavor to be layered. A minor character in one book is the central figure in another. Now we have a new series introducing the next generation of characters. Two of my favorites: Savine dan Glokta, daughter of the Arch Lector, and Rikke, Dogman’s daughter. ~ Ben Parker
Season of the Sorceress: Poetry and ProseSeason of the Sorceress: Poetry and Prose by Melody Lee. Dive into modern poetry with relatable and comfortable poems. Lee makes you feel like you could be a poet, too, as she knows the words we feel and want to say. Accessible to almost anyone, Lee deals with life, love, nature and more. Sketches throughout the book accent the sections of poetry. ~ Jeanette
Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in AgeDancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Bohumil Hrabal. This modernist Czech novel takes the form of a monologue by an aging philanderer to a group of young women. Highly digressive, sex-obsessed and full of interesting characters from his life, the narrator gradually reveals himself, his life, loves, and military career in an attempt at a pick-up. Little flashes of his Czech acquaintances, characters, and village life delight. ~ Dafydd Wood
Housekeeping: A NovelHousekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson. After the death of both their mother and grandmother, two children, Lucille & Ruth, are left to endure the resentful mercies of two great aunts until the appearance of their mother’s free-spirited sister, Sylvie. Marilynne Robinson’s first novel is a beautifully woven amalgam of loss and discovery, conformity and eccentricity, and the truth that no matter what the physical distance may be between family members, they are never really far away from each other. Deeply moving with insightful, lyrical passages that heralded the arrival of a major talent in the literary firmament. ~ Alden Graves
Beverly, Right HereBeverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo. Another wonderful character brought to life by Kate DiCamillo. Beverly embarks on an adventure in search of a new life after her dog dies-finding more than she knew she was looking for. Fast paced, touching, and humorous, readers will jump right in with Beverly. ~ Jessie DeGarmo
There Will Come a Darkness (The Age of Darkness #1)There Will Come a Darkness (The Age of Darkness #1) by Katy Rose Pool. This is a unique take on the classic “chosen one” tale. With not one, but five prophesied individuals, the reader can expect multiple POVs through which the story is told. This young adult fantasy novel features excellent worldbuilding, complex characters with different ethnicities and sexual orientations, and a well-developed magic system. If those elements don’t make you want to read this book immediately, there’s just one thing left to say: are the chosen ones destined to save the world or end it? ~ Cassidy Washburn
How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World ProblemsHow To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. In How To, Randall Munroe stays true to form as he takes serious real-world tasks and ponders the most absurd—yet still scientifically rigorous—processes to complete them. Many solutions cross-reference each other, and a few reference What If?, this book’s predecessor. This makes for delightful reading and flipping back and forth—the closest I’ve come to falling down a Wikipedia hole in print media in a long time. I’d expect nothing less. ~ Andrew Bugenis
Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our FeetUnderground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt. This book is an interdisciplinary tour de force. It weaves edge-of-your-seat biographic adventure narrative with a fascinating tapestry of intellectual delights: the neuroscience of sensory deprivation, religious studies, cross-cultural mythology from across space and time, anthropology, art history, and even a wonderful detour into the world of the legendary graffiti artist Revs. The result is an immensely fulfilling journey into an often forgotten and unfairly denigrated dimension of our human experience: the dark world beneath our feet. ~ Sam Baker
How to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in NatureHow to Catch a Mole: Wisdom from a Life Lived in Nature by Marc Hamer. An entirely unique book, and one not to be missed. Hamer’s observational skills are second to none, and the quiet, gentle way this book reads is a sheer delight. His life, though at times challenging, has been spent mostly in solitude in the natural world, learning what it means to live a mole’s life. This may well be the most we have ever known about how this small velvety creature really lives in its dark underground world. Sprinkled throughout the book are the most beautiful illustrations by Joe McLaren, and poems by Hamer himself, making this a total gem of a book. ~ Becky Doherty
The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous MasterpieceThe Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece by Sarah Weinman. Eleven-year-old Sally Horner disappeared from her home in Camden, New Jersey in 1948, lured away by a man posing as an FBI agent who threatened her with arrest if she didn’t do what he said. Nearly two years later, an observant woman in a California trailer park decided to voice her doubts about the strange man—and the girl claiming to be his daughter—to the police. Vladimir Nabokov was adamant that the Horner case didn’t influence his groundbreaking masterpiece, Lolita, but Wineman painstakingly traces the similarities between the now forgotten abduction and the notorious novel. A fascinating, disturbing book. ~ Alden Graves
Wilding: Returning Nature to Our FarmWilding: Returning Nature to Our Farm by Isabella Tree. This is the story of how a multi-generational intensive- method farm went from a barren desert to the lush, thriving land that it is today. It is ultimately, a story of hope. Faced with economic hardship created by a method of farming that is expensive to maintain, Charlie Burrell decided to plunge into an epic project to see what would happen if they stepped back from the land. Could it rewild itself? To his delight, the over 8,000 acres of land very quickly reestablished itself to a diverse ecosystem. This is such an important book, I cannot recommend it highly enough. ~ Becky Doherty