Staff Picks 2021 April

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April 2021
We Begin at the EndWe Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker. Walk, Vincent, and Star were always comfortable on the margins of the small California town where they grew up. Their lives eventually took different paths, but the childhood bond remained unbroken even when Walk was faced with proving Vincent could not have committed the murder that left their friend dead and her two children motherless. This is an absorbing, compulsively readable story, part mystery and part social drama, set along a once rural part of the Pacific coast that is becoming a tourist mecca, changing local lives and fortunes. The characters are all vividly drawn and the author skillfully invests in them recognizable human virtues and failings that frequently challenge traditional notions of what comprises our literary heroes and villains. ~ Alden Graves
FICTION
The Lost Village: A NovelThe Lost Village: A Novel by Camilla Sten. A delicious and creepy story, which reminded me a bit of watching The Blair Witch Project. Alice Lindstedt, a documentary filmmaker, has been obsessed with the missing/vanished residents of the town dubbed "The Lost Village" since childhood. She persuades a team to go and investigate and unusual and threatening things begin to happen immediately. What IS the secret this abandoned village is hiding? Classic Scandinavian noir that is fast-paced and will keep you guessing until a totally unexpected ending. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Foregone: A NovelForegone: A Novel by Russell Banks. Canadian documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, who is suffering from terminal cancer, has consented to a series of interviews about his successful career. Much to the frustration of the people filming the sessions, he decides to use them as a personal confessional. The truth that Fife has endeavored to expose with his camera has eluded him throughout his own life and he is determined that his wife remembers the deceptive man, not the celebrated artist. Written with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel, this novel is eloquent testimony that words never spoken can be just as destructive to the human spirit as actions regretted. ~ Alden Graves
Libertie: A NovelLibertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge. Libertie, the freeborn daughter of a Black woman doctor in pre-Civil War Brooklyn, struggles to find her own path through America and Haiti in the years before and after the war. The gorgeously simple prose of this novel is filled with big ideas: freedom and loss and the love and anger between mothers and daughters. ~ Rachel Person
Vera: A NovelVera: A Novel by Carol Edgarian. In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, the earth began to shake in San Francisco. Buildings collapsed into rubble, gas mains ruptured and massive fires began to consume the city. For many survivors, however, the real ordeal began after the tremors had stopped and the smoke began to clear. Fifteen-year-old Vera Johnson was determined to find her mother, the proprietress of a brothel that catered to the city's elite, and nurse the grievously injured woman back to health. This is a colorful recreation of a raucous era, reminiscent of Doctorow’s Ragtime, in which fiction mingles smoothly with history. ~ Alden Graves
Every Vow You Break: A NovelEvery Vow You Break: A Novel by Peter Swanson. A slow burn thriller about a couple embarking on their dream honeymoon, only for a man from the past crashing their getaway. Every character was flawed and complicated, making it difficult to pinpoint the true antagonist. I felt as though I was holding my breath throughout nearly the entire book, only for the major plot twist to knock the air out of me in one terrified gasp. The same claustrophobia Abigail felt on her honeymoon island consumed me, and yet, unlike her, I never wanted to leave. ~ Kirstin Swartz
First Person Singular: StoriesFirst Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami. Once again, a new Murakami short story collection is upon us. Much like the recent Men Without Women, First Person Singular finds the legendary author at a more grounded headspace than some of his previous work. Several of these stories have been featured in various literary magazines over the past half decade or so, but fans will be excited to have a new collection to dive into. For me, the pleasure and beauty of Murakami’s work is not what the words say, but how they make you feel. We’ve all been there: cheering on a hopeless local sports team, bothered by a nosy stranger at a bar, or having a fleeting memory of a friend turned stranger years ago. ~ Chris Linendoll
No One Is Talking About This: A NovelNo One Is Talking About This: A Novel by Patricia Lockwood. A book about what it means to live today, when much of our living is done online. The nameless narrator grapples with a place she calls "The Portal,” a virtual realm that infiltrates her thoughts, fears, language, and dreams, that is at once awe-inspiring and maddening, compelling and repulsive. What meaning does such a place hold for us, though, when confronted with the inner earthquakes of love and death? Lockwood explores this collision with writing so tender, ferocious, and funny that it replenished within me a rare thing these days: hope. ~ Cathy Taylor
PAPERBACK
The Cactus League: A NovelThe Cactus League: A Novel by Emily Nemens. You don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this excellent novel. Nemens is clearly a fan of the game and, refreshingly, she speaks the language without trying to overexplain things. Spring season is the backdrop for this story of a myriad of characters. There are superstars, has-beens, players struggling to make their mark, and everyone drawn into the orbit of a team trying to find its way. Ultimately, the one thing they all have in common is that they are broken, yet like every baseball team in the spring, they have some sense of hope. ~ Allen Boulet
Sea Wife: A novelSea Wife: A novel by Amity Gaige. I was taken completely by surprise by this deeply intelligent, page-turning novel about a family at sea. Underlying the joy of island hopping is a sense of dread the reader perceives from the first page. The wellpaced story and the need to find out "what the hell happened out there" is somehow outshone by Gaige's prose. Her perfectly selected words in the service of impossibly perfect sentences was a marvel throughout. ~ Stan Hynds
NONFICTION
A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black PerformanceA Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib. A gorgeously written, deeply moving, and intellectually rigorous collection of essays that is also a memoir and a topical meditation on the black experience and the history of black performance in America Abdurraqib always takes the reader on a journey through culture and history, both American and personal. He explores how Black Lives Matter as a statement is “commodif[ied] into silence.” Come for the intellectual engagement with Aretha or Lando or self-congratulatory Hollywood movies where race relations are sanitized, stay for the memories of Abdurraqib’s late mother, for his poetic prose, and moments like one late in the book in which an embrace saves a life.~ Dafydd Wood
Women and Other Monsters: Building a New MythologyWomen and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman. This is a pure, unadulterated, feminist read analyzing female monsters from Greek mythology and comparing them to women today. The goal in doing so is to help women reclaim what they've originally been told is "monstrous" (mostly by men). Anger, hunger, ambition, and sexual desires are not inherently bad. They could be their greatest strengths. It is a powerful analysis, perfect for anyone looking for a new feminist read or fans of mythology. ~ Cassidy Washburn
Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our AddictionsHooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions by Michael Moss. It's common knowledge that fruits, vegetables, and natural foods are good for us. So why do we consistently devour processed food? Moss reveals how the gigantic food industry, through pricing, marketing, and emotional levers, preys on our craving for junk food, and keeps us hooked. ~ Mike Hare
The Mission: A True StoryThe Mission: A True Story by David W. Brown. Hands-down the most playful, rollicking, joyous science book I have read to date. Chronicling the herculean efforts of NASA to sling a probe to Europa, David Brown handily breaks down complex astronomical concepts and bureaucratic minefields with an atmospheric tone suited for a beer pong tournament. The Mission is at once an underdog tale, a collective biography, and a celebration of human ingenuity. What a blast! ~ Digby Baker-Porazinski
A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of PreyA Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey by Jonathan Meiburg. This mesmerizing debut is ostensibly about the world’s smartest and least known raptor, the South American caracara. Along the way, the author delves into natural history, evolution, continental drift, and Darwin and his naturalist contemporary William Henry Hudson. Meiburg brings the reader to the high Andes, the South American jungles, the windswept Falklands, and the frozen Antarctic with side trips to England and the US. His descriptions of why and how these unique, intelligent birds and their environments developed is just brilliant. It is a great travel and adventure story as well. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Broken (in the best possible way)Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson. This is a hilarious memoir that also has a serious undertone. It deals with tough topics such as depression, death, the pandemic, and many more. If you are a fan of the author, you will love this book. I also highly recommend the audiobook narrated by Jenny Lawson herself, making the reading/listening experience ten times better! ~ Cassidy Washburn
The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal FactsThe Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts by Maja Säfström. Swedish author Maja Säfström has created a delightful book that is sure to inspire curiosity in the miraculous world of animals while amusing and entertaining every reader. Did you know that penguins laugh when they are tickled? That a group of kangaroos is called a mob? That ostriches can run faster than horses? Every page features a black and white hand-drawn illustration accompanied by one or two surprising animal facts. This is a charming compendium for ages 3-93, and quite lovely for gifting. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
PAPERBACK
The Wild Silence: A MemoirThe Wild Silence: A Memoir by Raynor Winn. Winn’s writing is mesmerizing. She is so good at taking you on the journey of her memories, be it through the imagery or conjuring up the scents or the tactile landscape. You feel truly immersed in the world through her eyes. We rejoin Moth and Ray after their walk on The Salt Path has ended, and they try to figure out their new life. Stunning! ~ Becky Doherty
Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine PersuasionConfident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer. A new compilation from the author of Lady Killers: Deadly Women Throughout History, this is an entertaining and darkly humorous romp among notorious female con artists and their outrageous exploits. Divided into groups Glitterati, Seers, Fabulists, and Drifters, this marvelous book exposes all sorts of con-women throughout history, and poses the question of how these women managed so brilliantly to dupe and swindle. An incredibly fun read. ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
The Undocumented AmericansThe Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. As a Harvard-educated undocumented immigrant, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is in a unique position, able to compassionately connect with other undocumented immigrants around the country and excoriate the systemic policies that revile them. Part cultural investigation, part memoir, she hops from NYC to Miami, from Flint, Michigan to her Connecticut home in search of these paperless pillars of American society. What struck me most was Cornejo Villavicencio's voice: poetic but approachable, manic but precise, caustic but inviting, both subtle and urgent. The specificity of her observations lends her prose a sparkling, fiction-like quality, acute yet conversational, an old friend teaching you something new. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau