Staff Picks 2021 March

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Klara and the Sun: A novelKlara and the Sun: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Reminiscent of his highly praised Never Let Me Go in both tone and intention, Ishiguro is exploring near-futures again in this sci-fi-tinged literary novel. Klara is an Artificial Friend, a solar-powered, artificially intelligent, humanlike robot designed to accompany a child as they grow up. Klara is observant, noticing patterns around her and expressing them eloquently if uniquely; she's tender, empathetic, and optimistic, but the family she is sold to has complexities beyond the familiarities of the shop. The daughter is excited but the mother is hesitant, and there's much more to their purchase than first meets the eye. As this quasidystopian world opens up through Klara's narrow perspective, Ishiguro reveals just how many layers are hiding beneath the surface. I was taken aback by the plausibility of this future, and by the generosity and humanity Ishiguro continually gives his characters—even when that character is a robot. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and LifeA Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders. A literal Master class on literature and writing. Saunders earnestly, yet playfully, dissects 19th Century Russian short stories to discover how they exude life to this very day, while highlighting methods any aspiring writer can employ. And the huge added bonus: reading the wondrous stories themselves, and experiencing Tolstoy's authority, Chekhov's humanity, and the joy and glory of Gogol. ~ Mike Hare
The Oak PapersThe Oak Papers by James Cotton. An exquisitely beautiful, poetic book that explores the connection between humans and nature: In this case, the ancient oak tree. Canton asks what it is that makes our bond with the ancient woodland such a special one. Is it the history they are imbued with? Is it being in counsel with an ancient being, or the hormonal response to being with the tree that naturally calms us, or all of those things? Keep this one by your bedside to dip in and out of. ~ Becky Doherty
Vita Nostra: A NovelVita Nostra: A Novel by Sergey and Marina Dyachenko. A dark, compelling Russian fantasy with obvious comparisons to the Harry Potter or The Magicians books except that it takes its own gritty approach to this territory. Sasha and her classmates are chosen, willing or not, to attend the Institute of Special Technologies and failure has its own dire consequences for their friends and family. I found myself drawn in by the original magic system; leave your wands and your reality at home. ~ Ben Parker
Hold Back the TideHold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury. In a small town in the Scottish Highlands, Alva is convinced she lives with a murderer—her father. But this story isn’t about what he did to her mother. It’s about redemption, truth, first love (and last), and the terrifying secrets that live in the dark tunnels under the mountain by the loch that Alva and her father take care of.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣This novel is edge-ofthe- seat dark fantasy horror that quickly spirals out of control, with an ending so bittersweet I cried. ~ Angela Turon
The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect BirdThe Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird
by Joshua Hammer. By the author of the best-selling Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, this fabulous true tale follows the incredible decades-long story of one of the world’s most notorious smugglers of endangered raptors and the dedicated British detective determined to stop him. Woven into the story is the history of rare egg collecting and Arab high-stakes falcon racing. Fascinating, eye-opening, and thrilling from the opening page. A thoroughly enjoyable mix of history, nature, international adventure, and true crime. - Tambra Johnson Reap ~ Tambra Johnson Reap
Rust: A Memoir of Steel and GritRust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach. "What comes out of Cleveland?" Goldbach gives an honest and nuanced answer to that question in her heartfelt memoir. She vividly describes the inner workings of the steel mill where she works while grappling with her feelings about her upbringing and her hometown. A confident, fascinating memoir from a strong writer. ~ Stan Hynds
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in AppalachiaThe Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg. The brutal killing of two young women on their way to a festival in West Virginia called the Rainbow Gathering haunted the mountains and hollows of Pocahontas County for decades. Most people thought the murders had been committed by a bunch of raucous local men. Even as the months dragged into years, a police officer and a local lawyer were determined to break through the wall of silence and fear and find justice for the two victims. The author lived in West Virginia, where she helped to bring literacy and guidance into one of the most poverty stricken states in the country. She acquired a unique perspective into its insular social structure. This is a taut true crime story with a surprising resolution. ~ Alden Graves
The Body: A Guide for OccupantsThe Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson. From brains to blood vessels, hearts to hormones, and everything in between, this whirlwind romp through the body and its organ systems is both informative and highly entertaining. Bryson’s musing digressions abound in this book, be it about murder or vitamins or how much a human would cost to build (hint: less than a house, more than a fridge). The Body will almost certainly leave you highly satisfied and with a passionate love for a random, very specific organ. Mine’s the liver. Man, that thing is cool. ~ Patrick Molluso
Sorrow and Bliss: A NovelSorrow and Bliss: A Novel by Meg Mason. Martha is smart, clever, and talented. People are initially drawn to her. But she's been plagued by an unnamed mental illness that struck her when she turned 17 and has left her struggling to maintain a normal life. The physical and emotional pain has damaged all of her relationships and causes her to become hostile and cruel. With two failed marriages under her belt and an estranged sister, she ultimately moves back home with her "nutty" parents to delve into her past and attempt to figure out a way to change her trajectory, and hopefully redeem her life. ~ Jen Grigsby
A Crooked Tree: A NovelA Crooked Tree: A Novel by Una Mannion. After her frustration reaches the boiling point, a woman orders her 12-year-old daughter out of the car, telling her to walk the five miles home as darkness is beginning to fall. The terribly misguided decision ultimately impacts the lives of the rest of her children. A sense of dread settles over them like mist that weaves its way through the woods surrounding their mountain home. This is an astute exploration of the fears—both real and imagined--that can linger in young minds and their limitless capacity to persevere and forgive. ~ Alden Graves
All Girls: A NovelAll Girls: A Novel by Emily Layden. A strong debut novel that covers many important modern day topics while executing a multinarrative, coming-of-age story for teens and adults alike. Set during the beginning years of the #MeToo movement, we follow a handful of girls attending an elite boarding school that is in the grips of a sexual assault scandal and lawsuit. Each has their own trials and tribulations to deal with. Layden addresses the problems when private institutions deal with issues such as sexual assault and how quickly they work to silence these girls instead of appraising and protecting them. Highly, highly recommended. ~ Kirstin Swartz
The CommittedThe Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen. In this sequel to The Sympathizer, which won the 2016 Pulitzer, the man with two minds is released from the reeducation camp in Vietnam and travels to Paris, where he lives with the communist "aunt" with whom he once traded coded letters with. He and his friend, Bon, fall in with an opium ring, work in the restaurant that serves as a front for the business, and unavoidably embroil themselves in violence, prostitution, and politics as they struggle to square their previous identities with their immigrant selves. A fascinating portrayal of the colonizercolonized relationship between the French and Vietnamese, written in a style best described as lurid (and I mean that as a compliment!) ~ Nadja Tiktinsky
Detransition, Baby: A NovelDetransition, Baby: A Novel by Torrey Peters. What a funny, tender, whip-smart novel! Peters's book follows three main characters: a trans woman named Reese, Reese's ex Ames, who has detransitioned since they were married and now lives as a man, and Katrina, the woman whom Ames has impregnated. Desiring parenthood but uncomfortable with the expectations of being a father, Ames offers an alternative solution: involve Reese, who craves motherhood, and raise the child together. The wildly compelling story that follows explores gender, queerness, family, and desire, and has characters whose voices will stay in your head long after you finish! ~ Cathy Taylor
The House on Vesper SandsThe House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell. This mystery is nothing short of a champion's performance in Gothic storytelling. Set in the seamy streets of 19th century London, a collective of eccentric investigators try to crack the mystery of a sinister string of deaths. This is a shimmering, dark caper marked by hilarious banter creating an irresistible story of intrigue and a unique contrast between the dark and the light. Such fun! Such wit! Great style! ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Darling Rose GoldDarling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel. Rose Gold spent the first 18 years of her life believing she was seriously ill, but it was all a lie. Her mother was sent to prison for five years for crimes against her daughter. When she is released, she tries to reconcile their differences, but Rose is not the broken child she left behind. This is fast-paced suspense filled with twists, turns, and crazies. If you're looking for a fast read with intriguing, unreliable narrators, this is the mystery for you! ~ Kirstin Swartz
Deacon King Kong: A NovelDeacon King Kong: A Novel by James McBride. This book has a little bit of everything: love, loss, violence, religion, politics, baseball, addiction, romance, and above all, the power of community. It will entertain you with side-splitting slapstick physical comedy in one passage, then tear your heart out with the next. McBride is a master. ~ Nolan Rabine
Greenwood: A NovelGreenwood: A Novel by Michael Christie. Two boys, mistakenly thought to be brothers, were discovered in the wreckage of two passenger trains. Though the bond between them was not instilled by blood, their impact upon each other would reverberate throughout their lives. Harris used his business acumen to become a prominent lumber baron in Canada while Everett led a shiftless, nomadic life until he came upon a baby left in a vast forest by her dying mother. The decline of Harris Greenwood's fortune is counterpointed by the growing awareness in the world of the irreplaceable value of our natural resources. In this rousing, engrossing saga of a dynamic family, the author has quietly woven a warning to us all. ~ Alden Graves
Writers & LoversWriters & Lovers by Lily King. This is a love story for cynics. Except you don't really notice that you are reading somewhat of a romance, because Casey Peabody is a strong, complex character, with so many other things happening in her young life. It's all framed around survival—living in Boston, writing her book, riding her bike to her waitressing jobs, broke and grief-stricken by the loss of her mother. And of course the men in her life. I didn't even mind that this novel had a happy ending. ~ Nancy Scheemaker
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch MassacreDevolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks. I was impressed with the scientific reality brought to bear by Brooks on this unprecedented display of Bigfoot aggression chronicled in a firsthand journal form. Very astutely, he brings existing knowledge and observations from the fields of zoology and, most specifically, primatology into sharp focus in analyzing this post-volcanic Bigfoot ape attack on the ultra-ecoconscious mountain community of Green Loop. Did you think that big hairy ape was our friend? Think again. And if you do come across a Sasquatch in the woods and must take a video, do it while running for your life. ~ Jon Fine