Staff Picks 2021 September

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The Night She Disappeared: A NovelThe Night She Disappeared: A Novel by Lisa Jewell. As always, Lisa Jewell fails to disappoint. This was thoroughly enjoyable to read, absorbing your interest with every chapter. The book is set in three different timelines and narratives. Jewell is an expert on delivering real human characters, even ones without a narrative, and I especially loved hearing from Tallulah’s perspective before she disappeared. Best part of the book? Every little piece of the puzzle matches up perfectly near the story’s end, and yet Jewell still finds a way to conclude her newest thriller with a head-spinning shock of a finale. ~ Kirstin Swartz
Image Control: Art, Fascism, and the Right to ResistImage Control: Art, Fascism, and the Right to Resist by Patrick Nathan. In this original and incisive work of cultural studies, Nathan articulates the intersection of our overwhelmingly visual culture and fascism. Freedom is just an American brand, he says, pointing at how much of it we have abandoned for good since 9/11. Unethical consumption of images desensitizes us to the pain of others just as an unwillingness to engage with history forsakes political awareness. Social media is almost a tool of fascist aesthetics. A brilliant contribution in the vein of Benjamin, Sontag, and Berger that looks deeply at art and how people consume culture in corporatized late capitalism. Against the gentrification of culture, the fascist replacement of reality, and the “right” of corporations to reduce our inner lives, Nathan offers stirring, engaged criticism as resistance. ~ Dafydd Wood
Paradise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American WildfireParadise: One Town's Struggle to Survive an American Wildfire by Lizzie Johnson. The word "campfire" usually summons up images of toasting marshmallows and chatting with friends, but it has a much different connotation for the people who lived in Paradise, California. In November of 2018, a downed powerline started a blaze in kindling-dry terrain. Fanned by fierce winds, the fire roared like a runaway locomotive towards the surrounding towns, incinerating everything in its path. This is a meticulously researched chronicle of the deadliest wildfire in California history and a harrowing examination of the devastating consequences of underestimating the power of nature unbound. ~ Alden Graves
Beautiful Country: A MemoirBeautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang. This resounding, evocative, and heartrending memoir is one that will sit in the pit of your stomach long after you've finished. Wang's childhood living undocumented after immigrating from China to Brooklyn is filled with hardships that need to be read to be believed. For those who are privileged enough to not live these experiences, it is of vital importance to read stories like this so that we may begin to understand the struggles, roadblocks, and failing systems faced by those who come here seeking a better life. ~ Virginia Edinger
People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted PresentPeople Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present by Dara Horn. This book is by one of my favorite authors. Rooted firmly in Jewish beliefs, these essays are a startling, clear, often brutal and honest critique of anti- Semitism in all of its ugly forms, both in current and ancient history and from across many cultures and countries. Insightful and analyzed with the precise language of which Horn is a master. This book is the perfect balance to Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and it will leave you moved beyond words. ~ Maeve Noonan
The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It AgainThe Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again by Robert D. Putnam. Persuasive analysis of how America turned from a late 19th Century "I" generation to an inclusive "We" society through two-thirds of the 20th Century. Putnam outlines the economic, political, social, and cultural forces that triggered our current reversion to "I," and how we can redirect those forces to recreate a society of community and shared purpose. ~ Mike Hare
A Whale of the WildA Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry. Sister and brother Orca whales get separated from their pod and must use what little knowledge they have of the outer ocean to find their way back home. A wonderful companion to A Wolf Called Wander, this novel explores the important issues of not only family, but of global warming, climate change, and the damaging effects on our environment and animals. ~ Angela Turon
Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1) by Cassandra Clare. If you loved The Infernal Devices, you will adore this book. You can expect plenty of action, mystery, and romance in this latest installment to the Shadowhunter world. You are introduced to a new group of strong characters, all with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Even if you haven't read a single Shadowhunter book before, you can still enjoy this read without difficulty. I can't wait to see where this series goes! ~ Cassidy Washburn
BordersBorders by Thomas King and Natasha Donovan. A young boy and his mother are forced to remain between the Canadian and United States border when they refuse to state their citizenship as anything other than Blackfoot. The mother is steadfast in her fight for the border patrol to accept their indigenous tribe as proof of citizenship. Her son understands how important this moment is, though he grows tired of sleeping in their car each night. This was an excellent graphic novel and extremely important in today's reevaluations of the rights of indigenous and first nations people in Canada and the United States. ~ Annabelle Mackson
Alice Isn't DeadAlice Isn't Dead by Joseph Fink. The perfect post-op for a panic attack. Based on (but different from) the podcast, Alice Isn't Dead features an anxiety-ridden protagonist searching for her lost, apparently not-deceased wife, in a world where monsters and conspiracies lurk on the side of the road. Perhaps being so afraid isn't as illogical as it seems; perhaps it's not even a hindrance, but a power. ~ Katelynne Shimkus
Lightning Strike: A NovelLightning Strike: A Novel by William Kent Krueger. In this powerful prequel to This Tender Land, 13-year-old Cork O'Connor is enjoying his summer. That changes when he stumbles upon a man hanging from a tree. The small Minnesota town where he lives will never be the same and neither will Cork as he examines his family, his hometown, and himself. ~ Suzanne Rice
Rust: A Memoir of Steel and GritThe Guide: A novel by Peter Heller. As he has done in his previous novels, Heller expertly mixes maximum thrills with expressive nature writing as he returns readers to the life of Jack, the tragic hero of The River. In his new job as a guide at an exclusive fishing lodge, Jack often asks himself "what could be better?" as he spends his hours on a prime stretch of trout water. It takes little time at all for him to notice that something seems off at Kingfisher Lodge though. And as he and his client uncover the resort's peculiarities to reveal pure evil, you might ask yourself, "what could be worse?" ~ Stan Hynds
Never Saw Me ComingNever Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian. This novel was full of psychological thrills, unreliable narrators, and twisty plots. I never wanted to put the book down! The main antiheroine is Chloe Sevre, a diagnosed psychopath and social chameleon with vengeful intentions. I rooted for her and was terrified of her at the same time. Aside from Chloe, the other narrators in this book were thoroughly enjoyable. I couldn’t trust any of them, which was delightful for a hardcore mystery fan like myself. Highly recommended. ~ Kirstin Swartz
The Appointment: A NovelThe Appointment: A Novel by Katharina Volckmer. One of the strangest, most compelling novellas I've ever read. A German woman undergoing an unstated voluntary medical procedure monologues to her Jewish doctor about her strange fetishes, her violent workplace outburst, her therapist, her gender theories, her family, her sexual history, Adolf Hitler, and the idea of national reparations as physical act...among other things. Blackly humorous, controversial, indulgent, transgressive, and ultimately fascinating, this is oversharing at its wildest. ~ Joe Michon-Huneau
The Butterfly HouseThe Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg. Following the same Copenhagen detectives from The Tenant, this is another Nordic mystery that is fast-paced and intriguing. Detectives Jeppe Kørner and Annette Werner are both dealing with their own personal struggles. Jeppe is suffering through a painful divorce while Annette is on maternity leave and itching to get back into the game. All of the victims in a series of murders are connected to a mental institution known at the Butterfly House. You’ll find yourself reading this into the late hours of the night to make it to the shocking finale! ~ Kirstin Swartz
SnowSnow by John BAnville. Things haven't been going well at Ballyglass House for some time. Colonel Osborne puts up a good front, but the estate is badly in need of repairs. His second wife wanders the place at night like a restless ghost. His rebellious daughter is carrying on with the brutish hired man and his son is about to abandon medical school to pursue a life of beachcombing. The last thing the colonel needs is a murdered priest in the library, something that is especially frowned upon in Ireland. This is a literate, hugely entertaining mystery set in snow-shrouded County Wexford, where the author manages to travel down some errant theological paths that have been slashed into the brilliant white landscape. ~ Alden Graves
The Second Mrs. Astor: A Heartbreaking Historical Novel of the TitanicThe Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe. Engaging historical fiction about a teenage girl who marries the richest man in the world. But it's not all smooth sailing. He is more than twice her age, snobbish high society objects, and the sailing gets rockier when they board the Titanic. ~ Mike Hare
Bombshell: A Hell's Belles NovelBombshell: A Hell's Belles Novel by Sarah MacLean. The author’s newest romance is SO MUCH FUN! Lady Sesily Talbot has joined a group of four ladies hellbent on circumventing both law and society to hold badly behaving men accountable for their actions. I raced through this one! ~ Rachel Person
PiranesiPiranesi by Susanna Clarke. The title character lives in a house by himself save for a few fish and birds. He has a once-weekly visit from someone he calls “the Other.” The house, with vast white marble rooms full of statues and columns, goes on infinitely through halls, corridors, and courtyards on three levels. The lower floors are home to an ocean with its unique tidal flow. The upper floors are in the clouds. Piranesi’s world is in the middle. He is blissfully happy and perfectly in balance with his world until the day “the Oracle” unexpectedly arrives and then all he thinks he knows begins to unravel. A work of genius! ~ Becky Doherty
Empire of the VampireEmpire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff. This novel pulls you head-first into a world filled with murderous vampires and their saintly slayers. It chronicles the life of Gabriel de León, the Last of the Silversaints. With plenty of bloody fight scenes and gory details, this novel is not for the faint of heart. It is dark and gritty; a brutal masterpiece perfect for fans of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind ~ Cassidy Washburn