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2013 Staff Picks by Genre

 

Fiction

Book Cover for The Cyclist Conspiracy Basara, Svetislav
The Cyclist Conspiracy

Fiction
Usually when I am asked to recommend a book I am pretty good about giving a detailed description of what the book is about and why I thought it was so well written. This is not the case with the book The Cyclist Conspiracy. Written by Serbian author Svetislav Basara and translated into English by Randall Major, The Cyclist Conspiracy tells the story of a brotherhood who travel throughout history influencing events. The story is told through drawings, documents, letters, biographical stories and other writings that depict what is happening throughout history. The book is not really one continuous story, but more of a 'collected works' that include Sigmund Freud and Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a hard book to describe, but -- take my word for it -- this book is worth picking up.
Recommended by Katie, January 2013

 
Book Cover for The Longings of Wayward Girls Brown, Karen
The Longings of Wayward Girls

Fiction
As a child, Sadie and her best friend played a prank on a neighborhood girl who goes missing and is never seen again. Years later, Sadie is living in the same small town, married with a family and mourning the child who died eight months into her most recent pregnancy. When she meets up with an old neighbor and former crush who has returned to town, she embarks on an affair that causes her to reflect on the events of her childhood and the troubled relationship she had with her mother as a girl. Sadie is an incredibly flawed and complex character, who is often difficult to root for but nevertheless someone who you hope will prevail. While Sadie’s memories of the past feel reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, this novel at heart focuses on the complex relationship between a mother and her children. Sadie simultaneously loves her family and feels tied down by them, misses the child she never got to know while she disregards the two children who are still left, and struggles to come to terms with her own mother’s dark history.
Recommended by Irene, October 2013

 
Book Cover for He's Gone Caletti, Deb
He's Gone

Fiction
A woman wakes up alone. Her husband is gone. She assumes that he has left to get something for their breakfast. Hours later, worry sets in — worry that gradually turns into agony. Everyone becomes a suspect in his disappearance; however, the possibility of his absence being willful cannot be completely ruled out. Unrelenting suspense, paired with the constantly pivoting opinion of the reader as to what has happened to this man, causes some doubt as to whether the author can conclude this story satisfactorily. She does. The ending is surprisingly subtle and yet devastatingly effective. Other books that may interest you: The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, has the same calibre of excruciating suspense; Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh, has the same mystery of characterization of the "missing" man; and Black Seconds, by Karin Fossum, has the crushing, atmospheric doom that encompasses those who wait.
Recommended by Geo, November 2013

 
Book Cover for City of Ash Chance, Megan
City of Ash

Fiction
This is the fictional story of how two women from very different walks of life find themselves as allies, resulting from the historic Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Geneva is a member of high society, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. She is used to spending her time holding salons for artists in her lavish Chicago home, helping various unknowns become famous while her husband works with her father in his shipping business. She goes too far, though, when she disgraces her father and her husband, Nathan, by posing nude for a sculpture. She is forced to move to Seattle with Nathan or else be put in a mental institution by the men who control her life. Because of her tarnished reputation, Geneva is forced to stay at home alone in Seattle while her husband rubs elbows with the social elite and tries to forward his political ambitions. She eventually meets Beatrice, an actress of much lower class, who is actually her husband’s mistress. Understandably, the two hate each other and, furthermore, are both attracted to Sebastian, the theater’s new playwright, who has been commissioned by Nathan. However, when the fire occurs the two are both caught at the city’s theater, and Ginny and Bea help each other escape the flames. It isn’t until the days following the fire, though, that the two women realize that they can save each other in a different way by combining forces against the cruel Nathan. This tale is a vivid description of 19th-century Seattle and its newly emerging cultural scene, as well as the challenges faced by women in a man’s world.
Recommended by Terry, August 2013

 
Demarest, David P., (editor)
From These Hills, From These Valleys

Fiction
An illustrated literary album of western Pennsylvania, this anthology presents fictional snapshots of Pittsburgh and environs from earliest European settlement to the late 20th century. Each selection – either a short story or an excerpt from a longer novel – provides an incisive glance into shaded narratives refracting the echoes of a diversity of people and experience. Here, history is just another character, the hills a mood, the valleys an improvised event. The book serves as a warm invitation to pursue the authors and works receding into the past, while anticipating the creativity that our region continues to inspire.
Recommended by miguel, January 2013

 
Book Cover for The Silence of Trees Dudycz Lupescu, Valya
The Silence of Trees

Fiction
Nadya, the matriarch of a large Ukrainian-American family settled in Chicago, has witnessed the horrors of the twentieth century first-hand, but cannot share her past for fear of disappearing completely, of drowning in the humiliation of powerlessness overwhelming every inclination to individual enfranchisement. Nadya's twisted visions recall too many possible interpretations, all horrible, and an unceasing regret. She succumbs to a shame pursuing her from a homeland fled. The narrative is a first-person confession of the causes and resolutions to which the reader is witness, a testimonial encounter that reveals a redemption impossible to live without. The communication between generations is at the heart of the story, and Nadya's perspective grants us an ability to more fully appreciate the precious flow of time from life to death, oftentimes all too rapid and sometimes seemingly still. Her children, American-born, become her salvation, and the stories that she eventually confesses will, in turn, be echoes of the stories that fashioned her own youth. The children of immigrants always face these silent ghosts, ever-present yet desperately ignored. Not just the existence of stories, but their expression and sharing, are what give us life, and bestow our immortal souls unto the hearts of future generations. This story of the disintegration and reintegration of a woman in mythology and history conquers that trepidation of silence. This book is a beautiful homage to a particular experience well familiar to many families in the Pittsburgh region (and every/elsewhere). However, Dudycz Lupescu writes with a simplicity, respect, curiosity, romance, and authenticity resonating with a well-rewarded audience of diverse readers.
Recommended by miguel, March 2013

 
Book Cover for Sum Eagleman, David
Sum

Fiction
What happens in the afterlife? In David Eagleman’s book Sum, we are given forty different answers. Eagleman takes the reader through forty different tales of what he imagines the afterlife is like. The tales are sad, happy, funny and hopeful. Each tale in Sum is only about two or three pages long, yet they are all thought-provoking and imaginatively written.
Recommended by Katie, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Chose the Wrong Guy Harbison, Beth
Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger

Fiction
Beth Harbison’s latest offering opens with a scene occurring 10 years prior to the present day. Protagonist Quinn abruptly cancels her wedding after the groom’s brother shares some unsavory gossip about him. Now wary of love and the pain it can bring, Quinn spends the next decade building her bridal gown business and avoiding relationships at all costs. But when the grandmother of her former fiancé requests her seamstress skills, Quinn finds herself embroiled in the family dynamics once again and caught in the middle of a romantic triangle. Readers will delight in Harbison’s genuine characters and humorous storyline — a perfect beach read.
Recommended by Karen G., August 2013

 
Book Cover for On the Road Kerouac, Jack
On the Road

Fiction
The author Jack Kerouac, while helping to introduce "beat" to the world, was hardly a "beatnik." The man knew how to think and (despite Capote's weak witticism) how to write, and with On the Road, did for the U.S. stultified 1950's society what the atom bomb did for conventional warfare: made people think twice about the consequences of living — and dying — with presumption. One doesn't simply read Kerouac; even when you're slap-happy from his amphetamine-driven plot and babbling rants and swaggering ignorance and would rather be reading something else anywhere else, there is something unmistakably honest in his observations. In this overture to the "Duluoz Legend," "one enormous comedy" consisting of the majority of his novels (ending with the spectacularly muted final chord, Vanity of Duluoz), Kerouac begins an asymptotic narrative approaching a felt truth of the twentieth-century American experience.
Recommended by miguel, February 2013

 
Book Cover for The Dinner Koch, Herman
The Dinner

Fiction
Well, this is a first for me: I can’t really say that I enjoyed The Dinner, or that I could even strongly recommend it to any of our customers, and yet it is a book that has haunted me since I read it a few months ago. Two couples meet for dinner to discuss a gruesome crime their teenage sons have recently committed. Guilt and innocence, privilege and entitlement, crime and punishment are all relative concepts to these people, and it is easy to see how their children have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. I was disturbed by nearly everything about this story, but I can’t stop thinking about it. The credit must be given to Koch, who is a fine writer and managed to hold my attention even though I found that I didn’t care about any of the characters, which is usually essential to my enjoyment of a story. Are there really people like this out in the world? This is an unsettling story, and although I was often repulsed by the behavior of these characters — well, it’s been several months since I first read the book, and I’m still talking about it.
Recommended by Jane, October 2013

 
Book Cover for The Lies of Locke Lamora Lynch, Scott
The Lies of Locke Lamora

Fiction
When someone asks me for a book recommendation, time and time again I push Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora at them. Anyone who knows me has probably heard me rave about this book multiple times, so I'm giving all of them a bit of a break to recommend it here instead. This book has been described as a fantasy version of Ocean's Eleven, with a touch of The Godfather thrown in for good measure. Set in a city reminiscent of 16th-century Venice, the story details the adventures of a small group of thieves working their latest con who get drawn into a much bigger game than the one they're playing. With its richly detailed setting, witty dialogue, flashy swordfights, and a clever plot laden with twists and turns, this is one you don't want to miss.
Recommended by Leandra, April 2013

 
Book Cover for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena Marra, Anthony
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Fiction
The novel takes place over five days, beginning when Akhmed, a village doctor, spirits Havaa, his eight-year-old neighbor, to safety after her father is "disappeared" and her house is burned to the ground. In this modern-day Chechnya, political disappearances and violence are daily trials, but because federal troops are also looking for Havaa, the success of her escape is crucial. Akhmed takes her to the only place he feels she can be safe: a mostly abandoned hospital miles away from their village where he implores the only doctor at the hospital to protect Havaa. Sonja is a skilled but jaded surgeon whose life was filled with glorious potential until she gave it all up to return to Chechnya in search of her missing sister. Flashbacks illuminate the lives of the complex characters who are struggling for survival during these brutal and harsh times. The magic of this novel is that each character is so well-rounded that we are able to understand why some do the despicable things that they do, while it is also clear that the altruistic ones have had dark times in their past as well. Despite the bleak prospects for these individuals - with the fear and violence that they live through, a glowing light of hope keeps them afloat, and each finds something that is so worth preserving that the vitality of hope and connection becomes his or her strength. This outstanding novel would be perfect for book groups, and also appeal to fans of Khaled Hosseini. My favorite book of the year.
Recommended by Sheila, December 2013

 
Book Cover for The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Mathis, Ayana
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Fiction
Hattie Shepherd has married the wrong man, and the decision to move with him from the Jim Crow South of Georgia to Philadelphia doesn’t turn her life in the right direction. It’s the 1920s, and African-Americans are moving North to begin life in a supposedly non-segregated environment. Hattie and her husband August join this migration, but after losing her first two babies to illness she loses her joy in living and her hope for the future. Nine more babies can’t stop the pain, and each grows up with his own story of despair and frustration. These eleven children (and one grandchild) are Hattie’s "twelve tribes", and each child’s story is highlighted in the twelve chapters of the story. Hattie can feed and clothe them all (barely), but cannot seem to love any of them. All of her children author their own disappointments, but it is their mother’s remoteness that keeps them from discovering how to start again. These stories are grim, but the writing is fine, spare yet descriptive, and the tales are captivating. "Grim" is the word I keep using when I describe this book to potential readers, but I believe it’s a book worth reading, especially because it illustrates an important time in American life. For a thorough history of this period, I also recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s National Book Award winner The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, a spectacular nonfiction account of this period.
Recommended by Jane, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Norwegian by Night Miller, Derek B.
Norwegian by Night

Fiction
Norwegian by Night has a most unlikely cast of characters who work so beautifully together. Sheldon Horowitz is a recently widowed octogenarian who reluctantly agrees to move from his lifelong home of New York City to Norway, where his beloved granddaughter, Rhea, is beginning a life with her new husband, Lars. Sheldon is a surly curmudgeon who may or may not be delusional, yet both Rhea and Lars treat him with such respect and kindness that you can't help falling a little in love with them both. There is humor in Sheldon's point of view and in his outspoken delivery of his granite opinions, yet there is a difficult depth to the memories of both his own experience in the Korean War and his son's final days during the Vietnam War. When Sheldon witnesses a terrible crime against a woman who lives in their apartment block, he secretly flees with the woman's young son in order to protect him from the violent intruder. Sheldon and the young boy have no way of communicating, but Sheldon instinctively understands that it is imperative to shield this child from the larger violence that the criminal represents. Sheldon's small acts of kindness toward this stranger-child is profound, with scenes so simply moving in their quiet joy, that it made me pause to savor the picture in my mind. Adding to this eclectic mix is the practical and dry-witted Sigrid and Petter, the police detectives hoping to find the duo before Enver, the Balkan war criminal, tracks them down. Norwegian by Night has the exciting elements of a suspense novel, mixed with humor from its clever characters but ultimately, it is a novel of family and how you deal with the choices you make throughout your life. Two thumbs up for this eclectic little gem.
Recommended by Sheila, November 2013

 
Book Cover for Parnassus on Wheels Morley, Christopher
Parnassus on Wheels

Fiction
An adventure story that has a great deal to say about education, writers, writing, reading, and books. An early road novel(la) that has as its primary and featured mode of transportation a wagon suitable for living and for shelving (and selling) books. Three extraordinarily feisty characters who prior to the action in this novel have spent the majority of their time cooking, farming, rambling, and writing, and with whom the reader becomes best familiar through their fighting, selling, landing in jail, or lying to the authorities. This tongue-in-cheek account of the metamorphosis of a provincial spinster is a delight to sentimental book-lovers and romantic types alike (particularly the late-blooming). This book proved so popular when published that Morley would write a sequel, The Haunted Bookshop.
Recommended by miguel, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Accidentally Amish Newport, Olivia
Accidentally Amish

Fiction
27-year-old Annie Friesen has used her powerful brain to build a successful software company from the ground up. Now her business partner and lawyer (soon-to-be-ex) boyfriend are conspiring to take it all away from her at any cost. To escape their evil plan, Annie stows away in a lumber truck and lands in Colorado Amish country, a place she would have never thought she belonged, but dreamy, blue-eyed Rufus the carpenter might convince her otherwise. Now that she has the chance to unglue herself from her smartphone and laptop, Annie can finally see the world for what it is. Accidentally Amish is a refreshing break from your everyday romance novel. This is the first in a series, so you have to keep reading to find out what happens with Annie and Rufus!
Recommended by Holly, September 2013

 
Book Cover for Diary Palahniuk, Chuck
Diary

Fiction
An artist, detoured by life into a bizarre marriage to a local scion and motherhood, finds herself being relentlessly maneuvered into taking up her paint brush again. The plot is rhythmically driven by diary entries and "weather" reports. "The weather today is increasing concern followed by full-blown dread." (The weather reports became my favorite part of the book — and now I come up with my own.) Comments addressed to and about her husband, who is now in a coma, punctuate the narrative and keep him a main character in the story. The impression that the narrator is possibly unreliable renders the unspooling of the underlying conspiracy of the story borderline atmospheric. The ending veers off at the last minute, ruining (in a good way) any confidence the reader might have had thinking that they knew what was going to happen. Great setting, great details, and interesting style elements make this a memorable reading experience. Reminiscent of Vonnegut's rhythmic repetitions, and Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping came to mind because of the characters' eccentricities and attachment to place.
Recommended by Geo, December 2013

 
Book Cover for We Sinners Pylvainen, Hanna
We Sinners

Fiction
Two parents and their nine children each get a chapter in which to tell their story in this debut novel. All are members of a conservative Finnish-American church in the contemporary Midwest and struggle to follow their community's rules about music, television, movies, and dating. Pylvainen, who grew up in the church and left it twice (the second time for good), reaches a sort of catharsis by fictionalizing that experience. She writes so marvelously and convincingly about domestic life, you'd think she had a spouse and children of her own. Recommended for readers who enjoy inspirational fiction, but want a fresh alternative to Amish tales and Christian romances.
Recommended by Rita, August 2013

 
Book Cover for Year Zero Reid, Rob
Year Zero

Fiction
Rob Reid’s Year Zero is one of the few books that I have laughed out loud while reading. Year Zero follows the adventure of lawyer Nick Carter, who has been commissioned by two aliens to help with the financial problems that the universe has gotten itself into. Aliens in 1977 discovered pop music and have collected a huge library of songs. Unfortunately they have also violated many copyright laws, and are now facing a massive debt which could cause the universe to go bankrupt. Nick is now doing what he can to help with only 48 hours to spare.
Recommended by Katie, November 2013

 
Selimovic, Meša
The Fortress

Fiction
This historical novel is an astounding testament of the Individual. Selimovic, a Bosnian Muslim, writes the first-person narration of Ahmet Shabo, a man whose experience in war has predicated a dissolution of the auspiciously moral bonds of social custom. In the absurd living and dying of the battlefield, habitual normalcy is undermined by the unpredictable behavior of necessity. Returning home to his eighteenth-century village, Shabo conflates innocence and purpose in declaiming perceived order and personifying contingency. The intimacy of the narrative allows the reader to wonder at the motivations behind such voluntary suffering. Selimovic seems to confront the mirage of a hegemonic sphere with a sledgehammer of love: our flights of angels edified in the titular fortress.
Recommended by miguel, April 2013

 
Book Cover for The Burgess Boys Strout, Elizabeth
The Burgess Boys

Fiction
The three Burgess siblings – Jim and twins Bob and Susan – have survived a childhood trauma and are now navigating the dangerous waters of middle age. Susan has remained in their Maine hometown while the brothers live and work in New York City. The title of the book doesn’t include Susan because it is Susan’s teenage son whose clueless and criminal behavior pushes the siblings, unwillingly, back into one another’s lives. Jim is the family’s big success story, a flashy attorney who has become famous defending a high-profile client. Susan’s marriage has fallen apart, followed quickly by the rest of her life. Brother Bob is the heart and soul of the story, as well as the family, yet his brother and sister spend too much precious time pushing him away. As in all families, the family bond is complicated – fundamentally, this is a love story. Strout is a master at showing the interior lives of people, their search for a place in the family unit and in the world. Her earlier work, Olive Kitteridge, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and she again demonstrates her mastery of the human heart. She draws such clear pictures of these people that we anticipate what will happen to them before they do.
Recommended by Jane, June 2013

 
Book Cover for The Shoemaker’s Wife Trigiani, Andriana
The Shoemaker’s Wife

Fiction
A combination immigrant tale, love story, and family saga, The Shoemaker’s Wife is the story of Enza Ravanelli and Ciro Lazzari, both from the same region of the Italian Alps. Enza’s family runs a carriage service while Ciro and his brother live and work at a convent where their destitute mother left them after their father died. Enza and Ciro's paths cross during a monumental event in Enza’s life, and just as their relationship begins, they are separated when misfortune forces Ciro to leave his village and move to New York City. Enza eventually moves to the U.S. with her father, hoping to earn money to send back to Italy for their struggling family. The second part of the book focuses on Enza's and Ciro’s individual lives as they forge their way in America, he as a shoemaker’s apprentice in Little Italy, and she as a seamstress with the Metropolitian Opera. While their paths continue to cross, it’s not until Ciro returns from WWI that he and Enza marry. The final part of the book entails their move to Minnesota, where they embrace the promise of a new life together, and follows their family story to Italy and back, and into the next generation with their son. The book is based on the story of the author's own grandparents.
Recommended by Joanne, March 2013

 
Book Cover for While We Were Watching Downton Abbey Wax, Wendy
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

Fiction
In a posh apartment building in Atlanta, a concierge tries to foster friendliness among the occupants by hosting a weekly showing of the popular television show Downton Abbey. Among others, three women attend — three women who could not be more different. Samantha spends most of her days maintaining her appearance and attending charity luncheons. Claire, a recent empty-nester, is under a deadline for her latest novel. Brooke, still reeling from her recent divorce, is concentrating on raising two young daughters. From their shared interest in the television show, the three develop a strong friendship, which shows its value when life’s problems begin to surface. Wax’s relatable characters will likely make the reader long for a similar group of TV-watching pals.
Recommended by Karen G., November 2013

 
Book Cover for Care of Wooden Floors Wiles, Will
Care of Wooden Floors

Fiction
The (unnamed) narrator of this fiction debut agrees to fly from his home in Britain to stay in the flat owned by a college friend in an (unnamed) Eastern European country. He will also be caring for the friend’s two cats. The friend, Oskar, will be away for an unspecified time finalizing divorce details with his wife in California, and the protagonist is looking forward to some relaxation and undisturbed time to write during his stay. What begins as an utterly boring stay in the impeccably neat flat quickly becomes anything but. First, a drop of red wine spills on the expensive wooden floor. Oskar has left explicit instructions for him about everything regarding the care of his home, including that he not spill anything on the floors. The narrator is painfully aware of the mortal sin he has committed, remembering Oskar has always been obsessive about his belongings. Things quickly go downhill from there as the more the house-sitter tries to take care of things, the more that goes very, very wrong. After only eight days, he has destroyed more than just Oskar’s flat. This book is hilarious, because the reader is truly not prepared for the events that occur. Fans of dark humor with unscrupulous characters will love reading about the happenings in Oskar’s flat during his absence.
Recommended by Terry, May 2013

 

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Nonfiction

Book Cover for London: the Essential Insider's Guide Adams, Tim (editor)
London: the Essential Insider's Guide

Nonfiction
In this travel book, novelists, art curators and other talented people share their favorite places in and around London. You can learn both secret things about familiar places, and familiar things about secret places. In other words, you can look at the British Library in a new light with Adam Chodzko, a multimedia artist, or you can learn about Ravi Shankar Restaurant, one of a number of South Indian restaurants tucked away in Bloomsbury, with Lucretia Stewart, London native and travel writer. This is a great title in a not-run-of-the-mill series of travel books: "City Secrets".
Recommended by Holly, August 2013

 
Book Cover for What My Mother Gave Me Benedict, Elizabeth (editor)
What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-One Women on the Gifts that Mattered Most

Nonfiction
In this endearing collection, 31 women share inspiring stories about their mothers and the unexpected lessons they learned from them. The reader is exposed to the stories of a varied collection of writers: journalists, bestselling authors, and even Pulitzer Prize winners. Mary Morris writes of being taken on an unwanted tour of Europe as a child and the profound effect it had on her life. In “White Christmas,” Ann Hood reminisces about receiving an undesirable present from her mother — a white suit — and the ensuing conversation after this exchange. In the hilarious story “The Broken Vase,” Reverend Lillian Daniel recalls her mother’s confidence during a catastrophic dinner party. Lisa See and Luanne Rice both share memories of growing up with mothers who desired to be writers and the differing paths taken to reach that goal. Some stories are humorous, some are heartbreaking, but all are captivating. Furthermore, they all elevate the powerful impact that a mother can have in a daughter’s life. This is a perfect book to share any day with female friends and relatives.
Recommended by Karen G., June 2013

 
Book Cover for Becoming Sister Wives Brown, Kody with Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn
Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage

Nonfiction
Everyone is fascinated by polygamy. The idea that a man could marry more than one woman and that those women could be happy about the situation is almost unthinkable to most of us who are struggling to maintain a "simple" monogamous relationship. In the last few years, television executives have finally decided to capitalize on the allure of polygamy by introducing series such as HBO’s Big Love and TLC’s Sister Wives. I’ll admit it; I have been watching Sister Wives since the beginning. I started off, like many others, looking for the prurient details of the lives of Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn and waiting for the train wreck that never happened. It turns out that these women, who all just happen to love the same man, also respect each other and dote on each other’s children as if they were their own, because, in more than one way, they are. This book nicely supplements the television show, providing the back stories for the relationship each of the four wives has with Kody. It also discusses those hardships and rearrangements in priority that each wife had to endure whenever a new wife or child was added to the family or their living situation was altered. I liked the way the book was organized. Each person had their own chapter in the sections of Matrimony, Sorority, Family, and Celebrity. This way, just like on the show, each of the wives had her own voice and could tell her story in her own words. Then you get to hear Kody’s take on it as well. I’ve continued to watch the show and looked forward to reading this book for the same reason; I like how normal their family is. I am awed by how self-aware they all are, how well they communicate with each other and their children, and what genuinely nice people they seem to be. I want to be their friend. Even if you never plan to watch the show, you’ll enjoy the story of how these five people make their relationships and family work, and you might even find a tip or two for your own life in there as well.
Recommended by Melissa, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Come In, We're Closed Carroll, Christine
Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants

Nonfiction
I've often been told that while on their breaks, the staff of Chinese restaurants in the United States eat a markedly different meal than anything on the menu. I was curious about this, wondering if it was out of necessity, lack of time, or personal preference. While on break from waiting tables at an old-fashioned soda fountain, I would order unhealthy food right off the menu, sometimes made it myself, and always ate solo: a grilled cheese, tuna on rye, and a chocolate coke or milkshake. What happens at gourmet restaurants is a different story, and one that's not usually told in book form. Christine Carroll has gone behind the scenes at serious establishments all around the world to show us what's prepared and eaten by staff who work at both the front and back of the house. These meals are sometimes created by interns to showcase their skills, or by employees whose sole job is to prepare staff meals. Perhaps most important is not what is eaten, but when and with whom, illustrating that folks who eat together probably work better together. Recipes and shiny photos included.
Recommended by Rita, September 2013

 
Book Cover for Reason, Faith, and Revolution Eagleton, Terry
Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate

Nonfiction
This recommendation is of a limited nature, due to the subject matter at hand — but Eagleton addresses even this peculiar situation within these pages. Originally delivered as one of the ongoing (and extremely prestigious) "Terry" (no relation) lectures at Yale University, in 2008, this book further develops many of the arguments originally presented there, and provides more context, while at 169 pages, Eagleton doesn't belabour the point. In essence, the book demonstrates a sophisticated, irreverent weapon in the defence of faith and theology as against the blunt and ignoble attacks of the "New Atheism". For Eagleton's purpose, this "bloodless" rationalism is best embodied in the writings of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, whom Eagleton humorously (but deliberately) conflates as "Ditchkins" throughout. To be fair, though, Eagleton spares no quarter, and resituates religion outside the grasp of religious fundamentalism (addressing both Christian and Islamic varieties) and firmly within a theological context, "one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself". A truly powerful contemporary philosophical statement that deserves to be appreciated (and wielded as necessary).
Recommended by miguel, April 2013

 
Book Cover for Gender Born Ehrensaf, Diane
Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children

Nonfiction
There are so many ways in which young children express themselves, but what about when a child tells you that they would rather be a girl/boy? Boys who wear dresses or rough-and-tumble girls are not new, but the growing acceptance that some children don’t neatly fit into a traditional gender mold is. “Gender-creative” is a term that describes these children, who may experiment with a variety of gender expressions, who may grow up to be transgendered, or who may reject binary gender roles altogether. Although other books exist on the topic — notably The Transgendered Child — this book is essential for parents or educators who would like advice on how to compassionately help gender-nonconforming children. Examples of children and families are a highlight of the book, and illustrate the wide variety of ways in which a child might be gender-creative and how families might help (or hinder) their development of that identity.
Recommended by Irene, November 2013

 
Book Cover for Stories from Jonestown Fondakowski, Leigh
Stories from Jonestown

Nonfiction
Stories from Jonestown is all about the survivors. “Survivors” include those few who escaped into the jungle that fateful day, the Peoples Temple members who were elsewhere in Guyana and California, and family members of those who died. For many, these interviews were the first time they spoke of their experiences. Some chose to share how their lives have been since that day in November 1978. Some talk about the family members that they lost, who they were and what they believed in. Many tell about their experiences in the Peoples Temple, both before and after the move to Guyana. Every single story is riveting and emotional. According to most books, the story of Jonestown and Jim Jones ended on November 18, 1978. For Stories from Jonestown, that date is the beginning of the story.
Recommended by Melissa, July 2013

 
Book Cover for On the Map Garfield, Simon
On the Map

Nonfiction
Simon Garfield's On the Map is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. On the Map is a collection of true stories of maps, from the first known map in history to mapping Mars and even the brain. The book also tells of true tales of how a map in London stopped the spread of cholera, or how a map found in a shop in Geneva started a huge controversy. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a fondness for history and geography.
Recommended by Katie, March 2013

 
Book Cover for The Coming Plague Garrett, Laurie
The Coming Plague

Nonfiction
There is nothing more refreshingly satisfying than waking up from an absolutely and totally horrific nightmare to realize that it was all just a dream, not real, never happened. This is one of the most comforting feelings that I know of. Then I became fascinated with human diseases like viruses, particularly of the viral hemorrhagic variety, and the comfort is gone. After reading about these diseases, I became stricken with nightmares that previously only Stephen King novels could produce. But unlike King’s novels, the nightmares induced by The Coming Plague are real. I consider Laurie Garrett’s book to be a seminal work regarding the spread and detection of infectious diseases during our modern times. You can read it straight through or just pick one disease at a time. Have it your way, but I recommend plowing through it from beginning to end. This book covers all of the major players, like Ebola, which destroys one’s body so quickly that it’s barely a concern for those of us living outside of the Congo. My favorite disease — if one must have a favorite — is smallpox. The diseases discussed in this book do travel. These diseases do mutate. Scientists do hunt them down. And boy oh boy will it FREAK you out!!! You will scratch and wonder why your skin is suddenly so itchy. You will become slightly concerned about an incidental cough or a kinda, maybe sore throat. You will check and double check your throat glands. You will examine the whites of your eyes in your bathroom mirror for the first time ever. Perhaps you will wash your hands more thoroughly. You may become a little more vigilant during your next flight. Doorknobs will become... ummm... difficult. A little voice in your head will ask "do I have a fever?" Trust me, you will shake it all off because after reading this book you will realize that your newly acquired neurotic leanings are futile. It is what it is; that’s my philosophy at least, especially when it’s about drug-resistant bacteria. But, hey, learning is all in good fun, right? Wait, who just sneezed!?!
Recommended by Mel, June 2013

 
Gilfillan, Lauren
I Went to Pit College

Nonfiction
Sometime after graduating from Smith College, the elite women’s college in Massachusetts, Lauren Gilfillan asked to be dropped off in the small town of Avella (named "Avelonia" in this book), Pennsylvania. A beautiful, petite young woman whose appetite for life served her well for this project, Gilfillan would eventually flee Avella and produce this entertaining portrait of a mining town in Southwestern Pennsylvania suffering the misery of the early years of the Great Depression and the inordinately complex "Great Coal Strike" of 1931. Gilfillan is a somewhat incidentally realistic, but whimsical, observer of the ignoble. Even the initial proposal of the journalistic project was a whim — an editor of a publishing house in New York City who had a habit of daring talented, yet somehow listless, young people of his acquaintance to challenge themselves with these sorts of extraordinary projects did so with Gilfillan. I Went to Pit College lacks almost any contextualization of the events described, either causes or effects, but successfully portrays the wonderful resident personalities, welcoming and truly charitable, and the inversely proportional living conditions, of the coal patch. Upon considering Gilfillan's education, the miners posit that deep underground, picking at the profitable seams of "Pit College", is as close to an education as they're likely to get; a brazenly satirical contradistinction to Pitt's contemporary efforts to erect the literal ivory tower of a Cathedral of Learning high over the region, its spire in the clouds. Gilfillan seems to take it all in stride — which makes the book tremendously readable, a story of innocent curiosity and adventure — and is able to participate in a very wide variety of the community’s activities because of just that humble quality; she essentially never turns down a journalistic opportunity, and is granted many: Gilfillan dresses like a boy to secretly observe the scabbing miners at work, stays as an invited guest in many of the homes, joins a caravan of the children (passing as a child of a miner herself) of striking miners who journey to Pittsburgh and stand on street corners soliciting alms for their union’s relief efforts, and so on. A national best-seller upon publication, this book effortlessly captures a community from our past, simultaneously 'Once-upon-a-time' and disturbingly real.
Recommended by miguel, June 2013

 
Book Cover for Eighty Days Goodman, Matthew
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Nonfiction
Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were both female journalists in New York City during the late 19th century, but that is where the similarity ends between the two women. Bly was a reporter for the World and Bisland reported for The Cosmopolitan. Bly and Bisland were attempting to beat Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg‘s trip around the world in eighty days. Bly leaves New York and crosses the Atlantic, while Bisland makes her way across America and sets sail across the Pacific. Matthew Goodman’s Eighty Days follows the adventures of Bly and Bisland as they race around the world. Goodman’s writing made me feel as if I was reading about the race as it was unfolding; I could not wait to find out who would win and if they could come in under Fogg’s time of 80 days.
Recommended by Katie, December 2013

 
Book Cover for The Postcard Age Klich, Lynda and Benjamin Weiss
The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection

Nonfiction
Billionaire Leonard Lauder, son of cosmetics legend Esteé, began his love affair with postcards at a young age. A formidable arts patron and a collector of Klimt and Picasso, he also amassed a historical collection of postcards numbering in the tens of thousands. His late wife, to whom The Postcard Age is dedicated, had joked that Lauder had a mistress; she was referring to his postcard trove. Lauder has promised it to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where several hundred of the cards are now on view. For those who can't make it to Boston, this book offers an annotated slice of the archive. The focus is on European cards produced in the late 19th century through World War I, an era when the postcard was often the fastest form of communication, arriving in a few days or sometimes even in a few hours. Postcards were also a canvas for advertisements, political propaganda, fashion statements, and promotion of the fine arts. Included are postcard puzzles that were sent to the recipient in increments, cards mailed from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and cards sent from the trenches. Art history buffs will devour this fascinating book, though it's a delight for anyone with an aesthetic bent.
Recommended by Rita, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Bitter Brew Knoedelseder, William
Bitter Brew

Nonfiction
William Knoedelseder's Bitter Brew, the story of Anheuser-Busch and the Busch family, follows the family from the founding of Anheuser-Busch to the company's rise in the market and its eventual takeover. This is a fascinating and well-written story.
Recommended by Katie, June 2013

 
Book Cover for March Lewis, John
March: Book One

Nonfiction
Arriving just in time for the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, this is the first in a trilogy by the illustrious congressman from Georgia, who was once a member of the "Big Six" - the most prominent leaders of the African-American civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This illustrated story, found in our graphic nonfiction collection, is much more than just an account of the march. It begins with Lewis's childhood, when he defied his parents in order to attend school and advance himself in many ways, despite poverty and racism. Through a series of flashbacks, Lewis matures as a student, a public speaker, and an advocate for social justice, taking us from the bloody 1965 march across the Selma Bridge, to earlier lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, to the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. The illustrations by Nate Powell are remarkable; if you enjoy his style and the subject of civil rights, don't miss the graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends.
Recommended by Rita, December 2013

 
Book Cover for Livwise Newton-John, Olivia
Livwise: Easy Recipes for a Healthy, Happy Life

Nonfiction
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables in season. Eat whole grains. Eat organic. Eat good proteins and fats. Limit red meat. Don't eat processed foods. Exercise daily. This is the advice we hear over and over again in almost every mainstream diet/healthy lifestyle book published nowadays. Are we more likely to listen when we're being told by breast cancer survivor and "Let's Get Physical" singer Olivia Newton-John? If you’re a woman of a certain age, the answer might be "yes". Olivia shares with us some of her favorite healthy recipes that help keep her, at age 62, feeling fit and looking like a woman 25 years younger. All of the recipes looked very easy to prepare and almost all of the ingredients can now be found in any large supermarket. (You might have to visit a health food store for a few.) These delicious dishes, such as chicken with ginger, orange stuffing and cashew, macadamia and raspberry tart, have me re-thinking my food and cooking choices.
Recommended by Melissa, January 2013

 
Book Cover for Flannery O'Connor O'Connor, Flannery with Kelly Gerald (editor)
Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons

Nonfiction
Flannery O'Connor once wrote, "I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both." While O'Connor's literature is renowned, her visual art is mostly unsung. As a high school and college student in Georgia, her irritation fueled a large body of cartoons - usually one-panel linoleum prints - that appeared in the newspaper, yearbook, alumnae journal, and other publications. The cartoons aren't notable for any artistic prowess, but they capture a southern all-girls school in the 1940s and reveal the young woman who would eventually write masterpieces such as Wise Blood and "Good Country People." Fans of O'Connor and the Southern Gothic will appreciate this book, as will readers who are interested in quotidian stateside life during World War II.
Recommended by Rita, January 2013

 
Book Cover for Nothing Gold Can Stay Harper, Valerie
I, Rhoda: A Memoir

Nonfiction
As a child in the early 1970s, I would eagerly await 9:00 on Saturday nights to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Richards, played by Moore, was the fashionable and successful newswoman most female viewers wanted to be. But it was neighbor Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Harper, with whom most fans could truly identify. Rhoda was the slightly awkward one — flitting from job to job, struggling with her weight and overbearing mother, and never getting many second dates. In Harper’s upbeat memoir, she spends a good portion of the book detailing her years playing Rhoda. She warmly recounts the friendships that she developed over the years with the cast and crew. This is not a tell-all book — rather, just a story of a woman with a happy childhood and dreams of being a ballerina and, ultimately, an actress. Filled with reminiscences of her personal and professional life, the author comes across as just as approachable as Rhoda herself.
Recommended by Karen G., May 2013

 
Book Cover for On Intelligence Hawkins, Jeff
On Intelligence

Nonfiction
Try to find a book that better explains how our brain works. Seriously: I am challenging you. As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to read ONE book that actually attempts to answer the question “How does our brain work?”. On Intelligence is that book. According to the author, it’s all about the cerebral cortex. This book is a brief but thoroughly fascinating exploration of neuroscience and artificial intelligence. One super important thing to take away from this book is that machines are nothing to fear. Robots are not going to take over and destroy humanity. Yeah, I know all about the computer that beat the world’s best chess player and then, more recently, that whole-computer-winning-Jeopardy!-thing. And let us not forget The Terminator’s “Skynet” or 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “HAL 9000”. You don’t have to worry. This book will put those fears to rest when you learn why a robot will probably never even “learn” how to play catch with your children. The human brain is the most complex and amazing organic structure ever. So much so that it continues to be the one thing that we know the least about in this universe. Jeff Hawkins thinks about this and so should you.
Recommended by Mel, October 2013

 
Book Cover for The Lady and Her Monsters Montillo, Roseanne
The Lady and Her Monsters

Nonfiction
In the book The Lady and Her Monsters, Roseanne Montillo tells the story of Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein and the true life tales of individuals who have tried to create their own 'Frankensteins'. Montillo intertwines the creation of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece and the stories from real life that might have inspired her story. Montillo does an amazing job of telling the history of both Mary Shelley’s life and the creation of her masterpiece. I have never read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein yet I was still fascinated by The Lady and Her Monsters.
Recommended by katie, July 2013

 
Book Cover for Harvey Pekar's Cleveland Pekar, Harvey
Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Nonfiction
Harvey Pekar, the graphic novelist known at least nominally to many Americans thanks to Paul Giamatti's role in American Splendor, was a lifelong resident of Cleveland. This book is not just Pekar's autobiography, but an ode to his city and the many transformations it endured over a 70-year stretch. Cleveland's image has been smudged by the fiery Cuyahoga, an empty city core within a ring of populous suburbs, and the faux YouTube tourism videos that blurt "At least we're not Detroit!" Pekar touches on these stains, but shows that living in Cleveland had its priceless joys: street fairs, enormous bookstores and music stores, midnight movies, and world-class libraries and jazz and symphonies. When he wasn't entranced by the stacks, Pekar was writing or reading or listening to Diane Rehm. He enjoyed helping his wife in the garden, shooting the breeze with good friends, and chatting with the fans who knocked on his door. Such a portrait at once reminds us that Cleveland is so much richer than its tarnished image, and that life depends less on where you live and more on how you cultivate yourself and the folks around you.
Recommended by Rita, October 2013

 
Book Cover for Young House Love Petersik, Sherry
Young House Love

Nonfiction
If you're acquainted with the Young House Love blog, there's no need to read further: you're already a devotee of Sherry and John Petersik's exceedingly attractive yet budget-friendly tricks for home remodeling and design. This husband and wife, young as they are, have transformed not one, but two outdated Virginia ranch homes with the aid of fresh coats of paint, wise thrift-store shopping, key splurge purchases, and a lot of creativity. They love saving money so much and are so good at landscaping that they even had their wedding in the backyard. Most of the projects require zero special tools or expertise, and can be done in a few hours or a day. I don't buy books (I borrow them) but this one might make me break my rule.
Recommended by Rita, March 2013

 
Book Cover for My Beloved World Sotomayor, Sonia
My Beloved World

Nonfiction
This illuminating tale exposes Sonia Sotomayor’s tumultuous road to the Supreme Court. In 2009, Sotomayor was confirmed as the first Hispanic and the fourth woman Supreme Court Justice — but few people realize what she endured to earn such an honorable appointment. Sotomayor grew up poor in a Bronx housing project. Her parents fought constantly over her father’s alcoholism, their finances, and family responsibilities. Sotomayor explains these hardships in heartrending detail. The reader learns of Sotomayor’s childhood, including her enrollment in a Catholic school where she soon started to see the beginnings of her future scholastic success. This is followed with descriptions of her acceptance to Princeton University and her eventual ascent to the legal profession. One particularly compelling moment described in this autobiography stands out: as Sotomayor was finishing law school, a law partner at a recruiting dinner asked her, “Do you think you would have been admitted to Yale Law School if you were not Puerto Rican?” She calmly replied, “It probably didn’t hurt. But I imagine that graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton had something to do with it too.” Her steadfastness and courage to stand up for herself, coupled with intelligence and a drive to succeed, illustrate what it takes to rise to a position of authority.
Recommended by Karen G., March 2013

 
Book Cover for Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail Strayed, Cheryl
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Nonfiction
Travel can be educational — especially when one steps out of her comfort zone. Cheryl Strayed did just that when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail through three states by herself. Armed with a heavy backpack and a trail guide, the 26-year-old novice of a hiker encountered bears and rattlesnakes, heavy snows and rains, and wonderful fellow hikers (and a few not-so-nice ones). Cheryl’s recollections of her younger days are interspersed with tales of her traveling adventures, and that’s what makes this memoir so readable. Readers will learn how Cheryl’s emotional past led her on a downward spiral — and how hiking helped her to cope. As she traveled 1,100 miles, and gained strength in both body and spirit, she learned more about herself and her capabilities. This page-turner is engaging and honestly written and comes highly recommended.
Recommended by Karen G., April 2013

 
Book Cover for The Big Screen Thomson, David
The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies

Nonfiction
In The Big Screen, David Thomson captures the very essence of movie-going: the roles that movies have played in our lives and the experience of watching them — from early nickelodeons to today’s personal electronic devices. Instead of the expected flow of a year-by-year synopsis, Thomson masterfully organizes the content in engaging chapters. There are chapters dealing with just one movie (Brief Encounter) and just one director (Howard Hawks), while others have broader subjects (1930s Hollywood). A detailed index makes it easy for the reader to quickly find information about favorite movies, actors, or directors. While all years of cinematic history are discussed, special emphasis is placed on earlier productions. Thomson, a noted film scholar, has created a book perfect for fans of old-time cinema.
Recommended by Karen G., February 2013

 
Book Cover for How to Be Black Thurston, Baratunde
How to Be Black

Nonfiction
Written by The Onion digital director, this book is half-memoir, half-essay on contemporary race, and fully hilarious. The alternate title for this book was Post-Racial America is Some BS, and Other Thoughts on How to be Black. Thurston ties together stories from his own life — growing up in DC, attending Sidwell Friends School and then Harvard — with commentary on current events such as Barack Obama's election. He writes: “Through my story, I hope to expose you to another side of the black experience while offering practical, comedic advice based on my own painful lessons learned."
Recommended by Holly, May 2013

 
Book Cover for Superman: the Unauthorized Biography Weldon, Glen
Superman: the Unauthorized Biography

Nonfiction
I have to admit that I have never been a big fan of the Superman comics, but I am a fan of Glen Weldon, one of the co-hosts of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. When I heard that Weldon was writing a book on the history of Superman, I was a bit conflicted as to whether I wanted to read it, due to me not ever having read a Superman comic. In the end, I decided to give the book a read, and I was not disappointed that I did. Superman: the Unauthorized Biography traces the history of Superman from his creation to the latest Superman movie, released this year. The book takes a look not only at the history of the comic itself, but also at Superman's influence throughout pop culture. Weldon takes a fun and interesting approach to the Man of Steel. Even if you are not a fan of the Superman comics but are interested in pop culture I would recommend you pick up this book: it was a great and fun read.
Recommended by Katie, August 2013

 
Book Cover for Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Winterson, Jeanette
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Nonfiction
I’ve loved Jeanette Winterson’s work for a long time now. I love the breadth and depth of it. She’s able to write more experimentally, like in Written on the Body, in a more classic narrative style, like in The Passion, and she’s even written science fiction with Stone Gods. I find her language creative and gorgeous and powerful, and her explorations of human experience moving.

Reading her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, it’s amazing to me that she survived her childhood, let alone went on to produce such smart, loving work. I had some sense of how difficult her childhood was because I read her 1985 autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which won her the Whitbread Prize for a First Novel. She shares more in this memoir about how abusive her childhood was, and it really was. The title is what her mother said when Jeanette came out at 16, explaining to her mother that the girl that she was in love with made her happy. Her mother made her choose between living as a heterosexual or leaving home. Jeanette left home.

Winterson ended up living out of her car and going to university, and eventually got herself a scholarship to Oxford. She has written something like 18 works of fiction and short stories. She says on her website: “The books are the best of me. When people ask me why I write I tell them it's what I'm for. It really is as simple as that.” Two things are most powerful for me about her story: one, the power of books and the library in her life, and two, the ability that she and other people have to not just forgive people who’ve treated them badly, but to become generous people themselves. About books she says, among other amazing things in this memoir:

“Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.

I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed – that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.”

I think that this memoir is particularly special for fans of Winterson, but is a great read for pretty much anyone with a beating heart. It’d be difficult not to be interested in and moved by her story and her writing of it.
Recommended by Jude, January 2013

 
Book Cover for Call the Midwife Worth, Jennifer
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times

Nonfiction
Worth’s story is a recollection of her time living in a convent and working as a nurse and midwife in the poorest section of postwar London. Home births were the norm for women in the East End slums and Docklands area, and the Sisters of St. Raymond Nonnatus were well known and respected in the community for providing midwife and nursing care. While you’ll read about deliveries and complications of birth, what’s truly fascinating are the stories that illustrate the lives and conditions of the various women you encounter. What happens to the young pregnant prostitute? Or a woman who gives birth to a mixed race baby? The happiest family in the book seems to be a husband and wife with 24 kids. (Spoiler alert – the husband only speaks English and the wife only speaks Spanish!) And there’s the heartbreaking story of Mrs. Jenkins and the London workhouses. You meet the nuns: Sister Monica Joan whose temperament may or may not be a result of her old age, Sister Evangelina who seems unlikable except to the Cockney residents she serves, and the other midwives, such as Chummy, a clunky, large woman and good-hearted soul who is determined to ride a bike. You’ll find issues of acceptance, poverty, marriage, and family in all variations.
Recommended by Joanne, July 2013

 

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Mysteries

Book Cover for Pagan Spring Malliet, G. M.
Pagan Spring

Mysteries
In the small English village of Nether Monkslip, an unpopular new resident dies amidst mysterious circumstances. Max Tudor, a handsome former spy-turned-Anglican vicar, agrees to help the authorities solve the case. By using his keen sense of observation and acute listening skills, Max slyly persuades the possible suspects to share their stories and ideas. In this third and perhaps best contribution to the series, the reader becomes reacquainted with the well-illustrated village characters of the first two books, in addition to being introduced to new memorable personalities. Fans of Louise Penny and other literary mysteries will likely consider Pagan Spring to be a delightful page-turner.
Recommended by Karen G., December 2013

 

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Poetry

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Science Fiction

Book Cover for The Gone-Away World Harkaway, Nick
The Gone-Away World

Science Fiction
I bought this book at JFK airport without knowing anything about it. I just wanted something — anything — to help pass the time during my layover. It turned out to be the best purchase that I have ever made at an airport terminal; this book, and the tuna tartar on sesame rice crackers. (It’s true, I will eat sushi virtually anywhere.) Anyways, The Gone-Away World is post-apocalyptic sci-fi surreal awesomeness. You will follow this rag-tag team of misfits that are trying to save the world from “stuff”, the residual matter from a super mega-weapon of mass destruction. This book gets weird, like if-a-Vonnegut-novel-had-sex-with-a-Terry-Gilliam-film-and-then-raised-their-love-child-in-a-Dalí-painting kind of weird. There are Kung-fu battles and pirates. And ninjas too.
Recommended by Mel, May 2013

 
Book Cover for Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain Martinez, A. Lee
Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain

Science Fiction
Emperor Mollusk has spent his days conquering other worlds of the universe. Now this mad genius has decided to retire, and could not be more bored—that is, until half the universe, all at once, tries to destroy him. If you are looking for a great, funny, exciting science fiction read, then Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez is the book for you.
Recommended by Katie, April 2013

 

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Graphic Novels

Book Cover for Abelard Dillies, Renaud and Regis Hautiere
Abelard: a Magical Graphic Novel

Graphic Novel
A beautifully illustrated tale of a (French?) bird and bear who journey to America for very different reasons. Each counteracts the other, and so present a kind of extreme antithesis: the bear embodies a cynicism painted in brushstrokes of gloom and doom, while the bird emits a naïve optimism through love and light (levity? illumination?), pulling apt and eternal wisdom (literally) out of his hat at random. Artistically this book is gorgeous, but to put such profundity in this aesthetic context is to play a brilliant trick on an equally naïve reader: a book this beautiful shouldn't be this profoundly bittersweet. The irony continues within the story as well: how successful are we at navigating our world to accommodate a metaphysical stance? A smart, simple fable of life and the pursuit of all those leaves of greener grasses.
Recommended by Miguel, May 2013

 
Book Cover for March Lewis, John
March: Book One

Nonfiction
Arriving just in time for the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, this is the first in a trilogy by the illustrious congressman from Georgia, who was once a member of the "Big Six" - the most prominent leaders of the African-American civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This illustrated story, found in our graphic nonfiction collection, is much more than just an account of the march. It begins with Lewis's childhood, when he defied his parents in order to attend school and advance himself in many ways, despite poverty and racism. Through a series of flashbacks, Lewis matures as a student, a public speaker, and an advocate for social justice, taking us from the bloody 1965 march across the Selma Bridge, to earlier lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, to the first inauguration of President Barack Obama. The illustrations by Nate Powell are remarkable; if you enjoy his style and the subject of civil rights, don't miss the graphic novel The Silence of Our Friends.
Recommended by Rita, December 2013

 

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Short Stories

Rash, Ron
Nothing Gold Can Stay

Short Stories
These stories, all set in the fierce beauty of the North Carolina mountains, are literary gems. Rash’s cast of characters includes a struggling young couple who are willing to bet it all at a local casino, a pompous British folksong expert who meets his match in the backwoods, a convict on a chain gang who charms a sweet young thing at a remote farm and thinks he’s found his way out, and a frustrated accountant who decides to cure his sexual dysfunction with a homemade remedy using the paw of a freshly killed bear. Nothing works out the way these people expect, and that’s what makes these stories so delicious. And there’s another story here of a young woman who drowns in a river, and we see what she sees as she’s dragged down through the darkness. It’s tender and beautiful. Rash knows how to weave a tale, and these stories are haunting and tough. Can’t wait for his next collection.
Recommended by Jane, May 2013

 
Book Cover for The Last Girlfriend on Earth Rich, Simon
The Last Girlfriend on Earth: and Other Love Stories

Short Stories
This collection of stories is laugh-out-loud funny. The book is divided into 3 sections: "Boy Meets Girl" (stories about trying to start a relationship), "Boy Gets Girl" (stories about being in a relationship), and "Boy Loses Girl" (once the relationship is over). You'll never forget the story told from the point of view of a condom, or the canine "missed connections” — and why would you want to?
Recommended by Melissa, September 2013

 

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Horror

 

DVDS

Book Cover for Sleep Tight Balagueró, Jaume
Sleep Tight Mientras Duermes

DVD
Are you someone that can’t stand super-overly-positive people — someone that you see on a daily basis that is always perfectly happy? I’m referring to the perpetually perky type. Do these folks sometimes make your skin crawl? Or are you one of these eternally happy people and are curious as to how anyone on Earth could possibly ever want to harm a fellow optimist? If so, the psychological thriller Sleep Tight is your type of movie. As with most movies that I check out, I have no idea what they are about before I watch them. I can usually guess the genre by the cover, and maybe recognize an actor or two, but I prefer to dive in without knowing the temperature of the water. And you know what? — the water is lukewarm about 97% of the time. Yeah, I watch a lot of movies — I repeat: a LOT of movies — and I can only recommend a small percentage of them. I have tried keeping a list of every movie that I have watched, but then I stopped because it became clear just how much time I spend on my sofa (but that’s a conversation for another day). Back on track, I can recommend that you watch Sleep Tight. Cesar, the superintendent / doorman of a gorgeous art nouveau apartment building in Barcelona, is played by the actor Luis Tosar. Just plug his name in IMDB and do yourself a favor, watch all of it. Currently, he’s one of my favorite actors. Clara is the effortlessly attractive tenant, lovely, young, successful, happy, and always smiling. If one was to harbor feelings of attraction morphed into intense jealously that ultimately becomes full-blown psychopathic ultra-dysfunctional behavior, perhaps it would be the balding, single, middle-aged doorman that is confronted with the perfect Clara many times daily, every week, month, year. Perhaps if Clara could have toned down her outward exuberance towards life, things would have turned out differently. But then again, psychos will be psychos.
Recommended by Mel, September 2013

 
Book Cover for My Afternoons with Margueritte Becker, Jean (director)
My Afternoons with Margueritte

DVD
In a world devoid of love, Germain has been groping his way blindly. Functionally illiterate, knowledge eludes him. Meeting Margueritte during an introduction of pigeons in a park, the two share a friendly moment and the completion of an education. Margueritte is everything Germain is not: old, thin, poetic. The antithetical pair will redeem one another in ways that neither could ever anticipate. Margueritte will feel love, and Germain will feel brilliance. A perfect movie for those who believe in the power of language, and the inspiration of all kinds of love.
Recommended by miguel, February 2013

 
Book Cover for Road to Nowhere Hellman, Monte
Road to Nowhere

DVD
This movie falls into the 'I’m-not-sure-what-happened-but-I-know-that-I’ve-thoroughly-enjoyed-it' category. What I mean is that I kinda know what happens but I’m not gonna stress out about it. Will I watch this again? Probably not. Will I recommend this film? Yes, definitely. I would like you to watch this and tell me what you think happens because I never google for an explanation. I’m not the type of person who researches the meaning of stuff, especially movies. What I can tell you is that the Road to Nowhere is a movie about making a movie about a murder mystery that may actually be happening while it’s being filmed — possibly a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, all hinging on how beautifully mesmerizing the lead actress is and whether or not she is an actress portraying a character or is the actual person being portrayed. Honestly, I really don’t know. Nevertheless, this movie is memorable because the acting is believable, the production has that high-quality indie feel, and the story isn’t Hollywood-obvious (a.k.a. forced down your throat). And it’s true, the lead actress, Shannyn Sossaman (her name in real life), is absolutely mesmerizing. The Road to Nowhere is like a slow, sultry daydream that may or may not be happening. You will get lost in the drowsy midsummer confusion, but somehow this makes it all the more intriguing.
Recommended by Mel, July 2013

 
Book Cover for Valhalla Rising Refn, Nicholas
Valhalla Rising

DVD
I must admit something: I judge movies by their covers, and I rarely read the backs of DVD cases. So when I saw the cover of Valhalla Rising, I instantly knew that this was a film worth my time. The shirtless, tattooed Viking warrior definitely aroused my interest. When patrons ask me about this film, my first words are always, “It’s strange”. I realize how open-ended that reply is, so I’ll extrapolate a bit: it’s a strange and beautiful Viking journey that will leave you with more questions than answers. This may, in fact, be the intended plot. However, this does not bother me in the least. It’s a film that you just sit back, relax, and watch with your eyes and ears. The sound design is essential and builds serene and tense cinematic atmosphere, and along with the superb cinematography, makes this is a beautiful film. Now let me give you more adjectives beyond "strange" and "beautiful": tense, serious, violent, quite, silent, confusing, powerful, hypnotic, hallucinatory, and thoughtful. With minimal (I really mean minimal) dialogue, the focus of Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is the journey itself. I found harmony in the many moments of silence, and in the many moments of tension that carry the film from beginning to end.
Recommended by Mel, December 2013

 
Ruiz, Raúl
The Mysteries of Lisbon

DVD
Based on the novel Mistérios de Lisboa (1854) by Camilo Castelo Branco, this version, directed by Raúl Ruiz, is the theatrical adaptation of a mini-series originally aired on French television. The theatrical adaptation is a mere 272 minutes; that’s only five hours! I know, right! Totally doable. Sign me up. Having the apartment all to myself on a cloudy Monday, I declared my day off from work “International Couch and Cat Appreciation Day”. This was the day that I would finally tackle The Mysteries of Lisbon. It was my first experience hearing the Portuguese language. I was expecting it to sound similar to Spanish but I was amazed to hear it sounded more like a Slavic language. Intrigued by this, I googled “Portuguese sounds Slavic” and I’m not alone in this observation. I should research this further. I should learn to speak it myself. Anyways, I have a checklist when considering conquering an epic film adventure. One should not take epic-ness lightly. Over 4 hours in length? Check. Set in the greatest (the 18th) century? Check. Gorgeous costumes? Check. Subtitles? Check. Beautiful men like the actor Ricardo Pereira? Check and double check! Oh, and a twisted tale of an orphan trying to uncover his past that simply must span decades if not a lifetime? Check. So when folks ask me “Watched anything good recently?” this film is the first thing that comes to mind.
Recommended by Mel, April 2013

 
Webster, John
Recipes for Disaster

DVD
This documentary film affected me in the same way that Cradle to Cradle, Forks Over Knives, and Fast Food Nation did, by inspiring me to make demonstrable changes in my lifestyle. John Webster, an English speaker living with his wife and two boys in Finland, commits his family to a year without petroleum. That means no car or boat (until Webster discovers biofuels), no store-bought toothpaste, no food in plastic packaging, no new mascara, and lots of limits on other things previously taken for granted. (Webster does allow the family to keep plastics that had already been purchased, such as a toy or dishes.) Despite all of the family's sacrifices and the film's depressingly true statistics on climate change, there is great humor in this story, such as when Mom sneaks out of the house one night to purchase illicit snacks (packaged in plastic). Granted, it's probably easier to go petroleum-free in a country like Finland, but the family's ability to cut their usage by half is enough to spur Americans to take small but significant steps. The best reward is that the family spends much more time with each other and outdoors.
Recommended by Rita, April 2013

 
 

Zines

Layne, Vivienne (Editor)
Hijab: Empowerment or Oppression?

Nonfiction
I found this zine from 2007 when looking for zines about Muslim culture to offer as part of our Muslim Journeys activities this year. I discovered it during a visit to Barnard College’s zine library and received permission from the editor, Vivienne Layne, and Barnard’s zine librarian, Jenna Freedman, to add it to our zine collection here at CLP. This zine is really wonderful. Vivienne interviewed six other Muslim high school girls living in New York City like herself, three of whom were born here in the U.S. and three of whom were born in other countries. She asked them primarily about their thoughts and feelings about wearing, or not wearing, the hijab, or Muslim veil. Their perspectives are varied, which I think accurately reflects the complexity of the issue. Some of the girls found it freeing or empowering to wear the hijab. One young woman talks about advertising in the U.S. dictating “how a woman should be, ‘she should be thin, she should be tall, she should be you know a sex symbol’, they portray her as a sex symbol and that’s like just degrading a woman but in Islam you know it puts women in a very high place. When she’s covered it shows that she’s well respected, that you know she’s someone and not an anything, she’s not a sex symbol for you…” Another young woman says, “I don’t choose to wear it because I personally don’t need it to identify myself as a Muslim. I think I can be just as great a Muslim as one who does wear it.” She also asks the girls about reactions to women in veils after 9/11, the 2004 French ban on all forms of head coverings and their thoughts on a Muslim Barbie doll that wears a hijab. A wonderfully smart and enlightening zine! I have felt irritated when I hear people who are not Muslim women expressing their opinions on whether or not Muslim women should wear a veil, and I very much appreciated hearing these young women talk about making their own choices about it — for themselves.
Recommended by Jude, August 2013