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Tara's Picks

Book Cover for Sleepwalk with Me Atkinson, Kate
Case Histories

The first book in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series gives us a memorable and sensitive detective worth rooting for, and three intricate, involving mysteries for the price of one. Private detective Brodie (an ex-cop and ex-husband) is hired to investigate three separate cold cases—two disappearances and one murder. In turn, he is hired by a father to find his daughter’s killer, two squabbling sisters looking for their sister who disappeared when they were children, and a young woman looking for her runaway niece. All three cases create an overall portrait of family dysfunction and cruel fate. Although the mysteries and their resulting conclusions are satisfying in their own right, it is the very human and damaged characters that give this book its emotional heft and make it a mystery worth checking out, even for those who are not typically fans of the genre.
Recommended July 2011

Book Cover for Revolution Unferth, Deb Olin
Revolution: The Year I Fell In Love and Went to Join the War

It's 1987, and college freshman Debbie is so enamored of her new Marxist-quoting boyfriend George that she drops out of college to travel with him to Central America. What follows is a tender, honest, and painfully funny account of the idealism of youth and the banality of revolutionary life. The author and her increasingly disappointed boyfriend travel from Guatemala to El Salvador and finally to Nicaragua. They occasionally take up odd “revolutionary jobs,” but mostly just hang out and argue politics with fellow revolutionary tourists, and occasionally suffer from food poisoning. Surprisingly warm and moving, the story is less about the revolution of countries and more about the slow, inevitable, and not totally revolutionary changes that take place as memories become unreliable and adulthood starts to stake its claim.
Recommended June 2011

Rabin, Nathan
My Year of Flops: One Man's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure

Nathan Rabin, a writer for the Onion's A.V. Club, has long specialized in writing about the dregs of popular culture in his columns "Direct-To-DVD Purgatory" and "My Year of Flops." The book My Year of Flops: One Man's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure collects some of Rabin’s best writing, as he chronicles cinematic failures past and present, covering classics such as Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and Cleopatra, as well as newer stinkers like Battlefield Earth, Gigli, The Love Guru, and Elizabethtown. The point of the book is not, however, to kick a bad movie while it’s down. The truly great thing about Nathan Rabin’s writing is that he clearly loves cinema, and so is not merely engaging in schadenfreude. He obviously loves the films he gingerly pokes fun at, even while watching films like the 2001 comedy Freddy Got Fingered, and gasping with open-mouthed glee, ”how did this movie even get made, let alone released.” This book is a true treat for lovers of awful cinema, or anyone who has ever been giddy over what Rabin enthusiastically refers to as, "toxic buzz, noxious press, and scathing reviews."
Recommended May 2011

Book Cover for Drinking at the Movies Wertz, Julia
Drinking at the Movies

Graphic Nonfiction
Julia Wertz has a bad attitude and a knack for getting into trouble, or, as she herself claims, “I attract chaos and people who sleep in garbage.” Reading her comics is a cathartic experience. She has an elegant way of stating all the witty (and filthy) observations that most people are either too polite or too repressed to utter out loud. Drinking at the Movies, Miss Wertz’s third foray into graphic memoir, chronicles her big move from the dirty streets of San Francisco, to the cleaner (but slightly meaner) streets of Brooklyn, NY. Over the course of a year in New York, Julia lives in four different sketchy apartments, works seven different dead-end jobs, engages in all matter of debauchery, and tries to figure out the whole growing up business. This is not your typical coming-of-age narrative however, as there is no redemptive arc—the narrative happily starts and ends with sloppy, drunken behavior, and throughout Julia remains the same old curmudgeon and prankster we have grown to love. It's not a pretty story, but it certainly is funny.
Recommended March 2011

Book Cover for A Visit From the Goon Squad Egan, Jennifer
A Visit From the Goon Squad

"Time's a goon, right?" This is the question asked by Bosco, a once incomparable punk rocker (think Iggy Pop), now obese, depressed, and heavily medicated in his Soho apartment. In any other novel, Bosco might be a main character, but in Egan's latest, he is merely one of a number of casualties of that perplexing goon, time. Other victims include womanizing music mogul Lou and his wayward children, the failed marriage of ex-punks Bennie and Stephanie, Bennie's kleptomaniac assistant Sasha, failed movie ingénue Kitty Jackson (a stand-in, I imagine, for both Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears), and many other friends, relatives, co-workers, and children. Time is kind to almost no one in this novel, but it is still fascinating (if occasionally painful) to discover how the characters travel from A to B, while trying to keep dignity and humanity intact. Not unlike a great, dystopian rock album, chapters in Goon Squad read like disparate songs, until by the end, the themes of time, disappointment, aging, and addiction come together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Recommended February 2011

Book Cover for Local Wood, Brian

Graphic Novel
These 12 graphic short stories follow the young wanderer Megan McKeenan as she drifts across America and the extended childhood of her twenties. Each story represents a year spent living in a different city, as she takes on dead-end jobs, gets into unhealthy relationships, deals with sketchy apartments and roommates, and finally finds her own sense of peace and home.
Recommended January 2011

Book Cover for Faithful Place French, Tana
Faithful Place

I’m not normally a fan of mysteries, but I’ve addictively read each of Tana French’s three novels. This is the third in a series of finely written books loosely linked to the Dublin Murder Squad, and by my account, probably the best. Lieutenant Frank Mackey has not returned to his rough, working class neighborhood of Faithful Place for 22 years. After the supposed disappearance of his childhood sweetheart Rosie, Frank had abandoned his toxic family to become an undercover cop. Now, years later, Rosie’s remains have been found and Frank must return to his neighborhood, and his family. Like French’s first two novels, Faithful Place has less to do with the central mystery than with memory, and the re-opening of long-forgotten wounds. Readers looking for a quick, addictive read filled with dark secrets and well-drawn, hardscrabble characters will probably read this in a couple sittings.
Recommended November 2010