Staff Favorites 2016
Ann - Joy and infectious playfulness enliven these thirty-some short, magically exquisite pieces. Most wonderful is Doyle’s recounting of his father’s delight in his sons’ Christmas and Easter performances at Saint John Vianney Grade School. It will have you, as his father says, “spitting your apple tea across the table.” This is a book that can brighten even the dreariest winter day.
Ann - From ants marching seemingly in lock step, to Native American footpaths that are now interstate highways, to his own trek on the Appalachian Trail, Moor’s examination of the trails that spider-web the earth is vast and fascinating.
Ann - This recounting of the Bataan Death March and World War II is not an easy read, but it is powerful, fair, and meticulously told.
Tim - What happens when war leaks outside of the clear bounds we pretend exist? What does this do to democracy? And, more importantly, what does it do to us? Fine reportage from this era of perpetual low-level war, ever-present but far removed from our day-to-day lives.
Tim - An oldie but a goodie. Short, no-nonsense mystery with plenty of lovely atmospheric detail regarding monastic and rural Welsh life in the 12th century. The characters are full, real, and flawed, and their relationships are the backbone of this story.
Tim - Most military sci-fi casts the main character in the mold of the classic Hero. Hints of that are here, but it’s refreshing to see something told from a basic enlistee-level grunt, even as it spans from urban slums to the stars. Realistic detail, moral struggle, and suspense make for a delicious read.
Dave - If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for the fetus when mom is experiencing as much, if not more, intimate attention than is wanted at the moment, McEwan provides the answer through his narrator, the most precocious unborn in literature. Dryly humorous and poignant, McEwan gives us an incisive, talking and hearing being who misses nothing that mom, dad, and dad’s odious brother are doing while he/she bobs around in amniotic fluid, itching to get out and make things right.
Dave - This pile of Christopher Hitchens’ essays written in the decade before his death reminded me of his nasty wit and how few English language words I know. In one, he tips his hat to Charles Dickens while also making it clear the great man was all wet when writing about religion: “… with some of his less imposing and more moistly sentimental prose scenes in A Christmas Carol, (Dickens) took the Greatest Birthday Ever Told and helped make it into the near Ramadan of protracted obligatory celebration now darkening our Decembers.”
Dave - Many of us from this part of the world don’t recognize the citizens of the country who voted for Trump. Theroux’s account helps. Avoiding cities, he wanders through backwaters, talking and listening. What his readers get is an awakening, but one we expect when reading about, say, Mozambique. Over and over, we learn about trailer parks, gracious citizens, gun shows, and that running water is a luxury. But we don’t learn why the Gates Foundation has never been seen down there. Reading Deep South and what it says about the Trump phenomenon causes me to hope Theroux will next profile working class white men from, say, Ohio.
John - “Wilderness is not my leisure or recreation. It is my sanity.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams. With grace and passion, Williams brings her extraordinary gifts as a writer, naturalist and activist to these soulful, incisive and inspiring meditations. From Maine’s Acadia National Park to Cesar Chavez National Monument in California, she fuels the diversity of her subjects with an equally compelling array of viewpoints, often casting the value of these places in light of what threatens them. I feel deeply grateful to have crossed paths with this book.
John - This absorbing novel of exploration, love and adventure is based on an Alaska expedition in the late 1800s. Beautifully written and reflecting thorough research, it alternates viewpoints between newlyweds: an army colonel on an expedition deep into the heart of a Yukon-like river valley; and the wife who waits for him, finding solace in the pursuit of photography. Both places are haunted by a shape-shifting that occurs when the border between human and animal realms blurs, and a mysterious old Indian in a top hat presides over the strong presence of native culture. This book is a winner!
John - Gifted with fluency in both literature and medicine, brilliant young neurosurgeon Kalanithi was uniquely poised to articulate his moving insights on what makes human life meaningful in the face of mortality—his patients’ as well as his own. Spurred by a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer to write the book, Kalanithi beautifully charts his struggle to reconcile his many accomplishments and early plans with what lay ahead for him and his wife. As he writes, “The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.” His courageous, lucid witnessing bears lessons for us all.
Susan - In 1943, Meridian Wallace leaves her ornithological studies to marry her physics professor and head for Los Alamos and the atomic bomb project. Trapped in a government town with other highly educated wives of scientists, she struggles to keep her passion for birds alive by studying desert crows. Her friendships are few, strained and heartbreaking, and her husband is obsessed with a job about which he cannot talk. A meditation on ambition, love, identity and sacrifice at a time when women were beginning to dream of lives beyond housekeeping, this is a stunning debut, with wonderful characters and a story I didn't want to end!
Susan - Mary Browning, eighty-seven, has spent much of her life hiding her past, haunted by fading memories of family and an exceptional career as a daring pilot in World War II. When fifteen-year-old Elyse joins Mary’s octogenarian writing group at the local library, she ignites Mary’s desire to tell her story. Elyse has problems of her own, but when Mary hires her to record her story, they form a friendship that leads them to discover the joys of second chances and the unique powers of forgiveness. This will be a great book group read, especially for those who enjoyed The Boston Girl or Circling the Sun!
Susan - An antique map found in a bistro wall is at the heart of this exceptional addition of Penny's Gamache series. Gamache uses the map as a project for a group of cadets at the Surite Academy. When one of the lecturers is murdered with a copy of the map in his rooms, Gamache himself becomes a suspect. Old tensions between Gamache and his former police colleages compound the questionable circumstances surrounding the death of a man everyone seems to have hated. Once again Penny weaves a wonderful story of compassion and ultimate forgiveness amidst the quirky characters of Three Pines!
Rodie & Ranae - This novel, based on Texas frontier history, is my favorite work by a grea author. In 1870, curmudgeonly, 71-year-old Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is hired to return a 10-year-old orphan named Johnanna to family in South Texas. Kidnapped by Kiowa raiders, raised as their own and subsequently rescued by the army, Johanna has no memory of her white past and tries to escape at every opportunity. Despite this, she begins to trust the "Kep-dun" and a bond is formed. Arriving in San Antonio, Captain Kidd finds he must make a terrible decision about Johanna's fate. With wonderful prose and wonderful characters, this book is a heart-grabber!
Rodie - This is a taut thriller about a 19th century whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Vivid narrative and an utterly terrifying killer will make you forget everything going on around you. Think Cormac McCarthy at minus 50 degrees below!
Jane - Young John Lewis lived on a small family farm in the rural South, where he took care of the chickens. John has a vision of becoming a preacher who would inspire people and change lives. He began to practice giving sermons to his captive audience, the chickens. The chickens seemed to like it, and so his career began. Today, he is known as the towering civil rights leaderJohn Lewis, Congressman from Georgia. This captivating story is illuminated with glorious watercolors from award-winning illustrator E.B. Lewis. Aimed for kids, but lots for adults to ponder and enjoy, this book is beautiful, compelling and quite special. Ages 5-8.
Jane - With brilliant writing and astonishing storytelling, this debut novel is not to be missed. An unflinching, intimate tale of women both free and enslaved during the years surrounding the Civil War, it is narrated by the ghost of an escaped slave who hovers near her daughter throughout the story. Their parallel stories intertwine to capture the terrors, frustrations, injustices, and enduring hopes of the women in that era. Book groups will find much to discuss with this great novel for our times.
Jane - In her role as an NPR host, Tippett has forged an enviable career of interviewing thinkers and visionaries of our time, all in the pursuit of wisdom. Through insightful discussions with philosophers, poets, scientists, theologians, activists, and many others, she teases out unique and profound perspectives on life’s most perplexing issues. In this time of intense societal change, Krista gently and gracefully explores how to recognize the basic philosophical tenets of love and understanding that make us uniquely human. Beautifully written, this book is a must-read.
Charysse - This is an enchanting story about a town ruled by sorrow and fear, a little girl raised by a witch, and a mother who never stopped searching. Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Everyday wonder mixes with myth and magic in delicious prose, in a story that can cast a spell on anyone. Explore the tenuous and unbreakable bonds between people, the determination to fight for the light even when there is sorrow. This is a truly moving and beautiful book. Ages 10-14.
Charysse - Straddling the line between myth and history, this fairy tale brings frost demons, magic, and intuition to life in medieval Russia. A girl follows her mother’s line with magic talents and is sought by two demons, both born of cold, but one of darkness and one of mystery. A priest is deceived by the darkness. Meet women with secrets, and a family trying to survive. The constant adventure and rich language will keep you turning the pages.
Charysse - How can you change the future without remembering the past? In the final book of the Tearling Trilogy, Johansen leads us down the unexplored timelines and history of the Tear. Finally learning the secrets held by this land and its people, Kelsey Glynn hurtles toward a conclusion that leaves the reader breathless. As with the first two books, this is not a novel for the faint of heart. The realities of war, violence, and trauma are ever present in this realistic fantasy. But you won’t want to turn away from Kelsey as she pushes relentlessly onward.
Caitlin - Though relations between religious affiliations in the U.S. have a tricky and complicated history, a hallmark of this country has been its tolerance of the differences. However, there are instances when extremism has motivated horrific actions. Krakauer focuses on a double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalists claiming the command of God, creating a gripping narrative that provides a chilling and illuminating look, not only into this double murder but into the Mormon religion and the descent from religious belief into fanaticism and delusion.
Caitlin - The Civil War was one of the most crucial periods in our nation’s history. Horrific and devastating, it reverberated through every aspect of American life. With detailed research and an abundance of evidence, Faust provides a harrowing glimpse at a previously overlooked repercussion of the war by focusing on how the violence and massive death toll shattered the fundamental understanding and acceptance of death and dying on the part of ordinary people. I was profoundly engaged and humbled by this perceptive look into the words and lives of a people so profoundly altered.
Caitlin - I’ve always had a weakness for haunted houses, and Priest has created a thrilling tale of a haunted house from the engaging perspective of Dahlia Dutton, the daughter and employee of a Salvage company commissioned to strip and take over Winthrow Estate. Dahlia is well-rounded and versatile woman— sharp, sassy and in-charge. With a storyline of twists and turns, Priest gives readers a haunting story of a house empty but not abandoned, full of memories and anger. The gothic feel of this book reminds me of that great Shirley Jackson classic, The Haunting of Hill House.
Jo - Munroe (What If?) explains vastly complex concepts, such as rockets and datacenters and plate tectonics, using only the thousand — or “hundred hundred” — most common words in the English language, combined with his trademark tidy line-drawings and a dash of dry humor. Not only is it educational, but it provides a thoughtful approach to language as well as technology. A beautiful and invaluable addition to any library.
Jo - This is sort of an urban fantasy ghost story, a bunch of little stories in the existence of a wandering ghost of the roads. All of them interlink into a greater narrative, and all have a sort of empathy at their heart which I find immensely touching. It’s been a long time since I cried over a book, but the beautifully bittersweet notes in this one hit me perfectly in the heart. A stand-alone novel that can easily fit into an afternoon, this is well worth falling into.
Jo - This compulsively readable fantasy is grounded in a world that displays all the trademarks of Novik’s thoughtful world building. Fairy tale elements are key, from the dark and pervasive Wood, to the Dragon in his tower and, at the center, a young woman just coming into magic in ways that no one, even herself, expects. The characters are wonderfully human in their relationships, and the magic never feels forced or unnatural. All in all, this is a fabulous read, and I love it. A lot.
Emma - A fierce, understated post-apocalyptic work that never slows down or ignores the human sides of tragedy
Emma - A joyful and genius ride! An epic treasure hunt that manages to invoke both wonder and nostalgia.
Emma - A collection of imaginative short stories by a master of the form and a truly elegant writer.
Alison - 2016 Favorite
Alison - 2016 Favorite
Alison - 2016 Favorite
Brendie - 2016 Favorite
Brendie - 2016 Favorite
Brendie - 2016
Brown’s all-encompassing account of the UW crew who won gold at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics will have you postponing the dog’s bath and putting off dinner preparations in order to read just one more chapter. It describes the individual oarsmen, all students from working class families who can barely afford each year’s tuition. It explains the strategies involved in racing. It recounts rivalries between Washington and Berkley crews and those between the East coast elite and the upstarts from the West. As the story progresses and a trip to the Olympics seems possible, there’s the tension of selecting the perfect crew. And of course there’s Berlin, with Hitler and Goebbels determined to impress the world with a seemingly utopian Germany. All in all it’s an exciting and totally satisfying read. ~ Ann, Alison, Kathie, Rodie, and John
You don’t have to be a dog lover or a devotee of E. B White to delight in this collection of essays and correspondence from 1929 to 1984. Rather than being saccharine when writing about the dogs he obviously loved, or acerbic when expressing his opinions on the politics of the day, White shared astute, down-to-earth observations of his world and did so with charming—sometimes disarming—wit. From stoic yet tender remembrances of pets lost to a priceless tongue-in-cheek letter to the IRS, this is an engaging scrapbook, not to be missed.
On an island off British Columbia, a washed up parcel is found that contains a Hello Kitty lunchbox, two diaries, letters, and a watch once owned by a Kamikaze pilot. Thus is set in motion a tale that is truly in a class by itself, a proverbial cabinet of wonders. Having two main characters—a teenage Japanese schoolgirl and a writer in Canada—Ozeki’s work reinvents the novel as a form, its many brilliant facets illuminating topics that include Zen, bullying, quantum theory, and suicide. A 104-year-old Buddhist nun, an enigmatic father and a forbearing husband bolster a marvelous supporting cast. Ozeki, author of the great novels My Year of Meats and All Over Creation, has hit another one clean out of the park. ~ ~ John, Kathie, Jane