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Staff Favorites 2015
Ann - This story of love and loss and a promise kept is exquisitely told and a joy to read.
Tim - After Ferguson’s wife dies in an accident while canoeing—the very act for which they both shared a great love—he embarks on a journey to scatter her ashes in five wild locations they both loved. What follows is an intimate look at one man’s relationship to the land, and how that influenced his relationship with his wife. Unsurprisingly, he has a keen eye for describing the world as he paddles and hikes through it, but equally poignant are his descriptions of grief, love, and his human relationships. A soulful book, beautifully written.
John - A powerful account of love and landscape, this was the most moving book I read in 2015.
Ann - The balance and back-and-forth of the two stories—a blind girl and a German boy—could have been choppy and distracting, but Doerr manages it superbly. The result is a smooth and fascinating story of World War II.
Alison - A suicide, a murder or two, and a cast of complicated characters in a very dysfunctional family—all add up to another satisfying, multi-layered mystery solved by Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers!
Rodie - An explanation of aging, death, and the reality of those subjects in America, as well as how the medical profession has lost sight of caring for our aging population.
René - Blackhouse is among the first books in what we are calling Tartan Noir: Mysteries that take place in Scotland. This one inaugurates a series of books featuring Fin Macleod, a detective with a troubled past (all the best detective stories have those!) Dark, atmospheric, grisly, these Isle of Lewis novels will keep you up way past your bedtime!
Susan - Anita Diamant (The Red Tent) tells the story of a plucky young woman of immigrant parents who makes her way amidst the teeming multicultural North End of Boston in the early twentieth century. She becomes an astonishing role model for her granddaughter who asks her "How did you become the woman you are?" A wonderfully heartwarming and inspiring novel!
Kathie - If you loved Isak Dinesen’s classic memoir Out of Africa like I did, you will be happy to know you can go back to that same time and place. McLain, best selling author of The Paris Wife, brings us the story of famous aviator Beryl Markham, beginning with her early years in Africa. Once again I am mesmerized by her talented storytelling of this very strong character and gorgeous setting of Africa. Paula McLain does it again. This is my favorite book of the year!
René - It’s hard to believe that this is Tim Johnston’s debut; it is one of the most gripping suspense novels I have read in a very long time. A young woman goes missing in the Rockies, while her brother is
right there with her. His inability to give any answers as to how she disappeared leaves the family completely bereft and unable to move on. What happens in the background when no one is looking is chilling.
Charysse - Walker delivers a suspenseful yet thoughtful novel about body acceptance and living life as a woman. I fell in love with Plum Kettle and her journey to finding a life worth living. With an unflinching look at misogyny and its impact on society, this is an essential read for anyone. Discussion of sexual assault and exploitation in pornography may be intense, but is central to the plot and illuminates the war on women. This is guaranteed to make you think.
Rodie - Atmospheric, steamy, gripping. A book to lose yourself in, this is my favorite novel of the year!
Charysse - Magic, mayhem, and travel between parallel universes to battle your other self? Yes, please! Ages 12-18.
Alison - A quiet boy, a lonely ghost and two other outcasts form a group and a bond in this lovely story about bullying and the power of friendship and connection. Ages 10-13.
Jane - This is a romp of a good novel. Stewart, (The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Plants), came across the idea in newspaper stories while researching another book. Set in New Jersey during Prohibition times, it has gangsters, a tried and true sheriff, and, of course, damsels in distress—but what powerful and entertaining damsels! You will love it.
Susan - This stunningly written story of author Macdonald’s journey through grief and despair, guided by a recalcitrant, single-minded young goshawk, is an inspiration to us all. Mabel is not your typical bloodthirsty bird! I rooted for Mabel from start to finish!
John - Working through grief over her father’s sudden death, Macdonald plunges into the training of a goshawk, a raptor with a reputation for difficulty when it comes to handling by humans. As we get to know Mabel, her hawk, as an individual and a species member, Macdonald’s lyrical and insightful account brings us into the lore of the ancient pursuit of falconry. I found it especially thrilling to witness Macdonald’s growth and understanding amid the despairs and breakthroughs of her work with this starkly powerful bird.
Victoria - One visionary German naturalist traveled the world in the early 1800s, and single-handedly reshaped our relationship to the natural world, influencing science and even today’s environmental movement. This fabulous read takes you on Alexander von Humboldt’s journey, sharing meals with Goethe or slogging through the perilous jungles of South America, with jaguars, snakes, strange blossoms, and fantastic fruit. Wonderful armchair travel, and delightful true story-telling!
Charysse - A wonderful second novel in a science fiction/fantasy series with a strong and intriguing female protagonist and a provocative premise concerning humanity and its future.
Brendie - I like Sarah Vowell. She’s the deadpan wiseacre cracking jokes in class who aces the test and carries a biography of Ben Franklin in her backpack. Her love of history shines in this hilarious and insightful look at our nation through the eyes of one of its first celebrities, the Marquis de Lafayette. On his grand 1820s tour of the 24 states, the former general found marching bands and a lot of merchandise with his face on it. He also found a country trying to stay together as its revered founders faded into memory and its cultural divides seemed deeper than ever. Few books explore the ideals that hold Americans together with the warmth and wit of this one.
John - In the story of Ursula, her main character, Atkinson has given us a hugely marvelous novel. Ursula's multiple deaths between 1910 and 1967 beautifully illustrate both the writer’s craft and the avenues presented by fate and even the smallest of life's decisions. Encompassing the history of a family in an English country home, as well as London during the Blitz and Hitler’s inner circle in Germany, Ursula’s tale brings one closer to the possible resonances between one’s daily life and the larger events of one’s time. Life After Life is a puzzle that delights, kaleidoscopically brilliant and a satisfying adventure to read.
Rodie - Evocative, tender, brutal and disturbing. Masterful writing. Haunting!
Victoria - The superlative pictures alone make this book a must-have for any serious admirer of avian life. But dig into the inspiring essays, and you’ll be hooked. I loved the delicious bits from Barbara Kingsolver, who came reluctantly to a love of birds, and from John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, on how birds can save the world.
Ann - This novel of a man stranded on Mars was well researched and unfolds in increasingly exciting detail. Thus, while I read it, the dishes remained unwashed, the beds unmade, and the laundry unsorted.
Caitlin - Weir’s debut novel combines a hilarious personality with genius know-how to create his main character, Mark Watney. Fast-paced and magnetic, this book made me both hold my breath and laugh out loud. Remember, duck tape is magic and should be worshipped.
Victoria - #tRuth! Who could not love this bio of an awesome Supreme? Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life as a lawyer (and teacher), culminating in her appointment to the Supreme Court, is told in a hip-hop meld of scrapbook and good reporting. Her steady and ultimately remarkable story is well told here, ably aided by the tributes in cartoon, tattoos, Halloween costumes, and genuine affection from across generations
Susan - Haruf’s tender and loving swan song reminds us that it is never too late for love, warmth and friendship... in spite of gossips and seemingly well-meaning relations.
Tim - A quick, incisive, and engaging look at the decline of “traditional” religions in the face of Christianity.
Jo - The first of a four-book series, this is a YA novel about a girl with a curse and a group of boys looking for a dead Welsh king. Where those two coincide is a glorious catastrophe of an adventure. Stiefvater’s prose is beautiful and she has a rare gift for the inexplicable yet perfectly appropriate metaphor. I love her way with words, and the story really shines in her wonderfully spiky characters fitting into each other and learning about friendship, sacrifice, and the ways magic speaks in the world. Ages 13-17.
Tim - Creative, engrossing speculative fiction at its best.
Alison - Here is the Robin Hood and Maid Marian story as you have never heard it before, with amazing writing that takes you to the shadowy woods and the dark castle where sinister magic happens! Ages 14 & up.
Caitlin - Combining investigative journalism and personal observation, Colbert explores the world's five crucial and chaotic extinction events, and presents an ongoing sixth event, the Holocene Extinction. While applying the latest scientific data and theory, Kolbert maintains an informative and engaging narrative. She does not attempt to downplay either the situation on which she reports or her own responses in creating a satisfying and rewarding read. Highly recommended for fans of fiction and nonfiction alike!
Jo - This is the first in a series, yet stands on its own. It’s a cozy little mystery set in and around a college campus, and one of the main characters happens to be a perfectly well-mannered skeleton who sets out to solve his own decades-past murder and find answers about his identity with the help of his best friend, a mild-mannered English teacher. The plot kept me interested, and though I didn’t manage to predict the end, in retrospect, all the pieces were there. It was genuinely fun to read, difficult to put down, and perfectly sized for an afternoon's reading.
Jane - Can an octopus have conscious thoughts? Can it play, make friends, show emotions? It turns out that these odd, slimy creatures are extraordinarily intelligent animals with personalities, and, in captivity, develop personal relationships with people. Montgomery captures the spirits of the octopi she befriends at the New England Aquarium. Whether an octopus has a soul is up for debate, but what it can teach us about ourselves and our relationship to others is profound. Put down your skepticism and pick up this book—you’ll be amazed. It has changed my attitude toward animals in general, but especially the comely octopus!
Tim - It’s virtually impossible to do Rome in one book, let alone make it informative and interesting, but the ever-impressive Beard manages it with aplomb.
Jane - From author of The Untethered Soul comes this incredible memoir. At a young age, Singer decided to practice a lifetime of non-resistance. Whatever situation came to him, he said yes, and “stepped in.” As a result, he built a powerful and resilient intentional community in Florida, as well as a multi-billion dollar software business. His story is not to be taken lightly, and provides a few ideas for the path that each of us takes in this life
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, one I cannot recommend enough.
Caitlin - Strayed held nothing back when she wrote this memoir. Her brutal honesty and heart-wrenching quotes caused me to love a book in a genre I usually don’t frequent. This book drew me in with its straightforward writing style and the author’s journey both outward and inward.
Caitlin - Effectively combining historical research and an engaging narrative, Schiff creates a book where fact and storytelling intertwine making this book both informative and captivating. It reads as suspence-filled fiction, yet shows an unfliching look at the real terror and bad blood circulating in Salem township.