February Staff Picks

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Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
A fictional account of Mary Anning and her discoveries of fossilized skeletons along the English Coast.  The science-focused part of the story once again shows how a woman was discounted for her discoveries of new species, while men took the credit for her work.  The other plot deals with Anning’s friendship with Elizabeth Philpot.  As far as the development of their friendship, the author takes the reader through the gamut of emotions as the two women work their way around differences in class, age and education. Great book. (It was interesting that a few weeks later I read The Essex Serpent, where Mary Anning gets mentioned by the main character who strives to find something new.)
–Mary

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
It is a wonderful read, and this book has already been made into a movie series. We are watching Season One now, with Season two to be out in April on Amazon or other streams, a Sundance production.

It is a historical/romance/drama/fiction all rolled into one. It’s 400+ pages but an excellent exciting read about 21st century witches, daemons and vampires trying to find their origins in order to survive.
–Sandra

The Girls by Emma Cline
This novel is a thinly veiled retelling of the Manson family and murders.  Evie, who was a teenager the summer she fell in with a group of girls at a ranch in California, reflects on her time there as a middle-aged woman.  What’s so affecting about this novel is how spot-on Cline is with the experience of being a girl–the expectations and grievances, the assaults and pressures, the attempts to find oneself.  It’s got a compelling style and a strong sense of character in Evie.
–Marie

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January Staff Picks

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Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
Louise, broke and single and aimless, has a chance encounter with Lavinia, a rich and flamboyant party and society girl.  The two quickly form an intense and unhealthy friendship.  There are echoes of The Talented Mr. Ripley (way more than just an echo, actually) and The Great Gatsby, only with more insufferable young literary men and social media references.  Our society’s obsession with social media is a huge part of the narrative–lives lived for posting, scenes set up to share, friendship and admiration exhibited in “likes.”  And, as in society, social media is used for nefarious purposes.  In all a quick and compelling read with not many likeable characters, but fun all the same in a “what happens next” way.
–Marie

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti
A nonfiction account of one of the fastest and strongest hurricanes to hit the Northeast; one that changed the landscape from the creation of the Moriches inlet on Long Island to the complete devestation of the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast line. It held my interest both from the tales of the survivors and the awkard beginnings of the national weather service. With all the technology available today, we forget that there was a timre when the weather forecasts relied on the reports from ships at sea. When those ships heed the warnings to stay in port, there is no way to determine rhe change and direction of a storm system such as this one.
–Mary

November Staff Picks

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Dwight Garner, in his New York Times review of Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, described her writing as being “like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood.”  That’s too perfect a description for me to top.  This novel is about a young woman who decides she’s going to check out of society and hibernate for a year–and she does so with the help of dozens of different medications, planning to never spend more than a few hours at a time awake.  The story follows that year, and fills in some background, all while showcasing Moshfegh’s compellingly disturbing style and black humor.  She likes to get under the skin, and to get into the raw physicality of her descriptions.  These characters aren’t likable at all, but they’re sure morbidly fascinating!
–Marie

June Staff Picks

Hello Readers! Cayla will be updating the staff picks section while Marie is on maternity leave.

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Here are some picks from June:

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Once again, Anthony Horowitz plots murder with a light touch.  In The Word Is Murder, the narrator, named Anthony Horowitz, creator of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders (as is the real Horowitz), finds himself entangled with Detective Daniel Hawthorne, who served as a consulting expert for the television programs.  Hawthorne has been recently fired but is determined to restore his good name by solving a murder and writing a book about it—but since Hawthorne is not a writer, he has decided to draft Horowitz for the job.  Thus Horowitz finds himself an intrigued but not eager Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes.   While not as tightly written as Magpie Murders, it’s an enjoyable “summer read.” – Diane

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

I’ve just about finished Carlo Rovelli’s brief (just 86 pages) but engaging Seven Brief Lessons on Physics , in which he tackles the core ideas of modern physics.  Like a sampling of exquisite appetizers, it makes me want to bite into something more, so when I’ve finished this, I might have to read something by Feynman or Hawking and really dig in! – Diane

I’ve been getting more and more into audiobooks, but I’m not the “I’m going on a long trip, so I need an audiobook”-sort of listener; I’m a sit-and-listen listener. I just finished Blackstone Audio’s version of Middlemarch read by Nadia May (she’s very good!) and BBC Audio’s Brideshead Revisited read by Jeremy Irons (need I say he’s good, too?).  These are both books I’ve read and loved, but in coming back to them in audio versions, I discovered new texture (and humor!) that I hadn’t found before. – Diane

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This is a fabulous and dark story set in a fictional West African country, where half the population has magic, and half do not. The non-magical people are in control, and magic has been all but crushed from existence. As a child, Zelie watched as her mother was murdered by the king’s guards for being a powerful maji. Zelie is what is known as a Diviner – a person with stark white hair who has the magic in her blood. But since the Raid, no one’s magic is awakened, and no true maji exist. Her life consists of secretly training in combat while barely containing her rage and desire for retribution against the guards and the king.
Amari is the princess of Orisha, raised in seclusion and trained in courtly manners but also in combat. When her beloved handmaiden and only friend Binta is killed by Amari’s father, she snaps and makes a rash decision that will alter the course of her life and the future of her country.
When Amari, hotly pursued by the whole of the royal guard (headed by Amari’s own brother!), runs smack into Zelie, they realize that perhaps their missions can align. The two wildly different young women set off on a quest to restore magic to Orisha forever.
This was a dark and powerful book. The violence is uncompromising but realistic. I struggled through the romance parts, but it redeemed itself from cliche at the end. The characters are unique and complex. The ending was simply stunning, both in writing and in the plot. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is due out in March. The author’s note speaks of Adeyemi’s inspiration for writing the book, watching everything going on recently with the tragic deaths of unarmed young black people. You can see notes of this throughout the story when similar deaths occur.
Highly recommended on audio. – Cayla

May Staff Picks!

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Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
This novel is about a renowned middle-aged concert pianist diagnosed with ALS (a.k.a. Lew Gehrig’s Disease).  The novel chronicles, in brutal detail, the devastation to his body—which his untouched mind witnesses with horror—and the effect of his illness on his relationships with his ex-wife  and estranged daughter.   Described as “the Oliver Sacks of fiction,” Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist interested in exploring the impact of neurological diseases on individuals’ lives.
–Diane

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but my experience with contemporary “Christian fiction” is that although pleasant, few of these books grapple with the problems encountered by serious believers.  Maggie, the protagonist of Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon is no Hallmark-card Christian.  Despite her long-term marriage, she finds herself aching for a relationship with fellow poet James.  Maggie and James long for each other for years, exchanging e-mails and furtive phone calls and meeting at literature conferences.  Maggie’s struggle—and what it means not only for her marriage but also for her religious beliefs—burns at the center of this short, unusual novel.
–Diane

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of An American Classic by Glenn Frankel
This book explores the making of the classic Western High Noon, and the toxic political environment that inspired its screenwriter, Carl Foreman.  Frankel takes a multi-faceted view, talking about the blacklist and the hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hollywood during its Golden Age and then its post-war years, biographical sketches of Gary Cooper, Carl Foreman, and other players, and then the story of the making of the film itself.  It’s fascinating reading on several levels.
–Marie

April Staff Picks

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An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
I love Barbara Pym.  Her books are always so funny and charming, filled with great characters.  This particular book is about a group of people who all live in the same not-so-fashionable parish in London, who all wind up on a trip to Rome together.
–Marie

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842
by Nathaniel Philbrick
This is the story of an amazing, incredible voyage of discovery that lasted for over three years, including science, exploration, hardships, lost men and ships, from the Antarctic to the cannibal islands of the South Pacific, to the treacherous mouth of Oregon’s Columbia River. The book, though, as well as the expedition itself, is marred by bickering and feuding amongst the crew and the leader of the expedition. The leader, crew, and scientists never got the recognition they deserved, because of the backbiting and counterclaims that accompanied the voyage. Philbrick tried to weave the stories of resentment into the book along with the astonishing accounts of discovery; perhaps it is a good reflection on the expedition in that the acrimony affects the achievement of a great story.
–Ken

Points North by Howard Frank Mosher
Like many of Mosher’s earlier works, these  short stories are set in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont—remote, rustic, and beautiful.  Mosher tenderly examines the lives of individuals—some living in isolation, some in small communities—as they struggle to connect with each other and with the natural world.  If you love the fiction of Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry, as I do, you will love the work of Howard Frank Mosher.
–Diane

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Radium girls is about the girls (mostly teenagers) who worked in the radium dial painting factories unaware of the danger of this new magical material. The girls literally glowed when they left the factories in the evening due to the radium dust that settled over them. Unfortunately, years of exposure caused unexplained illness down the road and many of these girls died in their early 20s. In addition to their story, this is a tale about corporate greed and corruption as the factory first ignored the reports of these illnesses and then worked to cover up the cause. Ultimately the resulting lawsuit led to changes in worker’s rights and compensation. Radium Girls draws the reader into the victims suffering as they desperately seek relief from their symptoms and try to understand why they are ill.
–Mary

March Staff Picks

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Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Creepy, sad, and compelling, this thriller is about a girl whose mother is a serial killer.  Milly was the one who turned her mother in.  Now she’s in a foster home awaiting testifying at her mother’s trial.  Can she overcome her hideous childhood, or is she more like her mother than she wants to be?  Milly’s voice really makes the book–being solely in her head makes the story that much more believable and absorbing.
–Marie

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Although it’s classified as a children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth works on multiple levels, with charms for adults as well as for kids, and in an era when there’s an inordinate premium put on data, this gentle, clever novel values knowledge and prizes wisdom, while indulging in delicious silliness and wild wordplay.  A hit with the adult read-aloud group!
–Diane

It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir by Simon Fitzmaurice
A true account in Simon’s own words of his life, his ALS diagnosis, ups & downs and family.  Incredibly courageous, sad and uplifting. Wow, we don’t have it so bad. I
read the book after a friend was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is now a 2017 Indie film, by the same title and is available through the library’s Kanopy service.
–Amy