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

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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

February Staff Picks

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Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands
Langlands is an archaeologist and medieval historian, and Craeft presents a history of both making and being through traditional crafts like haymaking, thatching, tanning, and others.  Craeft is itself an Old English word that means something more than just making–it’s a worldview and a knowledge, a connection to a place and to materials.  Through Langland’s examination you realize how different a world it was when we were by necessity connected to our environments and natural human inclination toward making.  It’s a really delightful book!
–Marie

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to this book since I adore Barbara Kingsolver. I don’t usually read memoirs, but as I’m thinking about spring and planning my garden, this started to call to me. I loved it! More than a memoir, the book delves into the family’s year-long commitment to eat totally local, including much they grow themselves. I’m hoping to accomplish a similar goal this year, though on a much smaller scale. Kingsolver presents the facts of conventional farming and meat production in a way that really hit home for me. It wasn’t exactly new information, especially these days, but it made me never want to eat anything but grass-fed meat again. Not only for ethical reasons but because grass-fed, happy, healthy animals are drastically more nutritious. I felt like the last few chapters were a little extra like the book could have ended with the successful fall harvest and left it at that. Didn’t really need to know so much about turkeys. But, Kingsolver is a lovely writer and funny. The asides from her husband and daughter were nice additions.
–Cayla

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #9)
I’m not sure what to make of this one, it has a very inconclusive ending. Without giving too much away, it was unusual. If you are new to the series, best start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was nice to see Flavia growing up a little and learning to ask for and accept help from others. It is also nice to see her relationships with her sisters improving as they grow up. It definitely has the much-loved Flavia wit and cleverness, her turn of phrase and resourcefulness never disappoint. The secondary characters are fantastic as always. This series is great in that it has a familiar formula without feeling formulaic and boring. I like the set-up for the next book, it was just what I hoped would happen, so I’ll look forward to that.
–Cayla

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It’s a classic I’d had–unread–on my shelf at home, but I wanted to get to it before the movie comes out. It’s a quick and easy read, and I can see the appeal for young-adult readers. Although it’s classified as science fiction–and there is a bit of serious science in it–the focus is really on the power of love and faith.
–Diane

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
I really liked this.  Following the death of her best friend, Corrigan tried to find a better way to grapple with those difficult conversations that personal crises demand.  Anchored by a dozen phrases–including “tell me more”–Corrigan gently, and with abundant self-deprecating humor, illustrates how we can better listen to each other.
–Diane

January Staff Picks

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A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney.
This book is quite unique as it is really one of the first to really examine the friendships female writers had, in their historical contexts. These authors point out that unlike the studies of the male literary friendships in history (ie Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Byron and Shelley) these friendships were multifaceted in that they served as a support for each of these women but in most cases there was rivalry and competition as well due to their time periods and the lack of support society had for female authors. A fabulous read for anyone who loves these authors or is fascinated with women’s studies.
–Stephanie

Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich.
Bernd Heinrich was a former Professor of Zoology at the University of Vermont, who now lives in the western mountains of Maine. Maine winters can be long, but this book will take you on an outside adventure without leaving the warmth of your house.

“On a cold Maine day in 1984, Bernd Heinrich saw a flock of ravens sharing their food and apparently summoning other ravens to join in…Bernd’s adventures in the teeth of the Maine winters over the next four years, make an exciting detective story complete with false leads, apparently contradictory clues, and finally hard evidence.”
–Sarah
Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman.
Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating?  Ruhlman blends a history of American grocery stores with a look at our current health issues and the way we interact with our food.  His style is funny and personable, and he’s very passionate about consumer education and about food.  Valuable insight into how food is marketed and sold in our country.
–Marie
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
This is a story about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her. It was an easy read with some great insights into magic even for old timers :).
–Sandra
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
Although the book is fiction, it is based on the true story of Pino Lella, a 17 year old in Milan during WW II. After the bombings begin in Milan, his parents send him to a camp he used to attend as a child, where the priest in charge of the school sends him off to hike a different route everyday. This is practice for when he finally helps guide Jews who are fleeing Italy over the Alps into Switzerland. When he turns 18, his parents fear that he will be sent to the Russian Front so they force him to join the German army. By some stroke of luck he becomes the chauffeur for General Leyers. In this role he brings his observations back to the resistance which is then relayed to the allies.
–Mary
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, narrated by Stephen Fry
As I’ve said before, I generally don’t “do” audiobooks; I usually just can’t stay engaged.  But I am absolutely hooked on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes read by Stephen Fry.  Fry’s reading is so lively yet subtle that I find myself picking up my headphones every chance I get.  (Even just the way he has Sherlock Holmes say, “ah,” is part of the characterization.)  And if that audiobook merely whets your appetite for Stephen Fry, you’ll find his reading of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy laugh-out-loud great!
–Diane