November Staff Picks

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The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Graphic Novel by Isabel Greenberg.
This graphic novel is an intricate story about stories–about storytelling, myths, and folklore, and how they shape human experience.  The art and words flow together, with so much detail in every picture.  It’s also got a lot of humor, both visual and textual.  The core story is about a storyteller from the cold land of Nord, and his travels to find the missing piece of his soul.  References to ancient cultures and their myths abound.  This is such a rich, rewarding story (or set of stories)!
–Marie

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
This real and very raw book is hard hitting from the beginning!  It is a no holes barred story in the trenches of the inner city projects in Chicago.  It involves gangs, police injustice, discrimination and a fuel to use words to make change happen.  The language is rough, but it was a story so relevant to today’s world and I loved Starr and her family! A must read for teens and adults in the world we live in today, where we must remember to treat everyone with respect, even when we disagree!
–Miss Amy

Revolution Downeast: The War for American Independence in Maine by James S. Leamon
It explains a lot about the place of Maine in the British Empire, how the end of the French and Indian War finally allowed Camden and the Penobscot area to be settled, how the new settlements were not yet on their feet when the Revolution arrived, how Maine got little support from Massachusetts, even though we were part of Massachusetts, how and why Maine eventually separated from Massachusetts. The “two Maines” are present right from the very beginning and in all the politics of the era.
–Ken

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandrai Marzano-Lesnevich.
As recent law-school graduate, the author was working for an anti-death-penalty program when the case of a child murderer hit her desk.  The perpetrator’s story compelled her to dig deeper into his history and, to her unhappy surprise, stirred up her own childhood memories.  A true-crime/personal-story balancing act, The Fact of a Body leads readers into sometimes uncomfortable terrain to explores the ways in which society often fails both victims and criminals.
–Diane

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
I revisit Virginia Woolf’s brief masterpiece every couple of years, reveling in the brilliance of the prose and the depth of Woolf’s grasp of the wonders and horrors of everyday experience.
–Diane

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.
It was gorgeous. Fiction woven with legend, this is a tall tale that seems like it could really happen. Stiefvater has a gift for character-writing that makes everyone just so HUMAN. There is Beatriz Soria, “the girl with no feelings”, who turns out to have some very deep ones. Pete Wyatt, the boy with a hole in his heart searching for a future. Joaquin Soria who dreams of being a radio DJ and reaching the hearts of his listeners.

Daniel Soria is The Saint of Bicho Raro, who is able to call hidden darkness out of pilgrims and make it visible. The problem, then, is what the pilgrims do about the visible darkness. Some live with it for years – the girl with a constant rain cloud over her head, the twins bound together by a fierce black snake, the priest with a coyote head. For as long as anyone can remember, the Soria family has been warned that they cannot interfere with the pilgrims while they struggle to solve their problems. But now, Daniel has been claimed by the darkness in the name of love, and the Soria cousins are determined to find a better way and save him. The book is shot through with fantastic details of the desert, owls, black roses, and the trials of love in all forms – romantic and familial. Above all, it is about learning to forgive yourself and trust hope.

–Cayla
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July Staff Picks

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
This book is so much fun!  A story within a story, with a mystery in each.  I was amazed at Horowitz’s ability to click the myriad interlocking pieces into place.  He unwinds his tale with wit and humor and numerous nods to classic whodunits, all the while giving the reader real mysteries to unravel.  (Now I’ve got to read Moriarity and House of Silk.)
–Diane

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
A group of teen detectives are all grown up, and are all very damaged.  They have to go back to the scene of their last big case to solve the mystery for good.  This is so clever, scary, and hilarious–it’s zany and perfect, somehow exactly like reading a cartoon!  It’s a mash-up of Scooby Doo and Lovecraft, and it’s just as ridiculous and entertaining as it sounds.
–Marie

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Has some of the most beautiful chapters I have ever read. The book is about a village on the coast of Turkey in the dying days of the Ottoman empire; the village is idyllic, the Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims live in peace. The potter laments, after the Christians are all driven into exile, that the village is never again as happy or as lively. The epic carnage is heavily foreshadowed in the book; the players on the international stage are slaughtering each each other, and the troubles eventually reaches our sweet village on the coast. The book gives insight into the the history of the whole troubled region. Almost as good a book as de Berniere’s Corelli’s Mandolin.
–Ken

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
A good read about “big data”! The author has access to Google searches — not the answers, just the text of the searches. And the amount of data is so huge, he can draw pretty precise conclusions. He uses a lot of novel and clever methods to tease information out of the data for insights into everything from economics to ethics and to race, sex, gender, and more.
–Ken

 

Marie’s Reading: “The Humans” by Matt Haig

cvr9781476727912_9781476727912_hr.JPGHumans are violent and dangerous and not to be trusted.  We especially cannot be trusted with technology or advancements that we aren’t mentally or emotionally equipped for.  So, when mathematician Andrew Martin makes a discovery that has the potential to grant us technological advancement which we’ve never even dreamed of, the Vonnadorians must step in.  Our unnamed narrator kills Martin and takes his place, on a mission to erase all knowledge of this mathematical advancement.  However, our narrator begins to develop an affection for humans–alarming for a being whose race is devoted entirely to pure mathematics.   Will he complete the task he’s been set by his superiors and return to his life in his distant galaxy, or have the humans won him over?

This is one of those books that’s just nice.  There’s some swearing and some sex and some violence (it’s about humans, after all), but at its core it’s a sweet story about appreciating the good about humanity.   Plainly Haig is in agreement with Robert Ardrey, who wrote in his African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man:

“But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

There you have the central idea of The Humans.  As I read I couldn’t help thinking how unfashionable it is to focus on the nice things about us.   To focus on our achievements seems quaint at best and dangerously deluded and arrogant at worst.    And while there’s some truth to that, I also think there’s a place for novels like this one.  We do have to acknowledge our darkness, but not to the extent that we forget the light.  Those critical of this book have called it saccharine or trite, and I can see how some readers could walk away with that impression.  There are those who really enjoyed the narrator’s initial critiques of humanity, but were totally not on board for the part where he grows to like us.  All fair enough. But readers who enjoy the occasional reminder that life isn’t all bad, and that love really might be the whole point, will find a lot to like in this book.

Calvin and Hobbes

Gratuitous Calvin and Hobbes. As I was writing this post this particular strip leapt to mind.

Matt Haig’s writing style reminds me very much of Terry Pratchett.  My husband, who also read and enjoyed The Humans, suggested Pratchett’s Reaper Man as a readalike, and I heartily second the suggestion.  In Reaper Man, Discworld’s Death must spend some time as a mortal, which gives him a new and unique perspective on the human experience.  Actually, if your favorite aspect of this novel was the outsider perspective on humanity, any of the Discworld books that focus on Death might be good choices.

Kurt Vonnegut might be a good choice for a readalike, too, particularly if you like the humanist bent of Haig’s book.  Breakfast of Champions would be a great one to start with, as would Slaughterhouse-Five.  If you’re not so much a fan of sci-fi, the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon might appeal to you.  There’s still the outsider aspect, but this time it’s because our narrator is a mathematical genius with Aspberger’s Syndrome.

Adam Rex’s hilarious and touching The True Meaning of Smekday, which I talked about here, might be a good choice for those who enjoyed the angle of humans and aliens becoming friends and allies.  It’s aimed at late elementary/middle school readers, and it’s a wonderful story that plays with format and has a great sense of humor.

–Marie

P.S.

Ken also read The Humans–he rated it a 5 and said in his review: “Best book I’ve read in a long time–it’s part sci-fi, mathematics, suspense, love, and perspective on us humans.”  Well put!

Ken’s Reading: “A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States” by Timothy J. Henderson

I don’t usually read straight history, but I enjoyed reading A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (2007) by Timothy J. Henderson. It’s a short book with a dynamic, character-driven story (think Stephen Austin and Santa Anna). The war itself gets few paragraphs, with most of the book covering the causes of the war and the first few years of the independence of Mexico. According to the author, Mexico never had a unifying vision of what Mexico could and should be. The central government was never strong enough to repress constant rebellions from the states. Monarchists, federalists, centralists, and peasant leaders rotated through the presidency and rewrote the constitution with every change of administration. Continue reading