Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

New People by Danzy Senna

 

New People by Danzy Senna

New People ambitiously combines comedy of manners with literary thriller. It is a character-driven novel that explores issues of mixed race, love, and infatuation, while examining what it means to be black. It also looks candidly at a mother-daughter relationship in which a daughter is never quite black enough to suit her mother. Issues inherent in adoption and the impact of parental expectations permeate the book.

Set in the late 1990s, New People features a young, upwardly mobile couple, Maria and Khalil, who are planning their wedding. Khalil is a mixture of black and Jewish, and Maria is the light-skinned, adopted daughter of a single mother. Khalil is starting his own dotcom company; Maria is finishing her dissertation on the Jonestown Massacre. Having met in college, they are in love with each other and in what they represent—“the King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.”

Thriller  Sara Picks  Racial Identity  Literary  Humor  Fiction

12/05/17
 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

An urgent phone call for Liam Taggert from his cousin Annie in Ireland begins the novel, the latest from the Chicago attorney who authored Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, and Karolina’s Twins.

Annie tells Liam his Uncle Fergus has died. The funeral is in Ireland in three days, and Annie says Liam must be there, even though he’s been estranged from his Irish family for 16 years, after they discovered that he was a CIA spy.  Stranger still is that when the will is read in Ireland, Liam is named the executor and trustee, chosen over Fergus’s children and longtime love Deirdre. Furthermore, the trust specifies that if there is any suspicion about Fergus’s cause of death (a fatal gunshot to the head does sound suspicious), none of Fergus’s assets (and they are considerable) can be distributed to any of the heirs until the cause of death is resolved and the people responsible for it have been identified and brought to justice.  The Taggart family does have its political enemies, though who would kill Uncle Fergus? And why would Uncle Fergus write such instructions into his will – did he know he was at risk for murder?

Suspense  Nancy Picks  Mystery  Fiction  Family

 

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

 

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

Forest Dark is Krauss’s most metaphysical book.  In it, Krauss, author of History of Love and Great House, explores the notion of parallel lives through two very dissimilar protagonists: New York philanthropist and attorney Jules Epstein, and noted author Nicole (no last name).

Epstein is a complex man who, at 68, has been most comfortable in the material world. But now, after retirement from his law firm, his recent divorce, and especially, the death of his parents, he feels unmoored.  Like many of us at some point, he wonders what might have been had he taken another direction. As the narrator tells us:

Sara Picks  Literary Fiction  Fiction

10/22/17
 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

During World War II, New York Harbor played a major role in the war effort. According to the publication of the New York Historical Society, more than three million men shipped out from New York Harbor. At the war’s peak, 70,000 people were employed, including many women. New York Harbor became the largest shipbuilding facility in the country.

Egan uses this history as a backdrop for her book, Manhattan Beach. The story weaves together the lives of three people: Anna Kerrigan, a small parts ship machinist who becomes the first female diver; Anna’s dad, a deft conman; and Dexter Styles, the nightclub owner and mobster for whom Anna’s father works. In many ways, it is a coming of age story about a savvy girl, Anna, who at age 19, is left to care for her mother and disabled sister. Her father has disappeared and is presumed dead. The plot is driven by that disappearance and by Anna’s quest to find him.

Sara Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

10/06/17
 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. KleinScience fiction is often hailed (and sometimes derided) for the miraculous-seeming technologies that drive stories. Characters can communicate at the speed of thought and traverse great distances with minimal inconvenience, and readers for the most part accept this as a narrative device. The Punch Escrow, Klein’s debut novel, is a thriller that challenges this trope by telling a gripping story about the pitfalls of taking such technologies for granted.

It is 2147, and 50 years after the end of “The Last War,” humanity finds itself in a relatively good state thanks to technological advances. Necessary items can be assembled from stray matter. Mosquitos have been genetically modified to drink pollution instead of blood. And teleportation (think Star Trek’s transporters) has become a reality. Overseen by the monolithic International Transport (IT) Corporation and utilizing their patented “Punch Escrow” technology, getting from one part of the world to another is as easy as riding the subway.

Joel Byram, a freelance computer programmer and a bit of a smart aleck, lives with his physicist wife Sylvia in New York. In an attempt to rekindle romance in their strained marriage, they plan a tenth anniversary vacation in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, just as Joel is about to teleport from the Greenwich station to meet Sylvia, a bomb is detonated, damaging the facility. Joel leaves the station seemingly unharmed, but learns that technical meddling has resulted in a perfect duplicate of him arriving to meet his wife. Furthermore, Joel’s full legal rights have been given to the duplicate, whom Joel designates as “Joel2.” The result is that the original Joel (Joel1 ) now is considered old data that needs to be “cleared.” But Joel1 isn’t ready to be cleared. He wants to live, and he wants to see his wife again.

Thriller  Science Fiction  Justin Picks  Fiction

 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

 

YoungJaneYoung

Zevin is a vibrant, young novelist who recently published In the Age of Love and Chocolate (2013) for young adults. She is best known for her young adult novel, Elsewhere, published in 2005 when she was only 28. And most recently, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (2014) delighted readers of all ages. To date, Zevin has published 9 novels, 5 of which are for teens.

Her newest novel, Young Jane Young, is about a college student who interns for her handsome, charismatic and married congressman, Aaron Levin, and ends up having an affair with him. The story is told through the eyes of five women—all different ages, and thus, all from different perspectives. The characters are: Jane; Rachel, Jane’s mother; Ruby, Jane’s daughter; Jane’s grandmother, who has sage advice for everyone; and Embeth, the congressman’s long-suffering wife. Through these characters, we see how our feelings about an event change depending on our age.

Sara Picks  Fiction  Contemporary

10/04/17
 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

The Weight of Ink is a character-driven historical novel whose intricate plot calls to mind such authors as A. S. Byatt (The Possession), Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book) and Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch).

In it, the period of the 1660s London is flawlessly interwoven with the year 2000—the year that 2 researchers come upon a treasure trove of documents found under a staircase in a 300 year old house. Helen Watt, an aging and crusty professor of history, and Aaron Levy, a young and impertinent graduate student, are thrown together as they solve the mystery of a scribe whose pen name is Aleph. Aleph (Ester Velasquez) came to London from Amsterdam in the early 1660s after the death of her parents. London, under Cromwell, just allowed Jews back into the city after a 300 year expulsion. Ester comes to live with her former tutor, Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, and she writes the letters he dictates to her. The plot of the book is interwoven with such historic events as The Great Plague of London and The Great Fire of London as well as the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi-the false Jewish Messiah. Moreover, Baruch Spinoza, whose views on God served to excommunicate him, is integral to the plot.

Sara Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

10/04/17
 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I read this book in two days, but now I almost wish I had taken more time because I really miss Eleanor! She is delightful, and the book is a well written, page turning novel.

Main character Eleanor is a lonely, single 29-year-old Scottish woman who insists that she is completely fine. She observes strict routines of week days at work (same clothes, same job, no interaction with anyone) and weekends alone with large quantities of vodka and pizza. She speaks formally, with an antiquated speech pattern and vocabulary that keep regular people at arm’s length. And she is fine. Until she develops a school girl crush on a rock’n’roller whom she dreams of meeting. A necessary work interaction with Raymond, the grubby new geek in IT, begins to thaw her icy heart, and leads her to consider that maybe, just maybe, she could begin to allow some tiny change, even some people, into her life.  To the author’s credit, the Raymond-inspired character development is not based on “the knight in shining armor riding up on a white horse” scenario, but rather, a unique friendship that leads Eleanor to look into her very unhappy childhood and see how it has restricted her. Issues with her “Mummy” are alluded to in their weekly Wednesday night phone call, but not elucidated (through the skill of a patient therapist) until the very end of the book, creating a pleasant suspense.

Nancy Picks  Humor  Fiction  Contemporary  British Fiction

09/21/17
 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

Cover of "Sourdough" by Robin Sloan Sourdough by Robin Sloan is probably the most enjoyable—and purely readable—book I’ve read this year. It’s an adventure, a puzzle, a glimpse into the future, and a celebration of food. And I learned a lot about bread, which usually doesn’t happen with the books I read.

Lois Clary programs robots at a San Francisco startup. After work, she orders the soup and sandwich combo from the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall that two brothers of indeterminable ethnicity run. Sadly, the brothers must return to Europe (visa issues) but as a parting gift, they give Lois their starter—the living bacteria culture that gives sourdough bread its signature taste. Desperately seeking a hobby, Lois bakes some bread, and discovers she has quite the knack for it. While tasty, the loaves are a little strange. Are those faces in the crust? And late at night, is the culture…singing? Lois doesn’t have time to worry about these peculiarities, as she starts supplying her work cafeteria with sourdough. Soon, she finds herself working at a strange sort of farmers market where other gourmands are hard at work fusing technology and food. But will the culture behave long enough for Lois to make a living from baking? And just who is this Mr. Marrow that bankrolls the project?

Sourdough is Robin Sloan’s second novel, following the perennial librarian favorite Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. The two books share some DNA: they both feature hapless geeks who find themselves at the intersection of a rustic craft and the latest technology, while a mysterious organization watches over the whole operation. Anyone who liked Mr. Penumbra will enjoy Sourdough, and vice versa. Oh, and like Mr. Penumbra’s the cover glows in the dark. Check it out!

Jake Picks  Humor  Fiction  Contemporary

 

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud

Described by Publishers’ Weekly magazine as “haunting and emotionally gripping,” this short book follows the author’s highly regarded 2006 novel Emperor’s Children, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, as well as her other dazzling novels.

The Burning Girl, narrated in the teenage voice of Julia, is at heart a coming of age novel set in a small town in Massachusetts. Julia and Cassie have been best friends since nursery school, but their friendship flounders in seventh grade.

Nancy Picks

08/25/17
 

Archive posts

Collapse all