Staff Choices

Posted by Lucy S on 11/16/18
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What does it mean to be an exile? What weight does it carry? How much of your identity is wrapped around a place? Next Year in Havana is both the title of this book and a toast, a wish for the future, spoken by those who have left and hope to return.
Forced to flee in 1959, the Perez family came to the United States when the political tides shifted in Cuba. Told in two timelines, in the present day, the main character, Marisol, travels to Cuba to bring her grandmother’s ashes home. As she explores Havana and the surrounding countryside she uncovers a treasure trove of family history. Written with nostalgia, pride and hope intermingled with romance, high society life, rebellion, and secrecy.

Author Chanel Cleeton grew up on family stories of her own family's departure from Cuba. This story provides an intriguing viewpoint of a country located only 90 miles away.

Posted by jlasky on 11/14/18
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Joseph, a college student at UC Berkeley, receives a mysterious package from Cairo, the home of his birth father. Although he was raised in the states by his Jewish mother, he spent several summers in Cairo traversing a completely different culture and lifestyle with his Muslim relatives.

The package leads him on an adventure that peels back the rich history of his ancestors on both sides. Going back a thousand years, the Muslim men in his family kept watch over the sacred Ezra Scrolls in a small synagogue in Cairo, the same synagogue where his parents met. The story is helped along by two British sisters at the end of the 19th century, who travel to Egypt to rescue sacred texts.

In “The Last Watchman of Old CairoMichael David Lukas weaves a remarkable tale of various traditions, cultures and religions through the centuries. Vivid scenery, mysticism, love, devotion and richly developed characters make this a tale you will find hard to put down.
Posted by jonf on 11/08/18
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The compelling story of the Apollo 8 mission told by Robert Kurson, the talented author of "Crashing Through" and "Shadow Divers". The author at a visit to the Museun of Science and Industry saw a small capsule from this mission and was moved to tell their story. In 1968 with America in turmoil, NASA sped up the launch of Apollo 8 to make sure Americans were the first to fly , orbit and return from the moon.
The mission was rushed and gave Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders only 4 months to prepare. It was a staggering challenge for a mission with little margin for error. Kurson does a great job telling not only the technological challenge, but the hardship for the astronauts and their families.
Rocket Men is a excellent, well written story of an overlooked mission, which was more dangerous  and impactful than the moon landing itself. A great book for fans of adventure and exploration, highly recommended.
Posted by Alisa S on 10/29/18
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Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone is an epic story of a family that moves to remote Alaska in the mid 1970s. Ernt Allbright is a charismatic but violent Vietnam vet, suffering from PTSD and drinking far too much. He alternates between adoring and abusing his lovely wife Cora, she herself totally co-dependent and going along with anything he decides in order to keep an uneasy peace. Their young daughter Leni is  thus dragged about the West coast, from home to home, school to school, as they follow each hopeless scheme her father comes up with in order to eke out a living. When he discovers he has inherited a cabin and land in Alaska from a fellow POW who never made it home, it seems to be the solution to all of their problems.
Of course, if everything worked out that easily this book would have ended well before its 400+ pages.

Alaska (as much a character as any of the people in this story) reveals herself to be stunningly beautiful but unmerciful in her brutality. Human life can be wiped out in an instant there, as the Allbrights, who arrive woefully unprepared to live in this rugged environment, soon realize. A rag-tag community of fellow pioneers quickly come to their rescue, and new friendships as well as bitter rivalries are soon formed.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" as the saying goes, and how each of the Allbright family respond to the mental and physical challenges of this harsh world makes up most of this novel. Hannah is not a particularly elegant writer, but she is an amazing storyteller. I loved following Leni's adventures and learning about life in Alaska (Hannah's own family spent much time up there, and her love and familiarity of the state is evident). Highly recommended.
Posted by Lucy S on 10/11/18
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Small mercies, sacrifice, strong will and clever deception fuel a young woman’s determination to aid her small French community in surviving enemy occupation during WWII. The Baker’s Secret is written with a new perspective. Author Stephen P. Kiernan shows how one person can make a far-reaching impact amid desperate circumstances. Even though this is a work of fiction, I could not help but be humbled about the arduousness, deprivation and oppression that people endure during war.
Posted by SherriT on 10/05/18
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I recently discovered with much excitement that 2018 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

There is something so comforting about escaping into the heartwarming pages of this story and each time I reread it I am struck by a different character or line. I know I am not alone in imagining myself as Jo and drawing strength from this smart, courageous heroine as a young girl. Now, as a mother, I also find in Marmee inspiration to be the wise, loving parent I hope to be to my children. Readers witness the sisters growing up and figuring out what role each wants to play in the world, and, along the way, join them on countless unforgettable adventures. Whether you are taking up Little Women for the first time or the twelth, it is a wonderful time to celebrate this incredible story.

If you loved Little Women and are looking for something else to inspire you try a book on this list:
Posted by jonf on 09/29/18
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The latest novel by Chicago author Marcus Sakey is a strange but original mix of police thriller, love story and the meaning of death. F.B.I. agents Will Brody and Claire McCoy are trying to stop a serial sniper who has killed 18 people, to complicate the matter, they are falling in love.  Will gets a phone tip which lures him to a church which is rigged and blows up killing all in the blast. Will awakens and is told by a stranger that he is dead and welcome to the afterlife.
The afterlife he is in is Chicago , same time but gray and lifeless. It is run by a group of the good people who band together to evade the eaters who kill to keep their strength. Soon Will is joine by Claire who is killed by the sniper.
Together Will, Claire and the group try to fight off the eaters and Will and Claire try to unravel the afterlife.
A truly original story, exciting and full of questions of our mortality.
Posted by NealP on 09/18/18
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Andrew Yang is an American entrepreneur who has worked with tech startups and is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.  His book The War on Normal People: The Truth about America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income is Our Future presents a bleak economic outlook for “normal people."

Yang’s thesis is not entirely new, but it is compelling.  He focuses on six cities where he sees a high concentration of what he identifies as “highly knowledge-intensive” individuals pursuing career paths in finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, and academia.  This, he believes, has led to increasing stratification with American society as those who qualify, leave their hometowns for college and universities, and then stay in these cities to follow careers in these sectors.

What sets Yang apart from others who have studied this stratification is his argument that elites within these fields, especially tech, are consciously working to put the rest of society out of work through automation so that they can keep up with their competition.  Yang’s evidence shows the consequences of this shift are severe.  59,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2016 surpassing car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.  The suicide rate is rising, marriage rates have decreased dramatically for working-class individuals, and single parenthood rates have risen.
Yang notes that automation may not be a problem for just blue-collar workers.  The disappearance of local white-collar jobs to automation in fields like insurance, banking, journalism, and other sectors will further drain money from local economies.
Whether one agrees with Yang that Universal Basic Income (UBI) will be necessary moving forward, his ability to trace the effects of automation on American workers is compelling.
Posted by SherriT on 09/11/18
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Since reading The Great Gatsby in high school, I have loved F. Scott Fitzgerald. His dynamic personality and glimpses into his own life through his novels has always intrigued me.

Another Side of Paradise by Sally Koslow is a book that will captivate readers from the very first page and tells the story of the affair between famous author F. Scott Fitzgerald and 1930's Hollywood gossip columnist, Sheilah Graham. The story is told from the perspective of Graham as we read of her tragic and sad upbringing to her short and tragic love affair with Fitzgerald. I found Sheila’s life story fascinating and filled with so many hardships. Their relationship is told with gritty detail, heartbreaking moments, and leaves the reader with no doubt about their love. I especially loved the old, nostalgic Hollywood feel of the story.

Sally Koslow has done extensive research, and writes so vividly with great description of the colorful cast of characters and various timelines. I recommend Another Side of Paradise for both fans of Fitzgerald’s and for those who enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Posted by Lucy S on 09/07/18
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Who is Vera Kelly? A spy? A troubled, conflicted young woman seeking escape and adventure? While working at a radio station in 1960’s New York, Vera’s technical and bilingual skills become known and noticed by a CIA recruiter. Unaware of the political danger brewing in Argentina, she is sent there to radio surveil a high-ranking government official’s office. Another element is at the fore when the U.S. suspects Communism is brewing with young radicals at university. Vera takes on a new name and poses as a college student to try to learn about this undercurrent of unrest.
This is not a typical spy novel. It has a quieter tone, a slower build as a military coup is gaining strength around her with Vera caught in the middle. Betrayal, disillusionment and extreme measures come to light in author Rosalie Knecht’s well-written novel with historical fiction components. Readers who enjoyed The Alice Network by Kate Quinn might like to add this book to their reading list.
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