Staff Choices

Posted by Alisa S on 10/30/19
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Whether you have always loved Greek Mythology, or have painful memories of slogging through Homer in high school, you should not hesitate to pick up The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. The author, herself a classics teacher, reportedly spent over ten years researching and writing this, her first novel. The reader is presented with a vividly reimagined and hauntingly beautiful retelling of Homer’s The Iliad,  with a doomed romance at its center.  While Achilles, the legendary, half-God Greek hero,  is referenced in the title of this novel, it is really more the story of Patroclus, an exiled prince who will become his best friend/lover.
We follow the lives of the two princes, beginning in their childhood as the charismatic, physically gifted Achilles befriends the shy, clumsy Patroclus, who has been sent away from his own home for an accidental crime. The two boys have a brief, idyllic stay in the mountains being educated by the centaur Chiron, before the summons to fight in the Trojan war will spell disaster for them both. The romance between the two young men was crafted in Miller’s imagination, and it is so heartrending and lovely that one can’t help but hope for a different ending, even though a tragic outcome is prophesied.
I picked up The Song of Achilles after rereading Circe. Miller’s second novel, for a book discussion.  While both books are excellent, I enjoyed the former slightly more. Audiobook listeners will be wowed by the fantastic narrations of both of these novels, which are currently available to borrow through Hoopla.
Posted by NealP on 10/29/19
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The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells describes the effects of global warming as a terrifying apocalypse of biblical proportions – the price of doing nothing or not enough.  Wallace-Wells describes the horror human beings might face including floods, pestilence, famines, and wildfires.  Modeling his approach after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, he hopes to increase awareness for greenhouse gases like Carson did for pesticides.
A key strength of the book is the writing.  Wallace-Wells stays away from overly scientific terminology in favor of intense and evocative descriptions of disaster – children dying, plagues released, and towns burning.  He effectively uses fear to motivate us to take action. 
Not all is doom and gloom, though.  Wallace-Wells acknowledges that our responsibility as a species for global warming is actually a good thing, in that it demonstrates that we also have the power to do something about it.  For him, apathy is our worst enemy.  The Uninhabitable Earth is a powerful wakeup call for all of us on the path to extinction.
Posted by SherriT on 10/19/19
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Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada

Park Avenue Summer by Renée Rosen is a highly entertaining, enlightening, and fascinating historical fiction novel that immediately captured my attention and held my interest right to the very end.
The story follows a young, single woman named Alice Weiss as she relocates to New York City in 1965, to experience the life her late mother always encouraged her to live. With the assistance of her mother’s best friend Elaine Sloan, Alice is hired as the personal secretary to Cosmopolitan’s new editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown, who along with Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem changed the world. As Helen fights to keep Cosmo afloat, Alice juggles the never-ending office gossip, lies, betrayal and manipulation, and her own heart breaking relationships.

Helen Gurley Brown was a visionary who fought to eliminate barriers in a male dominated workforce. Throughout the story, it gives us a glimpse of a generation of women taking New York City by storm and inspiring those who came after them. Grab a copy of this book, a martini and settle in for an amazing read!
Posted by JoanL on 10/12/19
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In a remarkably beautiful, often painful first novel, Ocean Vuong writes an honest and searing letter to his illiterate Mother. Knowing she will never read it, he is desperate to work through his memories, and tell his own story, as he pieces together his fractured life.

Born in Vietnam after the war, then immigrating to a life of poverty in Connecticut, the main character “Little Dog” describes a childhood of being raised by his Mother and Grandmother who were often loving, yet mentally ill and abusive. He is aware that their behavior is due to their arduous upbringing and PTSD as survivors of the Vietnam War, but he cannot turn away from them. Vuong’s brutal honesty and poetic layers create an intimate autobiographical story of a boy and his longings, as he navigates the adult world and finds his own voice.

Longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous took my breath away, and is one of my favorite books this year.
Posted by BARB W on 10/07/19
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Not everyone knows who Valerie Solanas was, although her assassination attempt of Andy Warhol may be her greatest claim of infamy.

In Valerie : Or, The Faculty Of Dreams : Amendment To The Theory Of Sexuality, Swedish feminist and author Sara Stridsberg attempts to piece together this complex, radical feminist through a series of reminisces about important places and times in her life. We visit her troubled childhood, and the courtroom that delivered her conviction, and through an omniscient narrator, we visit her in the hotel where she spends the final moments of her complicated life.

Stridsberg’s prose is glorious, evoking an abundance of responses from the reader. More importantly, this serves as a reminder that we are the sum of our experiences. To look at one event in a life is to ignore everything else that may have shaped someone’s existence.
Posted by LucyS on 09/30/19
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Red at the Bone is a haunting story full of life detours, longing, desire, class distinctions, missed opportunities, burdens to be carried, love, support, coming-of-age, absenteeism, loss and life. In essence, obstacles thrown in our way. Iris, her daughter Melody, Melody’s father Aubrey, Aubrey’s mother CathyMarie, Grandmother Sabe and Grandfather Po’Boy are the family members that must contend with the ramifications of choices and generational issues.

Each character has chapters from their point of view. This method of layering the story is memorable. We get to know the character and then the next chapter’s character supplies another dimension to the story.

I highly recommend listening to Red at the Bone. Using multiple voice actors conveys such depth to this narrative that it, I think, makes the novel better. At just under 4 hours of listening or 196 pages of reading, author Jacquelyn Woodson has skillfully written a rich, impactful novel.
Posted by jonf on 09/29/19
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This is a great debut novel from a very promising young author. A group of hostages are being picked off one by one, and the only way to save them is to solve the mystery of the missing Kingfisher—a superhero that used to defend the streets of Chicago, but is presumed to have been dead for over 30 years.
The Reign of the Kingfisher follows vastly different characters that are all struggling with their own ideas of justice, love, and commitment, but who share the similar goal of saving the hostages and making the world a better place in the only ways they know how.

T.J. does a wonderful job weaving these very different characters together, and his writing makes you feel like you are living and breathing the same Chicago streets that they are. You do not need to be a fan of superheroes to appreciate this book, because even though those themes are present, the story itself transcends that genre to present a unique and compelling story about the human condition. I loved this book and can't wait to read the next book by T.J.Martinson

Posted by SherriT on 09/24/19
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The story of two broken souls trying to become whole is at the core of Linda Holmes' novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over.

Evvie is reeling from the sudden death of her husband and grappling with what it means to be a young widow. On the day he died, she had packed her car and planned to leave her husband. As she has not shared this secret with anyone close to her, Evvie struggles with guilt and lack of closure.

Dean Tenney is a former Major League pitcher who has troubles of his own. He suffers from the “yips” and just wants a quiet place to move on from his unplanned ending to his career.  He rents the apartment at the back of Evvie’s house. These two lost characters form an unexpected friendship that slowly turns into something more.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is a heartwarming story that is relatable and uplifting. If you are someone who enjoys baseball and a light romantic story in a small town setting, this one is for you. Holmes is also a correspondent for NPR and host of the "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast.
Posted by Alisa S on 09/22/19
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Denmark is reportedly supposed to be the happiest country in the world, but you certainly couldn't guess this from reading The Chestnut Man by Danish author Soren Sveistrup. This dark, disturbing debut thriller follows two detectives who are desperately trying to track down a serial killer who is targeting young mothers. The case is made even more perplexing by the killer's calling card, a small figurine made out of chestnuts that is left at each crime scene. The suspense is further heightened when the chestnut men are discovered to have the fingerprint of a government minister's daughter, who had been kidnapped and presumed murdered a year prior. 
This book should come with plenty of reader is graphically violent and is not for the squeamish or very sensitive.
But the well drawn characters and lightening paced plot make this the perfect pre- Halloween read for readers of Scandanavian crime fiction, and especially fans of Jo Nesbo and Stiegg Larson. 
Posted by bpardue on 09/13/19
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Emmy-winning documentarian John Chester and his wife Molly (a chef with a dedication to traditional foods) are evicted from their apartment because their dog, Todd, barks too much when they're not around. They sense he needs more space. What do they do? Start a farm, of course! To increase the challenge, they choose a decrepit, run-down farm with poor soil, and they want to bring it back to life using organic, sustainable methods. Needing copious advice, they team up with biodiversity guru Alan York, who suggests that, if done right, the soil can be revitalized and the various agricultural elements they introduce can help regulate weeds and pests naturally, ultimately making the farm almost self-sustaining. Of course, there are enormous challenges they face--it will be several years before the farm can be productive, and there are pests and predators to deal with. Every success seems to have an accompanying setback--fruit is damaged, animals are attacked. There are some scenes that are sad, painful, even gruesome, but they all feel essential to the story. Even so, there are wondrous, joyful and humorous moments that reinforce hope--and the animals simply steal the show. Can the Chesters succeed without compromising their ideals? Chester depicts the highs and lows of their adventure unflinchingly, and ultimately gives us an uplifting saga.
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