Sues's Staff Pick (July 2014): This is an independent booksellers dream book! Hopefully, you will enjoy it, as well! The story takes place on a New England island—a community and a tourist stop. (Sound familiar?) And, there is this bookstore and this bookstore owner! We first meet A.J. Fikry, truly the grumpiest bookstore proprietor ever, as he struggles with the tragic loss of his wife, the trials of keeping a bookstore going, and his condescending attitude toward every reader who doesn’t measure up to his standards of literature. Then a baby, a book club, and a publisher’s rep enter his life and things start to look a little better. This book tells many stories. There is an intimate look into the book business, an uncloying romance, a journey into the transitive nature of parenthood, and humor and tears. What I loved the most were the literary references interspersed throughout, most of which kept me googling for more information, while I read! I wonder if I would have been one of those customers whom A.J. found challenging?
Sues's Staff Pick (July 2014): I first heard about this book from my Penguin rep as he told me the story of how the publisher was up against all of the other houses in bidding for the rights to it in the U.S. The book had already been an international phenomenon, garnering praise and prizes throughout Europe. And Penguin got it! I don’t think that I have ever swept through 656 pages quicker. This paperback original is thick but it moves along swiftly. The story opens in August of 1975, as a young woman is seen fleeing, and then never seen again. We pick up Marcus’s story years later as he struggles to write his second novel, after having a blockbuster debut and receiving a ridiculously large and quickly spent advance on his next book. He is desperate and seeks out his mentor and former professor, Henry Quebert, who lives in the missing girl’s New Hampshire coastal town. Right then, Henry has become implicated in the girl’s disappearance, as his affair with her became known. She was only fifteen years old when she vanished! Marcus realizes that he must write a book that will save Henry’s life, since he believes that Henry did not kill her. The problems turn the story into a real thriller and this becomes a whodunit and a book within a book. It sounds complicated, but Dicker manages to keep the reader engaged, informed, and moving. I loved this book and marveled at the French author’s knowledge of New England small time life. It turns out that he summered with his grandparents on the coast of New England. Those memories informed his descriptive prose into what is just a great read of a wonderful story.
Sues's Staff Pick (June 2014): Those of us of a certain age remember well the Cold War that sparked the political paranoia surrounding our childhoods. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book One Night in Winter is a work of historic fiction from the years preceding most of our memories—when Stalin was reveling in his victory over Hitler while gathering members of his politburo. The author uses a group of children from that era to weave his story, specifically the children of elite government leaders who are being educated in the most exclusive school in Moscow.
Two students die. We are led to question whether this was a horrible accident, suicide, or murder. The story leads the reader through the investigation. The intrigue encompasses the Soviet police, Stalin, and his enforcers, and the parents of these children, who imagined themselves as steadfast partisans. The powerful parents and children quickly realize that they are subject to interrogations, arrests, and tests of allegiance. They are even positioned against each other. That is the sharp story that pulls you in and constantly forward through the conclusion of the book.
As an added bonus, the author, a Russian historian, includes an afterword that explains the truthful and fictional aspects of the story. I love that!
Sues's Staff Pick (June 2014): First, a confession! When this book arrived at the bookstore, we shelved it incorrectly in New Fiction! The cover is so Tom Robbins. And, the large green lettering for TOM ROBBINS is so Tom Robbins. And, how many of us really read the fine print on his books? We are usually too eager to get into the book and find out what irreverent prose has been sent our way this time.
BUT WAIT! This is “A True Account of an Imaginative Life!” It says so on the cover, and once you start reading, you realize this is HIS tale. (But, really, aren’t all of his books his tales?)
Truly, this is an autobiography/memoir and for those who have followed along with the author, burning through the pages of his volumes of work, it does not disappoint. It follows that the person who built a way of life around cowgirls, monkeys, mummies, and beer cans would have an interesting background story himself. Okay, prepare yourself… Tom Robbins is 80 years old!! But what is not surprising is how funny and unrestrained the reader will find this book. After all, it’s Tom Robbins. You will find it in New NON Fiction.
Sues's Staff Pick: Jon Krakauer’s intense journalist writing style always allows him to tell readable and difficult stories. This is a book that I can’t get out of my mind, and I expect that was the intent of the author. Mr. Krakauer introduces NFL player and war hero, Pat Tillman, to those of us who never knew the man and convincingly makes plain that he was a complicated person. While imperfect at times, Tillman was clearly a gifted athlete and an intellectual, who cared deeply about his family, his friends, and his country. At the same time, the author explains the even more complicated history of our nation’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. You may think that you know this story, but you don’t. It is one of an untimely death and of what happens on so many levels to make our awareness of it different from what actually happened. You may argue with Kraukauer’s political overtones, but his well-documented research will undoubtedly open eyes. I look forward to new Kraukauer books, and this was one worth the wait. It captures you quickly and is relentless in keeping you engaged.
Sues's Staff Pick: Full disclosure first! I have met the author of this book and Becca Fitzpatrick is delightful and smart! Also, she lives in Colorado and has promised to come visit us. Now, about the book!
There is an international quest to find the new Twilight series; something that can compete with the Vampire stories of Stephanie Meyer. This book is not competition. It is the real thing! I am not a Twilight basher, but I can say unequivocally that this book is better written and a much more compelling story! I really hope that it will capture the teen reader who loved those other books! It should because it is a story of a young high school sophomore who lives an unconventional life as she is left alone quite a lot by her oft out of town working mother. Her father was murdered a year before the story begins. While that is mostly an aside to the story, it lingers in the sensibilities of the protagonist, Nora, and provides a tidy wrap-up in the end. Nora’s atypical independence and maturity gives her the means to follow her instincts, when she is faced with complicated and disruptive paranormal intrusions into her life. Characterization is a strong point of this book, and Nora’s mysterious lab partner, Patch, unfolds completely throughout the story, as do all of the characters. I like that the teenage angst is present but not overwhelming. Nora and her friend, Vee, are not silly. They are real in their intentions to make hard decisions in the face of their own youth and really difficult, out of the ordinary situations. Paraphrasing our buyer, Kathy, Fallen Angels are the new Vampire! And, don’t worry, as the concept of the Fallen Angel is fully explained in the text!
Go ahead and judge this book by the cover! The cover art is fabulous and should be enough to draw you right in. For those who care, sexuality is implied but not explicit in this book. I found it appropriate for the teen reader. And, just as a warning, I will so be pushing this book! I loved it!
Sues's Staff Pick: Finally a coming of age book for teen girls that address the BIG issue--seeing the adults she loves behave in ways that are dishonest and straight wrong. For the protagonist, Evie, this is her story of having to make decisions based on her innate wisdom of what is right and her need to save her family, in spite of that knowledge. Best of all, the story is placed in post-World War II and readers are made aware of the good and bad that came stateside when the soldiers returned from war. The author combines a compelling mystery with educating the reader about our country’s sordid history of bigotry. She makes a case for how good people could still ignore the wrong around them and sets up Evie to make decisions that took all that she had observed into account and processes this information through an adult lens that is way beyond her sixteen years. Nonetheless, her decisions do not come from left field, but are in keeping with the character that the reader has come to know. This is a book for mature teens (14 and above). There are adult themes of murder, sex, and deception, but they are handled non-explicitly and adroitly by the author in a way that is respectful of a teen’s sensibilities. I would have loved this book as a young adult. I loved it as an adult! It would be a terrific gift to a teen from an adult who wants the recipient to know that her blooming maturity is respected.
Sues's Staff Pick: With each new Kate DiCamillo book, I yearn for the days when I read aloud to my children at bedtime…really, at anytime! As mine are too old for this, I implore all parents of children to take up DiCamillo’s stories and make them part of your reading and storytelling routine! Like The Tales of Desperaux, The Magician's Elephant is an old-time fairy tale that draws us in and keeps us occupied until the very end. I don’t know how the author continues to write stories for children that are such a delight for adults, but she does it. This book has everything a reader/young listener could want: an orphan with a very strange guardian, a fortuneteller, an extraordinary magician, who says:
Magic is impossible…it begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic.
And, then there is the elephant! Honestly, I felt as though Kate DiCamillo was personally reading this story aloud to me! Like The Tale of Desperaux, there are some frightening aspects to this story that may be too much for the very young. Also, it is a complex tale, which is what will keep Mom and Dad engaged! Save it for your 8 year old and above. I am still trying to figure out if “above” could mean that I can cajole my 22, 28, and 31 year olds to sit at my feet and listen…perhaps in exchange for a lift ticket?
Sues's Staff Pick: What a wonderful example of southern writing! This story encompasses both a community and a family in to chapters of beautifully descriptive and often bittersweet vignettes. The setting is a coal-mining town in Alabama during the Depression. Nine-year-old Tess, the main character, has a generally sunny vision of life during hard times in an often brutal environment. Her world is suddenly disrupted when a baby is dropped down the family well. The town, comprised of groups that mostly share common social values (except when it comes to race) and Tess’s atypical family, interact in a real and believable way for the reader. There is nothing predictable about this story. It is a mystery, a view into coal-mining life, and just plain good storytelling. This is the author’s first novel, and I hope there will be more! I recommend this book strongly for book clubs. There is much to discuss after the last word is read.
Sues's Staff Pick: Okay, I am admittedly and quite possibly the only bookseller who has taken not one but two college level Toni Morrison courses! She is my hero, so I am stating that upfront! Her most recent book is in keeping with her fine written language that has won her a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature. In interviews, Morrison describes this story as one based on when slavery was not part of racism. Thus starts the tale, or rather self-professed confession, of Flores, a 16-year-old slave girl. The book is set in colonial 1690 America where Flores finds herself among multicultural characters typical of the times. Morrison engages us with her paradigmatic cast of many well-developed characters, her own knowledge of the setting, and mysterious, sometimes obscure prose. As with most of her books, you will find yourself re-reading portions and coming to a much deeper understanding of the story through those re-readings. I found the pure beauty, allegory and structure of this recent Morrison book to be reminiscent of the triumphs, horrors, and social conventions of Morrison’s 1973 novel, Sula. I get mushy about every Morrison book, and so I am about this one! If you are a Morrison enthusiast, you will love this book. If you have never read Morrison, there are several I would recommend to be your first exploration into her compilation. That said, starting with A Mercy would not be a mistake!
Sues's Staff Pick: This is E.L.Doctorow’s most recent novel, and it has been garnering mixed reviews, even within the walls of my own home! Since reading Ragtime, Doctorow has been one of my favorite authors, his skillful prose drawing me into his stories. I found Homer & Langley to be another of the author’s tightly written, historically based stories. Through the lives of real people, brothers Homer and Langley Collyer, he constructs a detailed and engaging narrative, employing his characteristic and beautiful sentence structure that begs to be read aloud. The brothers are true characters and some readers may know of their quirky pack rat lives in early to mid twentieth century Manhattan. Keep in mind that this is fiction, and for the non-fiction story of the brothers, a book by Franz Lidz titled Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers and My Uncle Arthur, New York's Greatest Hoarders is recommended. What Doctorow does, is use the story of two flawed brothers to weave a tale that uses detailed characterization and description to take the reader back to a time in New York City that had both odious and charming aspects. As with Ragtime, the author uses the backdrop of the city, a compelling era, an authentic story, and both made-up and actual characters to weave his own imagined story.
Sues's Staff Pick: I feel obligated to tell readers to stick with this book, even though there are numerous times in the gloomy story that one might be tempted to put it aside. If you know of Erdrich’s writing, give her the benefit of the doubt, knowing that she will not disappoint! If you do not know her work, don’t introduce yourself to her with this novel, but put it aside for later! (I recommend starting with her novel, Love Medicine.) Now, on to Shadow Tag! I can’t think of a more compelling and controversial Book Club selection. This is the story of a marriage and a family. Erdrich weaves into her narrative her characteristic Native American stories, but this is a story of a modern family; a gifted artist who uses his wife as a model for his art, while she imagines herself as a historian while writing simultaneous journals, one to be read surreptitiously by her husband and one hidden away in a safe deposit box. There is a lot of pathology contained in these pages, but it is the mystique and frank voyeurism that captivates. The reader knows that something will happen to end the torture of Gil and Irene’s relationship, but wonders at the real damage that will result to them and to their children. This is a moving, haunting, and ultimately surprising story.
Sues's Staff Pick: Thanks to the millions of readers who loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, this much anticipated follow-up was on the bestseller list before release! And, for her fans, Gilbert’s journalistic style will not disappoint, as she continues her story of personal searching after a horrific failed marriage. I don’t think this book has the intimacy or humor of Eat, Pray, Love, but for those who are curious or who simply want a follow-up to her story, the author delivers. This is a book about starting over, and not allowing past failures to dictate your future. At the same time, the author certainly informs all of her decisions regarding her future by what she learned as chronicled in her previous book. I found some aspects of the book to be tedious, and likened those parts to a textbook on marriage—what to do and not to do prior to committing. However, her journey and story is continued in these pages, and I believe the book will satisfy those who care about and learn from the passages that Gilbert navigates.
Sues's Staff Pick: Another book for young readers, this one for a girl aged nine to thirteen...although, I enjoyed this quick read! This is eleven year old Maud’s story of being adopted from a truly horrid foundling home by three aging sisters. She is pulled into their deceptive business of holding séances for wealthy grieving clients. Her relationship with a deaf housemaid is sweet and powerful. We see her evolution from a “difficult” orphan to a thinking and conscientious girl who has to make quick and grown-up decisions that are not always to her advantage. This is truly a melodrama, but what young girl doesn’t love drama? I have been recommending this book to my young readers, and haven’t had one complaint!
Sues's Staff Pick: This book comes to us from a publisher whose salesman describes their book choices as, “the greatest books never read!” Unbridled Books is a small press that really chooses their authors and books for true literary content and conscientious storytelling. The story begins when James Gates is a seven-year-old boy--a boy with one green eye and one brown eye--a light-complexioned boy with African textured light colored hair. His mother was a slave; his father the master of the plantation on which they lived. This father scoops him up one morning and sends him off to boarding school in England, freedom papers and a copy of the “Declaration of Independence” in hand. While now free, his plight goes from bad to worse as he makes his way back to the States with his British accent and education. He discovers that if he wears a hat and turns the right way, he can “pass” in white society. And, regardless of the documents that he carries in his pocket, passing is still of utmost importance post Civil War. Always in the forefront of his thought are the parting words given to him by his father, “We all suffer...and we are all going to die. It’s a law of nature...we are not in control. We do not live for ourselves. But, we are free!” Because his father always walked to the cabin to see James and his mother, James changed his name to Freeman Walker. He too was a walker and he walks as he fights in the Civil War. Post-war he walks to search for his mother. He walks west in his attempts to find gold and himself. Here the book takes on a local favor for westerners that are informative and uniquely part of Freeman Walker’s story. This is a great tale that gives the reader views into American slavery, the underbelly of London in the mid-1800s and the unidealized era of this nation’s new frontier. Beautifully written, I found myself reading aloud passages just to hear the magic of the words.
Sues's Staff Pick: This gorgeous book is at the top of my favorite children’s books of the year, and one that could easily work as a coffee table book for adults. The beautifully illustrated book is the story of one house, told by the house in sparse, yet lovely poetry. Children love the illustrations of the house, all placed from the same perspective and told over the years that the house has existed. They are quick to point out what remains the same, as the house ages. And, while this is the house’s story, the reader learns some history of the various inhabitants and visitors, and of what is going on in the world during that time. To me, it is the perfect picture book from which to begin a dialogue with your listeners, whether it be about history, farming, house building…the topics are endless! This is a book that will be taken down from the shelf often by children wanting the same story but always with a bit different twist.