Mad March Staff Picks
Meander through the mass of manuscripts in these magnificent march staff picks
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Known for his books that deal with mental health and the human condition, Matt Haig came out in full force with The Midnight Library. The premise is simple-Nora has decided to die, but somewhere in the midst of the whole endeavor, she finds herself in the library between worlds. There, she can pick up her life at any point, undo any regret, remake any choice. If she finds the chosen life disappointing, she’ll come back to the library and start again. Go until you find a life you'll be completely satisfied with. Dear reader, I think you can see the catch-22 in that statement. The whole story is a lesson in human kindness and human impact, filled with tough love and sweet moments, not to mention a heaping share of gallows humor. The Midnight Library is not to be missed. If there was ever a book that demonstrates the profound effect your everyday actions can have on the world around you, this is it. ~ Jenna
Hashimi’s novels always open my mind to middle east culture and history. Sparks Like Stars is a heartbreaking story that begins during a military coup in Kabul, in which ten year old Sitara witnesses the brutal murder of her family and everyone in the presidential palace, including the president of Afghanistan. When a palace guard finds Sitara, he smuggles her out of the palace and leaves her in the street with a random woman, who brings her to America. Forty years later, Sitara (now Aryana) is a renowned surgeon in America. She recognizes one of her patients as the palace guard, which sparks her suppressed memory of the homeland she loved and then lost. Aryana must finally come to terms with her tragedy, even if it means traveling back to Afghanistan! ~ Virgie
I’m a sucker for all things Austen, and The Other Bennet Sister did not disappoint! Hadlow’s story follows the forgotten sister, Mary, as she journeys from a plain and awkward girl to a young woman whose happiness she will take into her own hands. We start Mary’s story while she is still at home, living in the shadow of her more vivacious and beautiful sisters. Her mother does nothing to help Mary’s self-esteem issues, always holding her up against the beautiful Jane or the clever Lizzy. It’s not until Mary is able to break free of her oppressive household that she is able to truly blossom into the bright, capable young woman that she always was. Once out from the shadow of her sisters, Mary may even be able to find the one thing she’s always yearned for - love. ~ Megan
It’s 1922 in Macon, GA, the Klan is at its highest and The Birth of a Nation threatens to bring the forces of Hell to Earth. The only ones standing in the way are a small team of resistance fighters, their champions being a Harlem Hellfighter, a sharpshooter, and Maryse Boudreax, armed with a sword that sings. This book was an absolute trip of racial tension, Gullah culture, swashbuckling action, and a bit of a look at the nature of hate. Clark’s world here was incredible and left me frothing at the mouth for more, full of cosmic secrets and deliciously dark imagery. I desperately hope for further novels in this world he’s built and once you’ve read it you will too! ~ Ryan
If you liked The World of Darkness (RPG), Underworld, or the Cal Leandros series, you’ll love this book (and vice versa)
Hubbard is an artist, she weaves a story so delectable it will leave your mouth watering. First, we meet Mr. Sitwell, the groundskeeper for a once affluent family. He and a bare-bones staff maintain an illusion of opulence. When he and Miss. Mamie, the cook, create a meat sauce to make meat scraps passable as an appetizer, their recipe is swooped up by a businessman and Mr. Sitwell becomes the face of Rib King sauce. This is a tale of memories, revenge, privilege, and making a name for oneself. It is a slow-burning tale that will leave you craving more. ~ Izzy
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Now out in paperback to much fanfare! For Fans of bookstores and classic murder mysteries, this is the book for you. An indie bookstore bookseller writes a list of, in his opinion, the eight perfect literary murders. Subsequently someone begins committing murders straight off his list! Of course, Agatha Christie is on the list and true to her brilliant examples this book has genius plot twists. Great fun, fast read and you may come away with eight more must-read murder mysteries to add to your stack of books! ~ Kim B.
The newest collection of poetry by Amanda Lovelace is an ode to the challenges of womanhood. Covering everything from the trials of abuse to the judgment that follows those who remain voluntarily childfree, Shine Your Icy Crown is a love letter to any woman who has ever been called stubborn or bossy or a bitch. It is a call to stand your ground in a world that would rather you give in. ~ Jenna
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Tom Valeska and Darcy Barrett go all the way back to grade school, when Tom was the shy kid next door in need of a family to look after him. Even then, Darcy was more than slightly obsessed with Tom - an obsession that didn’t get much better when Tom got engaged to Megan the aesthetician after 8 years of dating. Now, though, after Darcy has traveled the world and Tom has started his own construction business, the two are reunited for the first time in years to work on Darcy’s grandmother’s dilapidated house. Tom has been under Darcy’s twin brother Jamie’s thumb for years, but Jamie is stuck in the city while the renovation happens - and Darcy means to take this opportunity to make Tom 100% her’s. Well, maybe she’ll settle for 99%... ~ Megan
“How easy it is to become the thing you most hate, or fear.” This is the story of the aftermath of a brutal rape and attack which takes place in West Texas during the ’70s. There are two sides to this story; a 14-year-old Hispanic girl, newly arrived in town, whose mother has been deported to Mexico vs a white “wonderboy,” son of the town preacher. The townswomen did what they could to support this tragedy, but I was outraged by the toxic culture that breeds racism, judgment, and violence against women. Is there any way that justice can prevail, or is the call for justice loud but unheard? ~ Virgie
This story caught me from the very beginning and never let me go! Set in the 1980’s Glasgow, this is the story of a mother’s alcohol addiction and Shuggie, her 8-year-old son, whose love for his mother never wanes, as he constantly protects her, in the only way an 8-year-old can. Agnes Bain only meant to escape the bleak and depressing life of poverty and welfare. She did not intend to become an alcoholic who could not function as the mother of her children. Survival appeared grim. The story’s subject matter was so shattering, that I often had to pause and let this tragic story settle in my mind. It helped me to better understand addiction and addictive personality. ~ Virgie
When Claire Beauchamp headed to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank to enjoy a second honeymoon, she expected a nice respite from the horrors of WWII (and perhaps a bit of boredom from her husband’s genealogy expeditions). What she did not expect is to be caught up in the magic of the highlands, whisked away 200 years into the past and dumped in the middle of a fraught time in Scottish history. Claire finds herself in a tricky position, suspected by both English and Scottish forces alike as a spy. In order to keep her out of the hands of the sadistic Captain Randall, she must ally herself with a particularly handsome Scotsman, Jamie Fraser. Will Claire ever make it back to 1945 and Frank? Or does her destiny lie with the Highland clans - and Jamie? ~ Megan
This short story collection astounded me. Each story is deeply personal, creating an almost voyeuristic feeling whilst reading. Philyaw uses these stories to explore the most private feelings of her characters and how these feelings interact with their churches. This relationship’s significance and shape changes with each story making for a collection that encompasses a magnitude of emotions.
This is an excellent collection that demonstrates what a good short story is, a glimpse into a world that piques interest and satisfies a small craving. ~ Izzy
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What would you give up to provide a better and safer life for your children? This novel may be short, but it gives a powerful punch! This is the story of a Columbian family who leave the dangers of their home country in pursuit of safety and opportunity in the United States. Once their tourist visas expire, they live in the shadow of being undocumented immigrants, constantly looking over their shoulders in fear of being deported. This powerful novel, allows the reader to “feel” what it’s like to be called “illegal”, to feel unwelcome, to fear the police, realizing they could be flagged for nothing more than their complexion, to feel “less than,” The story, written by a native Columbian, spans two countries and fifteen years. The author provides vivid scenes of Bogata amidst a backdrop of civil war and social unrest. This is a timely novel that presents the courage and complexity of the immigrant experience, and in my opinion, would benefit US citizens. ~ Virgie
Lucy and Joshua absolutely, positively, without a doubt hate each other. Joshua is a tall straight-laced neat freak with a glare that could cut through steel; Lucy is a whimsical librarian-type standing at 5-foot-nothing with a wicked tongue. Ever since their respective publishing companies merged, the two of them have loathed each other from their opposing desks. Their rivalry kicks up a notch when the co-CEO’s of their company announce that they’re both up for consideration for the new COO position. One company paintball game and an unexpected fever later, everything is up in the air - is Joshua actually an asshole? Or does he have a secret soft side under that muscly, serious exterior? This is a delightful haters-to-lovers romp that pairs perfectly with cozy pajamas and some Ben and Jerry’s! ~Megan
This collection of Butler’s short stories and essays exhibits Butler’s wide range. Each story explores a different future or world whilst asking questions about humanity, love, disease, and so much more. The afterwords that follow each story are insightful and often quite funny. The two essays she includes have excellent writing advice. If you are looking to dip your toes into Butler’s fiction or looking for more of her work, this is the book for you. ~Izzy
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Dune is a classic and very rightly so! Paul is the son and heir to Duke Leto of House Atreides, who have recently come to rule the desert planet of Arakis, an essential economical lynchpin for the galaxy and its ruling bodies. Herbert’s world is meticulously crafted and captivating, full of political intrigue, danger, and mysteries that balance on the line between science and magic. As you read, watch Paul go from an unsure young man to a rightful Duke learning to live in and love a culture not his own, as he heads down an inevitable path against an entire empire. ~ Ryan
This has everything a great Star Wars story needs: a roguish Capitan with a sidekick only he can communicate with, Jedi knights with a complicated relationship with the force and the council, a padawan finding his footing, and amazing women who are far more competent than most everyone else on the expedition.
Into the Dark takes place during the golden age of the Republic. Hyperspeed travel is making it so the very edge of the frontier can be reached by the Republic's light. Some folks are happy about it, others, not so much. Though the light side of the force is strong, darkness is starting to seep in at the edges. ~ Izzy
:::TRIGGER WARNING::: This is not for the faint of heart. If you are easily angered and feel personally attacked by the idea of ‘white privilege’ or the oppression of people of color, this book is CERTAINLY for you, but be prepared to confront your own biases and open your mind to some hard truths.
Ijeoma Oluo is an amazing, compassionate, approachable author that uses both historical research and personal experiences to delve into what white male privilege has done to people of color, women (especially women of color), and even white males themselves. She does well to not be condescending, and challenges the readers to think about what they can do to dismantle the oppressive systems we have come to rely on. This was written for normal people to digest, and should not be confused with an academic piece like a textbook.
If you’d like to further your personal work to dismantle some oppression, check out:
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo
How to Be an Antiracist and its workbook by Ibram X. Kendi ~ Kim T
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This is a great book for anyone that wants to know how the brain works and how it works with mental illness in particular. Despite what it may seem from the cover Buddha’s Brain is actually a very in-depth look at neurology, interweaving evolutionary science with studies about meditation in an attempt to rewire the neurotransmitters and negative pathways in your brain. If you’ve ever been interested in the hard science behind meditation this book is for you. ~Sam
This book exposes the dark side of China’s “rags to riches” transformation and our own pleasure in the cheap products we consume daily, in search of the lowest prices. After reading Made in China, it’s apparent that consumers around the world have become complicit in allowing the Chinese government to profit from the forced labor and “re-education” camps. This nonfiction book begins with an American finding a scrawled note in the Halloween box she recently purchased. It was an SOS plea for help from a man being held in the Masanjia labor camp in China. From this point, the narrative moves between the situation of the man being held, (including a historical timeline of how this practice came to be) and the American woman’s search for any possible way to help this man, from afar. The horrifying nightmare of this situation will make me “think twice” about my own personal purchases. ~ Virgie
Brene’ Brown is really amazing at inspiring growth in life and business. She has spoken with rave reviews to Pixar Studios, The United States Air Force, Google, many school districts, Facebook, the list goes on. We are reading this for a board I am on. Her message of leading through vulnerability is powerful and the fact that it resonates with our military to our best nonprofits and racial/gender alliances shows how universal this message is. Her guidance can be used as a guidebook for your start-up or simply how to run your own life better. ~Kim B
What is wild food? How have human’s relationship with the wild and the bounty it produces changed with migrations, climate change, wars, and inequalities? La Cerva explores these questions and more in Wild Feasting. She weaves her own adventures with wild food into historical and social analysis of our food patterns. This makes for a truly fascinating exploration of our relationship with food and how it has changed. By including her narrative, La Cerva makes what could be a dense topic interesting and highly relatable. Her writing is lyrical and makes complex concepts easy to understand.
If you are interested in the arc of human history and/or food, you will enjoy this book. ~Izzy
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There are many meditative books available, but I have found this one to provide 365 short, but insightful, daily reflections. You can read each day according to the date, or find a page that matches your needs. I’ve used these selections for about 10 years, and my soul still finds meaning and inspiration in its messages. ~Virgie
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Nothing is as it seems at Caraval. Magic and madness stain what was once a dream destination for Scarlett. Ever since they were little girls Scarlett and her sister Donatella dreamed of being able to go to Caraval. Then Scarlett received the invitations. When the girls arrive at Caraval, Donatella is kidnapped and the only way to get her back is by winning the game put in place at Caraval. Will Scarlett be able to save her sister before the game comes to an end, or will she get lost in the lies and secrets she’s starting to discover as she plays?
If you liked Caraval you should read:
This book is a knockout and a must-read for any mythology nerd. Set in New York City, this story follows Lore Perseous, who is the last member of her family. Her’s is only one family of many, which are all part of an ancient secret society descended from the greatest heroes from classical Greek myth. Their quest is to hunt and kill 9 members of the ancient Greek pantheon, who rebelled against Zeus. Those who kill the gods inherit their powers and immortality but for one week every 7 years, when they become mortal and are hunted in their own right. Lore thought she left the world of her family, but finds herself dragged back in when Athena, one of the last original gods, turns up bloody on her doorstep, and an old friend Lore thought long dead reappears. In a mad dash across the city Lore and her band of misfits have to find a way to stop the hunt, or risk a danger even greater than the old gods descending on their world
As an absolute maniac for anything that turns the classics on their heads, I can’t say enough about this one. Full of twists I didn’t see coming, and a supremely satisfying ended, Bracken proves she is an absolutely masterful writer. ~ Jenna
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If you’re like me and read the Twilight books in middle school or high school, you’ve probably been waiting for this book for a loooong time - and it did not disappoint! Midnight Sun is a retelling of the original Twilight book, but this time from the perspective of Edward Cullen. This book reminded me of what I loved about the Twilight books when I first read them - the suspense, the ache of forbidden love, the will-he-or-won’t-he tension - except this time, from the vampire’s perspective. It was fascinating to see more details of Edward’s life before Bella, and to find out more about his family. Fair warning - once you finish Midnight Sun, you’ll probably want to re-read the rest of the series (and be grumpy that Stephanie Meyer hasn’t rehashed the whole series from Edwards’s perspective!) ~ Megan
Amy Tintera writes of a very interesting world where there are monster hunting-squads are at the forefront of all the social media. So not just in the news but all over “Twitter”, “Instagram”, you can comment on the hunters you like the most and follow them just like superstars.
She also has very blurred lines as to what to do with these monsters given that everyone just goes about their daily business like not much is happening. Which side are you for?
I liked this book and am waiting, if not very patiently, for the next to come soonish. She does a wonderful job of having a very diverse cast of characters that each bring something to the storyline.
If you liked this, you should read:
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David Yoon perfectly captures what we all feel at some point in our lives. We aren’t exactly sure where we fit in, and we definitely have had crushes on people that seem out of our league or our high school tribe. And, sometimes, some of us lie to get people to like us. Join Sunny as he discovers new things about himself while navigating ever-evolving relationships with Cirrus, his friends, and his family. ~ Kim T
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Nor and Zadie are twins and as thick as thieves, living in their floating village Varenia. As the most beautiful girls they are both in the running to be chosen as the future bride to the prince of Ilara, who rules them and demands a steady supply of the pink pearls only their people can provide. In a twist of fate though, Nor is forced to go to the mainland to marry the prince in Zadie’s place, and god help her if she is found out. What she finds is a web of intrigue and murder, and a plot so foul it may bring their entire kingdom to its knees. Now in the clutches of a prince as cold as ice, and wrestling with feelings for a man she should pay no heed to, Nor must discover the truth or risk the lives of not only her family, but her entire society.
I love this one for its unique magical system, and a sea-based culture unlike anything else being written in YA lit. The first in a duology, this is a great story for anyone looking for a departure from the regular YA fare. Also check out Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. ~ Jenna
Amraeya ni Ansarim is an observant, clever, and content young woman. Her village and family are all the community she needs. One busy market day, her best friend’s sister is snatched. Snatchers have been plaguing her country for decades and Rea isn’t one to simply do nothing. When an opportunity to visit her cousin at the palace arises, she takes the chase to investigate the Snatchers and why they have been allowed to keep stealing children.
This is a fantasy mystery that kept me reading until about 4 am, I couldn’t put this book down. The Theft of Sunlight hosts conversations about morality, corruption, compromise, ability, and vulnerability. It’s the perfect book for when you want a good adventure with a little something deeper. ~ Izzy
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If you’re a fan of Gary Paulsen’s books, such as Hatchett, and if you wonder how in the world he can write so many amazing stories that keep you on the “edge of your chair,” then you must read this book! Paulsen’s childhood was “broken.” He learned to survive with the two things that made him feel alive; nature and knowledge. This book, which reads like an adventure story, explains how Paulsen was at home in nature. It was the only place he felt safe. The novel also reveals a compassionate librarian who introduced Paulsen to the knowledge held within a book’s pages. Books became water for his “thirsty brain.” After reading his story, you will understand that Paulsen’s novels are a result of his childhood experiences. That is why they are so captivating! ~ Virgie
Steamboat is a town very similar to the one in Sled Dog School, with winters full of snow and there are several sled dogs running around the area. Matt makes it his school project to teach his fellow students all about the art of dog sledding. There is so much more than meets the eye when he starts this project. This is a story about perseverance and getting goals.
I liked how the dogs play a big part in the book. Their characters are so fun and playful!! ~ Chris
IF you liked this, you should read:
The Good Dog by Avi (Local Favorite)
Could you survive with nothing but your wits, an abandoned town, and a dog? When Maddie wakes up to a completely empty town, she has to figure out how to survive all alone. Feral pets, natural disasters, and loneliness all threaten Maddie’s life and sanity.
Alone is a great take on a survival story. Freeman really dives into the importance of mental toughness alongside physical toughness in survival. If you like Gary Paulsen, then you will like this. ~ Izzy
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Oona is a mermaid with a hunger for exploration. She loves to collect treasure and get into a little bit of trouble along the way. There is one treasure, a beautiful crown at the bottom of the rift, that eludes her. Oona and her sea creature friends try again and again to get this crown and fail again and again. One day, after she had given up, Oona has a great idea! Will this one pan out?
Oona is a story about how hard it is to fail over and over and how important it is to take a break and come back to a problem. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and add to the whimsey of this story. ~ Izzy
This is a super cute picture book about having confidence in yourself and just going for it. Corey Tabor does a wonderful job with this book, he makes the book more interactive by making you change the way that you read it, which is very clever!! I also love all the other characters and their desire to help Mel. This is a great book to start with your young reader. ~ Chris
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Cole wrote a letter to a knight asking to become his knight assistant, and the knight said yes! Cole learns all sorts of knight skills, like sharpening knight pencils and comforting other scared knights after nightmares. When the Underwear Dragon attacks and defeats all the other knights Cole is all that is left.
Attack of the Underwear dragon is a delightful book about learning from and eventually surpassing your teachers. It is also a refreshing depiction of men’s emotions. Knights cry and get scared, and that’s ok. ~ Izzy