March 2016 Staff Picks
"Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book.." – Author Unknown.
March staff picks are here for living.
Recommended by Jamie: This book sang to me. I loved its beautiful cadence and rhythm from the moment I picked it up. Meet Lucy, raised in Illinois but later moved to Manhattan, and we pick up her story in a hospital bed in New York City. She’s not critically ill, but seriously ill enough that her mother will make the trip to visit with her, and Lucy confronts all kinds of remembrances of her past. I felt so keenly Lucy’s heartfelt longing to be loved by her mother. Elizabeth Strout writes just beautifully, and if you like a beautiful book, I hope this one will sing to you too.
Recommended by Virgie: Alice, a young publicist, is sent on a mission to help and encourage Mimi Banning, a literary recluse, to finish her novel. Once there, Alice discovers that her real purpose is to be a caregiver to Mimi’s nine year-old son Frank, a quirky child who dresses strangely, loves old films, and knows many facts. At once, Alice is given two rules … no touching Frank … no touching Frank’s things!
This is a rather light-hearted story with lovable, unique characters. The reader gains access to the mindset of writer’s block, and enters the life of a quirky, young Frank, whom you will grow to love. I’m still trying to determine if Frank is a weirdo or a one-in-a-million. But then, after all, what is the difference?
Recommended by Emily: The Illegal combines the suspense of a thriller with the character development and social commentary of the best literary fiction.
Keita Ali is a world-class marathon runner from Zantoroland, a fictionalized country in the Indian Ocean. Zantoroland is controlled by a ruthless military dictator. After the Zantoroland government murders his father, a journalist, Keita fears his life is in peril too. Keita flees to the neighboring country of Freedom State.
The government of Freedom State does not welcome refugees and was elected by fear-mongering. In Freedom State, Keita exists in the underground world of undocumented people. He tries to keep a low-profile while surfacing only to run races.
Honestly, I was late to work once (or twice) when I couldn’t stop reading this book. I compulsively thought about The Illegal because I cared about the characters so much and I had to know what happened to them.
With The Illegal, author Lawrence Hill makes an important contribution to ongoing conversations about race and racism, globalisation, home and belonging. You should read this book; it will make you think.
Recommended by Chris: The Last Days of Magic is a wonderful combination of historical fiction, myth, and fairy creatures. This is the tale of twins Aisling and Anya. One is born to unite the Celts with the fairy kingdom and the other is born to rule. Author Mark Tompkins really takes you to Ireland.
This is for the readers who liked Discovery of Witches or The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic.
Recommended by Jamie: This is an older book, but because Groff is coming for Literary Sojourn, I thought you might be interested in the review while you’re choosing what to read for September. And I highly recommend this one: it’s the story of Bit, a little boy growing up on a commune in upstate New York, and all the trials of his young life and then as he grows older and the commune disassembles, what becomes of him in the “real world.”
Bit’s relationships with those from Arcadia are real and deep, and Groff truly constructs a whole world surrounding her characters. Of particular interest is her imagining of the future; the book ends in 2018, not too far in the future now, but Groff’s image is pretty bleak. A blight destroys all citrus fruit, climate change ruins agriculture. Though in the story this makes sense in contrast to Arcadia, I’m also interested to see if her prophesies come true.
I picked this up because of the VW bus on the cover, because my own sweet VW bus has been limping along the last couple of weeks. Now, I feel ready to run off and live in my van and start my own commune. Who’s coming?!
Recommended by Jamie: If you are anything like me and can’t get enough of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you’ll be disappointed to learn that in the first pages of this book, editor William Anderson tells us that this is the final well of Laura’s writings. Though letters will continue to emerge over time, this book really represents the last new writing we will see from Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Letters from an author are a way to see a different side of their personality, the social self they projected to the world, captured candidly in their words on the page. Though we couldn’t bear witness to Laura at a party, we have her letters. My favorites are the ones she wrote to her fans, and she was known for replying to almost every fan letter she received (you can imagine that amounts to hundreds of letters). Kind and sincere, simply written as the Little House series, these letters are a way to feel you step through time and meet Laura in person, a feeling I’ve only captured when standing in her kitchen at the Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri.
Recommended by Jamie: I’ll admit that at first I was disappointed that these essays had all been previously published elsewhere and that I wasn’t about to read some secret, stashed Annie Dillard writings for the first time. But for the person who had a hard time following the thin, almost imperceptible narrative thread of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, here is Annie Dillard bite-sized.
These short pieces, often taken from longer works, helped me see certain themes that she carries across all different writings, and they made me want to go back and reread some of her other books. I think this series of essays and book chapters is important because Dillard is such a monumental American writer, yet her understated style has sometimes left people underwhelmed by her work. Continuing to publish her writings will hopefully keep Annie in touch with a new generation, one she (as such a forward thinker) might always have meant to be part.
Recommended by Virgie: This book is small enough to fit in your pocket, but contains wisdom that far excels its size!
Author Ethan Hawke reconstructs the translation from a badly damaged letter written by a 15th-century knight on the eve of his death in battle. The purpose of this letter to his children is to impart his wisdom for life, in case he isn’t able to share his wisdom in person. He leaves nothing out!
I am a woman. I live in the 21st Century. Nevertheless, this book speaks to my soul. It is a steadfast reminder of what is important in life! Each chapter has become my new nightly meditation before sleep... I’m already on my second time around!
Recommended by Victoria: It’s safe to say that I am obsessed with this cookbook. Obsessed. It has transformed my once pathetic cooking skills (a.k.a. microwaving) into a personal hobby. I now love to cook because I know all of my meals are going to be undoubtedly delicious. Don’t let the veganism deter you – these recipes are simple and nutritious. You will amaze yourself with all the meals you can create from a $1.50 bag of chickpeas (I’m serious). The language in Thug Kitchen may be a bit dirty but the food is clean.
Recommended by Victoria : A beautiful, tender book surrounding a friendship of two bears, Ida & Gus, who live in a zoo in the middle of a large city. Ida is Gus’s constant, and Gus is hers – through laughing, playing, resting, sickness and even death. This book inspires the remembrance of our loved ones and the meaning of a deep friendship.
Recommended by Virgie: Big, gruff bear, Bruce, is an excellent cook, but one day a recipe goes all wrong! He finds that he has hatched four baby geese who call him “MAMA!” Although Bruce tries, there is no escaping from this predicament. Instead, he makes the best of it!
This story is not only tender, it is laugh-out-loud funny!
Recommended by Emily: I love this book. Short, clear, poetic text takes readers through the history of humans on earth, from before the development of agriculture to present-day urbanization. Gorgeous painting by Wendell Minor show how humans have changed the planet, and also how we can work together to care for the earth.
Recommended by Chris: This is a wonderful picture book about things that happen in winter: skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, bobsledding and fishing. The illustrations are retro and add clever warmth to the story. This book is so much fun to read and to talk about all the action in the pictures.
Recommended by Jamie: I always love a kids’ book with no words. So much depends on you, the reader, on your willingness to get silly with kids, to use your imagination, to open up your mind. This farmer’s world is turned upside down by the appearance of a clown on his farm, and their contrast—in color and in personality, at least at first—makes for a hilarious friendship that grows between two unlikely characters. I love interpretations of farmers, and this one is especially great; he just seems so rigid at first until you get to know him. One of the best things about investing in a kids’ book with no words is that it can be different every time you read it, and I’m definitely going to read this one at least four times when I’m babysitting two of my favorite charges next weekend!
Recommended by Aly: In this hilarious picture book the age-old battle, who is better: cat or dog, takes a whole new turn when a new “pet” is added to the house. Can Dog and Cat work together and get along or will the newest addition to Mr. and Mrs. Button’s home take over their room?
Recommended by Virgie: War has changed 12 year-old Peter’s life. When his father joins the army, Peter has to travel 300 miles away from home to live with his grandfather. On the way to Grandfather’s, Peter is forced to abandon his pet fox, Pax, whom he nurtured since Pax was only weeks old. Peter is devastated and determined to find Pax … on his own!
This adventure story is narrated in chapters that alternate between the voices of Peter and Pax, exposing emotions and hurdles as they try to find each other.
I recommend this book to anyone who can imagine loving someone so much they would walk miles on foot to be together again! It is a journey worth taking. I predict Pax will be a classic!
Recommended by Aly: Forced to compete for the prince’s hand in marriage, America wants nothing more than to run back home to her secret ex-boyfriend, Aspen. As the competition becomes fiercer and more girls are eliminated, America can’t help but notice Prince Maxon is nothing like she thought. As her new love interest heats up, an old face crashes her fairytale daydream, leaving her with a choice, if she doesn’t ruin her chances first!
Recommended by Aly: The competition has been narrowed to six royal hopefuls. America continues to struggle between her first love, Aspen, or a future she never imagined with Prince Maxon. While America is conflicted, the other girls know exactly what they want and they’re not afraid to go after their royal dreams. If America doesn’t choose soon, she’ll no longer have a choice to make.
Recommended by Chris: In a land that is filled with sand and not much hope for anything else (especially for girls), Amani takes a chance at the Deadshot contest to win enough money to move on from her small outpost town. But all she finds is trouble. Amani now has to figure out where she will go, because she can’t go home. But she wants to follow her dreams and go to the capitol to find her aunt.
This is a wonderful adventure story. You will fall in love with the characters.
Recommended by Chris: From debut author Taran Matharu: The Novice is the story of Fletcher, who has to leave his hometown of Pelt after there is an incident with some other young boys. He finds himself being accepted to the Vocans Academy, which is a school for summoners. But will he make it to graduation?
This was such a fun read and I cannot wait for the next book to come out.