Except for a three year stint as a stay-at-home dad, Mark has been with Third Place Books since the fall of 2001, and was one of the original crew to open the Ravenna location. He loves fiction, philosophy, family and walking.
Tasha: A Son's Memoir will, without a doubt, end up on my list of ten best books this year. This is a wonderful memoir about Brian Morton's relationship with his mother in her later years. For most of his life, Brian has been able to keep his mother at arm's length, but as her health starts to decline, he must get involved with her upkeep and care. Tasha is laugh-out-loud funny, with moments of poignancy, but most of all Tasha is an honest memoir about family.
In Five Years has sold consistently for at least a year, so I decided to read it out of curiosity. I was expecting a light romance, but Rebecca Serle surprised me. Early in the book, Dannie Kohan gets a glimpse of what her life will be like in five years and it's not what she had envisioned. Once back in present day, she decides to work against fate and change the future she had foreseen. In Five Years ends up being a smart and poignant book about love and friendship, and how we never have the control of our life that we may think.
We all have struggles, but some of us struggle more than others. When Martha was seventeen "a little bomb went off in her brain," and she has struggled to find happiness ever since. As the book begins, Martha has just turned forty and her husband throws her a birthday party, but he moves out two days later, due to ongoing difficulties with Martha. Meg Mason writes honestly about mental health and depression, and even though Martha is very adept at self-sabotaging her own life, we pull for her and hope that she and her husband can find their way back to each other.
Last year (2021) there were a couple literary appreciations of Laurie Colwin's work, along with reissues of her novels. I had been curious about Colwin's fiction for quite a while, but I finally dipped into Happy All the Time, which is about Guido and Vincent, friends since childhood and third cousins, finally finding true and lasting love. The women in their lives are the truly interesting characters in this story though. Holly and Misty are strong-willed individuals with minds of their own, and certainly no pushovers. If you like your love stories filled with humor and humanity, then Laurie Colwin is a writer to check out. She was also well known for her food column in Gourmet magazine, which is anthologized in Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.
This debut mystery from the co-creator of the Deadpool comic book series is a wonderfully quirky whodunit, featuring one of the most likeable characters to solve a murder in many a moon. Andrea Stern was an up and coming FBI profiler when she became pregnant and chose motherhood over a career in law enforcement. After four children, and with a fifth on the way, she stumbles onto a crime scene at a local gas station and cannot resist investigating the shooting. She ties the current shooting with a fifty-year old murder that has been covered up for generations. Aiding Andrea in her investigation is Kenneth Lee, one of the youngest journalists to ever win the Pulitzer Prize, only to fall from grace for making up a story about big pharma in an effort to regain his fame. Suburban Dicks is a pleasant diversion and it was a perfect summertime read. Fabian Nicieza has created what I hope will be a continuing series, because I'm ready for more.
American Estrangement is Sayrafiezadeh's second book of short stories and one of the more original collections that I've read in quite a while. There are poignant portrayals of parent and child relationships, humorous predicaments and also some speculative fiction that left me feeling a bit unsettled, but in a good way. If you're a fan of short stories, give this collection a try.
Cultish by Amanda Montell is an entertaining romp through the curious world of cults. From Jim Jones to Teal Swan, and from Heaven's Gate to Amway, Montell covers cults and in particular the language of cults. She delves into what qualifies as a cult and the positive aspects of community. From Multi-level Marketing to Instagram influencers, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism is a fresh take on an old theme. Told with humor and fascinating side notes, I highly recommend Cultish to skeptics and believers alike.
The world is just as beautiful and mysterious at night as it is during daylight hours, but not being nocturnal animals, we often miss those wonders. In The Night Walk, a family arises in the middle of the night and walks through the village, observing a world they don't usually get to see. Wonderfully illustrated, The Night Walk is a quiet and evocative treasure of a book.
This debut novel by E. Lily Yu is an immigration story. The Daizangi family are traveling from Pakistan for Australia. The story, for the most part, is told through the eyes of young Firuzeh, who is traveling with her younger brother Nour, and her parents. Firuzeh briefly befriends a young girl on the boat that eventually lands them on the island of Nauru, but her friend Nasima falls overboard during a rainstorm, and drowns at sea. Nasima reappears as a ghost, who keeps Firuzeh company as she makes her way in a new land. Even though there are supernatural elements (or maybe just Firuzah's vivid imagination, helping her to survive) this story of a family's struggle to survive, and fit in somewhere in the world is grounded in reality. A heartbreaking story that gives those of us living in relative comfort a peek into the struggles that are faced by so many in this world.
Blacktop Wasteland bolts out of the gate with a first chapter that is propulsive and unrelenting. Beauregard "Bug" Montage is a getaway driver, who has been trying to get out of the life, but overwhelming debts pull him back in. Cosby has raced to the top of the list of thriller writers to watch with this novel. Besides being a top notch crime novel, Blacktop Wasteland also weaves in issues of race and poverty without feeling preachy. You could wait for the paperback, but I wouldn't advise it.
In Halfway Home, Miller recounts the stories of men and women, who have served their time in the U.S. correctional system, and upon their release have fulfilled all the legal requirements, but are still kept on the fringes of society, struggling to find employment and housing at every turn. Miller weaves legal history into the personal stories, filling in the details of mass incarceration in this country. But this is also a very personal story for Miller, who recounts his own family's struggles with the legal system, and whose father and brothers have both been in and out of cages throughout their lives. It's the personal element to these tales and Reuben Miller's empathy with his subjects that makes this book so affecting.
A fascinating history of the cultural stigma of mental illness that simultaneously provides a history of psychiatry, psychology and the creation of the DSM, among other things. While reading this book I constantly had the urge to turn to the person next to me and exclaim, "Wow! Listen to this!" Grinker provides a detailed global history of mental illness and how various cultures have dealt with it. From the creation of asylums to the employment of autistic individuals, Grinker has authored an empathetic overview of his subject with much to mull over as we become more accepting of those that may be different from ourselves. We're all on the spectrum!
I credit Barbara Pym's Excellent Women with helping to get me through the lock-down at the beginning of the pandemic. Pym has been compared to Jane Austen and Excellent Women is probably her most successful novel.
Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter, living in 1950's England. She is one of the spinsterish "excellent women," who help keep things in order at her local church. This wonderful comedy of manners is filled with quirky characters. It's funny and poignant and it may just be the novel to get you through the dark winter ahead.
Sitting down to write this staff pick, I was a little worried about revealing too much, but the synopsis is on the back and the cover illustration...well, let me just say ignore the flames and dive into this fiery novel. You will not regret it. I have recommended this book many times and I've never had a reader come back and say they didn't love it. Ultimately, it's a book about caring for the most vulnerable, even though they may not seem so vulnerable at the moment.
In my youth I read quite a bit of science fiction, but my interests shifted over the years and I veered away from that genre a little. Over the last few years though, I found myself craving a good sci-fi adventure with spaceships and aliens. Last fall I happened across a copy of Providence by Max Barry (author of Lexicon) and it fit the bill perfectly. I read half the book in one sitting! Interesting characters aboard a ship a mile and a half long venture into deep space to save civilization from impending doom. It's an intense ride from start to finish.
This brilliant collection of short stories is Mariana Enriquez's English language debut. In some ways, these stories could easily fit into the horror genre, but they would be more appropriate in a category simply labeled Unsettling. The story "The Neighbor's Courtyard" still haunts my dreams, in a good way.
Weird dark stories for weird dark times.
My Father's Words begins with a tragedy, but ends with a heart full of hope. In this little novela, Fiona and Finn O'Brien lose their father in the first chapter in a car accident. They must learn to cope with their grief, but luckily their friend Luke has a great idea. Why not volunteer at the local dog shelter? They learn that by helping others, they in turn are able to help themselves. I have read many books about death and grieving, but My Father's Words by Patricia MacLachlan (The Poet's Dog) may just be the best of the bunch. A beautiful book suitable for any age.
The Dearly Beloved is the story of a friendship between two couples over many years. The men are both pastors. One of the wives is a nonbeliever and the other is the daughter of a minister. I love a book with characters that I can care about and want to follow. The Dearly Beloved is exactly that book. There are plenty of discussions about faith and doubt, but this novel is really about friendship and marriage and allowing others to be their true selves. I am a nonbeliever myself, but I do believe in the power of kindness and this book reaffirms that belief.
At the end of the year, we tend to reflect on life, and sometimes vow to make positive changes in our behavior. When it comes to our hopes and dreams, it often feel like we are fighting a losing battle, but how much of that is simply perception? Alain de Botton and the School of Life has produced a lovely volume of essays, advising readers on the art of living a fulfilled life, with the emphasis on emotional intelligence. This book can be dipped into at your leisure, and provides the reader with the tools to thrive in this modern day chaos that we call society.
A book for people who love books. George Pelecanos is a master at writing crime novels peopled with flawed and yet endearing characters. Michael Hudson was a dedicated member of the prison book club, until he is released, and then he must battle to maintain his dignity and stay on the straight and narrow. Pelecanos has written for the television shows 'The Wire" and "The Deuce," and -- in my oh-so-humble opinion -- he's one of the most dependable writers working today.
To call Looker a compulsive read would be a massive understatement. The narrator of Looker is going through a painful breakup with her husband, after years of unsuccessfully trying to start a family. She has developed an unhealthy obsession with a neighbor on her block, who also happens to be a famous actress. There are many layers to this debut novel: Society's unhealthy preoccupation with the social media profiles of celebrities. The pressure on women to raise a family, while maintaining their youthful appearance. The lack of human connection between people, who live right next door. Looker made it onto my top ten list of books read in 2018. Maybe it will show up in your top ten list for 2019.
This profoundly moving novel begins in 1973 and spans four decades, covering the lives of two families, who live next door to each other just north of New York City. The fathers were rookie cops together and briefly partners, before their paths diverged. When the children are nearing high school age, tragedy strikes and what had seemed an idyllic life in a quiet neighborhood is thrown into disarray. Mary Beth Keane deftly deals with issues such as mental health, alcoholism and immigration while treating her well-drawn characters with kindness. One of my favorite books of the year.
Funny, dark and often absurd, this debut collection of short stories from the creator of the hit animated series "BoJack Horseman" is a winner. There is heartbreak aplenty, a door into a parallel universe and a theme park, featuring the U.S. presidents with large foam heads. But for me, the goat-infused wedding at the heart of "A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion" was itself worth the price of admission.
Blake Crouch previously impressed me with his sci-fi thriller Dark Matter, which takes place across parallel universes. This time he has blown my mind with a novel, which is about time travel on the surface, but also about how memory works and informs who we are as individuals. To me, the sign of a good book is when you continue to absorb its ideas long after closing the cover. Recursion has had me thinking for weeks, especially about how we, as humans, experience time. A fascinating novel, which is also a heck of a page-turner.
Washington Black is the best book I've read in a while. The story is told by George Washington Black, who is born into slavery on the island of Barbados, then a British colony. What starts off as a brutal slave story soon becomes an adventure tale, as Washington Black ends up on a ship bound for Virgina, and then finds himself bound for the Arctic. The threat of the slave plantation is never far from his thoughts though. I love the narrative voice in this book, which was a finalist for the Man Booker prize and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Canada. (Edugyan lives in Vancouver, CA.) Do yourself a favor and let yourself get caught up in the adventures of Washington Black.
Cicada has worked tirelessly at a cold nameless corporation for 17 years. I'm not sure if he ever made a living wage, or if his job was threatened by an unnamed internet conglomerate entity, but there is something better waiting for Cicada at the end. I can't imagine why I related to this dark and yet hopeful story, but I'll just say that Shaun Tan does it again.
One of my favorite novels has been reissued with a nifty new cover. Wild Life takes place in the Pacific Northwest during the early 1900's, and features Charlotte Bridger Drummond, a fearless, tough-as-nails, independent woman. When a little girl goes missing, Charlotte decides to join the search. Molly Gloss has written a beautiful tale with mythical elements, but that is firmly grounded in the reality of the logging camps and wild woods of the northwest frontier. Unforgettable.
Craig Grossi signed up for the Marines soon after the attack on 9/11. Upon arrival in Afghanistan he was told three unofficial rules: No beer, no porn and no dogs. With dogs, there was some concern about rabies, but mainly it was about the danger of distraction. Within days Craig had met Fred, a happy-go-lucky stray, who scrounged for food around the encampment. Craig started to feed him scraps and a vital friendship was born. The only question was how to get Fred out of Afghanistan and back to the states. This book is a dog story and a road trip, but it's also an exploration into the long road back to normal for our veterans.
I started this novel without any expectations and was well-rewarded. Frankie Burke has just taken a research position at a primate facility. She is studying the mating habits of bonobo monkeys and at the same time she is recovering from surgery to treat her endometriosis. Frankie is focused on her new position and living a life without pain, but in the background there are hints of hints of a looming environmental catastrophe. Soon a dust storm causes the evacuation of the surrounding countryside and Frankie and her human co-workers must do what they can to ensure the survival of the primates in their care. This is a compelling and emotionally stirring tale that stuck with me for days after closing the last page.
A moving story about life and death and what lives on. The Poet's Dog is Teddy, an Irish Wolfhound, and he is the thread that connects the past and the present. Through him, the love of his former owner, Sylvan, who gave him words, and taught him to save others, lives on. A slim and meditative book about love and caring for others during times of hardship.
Peter Cunningham is a writer who doesn't really seem to do much writing. He drinks to much and cheats on his live-in girlfriend without pausing to consider the possible fallout from his misbehavior. This book is very funny and smart, and I couldn't put it down. I'm not really sure why I connected with this novel about a not-so-lovable loser, but before I had finished Early Work, I knew that it would end up on my top ten list of books read in 2018.
At a sanatorium just outside Buenos Aires, where patients are living out their last days, Dr. Quintana and his colleagues have signed up to participate in a medical research project, which concerns the minutes just after death. They just need a few volunteers. An excellent translation of a horror novel, which is also darkly funny.
William Tyce is a young boy, who has been cast adrift in his life. In an attempt to make sense of his world, he creates a glossary, which becomes A Key to Treehouse Living. This is a poignant coming of age tale with its narrative hidden in between the lines of the glossary entries. An inventive and moving debut.
Hakan Soderstrom and his older brother leave Sweden with the intention of boarding a ship that will take them to New York. Hakan loses track of his brother and ends up on a ship that takes him around Cape Horn and drops him on the California coast. Determined to reunite with his brother in New York, he departs California, swimming against the tide of immigrants heading west. This first novel is an epic adventure that is at times gruesome and heartbreaking, but always compelling. Hakan is a larger-than-life character, who -- by the end of the book -- has become a mythological creature in the land that he ceaselessly roams.
When Ruth is visiting her parents for Christmas, her mother asks her to stay for a year to help care for her father, who is starting to suffer the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Ruth is trying to find her own footing, after her fiancée left her for another woman. Goodbye, Vitamin is narrated by Ruth in short diary-like entries that are often very funny, but by the end of the book these vignettes add up to a moving chronicle of familial love, as Ruth finds meaning and connection in some unexpected places. Goodbye, Vitamin sneaks up on you and may have you laughing out loud and then bring you to tears on the same page!
Rachel Khong was the managing editor then executive editor of Lucky Peach magazine from 2011 to 2016. Goodbye, Vitamin is her first novel.
Mad Boy -- set in the War of 1812 -- is a rollicking adventure that often veers into the surreal. Ten-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother has died, and he aims to fulfill her wish to be buried at sea, surrounded by family. He is also determined to scrape up the funds to free his father from debtor’s prison and to find out whether his brother Franklin has truly been shot for desertion from the American army. There are crazy characters aplenty, exciting battle scenes and wild humor that will have you excitedly turning pages to find out all it all ends.
It was getting late and I promised myself that I would just read a few more chapters. The next thing I knew, I was burning through the rest of She Rides Shotgun without pause. I just couldn’t stop. Jordan Harper’s debut novel lives up to the promise he showed in his short story collection, Love and Other Wounds. This thriller is rife with bad guys, but the main character is eleven-year old Polly, whose dad has just been released from prison and is already on the run, with Polly, riding shotgun.
I'm not a physicist or a mathematician, but I've always been drawn to the Big Questions. This book is just filled with Big Questions and lots of humor. Whiteson and Cham explain in layman's terms and with cute comics, the five percent about the universe that we do know, while opening up the readers' minds to the 95 percent of the universe that we are still stumped by. They explain how we might tackle these still unanswered questions and give us hope with the fact that we have managed to learn so much about our universe in just the last few hundred years.
Tom Malmquist's wife was rushed to the hospital, pregnant with their first child. Within days Karin is dead from acute leukemia and Tom was left to care for their newborn daughter. At times he feels as if he is too tired to go on and should be committed to save those around him from being scorched by his own pain and suffering. Amazing, heartbreaking and complicated, much like life itself, this fictionalized memoir is not an easy read and why would it be? It's full of raw truths that will put your heart in a vise-like grip and leave you gasping and aching to hold your loved ones close.
I'm not sure whether this is a book of short stories or long jokes. Then again, maybe it's an art book with very extensive captions. Whatever label applies, I am totally enamored of Samuel Ligon's Wonderland. There are many passages to savor and worthy of reading aloud to friends and foe alike. And it's so nicely packaged too!
The Job of the Wasp is narrated by the most recent arrival at a school for orphaned boys. The new boy immediately starts to feel isolated and at odds with the other students at this creepy academy. When the dead bodies start to turn up, our narrator must place blame or possibly find himself as the prime suspect. Are the murders the act of a demented headmaster, or a twisted game played by the boys themselves? This dark and unsettling novel is a coming-of-age tale, a murder mystery and a Gothic ghost story that will have you turning pages at a breakneck pace.
It is impossible to realistically imagine life in another man's shoes. We empathize with other human beings, but we cannot know their true pain and suffering. We cannot imagine leaving what is left of our meager belongings by the side of the road, or worse yet, having to stand by as loved ones die and suffer. But the need for survival is an impulse that drives our main character on in his daily routine of life in a refugee camp. Witnessing Dinesh's twenty-four hours is an eye-opening experience.
With simple prose and evocative illustrations, Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel have created a book that celebrates the wonders and mysteries of life. This book works for young children and adults alike. I've read it a numbers of times and it never fails to put a lump in my throat. A beautiful book that is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.
I credit Adam at the Lake Forest Park store, for introducing me to Robert Aickman. At the time, Cold Hand in Mine was not in print, but his books of "strange stories" are now in wonderful paperback editions by Faber & Faber. The terrors within these pages are subtle and disquieting. Aickman has been compared to Algernon Blackwood and M.R. James, but he may even be better those those acknowledged masters of unsettling fiction. These timeless and creepy stories are extremely well-written and I want to do my part to ensure that Aickman finds the reading audience that he deserves.
Many whites are only now becoming familiar with the term Institutional Racism, and how we benefit in this society merely by being born white. Maybe you've read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and you're ready to read more about race in America. Carol Anderson marvelously lays out every step forward for African-Americans reaching for equal rights, only to have those rights systematically stripped away by the states. This is the ugly history that they don't teach us in public schools, but that we should all be aware of. White Rage already has a spot secured in my top ten books of 2016. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Michael Connelly, author of the Harry Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, never disappoints his readers. The consistent quality of his mysteries is guaranteed. Void Moon is a stand-alone mystery and it's my personal favorite. It features Cassie Black, who is not a cop or a lawyer, but an ex-con with a secret, which propels her back into a life of crime for one last score. Unfortunately, her successful heist is a little too successful, relieving the mob of 2.5 million dollars. They don't take kindly to their loss and send killer Jack Karch after Cassie in a pursuit that will keep you turning pages late into the night.
An exquisite character study -- based on the life of the author's great aunt. -- Miss Jane tells the story of Jane Chisolm, born to dour parents in the early 20th century Mississippi. Jane is born with a defect, which make having children out of the question, and creates a sort of solitary existence for her, as she makes her place in the world. These are tough times, and there isn't much sympathy to be found on the farm, but the doctor, who delivers her, becomes her mentor, passing her books and the wisdom of his experience. Jane blossoms, despite her physical difference, and becomes a shining example of a loving and compassionate human being. One of my favorite books of 2016.
Discover Knut Hamsun, whose work influenced such writers as Maxim Gorky, Thomas Mann, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Paul Auster.
Lieutenant Thomas Glahn lives in a cabin with his dog Aesop in the woods bordering a nearby village. He survives by his hunting skills and prefers the natural world to the world of men, but he grows lonely and attempts to relate to the townspeople. He falls in love with Edvarda Mack, daughter of the local squire, but the nearly sociopathic Glahn is odd and he sabotages his own desires. I've read this book twice and the impression it left on me returns again and again. I am constantly handselling Pan, so I decided to make it my June staff pick.
I was reading the last twenty pages, while wiping tears away from my eyes. This is a brave and thoughtful book -- an elegy really. I grew up in nearby Massachusetts, so many of the settings are familiar to me. What is also familiar to me is the underlying sense of struggle that goes along with being working class in that neck of the woods. "Down City" is a heartbreaking and yet a simultaneously loving tribute to Leah Carroll's parents and their lives.
Nazis on meth. Sounds like a bad b-movie, but in this case it is historical fact. The Germans developed methamphetamine and packaged them in a tablet they called Pervitin. The drug proved particularly useful during the blitzkrieg, when the tank and infantry soldiers were required to stay awake for days in a row, to complete the offensive push. Ohler includes quite a bit of documentation to prove his case. Figuring out what kind of drug cocktail that Hitler himself was on at the end proves a more difficult task, but Blitzed is a quick and compulsive read that will have you shaking your head in horrified amazement.
I have never read Ovid; I am not an older single woman; and I have never lived in a Condo on Miami Beach, and yet I was totally able to relate to J, our narrator, who is trying assess in her later years, whether it's time to give up on love. There is a wonderful humanity in this slim semi-autobiographical novel and quite a few laughs, too. Who doesn't need a few laughs right now?
It's shortly after the Civil War and fifteen-year-old Gabriel Lynch is not ready to settle down with his mother and new stepfather on a hardscrabble farm in Kansas. Instead he joins up with a group of cowboys headed for Texas. It is then trial by fire for Gabriel as he grows up on the road, witnessing the horrors and violence of the old west. This debut novel from Durham is a coming-of-age tale with elements of Blood Meridian and Lonesome Dove except with an African-American cast of characters. I read this book fifteen years ago, and scenes are still burned into my memory. Take a wild ride with Gabriel Lynch.
It's always good to use your best manners, especially among other cultures, such as the wild with its population of carnivores. The young wolf in our story is hungry, but - as his parents have taught him - he must honor his prey's last wish, before devouring them. He finds out quickly that not everyone keeps their word, as he does.
If you are a fan of "The Princess Bride" then it's hard not to enjoy this wonderful book about the making of the classic film. Cary Elwes (Farm Boy/Dread Pirate Robert) fills us in on all the behind-the-scenes details, including why it took so long to bring the popular book to the big screen. As You Wish is also filled with asides from the likes of Rob Reiner, Wallace Shawn, Robin Wright and others; and there are many never-before seen photographs from the film. This is a must have for every fan of "The Princess Bride."
This collection of stories feels chillingly prescient. These tales are just-around-the-corner futuristic. Here we have characters, who raise their entire families online, and meet with support groups in the real world to grieve their digital losses. Sex is now innercourse, where partners exchange packets of data. There is the advent of broadcasting everything you do through contact lenses, where you can also check your eye-mail. A wink can mean much more than a wink in this world. Put your smart phone down for a while and read these tales of warning.
The narrator in Cold Skin is given a year's assignment as a weather official on a seemingly deserted island. The only other human on the island is a crazed Australian, manning the lighthouse. We learn quite quickly that the small island is overrun nightly by amphibious creatures. And then things really get weird. Cold Skin is compelling, creepy, and will stick with you long after you close the cover.
Strange. Creepy. Funny? Well, yes. Funny, but not funny ha-ha. This first novel by Kleeman is a dark satire on our society's obsession with body image and consumerism, and how closely the two are tied together. Her prose is fascinating, describing bodies and their functions in a clinical and yet alluring fashion. You may not have read anything like this before.
World War II is in vogue right now (All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale), and Crooked Heart can now join their ranks. It's the story of ten-year-old Noel, who is evacuated from London during the Blitz. He is taken in by a skittish widow named Vee, who figures she might make a little money through charitable donations and catch up on her debts. The war seems far away at first, but then its effects begin to be felt in the little village of St. Albans. There are humorous moments in the lives of these wonderful characters, but the story is grounded in reality, and ultimately it's about what it means to be a family.
Truth is often stranger than fiction, and in this slim yet powerful book, truth is much more horrible than fiction. Erik Loomis has done an amazing job of putting together a succinct history of labor's struggle against corporate power. He shows that when the federal government started to finally enact safety laws, and unions were gaining more rights for workers, corporations just moved manufacturing overseas. Once out of the U.S. they are able to skirt safety regulations and pay minimum wages as low as thirty-two cents an hour. Five million U.S. jobs have been lost due to NAFTA, and new trade agreements just enable U.S. corporations to continue their policy of exploiting the poorest on this earth. I don't call too many books a must-read, but this one is certainly worth your time and money spent.
Ray is an outcast, who makes his way to town every Tuesday to pick up necessities. It is on one of these trips that he sees a poster from the local animal shelter, advertising a scruffy-looking, one-eyed mutt for adoption. He immediately adopts the dog, who he names one-eye. Ray never went to public school, instead staying at home, reading whatever books he came across. He never knew his mother and his father was often absent. One-eye is not Lassie, but a real dog that attacks other dogs and finds nasty things to roll in. In a way, he becomes Ray's canine therapist, as Ray slowly reveals his tortured past and years of loneliness. This is not a feel-good book, and there is an underlying sense of dread, as if something dark and ominous is just around the corner. The last few pages of Spill Simmer Falter Wither still haunt me a week after I closed the book. A powerful debut.
In honor of 4/20.
Puff takes place on the night of a severe blizzard in Boston during the 1970s. John and Gully Sullivan masquerade as Red Cross rescue personnel in order to maneuver around the city, trying to score a bag of weed before the night is through. Their misadventures, written by stand-up comic Bob Flaherty, are a riotous good time.
Mulhauser's debut novel, Sweetgirl, has been compared to a lot of great works, including Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Let me just say right off that all of the comparisons are fully justified. From page one, Mulhauser creates fully-dimensional characters that populate this wild ride of a book. The dialogue is often quite humorous and brings to mind Elmore Leonard.
Sixteen-year-old Percy James starts off looking for her mother, who is most likely off on a meth binge. Instead, she happens upon an infant by an open window in the meth dealer's farm house. All comparisons aside, Sweetgirl is about the best debut I've read in years. Forget about Gone Girl. She's so yesterday. Instead dive into Sweetgirl. You won't regret it.
If one can turn lemons into lemonade, then I suppose one can turn tragedy into comedy. At least, that is what Adam Resnick has done with his childhood and it's related traumas. This is dark humor with an edge, that might have you cringing, but it will also have you laughing out loud at points.
The story line is quite simple: Genly Ai has arrived on the planet Winter in an effort to enlist the people in a growing association of intergalactic civilizations. There are many layers to this classic science fiction novel, but foremost is the exploration of gender roles. On this planet, the people are androgynous and sexless until they are ready to breed. At that time they may become a male or female, depending on who they meet. A resident of Winter can be a father of three, and also a mother to four. Le Guin has created a tale that feels epic in scope, but is also quite moving on an intimate human scale. For a book written in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness feels very relevant to our world today. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Marsh is a British brain surgeon and part of his aim in this book is to talk about his mistakes as well as his successes. As you can imagine, there is very little room for error in brain surgery. He admits his own amazement, looking down into the patient's brain, and realizing that is where thought originates and makes us who we are. Marsh considers neurosurgery to be more of a craft than an exact science, and when he pulls out the drills and saws, we understand his point. There were times when I had to set the book aside for a while, because the surgery descriptions are graphic and intense. Ultimately, this book is a profile of a man, who courageously cuts into the brains of patients in an attempt to give them a few more years of life, or the ability to live without seizures. He must guide the patient toward the correct decision, because sometimes surgery is not always the best option. Sometimes it's just too late. This book is one of my favorite books of 2015.
Did you ever read the first line of a book to see if it grabbed you? Well, this odd memoir grabbed me from the first sentence and wouldn't let go until the end of the source notes. Most of us probably hold at least a little bit of morbid curiosity about what goes on behind the doors at your local crematorium. Your curiosity will be more than satisfied by Ms. Doughty's account of her years as a burgeoning mortician. In addition to details such as how they keep those darn eyelids closed during the funeral, Doughty educates us on death rituals from around the world and obscure funeral laws. There was a day when the families of the dead were responsible for preparing the bodies for burial, but -- with the advent of the funeral business -- our society has become detached from the reality of death, to the point of denial. Doughty seeks to reconnect us with the very last page of the last chapter in our book of life.
Rather than being snug in a rug, this bug is trapped in the cavernous interior of a vacuum cleaner. At first, he is confused and angry, but he eventually learns to cope and accept his place in life, even if it is in a dusty vacuum bag. How well do you deal with drastic change?
The Hunter is the first book in the Parkarker series by Richard Stark -- penname for Doanld Westlake. The prose is taut and lean and part of what makes this series great. the other element is, of course, Parker himself. He makes Jack Reacher look like a little schoolgirl. In The Hunter, Parker has been betrayed and left for dead by his partner and his wife, but he will not reast until vengeance has been dealt out properly. Get hooked on the Parker novels!
Desert rat Edward Abbey once said, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." Well, progress for the sake of progress seems also to be a very human ideology. We separate ourselves from the other animals, but we are merely a different species of animal, albeit the most destructive species. We like to think of ourselves as exalted and intelligent persons, who have dominion over all the other animals, but the truth is that we are deluding ourselves. Thanks to evolution though, we may be stuck with our delusions, because reality is a lot less comfortable. A very thought provoking book, that may change the way you think about yourself.
You may be familiar with the quiet American and the ugly American, but this book is populated with angry Americans. They're angry over illegal immigrants growing drugs in their woods. They're angry about intrusion by the government into their private lives. Some are even angry over "Chinese Aliens." Fear and paranoia seem to run the lives of the characters in this novel. This is a literary page-turner told with humor and pathos. This may even be Boyle's best book to date.
The title is a mouthful, and the idea of reading about war torn Chechnya was not too enticing to me; but this book had been recommended to me a number of times, so I plunged in. This debut novel is a moving portrayal of the effects of war on average citizens: doctors, an arborist, and the thousands of innocent refugees that are thrown from their homes, as one country exercises its power over another. There are, without a doubt, grim moments in this story, but there is also immense love and compassion. This book will stay with you for some time after you close the last page.
Bjorn is a new employee with plans to climb the corporate ladder quickly. Soon after his arrival at the Authority, Bjorn discovers a room by the elevator. The room contains a classy and serene office, serving no apparent purpose. After spending time in the room, Bjorn feels revitalized and his production at work increases. His fellow employees start to grow concerned, because nobody else can see this room, except for Bjorn. Should he be forbidden to access the room, even if there is no room?
This slim yet powerful novel fills in the fictional details of Barabbas, the prisoner who was released in exchange for Jesus of Nazareth. Nobel Prize winning author Lagervist gives us a Barabbas, who wants to believe, but cannot comprehend the faith of others. He wanders the old neighborhood, but is clearly not the brutal Barabbas of old. There are many ideas to sift through in this wonderfully translated novel.
Did you notice on the front cover that the friends are looking at an actual photograph and not an illuminated smart phone? This is old school love and friendship, feline style. The rhyming prose makes this a fun book to read aloud, while the illustrations add another thousand words of friendship, caring and the power of chance encounters.
Twenty years after the disappearance of the girl he was once enamored with in college, George Foss spots her in a restaurant one night. He is having dinner with his girlfriend, but goes back later in hopes of spotting Liana. For George's sake, it would have been better if Liana had stayed disappeared, but George's sense of loyalty to his ex-flame is driven by his libido and not his intellect. George will make some stupid decisions along the path of this twisty thriller, but we will follow along willingly, hoping at some point he'll smarten up. This is a simmering page turner, perfect for a long winter night.
A marvelous book that shows our connection to every other creature that walks, crawls, or swims this earth; even creatures without a head. Neil Shubin covers a lot of ground, as he reveals how new discoveries about our ancient ancestry are still being made. In fact, with the availability of DNA sequencing, and computer imaging, paleontology is making greater strides than ever, showing the origin of humans and how we have evolved over the millennia. When studying reality, the wonderful aha moment occurs when a particular idea gels and makes sense. I had always heard that we were made of star stuff, but it wasn't until watching a documentary on the periodic table a few years back that it all clicked. There are many of those "aha moments" in Your Inner Fish, which makes it not only a joy to read, but a vital book for anyone questing knowledge about humanity
I want to be able to just put this book in your hands and say, "trust me." This tale takes place during the Civil War. Ash decides to join the war in place of her husband, who remains behind to tend the homestead. Based on actual letters written by women, who fought as men in that war, Ash's voice is original and compelling, as she reels out her unique tale. At times mythic and adventurous, and other times crushingly realistic about the violence of war, this was one of my favorite books in recent years, and I hope it becomes one of your's too.
Mr. Peanut is not an easy book to recommend, partly because it's not an easy book to read. The storylines in the novel fold back on themselves and the references to Escher are no coincidence. This is truly a Möbius strip of a novel. The other tough aspect of this novel is the way in which marriage is portrayed. If you thought Gone Girl was the dark side of marriage, then Mr. Peanut is the black abyss. Ross writes of the relationship between David and Alice with brutal honesty, including the bitterness, rage, jealously, regrets and shame. By the end of the novel--when the threads are pulled together--the result packs an emotional wallop. It is also the type of conclusion that will have you rethink what you have read, and realize that you have just been taken for an immensely risky and brilliant literary ride.
It's a story that has been told many times before in many variations. A human mathematics professor on earth has discovered a formula that the human race may not be ready for. At least that is what an alien race thinks, and the reason they decide to kill the professor and replace him with an alien duplicate. The alien must find anyone else who may have learned the formula and dispose of them. We can all guess that the the alien doppelganger will end up loving his new-found human family, and their dog... and peanut butter. Well, maybe I couldn't predict the peanut butter element, but this book serves to remind us of the qualities in our fragile and imperfect lives. We may not be ready for the bigtime, as far as superior alien races are concerned, but we have love.... and peanut butter.
This book left me unsettled and I like that in a book. Scenes from this tale still haunt my waking hours as well as my dreams. The vision of a society without sleep, hallucinating and confused, and having it in for those who can still sleep, is nightmarish and even apocalyptic. At times the story seems disjointed, but that only adds to the feel of jittery edginess that accompanies this tale of insomnia.
Another cat book?! Why yes it is, but what sets this one apart is the obvious love that these clean-cut, church-going boys have for their feline companions. Okay, I'm kidding about the clean-cut and church-going part, but the obvious affection for their cat friends is plain to see. It would make a great gift for the metal head/cat lover in your family.
Henny is a little different from her chicken siblings. She was born with arms. Sometimes it's fun to have the added appendages, but at other times it's difficult to fit in. Eventually though, Henny finds that she can be helpful around the farm and her arms actually come in handy (pun intended.) Just wait until you see her milking the cow!
This is, without a doubt, one of those books that will have you grabbing every available minute to read. Winner of the Edgar for Best Novel, The Lock Artist functions as both a coming-of-age tale and an exciting thriller. Michael, the lock artist, has not spoken since he was eight because of a trauma that will be revealed by the end, but he has also acquired a skill that makes him quite sought after in the wrong circles: he can pick any lock or combination safe. This vibrant and well-written tale is a blast!
This novel is just chock full of all my favorite literary subjects: pain, guilt, truth, redemption. The hook is that Adam and Thomas, who had been best friends in school, are changed by an event. This event causes Adam to retreat from Thomas for ten years, until he is pulled back into Thomas's life by a plea from his parents: please help our son.
I didn't know where the story of Adam and Thomas was going to take me, but the journey was riveting. At the Bottom of Everything is a short novel, but it crosses many an emotional landscape. If you wonder how people can live with a terrible knowledge and what that knowledge does to their everyday lives, and at what cost comes redemption (if it's even possible), then give Ben Dolnick's novel a try.
A weaver by trade, Marner is shunned by his own community for a crime he did not commit. He relocates to the countryside , finding solace by obsessively counting his worth in coins each night. Until that pleasure too, is taken from him. That winter, Silas discovers a two-year-old girl, abandoned near his home in the bitter cold. He takes her in, names her Eppie after his dead mother and raises her as his own. Sixteen years pass before Eppie's true bloodline has been discovered, complicating Silas' relationship with the young woman he now considers his daughter. This short novel covers many themes, and builds to an emotional but satisfying end. Eliot also wrote Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss.
I was immediately engrossed in Harvest from the first chapter on. A trio of outsiders are blamed by the population of a small English village, for the burning of their lord's dovecote. So begins the disintegration of what once seemed an idyllic country life. Over one week, what began as seemingly simple way out of trouble -- persecuting the outsiders -- unravels until it all that is left is guilt, blame and shifting morals. A brilliant book.
Before Lonesome Dove and All the Pretty Horses, A. B. Guthrie's The Big Sky was the go-to novel of the American West. Those who want a gritty and realistic portrayal of the characters and environment that made up the frontier at that time need look no further. Sink your teeth into The Big Sky and and at the end when you hunger for more, pick up book two, The Way West, which won Guthrie the Pulitzer Prize.
A smart funny thriller about Her Majesty's supernatural secret service, that is -- thankfully -- the first of an upcoming trilogy. Myfanwy Thomas, the title character, is smart, feisty and has extraordinary powers, which come in mighty handy. The rook -- one of two, along with bishops, chevaliers, pawns and retainers -- battle whatever supernatural enemy rears it's ugly head, for queen and country...hopefully without queen or country ever knowing. This is a compelling read that will leave you anxiously waiting for the second installment.
Yes, it's yet another apocalyptic zombie novel, but this time the only survivors are those people who were high on meth at the time, and the only way to avoid catching zombie fever is to stay high on meth. A ragtag group of addicts must locate a cooker, and supplies in order to survive. Zombies and their inherent gore are here as expected, but in the end Fiend is more about the horrors of addiction, and who you may want to have by your side at the end of the world.
I put Chester Himes right up there on the top shelf with Cain, Chandler and Hammett. A Rage in Harlem is an excellent introduction to the characters of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones. This is a funny, fast-paced and gritty look at 1950's Harlem. Read this and you'll become a fan of Chester Himes.
Sherlock Holmes, one of the great literary minds of all time, is 93-years-old in this novel, and starting to lose his powers of deduction. He recounts a trip made to Japan shortly after WW II, and is trying to teach the maid's young son the art of beekeeping. There are still important mysteries to be solved though, and Holmes struggles with his frailty and declining mental health to find the answers. A poignant tale featuring one literature's best loved characters.
Josef Horkai has been awoken from storage after thirty years to aid the community. Only he can safely venture forth into the ruined landscape, and return with an item could mean the future of humanity. Evenson weaves a carefully constructed tale of a dystopian future where trust is a rare commodity and answers are a thing of the past. I was immediately drawn into Evenson's novel, and couldn't wait each day to get back to this book.
Reality...what a concept! This book is not meant to persuade anyone that there is no god. Instead, Rosenberg assumes that the reader is a nonbeliever, who wants to get a better grip on reality. An engaging read that will have your brain working overtime.
Yes, this is actually a laugh-out loud book about unhappiness. Zeke's funding for his Inventory of American Unhappiness Project is running out. In the meantime, while gauging the unhappiness of everyone around him, he ignores his own well-being. Zeke is a likeable narrator that just needs a good waking up to discover the riches that surround him. This is a warm-hearted book that will cheer you up, even as it inventories the unhappiness of America.
Finally, a modern day vampire tale I can endorse. The Radleys are a family of abstainers. They are vampires, but they try to maintain a normal life by abstaining from human blood. That is until circumstances force them into the light, and they must deal with their supernatural thirst and desire. A page-turner, that also satisfies as a smart tale of family togetherness.
You can often tell a lot about someone by what they think of others. In Christie Hodgen's novel, there are five elegies written by Mary Murphy about five people who had an influence on her life. The prose is powerful and compelling, as more is revealed about Mary's own difficult life. This book will knock your proverbial socks off!
This beautifully written post-apocalyptic tale tends to get lost among the tales of cannibals and zombies, but I would rank it right up there with McCarthy's The Road or Crace's The Pesthouse. One refreshing difference in this novel is that the main character, Makepeace -- sheriff of a dead town -- is a woman. Her trials and travails are harsh, but her will to survive and sense of hope brighten an otherwise dark landscape.
This slim book is just chock-full of wisdom and poignancy. Sam Peek has survived his wife of 57 years, but now his children are concerned about whether he can still care for himself. Into Sam's life walks a mysterious white dog, who then becomes his companion, even though no one besides Sam has actually seen the dog. This book may move you to tears -- it did me -- and the sweet story will stay with you long after you finish.