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Current Staff Picks
Here are also a couple of pages with specific kinds of books we like:
Favorite Romance (to come)
Favorite YA (to come)
This book was just what I needed right now. Many thanks to all who brought it to life.
The character development is just about perfect. These are people whom we meet, come to know, come to care for, and eventually cheer for. I can't say it's the most original plot, but it was the most satisfying version of "kids in peril" that I can remember. The adults come together in surprising ways, each on his or her own Hero's Journey, and end up becoming their best selves for the benefit of the boys. It's a lot for a first novel, but it just works; It comes across as so earnest and good-hearted, completely un-ironic in the best way. The river is both a plot device and a metaphor, as the kids barrel toward their doom. It makes this character-driven novel a real page-turner. --Angel
NOW IN PAPERBACK!
Sue Monk Kidd's THE BOOK OF LONGINGS is so much more than an excellent story--It's a gift--one of those rare books that is not just read, but experienced. Ana, the young wife of Jesus, is a feminist in an ancient world controlled by men who use fear and rules to maintain power. Pushing against that power is what leads Ana to Jesus, who isn't afraid of anything. Humility, goodness and dignity both challenge and uplift Ana and Jesus as they gain experience and wisdom. Ultimately, each changes the world around them in unalterable ways. Though this book is deeply spiritual, it is also profoundly human. One doesn't need to be religious to appreciate the culture of the ancient world, which is so interestingly drawn that it functions as a fascinating, dangerous character in and of itself. Certainly, this book will draw negative attention from the narrow-minded, but I predict it will transcend that and become a beloved, enduring story.
This book took me by surprise. It starts out as an enjoyable, well-written family drama, but builds to something more profound. It's the rare novel that can break your heart a couple of times, but leave you feeling healed, even hopeful.
The characters of Bea, Laura, and Phillip, the core of the book, are beautifully crafted, both as children and adults. Their relationships propel the plot through the horror of Phillip's disappearance in Bangkok and the shock of finding him and hearing his story.
The effect of secrets in the novel is ambiguous, just like real life. Lots of damaging secrets are revealed through the book, as they have to be. But, I think Laura's decision to keep her parents' secret, to let it die in one generation without being passed down, is a perfect landing.
I've not read any of O'Halloran Schwarz' other novels, but I'll be sure to remedy that. She has a way of writing that is prosaic but beautiful. Adorned but not flowery. That kaleidoscope metaphor at the end just about did me in, y'all. --Angel
NOW IN PAPERBACK!
When a politician's young wife hires her old school friend as a nanny for her two stepchildren, the main duty will be to keep the twins out of sight and out of trouble. That's because the kids' father is a senator and under serious consideration to be the next Secretary of State. But what if the children can't control themselves? Who is the best person to take care of children who are afflicted with spontaneous combustion? Obviously, a woman with no fear of fire, nothing to lose, and nothing to gain. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this unique novel explores family dynamics, resentment, and retribution, leaving the reader with a new perspective on motherhood and what it means to be loyal to those you love.
Enter The Aardvark is all of my favorite things rolled into one work of fiction. It's original without being gimmicky. It has laugh-out-loud funny moments, whole pages even. The characters are beautifully drawn in all their dysfunction. Justice gets done. Zero sentimentality. And it makes fun of the cult of St. Ron, which was like a cherry on top.
There are parallels in the two timelines, but also concentric circles, rhymes, echoes, ripples, and plain old similarities just for fun. A bittersweet, Victorian, forbidden love is echoed in a present-day, cruel hypocrisy. The satisfaction of Rep. Wilson's downfall is so perfectly set up for us that when he puts on the skin of his own enemies, it's as though we'd read the book backwards.
SEQUEL ALERT! The second book of S.T. drops in August, 2021!
Hollow Kingdom is a cautionary tale of what’s ahead for the human race if we don’t put down our phones and look around once in awhile. But that’s not why I love it so much. There are plenty of great dystopian future novels out there. What makes this one different is its point of view. It’s told by a pet crow named S.T. (you’ll find out what that stands for if you read it). His “MoFo,” Big Jim, succumbs to some sort of virus and so S.T. goes in search of help. He takes Big Jim’s bloodhound, Dennis, along for backup. Their adventure, through the neighborhoods and environs of Seattle, is the story of how “domestics,” or pets, set out to save humanity, and why. I won’t spoil it for you, but as you can imagine, it’s an uphill battle. S.T.’s devotion to mankind is tested by his encounters with wild crows, Seattle’s escaped zoo animals, and the roving MoFos who are forever trying to kill them all.
Watching the end of humanity through the eyes of the other sentient inhabitants of the planet (including trees) is, somehow, a treat. It’s unbelievably funny, touching, and inspiring. Dennis is my favorite character of 2019, or maybe all time.
A first book from Greensboro-based writer, teacher, and musician, Matt Armstrong. It's a record of his time as an embeded journalist with a Navy SEAL team in Haditha, Iraq. It is also a beautifully written memoir of a life on the edge of turmoil. At times funny, irreverent, and searingly honest, it leave you with as many questions as it answers, like all good nonfiction should do. --Angel
Coming to Paperback 5/25/21
This book is a time machine that transports us to a moment no one really wants to remember. We've moved on. We know better. Our hearts have changed. Medicine has all but conquered HIV. Same-sex marriage is legal. We can all pat ourselves on the back and congratulate each other.
Sickels takes the big, scary, overwhelming story of AIDS in the 1980s—our failure as a nation—and strips it down to the story of one man, one family, one town. At this level, it's impossible to look away, to generalize, to "other"-ize.
Maybe this book hit me so hard because I lived through it and did nothing. I'll be interested to hear how it plays to a younger reader. Do younger people even know this stuff? That we thought AIDS was a plague sent by God to destroy "the gays?" That we thought we'd catch AIDS from a toilet seat or a kiss or silverware? The 80s are in vogue right now, and yes, Gen X had some fun. We wore bright colors, had big hair and shoulder pads, birthed MTV, and were presided over by handsome, affable grandpa Reagan.
But Cyndi Lauper was right: Our true colors were shining through. We shunned, neglected, and lost a whole generation of gay men. It took a hemophiliac little boy to even get our attention, briefly. Surely HE didn't deserve AIDS? The story of AIDS is victim-blaming on a national scale. It's othering that claimed thousands of lives and blackened our national soul.
Then, why revisit it? What Carter Sickels does in "The Prettiest Star" is to give us the curse of hindsight. But, what I see, in 2020, the view from 30,000 feet, is that it was a symptom of a national sickness that hasn't been cured or even curtailed. The disease of selfishness, lack of empathy, immaturity, is still eating away at us. In cages on the Mexican border, in #metoo threads, in economic inequality, in megachurches and Trump rallies and living rooms, our national hard-heartedness thrives.
Sickels' characters can be read as archetypes: The Mom, The Dad, The Teenage Girl, The Grandmother, The Friend, The Small Town. He makes it tempting to step into a character and look around, decide what we would do. For me, Lettie is the key to "The Prettiest Star." We know her heart by her actions. She doesn't do much pontificating. She just loves Brian with her whole heart, showing it through caring for his failing body.
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Cassie had a horrid childhood. Her adult life did not start out that much better either....and now she has gone missing, presumed dead. Cassie would tell you her saving grace was her "imaginary" friend, "Pepper Man" (who was very real). Pepper Man was no ordinary friend; he was a fairy, one who fed off of Cassie's life's blood from the time she met him as a child. Pepper Man is her "savior" and her downfall throughout the story. This story has some very gruesome aspects to it; blood & some gory parts. It likens to some of the darker tales from the Grimm's Fairy Tales of old. I enjoyed the story (for the most part). There are enough surprises to keep your interest...just waiting for the next shoe to fall. This is one to read, but don't do it on a dark & stormy night!
The Donner Party, hidden gold, an exciting archaeological discovery, and missing skulls associated with descendants of a member of the ill-fated Donner Party; a very intriguing combination!
The Lost Camp of the Donner Party is the setting for this story of grave robbing, murder, and mayhem. The story takes many twists and detours as the plot thickens. I was not expecting the last turn of events at all...Masterfully led astray by Preston & Child!
A GREAT READ!