Jeanne's Picks

Staff Pick Badge
Time's Witness: A Justin & Cuddy Novel By Michael Malone Cover Image
$21.99
ISBN: 9781570717543
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Sourcebooks Landmark - April 1st, 2002

This is Malone’s second mystery set a small North Carolinian city to feature the likable, yet unlikely best friends and co-workers, Police Chief Cuddy Mangum and Detective Justin Savile V. The aristocratic Justin narrated the marvelous first book, Uncivil Seasons, and this follow-up, Dickensian in scope and every bit as wonderful as the first, is in excellent hands as narrated by the working-class, brainy, wise-cracking, often hilarious, and nearly always, cynical, Cuddy. He is a firm believer, and rightly so, that “justice has got a real eye for color (she prefers white), and for class (she likes upper and middle),” and rampant racial discrimination is at the heart of the book. I could go on, quoting from the book, and singing the praises of Malone’s incomparable dialog, his complicated enticing, often unpredictable characters, and his suspenseful plot which is peppered with both human failings and human virtues, and just the right amount and kind of humor, or I could simply say that I love Malone’s books.


Staff Pick Badge
Still No Word from You: Notes in the Margin By Peter Orner Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781646221363
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Catapult - October 11th, 2022

This is a strange and wonderful memoir from essayist, novelist and short story writer Peter Orner in which each of 107 vignettes about his life and his family is inspired by his recollection of a poem, a novel, a play, or an essay that he has read. The 106 writers who have triggered Orner’s memories are as diverse as James Salter, Andre Dubus, Kafka, Marilynne Robinson, Robert Haas, Robert Lowell, Richard Wright, Lorraine Hansberry, Arthur Miller, and all are cataloged in the back of the book. You just may find yourself adding a few books to your reading list. I can think of no other book that comes so close to successfully capturing on such a personal level, the connection of our reading life to our actual life. Orner’s vignettes sometimes recall vivid memories, but often they are delightfully vague and out-of-focus like the photograph on the book's cover, and many are replete with insights that will hit home. The true measure of the exhilaration I felt in reading this book is to disclose that my copy is full of my notes in the margins—I found my own life reflected more than a few times, with many of my own memories bubbling to the surface. This is a book is a keeper to visit again and again.


Staff Pick Badge
Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted By Suleika Jaouad Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780399588600
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - March 1st, 2022

At age 23, as Jaouad was trying to decide what to do with her life, she is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a disease with a 35% survival rate, and she began her long, painful, life-altering journey so beautifully and honestly chronicled here, back and forth between the two kingdoms as identified by Susan Sontag in Illness as Metaphor  ("Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick.").  Jaouad's coping mechanism during her mentally and physically agonizing treatment was to write about it--first for herself, and then for others in her NYT column called “Life Interrupted,” and she continued to journal her way through a solo cross-country road trip as she sought to find a way to live again post-treatment. This memoir is written with heart and soul and intelligence, and I believe anyone who chooses to read it will be enriched by the experience. Writing it helped Suleika find her way; reading it can help us all on our journey toward a more meaningful life, focused on the present and not so much on regrets over the past or anxiety about the future.


Staff Pick Badge
Serena: A Novel By Ron Rash Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780061470844
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - September 29th, 2009

I have utmost admiration for Ron Rash whose descriptions are always strongly evocative of time and place (here, rural and wooded, Depression-era North Carolina), beautiful, moody, and lyrical, (“A moth at twilight, the touch of a hand. Something, Rachel thought”). The story begins when the owner of a logging company brings his bride, the beautiful Serena, home to North Carolina. All of his characters are complicated and memorable, and some are wise (“What made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting.”), but Serena is a masterpiece. Reader, if you are expecting a serene dutiful lady of the house, responsible for menus and organizing dinner parties, you are in for a wild ride. She is a marvelous creation—one of the cruelest, most heartless characters I’ve ever encountered in literature, and she rules not only the roost, but the business as well. The complex goodness and evil of Rash’s characters are of Biblical proportions. This is a thrilling, gripping novel that I found especially hard to put down.


Staff Pick Badge
Another Marvelous Thing By Laurie Colwin Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780593313558
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 8th, 2021

Every few years I read another Laurie Colwin book for the first time so as to experience the pleasure of discovering a new one over a lifetime. All of her books were recently reissued by Vintage, and so I came to discover this one, which is really a series of short stories written about a man and a woman—both married—who are having an affair. Each story is  wonderfully constructed and stands alone, but read together each illuminates the next one, and it works as a novel as well. As always, Colwin’s love for her flawed, insecure, reflective, witty characters is apparent as she guides them through the trials of being in love (The Randall Jarrell epigram begins: “Falling in love is never as simple as love and the lady novelists say.”) to a point where they come to terms with a messy life “full of thorns” and move forward, accepting that what mistakes they’ve made are forever a part of who they are. This lesson, a good one to remind ourselves of, in Colwin’s sure, droll style is artfully and most entertainingly delivered.


Staff Pick Badge
The Painted Drum: A Novel By Louise Erdrich Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780060515119
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - January 22nd, 2019

I encountered a passage from this book recently that was so profoundly exquisite, I knew I had to read the novel. The passage: "Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the applies falling all around you in heaps, waisting their sweetness. Tell Yourself that you tasted as many as you could." If that speaks to you, I think you will treasure this novel. The plot consists of stories from both the maker of the titular Ojibwe drum and the people whose lives have been affected by it over the span of several generations. These tales capture the harsh reality of daily existence for Indians, and most focus on mothers who have failed their children in some significant way. I'm not a religious person, but I am captivated by the spirituality of native Americans, their deep connection to nature, their respect for the dead, and their belief in the pull that the dead have on the people they leave behind. Since reading this book twice, I've had many dreams about and one-sided conversations with long-dead loved ones. I've never had such a visceral reaction to a novel, and I believe that these dreams and conversations are a way for me to make peace with mistakes others have made that impacted me and with my own mistakes that hurt those I love. 


Staff Pick Badge
Cal By Bernard MacLaverty Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780393354683
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - August 22nd, 2017

After I recently saw the movie Belfast, I thought often of Cal, a 1984 film also about the Irish “troubles.” Cal was a movie I loved so much that I bought the novel it was adapted from, but hadn’t read it until inspired to do so now. The novel, like the film is powerfully humane and tragic—all the more so because MacLaverty doesn’t take sides, but rather presents us with one heartbreaking love story, Shakespearian in its moral dimensions. Choices are made, with deadly consequences, and it becomes almost impossible for Cal to see a future in which his sin is not “clawing at him.” It struck me that this novel has special relevance in light of the centuries-old conflict that is now impacting millions of lives in Eastern Europe.  

If you read and love this book, watch for Cal to reappear some day on Criterion’s streaming service. It’s one of my very favorite movies (the soundtrack by Mark Knopfler is an added bonus).


Staff Pick Badge
Virgil Wander By Leif Enger Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780802147127
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press - August 20th, 2019

I was utterly captivated, and impressed by this novel which lovingly and vividly captures life during a few wintery months in a small Minnesotan town on Lake Superior, just a short way up Highway 61 from Duluth. The town is populated by a host of wonderfully quirky characters who like the town have seen better, happier days, or so they think. Virgil Wander (of his name, he says “for a man named Wander, I’d spent a long time in one place”), the proprietor of the town’s movie theater, which becomes a kind of beacon for the townspeople, is the narrator of the book. As the novel begins, he is beginning a recovery from an unplanned dip in Lake Superior he took with his car, and among other things is slowly regaining his ability to find words, particularly adjectives—so as his recovery and the novel progress, his descriptions become increasingly more wondrously and beautifully evocative—just one of the many things I adore about this novel. In one fell swoop Enger is on my short list of contemporary writers I will follow anywhere he takes readers.


Staff Pick Badge
The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation By Anna Malaika Tubbs Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781250756138
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Flatiron Books - December 28th, 2021

This absorbing story of the lives of Louise Little (1897-1994), an activist herself and mother of Malcolm X (and 7 other children, widowed in her mid-30's when her husband was believed to have been pushed under a street car by a gang of white supremacists), Alberta King (1903-1974), mother of MLK, Jr. (and 2 other children; she was killed by a white supremacist in 1974 as she played the organ at an Ebenezer Baptist Church Sunday service), and Berdis Baldwin (1903-1999), mother of James Baldwin (and 8 other children, widowed at age 41), spans most of the 20th century and focuses on the hardships and rampant racism faced by Black Americans. In response to unspeakable challenges that would devastate most people, these women, each with a strong sense of self-worth and selfless love, fought to educate their children, and taught them to believe in their abilities, their dignity, their worth, no matter how they were treated by others. Their sons were not born destined to fight for the rights of Black Americans, but were products in large part of what their mothers taught them through their words and their actions. Taking a deep dive into Black American history can only help us to form that more perfect union in which we truly believe that all men are created equal. And we can honor and learn from these three women and their families by reading their stories, lovingly told in this book. 


Staff Pick Badge
A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself By Peter Ho Davies Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780358572879
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - January 4th, 2022

This is the best novel I’ve read in a long time. I foresee rereading it from time to time for its wisdom, for companionship as I age, gleaning something new from it each time. I found the narrative style downright exciting—the short sentences, sentence fragments communicate ever so much to the reader. The characters are nameless: he, a son/husband/father; she, a daughter/mother/wife; and their son, the boy—everyman, woman, child. The challenges of marriage, but particularly parenthood, (which here include an Abortion and raising an Autistic child), and the resulting lifelong shame and guilt, are all presented with uncompromising honesty, but the book is also generously peppered with wonderfully dark humor (“A bad laugh even better than a good cry”). This is a novel that will resonate for parents, but also speaks volumes to the child in all of us, as it also captures those moments in which parents find themselves “breathless with love” for their child. I am in awe of this truly remarkable book.


Staff Pick Badge
How To Find Your Way In The Dark (A Sheldon Horowitz Novel #1) By Derek B. Miller Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780358269601
Availability: Usually Available in 2-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - July 27th, 2021

I’ve read Derek Miller’s four novels and have loved them all; he is truly one of my favorite writers. This novel, a prequel to Miller’s remarkable debut novel, Norwegian by Night is set just prior to and during WWII, and provides the backstory of Sheldon Horowitz, the intriguing, endearing aged hero of Miller’s first book. Here, Sheldon, the son of Jewish immigrants to the U.S. (the undercurrent of discrimination runs throughout this book), at age 12, loses his mother in a movie theater fire, and his father in a car crash. Sheldon’s obsession with avenging his father’s death which he’s convinced wasn’t an accident is the focus of one of the best sections of the book. We then witness a gradual transformation from one focused on the past and revenge to one focused on the future and love—and can begin to see the man he is in that first novel. Miller’s characters are memorable (Sheldon is magnificent), the plots intricate and exciting, and the prose rich with detail that can be humorous, but also heartbreaking. I encourage you to read all of Miller’s novels. 


Staff Pick Badge
Clark and Division (A Japantown Mystery #1) By Naomi Hirahara Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781641293693
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Soho Crime - June 28th, 2022

This is a thrilling mystery with historical context that sheds light on a shameful chapter of U.S. history often glossed over in history classes—the treatment of Japanese-Americans by the U.S. government during WW II. This is the powerful story of the Ito family (the immigrant parents and their two American-born daughters, Rose, and her younger sister, Aki) who are relocated from their home in California by the government after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to Manzanar, one of the Japanese-American internment camps, where they spend several humiliating years. In 1944 the family is released and relocated to Chicago, where Rose is killed by a subway train. Her death is ruled a suicide by the police, but a skeptical Aki relentlessly pursues the truth. It is this Chicago section where this book really dazzles as a page-turning mystery, but also with arresting depictions of what life was like in the Japanese-American community, and, as a bonus, becomes also the tender coming-of-age story of Aki, who has always lived in her sister’s shadow. This is a powerful book on all three fronts.


Staff Pick Badge
They Came Like Swallows (Vintage International) By William Maxwell Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9780679772576
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 25th, 1997

This early novel from Maxwell further solidifies his position as one of my favorite writers. Set in a small Illinois town during the 1918-20 flu epidemic, the action centers on the Morison family (the parents and their 2 sons). Maxwell is a gentlemanly, reliable narrator who cares deeply about his characters, and paints many pictures with carefully chosen words that reveal nuances of character and establish the complex family dynamics. Like the swallows in the Yeats poem from which this book is named, the males in the family “seemed to whirl upon a compass point”—that being the wife and mother who dies from the flu just days after giving birth to a daughter. Reading this now during our pandemic is especially poignant, for Maxwell suggests in a most loving and heart-wrenching manner the ways their lives would be changed forever (his own mother died of the flu when he was 10). The NYT Book Review recently wisely chose Maxwell to be the subject for their “Writers Who Show Us Who We Are” series. Maxwell is a treasure.


Staff Pick Badge
The Vixen: A Novel By Francine Prose Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780063012158
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - June 28th, 2022

We have been blessed with another Prose novel to love and cherish. The narrative is brilliantly inventive and clever, intelligent as ever, and ever so funny. This is the post-college coming of age story of Simon Putnam (his name a mash-up of 2 famous publishers), whose first job at a small highbrow NYC publishing house gives Prose the opportunity to have some fun at the expense of publishers, and she doesn’t disappoint. Simon’s first major assignment is to edit a trashy novel (excerpts are included—more fun!), and in so doing, struggles with the conflict between professional ambition and matters of conscience, between his background and what he wants for his future. The ending is perfection. I was unexpectedly moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the writing and the inventive, ingenious way the ending circles back to the beginning. Like the Coney Island Cyclone, which figures prominently in the story, reading this novel by a master writer at her best, was a wild, fun, exhilarating ride.


Staff Pick Badge
The Passenger: A Novel By Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, Philip Boehm (Translated by), André Aciman (Introduction by) Cover Image
By Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, Philip Boehm (Translated by), André Aciman (Introduction by)
$16.99
ISBN: 9781250811288
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Metropolitan Books - April 12th, 2022

The world just might be a better place if readers embraced this new edition of a prophetic and haunting novel written by Boschwitz in 1938 at age 23 which portrays in chilling fashion the persecution of Jews in Germany prior to WW II and foresees the even greater horrors to come. The titular passenger is Otto Silbermann, a successful Jewish businessman who flees Berlin to escape arrest by embarking on a train odyssey across Germany. The account of his journey from city to city is suspenseful and infused with dark humor and a sense of existential dread and impending doom. Otto gradually experiences the shattering of everything he took for granted, including his very identity, and his faith and trust in humanity. This is a remarkable cautionary tale from a wise and talented young writer who, on his own journey to escape persecution, was killed at age 27 when a German submarine torpedoed the ship on which he was a passenger.


Staff Pick Badge
Bel Canto: A Novel By Ann Patchett Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780060838720
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - February 7th, 2023

I am utterly in awe of this masterful novel. In it, an audience that has gathered at the elegant home of the Vice President of a South American Country for a private concert by a world-renowned diva is taken hostage when a group of terrorists storm the house. What follows is almost magical, as Patchett takes her characters (both captives and captors) through a beautiful and credible transformation as they ever so gradually overcome national, racial, economic, and educational differences to find common ground, to find the humanity in each other. It is primarily the universal language of beauty, of music that sets the stage for this evolution. Just as the characters found hope in a world “in which someone could have written such music,” so can a reader find inspiration in a world in which a writer has written such an extraordinary tale as this. If your faith in humanity is waning of late, this novel may be the perfect antidote.


Staff Pick Badge
Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism By Anne Applebaum Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781984899507
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor - June 22nd, 2021

Historian Applebaum focuses on recent post-Cold War trends toward autocracy, not just in the U.S., but particularly in European countries, to make her case about the always fragile nature of democracy. This book, along with the events of 1/6/21, are the most powerful wake-up calls I’ve had regarding the danger our republic is in. We must learn from history, lest we repeat it, to paraphrase Churchill, who paraphrased George Santayana. Applebaum concludes, “The precariousness of the current moment seems frightening, and yet this uncertainly has always been there. … We always knew, or should have known, that history could once again reach into our private lives and rearrange them. We always knew, or should have known, that alternative visions of our nations would try to draw us in.” We are at such a time, still, during which millions of people hold dramatically different visions of who we are, how we should live, and with whom as our neighbors. Take nothing for granted. Democracy is hard work.


Staff Pick Badge
Monogamy: A Novel By Sue Miller Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780062969668
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - May 4th, 2021

I’ll always remember where and when I read this novel—alone, at a friend’s lovely house on Lake Michigan in late September during the pandemic. This was the quietest vacation I’ve ever had, with just the sound of the waves on the shore and the wind in the trees and this book often in my hands. I found that I needed this peace in order to truly absorb and reflect on this insightful novel. I cared about and learned from this richly painted cast of characters like I care about and learn from my dearest friends  This is a mature, complex story about a marriage, about how hard it can be to make a go of it even when the foundation is love, about how many years and recalled memories it can take to arrive at forgiveness, about how friends and family can alternately annoy us and then lift us up and help us to see our lives more clearly. My life was enriched by this novel as I continue to try to make sense of my marriage, my choices, my life.


Staff Pick Badge
Hi Five (An IQ Novel #4) By Joe Ide Cover Image
By Joe Ide
$16.99
ISBN: 9780316509541
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mulholland Books - January 26th, 2021

I was drawn to this book by its James Baldwin epigraph, and then Ide took over and his vivid and clever, sometimes noirish, prose knocked my socks off. His characters, from the same South Central LA area that Ide grew up in, are marvelously complex and intriguing, with his greatest creation being his street-smart and ingenious crime solver detective, IQ. Here, IQ is hired by a notorious arms dealer to solve a murder case. The plot is suspenseful, the denouement surprising with several dizzyingly page-turning episodes that kept me reading long into the night. But solving the crime was almost incidental to my enjoyment of the book. The thrill came from being immersed in Ide's prose, IQ’s world, to experience the day to day struggles of his characters to know themselves, to be better versions of themselves. As much as IQ is trying to solve a crime, he’s trying to solve life’s mysteries, to get at truths. I was looking for a distraction during the pandemic and found so much more. I am happily hooked.


Staff Pick Badge
The Cactus League: A Novel By Emily Nemens Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781250785763
Availability: Usually Available in 2-5 Days
Published: Picador - February 2nd, 2021

You don’t have to be a baseball devotee to enjoy and learn from this engaging debut novel set in Scottsdale, Arizona, where spring training for baseball’s minor Cactus League LA Lions takes place, for it is the action off the field that is the heart of this book. Each of nine chapters focuses on a different character, some of them from the Lions and others permanent residents of Scottsdale. Their stories are artfully woven together to form a novel that will tug at your heartstrings. The common thread throughout is the team’s star outfielder, Jason Goodyear, who is having a most particularly bad year. In a perfect ending, Jason, after performing a truly heroic act, tells an injured child to “hang on,” and the sportswriter whose musings are interspersed throughout the book, observes, “…goddamn it if his words couldn’t have been meant for himself, if they couldn't have been meant for us all.” Indeed, hang on everyone; this (whatever it is for each of us), too, shall pass.


Staff Pick Badge
March: A Novel By Geraldine Brooks Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143036661
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - January 31st, 2006

Brooks brilliantly applies her prodigious imagination, the fruits of her exhaustive research on the Civil War, and her masterful writing skills to grace readers with this backstory of the March family father, who in Little Women is off serving the Union in the Civil War. Her depictions of the brutal horrors of slavery, of war, and of the harsh reality that greeted newly freed slaves are gut-wrenching. More than once, March faces life and death situations requiring split-second decisions, the guilt from which will haunt and torment him every day of his life. Brooks finds the darkness, the secrets, and the guilt that lies beneath the surface of the Alcott characters. In her hands, the characters of March and Marmee are enriched and become more human and relatable—somehow without detracting from the joy that comes from reading Alcott’s classic. This novel so powerfully captured this complicated watershed period of our history, it left me hungering to know more. To my way of thinking, March will be considered a classic of the twenty-first century.


Staff Pick Badge
Townie: A Memoir By Andre Dubus, III Cover Image
$17.95
ISBN: 9780393340679
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - February 6th, 2012

This is a beautiful, excruciatingly honest, and brave memoir from a gifted writer of fiction. It's often too raw and shocking for comfort, but therein lies its power. The author's life changes forever when his father, the renowned writer Andre Dubus, leaves his mother for a young student. Thereafter they live in borderline poverty, and Andre evolves into an angry young man—angry with his father and with school bullies who humiliate and abuse the defenseless. As a teenager, he embraces violence as a means to right the wrongs of bullies in a superhero sort of way (in happier times he used to watch Batman episodes with his siblings and neighbor Kurt Vonnegut when his father and Vonnegut were involved with the Iowa Writers Workshop). For many years thereafter he tries in a slow, harrowing and riveting struggle to break free of this violent proclivity. Likewise, it takes him decades to come to terms with his feelings for his father, and to ultimately realize that anger at, and forgiveness and love for someone can coexist in one’s heart. His journey to becoming a great writer, a man of understanding who embraces empathy and forgiveness changed me in some way forever (maybe by seeing the possibility that no matter what baggage we are burdened with in our lives, it's never too late for redemption), and I can think of no higher praise for a book.


Staff Pick Badge
Chances Are . . .: A novel By Richard Russo Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781101971994
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - July 7th, 2020

I was so engrossed in this fine yarn spun by Russo that I resented every moment I had to put this book down in order to live my life. And I loved every moment I spent with his cast of characters who forged strong bonds of friendship in college and who reunite some 40 years later. It had special meaning for me as I read it right before attending my 45th college reunion. His characters are complex and disparate in background and nature, and they possess hearts and souls and intelligence, along with a boatload of insecurities and secrets. They were molded and scarred by their parents (join the club, eh?) and by events beyond their control, and they are haunted by regret. In other words, they are characters with whom we can easily identify. The over-arching theme--the extent to which we truly don't know anyone ("We let people keep their secrets, but then convince ourselves we know them anyway.") is one that always resonates with me. Russo is a master storyteller and a most astute observer of human nature. HIs status as one of my very favorite contemporary writers is hereby further solidified.

 


Staff Pick Badge
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: A Novel By Ben Fountain Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780060885618
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ecco - November 27th, 2012

This novel is the Catch-22 of this century (I intend this to be the highest of praise)—the quintessential war novel that captures with humor, irony, and pathos the absurdity and the horror of war. And incredibly Fountain does this not by setting his novel on the battlefields of Iraq, but in Texas, where Billy and the other survivors of a brutal Iraqi raid are making their final appearance of a publicity tour orchestrated by the Army, at the 2004 Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day NFL game. This is an absolutely brilliant setting in which to contrast these traumatized soldiers who signed up for duty because it seemed to be the best option and whose return to active duty in Iraq is imminent, with the fur and cashmere clad privileged folk who populate the suites at the NFL game. Fountain runs with it and dark hilarity ensues. He is at his best capturing hypocrisy and the absurd, but also the bond these soldiers share. And with extraordinary prescience he brings the very issues that increasingly divide our country today in sharp focus in this amazing, unforgettable book. 


Staff Pick Badge
Oksana, Behave!: A Novel By Maria Kuznetsova Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780525511892
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - February 11th, 2020

The cover of this novel captures perfectly the freewheeling, mischievous. misbehaving spirit of Oksana as well as her strong ties to Russia. She narrates this coming of age story, which begins at age 7 with her ever so colorful family’s immigration from Ukraine to the U.S., and ends 30 years later with a visit to her motherland. Throughout, she confronts the challenges of life and the struggle to assimilate in a foreign country, with humor, passion, and a discerning eye for the absurd. This is Oksana's journey towards acceptance of her faults and the importance of her family and her heritage. The chapters become more and more revelatory of her inner life (including quite literally the child she is carrying as the book ends)—much like the opening of Russian nesting dolls reveals ever smaller, but often more intricate figures the farther you go, traditionally culminating with the figure of a baby. Oksana is an absolutely spectacular creation—flawed, unpredictable, often hilarious and irreverent, and seemingly fearless, though not always where true intimacy is concerned. She catapulted to life off the first page and captured my heart and my imagination.. She is, I hope and suspect, unforgetable.


Staff Pick Badge
The Great Believers: A Novel By Rebecca Makkai Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780735223530
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - June 4th, 2019

I am so grateful for this beautiful, heart-breaking, truthful novel. In chapters alternating between Chicago in the late 1980s and present-day Paris, Makkai tells the story of those whose lives were irreversibly affected by the early days of the AIDS epidemic. I felt as though my brother’s story, for one, was being vividly brought to life; he lived in this Chicago neighborhood, frequented the same restaurants, gay bars, movie theaters, and in the end, died in the same AIDS ward as do some of the characters. I didn’t expect, however, to find elements of my story in the present-day chapters. This book gave me a new awareness of the degree to which my brother’s fate has impacted my life—the subtle ways a traumatic experience can scar one for life, so that one is always living in its aftermath, and unavoidably shortchanging the present. The very best of novels are imaginative and immersive, but also inspire just such self-examination. And the piece de resistance is that rare perfect ending.


Staff Pick Badge
Like Life (Vintage Contemporaries) By Lorrie Moore Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9780375719165
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - September 3rd, 2002

This short story collection is nearly 30 years old, but its artistry and appeal are timeless. The descriptions are succinct and rich with poetic detail (“His voice was slow with prairie, thick with Great Lakes.”). And Moore can be wry and funny as all get-out (“Illinois,” says one character, “it makes me sarcastic just to be here.”). She is a writer with an uncanny talent for capturing the universal thread that unites us no matter how different our personalities or circumstances are as readers, from the characters whose stories we read. I experienced a spark of recognition in all eight stories that connected me with the characters, even if it was just one line that stopped me in my tracks. These stories are truly like life, snapshots of lives brought to us by one of the best short story writers around.


Staff Pick Badge
Number One Chinese Restaurant: A Novel By Lillian Li Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9781250229328
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador - June 4th, 2019

This luminous debut novel takes us inside the complex lives and loves of the owners and employees of an established Chinese restaurant in suburban DC. It is rich with detail, humor (“Vegetarian? Isn’t life hard enough?”), and, most importantly, wisdom about human nature—how we can spend a lifetime trying to “crawl out from under the shadow of our family;” how our entangled relationships can sap our energy and bring equal parts joy and misery to our lives. It is about appearances vs. reality—how impossible it is to truly know someone. It is about how those who seem to have “the instruction manual to life” often don’t have a clue. This enthralling, imperfect cast of characters could stun me with their capacity for cruelty to each other, but then could melt away my harsh judgments as they attempt to turn their lives around and forgive. Lillian’s talent for storytelling, her wisdom, and her imagination captivated me from the first rich, bustling restaurant scene to the last somber, reflective page. Brava, Lillian!


Staff Pick Badge
American By Day By Derek B. Miller Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9781328585080
Availability: Usually Available in 2-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - April 2nd, 2019

With this, his third novel, Miller completes a literary hat trick. He’s one of my favorite contemporary writers, consistently creating novels that are at once entertaining and provocative. Here, Sigrid, the Norwegian detective who worked the case in Miller’s first book, Norwegian by Night (you don’t need to read it first, but read it you should), travels to the U.S. to locate her missing brother. The book is graced with witty, intelligent characters who seem to live and breathe on the pages (such as the New York sheriff who is also a graduate of a Jesuit divinity school), with humorous and insightful observations about contemporary life (here, drawing contrasts between American and Norwegian life), and a plot line that tackles the issue of race (here, through fatal shootings in both in Norway and in upstate New York of non-Caucasians, by white cops). In the end, my love for this book is about sentences such as this: “The heart is one of the few places where facts and truth may be separable.”


Staff Pick Badge
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches By John Hodgman Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780735224827
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - May 29th, 2018

After surviving the hideous year that was 2017, I turned to this book because I just wanted to laugh. And laugh I did over the many dry, self-deprecating humorous musings as Hodgman confronts grown-up issues like the discovery that the giant white metal Tylenol sculpture in his vacation home yard is actually a propane tank which doesn’t fill itself; you must call the “gas daddy” for that. I should have known from his work on the Daily Show that the book would be more than just funny. It turns out that what I needed and really wanted was a book that would also inspire reflection on human nature and the sad state of our country, and this book delivered. There are many moments of guilt-ridden self-discovery. Is his whole life being spent in vacationland? After all, what is he but a privileged white male who is fortunate to have enough money to at least buy “the conditions for happiness”? With his penchant for droll self-reflective humor and insight and for spot-on social observations, Hodgman has grown even further in my estimation with this book.


Staff Pick Badge
Swallowing Mercury By Wioletta Greg, Eliza Marciniak (Translator) Cover Image
By Wioletta Greg, Eliza Marciniak (Translator)
$15.95
ISBN: 9781945492044
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Transit Books - September 12th, 2017

In this wholly enchanting first novel by Polish poet, Wioletta Greg, life in a politically tumultuous and menacing 1980’s rural Poland is seen through the eyes of the precocious Wiola in chapters progressing from her very earliest memory fragments through to those of her teenage years. The sheer beauty, freshness, and power of Greg’s language to capture a child’s wonder, confusion, and curiosity at the world, and to summon nearly palpable childhood memories in the reader, is unparalleled. With a mesmerizing and sensuous poetic touch, Greg consistently uses the most unexpected of details to suggest a time, a place, a feeling, a mood: “I lay down beside her and watched the sky spin candyfloss out of the clouds.” This dazzling novel is a spell-binding testimony to the belief that the child in us is universal, ever-present, and can be stirred to life by a consummate writer. It is a rare sparkling gem of a book.


Staff Pick Badge
Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters By Mark Kingwell Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781771961530
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Biblioasis - April 18th, 2017

This is must-reading for those who care about baseball; it will help you see why you’re right that baseball matters, all the while knowing that it kind of doesn’t. Philosophy professor Kingwell softens his philosophical, literary and historical examination of the game with a most engaging personal narrative. He views baseball as theatre (a game of stillness, with sudden explosive action), as poetry (what is it but “a quest to leave home and return home safely, against all odds”), and as a pasttime rife with failure (errors, missed opportunities galore, batters failing to get hits far more often than they succeed). He makes the case that if we learn best from failure, baseball as “a game which embraces failure as its beating heart, offers significance beyond its apparent pointlessness.” Most games are not memorable, but that’s what makes those rare games, those “games for the ages” so exhilarating, just as in life, our failures make our successes sweeter. As Samuel Beckett wrote, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”  A lesson for baseball and for life.


Staff Pick Badge
Solid Ground By Jeff McKown Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9781947139060
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ninestar Press, LLC - April 24th, 2017

I worked with Jeff, the author, at Borders, and he is a friend. Knowing him, I’m in no way surprised that he's written a novel filled with wisdom, sensitivity, pathos, hope, humor, and irony.* What I couldn’t have known was that his debut would be so well-crafted with plot twists and turns I never saw coming, and vivid, colorful characters who absolutely come alive off the pages until you’d swear they were living and breathing in the room with you as you read. This is the story of Conor McLeish, a middle-aged gay novelist with scars from a traumatic childhood that have never healed. With decidedly mixed results, he is desperately trying to avoid sabotaging that which is good in his life, and to find that solid ground that we all seek. His colorful, dysfunctional family serves throughout as both a weight around his ankles, pulling him down, and an anchor to help ground him. Conor’s story is universal, and yet uniquely his. I cared deeply about and empathized with, each and every central character Jeff created, and I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more, and truly rooted for Conor every step of the way. I was a weeping mess when I turned the last page. This is a dazzling debut.

*I feel compelled to point out the irony of the title and the cover photo; also, consider that the story is set in Florida, which may one day be under water, and that the author lives in California, perhaps on a fault-line.


Staff Pick Badge
The Girl In Green By Derek B. Miller Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9781328745507
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - January 16th, 2018

The unlikely heroes, heart, charm, humor, intelligence, and gripping tension of both Miller's first novel, Norwegian by Nightand now this stunningly powerful and insanely funny second novel, make Miller one of my favorite comtemporary novelists. Miller wrote his dissertation on the Iraq civil war of 1991 and writes in the afterword to this book that he knew that he "needed to return to the subject matter through fiction, where a greater range of truths could be explored." This novel, set mostly in Iraq, but international in scope, is the result. All of the characters are captivating, but I have to single out the American soldier, Arwood Hobbs, as one of the most original, troubled, enigmatic, and hilarious characters ever. I will never forget him. And the man who created Arwood also wrote lines such as this: "There was no topsoil. There was surely a proper reason for this, but Benton imagined that too many feet had walked here for too long in search of too much." This book which addresses a host of themes with insight, humor, and compassion, will be with me literally and figuratively always.


Staff Pick Badge
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen By Mary Norris Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780393352146
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 4th, 2016

I'm a New Yorker groupie and a grammar nerd, and so I was in heaven reading this book by Mary Norris, long-time employee of the New Yorker Copy Department. She cares about grammar without being a purist ("A hyphen is not a moral issue.") and the book is charming and laugh-out-loud funny. You'll learn something about grammar, but also about dictionaries and how to properly sharpen a pencil. You'll also be treated to stories of life at the New Yorker (she had actual convervsations with Pauline Kael in the 18th floor bathroom!) and of working at a cheese factory prior to that. I had the pleaseure of meeting Ms. Norris at a recent book conference. She signed my copy of her book with her pencil of choice (a Blackwing 602) and my parting words to her were: "You're lilving my dream." She responded, "I'm living my dream." And that joie de vivre shines through brightly in her first book.


Staff Pick Badge
Time Will Darken It (Vintage International) By William Maxwell Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780679772583
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - February 4th, 1997

This early novel from William Maxwell, longtime fiction editor extraordinaire of the New Yorker, is a quiet gem with perhaps the saddest, wisest, most profoundly perfect ending I’ve ever encountered.

The novel takes place in 1912 in a sleepy, small (really small) Illinois town—a setting Maxwell knew intimately. At the center of the novel are Austin King and his family, but the town is also populated with a cast of colorful minor characters who provide humor, charm and conflict, and for whom Maxwell clearly has a deep fondness, foibles and all. Austin tries always to act honorably, to do no harm, but when a visit from his Mississippi foster family brings conflict to the surface, Austin realizes how subjective doing the “right thing” is, and that even the best of intentions can have devastating consequences.

The marvel of Maxwell’s novel is in his quiet empathetic prose, his fascination with the seemingly harmless actions, words and gestures that can produce hurt and pain in others. I simply don’t know how Maxwell manages to capture the complexity of human interactions, particularly of marriage, with such graceful simplicity and power. Maxwell is my sad, compassionate and totally wise god of fiction.


Staff Pick Badge
Crossing to Safety (Modern Library Classics) By Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams (Introduction by), T.H. Watkins (Afterword by) Cover Image
By Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams (Introduction by), T.H. Watkins (Afterword by)
$17.00
ISBN: 9780375759314
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Modern Library - April 9th, 2002

I cherish this book; it holds a special place in my heart and I'm not sure I can explain or even know why. It is the story of a friendship. Stegner captures like no one else both the joy of a new once-in-a-lifetime friendship that develops between two couples (each character so richly drawn) who meet in their 20's as the men are beginning their university teaching careers, and the reality of how the friendship evolves as circumstances change and flaws surface. I love the book's honesty, wisdom and simplicity, and appreciate that there is nothing simple about writing a novel that flows so effortlessly and beautifully. Just as friendships change over time, this is a book that should be savored again and again as one matures. It's one of my all-time favorite novels.


Staff Pick Badge
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President By Candice Millard Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780767929714
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor - June 12th, 2012

Millard writes of a most fascinating chapter of U.S. history and in so doing, has written a book that will appeal not only to the history buff, but also to the political junkie, the scientist and just anyone who appreciates a riveting tale well-told.

The narrative artfully weaves the story of James Garfield’s reluctant rise to the presidency (he wasn’t even a candidate prior to being selected as the nominee at the dead-locked Republican Convention of 1880); the assassin Charles Guiteau’s life of delusion culminating in the belief that it was God’s mission for him to save the country from Garfield; the doctors, who in trying to save Garfield’s life, ultimately killed him with archaic medical practices; and Alexander Graham Bell’s race to perfect an invention that he believed would save Garfield.

I came away from this book with great admiration for Garfield as a politician, educator, orator, man of letters, and, most importantly, a man of honor, as well as a desire to learn more about this period.  I simply can’t imagine anyone not being captivated by this story so expertly told by Millard.


Staff Pick Badge
Love and Shame and Love: A Novel By Peter Orner Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9780316129381
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books - November 13th, 2012

I loved this novel about three male generations of a Chicago Jewish family and the women they loved, for the strikingly original manner in which the tale is told and for the emotional response it evoked in me. Through the memories presented in its many short chapters, a portrait of a family whose members struggle to connect emerges. These vignettes, presented in a chronologically meandering order, are about the odd details, the strange moments in life whose emotional punch we recall more powerfully than the big events of our lives. Reading this novel triggered my own compelling memories— the image of looking out of an attic window and being surprised that the view is no different, took me back to my fascination with the attic window in my parents’ house. A simple detail, but powerful and poignant, a longing for something I can’t quite put my finger on. This book will stay with me.


Staff Pick Badge
Norwegian By Night (A Sheldon Horowitz Novel #2) By Derek B. Miller Cover Image
$15.99
ISBN: 9780544292666
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - May 6th, 2014

This debut novel is a Scandinavian thriller with a solid plot, a page-turning ending, strong characters, heart, humor and intelligence. The plot involves the desperate flight taken by Sheldon, an edlerly Jewish-American, and Paul, a young Serbian boy, after they witness the brutal murder of Paul's mother. The novel has many serious themes: aging, dementia, war, the Holocaust, loss, family love, regret, guilt and more guilt – always with the guilt, and just maybe redemption. Amazingly, these themes don't overwhelm the plot, and in fact the book is laugh-out-loud funny in spots. The heart and soul of the novel is quite simply the poignant relationship that develops between Sheldon and Paul; they don’t speak the same language, but wow, do they communicate and connect. I loved this book.


Staff Pick Badge
Happy All the Time (Vintage Contemporaries) By Laurie Colwin Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780307474407
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 23rd, 2010

I recently re-read this novel and fell in love with it all over again. It's a charming, thoughtful, upbeat and offbeat story of four people fallinig in love in 1970's NYC. Colwin makes happiness seem possible and plausible, but knows that sustaining happiness over time requires true effort--so there is angst and substance here. The characters are witty and smart, and you are treated to snappy, intelligent and hilarious dialogue, odd-ball secondary characters, and to one of my favorite characters of all time--Misty Berkowitz. She's full of cynicism, sass, intelligence and insecurities, and she's always setting roadblocks to happiness for fear it won't last. I get that, and I love her and want her to be my best friend. Colwin helps me to remain ever hopeful and happy a lot of the time.


Staff Pick Badge
Uncivil Seasons: A Justin & Cuddy Novel By Michael Malone Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781570717550
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Sourcebooks Landmark - September 1st, 2001

Wnen I read this novel some years ago, it instantly became one of my favorite books ever, and Malone one of my favorite writers. It is many things at once: an intricately plotted and suspenseful buddy-cop mystery; a romance with one of the most tender, realistic, and humorous renderings of two people falling in love I’ve ever come across; a thoughtful, literary novel that captures the feel of its small town Southern setting with beautiful prose and imagery, and its themes of class and race with honesty and nuance; and a playful screwball comedy of a book with its wacky humor and clever dialogue. Malone populates his town with colorful, complicated characters who breathe life and humor and conflict into the mix, and make this book smart and engaging. Reading this book was an absolutely exhilarating experience. 


Staff Pick Badge
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating By Elisabeth Tova Bailey Cover Image
$14.99
ISBN: 9781616206420
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Books - September 6th, 2016

 “The natural world is the refuge of the spirit…richer even than human imagination.” Edward O. Wilson

From that first carefully chosen epigraph on, this book is a little bit of perfection in an imperfect world. Through powerful, wise and tranquilly beautiful lyrical writing, Bailey recounts her tortuous bed-ridden months of recovery from the effects of a pathogen, and her gradual bonding with a snail, brought to her for companionship by a friend. Reading this book was an escape to the wondrous, fantastical world of a quiet, mysterious, graceful, ancient creature who kept the author’s spirit from “evaporating” and then realized that world is all around us if we slow down, observe and learn. This is a remarkable story of healing, dignity, the resilience of the human spirit, and most importantly the wonders of nature. I loved every quiet moment I spent in Bailey’s world.