Sunday, September 5, 2021

Staff Recommendations, Week of September 7, 2021

A new month means new releases, especially September, the first month of the last quarter. Let's get to it.

Margaret Kennedy starts us with Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian. Margaret says, "Suspenseful and intriguing, Never Saw Me Coming had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Usually in horror stories, the psychopaths are the ones we run away from, the ones waving the knife. It’s true for this book too, but with a twist – the unfeeling villains are in fact the narrators. The main story follows Chloe Sevre, certified psychopath getting a free ride to college by participating in a psychology study on people like her. It's a stroke of luck for Chloe, because the college hosting the program is the same college that the boy she is planning to kill attends. As Chloe plots “the accident,” however, someone else is plotting murder, too - and Chloe and her fellow psychopaths are the intended victims. The narrators aren’t exactly the good guys here, but as the book goes on and plot twists abound, you find yourself rooting for them anyways. A thriller of a different kind that kept me hooked!"
Kathy Herbst recommends Matrix, the latest novel by Lauren Groff. Kathy says, "In this engaging work of historical fiction, Groff creates a story for real life poet Marie de France, who was cast out of the French court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and sent to an ailing abbey to be its prioress. Angry and resentful at first, Marie slowly takes charge, transforming the abbey and empowering the women who live and work there. Wonderful blend of historical people and events and the author's vivid imagination."

Julio Garcia recommends Brothers on Three: A True Story of Family, Resistance, and Hope on a Reservation in Montana by Abe Streep. Julio says, "In 2018, a small basketball team of Indigenous high school students from the Flathead Reservation powered their way to the Montana State Championship, which they won despite being out-manned and out-muscled. Despite the success of this team, Abe Streep goes and tries to answer the question that looms for the team: What's next? Through following members of the team, Streep gives an in-depth and personal account on what this championship means for the community of Arlee, what the next step for the players are, and tries to answer the question: What are the Arlee Warriors playing for? This is a book of heartbreak, joy, and a new perspective on the coming-of-age tale."

Kay Wosewick and Daniel Goldin recommend L.A. Weather, by María Amparo Escandón. Kay says, "This LA-set story will quickly set its claws and pull you through a manic year in the lives of a well-off Mexican American family. Father, mother, and all three daughters have crises that vary from much ado about nothing to much-delayed ados about everything. You will smile gleefully as the family completes the eventful year with stronger bonds than ever."

And Daniel says, "Keila has been married to Oscar for nearly forty years, so when she sits down with her three daughters and tells them she’s getting divorced, her girls, Claudia, Olivia, and Patricia, are shocked and angry. And then, over the course of one year, the three of them see their own marriages self-destruct. But that just scratches the surface of what happens to this family, which has more secrets than you can imagine. I so enjoyed the author’s vision of Los Angeles and personally appreciated the Jewish references sprinkled in the story – Keila is the daughter of Holocaust survivors who resettled in Mexico City. Yes, L.A. Weather’s outrageous plot twists have a telenovela quality, as the Alvarados contend with just about every complication a family can face, except for maybe locusts. But they make it through (mostly), a little wiser for the journey, and it’s hard not to fall in love with them and all their messiness."

Kay also recommends Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs. Kay says, "The absence of books about women recounting their walking adventures incited Abbs to hunt down some trailblazing women and replicate their walks as closely as possible. You will love hiking under often appalling conditions with fiercely determined and highly creative women and their accomplices. Along the way you will gain a fresh perspective of some famous women."

You want a third Kay Wosewick rec? You got it! Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann, illustrated by Diana Hope. Of this, Kay says, "Lucy Ellmann’s witty, snap-crackle-pop essays drew gales of laughter (and a few tears) from me. Every essay is a singular joy. The title essay is a grand THING. The second essay worthily challenges eyeballs by employing a very clever form. The last two essays close with somber notes mixed with their humor. Ellmann uses a sharp knife to cut through society’s apparently ironclad skin to reveal a maelstrom rumbling inside: near-universal control subversively sustained by men, but with signs of tottering, and deeply buried denial maintained by women, perhaps on the verge of surfacing. WAKE UP WOMEN! Bonus: sketches accompany each essay to further enlighten and amuse."

Yes, Kay has been reading a lot. Which means we've got a FOURTH staff rec from one of our voracious-est readers - this one for Peter Heller's The Guide, which came out last week but gets its recommendation badge today. Kay says, "A very exclusive, very private lodge in the Colorado Rockies has pristine creeks chockfull of trout, and very wealthy clients. Jack takes a fishing guide job late in the season, replacing someone who left suddenly. Bad vibes hit Jack almost immediately upon arrival, but melt away as he enjoys an exquisitely relaxing day fishing with his charming client. Unfortunately, neither of them can ignore increasingly visible oddities suggesting the lodge is a cover for something else. Something sinister. Both are compelled to discover what's really going on; they do, and it's a nasty surprise. Prepare for lovely highs and grim lows, an increasingly common combination for Peter Heller, one of my favorite authors."

Daniel also has multiple releases to recommend this week. His next is Karachi Vice: Life and Death in a Contested City by Samira Shackle. Daniel says, "Journalist Shackle spent several years following Karachi residents, including a crime reporter, an ambulance driver, an educator and social activist, another advocate who maps the city’s resources and helps get things like sewers installed, and a young woman from a rural village watching a project for the wealthy encroach on their land. The Partition and other localized conflicts have created a megacity where Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch, and Mohajirs (Punjabis are a force in Pakistan, but not so much in Karachi) fight for land and resources, where each ethnic group has a political party which shares power with a criminal element. Underfunded police are almost incentivized to corruption. Social services are often underfunded or altogether absent; ambulances are run by a charity. Media channels are in fierce competition for viewers - with journalists putting themselves in great danger to get the best story. All this and The Taliban, too. Shackle’s detailed and sympathetic portrayal of life in this city of 20 million people is fascinating reading, always insightful, plus she’s a great storyteller. If you are one of the millions of people who loved Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, this book is for you."

Does Daniel three-peat this week? Yes indeed! The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, by Zoraida Córdova. Daniel says, "In the remote town of Four Rivers, the matriarch Orquídea Divina has called the family together one last time, including raised-together cousins Marimar and Rey. They’ve been promised an inheritance, but their grandmother isn’t dead yet. There are complications, likely connected to a deal Orquídea Divina made when she was a young woman with a traveling circus. And then the relatives start dying. Just what is the family secret? And how is connected to the flowers that begin to grow out of their bodies? For the answers, they wind up journeying to Ecuador to unlock their grandmother’s past. This bewitching blend of family drama, adventure (the descriptions of Guayaquil had me contemplating packing a suitcase), and romance, is blended with enough magic to set hearts ablaze."

How about a couple of picture book recommendations, too!

First it's Jen Steele for Mister Fairy by Morgane de Cadier. Jen says, "A charming picture book about finding your truth and accepting the uniqueness of you. The world would be a little less bright without Mister Fairy! I hope you enjoy this whimsical and clever picture book as much as I did."

Then Chris Lee says you must read Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, He Did) by Ryan Higgins. His rec: "When his best friend (Mildred, a tree) makes a new friend (a nearby tree sprout), Norman the porcupine learns a tough lesson about friendship, jealousy, growth, and tree-napping. The story is quirky and inventive yet still flows organically, and the almost comic-strip style artwork is bold, full of colors and contrasts, and quite friendly. I’ve never wanted to hug a porcupine so much!"

And a paperback pick? You know it - from our fair city's very own Lauren Fox, it's the paperback release of her New York Times bestselling novel Send for Me, and it's recommendation comes from Daniel, who says, "In Lauren Fox’s first work of historical fiction, Annelise is a young woman working at her parents’ bakery in 1930s Feldenheim. Life is fairly normal – school, work, friends, dating – but every day there are more restrictions on Jews. Christian friends and neighbors who were once friendly have turned cold. It’s possible Annelise can escape, but what will happen to her parents? Fox has a way of taking minute details and infusing them with life, from the highs of first love to the lows of increasing desperation. The story is told with glimpses into the future, with Annelise’s granddaughter Clare, under very different circumstances, also contemplating a separation from her parents. Fox has a deft touch bringing small details to flower, and while her humor is more restrained than in previous novels, there are moments where her quirky writerly charm comes to the fore. Contemplative, heartbreaking, beautiful."

Whoa! That is a great big list of great books. See you next week - you'd better get to reading in the meantime!

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