Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

 

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

Forest Dark is Krauss’s most metaphysical book.  In it, Krauss, author of History of Love and Great House, explores the notion of parallel lives through two very dissimilar protagonists: New York philanthropist and attorney Jules Epstein, and noted author Nicole (no last name).

Epstein is a complex man who, at 68, has been most comfortable in the material world. But now, after retirement from his law firm, his recent divorce, and especially, the death of his parents, he feels unmoored.  Like many of us at some point, he wonders what might have been had he taken another direction. As the narrator tells us:

Sara Picks  Literary Fiction  Fiction

10/22/17
 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

During World War II, New York Harbor played a major role in the war effort. According to the publication of the New York Historical Society, more than three million men shipped out from New York Harbor. At the war’s peak, 70,000 people were employed, including many women. New York Harbor became the largest shipbuilding facility in the country.

Egan uses this history as a backdrop for her book, Manhattan Beach. The story weaves together the lives of three people: Anna Kerrigan, a small parts ship machinist who becomes the first female diver; Anna’s dad, a deft conman; and Dexter Styles, the nightclub owner and mobster for whom Anna’s father works. In many ways, it is a coming of age story about a savvy girl, Anna, who at age 19, is left to care for her mother and disabled sister. Her father has disappeared and is presumed dead. The plot is driven by that disappearance and by Anna’s quest to find him.

Sara Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

10/06/17
 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

 

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. KleinScience fiction is often hailed (and sometimes derided) for the miraculous-seeming technologies that drive stories. Characters can communicate at the speed of thought and traverse great distances with minimal inconvenience, and readers for the most part accept this as a narrative device. The Punch Escrow, Klein’s debut novel, is a thriller that challenges this trope by telling a gripping story about the pitfalls of taking such technologies for granted.

It is 2147, and 50 years after the end of “The Last War,” humanity finds itself in a relatively good state thanks to technological advances. Necessary items can be assembled from stray matter. Mosquitos have been genetically modified to drink pollution instead of blood. And teleportation (think Star Trek’s transporters) has become a reality. Overseen by the monolithic International Transport (IT) Corporation and utilizing their patented “Punch Escrow” technology, getting from one part of the world to another is as easy as riding the subway.

Joel Byram, a freelance computer programmer and a bit of a smart aleck, lives with his physicist wife Sylvia in New York. In an attempt to rekindle romance in their strained marriage, they plan a tenth anniversary vacation in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, just as Joel is about to teleport from the Greenwich station to meet Sylvia, a bomb is detonated, damaging the facility. Joel leaves the station seemingly unharmed, but learns that technical meddling has resulted in a perfect duplicate of him arriving to meet his wife. Furthermore, Joel’s full legal rights have been given to the duplicate, whom Joel designates as “Joel2.” The result is that the original Joel (Joel1 ) now is considered old data that needs to be “cleared.” But Joel1 isn’t ready to be cleared. He wants to live, and he wants to see his wife again.

Thriller  Science Fiction  Justin Picks  Fiction

 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

 

YoungJaneYoung

Zevin is a vibrant, young novelist who recently published In the Age of Love and Chocolate (2013) for young adults. She is best known for her young adult novel, Elsewhere, published in 2005 when she was only 28. And most recently, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (2014) delighted readers of all ages. To date, Zevin has published 9 novels, 5 of which are for teens.

Her newest novel, Young Jane Young, is about a college student who interns for her handsome, charismatic and married congressman, Aaron Levin, and ends up having an affair with him. The story is told through the eyes of five women—all different ages, and thus, all from different perspectives. The characters are: Jane; Rachel, Jane’s mother; Ruby, Jane’s daughter; Jane’s grandmother, who has sage advice for everyone; and Embeth, the congressman’s long-suffering wife. Through these characters, we see how our feelings about an event change depending on our age.

Sara Picks  Fiction  Contemporary

10/04/17
 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

 

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

The Weight of Ink is a character-driven historical novel whose intricate plot calls to mind such authors as A. S. Byatt (The Possession), Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book) and Donna Tartt (The Goldfinch).

In it, the period of the 1660s London is flawlessly interwoven with the year 2000—the year that 2 researchers come upon a treasure trove of documents found under a staircase in a 300 year old house. Helen Watt, an aging and crusty professor of history, and Aaron Levy, a young and impertinent graduate student, are thrown together as they solve the mystery of a scribe whose pen name is Aleph. Aleph (Ester Velasquez) came to London from Amsterdam in the early 1660s after the death of her parents. London, under Cromwell, just allowed Jews back into the city after a 300 year expulsion. Ester comes to live with her former tutor, Rabbi HaCoen Mendes, and she writes the letters he dictates to her. The plot of the book is interwoven with such historic events as The Great Plague of London and The Great Fire of London as well as the crisis caused by Sabbatai Zevi-the false Jewish Messiah. Moreover, Baruch Spinoza, whose views on God served to excommunicate him, is integral to the plot.

Sara Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

10/04/17
 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I read this book in two days, but now I almost wish I had taken more time because I really miss Eleanor! She is delightful, and the book is a well written, page turning novel.

Main character Eleanor is a lonely, single 29-year-old Scottish woman who insists that she is completely fine. She observes strict routines of week days at work (same clothes, same job, no interaction with anyone) and weekends alone with large quantities of vodka and pizza. She speaks formally, with an antiquated speech pattern and vocabulary that keep regular people at arm’s length. And she is fine. Until she develops a school girl crush on a rock’n’roller whom she dreams of meeting. A necessary work interaction with Raymond, the grubby new geek in IT, begins to thaw her icy heart, and leads her to consider that maybe, just maybe, she could begin to allow some tiny change, even some people, into her life.  To the author’s credit, the Raymond-inspired character development is not based on “the knight in shining armor riding up on a white horse” scenario, but rather, a unique friendship that leads Eleanor to look into her very unhappy childhood and see how it has restricted her. Issues with her “Mummy” are alluded to in their weekly Wednesday night phone call, but not elucidated (through the skill of a patient therapist) until the very end of the book, creating a pleasant suspense.

Nancy Picks  Humor  Fiction  Contemporary  British Fiction

09/21/17
 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

 

Cover of "Sourdough" by Robin Sloan Sourdough by Robin Sloan is probably the most enjoyable—and purely readable—book I’ve read this year. It’s an adventure, a puzzle, a glimpse into the future, and a celebration of food. And I learned a lot about bread, which usually doesn’t happen with the books I read.

Lois Clary programs robots at a San Francisco startup. After work, she orders the soup and sandwich combo from the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall that two brothers of indeterminable ethnicity run. Sadly, the brothers must return to Europe (visa issues) but as a parting gift, they give Lois their starter—the living bacteria culture that gives sourdough bread its signature taste. Desperately seeking a hobby, Lois bakes some bread, and discovers she has quite the knack for it. While tasty, the loaves are a little strange. Are those faces in the crust? And late at night, is the culture…singing? Lois doesn’t have time to worry about these peculiarities, as she starts supplying her work cafeteria with sourdough. Soon, she finds herself working at a strange sort of farmers market where other gourmands are hard at work fusing technology and food. But will the culture behave long enough for Lois to make a living from baking? And just who is this Mr. Marrow that bankrolls the project?

Sourdough is Robin Sloan’s second novel, following the perennial librarian favorite Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. The two books share some DNA: they both feature hapless geeks who find themselves at the intersection of a rustic craft and the latest technology, while a mysterious organization watches over the whole operation. Anyone who liked Mr. Penumbra will enjoy Sourdough, and vice versa. Oh, and like Mr. Penumbra’s the cover glows in the dark. Check it out!

Jake Picks  Humor  Fiction  Contemporary

 

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud

Described by Publishers’ Weekly magazine as “haunting and emotionally gripping,” this short book follows the author’s highly regarded 2006 novel Emperor’s Children, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, as well as her other dazzling novels.

The Burning Girl, narrated in the teenage voice of Julia, is at heart a coming of age novel set in a small town in Massachusetts. Julia and Cassie have been best friends since nursery school, but their friendship flounders in seventh grade.

Nancy Picks

08/25/17
 

Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman

bookMeet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001-2011

By Lizzy Goodman

It’s no secret that some of the most effortlessly cool rock music of all time came out of New York City.  Which is why it was so disappointing that by the 1990s the city that brought us Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads, and The Ramones had virtually no rock scene to speak of.  So how did Manhattan (and later Brooklyn) bounce back in the new millennium?  All it took was a dot-com bust, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and some hardworking young musicians to put the NYC rock scene back on the map.  In her fascinating oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom, journalist Lizzy Goodman got the artists and industry insiders who were there to tell the story.

Early in the decade, The Strokes made old-fashioned rock and roll, while Interpol and Yeah Yeah Yeahs put an artsy spin on it.  LCD Soundsystem got the hipsters dancing to their blend of electro, dance, and punk.  More mellow sounds from Grizzly Bear and The National came out of Brooklyn, where the rent was cheaper and the vibe more chilled out.  The sound expanded with R&B influenced groves from TV on the Radio and world beats from the Columbia-educated Vampire Weekend.  This new music came against a backdrop of 9/11, the rise of the internet, monumental changes in the music industry, Giuliani’s crackdown on nightlife, and hyper-gentrification in Manhattan pushing the creative types into Brooklyn.

Untagged 

 

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

PerryEssexThe Essex Serpent represents the best in current historical fiction. A second novel by British author, Sarah Perry, it was named Book of the Year by the Waterstone’s Bookstore. Set in 1893, the book explores many themes—among them, friendship, science vs. religion, the role of women in Victorian England, the class divide, and social conditions and mores of the times. The writing is highly evocative and calls to mind the writings of other Victorians such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Like Dickens, Perry highlights the squalor of the London slums. Perry also illuminates advances in medicine and surgery, including the first open-heart surgery and the prevailing treatment of tuberculosis in the late 19th century.

 

The main character is Cora Seaborne—a young widow formerly married to a sadistic older man. Now free to live as she chooses, she embraces her early passion for collecting fossils and roaming the English shores. Like others of her class, she is influenced by Darwin’s publication, The Origin of the Species, first published in 1876.When she visits Essex, Cora falls in love with the sheer wildness of the place. There, she befriends the local pastor and his family and learns about the Essex Serpent—a mythical creature dating back centuries. The plot is driven by Cora’s desire to determine whether the monster really exists.

 

Sara Picks  Literary Fiction  Historical Fiction  Historical  British Fiction

07/12/17
 

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