November and December Picks

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“With its deft interweaving of psychological complexity and riveting narrative momentum, with its gorgeous prose and poetic justice, The Gravity of Birds is about sibling rivalry, tragedies, and resurrections. And it’s irresistibly exquisite” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Forty-four years after the brilliant young painter, Thomas Bayber, first meets Alice and Natalie Kessler, Bayber unveils a never-before-seen work, Kessler Sisters—a provocative painting depicting the young Thomas, Alice, and Natalie. Bayber asks Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, an eccentric young art authenticator, to sell the painting. But their task becomes more complicated when the artist requires that they first locate Alice and Natalie, who seem to have disappeared.

Told in alternating chapters that weave revelations about the sisters’ past with clues Finch and Jameson discover in the present, this story sets three characters on a collision course with their histories, showing how families tear themselves apart and then try to bind themselves together again, not always creating the same fabric. The Gravity of Birds “combines the drama of warring sisters, the mystery of a missing painting, and the sorrow of lost love into a haunting elegy that will…leave you breathless” (Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County).

 

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A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.

Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

 

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September and October

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

 

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In 1915, Naomi and Sally Durance, two spirited Australian sisters, join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father’s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Amid the carnage, the sisters’ tenuous bond strengthens as they bravely face extreme danger and hostility—sometimes from their own side. There is great humor and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the incredible women they serve alongside. In France, each meets an exceptional man, the kind for whom she might relinquish her newfound independence— if only they all survive.

At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars is a remarkable novel about suffering and transcendence, despair and triumph, and the simple acts of decency that make us human even in a world gone mad.

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July and August Picks

The international bestselling romantic comedy “bursting with warmth, emotional depth, and…humor,” (Entertainment Weekly) featuring the oddly charming, socially challenged genetics professor, Don, as he seeks true love.

The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, Graeme Simsion’s distinctive debut “navigates the choppy waters of adult relationships, both romantic and platonic, with a fresh take (USA TODAY). “Filled with humor and plenty of heart, The Rosie Project is a delightful reminder that all of us, no matter how we’re wired, just want to fit in” (Chicago Tribune).

 

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A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel, The Death of Bees is a coming-of-age story in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.

Marnie and Nelly, left on their own in Glasgow's Hazlehurst housing estate, attempt to avoid suspicion until Marnie can become a legal guardian for her younger sister.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, and told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other.

 

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May Picks

 



 

A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina townFor a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can't help sneaking a look at something he's not supposed to?an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess's. It's a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he's not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil?but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.Told by three resonant and evocative characters?Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past?A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.

 

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The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan'sMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle

 

 

 

 

 

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