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Posted on Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gold Fame Citrus is a frontrunner for my top books of 2015. A love story set amidst a catastrophic California drought, Claire Vaye Watkins’s debut novel is by turns wrenching, thrilling, gorgeously lyrical, and hilarious. It follows protagonists Luz and Ray as they navigate an American West overrun by sand and completely bereft of freshwater. The characters are meticulously drawn and the settings are vivid. Gold Fame Citrus has some of the sharpest and most compelling world-building this side of Swamplandia. From a sand dune the size of Denali to an abandoned midcentury Hollywood Mansion (complete with Hermes-scarves turned diapers), set piece after set piece is a perfectly imagined marriage of character and setting. This accomplished novel will haunt you—Claire Vaye Watkins has delivered a stunner. Recommended by Danny

Posted on Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pope Francis's encyclical letter ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME: LAUDATO SI brought people to tears as a Mary Evelyn Tucker read from it at the annual Prairie Festival gathering last weekend at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. Because he has a substantial science background coupled with compassion and bravery, his call for humans to address the climate crisis and other ravages of our planet articulates what many other religious and political leaders have neglected to say. And his beautiful ecumenical call to love the planet's bounty will resonate with many, even atheists. Highly recommended by Kelly.

Posted on Thursday, September 17, 2015

Written as a guide for people enrolled in the SNAP program, this cookbook by Leanne Brown offers easy recipes and helpful hints about pantry essentials, what to buy when, and not only  how to make do with what you can afford but also to thrive on it. Beautiful illustrations with each recipe make the book a feast for the eyes as well. Best yet, with the purchase of each copy, the publisher will donate a copy to someone who really needs it. -- Recommended by Kelly

Posted on Wednesday, July 8, 2015

STAFF REVIEW: Kate Atkinson's novel, Life After Life, tells many stories all revolving around the lives of a upper-middle-class English family of seven who live in an idyllic rural home named Fox Corner. The reader follows the family from 1911 to the 1950s, tumultuous years in England. But wait–some characters, especially Ursula the middle daughter, have many different narratives, some contradictory to what has been told before.  Because of the author's narrative skill, these variations of plot and the descriptions of time, place and characters and the pace of her writing wraps you up in their world and compels you to keep reading. I couldn't decide if the variations were like detailed accounts of ones hopes or fears about what can happen in life or if the author is showing us how things can turn out differently for her characters with the most minor of changes.  For example, what if you turned left instead of right and avoid a car wreck or you stopped to pick flowers along a path and missed the chance to stop a crime that is happening a mile ahead? What happens next? This is a fascinating, absorbing, delicious book. Atkinson's newest book, A God in Ruins, continues the story of one of the children in Life After Life, and those who have read the second one say it is terrific too. Recommended by Pat.

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Near the beginning of Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret’s son is born in the same hospital that’s treating the victims of a terrorist attack. A reporter approaches Keret for a quote, thinking a writer would be a good source. The reporter is disappointed to hear that Keret was “merely” there for the birth of his son, not injuries sustained in a terrorist attack. It’s a funny story, and it is simultaneously political and delicately personal. This meshing of large and small scales, in addition to a winning sense of humor, makes this collection of short essays pretty delightful. Keret is a candid, sometimes buoyant, always funny guide to the events of his family, from his son’s birth to his father’s death. For a book that deals with heavy stuff, it’ll make you smile quite a bit. Recommended by Danny.

Posted on Monday, June 29, 2015

STAFF RECOMMENDATION: Christopher Moore, author of amongst other books, Lamb, the Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, has entered into another world, this time of dead souls.

This sequel to A Dirty Job is set in San Francisco, where the souls of the dead are "mysteriously disappearing," and Charlie Asher, trapped in a knee-high meat puppet body, is trying to retrieve them. His 7-year-old daughter, Sophie, is the only power keeping the Forces of Darkness from overrunning the universe. If these two aren't unusual enough, meet Mike Sullivan, who is a Golden Gate Bridge painter who talks to ghosts, and Lily Darquewillow Elventhing Severo, a part time hotline suicide counselor. (Having worked at Headquarters I fell out of my chair at this depiction of suicide intervention).

A must read, particularly for those who like otherworldly adventures. I still wonder what it would be like to meet Christopher Moore in person–his books make me laugh. Recommended by Julie

Posted on Thursday, March 19, 2015

A man with two last names better be a tough writer, and Smith Henderson doesn’t disappoint. In fact, his debut novel Fourth of July Creek resembles some of American Lit’s toughest writers, namely Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner. A large part of the toughness comes from Fourth of July Creek’s rural Montana setting, equal parts menacing and lovely. The novel tells the story of toughened idealist social worker Pete as he falls in with the bizarre survivalist Jeremiah Pearl. The book crackles and sizzles as Henderson peels away layer after layer until a series of devastating and tragic climaxes. If you like books about rugged people behaving badly, this one is for you. Recommended by Danny.

Posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2015

When reading REDEPLOYMENT, an acclaimed debut story collection from Iraq veteran Phil Klay, I knew to expect a harrowing and intimate glimpse at the human cost of America’s recent engagements in the Middle East. REDEPLOYMENT delivers in that regard—its title story is as lean, harrowing, and devastating as anything I’ve read recently. Yet what surprised me most is the range of tones in this collection. Though each one centers on a marine readjusting to life post-deployment, the stories range from hilariously satirical (“Money as Weapons System”) to mournfully elegiac and faithful (“Prayer in the Furnace”). Each story here is a keeper, and each one captures the ambivalence and lingering effects of war on young veterans. Recommended by Danny.

Posted on Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Give yourself a few hours when you start this one; I couldn’t tear myself away until I had read it all in one sitting. Chast’s comic memoir (and I mean “comic” as in “funny” and as in “composed of words and pictures”) tells the story of her parents’ deaths. Certainly it gets harrowing at points—Chast’s mother’s decline in particular is not smooth. But Chast’s narrative voice and presence casts an air over the proceedings that is generous, honest, and achingly human. Chast’s drawing style is noted for its neurotic squiggliness, and it suits this story’s anxieties and uncertainties. Yet the most memorable part for me was about midway through when Chast puts down her pen and simply provides several pages of photographs taken in her parents’ apartment after they’ve moved out of it—the result, like the rest of the book, is hilarious, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. Recommended by Danny.

Posted on Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In a heartbreaking new memoir, UNDER THIS BEAUTIFUL DOME, former AP journalist, Terry Mutchler, recounts the story of her closeted marriage to Illinois Democratic Senator Penny Severns, mentor to then young Senator, Barack Obama. After Severns' death from breast cancer, her family locked Mutchler out of their home and appropriated their mutual possessions. This book eloquently shows the importance of the fall of DOMA and the many states that have overturned same-sex marriage bans. Recommended by Kelly

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