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Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

 

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

The location is Tangiers, Morocco, and the time period is the early 1950’s. Our two main characters, Lucy Mason and Alice Shipley, met as roommates at prestigious Bennington College in Vermont. They were very close, living together all four years.  Alice came from a long line of blue bloods, and always had lovely clothes and jewelry. In contrast, Lucy was a scholarship girl, from the wrong side of the tracks, had there been tracks in the tiny town where she grew up. Really the only thing they had in common was that they were both orphans.  

Their senior year, a tragic accident occurred in a car in which Alice was riding. Alice and Lucy barely spoke after that.

Nancy Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

03/15/18
 

Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo

 

Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo

Three Floors Up by Eshkol Nevo (Sara’s Picks)

Eshkol Nevo is a best-selling Israeli author whose books have earned top literary prizes and been translated into many languages. His latest book, Three Floors Up, is a psychological study of the residents of an apartment building in Tel Aviv. The building provides the structure of the novel and is comprised of three interconnected stories whose narrators live on the first, second, and third floors respectively. Each story takes the form of a confessional.

Sara Picks  Fiction

02/28/18
 

Improvement by Joan Silber

 

Improvement by Joan Silber

Improvement, by Joan Silber

Improvement is a collection of interwoven short stories about the choices we make when young and the impact of those choices on our lives. The book’s main characters are Reyna, a young single mother living in Harlem, and her free-spirited aunt, Kiki, who is now in her 60s. Forty years earlier, Kiki lived in Turkey with Osman, a Turkish rug-seller who was then her husband. What Kiki and Reyna have in common are the recklessness of their youth and their exotic taste in men.

Sara Picks  Fiction

02/13/18
 

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

 

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez

The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

The Friend is less a novel than an elegy on friendship, writing, and loss. Its narrator is a middle-aged intellectual—an aspiring and unnamed author who teaches creative writing classes. She is mourning the suicide of her former professor—the man who became her lifelong friend and mentor. Overcome with grief, she believes her own life has lost its purpose.

Sara Picks  Fiction

02/13/18
 

Tenements, Towers and Trash by Julia Wertz

 

Tenements Towers and Trash by Julia Wertz

Cartoonist and urban explorer Julia Wertz gives a tour of her adopted hometown in Tenements, Towers and Trash.  It’s far from a guidebook, and doesn’t offer much in the way of conventional history.  Instead, it’s a passionate and irreverent look at a city that’s always changing. 

Wertz revels in lesser-known aspects of the history and character of the five boroughs.  Instead of lessons on Tammany Hall or Ellis Island, we learn about pinball machine prohibition (in effect until 1978!) and the contested genesis of the egg cream (a once-popular soda shop concoction).  Instead of tours of Central Park and the Empire State Building, we get an inventory of the city’s best independent bookstores and detailed directions to Staten Island’s Boat Graveyard.  A large portion of the book consists of Wertz’s highly detailed black and white illustrations comparing city blocks then and now.  We see how select parts of the city have transformed (for the most part) from the utilitarian city neighborhoods that urban activist and author Jane Jacobs inhabited in the mid twentieth century to a homogenized playground for the 1%.  Wertz also shows us the route of a typical “Long Walk,” a meandering 15-mile stroll through Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. 

Jake Picks

 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Can you imagine being with your family for an entire seven-day week?  Mom, Dad, adult siblings? What if you all were confined to an isolated, crumbling, family house in rural England, a home which no one could leave or enter for a full week?  Why? Because the family is in quarantine! Groceries have to be dropped at the gate, letters pushed in to the letter slot. . .

The Birch family is at the center of this Brit-authored novel. Daughter Olivia, a medical doctor, has been in Liberia, tending to the country’s underserved population under primitive circumstances.  She and her work partner, Sean, were campaigning for basic sanitation standards when a deadly disease, the Haag Virus, broke out among the native people. Aid workers were sent home as quickly as possible, with the admonition to stay away from everyone for an entire week in case they had been exposed to the virus. It’s Christmas, and the Birches, so happy that Olivia is home for a change, agree to suffer Olivia’s quarantine together as a family. 

Nancy Picks  Fiction

12/05/17
 

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

 

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

This story about late love and second chances is set against the backdrop of a raging Brooklyn snowstorm. But the novel is more than a love story. It examines the complex pasts of its three protagonists while tackling human rights abuses in Chile and Guatamala. The novel also highlights the life of an illegal immigrant whose main concern is her personal safety.

The novel revolves around Evelyn Ortega, a slight Guatemalan woman living in the United States illegally. Her story of escape from the horrible gang violence that plagues Guatemala is a focal point in the book. Another protagonist is 62-year-old Lucia Maraz, a survivor of the Pinochet regime in Chile. She has lived for years in exile in Canada and the United States. Although she has returned to Chile in recent years, her bout with illness and her divorce have left her at loose ends. When Richard Bowmaster, a fellow professor, invites her to teach at his university in Brooklyn and offers her lodging, she accepts.

Sara Picks  Literary Fiction  Fiction

12/05/17
 

New People by Danzy Senna

 

New People by Danzy Senna

New People ambitiously combines comedy of manners with literary thriller. It is a character-driven novel that explores issues of mixed race, love, and infatuation, while examining what it means to be black. It also looks candidly at a mother-daughter relationship in which a daughter is never quite black enough to suit her mother. Issues inherent in adoption and the impact of parental expectations permeate the book.

Set in the late 1990s, New People features a young, upwardly mobile couple, Maria and Khalil, who are planning their wedding. Khalil is a mixture of black and Jewish, and Maria is the light-skinned, adopted daughter of a single mother. Khalil is starting his own dotcom company; Maria is finishing her dissertation on the Jonestown Massacre. Having met in college, they are in love with each other and in what they represent—“the King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.”

Thriller  Sara Picks  Racial Identity  Literary  Humor  Fiction

12/05/17
 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

An urgent phone call for Liam Taggert from his cousin Annie in Ireland begins the novel, the latest from the Chicago attorney who authored Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, and Karolina’s Twins.

Annie tells Liam his Uncle Fergus has died. The funeral is in Ireland in three days, and Annie says Liam must be there, even though he’s been estranged from his Irish family for 16 years, after they discovered that he was a CIA spy.  Stranger still is that when the will is read in Ireland, Liam is named the executor and trustee, chosen over Fergus’s children and longtime love Deirdre. Furthermore, the trust specifies that if there is any suspicion about Fergus’s cause of death (a fatal gunshot to the head does sound suspicious), none of Fergus’s assets (and they are considerable) can be distributed to any of the heirs until the cause of death is resolved and the people responsible for it have been identified and brought to justice.  The Taggart family does have its political enemies, though who would kill Uncle Fergus? And why would Uncle Fergus write such instructions into his will – did he know he was at risk for murder?

Suspense  Nancy Picks  Mystery  Fiction  Family

12/05/17
 

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
 

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