August 2014 Staff Picks
Annotation:In this debut novel by a Columbia College Chicago associate professor, Gerald "Stew Pot" Reeves returns after 14 years in jail to his mom's home in Parkland, a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago's south side. Claiming that's he's seen the light spiritually, he sets off on a mission to better the neighborhood with great zeal, which annoys several residents considerably. In showing how they cope (or fail to cope) with this challenge, May paints a memorable portrait of a community confronting itself. Hailed by Booklist magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and Oprah Magazine, this is recommended for fans of authors such as Valerie Wilson Wesley and would be an excellent candidate for book clubs.
Annotation:The story opens in the Catskills in 1982 with a murder-suicide in Room 712 of the Bellweather Hotel, witnessed by young bridesmaid Minnie Graves. Fifteen years later, a group of high school musicians, including twins Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker, descend on the crumbling hotel for a statewide music competition. And Minnie Graves has returned to work out some old demons. Then Alice finds her roommate, Jill, has hung herself. Or has she? With a cast of quirky characters, dark humor, and enough mystery to keep readers guessing, Bellweather Rhapsody is an entertaining mystery with heart.
Annotation:The Mishras emigrate from India during the late 70s in this marvelous twist on the American immigrant experience. Adjusting to a new culture is, of course, challenging enough, but all the more so when a tragedy turns a family upside down. Told from the unique perspective of youngest son Ajay, the story showcases Sharma's writing which is fluid and poignant, but not without the humor that is so often needed when one must face the unthinkable. Sure to please fans of Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders and Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic.
Annotation:Told from the perspective of the strong, if not always likeable Mia, this tale of childhood friends who grow up, grow apart and come together over the years is an immersive experience. As anyone who has had such a deep connection can attest, things get complicated in a close friendship. Mia struggles to come to terms with who she is and how that has played out in her relationship with the seemingly perfect Lori Ann. With powerful writing, Thorpe’s page-turning debut adds her to the list of writers to watch.
Annotation:Korean novelist Shin returns with another beautifully written novel, this time set during the tumultuous 80s of South Korea. Her lead character Jung Yoon thoughtfully unfolds the story of her youth and the relationships that were most dear to her in her formative years. As a university student she becomes inspired by a great professor, bonds with new friends and deals with the loss of a loved one. With meditative and precise prose, this is one to savor and has drawn comparison to writers such as Nadeem Aslam, Edwidge Danticat and Aminatta Forna.
Annotation:Hilderbrand once again delivers a captivating read set in the summer days and nights of Nantucket life. Dabney Beech expertly handles all things she encounters: her family as the wife of a prominent economist, her job at the town's Chamber of Commerce, and her ability as a matchmaker to spot a "perfect match." Everything appears to be seamless until her former boyfriend (and father to her daughter) comes back into her life. Dabney is faced with news that changes her outlook on life and must find a way to live the life she truly wants while encouraging others to do the same.
Annotation:Chris Abani's latest is as strange and mysterious as Las Vegas itself. This twisted ride reads like Elmore Leonard in a mash up with Katherine Dunn's Geek Love. Serial killers, secret military experiments, buckets of blood and genetically conjoined twins make for strange bedfellows and a fantastic read.
Annotation:Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings do classic soul as well as anyone playing today, and their fifth album does not disappoint. Despite Jones's recent treatment for cancer, her vocals are as powerful as ever. With nods to Motown and Stax, the album is certain to delight anyone who enjoys soul music.
Annotation:Attention rap fans! You won't want to miss this debut collaboration between Gary, Indiana-born rapper Freddie Gibbs and the exuberantly talented producer Madlib. It's one of the most acclaimed albums of the year so far (by both critics and audiences) and features contributions from BJ the Chicago Kid, Scarface, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt and a host of other artists. It's a lengthy album, true, but fleet on its feet and one of the landmark hip hop releases of the year.
Annotation:Formerly of the Polyphonic Spree, Annie Clark started performing under the stage name St. Vincent in 2006. Since then she's collaborated with the likes of David Byrne (whoa) and Sufjan Stevens. Her self-titled latest has garnered rave reviews with stand-out tracks “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness,” which is reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees' “Peek a Boo.” How's that for a throwback? Clark's alluring vocals and multifaceted musical styling will appeal to fans of Feist, Santigold, Arcade Fire and Karen O, just to name a few.
Annotation:Street photographer Vivian Maier was an unknown quantity until, her photographs were posthumously found and shared online. She has since grown into a worldwide sensation, but how could this Chicago nanny have kept such artistry a secret for so long, and why would she want to? Finding Vivian Maier delves into such questions with fascinating results. The directors talk to some folks who were once in her care as well as critics who assess her work, which is still being discovered and put in context. The film also raises fascinating questions about the challenges of exihibiting work in the absence of the artist. The images here (especially the self-portraits) are stunning and Maier herself emerges as intriguingly enigmatic, both a Mona Lisa and a Leonardo at once. [As a reminder, visit our Maier exhibit at Harold Washington Library through September 28th.]
Annotation:This powerful film is based on the death of Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old unarmed black man who was detained and shot by a Bay Area Transit officer after a fight broke out on a train in the early morning hours of New Year's Day in 2009. The film opens with actual cellphone footage of the shooting and proceeds with a dramatic retelling of the last day of his life. A flawed man, Oscar has done time for a drug charge, his girlfriend has accused him of cheating, and he's lost his job for being repeatedly late. But he also seems to be trying to turn his life around. We see him taking his daughter to daycare, buying fish for his mother’s birthday, trying to get his job back, and taking the train to see the fireworks. A chance encounter with an enemy leads to a fight and his tragic ending. It’s an understated and moving film featuring some great performances.
Annotation:Adapted from the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, Philomena depicts the true story of an Irish woman who as a girl was forced to give her child up for adoption. Philomena, played flawlessly by Judi Dench, lives with this secret for decades before she finally decides she must know what became of her son. Steve Coogan plays Martin, the recently disgraced political reporter who doesn’t normally do human interest stories. With his career in a shambles he decides to write Philomena’s story despite his misgivings, and off they go. Dench and Coogan bring life to the characters and infuse them with charm, grace and humor even while dealing with harsh realities. While this could have easily fallen into tear jerker territory it never feels overdone or sentimental.