Book Staff Picks April 2014
Annotation:Daniel Alarcon's latest follows a ragtag theater troupe on their tour through the South American countryside in the years following a period of political turmoil. Nelson, the newest and youngest member of the troupe, leads us through this thoughtful and slowly unfolding drama. Alarcon succeeds in creating a story that will transport readers as his characters and setting are richly drawn.
Annotation:Benjamin Franklin and his sister Jane exchanged letters for over 60 years. Lepore draws on Benjamin's letters to his sister(hers were not preserved) as well as other historical documents and artifacts to write this engaging portrait of the little-known life of the bright and witty sister of an American icon. Lepore's account also provides insight into the lives of women in colonial America and a new angle on the life of Benjamin Franklin. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable slice of early American history.
Annotation:High-powered attorney Kate gets a call from her daughter's elite private school informing her that Amelia has been suspended for cheating. When Kate arrives to pick her up, she's told that Amelia jumped to her death, supposedly because she was caught cheating. When Kate later receives an anonymous text stating that Amelia didn’t jump, she resolves to piece together the truth. The narrative switches between Kate in the present day and Amelia before her death. It's an intricately plotted mystery with a number of surprising twists that will keep readers turning the pages. Fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Megan Abbot's Dare Me will find much to enjoy.
Annotation:Douglas (The Girls of Murder City) tackles an icon of Chicago history that we're still arguing about today. (See recent news stories about Chicago aldermen opposing efforts to name a Federal Building after the crimefighter.) Just how much of the story of Eliot "Untouchables" Ness is legend and how much is fact? Author Perry has earned plaudits for his efforts to set the record straight, and apparently Ness's role in bringing down Capone has been quite exaggerated by Hollywood, but his accomplishments are still considerable. History and true crime buffs will enjoy this appreciative look at the man behind the legend.
Annotation:Born and raised in Nevada (like another up and coming writer, Claire Vaye Watkins), author/musician Willy Vlautin specializes in novels about young guys growing up under difficult conditions (Motel Life, Lean on Pete). Although influenced by John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver, he's not quite like anyone else, and he's developing a cult following because of it. His latest is his most ambitious yet. It tells the intertwined stories of wounded Iraq War vet Leroy (whose story is told mostly through wild dreams he has while sedated in a hospital), Freddie (who's falling further behind financially while holding down multiple jobs) and Pauline, a nurse constantly trying to rescue others, often at her own expense. These are ordinary, working-class people struggling against the odds in their flawed but heroic ways, and Vlautin's sympathy for them is exceeded only by his skill in depicting them.
Annotation:This debut novel cleverly blends fantasy fiction with historical fiction and Jewish mythology with Arabic mythology. Chava is a golem created by a Kabbalistic magician to be the wife of a man journeying from Poland to New York in 1899. Meanwhile, Ahmad is a jinni, a fire creature from the Syrian desert who was trapped in an old copper flask by a bedouin wizard centuries ago but accidentally released by a tinsmith in NY. In the new world, they meet and become unlikely friends despite their opposing natures. Fans of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, Michael Chabon's fantastic Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and other genre-blending fiction will definitely enjoy this.