May Book Staff Picks
Annotation:Koch's dark tale which unfolds over the course of one dinner is compulsively readable. Two brothers (one of whom is a rising political star) and their wives are getting together, and it seems their sons are in a bit of trouble. We are filled in on the events that led up to the fateful dinner through flashbacks relayed by an unreliable narrator, Paul, who at first seems only somewhat snarky, but soon enough proves to be not all together on the up and up. Koch’s development of this central character is masterfully executed and really what made it impossible to put down.
Annotation:Donna Tartt's latest, after a ten year wait, does not disappoint. Described as Dickensian by some, the story centers on Theodore Decker, a young boy who tragically loses his mother. Left virtually alone he clings to a small painting of a goldfinch as if it were a tie to her. Soon we follow Theo across the country to Las Vegas and back to NYC. Along the way he encounters wonderfully rich characters who care for him for better or worse. Fans of Tartt will find this a welcome return to her storytelling prowess. New readers may find themselves seeking out her short backlist.
Annotation:As this novel begins, Peter Els is a retired professor and composer (one of those difficult, modern types) who has popped up on the radar of Homeland Security for suspected bioterrorism. Huh? The brilliant Powers is back with another ridiculously brainy novel that explores love, music and a bit of chemistry. There's lots of insightful writing here about the history of avant-garde music, like the true story behind Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time (composed in a concentration camp) and some fun material about the modern music scene in Champaign–Urbana in the 60s (guest-starring John Cage). But Peter's intense relationships (with his first love/muse, his wife, his best friend/sometime collaborator and his daughter) make what could have been a show-offy exercise into a heartfelt life story. Fans of modern classical music (or books by Alex Ross) will love this.
Annotation:MacArthur genius grant recipient Goldstein puts a modern spin on the teachings of Plato by popping him right into the present day in this clever book. Goldstein imagines Plato on a speaking tour visiting such places as Google headquarters and the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Original and full of serious scholarship in an accessible and engaging format, this book is a standout.
Annotation:Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff writer at the New Yorker, reports on the five mass extinctions that have taken place on Earth, the last of which was an asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. The sixth extinction of the title is the ongoing human-caused destruction of our ecosystem. Well-researched, accessible, and alarming, The Sixth Extinction is a riveting mix of science and history and a wake-up call which has been compared to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Annotation:Billed as a scary literary thriller, McMahon's latest delivers the chills as she tells the stories of Sara and Ruthie. Sara is a mother who loses a child in the early part of the last century. Ruthie is a young woman who is left to care for her younger sister while she also searches for their mother who suddenly goes missing. Place, specifically an old farm house in Vermont, is what the two women separated by a century share in common. Booklist gives it a glowing starred review: "This mystery-horror crossover is haunting, evocative, and horrifically beautiful, a triumph."