June 2014 Staff Picks
Annotation:Doerr’s absorbing, lyrical novel is set in France and Germany just before and during World War II. The two protagonists exist apart from one another except for a brief but profound meeting near the end of the book. Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her father, a master locksmith. Werner is a bright German orphan who finds himself chosen for a coveted spot in a military academy. There’s also a mysterious subplot of a valuable gem that's gone missing. This is an exquisitely constructed story about war and human resilience, a moving novel that you are sure to see on many forthcoming best-of-year lists.
Annotation:The maven of the very short story is back with her fifth collection. It is not to be missed for fans. For newcomers to Davis’s writing, this is a great place to start. Ranging from a few lines to a few pages in length, these stories beg to be read. It’s the kind of book you can dip in and out of when you have a few moments, but it’s equally enjoyable for those times that call for a more immersive experience. The prose is beautiful in its simplicity. Davis’s ability to convey not only information but emotion and depth in such tightly woven, finely wrought bursts is truly an art form.
Annotation:Who knew a memoir about opening a pizza joint could be so engaging? Wizenberg’s second venture in documenting her life (after 2010’s A Homemade Life) is a delight to read. Her writing is seemingly effortless. Plus her retelling of the ups and downs of plunging feet first into the restaurant world with her husband is completely compelling. Perhaps it’s her years of writing her food blog Orangette that have strengthened her voice or maybe it’s her passion for what they are doing. Either way this is a wonderfully told memoir, and with mouthwatering recipes included, it’s one not to be read on an empty stomach.
Annotation:Donoghue’s latest is an entertaining work of historical fiction, based on real events, with a bit of a murder mystery thrown in. Set during the summer of 1876 in San Francisco in the midst of a small pox epidemic, Blanche Beunon, a successful dancer and prostitute, has her life thrown into disarray when she meets the cross-dressing Jenny Bonnet. The book features some lively, well-drawn characters. The women of the book, in particular, are quite compelling and memorable. And Donoghue does an excellent job of making gritty 1876 San Francisco come alive for readers.
Annotation:Prose has built an intriguing narrative inspired by a photograph by Brassaï. The bulk of the story is set in pre-WWII Paris, and the Chameleon Night Club, a venue friendly with homosexuals, cross dressers and sexual outcasts, is featured prominently. Prose's novel uses multiple narratives and provides different, compelling angles on the same story. An androgynous race car driver turned Nazi spy, a Hungarian photographer cozy with a wealthy baroness who collects art, and an American writer are just a few of the characters featured in this stimulating novel.
Annotation:Gay’s novel is a harrowing but impressive and brave debut novel, one that will remain with you long after you have put it down. The story is told mainly from the point-of-view of Mireille, the American daughter of a wealthy Haitian, who’s kidnapped in front of her husband and baby while visiting her parents in Port-au-Prince. She’s held captive for 13 days and endures some horrific acts at the hands of her kidnappers while her father refuses to pay the ransom they have requested. In the second half of the book, Mireille returns to Miami with her husband and child, irreparably changed and seemingly unable to cope with the trauma she’s experienced. Gay’s prose is penetrating, and while the subject matter is dark, readers will have a hard time putting this book down.
Annotation:Greta Gerwig stars in this latest Noah Baumbach film. Frances (Gerwig) is a young woman in her late twenties who is still footloose and fancy-free, but as her best friend begins to pull her life together, Frances begins to feel untethered as she floats around trying to find her place. This is a sweet story and Gerwig plays Frances with a quirkiness that has you rooting for her as she fumbles her way through. Adding to the charm factor is the fact that it is shot in black and white. Really a fun and moving little movie.
Annotation:Ron Howard’s Rush is about a rivalry between two Formula One racers in the 1970s. The attractive, womanizing James Hunt and the prim, buck-toothed Niki Lauda contrast each other in nearly every way with the exception of their shared goal of winning the world championship. The rivalry comes to a head in the dramatic 1976 race season. Exciting scenes, excellent acting, and a compelling storyline make this film a crowd-pleaser.
Annotation:In this quiet, naturalistic drama, a boy named Simon ekes out an existence near a Swiss ski resort by scavenging and sometimes stealing what he can from the wealthy tourists. He lives alone with Louise, the title character, but she's become neglectful lately, focusing more on a potential boyfriend. In a smaller role, Gillian Anderson plays a tourist who becomes concerned for this troubled boy, but this story isn't going quite where you think. Fans of indie dramas should consider taking a chance on this one.
Annotation:Kelis has always been a bit of a critic’s darling but never a hit maker, with the exception of 2003’s “Milkshake”. She’s an artist who has dipped her toes into a number of genres from hip-hop to EDM. She’s also trained at Le Cordon Bleu and hosts a show on the Cooking channel. On her latest album, Kelis serves up some classic R and B and soul with a side of brassy horns, music that does an excellent job showcasing her seductive voice.
Annotation:Fans of Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and other classic rock acts will hear echoes of those greats synthesized here in the third album by War on Drugs, one of the strongest albums of the year so far. Tracks like Under the Pressure, Red Eyes and Burning are highlights, with catchy hooks and intelligent, introspective lyrics that reward multiple listens.
Annotation:This experimental duo with roots in the hardcore scene strike a balance between full-blown, pulse-pounding noise and a more restrained sound on their third full-length album. “No Ground” kicks off this propulsive disc with a frenetic energy that gives way nicely to the second track, “I Won’t Be Your Generator,” which is kinetic in its own right, if a bit more deliberate in its lyricism. “Running from a Go-go” is yet another stand out. No Age seems to have flown under the radar for years, but it’s a good bet for fans of Sonic Youth and the like.