WWW Wednesday — Staff Picks

9780761178422What did you just finish reading? What are you currently reading? What do you think you’ll read next?

Today, at our monthly meeting, our staff discussed those very questions. Our meetings are supposed to begin at 8:00 a.m., and we rush to get through as many book reviews as possible before the store opens at 9:30.

Sheet Pan Suppers, by Molly Gilbert, has been a hit with our staff and customers, although clearly the title is a bit of a misnomer — this morning we sampled the raspberry white chocolate scones, which were delicious! (The subtitle of this great cookbook is 120 Recipes for Simple, Surprising, Hands-Off Meals Straight From the Oven, Plus Breakfast, Desserts, and Snacks Too!) I noticed that the scones sat untouched for the first half of the meeting, as our health-conscious booksellers delicately nibbled on clementines, but that somehow by the end of the meeting the scones were almost gone.

What else have we read recently?9781402298684

Last week was a great reading week for me — I finished two debut novels that I absolutely adored. The Magician’s Lie, by Greer Macallister, is a historical novel about a young, female magician (the “Amazing Arden”) at the turn of the 20th century, who is accused of murder. She is captured and interrogated by a country sheriff who has problems of his own, and during the course of one long night in a rural police station, we learn about the magician’s past. How did an aspiring dancer, born into a wealthy family, end up running a successful traveling magic show — and running for her life? It’s a terrific period piece, with a murder mystery and just a touch of the supernatural. If you enjoyed Water for Elephants, you’ll love this book.

9780399169526I can’t say enough good things about My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh (due February 10).  During the summer of 1989, the narrator of My Sunshine Away is fourteen years old and in love with his neighbor on Piney Creek Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Lindy Simpson. When Lindy becomes the victim of a rape, everything changes. The narrator finds himself, along with other neighbors, interrogated about the crime:

Don’t believe what you see on the crime shows today. No single hairs were tweezed out of Old Man Casemore’s lawn. No length of rope was sent off to a lab. No DNA was salvaged off the pebbles of our concrete. And although the people of Woodland Hills answered earnestly every question that was asked of them, although they tried their best to be helpful, there was no immediate evidence to speak of.

Although My Sunshine Away is suspenseful — sometimes almost unbearably so — it’s really a coming of age story. It’s about an immature, self-centered boy becoming an adult with integrity. As he recounts the pivotal events of his youth, the narrator’s voice is authentic and compelling. At one point, he reflects on the nature of nature of memory:

And it is not until times like these, when there are years between myself and the events, that I feel even close to understanding my memories and how the people I’ve known have affected me. And I am often impressed and overwhelmed by the beautiful ways the heart and mind work without cease to create this feeling of connection.

Although I’ve never been to Baton Rouge, I felt as if I had after reading Walsh’s lyrical descriptions of this singular place. Walsh, who is the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, clearly heeds every creative writing teacher’s advice: “Show, don’t tell.” He shows us a setting and characters that are as vivid as any I’ve encountered on the page. The novel reminded me in some ways of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones — but without the murder and the accompanying trip to heaven, and with a great deal more wisdom.9780312577223

Several staff members read and enjoyed Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and were pleasantly surprised that Hannah, typically thought of as a writer whose  previous books were on the lighter side, has written historical fiction that is “meatier” and more literary. In fact, The Nightingale is the Indies First #1 Pick for February 2015, which is a huge honor. It’s the story of two sisters in World War II France, both fighting for the Resistance.

Other recent favorites of our booksellers are several books that just released in paperback: The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon (“perfect for Stephen King fans”) One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak (“so funny!”), and The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi.

9780062336040I’m in the middle of Girl Runner, by Carrie Snyder, historical fiction inspired by female athletes in the 1920s, an era when women’s sports became popular. Gold medalist Aganetha Smart is now 104 years old, wheelchair-bound in a nursing home and wondering if anyone will remember her and her triumphs. She’s a fictional character, based on the Canadian women (“the Matchless Six”) who participated in the 1928 Olympic Games — the first at which women were permitted to compete in select track and field events. The novel is engrossing and well-written, piquing my curiosity about the history of women’s athletics.

Another bookseller is reading Pioneer Girl, by Bich Minh Nguyen, a book that is going right to the top of my TBR list. It’s the story of a recently minted Ph.D. who can’t find a job and returns home to the Chicago suburbs to help her Vietnamese immigrant parents with their restaurant. She becomes obsessed with the origins of a brooch that she thinks might have belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose. The story of Vietnamese immigrants has parallels to the story of American pioneers moving westward.

Other books in progress among our staff are A Small Indiscretion,a debut suspense novel by O. Henry Prize winner Jan Ellison, and Wolf Winter, by 9780307408860Cecilia Ekbäck, a murder mystery set in Lapland in the 1700s. (Apparently murder was going on in Sweden long before Martin Vanger turned up in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

What’s next? A couple of us are planning to read Vanessa and Her Sister, by Priya Parmar, about Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, and the Bloomsbury Group, and others want to read Alexandra Fuller’s latest memoir, Leaving Before the Rains Come. We are all looking forward to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,  Erik Larson’s new book (due March 10). What’s next for you?

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19 thoughts on “WWW Wednesday — Staff Picks

  1. I have Dead Wake but haven’t started it yet. I am really looking forward to it though.
    Let’s see. What shall I read next? I am almost done with Her by Harriet Lane. I was going to read The Girl on the Train but I think it’s too similar to what I am reading now. Maybe I will dip into the Larson book after all.

  2. I just finished Beown Girl Dreaming and the debut novel, Secret Wisdom of the Earth. I thoroughly enjoyed Brown Girl Dreaming but I cannot stop talking about Christopher Scotton and his Secret Wisdom of the Earth! I truly believe that this book will quietly move into quickly becoming a classic. I enjoyed it so much I even emailed the author and was pleasantly surprisised to receive a lovely note back and learned that he is already working on a set of short stories to continue on the stories of the residents of this small Appalachian community that I came to befriend in his book.
    Presently I’m reading Landline which has been lackluster for me. I’m hoping it redeems itself at the end.
    Next up is likely Girl on a Train, I want to read it before someone spoils the story for me!

    • I felt just the same way about Secret Wisdom of the Earth — a truly special book. I also emailed the author and got the nicest response from him. Turns out his writing career started at a summer camp for aspiring writers at Lake Forest College!

  3. I am hearing SO many wonderful things about My Sunshine Away. I can’t wait to read that one. I just finished Dead Wake last week–it is EXCELLENT. Haven’t read nonfiction that good in a long time.

  4. Oh yeah Dead Wake! I thought his In the Garden of Beasts was amazing. Thanks for the great feedback on My Sunshine Away. Sounds like a must read for 2015, eh?

  5. Wow – this post is chock full of great books! I’ve seen the Sheetpan Suppers before and that’s such a smart concept – plus, I love roasting!
    My Sunshine Away is absolutely amazing and is my favorite book of the year so far – can’t stop gushing about it. I wasn’t as big of a fan of A Small Indiscretion or Dead Wake (which absolutely PAINS me since I’m a huge Erik Larson fan). I didn’t read The Nightingale b/c I didn’t love the previous Hannah book I read (Firefly Lane), but this one sounds really different and people seem to love it, so I’m adding it to my “books to fit before the end of the year” list.

    • My Sunshine Away is my favorite book so far this year too — well, maybe it’s a tie with Christopher Scotton’s The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. I tried A Small Indiscretion (which a couple of my coworkers loved) and didn’t care for it, but I am enjoying Dead Wake, although I don’t think it’s Larson’s best. I’ve never read anything by Kristin Hannah but everyone tells me that I must read The Nightingale, so maybe I will . . . What to read next? Too many choices!

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  6. I was going to review Sheet Pan Suppers for today’s post but didn’t get around to writing it. Oops. It’s a great book with beautiful photos. Love so many of the books you have on your list.

    • I’ve been cooking out of Sheet Pan Suppers a lot — with great results. I’m always a sucker for a cookbook with gorgeous photos — it’s a bonus when the recipes are good too.

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