Reviews from this month's newsletter:
A printable version is available under "Back Issues"
Did Jesus really die on the cross? Investigator Cassius Gallio isn’t buying it. There has to be some conspiracy, some medical trickery, some sneaky thing going on. Trouble is, the CCTV cameras show nothing terribly suspicious. Disoriented? Don’t worry, it doesn’t last long.
Beard drops readers into a world that’s simultaneously ancient and modern, and guess what? You totally fall into it: A present-day police procedural about the cult of Jesus. Pontius Pilate is the corrupt boss, Judas a Confidential Informant, and this new “religion” possibly a terrorist cell headed by the Apostles. Then these twelve men start dying in horrible ways and Cassius must race to save the next one before this martyrdom thing gets out of hand. Sales of t-shirts and touristy trinkets are skyrocketing. It’s a P.R. nightmare, and the internet isn’t making his job any easier.
Obviously this isn’t for everyone, but it is genius—the perfect gift for someone who likes “weird edgy stuff.” What begins as a clever twist on an timeless tale actually turns into a contemplation of faith and the role of our media, a thriller that dares to speculate how the modern world might react to something as miraculous as a resurrection. One of my top ten of the year. ~ Dana
What drew me in was the cover. What made me stay was the characters. The story that Shaw weaves is absolutely fantastic, and it’s peopled with some of the most human characters I’ve come across in the hundreds of books I’ve read.
Overnight, England is covered in a dense forest. Trees spring out of the soil like weeds, growing to fantastic heights that normally are only seen in old growth forests. Towns are destroyed, as the trees have no qualms about where to sprout, destroying homes, cars, business, and lives.
Forty-something Adrien Thomas is at home alone, his wife having gone away on business to Ireland. Aging hippie Hannah is having tea on her deck while her sixteen year old son Seb sleeps inside. Inoue Hiroko is in England on a class trip from Japan. Then the trees come and throw everything into motion. Adrien begrudgingly joins Hannah and Seb on a trek west, where they are soon joined by Hiroko. They make their way through the forest filled with plants, animals, and creatures that are even stranger than fiction.
To be honest, I hated Adrien at first, but by the end of the novel, he was my favorite character. He embodies the fear, self-loathing, and humanity in all of us, and the way that Ali Shaw is able to make these characters leap off the page is absolutely stunning. After a slow start, I sat down and devoured over three hundred pages in one day, and I was emotionally exhausted when it was over.
As far as books go, this is one of my new favorites. The prose, characters, and story left absolutely nothing to be desired. Fantastic. ~ Ezra
This is one of my go-to mystery suggestions right now. It will appeal to those who like their murder on the literary side, those who like historical tales and those who like things a little dark. Set in the South during the late forties, this novel is about the first black police officers in Atlanta, GA.
As you can imagine, not everyone is happy about this. It interrupts the status quo, and these men—some WWII veterans—have steep uphill battle ahead of them. Restricted to the “dark” side of town, given badges but not guns or cars, they are virtually powerless, hamstrung from the ingrained racism of the times. So what happens when they suspect the white cops of corruption and murder? How do they prove their case? It’s an infuriating, suspenseful, and tense ride. For fans of: The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott (in mood), Gods of Gotham by Lindsay Faye (in subject) ~ Dana
Anne and Marco’s new baby is missing. She was home sleeping in her crib. They just went next door for a drink with the neighbors. We dive in quickly and deeply. By page 40, the police arrive and they're not alone. Marco explains to his wife Anne, "they're not tracking dogs. They're cadaver dogs." Yikes.
I love working with the detectives in my books, trying to figure things out with them. I enjoy the challenge of trying to solve the mystery.
LaPena gives a good, strong, feasible jolt to the ending.
A total surprise. ~ Jen
Ghosts and Politics! What could go wrong? A big ambitious novel covering several decades from 1960s Chicago to our present preoccupation with fame and video games.
A 60 year old woman throws gravel at a contentious presidential candidate. Her estranged son sees her on TV, locates her and finally comes to realize why she left so very long ago. The angst leads her back to a Norwegian “haunt” (a “Nix”) that has spooked her family for generations.
This debut novel is very well-paced and filled with the ironies of our times. There is even a chapter (one sentence long!) that deals entirely with what happens to your body when obsessed with video games.
The characters have unique personalities but I guarantee that the reader can identify with many of them. The writing reminds me of early John Irving, Jonathan Franzen, and Donna Tartt. Utterly convincing, entertaining, and inspiring - this is one of my favorite novels of 2016. ~ Dianne
This is technically my only “holiday” themed book on this list. And I’m really recommending anything and everything by Hallinan rather than this single title. This is the latest in his Junior Bender mysteries, a quirky L.A. series starring Junior Bender, a professional thief who moonlights as a kind of P.I. for other criminals. He’s a good guy, despite his occupation, with his own moral code. His solutions to some cases aren’t exactly what the client asked for, especially if that client is particularly slimy.
In this installment, the guy who hires him is a Russian Mobster trying to go legit and he wants to know why shoplifting at his shopping mall is on the rise. Junior has until Christmas Eve—three days away—to figure it out, a most literal “dead”line. Chaos ensues, and then the lightbulb goes off. Another case solved. Smart, funny mysteries. ~ Dana
A complete and uncensored behind-the-scenes look at one of the most groundbreaking shows in American history? What else really needs to be said here? I still laugh thinking about Jon Stewart’s America: The Book (If pro is the opposite of con, does that make Congress the opposite of Progress?), and can’t wait to get my hands on this. ~ Dana
This memoir by the new Daily Show host is getting starred reviews left and right. The title refers to Noah’s birth – the child of a white father and black mother in Apartheid South Africa – an illegal and surreal beginning to a fascinating life. Given his wit and intelligence, this promises to be an entertaining and illuminating read. ~ Dana
A new, deeply personal novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and Telegraph Avenue, this is a haunting and loving homage to Chabon’s grandparents. Based on conversations with his own terminally ill grandfather, Moonglow traverses midcentury America and Europe from WWII to the moon landing. ~ Dana
From the author of one of my favorite kid’s books, Mysterious Benedict Society, comes this stand-alone novel of adventure, a magical watch and, well, secrets. Stewart’s writing balances thrills with intelligent plots, never writing down to kids. A gorgeous, tantalizing cover encases a story sure to please both boys and girls. (age 10+) ~ Dana
A 700 page whomper of a mystery that immerses readers into Victorian London. Two men hunt con man Edward Shade. William Pinkerton is trying to solve a case that eluded his father, and Adam Foole is a bit of a scoundrel looking to avenge his lover’s death. Eventually, they join forces and delve into the city’s underground in search of the elusive Shade. An atmospheric and compelling historical novel perfect for long winter’s night. ~ D
You’ve been listening to me gush about Meyer for years. I’m a huge fan of her Lunar Chronicles, a futuristic retelling of classic fairy tales. She’s a master of suspense and twisty plotting, and always throws in enough humor to keep things from getting too heavy or overly dramatic. Heartless imagines the origin story of the cruel Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Once upon a time, she was just a young girl who wanted to fall in love. Then everything went horribly wrong. (age 13+) ~ D
Oh, goodness. This is probably the most politically incorrect book we have in the store. Comedian Gillaspie breaks down major US cities by demographics. But these aren’t the demographics you see on the news, and, frankly, most are the kind I can’t list here. But it is hysterical. And, as with all satire, it’s funny because of the underlying truth in it all. Wonderful graphics and tongue-in-cheek commentary. ~ Dana
Seal eight people in an experimental dome to see if it’s possible to recreate Earth living conditions off-world. While the project’s motto is “nothing in, nothing out,” the crew’s every action is monitored by Mission Control, and some of it even released to the media. What could go wrong? ~ D
Photographer Matter has a knack for capturing dancers in the almost weightless state of motion, when gravity seems but a suggestion, and bones seem malleable. In the hours between dusk and dawn, whether in dramatic city lights or a country sunset, Matter and his flexible, graceful friends captured this stunning collection of images. Practiced with clothes, then shot without. And no one got arrested. Amazing. ~ Dana
Eight new stories from the incomparable mind of Chuck P, illustrated by noted graphic novel artists, and colored in by you. Chuck’s appeal to readers: "Maybe between your colors, the artists' designs, and my stories we can create something that endures. Something worth keeping. Let's create a well-bound book that can sit on any shelf and be available for a new generation to discover and enjoy." For adults. ~ Dana
It’s a good idea to keep a few garden themed art books around to help get through the winter. This lovely travel/gardening book takes the reader from Paris to Morocco then back to the States. Watercolor paintings, local culture, and plants, plants, plants! Jennifer and I thoroughly enjoyed its ambiance. ~ Dianne
Trees as social beings? The interdependence of trees, fungi, insects, and other animals as presented from his research brings astonishment and reverence with every chapter. This is the book that the reader exclaims ‘listen to this!” It is also a book to savor and perhaps read more than once. You will never look at trees the same way again. Necessary and fascinating. ~ Dianne
Fact and fancy; history and beauty - this lavishly illustrated garden tour of America’s most famous residence is essential for those who love history and gardening. If you thought that D.C was just cherry trees, think again! From Washington to Obama, these gardens are diverse and ever changing - just like America itself. ~ Dianne
One of America’s favorite poets discusses her influences- both natural and literary. She seamlessly unites a life of work and love. Of course she says it best: “I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” She positions herself “upstream” and encourages us to keep moving. ~ Dianne
I am enthralled by this non-fiction collection. From frivolous to serious these essays ROCK! I especially love his take on libraries and literature. He takes a deep look at history, myth, and culture and then gives our culture (he’s British) the modern classic American Gods. I can’t imagine contemporary literature without this author. ~ Dianne
The author of 29 books on Finnish culture and cooking. This memoir chronicles her family life in rural Minnesota and continues with her culinary fame and expertise. There are even recipes. Despite decades of cooking she appears to have never lost her rural Finnish roots. ~ Dianne
From the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? comes another intelligent and quirky read. The protagonist’s modest attempts at daily improvements go awry when the mundane meets deeply buried family secrets. From its inventive structure (there’s a graphic novel within the plot) to its “I didn’t see it coming” ending, this novel is sure to please fans of Semple’s work. ~ Dianne
A thrilling and thoughtful historical novel set in 16th Century Spain. Religious intolerance and xenophobia are played out in the daily lives of kings and commoners as Christianity and Islam are engaged in an idealogical war again. With the intrigue of Wolf Hall and the pacing of DaVinci Code, it begs for a sequel. ~ Dianne
Indoors or out--a flashlight is necessary and fun! This wordless book is cleverly illustrated. Most of the page is dark. As the little boy shines his light into the woods many creatures large and small are illuminated. A flashlight, this book, and maybe a prop pillow and your little bedtime reader is good to go! ~ Dianne
Josh is, bar-none, the best writing professor I’ve had. He is generous and deeply intelligent. But I’m not promoting his book simply for that. Josh’s calm, controlled talent quietly leaps out at you, and while you may think you just started one of his pieces, you’ll find yourself at its end. These are autobiographical meditations on his relationship to trees (he is both a former professional tree climber as well as tree feller). Here he finds the divine in leaves and branches. ~ Michael
This is less a celeb-worship bio than it is a how-to guide to harness your inner Bill. It’s self-help. Here’s a man who will cover your eyes on a Chicago street corner and whisper “No one will believe you” into your ear. Or he’ll crash your college party at 1 a.m. when no one will remember. As the author shows, Bill has a qi, a Tao about him in the way he plays with the world. ~ Michael
Tek’s like all the other cave boys, except he’s attached to his devices. His phone, his tablet, his videogames. His friends miss him, but all he cares about is, well, what we care about. The village doesn’t know what to do - until the electricity goes down. Tek peers away from his screens and see the world for all its beauty. (Ages 4-8) ~ Michael
I’m a cartophile. I love maps. They reveal history, planning, topography and sometimes genius (or idiocy, depending on the cartographer). The Smithsonian Institute has curated the history of city mapping into one accessible volume. Included in these pages are some of the original painted maps which beautifully described (though imperfectly) the products of history’s first urban planners all the way to modern satellite works of art. ~ Michael
This beautiful combination of history and graphics tells the stories of some of history’s most important, but forgotten women (told, of course, by women). Here we have Shirley Chisholm (the first woman to run for president), Rachel Carson (who wrote Silent Spring and effectively launched the modern environmental movement), Gwendolyn Brooks (Pulitzer Prize winner and champion of female literacy) and myriad other women who shaped the world we know today. ~ Michael
Future Earth. The warnings of science have gone unheeded and vast spaces of the planet are uninhabitable. So what do humans do? Tinker more. In this field guide to an imagined world of tomorrow, we encounter mechanical butterflies (Mechanical Papilo), artificial eagles (Aquila Artificialis), automated bats (Vespertillo Automatismus) and other brave new species competing for resources in lands of plenty pollution. This steam-punky volume works for all ages. ~ Michael
Swearing is both celebrated and chastised in our culture, at one moment hilarious, at another hideous. Bergen takes us on a journey through the science of swearing, the history of censorship, and the social politics of this controversial topic. Face it: There’s someone in your life who loves dropping the F-bomb, so get them this effing book. ~ Michael
Have a person in your life who is simultaneously addicted to and repulsed by social media? I think we all do. This is the book for them. Carr, a technology critic, turns his searing prose to Silicon Valley and asks the questions we’re all pondering. For example: “If I like their post am I elevating political discourse?” ~ Michael
The Birchbark House series are historical children's books set in mid-19th century around Lake Superior that will, in the end, span 100 years. Makoons, Ojibwa for 'little bear', continues the story with his twin, Chickadee (book four) as they move west with their family to the Great Plains of the Dakota Territory. These stories are beautifully rendered and filled with so much emotion and description. (Ages 8-12) ~ Jen
Momenceau is a French paper artist who created a unique paper cutting and folding technique while working on her masters degree. This is the result, and it is magnificent. As mama fox is out playing in the snow with her kits, two of them stray. An enchanting story to be sure but also a classic addition for any young family's growing library for kids! (Ages 4-7) ~ Jen
Let's judge this book by it's cover because the cuteness starts there! Charming, adorable woodland animals trying to conjure snow. Badger gathers his friends and they try everything, even throwing pebbles at the sky. The warm, soft animals come to life on each page as a collection of vignettes teach the friends patience while they wait for the first flakes to fall. (Ages 3- 7 years. Awwww factor, ageless.) ~ Jen
Calling all fashionistas! How did Coco Chanel change the course of WWII? How did Madonna use fashion as a tool linking politics and feminism? Fun, flashy, engaging, interesting and educational but with a serious undercurrent. I'm 53 and couldn't stop reading. Themes include; couture, fashion, women, history and biography. (Ages 12+) ~ Jen
This is The King’s thirteenth book and came out one week to the day after his death. In Life, golfing great Arnold Palmer takes stock of his life. A treasure trove of anecdotes, bits of wisdom and business advice and acumen for golfers and non alike to celebrate and cherish. There is even an endearing story about his eponymous drink. ~ Jen
Don't just look at birds, listen to them too! Get to know your backyard with this beautifully crafted and organized field guide. This was THE hit of the summer at our house! Out of town guests, neighbors, children.... everyone clamored to press the fun audio button but that's just the beginning as you get sucked in to the story of each bird too. Stories and facts abound in this audio-enhanced field guide which includes accompanying website. And we may have had cocktails and bird song quizzes - but you didn't hear it from me. ~ Jen
An amazing, comprehensive, unprecedented compendium of postcard photography medium from a renowned deltiologist. With over 300 photographs following the iron ore trade on the Great Lakes between 1900 and 1980. An unparalleled passion published into this 128 page hardcover, sure to be cherished by nautical enthusiasts, mining buffs and lovers of all things Great Lakes and regional history. ~ Jen
For those who love to read about writing! A new collection of personal essays from this American master: prolific novelist, poet, playwright and now Professor Emeritas. National Book Award winner Oates ponders, "Why do we write?" An imaginative exploration of the writing life including its "joys, anxieties and futilities." Oates describes her quest to understand a writer's inspiration and shares rare candor and insight into her own process. ~ Jen
Apart from the fantastic title, what drew me to this book was the subject matter. Booth writes about his travels around Japan with his wife and two children. Booth and his family make it their goal to experience Japan in the best way possible—by eating. For anyone who loves travel writing or food writing, this book is a fantastic combination of both of them. Plus, the cover makes it look good on any bookshelf. ~ Ezra
If you like Twin Peaks, then this book is a must-have. This book is a brilliant way to inform fans what has happened in the twenty years since the show ended. Offering new insights on the history of the strange town, Secret History of Twin Peaks is a perfect way to bridge the gap that leads to the new season of the show in 2017. ~ Ezra
What intrigued me about this book was the fact that it’s a James Bond novel written more than forty years after the death of Ian Fleming. However, Horowitz draws from the characters and ideas created by Fleming, and brings us a brand new and original James Bond story. For fans of anything James Bond, or even just spy thrillers in general, I highly recommend this book. ~ Ezra
Giant hogs, sketchy experiments, taxidermy, and relationship troubles, Romie Futch really has it all. Focused around a southern anti-hero, Elliot creates a strange story of redemption and monstrous pigs in America’s New South.
To read Romie Futch is to step into a world where anything is possible, which includes supernatural hogs and neuroscience procedures to remap the human brain. For those who like the weird, the wild, and the surreal, this book is a good choice. ~ Ezra
When I think of Kevin Costner, I don’t think of books, but this book is highly engaging. Part prose, part graphic novel, this is one book that draws the reader in both with the aesthetic and with the story. For those people who still have giddy schoolboy dreams of exploring lost jungles and unfamiliar terrains, this book is the perfect choice. ~ Ezra
The best way to describe Robert Evans is brave. In his book, he discusses historical methods of vice, from the ancient Mayans to the Scythians. He takes it upon himself to sample just about every method of vice that he discusses, and even includes recipes so that the reader can join in. From taking a shot of his own urine mixed with tobacco and garlic, to brewing his own Sumerian date wine, Evans tries it all. History has never been so enjoyable. ~ Ezra
Foster really goes above and beyond when he tries to understand what life is like for our animal friends. Whether it’s living in a Welsh hillside and eating worms like a badger or rooting around in the garbage of London like a fox, Foster immerses himself fully in the down and dirty world of animals. For anyone who loves nature writing, Foster offers a fantastic option. ~ Ezra
As a lover of the Redwall books, this book struck a chord with me. It follows the young mouse Calib Christopher, son of a knight, who has grand dreams of chivalry.
After tragedy strikes, Calib embarks on an epic quest outside of the castle of Camelot and finds himself in the company of a host of new friends. For anyone who remembers the books of Brian Jacques as fondly as I do, Leung’s new series is a great callback to the animals of Redwall Abbey. (Ages 8+) ~ Ezra
Holy cow, these books are amazing. I grew up reading the Harry Potter books and watching the movies, but these illustrated editions are something completely new. Kay brings Rowling’s creations to life like the movies never did. I recently purchased the illustrated version of Sorcerer’s Stone, which was released last year, and will likely be purchasing Chamber of Secrets soon. These books are a must-have for any Harry Potter fans. ~ Ezra
This is not a beautiful cookbook. There is no delicacy, no froufy garnishes. C’mon, it’s AB. He’s an opinionated dude who likes to eat, and some recipes are little more than rants with a few instructions thrown in. And he doesn’t shy away from low-brow ingredients (Spam, anyone?). These are recipes he makes at home for his daughter and her friends. Basic stuff from around the world. So, no, this isn’t a beautiful cookbook. But it is a fun one. And if you’re a fan of AB, it’s a must-have. He scolds, he swears, he shames, he encourages, and he orders (his opinion of Thanksgiving sweet potatoes? “Put those goddamn marshmallows away”). And my favorite piece of advice? “Get the best ingredients. Try not to fuck them up.” It’s a blast.
He’s a wonderful writer, and the photos are often hilarious. Will this become my “go-to” cookbook? No. but it’s entertaining as hell, and with it, Bourdain claims his transformation into “a psychotic, anally retentive, bad-tempered Ina Garten” is complete. ~ Dana
She’s got a new one, too: Cooking For Jeffrey. This is truly the couple’s favorite recipes, including, of course, her famous Lemon Chicken. I think she makes it every Friday night. And it’s awesome, even on a Tuesday. This is her usual simple but elegant recipes - everything is company-worthy, but easy enough to make for the kids. I’ve yet to try a bad one from her. ~ Dana
Another chef that I’ve had good luck with - he’s probably the antithesis of Ina (not sure how this page became all about her). Where her recipes are basic but delicious, Guy’s tend to be a little more complicated, with bigger, bolder flavors. These recipes aren’t difficult, but are a little more involved than the Contessa’s. I love his flavor profiles, and many of his recipes are staples in my house. If you can get past the hairspray and bling, he’s worth checking out. ~ Dana
Alton Brown spearheaded the trend to understanding the science behind flavors. I was glued to his shows as a kid. But this book is different: “it’s personal.” These are the dishes Brown cooks when he’s hungry, not in the pursuit of science. And they’re divided up by time of day: morning, evening, “later,” and in between. Here’s what a chef makes, and why you should too. ~ Michael
This is a cookbook formatted as a graphic novel. Inspired by the blend of Chinese and Portuguese cooking, the founders of Fat Rice restaurant in Chicago have produced homage to the region of Macau, where Eastern and Western culinary arts met under Portuguese colonialism. Turning these pages is like unearthing hidden treasures. ~ Michael
I would set up outside the bookshop on Third Street and hawk this book voluntarily for the author. Featuring over 100 recipes with nary a double-boiler or measuring cup to be found; simplicity is the order of the day with emphasis not only on preparation but serving and displaying as well. Gleeson stresses seasonal local produce and explains why mood and ambience matter and how most people always seem to get it wrong! ~ Jen
Okay, so you aren’t planning a trip to Cuba soon. Me neither. But we can still eat like comandantes. Like the country itself, this book is “brazen, bold, and colorful,” pulsing with stunning images and mouthwatering recipes. Put another way, I opened to a random page containing a recipe for Havanese Pork Loin, and my belly let out an audible growl. (For the record, I’d had a big breakfast.) If only this came out during embargo. ~ Michael
Traditional yet hip - everyone loves to eat from bowls. These cooks from Minnesota know how the folks in the UP like to eat. One-dish nutritious fare for everyone. ~ Dianne