Staff Book Picks: April 2021

Angelo, Megan, author.

Orla Cadden is a budding novelist stuck in a dead-end job, writing clickbait about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Then Orla meets Floss -- a striving, wannabe A-lister -- who comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they dream about. So what if Orla and Floss's methods are a little shady -- and sometimes people get hurt? Their legions of followers can't be wrong. Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity -- twelve million loyal followers -- Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is based on a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks. Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we'll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.

Austen, Ben, author.

Braids personal narratives, city politics, and national history to tell the timely and epic story of Chicago's Cabrini-Green, America's most iconic public housing project. Built in the 1940s atop an infamous Italian slum, Cabrini-Green grew to twenty-three towers and a population of 20,000--all of it packed onto just seventy acres a few blocks from Chicago's ritzy Gold Coast. Cabrini-Green became synonymous with crime, squalor, and the failure of government. For the many who lived there, it was also a much-needed resource--it was home. By 2011, every high-rise had been razed, the island of black poverty engulfed by the white affluence around it, the families dispersed. In this novelistic and eye-opening narrative, Ben Austen tells the story of America's public housing experiment and the changing fortunes of American cities. It is an account told movingly through the lives of residents who struggled to make a home for their families as powerful forces converged to accelerate the housing complex's demise. Beautifully written, rich in detail, and full of moving portraits, High-Risers is a sweeping exploration of race, class, popular culture, and politics in modern America that brilliantly considers what went wrong in our nation's effort to provide affordable housing to the poor--and what we can learn from those mistakes.

Chaudhry, Mamta, author.

In the summer of 1989, while all of Paris is poised to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution, Sylvie mourns the loss of her lover, Julien, and is unable to find solace in the music that has always been her refuge. But when she accidentally dislodges an envelope concealed in Julien's desk, she finds an enigmatic note from a stranger and feels compelled to meet this woman who might hold the key to Julien's past.

Christle, Heather, 1980- author.

Award-winning poet Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and must reckon with her own struggles with depression and the birth of her first child. How she faces her joy, grief, anxiety, impending motherhood, and conflicted truce with the world results in a moving meditation on the nature, rapture, and perils of crying--from the history of tear-catching gadgets (including the woman who designed a gun that shoots tears) to the science behind animal tears (including moths who drink them) to the fraught role of white women's tears in racist violence.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi, author.

"Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage -- and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child -- but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn't understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram's private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he's ever known. So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he's enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind -- but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss."-- Provided by publisher.

Daniels, Ezra Claytan, author.

"Once a thriving working class neighborhood on Chicago's south side, the 'Bottomyards' is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer named Darla and her image-obsessed friend, Cynthia, descend upon the neighborhood in search of cheap rent, they soon discover something far more seductive and sinister lurking behind the walls of their new home."--Provided by publisher.

Fajardo-Anstine, Kali, author.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine's magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado--a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite--these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.

Hayes, Bill, 1961-

From the beloved author of Insomniac City, a poignant and profound tribute in stories and images to a city amidst a pandemic. A bookstore where readers shout their orders from the street. A neighborhood restaurant turned to-go place where one has a shared drink--on either end of a bar--with the owner. These scenes, among many others, became the new normal as soon as the world began to face the COVID-19 pandemic. In How We Live Now, author and photographer Bill Hayes offers an ode to our shared humanity--capturing in real time this strange new world we're now in (for who knows how long?) with his signature insight and grace. As he wanders the increasingly empty streets of Manhattan, Hayes meets fellow New Yorkers and discovers stories to tell, but he also shares the unexpected moments of gratitude he finds from within his apartment, where he lives alone and--like everyone else--is staying home, trying to keep busy and not bored as he adjusts to enforced solitude with reading, cooking, reconnecting with loved ones, reflecting on the past--and writing. Featuring Hayes's inimitable street photographs, How We Live Now chronicles an unimaginable moment in time, offering a long-lasting reminder that what will gets us through this unprecedented, deadly crisis is each other.

Houston, Pam, author.

The author draws on her travels and homestead life in the Colorado Rockies in an essay collection on her ties to nature that explores the symbiotic relationship between humans and the earth.

Khadra, Yasmina, author.

"From the internationally bestselling author of The Attack and The Swallows of Kabul, a gripping first-person narrative about one young man's involvement in France's worst terrorist attack. Khalil, a 23-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, plans to detonate a suicide vest in a crowd outside the Stade de France on November 13, 2015. Explosions are rocking Paris, at cafes and the Bataclan theater, and when other bombs drive the stadium crowd to flee in his direction, near the Metro, his time has come. He presses his button, and . . . nothing. Fearing he has failed his mission for Fraternel Solidarity, an ISIS affiliate, Khalil has little choice but to blend in with his would-be victims and run. Back in Belgium, he must lie low and avoid his militant brethren and the authorities. He relies on his family and friends for places to stay, but he must keep the truth about himself secret. All the while, he contemplates what he almost did, and what he will do next--particularly when it comes to light that his vest accidently had been a harmless training unit all along, and FS has a new mission planned for him. In this daring, propulsive literary thriller, Yasmina Khadra takes readers to the margins of Europe's glittering capitals, through neighborhoods isolated by government neglect and popular apathy, if not outright racism. And he brings to life an unusual protagonist, a young man struggling with family, religion, and politics who makes fateful choices, and in doing so dramatizes powerful questions about society and human nature"-- Provided by publisher.

Koresky, Michael, 1979- author.

Films of Endearment is a heartwarming memoir, chronicling a young man's dynamic relationship with his mother, as told through the 80s movies they shared together, exploring themes of loss and resilience, the bonds between family, gender equality, and the birth of a critic's sensibility.

Lackey, Mercedes.

Skif a homeless orphan lives with a gang of juvenile pickpockets until he is picked by one of Valdemar's magical horses and becomes a Herald serving the Queen.

Martinez, Cyrille, 1972- author.

"Libraries are magical places. But what if they're even more magical than we know? In Cyrille Martinez's library, the books are alive: not just their ideas or their stories, but the books themselves. Meet the Angry Young Book, who has strong opinions about who reads what and why. He's tired of people reading bestsellers, so he places himself on the desks of those who might appreciate him. Meet the Old Historian who mysteriously vanished from the stacks. Meet the Blue Librarian, the Mauve Librarian, the Yellow Librarian, and spend a day with the Red Librarian trying to banish coffee cups and laptops. Then one day there are no empty desks anywhere in the Great Library. A great horde of student workers has descended, and they will scan every single book in the library: the much-borrowed, the neglected, the popular, the obscure. What will happen to the library then? Will it still be necessary? The Dark Library is a theoretical fiction, a meditation on what libraries mean in our digital world. Has the act of reading changed? What is a reader? A book? Martinez, a librarian himself, has written a love letter to the urban forest of the dark, wild library, where ideas and stories roam free."-- Provided by publisher.

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia, author.

"Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said "I love you" with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends, Sebastian and Daniela, and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. The three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love. Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father's funeral. It's hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, reviving memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? Is there any magic left?"--Page [4] of cover.

Munier, Paula, author.

It may be the Fourth of July weekend, but for retired soldier Mercy Carr and Belgian Malinois Elvis, it's just another walk in the remote Lye Brook Wilderness. Then the former bomb-sniffing dog alerts to explosives, and they find a squalling baby abandoned near a shallow grave filled with what appear to be human bones. U.S. Game Warden Troy Warner and his search-and rescue Newfoundland Susie Bear respond to Mercy's 911 call, and the four must work together to track down a missing mother, solve a cold-case murder, and keep the citizens of Vermont safe on potentially the most incendiary Independence Day since the American Revolution. -- adapted from publisher info.

Neville, Kim, author.

A "debut novel about two women haunted by buried secrets but bound by a shared gift and the power the past holds over our lives"-- Provided by publisher.

Nutting, Alissa, author.

Moving to a senior citizen trailer park with her father, Hazel, the estranged wife of a corporate CEO who demanded she install a brain chip so that they could be constantly connected, tries to carve out a new life while her ex uses sophisticated technology to stalk her.

Nyad, Diana, author.

"On September 2, 2013, at the age of 64, Diana Nyad emerged onto the shores of Key West after completing a 110 mile, 53 hour, record-breaking swim through shark-infested waters from Cuba to Florida. Her memoir shows why, at 64 she was able to achieve what she couldn't at 30 and how her repeated failures contributed to her success"-- Provided by publisher.

Okorafor, Nnedi, author.

"The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa--a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past. Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks-alone, except for her fox companion-searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers. But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?"-- Provided by publisher.

Oliveras, Priscilla, author.

"Sought-after social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings (and their perfect spouses) have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So, when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro--a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé ... Luis's big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island's laidback style. Though guarded after a deep betrayal, he'll always help someone in need--especially a spunky beauty with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their "how we met" story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips . . . sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it's time for Sara to return home, will their fake relationship fade like the stunning sunset . . . or blossom into something beautiful?"--Back cover.

Pressman, Steven, 1955- author.

Based on the acclaimed HBO documentary, the astonishing true story of how one American couple transported fifty Jewish children from Nazi-occupied Austria to America in 1939-- the single largest group of unaccompanied refugee children allowed into the United States. In early 1939, America's rigid immigration laws made it virtually impossible for European Jews to seek safe haven in the United States. As deep-seated anti-Semitism and isolationism gripped much of the country, neither President Roosevelt nor Congress rallied to their aid. Yet one brave Jewish couple from Philadelphia refused to silently stand by. Risking their own safety, Gilbert Kraus, a successful lawyer, and his stylish wife, Eleanor, traveled to Nazi-controlled Vienna and Berlin to save fifty Jewish children. Steven Pressman brought the Kraus's rescue mission to life in his acclaimed HBO documentary, 50 Children. In this book, he expands upon the story related in the hour-long film, offering additional historical detail and context to offer a rich, full portrait of this ordinary couple and their extraordinary actions. Drawing from Eleanor Kraus's unpublished memoir, rare historical documents, and interviews with more than a dozen of the surviving children, and illustrated with period photographs, archival materials, and memorabilia, 50 Children is a remarkable tale of personal courage and triumphant heroism that offers a fresh, unique insight into a critical period of history.

Quotah, Eman, author.

"During a snowy Cleveland February, newlyweds Muneer and Saeedah are starting their lives in America and expecting their first child. But Muneer harbors a secret: the word divorce has begun whispering itself in his ear. Soon, their marriage will end, and Muneer will return to Saudi Arabia, while Saeedah remains in Cleveland with their daughter, Hanadi. The more time she shares with her daughter, the more Saeedah wants to keep her close, and before long, her fear of losing Hanadi leads Saeedah to think that she and her daughter have no choice but to hide. Saeedah disappears with the little girl to build a new, secret life, while Muneer is left desperately searching for his daughter in a different country for years. The repercussions of this abduction ripple outward, not only changing the lives of Hanadi and her parents, but also their interwoven family and friends-those who must choose sides and hide their own deeply guarded secrets. And when Hanadi comes of age, she finds herself at the center of this conflict, torn between the world she grew up in and a family across the ocean. How can she exist between parents, between countries? This question lies at the heart of Eman Quotah's spellbinding debut about colliding cultures, immigration, religion, and family; an intimate portrait of loss and healing, and, ultimately, a testament to the ways we find ourselves inside love, distance, and heartbreak"-- Provided by publisher.

Rapinoe, Megan, 1985- author.

The Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women's World Cup champion describes her childhood in a conservative California town, her athletic achievements, and her public advocacy of civil rights and urgently needed social change.

Rollins, Alison C., author.
Schwarz, Christina, author.

Born in a small town in the desolate reaches of western Texas and shaped by her girlhood in an industrial wasteland on the outskirts of Dallas, Bonnie Parker was a natural performer and a star student. She dreamed of being a movie star or a singer or a poet. But her dramatic nature, contorted by her limited opportunities and her overwhelming love for Clyde Barrow, pushed her into a course from which there was no escape but death. Infusing the psychological acuity of literary fiction with the relentless pacing of a thriller, the novel follows Bonnie from her bright, promising youth to her final month of shoot-outs, kidnappings, and desperate car chases through America's hinterland in the grip of the Great Depression, as the noose of the law tightened around her.

Seth, Vikram, 1952-
Smith, Zadie, author.

In her first short story collection, Smith combines her power of observation and inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world. She explores a wide range of subjects, from first loves to cultural despair, as well as the desire to be the subject of your own experience. In the stories Smith contends with race, class, relationships, and gender roles in a world that feels increasingly divided. -- adapted from jacket

Snyder, Suleikha, author.

"Joe Peluso has blood on his hands. He took out the mobsters responsible for killing his foster brother, and that one act of vigilante justice has earned him countless enemies in New York's supernatural-controlled underworld. He knows that shifters like him deserve the worst. Darkness. Pain. Solitude. But meeting Neha makes him feel human for the first time in forever. Lawyer and psychologist Neha Ahluwalia knows Joe is guilty, but she's determined to help him craft a solid defense...even if she can't defend her own obsession. Just one look from the wolf shifter makes her skin burn hot and her pulse race. When a payback hit goes wrong, Neha's forced to make a choice: help Joe escape or leave him to his fate. Before long they're on the run--from the monsters who want him dead, from their own traitorous hearts, and from an attraction that threatens to destroy them."--Provided by publisher.

Spillett-Sumner, Tasha, 1988- author.

"Dez and Miikwan's stories continue in this sequel to Surviving the City. Dez's grandmother has passed away. Grieving, and with nowhere else to go, she's living in a group home. On top of everything else, Dez is navigating a new relationship and coming into her identity as a Two-Spirit person. Miikwan is crushing on the school's new kid Riel, but doesn't really understand what Dez is going through. Will she learn how to be a supportive ally to her best friend? Elder Linda is doing her best to be supportive, but she doesn't know how to respond when the gendered protocols she's grown up with that are being thrown into question. Will Dez be comfortable expressing her full identity? And will her community relearn the teachings and overcome prejudice to celebrate her for who she is?"-- Provided by publisher.

Swarup, Shubhangi, author.

"A spellbinding work of literature, Latitudes of Longing follows the interconnected lives of characters searching for true intimacy. The novel sweeps across India, from an island, to a valley, a city, and a snow desert to tell a love story of epic proportions. We follow a scientist who studies trees and a clairvoyant who speaks to them; a geologist working to end futile wars over a glacier; octogenarian lovers; a mother struggling to free her revolutionary son; a yeti who seeks human companionship; a turtle who transforms first into a boat and then a woman; and the ghost of an evaporated ocean as restless as the continents. Binding them all together is a vision of life as vast as the universe itself. A young writer awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in India for this novel, Shubhangi Swarup is a storyteller of extraordinary talent and insight. Richly imaginative and wryly perceptive, Latitudes of Longing offers a soaring view of humanity: our beauty and ugliness, our capacity to harm and love each other, and our mysterious and sacred relationship with nature"-- Provided by publisher.

Swinarski, Claire, author.

"Claire Swinarski knows that the hard times and dull seasons are opportunities to grow. In Full Bloom inspires readers to see God's grace at work and discover for themselves the grit and practical strategies to thrive no matter what"-- Provided by publisher.

Toews, Miriam, 1964- author.

One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm. While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women-all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in-have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they've ever known or should they dare to escape? Based on real events and told through the "minutes" of the women's all-female symposium, Toews's masterful novel uses wry, politically engaged humor to relate this tale of women claiming their own power to decide.-- Publisher's description.

Weintraub, Robert, author.

"The story of 1930s tennis icon Alice Marble, and her life of sports, celebrity, and incredible mystery"-- Provided by publisher.

Zapata, Michael, author.

The story of a Latin American science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript unites decades later in post-Katrina New Orleans. In 1929 in New Orleans, a Dominican immigrant named Adana Moreau writes a science fiction novel. The novel earns rave reviews, and Adana begins a sequel. Then she falls gravely ill. Just before she dies, she destroys the only copy of the manuscript. Decades later in Chicago, Saul Drower is cleaning out his dead grandfather's home when he discovers a mysterious manuscript written by none other than Adana Moreau. With the help of his friend Javier, Saul tracks down an address for Adana's son in New Orleans, but as Hurricane Katrina strikes they must head to the storm-ravaged city for answers.