Kiley's Staff Picks
"A lover of plays, England, and smart main characters, I loved every minute of this wonderful debut from Allison Epstein.
A Tip for the Hangman follows early English playwright Christopher Marlowe in his youth at Cambridge as he attempts to write and drink his way through university. But while he’s developing his early drafts of fantastical plays, he’s approached by a high ranking member of Queen Elizabeth’s government. The reason? Kit Marlowe is being asked to be a royal spy.
The story is a thrill, and the writing is incredibly done—beautiful and fun all at once. As for Kit, he’s a lovely main character as written by Epstein and a brilliant figure in his own right. A historical fiction for lovers of the theater, or even just lovers of suspense, drama, and scathing wit."
"What to say about Nightbitch? First, it was the cover that caught my eye - but the story proved just as rewarding.
Rachel Yoder's brilliant debut novel focuses on the life of an unnamed narrator (soon to be dubbed "Nightbitch"), who is a stay at home mother and an artist. One day, she becomes something else: her teeth begin to sharpen and small patches of fur grow at the back of her neck. Through this supernatural confusion, Yoder explores the first few fragile years of motherhood while rejecting traditional expectations for women. I'm reminded of The Metamorphosis by Kafka and also Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce.
Yoder's writing is gorgeous; her perspective is familiar, but rich, and I have nothing but love for this book, even as someone who has never experienced anything close to motherhood."
"I don’t often read books about female psychopaths, when I heard about A Certain Hunger, I had to pick it up. The novel follows Dorothy, a food writer and critic who takes and discards lovers as she pleases. But these aren’t even the most interesting things about her: she also happens to be an awfully charming psychopath and serial killer. In telling Dorothy’s story, Summers puts forth an interesting perspective on “foodies” and gender in the workplace and relationships both, while also holding up the tenant of female friendship. Dorothy manages to be wickedly smart, charming and utterly terrifying, all at once. Her story is worth a read."
"Mona Awad, author of the critically acclaimed novel Bunny, has once again proven that she’s an expert in the area of comic-tragedies. In All’s Well, she pulls gently from Shakespeare’s play, All’s Well That Ends Well, in order to spin a tale that revolves around chronic pain, theater, and obsession.
Readers are taken along this journey with the protagonist, Miranda, a former actor injured in a Shakespeare production who now fills the role of the “haggard teacher” at a small liberal arts college. Over the course of the story, she attempts to relive her experiences as an actor by directing the school’s annual play, insisting on putting on All’s Well That Ends Well. Needless to say, things go disastrously wrong.
Awad’s writing is genius. Her story is darkly funny and deeply unnerving. We, the readers, begin on Miranda’s side, but watch helplessly as she spirals into something unrecognizable, a narrator that we can no longer trust to do the “right” thing or tell the truth. Perception is everything, and Awad teaches us through All’s Well that nothing is as simple as it seems at first glance."
"Yes, I was drawn to this book because of it’s title (which manages to be both bleak and hilarious). Yes, it lived up to my every expectation.
Gilda, the protagonist of Emily Austen’s debut novel, is a gay atheist woman whose severe anxiety about death verges on OCD. Though her beliefs and proclivity towards women make this incredibly unlikely, she stumbles into a secretarial position for the Catholic Church. So, as she leads a double life in her new job, Gilda’s anxiety only gets worse and her relationships, especially familial, run into trouble. In Gilda, I found a helplessly kind but cautious woman, and she gave me hope.
'Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead' is funny. Emily Austen does an excellent job in using sentence structure to portray Gilda’s anxiety and slyly pokes fun at her worries. I was thankful to read a story that made me feel so seen, to have an unusual narrative that, for me, was like looking in a mirror. Take my word for it: no matter your identity, you’ll relate to Gilda easily, and you won’t regret picking up her story."
"At first glance, the premis of Jackie Polzin's debut novel seems strange: it follows a woman (who remains nameless) as she and her husband care for and go to great lengths to preserve their small brood of chickens in Camden, Minnesota. That said, 'Brood' pulled me in with all of its oddities - our narrator's honest and wry sense of humor, the personalities of her eclectic chickens, and more than anything, Polzin's ability to string together sentences that stopped me in my tracks.
At its core, 'Brood' is about survival; about the cut and dry of 'need' that governs all life. Our narrator weighs the stark differences between chickens and people, but more often discusses the intimate ways in which we are similar to the creatures that surround us. She also teaches us, moment by moment, how to live in the present, even when trouble comes to meet us."
"Set in the Artic, this novel dares to question what the world would look like in the midst of mass extinction, when only a few birds and fish remain alongside humans. Couple that with an unusual female lead, Franny, and you have a story that won't be forgotten. McConaghy's writing style is lyrical and tight; I could feel the chill and see the beauty of the Artic through Franny's musings alone. As the reader follows an epic journey across the migration route of artic terns, he/she is given insight on the ways humanity can both create and destroy. All in all, 'Migrations' is the kind of book that will devestate you, cradle you, and sweep you off your feet."
"Listen: you fall asleep, dream of feathers, and wake with a raven in your hands. You’re still asking, What is real?
Named after a Yeats poem, Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk brought me the closest I’ve ever come to magic. Following dreamers Ronan and Hennessy, the book imagines a world in which some people have the ability to pull things from their dreams into reality. Though Hennessy and Ronan life drastically separate lives, their lives inevitably cross when they both encounter a government- backed group with the intention of killing all dreamers. Call Down the Hawk is a street race, an explosion, and a love story all at once. As for Stiefvater herself, I will always be a devout follower. Her storytelling skills are like no author I’ve ever read, and this is true even for her most recent series of which Call Down the Hawk is just the first volume. Her characters are real and lovable; her dialogue is electric. If you’re willing to let Stiefvater guide you into the world of dreamers, you’ll never want to leave. I certainly haven’t."
"We’ve all heard stories of men who make Faustian deals, who sell their soul to the devil in exchange for some kind of fortune. But V.E. Schwab does this differently, setting a young French woman who wishes to travel the world at the center of her tale. Addie, our narrator, makes a deal with the devil with a wish to live forever. The catch is: no one will remember her. As soon as someone turns their back on her, it's like she was never there at all. At least to them. Readers follow Addie’s spellbinding journey through centuries, from her childhood in 18th century France to one moment in present day New York that changes the trajectory of her long life forever.
Schwab tells this story masterfully, guiding us through time by switching between periods and combining Addie’s present with her poignant past. Schwab’s writing, as always, is exquisite. All that said, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is at once sweet and devastating, a clever story you’ll surely never forget."
"No matter how deeply you are (or aren't) connected to nature, Mary Oliver is sure to tug on every one of your heartstrings. In Devotions, her best poems from across several decades are showcased, from her 1963 collection, No Voyage, to her last in 2015, Felicity. It's the perfect anthology.
Oliver uses a myriad of forms to express her thoughts about God, birds, and human nature, all the while remaining an accessible poet for the masses. Everyone can read Mary Oliver, and everyone will find something to hold onto. So read Devotions, -- a poem or two every day. And as Oliver herself says: 'Take from it what you can.'"
"Though one of Patchett's older novels, 'State of Wonder" remains incredibly current and happens to be in my top ten novels of all time. Following the journey of a pharmeceutical lab worker, Marina, readers are taken all the way to the Amazon in order to investigate the death of one of Marina's coworkers and check in on the head scientist of a novel research project. From the very beginning, the writing is intriguing, and the characters are, if not always likable, fascinating. While ready, I fell in love with science and culture the same way Marina dad: completely and with little fear. For scientists, lovers of Amazonia, and just plain old people, 'State of Wonder' is a triumph."