Susan's Staff Picks
"A man chokes on a grape while riding a commuter train into the city. A fellow commuter saves his life and sparks an awareness that a number of these commuters see each other nearly every day and yet never speak. Each has traveled in his own bubble and now the bubble has been broken. Gradually they get to know each other and find that each has something to offer another traveler.
Warm, funny, and unexpected revelations eventually bind this group into a family. Light reading and yet a story with deep meaning that show us how connected we all may be and how we need each other and are better together."
"Rita Todacheene lived with her grandmother on a Navajo reservation until her unusual ability ostracized her from most of the tribe. – ghosts talk to her. Now she lives in Albuquerque and works as a forensic psychologist.
'Souls don’t scatter like the rest of the body…they are the best witnesses to their last breaths.'
As witnesses they talk to Rita and her photographs are extraordinary because of this. As the tension increases, Rita’s heritage and her skills merge to enable her to pursue a killer. The dichotomy of crime in the city l and the tribal understanding of life made this a very interesting crime story. Definitely worth reading!"
"This is a chilling story!
Heather has traveled to Australia with her husband of only a few months for a vacation/honeymoon/medical conference. Her uneasy truce with her teenage step-children simmers along. Then an unplanned ferry trip to a tiny island leads them into a horror story which strips away all their facades until their true characters are revealed.
This story might cause you to ask yourself how well you know and can depend the people around you. A worthy successor to The Chain. Well done! "
"A month long vacation with her sister in a small North Carolina town forces Nora to adjust her city routines to small town rhythms. She gradually realizes that her carefully constructed city life may not be the life she wants. Then she unexpectedly recognizes someone from her city life and things become interesting. This is a warm, witty, engaging story about people finding themselves when they didn’t realize they were lost. I loved it! Emily Henry’s best yet!"
"Emily St. John Mandel has woven a tapestry through time with her words!
In this tapestry, the stories of a number of people are woven together and sometimes there are overlaps even between time periods; sometimes there are discrepancies that make no sense.
The people of different time periods become connected by similar stories.
We read about Edwin in 1912 who walked through a forest in western Canada, found a deserted clearing and heard violin music. Generations later Vincent (The Glass Hotel) wandered into the same clearing and inexplicably heard violin music. We meet Gaspery in several different places and now we start to wonder,
This is an interesting, thought provoking story that holds your attention throughout."
"Arlo Dilly is DeafBlind, a Jehovah's Witness, and under the guargianship of his strict uncle. After a traumatic incident at school, Arlo has been living with his uncle, almost under house arrest until he asks to enroll in a college writing class. Soon, Arlo begins to meet more people, explore the city, and make a few new friends and rediscover old friends. I learned so much about the challenges of the DeafBlind community and really enjoyed this book!"
"When Laura Coates moved from her job at the Civil Rights Division to participate in a temporary (4 yr.) program in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. she thought that she would be able to make a difference – she would be a prosecutor dedicated to providing justice. She found that she was unable to ensure justice. She grew to distrust the system that worked against so many of those like her, Black women, daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers.
Coates has written a series of scenes from the courtroom – essentially a series of essays or individual stories which together make a whole that is both revealing, heartbreaking and frustrating. I am very glad that I read this book – it confirmed my view that our justice system is often broken in ways that seem impossible to fix, though there are lawyers who are working to do just that."
"Something is happening with the teens in the United States – suicides are increasing at an alarming rate and often a cryptic message is all that is left – A11. Though this thread continues throughout the story, Hawley has written a suspense story with a group of teens on a rescue mission, a political commentary of how a judge is approaching her potential confirmation to the Supreme Court, an indictment of the powerful drug industry, and a hopeful outlook on a very dystopian future. I am in awe of his writing, his ability to meld these stories into a comprehensible whole and his obvious hope and concern for our teenage population. Well done!"
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"If you will never tire of The Great Gatsby and the world that Fitzgerald depicted for us all then this is the book for you. We are re-introduced to three women who loved and were loved by Jay Gatsby. We see different facets of Gatsby’s personality from when he was an underprivileged young man in love with a girl he couldn’t afford through his time when he tries to reconnect and realizes that he must make some quick money or else lose her and eventually he becomes the man we know from Fitzgerald’s book. The three women all have reasons to both love and hate him and none sees him clearly. The he dies – jealousy, suicide, mob hit? Who killed Jay Gatsby?"
"So much of what I love about reading is in this book – stimulating intellectually ( looking up some unknown words and also realizing that learning some Greek might be fun), stretching the imagination from the ancient world to futuristic space travel, touching on the questions of our responsibility for people, animals, plants and the earth itself.
The story is uncovered and moved along primarily by the questioning minds and needs of teenagers and their animal companions. The number of characters, time periods and story lines make this a challenging read but with an open mind and patience it is so worth it! I loved it and was in awe of how the lines merged and resolved even through the desperate times some of the characters experienced. Anthony Doerr said “primarily this is a book about our planet – in itself a vast library – and the stories that connect us."
"Welcome to a southern mystery. A body is found near an airplane that crash-landed on a little used airfield. The local sheriff tasked with the apparent murder and the mystery of the plane is suddenly in the middle of simmering racial tensions, accusations and vigilante actions. He is a good man trying to do his job in a community where this type of crime is an anomaly. Sometimes being a good man is just not enough. He is up for re-election against a corrupt challenger; his community is changing, not always for the better. With all of the challenges he faces, Sheriff Winston Barnes refused to compromise himself – he remains a good man throughout. Interesting reading – what choices does a man make when pushed by opportunistic men and difficult circumstances?"
"Rollins has written a number of stories about the Sigma Force team – a small, elite group especially equipped with intelligence, skills and supplies – which can react quickly to unusual, threatening and/or emergency situations in all parts of the world.
While the characters remain the same and have back stories, it is easy to read each book as a standalone suspenseful adventure story. This story location is the Congo and includes real history, actual scientific facts and also African myths and the possibility that Mother Nature is quite capable of making a statement.
Rollins also explains what is fact and what is fiction after you have finished. Fun, fast read – would make an interesting movie."
"One of the by-products of living with a pandemic is that many of us have drastically reduced the number of people with whom we have conversations. If we don’t talk to people we can’t really understand how their life is different from our life.
Eli Saslow has given us windows into the lives of people across the United States in a variety of occupations and situations; an EMT in NY city, an anesthesiologist in a mid-west hospital who volunteered to do the necessary and difficult intubations, the woman evicted from her apartment after she had lost her job…they and many others have a voice here.
I believe that the best way to bridge the gaps between us is to try to understand other perspectives.
I am glad I read this book! I hope you read it too!"
"I encourage you to read the book jacket which describes the premise of this book better than I could do. What I can do is share with you that the writing is beautiful with so many quotable/memorable lines that I wish I could memorize them all. “Nobody’s perfect, but, man, we all fall short so beautifully”. The writing throughout is beautiful: “Rocks on both sides were splattered with an action painting of lichen, moss and algae.”
The story is set sometime in the near future where the effects of climate change are becoming more apparent; more animals are endangered; more rivers and streams are polluted. Politicians are more interested in denying science than in making changes to laws and programs. Scientific explorations and experiments are eliminated or are underfunded. This is the world through which the astro-biologist father and his son are navigating.
Probably my favorite book of this year!"
"Joyce Maynard has given us the story of a family – a family that is like ours, or as ours might have been or as ours still could be. Love ties the story together through the joys of discovering the people that your children are, the tragedies that change the trajectories of lives, the heartaches when situations can’t be fixed but must be lived through. I smiled through some memories; I was thankful that others didn’t resonate with me and I cried at the end.
Love wins!! Always!"
"Jack, a young cowboy and expert fly fisherman, is hired by the Kingfisher Lodge to be one of the fishing guides for their elite customers. He is hoping to escape into the peace of fishing. His first client is a well-known singer who is a good fly fisherman and is comfortable in the mountain environment. Should be a good experience but separately and then together they realize that Kingfisher Lodge is not the calm setting each had hoped for but instead is hiding inconsistencies, mysteries and terror. Peter Heller’s love of nature is evident in his excellent writing. Places come alive; details resonate with truth. He then brings conflict and violence into that beautiful scene. Well done!"
"This historical fiction novel center on a freeborn black girl growing up in post-Civil War Brooklyn. Her mother is a light-skinned doctor whose practice is busy. She expects that her daughter will go to medical school. Become a doctor and join her work. Libertie, her daughter, does not want to be a doctor; she loves music not medicine. Also she is very dark-skinned and viewed suspiciously by some of her mother’ patients. When a man from Haiti proposes, assures her that she and he will work together as equals, Libertie accepts and moves to Haiti. While Black men in Haiti have different status than in Brooklyn, Libertie finds that as a Black woman she is still subordinate to her husband and his father and is almost a prisoner in their house. She finds herself in the same struggle that women and especially Black women have struggled with forever. How do we find (or make our own) freedom? Her answers to that question make this an interesting read."
"Garrett Kohl is a native Texan but living with his father and older brother became untenable after his mother died so he left home, joined the military and eventually became a DEA agent. Following a difficult mission in Afghanistan he needs to hide a young boy and he takes him home to Texas. There he finds another situation and he now is protecting a boy and protecting his family and their ranch. If you have read any C.J. Box books you will like learning about the High Plains of Texas, the beauty of the land and the strength of the people who live there. This is a fast paced story incorporating much of the traditional western but also adding in contemporary criminals who underestimate the strength and resources that Texans have needed to survive. I will be looking forward to more of Garrett Kohl and his family."
"It is 1944 and Evelyn Skinner walks down the lane of a house in the Tuscan countryside shortly before Private Ulysses Temper drives by on his way to pick up his captain. He stops; she asks for a lift and together they find Captain Darnly at a villa outside Florence. Though this is the only evening the three spend together, the connections they feel as they share wine and conversations about art, life and Italy will remain with them for 35 years and beyond.
I am in awe of this story - about love in so many forms:
love of the family you choose to make
love of art and beauty and exploration
love of Florence and Tuscany
love for the people you continue to meet and for those you hold in your heart for years
This is a beautifully written story that will remain one of my favorites!!"
"Krueger has written a few books about the old forest and lakes in Aurora, Minnesota where Cork O'Connor is now the retired sheriff but in Lightning Strike he has taken us back to meet 12 year old Cork. That summer Cork and a friend were the first to find a body hanging in an logging camp - a respected Ojibway from the community. Though it looks like a possible suicide Cork's dad, the current sheriff is not convinced. While Cork's mom is part Ojibway, his dad is not and the other members of the tribe do not usually confide in him or trust him. Cork lives in both worlds and so becomes his dad's helper. It is the summer that changes him and his relationship to his father. It is the beginning of his life protecting and serving in his community. This is a well written coming-of-age story about a man we thought we knew. This story paints his life as a whole picture."
"World War I and a graduate of Smith College, Mrs. Rutherford of the Class of 1896, forms the Smith College Relief Fund in the spring of 1917 with the objective of helping the French civilians who have lost so much during the war. Their goal is to rebuild homes, set up makeshift schools for the children, bring livestock like chickens and goats, provide medical care and do anything they can to all they can for the small villages close to the front lines. Those 18 young “Smithies” have no idea how to do these things but they have volunteered regardless. Willig has written a fictional story while incorporating the extensive results of her research about the “real” Smithies. While her characters in the story are fictional she explained that everything that they experience in the novel was true in their real lives. Once again we have a glimpse of the heroes behind the headlines. The French civilians never gave up. The “Smithies” were unbelievable – together these people persevered even as the war came closer yet again forcing an evacuation. Great story! Well worth reading!"
"As we become increasingly aware of the changes in our physical world, scientists, environmental activists, young people and writers of both fiction and non-fiction have been addressing the problems. McConaghy’s debut novel charted the migration route of arctic terns and their search for fish as they flew from Greenland to the Antarctic. In this novel Inti Flynn and her team are introducing gray wolves to the remote Scottish Highlands in the hopes that the wolves will establish dens and territories, restore much of the landscape lost to overwhelming numbers of smaller animals and the overgrazing of unrestricted domestic animals. This was done successfully in the western US. The backstories of the local people, the team members and the wolves are all explored by McConaghy as the tension grows. Well written, intriguing and thought provoking."
"Two giraffes are the stars of this true life adventure. Rutledge has written a fictional story in order to enchant us with the events that occurred in 1938 as a hurricane swept up the Northeast coast. The 12 foot giraffes rode out the storm in crates on the deck of the ship bringing them to the NY harbor. When the ship docked at the damaged harbor, a zoo keeper from the San Diego is ready to pick up the giraffes to transport them by means of a modified pick-up truck across the country to the San Diego zoo. The year is 1938. Hitler has begun his march through Europe; the Depression still hangs on, and Bell Benchley is the first female zoo director. The giraffes’ cross-country trip is covered by papers everywhere; people stand on the road to watch them go by (and remember there are no major highways so many little towns are on their route). While this is a fictionalized story, the key components are true and verification be found in old newspaper clippings and on line resources. It is very interesting to see some of the pictures. Good book and very applicable to our time as we realize that the future of giraffes is in jeopardy."
"'Remember what I said, Darling?' Her voice murmurs on the restless branches. 'The challenges faced by Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountains. If you stand too close. You won’t be able to see their peaks. Once you step away from the currents of life, you will have the full view…'
Huong and her grandmother run from Hanoi in 1972 as the American bombers are once again dropping their bombs. As they journey into the mountains and then eventually make their way back to their destroyed home, Grandmother begins to tell Houng their family story as they live through 1972-1973. The two work diligently to make a life as they wait with hope for family members to come home from the war. The past remembrances of her grandmother give her and us a clearer picture of what the Vietnamese people have endured.
I highly recommend this book! As Americans, we often don’t step back to see the full view. This book helps."
"It is 1938 and Reno Nevada is quickly becoming the divorce capitol of the country. Wealthy women that they must 'reside' in the state for six weeks before their divorce can be finalized. Some choose to stay at one of the dude ranches where they can be pampered and yet be as involved as they might choose in riding or hiking and exploring.
Ward is now working at one of those ranches - he eminently qualified. He grew up in a wealthy family until they lost their money and he spent a year at Yale. This is his story of one summer on the ranch and a few of the women he met - one of who he loved.
A slice of American history, one summer in Reno, Nevada, and the repercussions that rolled on through the years."
"When the shoe dropped into her lap the foot was still in it" is the first line of this novel. Newman has thrown down the challenge. Could you read this line and then calmly put the book down? I couldn't and so I began the roller coaster ride with one drop after another as Captain Bill Hoffman is faced with an impossible choice while flying a commercial plane. We are introduced to a good man who seems to be forced into a decision with only terrible results. If you like suspense but are tired of guessing the conclusion early in the story then please read this book. You won't be disappointed."
"This is a small book with a large message. Junger walked 400 miles along the railroad tracks in the Northeast – much of it in PA. Four friends joined him for all or part of the journey. As he wrote about this experience he interspersed walking information with history – of the railroad building, of the Native Americans who originally travelled the valleys and paths through the mountains. He discusses the philosophy of what it means to be free. The men carried everything they needed, occasionally stopping in small towns for breakfast at a local diner and to replenish supplies. They relied on each other and on their knowledge, experience and ingenuity. Junger’s writing is informative, thought-provoking and often surprising in the ideas he melds together. Good reading!!"
"While many novels reveal the story in bits and pieces, they usually narrow at some point to draw the reader toward the conclusion (or back to the beginning). We begin with 13 year old Duchess Ray Radley, caretaker of her 5 year old brother and her mother, Star. She is a self-proclaimed outlaw, doing whatever she deems neccessary to care for her family. Mystery, drama, revenge, corruption, love, strength, and commitment all play a part as Duchess' story circles around her past and her present until pieces are finally drawn together. What we liked best about this story is that on its way to completion each twist is less a reveal and more a widening, leading to its excellent and profound end."
"Confusion reigns and encompasses Windsor Horne Lockwood III (Win), who is only a fan of confusion when he causes it. His customary plan is to deliver justice without regard to due process but now he has a twofold purpose, deliver justice and discover and protect the hidden truths within his own family. It is never good to learn that your family has been lying and hiding things for years.
This is fast-paced, complex, violent and entertaining story."
"In the beginning pages Melody writes 'Look at ne on the last day in May. Finally sixteen and the moment like a hand holding me out to the world.' Born to a sixteen year old mother whose unworn dress lays on the bed ready to be worn, Melody puts on the dress and in some ways also puts on the expectations of her college educated grandparents who believe she will carry on the family legacy of attending her grandmother's college and becoming an educated black woman in their Brooklyn community.
Through the ensuing pages, Melody shares the pieces of her story. Her father gave up his dreams to raise her as they lived with her maternal grandparents; her mother left for a non-legacy college to find her own dream. Family history has given her much to process as she weaves her current story with their past.
Excellent writing, a great character development, and an understanding of different choice and where they might lead."
"Though I am not a McConaughey fan, this book looked interesting so I picked it up, read a little bit and bought it. Though I was not a fan when I began the book, I am a fan now! I will keep it and probably re-read it. It is that interesting and thought-provoking.
I don't believe I can say it better than Matthew wrote on the book jacket. I found depths and dimensions in McConaughey that I would have never suspected. There are humorous ancedotes, stories of failures and problems, recounting of adventures that most of us only dream of and/or might not have the courage to pursue. The man behind the movies is much more interesting than his Hollywood persona would indicate.
I highly recommend this book."