Meghan Oliver joined the bookstore in spring 2014 as the assistant manager. She loves westerns, field guides, thrillers, the occassional sci-fi, and everything in between. Meghan is also a freelance writer and enjoys funny people, birding, animals, and looking at the dark side of life with humor. She's worked as a journalist, an avian wildlife rehabilitator, and a farmhand.
Half Wild should be put in the hands of every person moving to Vermont, for it reflects the lives of people who make up a significant portion of the state -- people who have made Vermont what it is: the working class natives who've lived here for generations, whose love for the land and their place in it is as clear as creek water.
MacArthur paints a vivid picture of real people -- including those who don't always make the best choices, but who are doing their best -- from rugged farmers to aged hippies. Ice-cold mountain melt, gardens, six-packs of wine coolers, ramshackle front porches, double-wides, and goats all figure in her stories, as do the bonds of parents and children, childhood loves, war, and so much more.
My favorite story, The Women Where I'm From, has the perspectives of both an ailing, live-off-the-land mother and her New York City-dwelling artist daughter. Their relationship is precarious, hindered by the tension of time and change, but it is also anchored in the bond only a mother and daughter can share.
I can't recommend this book enough and hope MacArthur follows up this debut with many more stories.
Underground Airlines follows Victor, a black bounty hunter hired by the government to track down escaped slaves -- a troubling situation on several fronts. But the twist is that it's present day; the Civil War never happened and slavery exists in four southern states. In an almost sci-fi take on slavery, Winters writes about a timely issue -- racism in the U.S. -- with likable (and not so likable) characters. A page-turner, head-scratcher, and thought-provoker.
Brown's pen and ink drawings, colored digitally in muted tones, provide a powerful account of Katrina in New Orleans. With minimal text, Brown highlights tragic, shocking, and very sad moments in the days following Katrina -- moments no one should forget happened right here in the U.S.
Cults are easy book fodder: by definition alone, they're pretty interesting. But Cline does a superb job of setting the scene of how a seemingly ordinary girl could be pulled into a disgusting and misguided tribe.
Detailing the self-conscious and embarrassingly sad thoughts of teen Evie Boyd -- at an age when she is just realizing the power of her female body, and whose divorced parents are each their own mess -- Cline paints the picture of a girl ripe for influence, good or bad, and desperate for acceptance.
The Girls echoes the Manson Family saga, pulling you into a drugged-out group of lost and filthy souls who fall under the power of a misogynistic loser. Violent, muddy, and sad, this book will make you thankful your awkward teen years were defined by braces and bad hair-do's.
If you're new to the plant life of bogs and fens, welcome to a variety of wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees that are out of this world!
The Northeast is full bogs and fens that orchids, carnivorous plants, and other beauties call home. General wildflower and plant guides can be difficult to sort through when you're looking for bog-specific plant life. So don't sort: get this complete guide to your local bog. Davis does a great job of showing each plant in different parts of its life cycle (so you can recognize it in different months) and explains their occurrence and how to ID them.
Trust me, once you walk through a bog surrounded by grass pinks and white-fringed orchids, you'll be hooked!
Peter Brown takes two delightful subjects -- wildlife and robots -- and smooshes them together in this heartwarming book for grade-school age children (or for anyone who enjoys having their heart warmed).
Roz the robot washes up on the shore of an island inhabited by a variety of wild animals. To survive and be accepted, the robot teaches herself the ways of the animals, finding out how she can be helpful to the island creatures. In turn, the animals learn to trust and respect Roz, offering their help to her when they can (the beavers, for example, build her a home, while the deer fertilize her garden). When Roz finds an orphaned gosling, she takes on the role of mother goose, using her robot "brain" to learn about feelings and the unconditional love between parent and child.
To be sure, there are some sadnesses (and excitements) in this tale, but the humor found in the robot-animal interactions and very silly (and lovable) characters, buffer the harder stuff. I love this book so.
If you like a little history with your fiction, Bottomland provides a delicious slice-of-life for readers who enjoy the details of by-gone eras. A German family living on the plains of Iowa after WWI struggle within a community fearful and loathing of their heritage.
Add in the suffering of a son at war, the hardship of farm life, the physically brutal work of shop girls, and two daughters missing, and you quickly understand what the Hess family is up against.
Hoover can write a beautiful (but unfettered) turn of phrase. I was lost in the book each time I opened it.
You can be the ultimate birding voyeur with William Burt's Water Babies. Even avian experts know wetland youngsters can be tough to spot (save for the regulars: your mallards, your Canada geese, etc.). So leave the work to Burt!
In this beautiful book fit for your best coffee table, not only do you get to see colorful photos of the most elusive of waterfowl babies, but you get to enjoy a sprinkling of natural history and facts to enhance your birding experience. For example, while you delight in photos of awkward and gangly bitterns, you can also learn that even the nestlings will point their bills upward, swaying with the surrounding reeds, to avoid predation.
From little jaeger loves to wood stork cuties (storklings?), there is plenty to "ooh" and "aaw" over from first page to last.
You've got to have a screw loose to enjoy this dark book (luckily I do), as it takes you deep inside the disturbing mind of Eileen, a young woman who takes care of her alcoholic and delusional father. Eileen's day-to-day existence is fraught with challenges, whether it's dealing with the ladies in the office at the children's prison she works at, appeasing her father, or planning her laxative routine. It's hard to like Eileen, but Moshfegh's writing is very good and will pull you through. A welcome twist happens when Eileen becomes enamored with a young woman assigned to counsel children at the prison -- she's beautiful, stylish, and vivacious -- all that Eileen isn't. Just what will become of Eileen? You'll be surprised.
In simple prose and in less than 200 pages, The Red Collar depicts shifting perspectives on war by those who have lived it, including an honored veteran and his loyal (though mysteriously unappreciated) dog. WWI vet, Morlac, is in a small prison in France following an incident for which he could easily avoid punishment, given his war hero status. But punishment is what he's after.
Morlac's guilt has an investigator digging into his life, including questioning his bookish girlfriend in the countryside and unraveling his complicated relationship with his devoted dog. This is a clever, sparse story that is somehow thick with detailed characters and a memorable backdrop.
This is the crushing story of Jude, a young man readers follow through four decades of grueling physical pain and emotional torment. Abused severely as a child, Jude manages to find success in his work and makes three lifelong friends in college. But he keeps a clear distance between himself and those who truly love him by not revealing his past (initially) and inflicting violence upon himself few are aware of (he cuts himself repeatedly, at times slicing away old scars to make room for new cuts).
Yanagihara is relentless, not just in depicting the abuse that occurred, but in the detailed, endless spiral of thoughts gripping Jude's mind, and taunting readers with the back-and-forth possibility of Jude having a "normal" life versus succumbing to its abnormality.
While 700+ pages of this might sound daunting -- and trust me, at times the book does feel like it's just too much to handle -- Jude's friends' commitment to him are born of true love, offering reprieve to the battered reader. The book is frustrating, deeply sad, and incredibly moving: so much in one little life.
Everyone needs to read about Marvelous Cornelius, a real-life hero from Hurricane Katrina. A garbage man in New Orleans, Cornelius had always been known for his kindness to those he passed by as he kept the streets sparkling clean. When the destruction and horror of Katrina test his will, Cornelius weeps, but his spirit is strong. This is a story for anyone who is struggling and a beautiful way to reflect on Katrina.
Long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. In a story heavy with trauma and loss, a sudden accident crisscrosses the lives of locals and well-to-do summer residents, young and old. Town gossip follows, regret and broken hearts abound. Each chapter offers a look at the tragedy through a specific character's perspective -- revealing the intimate histories of each and at times offering small slivers of kindness and hope to the reader. Clegg's depiction of each character -- from the weed-smoking teen to the hotel maid -- rings true, clear, and deep.
If you love a good page-turner, buy this book (as long as lurid violence isn't a dealbreaker for you). While the grimy details can be hard to stomach, the writing is good, the story is deep, and the characters are well-developed -- from the detectives and cops to the murderers and victims, you'll find yourself intrigued by each one. A thrilling, brutal read. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Bird fans, when did you first spot a black-capped chickadee in Massachusetts dressed as Pilgrim proclaiming the attributes of cranberry juice as a great mixer? My guess is never. Paging through Talbott's hilariously illustrated guide to our country's state birds, you'll see a lot of firsts from your favorite birds, whether it's a Baltimore oriole on Maryland's page winding up on the pitching mound to throw a crab cake, or two Carolina wrens performing their version of South Carolina's state dance, the shag.
While the funny images and clever descriptors are a good time, the book has some seriously cool bird facts for anyone who cares to know them. I mean, don't you want to know why loons often end up stranded in parking lots?
Through the eyes of Aron, a Polish boy forced into a Jewish ghetto, you see the impending horror of the Holocaust from his small view on the streets. Between the biting lice, untrustworthy Jewish police, and harrowing changes in the neighborhood (families packed in with one another, random beatings and killings, the increasing absence of food and coal), Aron and the kids he runs with one by one face the reality of the Nazis.
As he loses his family and friends, Aron is taken in by Polish doctor Janus Korczak (a real figure in history) who heads up a rag-tag orphanage in the ghetto. There, the two form a friendship in which each finds in the other something he's lost, relying on each other as their world shifts in unimaginable ways.
There's something magical about coming upon a bird's nest. They are often so private, so expertly placed, that we humans have a hard time observing all that goes on within that space.
In this book, images abound: photos of courtship rituals, birds gathering nesting materials, parents with beakfuls of insects feeding nestlings, and recently fledged youngsters beginning to make their way in the world. From raptors to corvids to warblers to gulls, a variety of birds is covered, including elusive nesters -- like hummingbirds and flickers.
The text includes incubation periods, information on how birds choose nesting sites, how they teach their young, and much more. This is a great book for the backyard birder and the seasoned professional.
It can be hard to get jazzed about hummingbird identification living in the Northeast, where our only hummer is the ruby-throated. But we owe it to these avian superheros to learn all about them. These tiny creatures are a wonder, and the large, up-close photos in this book capture that. Imagine, if you will, a booted racket-tail in hover, procuring nectar from miniscule hot pink orchids. The photos by husband-wife team, the Ogdens, caused me to gasp more than once.
I'm not normally a coffee-table book fan when it comes to species ID, but what makes this book my preference over a hummingbird field guide is the detailed introduction. From the flower selection process to feather structure, from a diagram of their specialized tongues to descriptions of courtship rituals, Orenstein gives a comprehensive, readable overview of these special birds.
When you take into account hummingbirds' fantastic journeys during migration (imagine a bird the weight of a sheet of paper crossing 500 miles of ocean in one go) and their critically threatened habitat, we owe it to them to learn more about them from fine books like this.
Looking for something different? Delicious Foods, narrated by crack-cocaine, might be just the thing. Darlene is an addict enslaved not only by the pipe, but by a farm that rounds up the down-and-out and puts them to work in deplorable conditions. Her fall from grace follows the murder of her husband in a small, racist town. Darlene's son, Eddie, is first introduced to readers as he drives a car without hands -- that's right, his hands have just been chopped off. This book is dark, sinister, and absurd at times, exposing the horrifyingly sad and destructive effects of addiction.
Did you know you've probably hiked through a col before? You've probably also walked right by a waterbear eating his moss lunch and hadn't noticed. If this all sounds like gobbledy-gook, take a look at Rothman's Nature Anatomy, an illustrated smorgasbord of nature facts.
The book is divided into chapters like "What's up?", which has illustrations and facts on clouds, rainbows, weather patterns, and "Creature Feature," which covers the topics like bat anatomy, antlers vs. horns, and animal adaptations.
This book is not a field guide, but it will satiate some of your nature questions, teach you some cool facts, and perhaps act as a balm for the winter blues.
This is simply one of the best books I've read in a long while. Set in Kentucky in the eighties, readers are introduced to a coal-mining community whose people live in the shadow of mountains. Unfortunately, mountain-top removal has made its way to town, and as the landscape that defined the community is blown apart, the lives of its fragile people are shattered.
Racism, homophobia, death, and grief are present throughout the book, but readers find reprieve in the integrity of characters I don't think I'll ever forget. What I wouldn't give to sit on the porch in summertime with Pops, Buzzy Fink and Kevin, sour mash on ice in hand."
In Black River, a former prison guard returns to a Montana town to bury his wife and to speak at the hearing of an inmate who tortured him during a prison riot. While the events that bring Wes back to this little town are huge, the life lived in the meantime of these events -- including playing fiddle, raising an angst-ridden stepson, and trying to teach that boy to fiddle -- are what infuse this western story with dull pangs of a troubled past remembered amid the horses, hay bales, and harvest fairs of present day.
You cannot read through these pages fast -- the thoughtful but simple country-boy-voice of Wes will keep you at a slow, methodical, Montana pace.
In The Book of Strange New Things, readers are shuttled to another planet with Christian missionary Father Peter, whose job is to spread the Word to the Oasans, the aliens who inhabit part of a seemingly barren planet (though teethed chickens make an appearance). While it was the Oasans who drew me in (their speech sounds like biting into juicy fruit, they give birth through their heads, oh, and they really love Jesus), this is really a story about what it means to be human, to have intimate connections to other humans, and to exist on that troublesome planet Earth.
From horses thundering after buffalo across grasslands to the thick and sickly sweet air of an opium den, The High Divide has the sweeping details lovers of westerns crave. It's the turn of the 19th century, and young Eli Pope is tracking his father to find out why he walked out on him, his mother and younger brother without explanation. Eli must manage his own emotions of betrayal and loss by his father's disappearance, while simultaneously hopping trains, braving barrooms, and caring for his little brother, prone to illness and unable to fend for himself. Meanwhile, the boys' mother embarks on her own journey westward to find her husband and the truth behind his leaving, all the while unsure if what she fears most -- his infidelity -- is something she can bear to uncover. Along their respective ways, each member of the Pope family encounters rough, wise, selfish, refined, and bawdy characters, allowing readers to dig into the story and lose themselves in the family's journey. While it is the Popes' plight we follow, the disenfranchisement of the native Cheyenne comes into play in a gut-wrenching and important way. Enger creates a fine balance between the wild nature of the West and the raw relationship between a son on the verge of manhood and his father burdened by a terrible truth. This is how historical fiction should be.
Barracuda is the story of a man who has pinned the entirety of his life's direction on the dismal outcome of a high school swim meet. Bound to represent Australia in the 2000 Olympics, teen-aged Danny's insecurities surface at the worst time, resulting in a devastating loss during the most important competition of his young career. In the private school he attends on a swimming scholarship, Danny is surrounded by the "golden" boys -- those who come from money, who practice in their own pools at home, who vacation in mansions -- who are unfamiliar with the working class world of Danny's family. Add this to teenage angst and shame, budding sexuality, and low self-esteem, and you get a Molotov cocktail of hatred that spills over into grown-up Dan's life. His emotions culminate into a violent act and prison time, which the author expertly references without losing focus on the meat of the story: Dan's skewed perception of the world. Switching back and forth from young Danny to adult Dan, readers get perspective on the hows and whys of his path in life. Tsiolkas does a terrific job of painting Danny as dark and conflicted, but maintains some sense of affability that makes you root and hope for him. Barracuda is a coming-of-age story without the corny "after-school special" feel.