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Sara's Picks

Sara Johnson has lived happily in the Upper Valley since 2004. She has worn many professional hats but has always been a reader. Books have been good friends, storied teachers, inspirational and just plain fun. Besides breaking bread with friends and family, sharing a good book is a favorite thing.

 

 

 

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The Dry Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250105608
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Flatiron Books - January 10th, 2017

A very satisfying debut mystery/thriller. Set in the out-country of Australia almost ruined by a prolonged drought, Detective Aaron Falk returns to his boyhood home to investigate a triple murder and attend the funeral of his former best friend, Luke, his wife and their 10 year old son, the objects of his murder inquiry. The story is layered, the plot unfolds tantalizingly slowly, keeping the reader sharp and ready. Aaron’s past in Kiewarra features as understory to the grisly present. A host of credible characters with their own stories and histories makes for a rich supporting cast, and not until nearly the end are the truths revealed with the threat of a match in a very, very dry country. Masterful storytelling. 
 


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Closed Casket: A New Hercule Poirot Mystery Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062458827
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow & Company - September 6th, 2016

This is a brilliant follow up to Hannah’s The Monogram Murders. Inspector Poirot and Detective Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard are 2 among 5 guests, 4 residents and 3 staff for a week- long stay at an Irish estate. Lillieoak is a Gothic mansion with vast grounds owned by Lady Athelinda Playford, renowned author of legendary children’s mysteries. The first evening the guests are assembled around the dining table, and after the second course, Althie announces the details of her new will. Her vast holdings have been reassigned to Joseph Scotcher, her Ladyship’s secretary, whose death from a rare kidney disease is imminent. What transpires afterwards is controlled (and at times funny!) chaos, classic Christie. Poirot is fabulous. The large cast of characters is diverse, and all 12 characters, plus the 2 local gardia are well defined and memorable. This is as convoluted a story as can be with so many pieces and twists, but it works like a well oiled machine. I was a captive right up until the end, and surprised at the outcome! Closed Casket is a perfect romp of a mystery -  I think Dame Agatha would be tickled. 


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How to Be an Indian in the 21st Century Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780870208157
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wisconsin Historical Society Press - February 2017

This collection of poetry, prose and narrative is reminiscent The Education of Little Tree, but it is a mature recollection from a man who has navigated two cultures (Iroquois and Polish), many ironies and many indignities throughout his life. Yet the verse is warm, engaging, and sometime laugh-out-loud funny. But there are also dark images from a Catholic education and schoolyard/workplace bullying, I cringed at certain passages, ashamed for the ignorance and racial biases he experienced along the way… All told, I highly recommend this little big book, especially as current politics assemble and vibrate in the Dakotas.
 


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Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250113825
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Flatiron Books - January 3rd, 2017

I first read about Dr. Cate in an airplane magazine years ago. She is an physician with a background in microbiology, as well as the nutritional director for the L.A. Lakers. The article included details about her research based recommendations and glowing testimonies of the results on his and the team’s athletic performance and healing from injury by Kobe Bryant, was fascinating and common-sensical. This is the second printing of the book with an expanded offering of ‘The Four Pillars of the Human Diet’ - the results of her research into traditional regional cooking methods. French cooking got high marks because cooking methods haven’t changed much, however, all the evaluated regions methods share 4 similarities: meat is cooked on the bone, the inclusion of organ meats, fermentation and sprouting, and the benefits of eating fresh, raw vegetables. What continues to fascinate me is her microbiologic approach to how the body identifies and uses what we chew and swallow. There’s probably more scientific information than you want to know about why braising captures all the benefits of meats, or why raw milk is molecularly better for us, but… if you want a better understanding of how your body works, read this book!
 


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Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9781501154201
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner Book Company - January 3rd, 2017

This is a gem of a book, perfect for the winter months that lay ahead. At a crossroads in her personal and professional life, Maclear signs on with a birder, an amateur photographer/musician who posts his shots of birds taken in and around Toronto. Not the bucolic pictures of rare birds in nature, but in some of the deserted and desolated areas about the city. She shadows him for a year. Each chapter is a month’s results of sightings and her own philosophical reflections about her work(she’s an artist and writer), the declining health of her father, and her life. What evolves a powerful shift in the nature of her attention - to the birds, her art and life. She notices a similar peaceful quiet develop within her second, anxious son when she begins to include her boys on regular outings. Simply watching, waiting and rewarded with avian company and music.   


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News of the World Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow & Company - October 4th, 2016

This is a marvelous story based on the real-life of a former war veteran, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who made his living reading world news to the inhabitants of small towns and wilderness outposts throughout North Texas. “When they read his handbills, men abandoned saloons, they ran through the rain from their firelit homes, they left their cattle circled and bedded beside the flooding Red to hear the news of the distant world”. I was rapt with the thought of those readings. As if this wasn’t adventure enough, Kidd agrees to return a feral 10 year old girl to her relatives 400 miles across the state, braving weather, highwaymen, Indians and the rough terrain that is Texas. ‘Cho-henna” witnessed the brutal murder of her family 4 years earlier and then was whisked away, absorbed into the Kiowa tribe. This is a complex, layered story of post-war history and the human heart. There are moments of breathtaking suspense and heartbreak, and a happy and credible ending! 
 


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We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780812994506
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Spiegel & Grau - June 28th, 2016

Four years of investigative reporting has yielded a moving and in-depth account, or rather a re-accounting of the murder of American student/activist Amy Biehl in South Africa in the final days of apartheid a little more than twenty years ago. Well written, it reads like a suspense novel, balancing established historical facts of the murder and the evolving political movements towards healing long-standing, rabid segregation. Hats off to Van Der Leun for her fortitude and persistence that uncovered new threads in a very complicated case. At times difficult and graphic, but overall a thorough study of the layers of a country at a pivotal crossroads of their global identity, who was responsible and the results of their efforts. 
 


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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate--Discoveries from a Secret World Cover Image
By Peter Wohlleben, Tim Flannery (Foreword by)
$24.95
ISBN: 9781771642484
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Greystone Books - September 13th, 2016

An utterly charming and fascinating book on current research and forest maintenance methods.
Wohlleben manages an ancient forest in Germany and makes the case that trees are sentient beings, who have social relationships - they live in ‘families’ and share their ‘food’ with each other and a rich, and necessary, underground plant life of fungi who maintain a water supply for their majestic friends. Trees can communicate among themselves, including alerts for impending dangers or invading pestilence. I never knew the significant odds for their reproduction, especially given all those twirly-gigs I rake in the spring! I have a much different, much deeper appreciation of the woods that border my property, as well as an better understanding of the urgent need to preserve and cultivate a population of older trees/forests as a means to protect and conserve our waterways, aquifers, and overall ecological equilibrium on earth.


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The Course of Love Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501134258
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Simon & Schuster - June 14th, 2016

This book was my introduction to a well-known author who infuses philosophical discourse and observation as a unique angle, and much appreciated device to flesh-out his characters and storyline. Rabih and Kirsten fall in love and marry. The question of how they met and fell in love always comes up, but what about what happened after? As we watch Rabih and Kirsten work, fight, make love, and take risks, de Botton does something interesting: he will rewind a scene, usually an argument, and play it again to illustrate how loving, mature people should react, rather than how they typically do. I laughed out loud and also had to check my anger at certain parts of the story. The novel is a valuable commentary on the state of modern marriage and it reassures us that troubles are a normal, even necessary, part of the journey.


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The Book of the Bird: Birds in Art Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9781780677507
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Laurence King - May 31st, 2016

A stunning collection of artistic renditions of some of the most colorful and moody species of avians produced throughout the ages and mediums. To say the artists and their works are curated in this is an acceptable review. Picasso, Klimt, and Durer; classical oils, Japanese wood blocks, modernist, and abstract: this a perfect little coffee table book. Thumb through it again and again…


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Becoming Wise: An Inquiry Into the Mystery and Art of Living Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781594206801
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Press - April 5th, 2016

When I mention this book to friends and acquaintances, they tell me, “Oh, I listen to her every Sunday morning. Her NPR program (On Being) is like going to church for me.” News to me, the uninformed One, but the title really caught my attention. Here she has reprinted some of the more ‘luminous’ interviews with people who are making a difference in the world in a conscious, ecumenically informed way, and really making a difference. She’s organized these reflections around five basic materials of the human experience: words, flesh, love, faith and hope. It has been a calm harbor reading this book as I flee from the reports and updates of the Presidential election, thinking the worst for our future and stunned at the incivility, rancor and general temperament of our public servants running for office and their supporters. Tippett’s conversation is a rare safe and contemplative harbor, a bit like the cool sanctuary of church.


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V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks -- From Artichokes to Zucchini Cover Image
$40.00
ISBN: 9780316373357
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Little Brown and Company - October 27th, 2015

I am naturally, or maybe unnaturally, attracted to cookbooks. Beautiful and extraordinary cookbooks. This one was a gift - and really hit the mark! Of the many vegetable-inspiring cookbooks I’ve reviewed, from River Cottage to Summer Food to Brassica’s, Anthony’s V is the best.The vegetable varieties are alphabetically formatted and stunningly photographed; the book  is absolutely an invitation to a vibrant new world of cooking vegetables. In fact, the back jacket claims that this cookbook ‘is the next step in the evolution of American food.” Amen.


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The True Tails of Baker and Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town . . . and the World Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250081070
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Thomas Dunne Books - May 3rd, 2016

“It all started with mice in the library.” And thus begins a warm-hearted story about Baker and Taylor, two Scottish Fold cats, named for one of the oldest and largest worldwide distributors of books, Baker & Taylor. The cats even became the firm’s mascots and set a trend for library cats across the country. Rogak accurately captures the craggy voice of Jan Louch, the Assistant Librarian in Minden, Nevada who lovingly and humorously recounts the history of the cats’ antics, popularity and eventual celebrity. For example, a second grade teacher from Kansas creatively used the cats as objects for her students to practice their writing sent their letters for the duration of the school year for years! I laughed out loud at times and also cried at at times...There’s something here for for everyone, not just cat lovers. P.S.: The rodents were quickly and successfully dispatched!

 


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Chicago Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250061997
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Thomas Dunne Books - March 29th, 2016

Like The Plover, this is written in a similar stream of conscious fluidity about a young man navigating the city of Chicago. A recent college grad whose name we never know has begun his first job in a new, unfamiliar city. He is meticulously observant and thoroughly reports all he sees, learns and senses in a magical context that includes a winning season for the White Sox, the smokey Blues music scene, corrupt religious politics, street gang basketball, many historic sites and the romance of The Lake.  I loved the storied community of characters in his apartment building, especially Edward, an ageless and erudite dog who it is suggested may have known Abraham Lincoln, can predict the annual alewife run, and holds court for species of all kinds once a month in the alley behind the building. This is a purely wonderful sojourn of a book...

 


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The Never-Open Desert Diner Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781101906521
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Crown Publishing Group (NY) - March 22nd, 2016

Written like a Raymond Chandler crime novel, Anderson provides a gritty and twisting storyline about the desert folk living along Route 117 in northern Utah. Principle among the colorful characters is Ben Jones, a half-Indian, half-Jew, Independent truck driver who’s about to lose the object of his livelihood. And yet the Universe, city-slick characters, a $20 million cello, and a woman, of course, complete the perfect equation in this hardboiled suspense novel. I loved it!


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Stock, Broth & Bowl: Recipes for Cooking, Drinking & Nourishing Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781449472665
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Andrews McMeel Publishing - December 8th, 2015

This is a great little cookbook for beginners, as well as seasoned broth makers. Plenty of tips and recipes to create hearty, healthy, and warming broths with recipes to carry them one or two steps beyond their clear savoriness. Perfect for this time of year, now that winter’s cold weather has settled in.


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My Name Is Lucy Barton Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781400067695
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - January 12th, 2016

Like Olive Kitteridge, this is a story of family, specifically the rough and rolling terrain between mothers and daughters. Dad, however, is present as a dark, shadowy figure. Hospitalized with a stubborn, life-threatening infection, Lucy is surprised upon waking one morning to find her estranged mother sitting beside her. Tentative conversations during her visit begin to mend the space between them and address a horrific family life Lucy fled years before.Beautifully written, Strout peels back layers of defense and denial, and touches upon the shame of poverty, class prejudice, inexpressible love - it is "almost unbearably moving." I’m still thinking about it.


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Find Momo Coast to Coast: A Photography Book Cover Image
By Andrew Knapp, Andrew Knapp (Photographer)
$14.95
ISBN: 9781594747625
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Quirk Books - May 12th, 2015

This is the second Momo book, another ‘find Momo’ in pictures taken across the USA. Momo is a Border Collie who likes to hide. Knapp’s photographs are wonderful color shots of places in America that look familiar, or maybe you’ll want to visit sometime, and amid the scenery is his canine muse. I made a gift of the first book to friends who have a Border Collie. They and their adult children have been delighted to return again and again to find Momo. They’ll love their Christmas present this year, too.


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No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781937006853
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Parallax Press - December 30th, 2014

This is a heavy title for such a pretty book. I’ve learned How To Sit and gained Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present with Thich Nhat Hanh’s earlier books. Again, his practical, breath-by-step instructions towards happiness are easy to read, and both fun and just a little challenging at times to implement. The mind tends to be cluttered and life is a journey!


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Summer Food: New Summer Classics Cover Image
By Paul Lowe, Nina Dreyer Hensley (Photographer), Jim Hensley (Photographer)
$32.50
ISBN: 9781616288235
Availability: Special Order
Published: Weldon Owen - May 27th, 2014

Cookbook or coffee-table book? Other reviewers were as delighted as I was with this collection of simple, seasonal recipes and the beautiful photographs that accompany them. This book has been an enduring staple in my kitchen since it’s debut in 2014. I use it seasonally and dream over it unseasonally. It is straightforward and accessible; many recipes have only four or five ingredients, and all include a photo and tips. Chatty essays throughout suggest that if this nice Norwegian man can serve fresh, seasonal dishes from breakfast through cocktails and make it look easy, so can we.


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The Plover Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781250062451
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador USA - March 31st, 2015

This delightful book is reminiscent of The Life of Pi.  Other reviewers are reminded of the magic of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or the passion of Walt Whitman. It is a novel filled with adventure and misadventure, and surprising and endearing, even dangerous, moments that make it a page turner and a joy to read. Doyle also invites the reader to deliberate on the philosophical angles of a life’s journey. Declan O’Donnell is done with humanity and is setting off  into the great blue world of water in his patch-worked boat, The Plover, to pursue solitude and a life apart.  However, the Universe has other plans. Enter characters and personalities, both human and animal, that interrupt his solace and eventually, completely change his course. The telling is sometimes a poetic ramble, often humorous, but always moving, unpredictably like the tides.


Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully Present Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781937006440
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Parallax Press - September 17th, 2013

Peace of Mind provides a foundation for beginning mindfulness practices and understanding the principles of mind/body awareness, without which much of our thinking is useless and unproductive, even destructive. Hanh maintains that only by cultivating a mindful body and an embodied mind can we be fully alive. One reviewer stated, “You could spend the rest of your life reading and rereading this deceptively simple book, it is that deep.” This little book contains profound insights through simple heart-opening words and practices that have been an invaluable resource for me as I prepare for my daughter’s wedding and grieve for loved ones recently deceased: I have peace of mind.


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The Conference of the Birds Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143124245
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - October 29th, 2013

A beautiful adaptation of an ancient, epic Persian poem, ‘The Conference of the Birds’ by Farid Ud-Din Attar. Peter Sis delivers a splendid illustrated tale of thirty birds and their perilous journey through the seven valleys of Quest, Love, Understanding, Detachment, Unity, Amazement, and Death in a quest to find their true king: the beauty and trials of the human journey towards Self.