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Sara's Picks

sara jSara 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  - a good cook book!- is a favorite thing. Sara is an avid gardener, competent and experimental cook,  and novice birdwatcher.

 

 

 

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Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants Cover Image
By Mathias Enard, Charlotte Mandell (Translator)
$19.95
ISBN: 9780811227049
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now!
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - November 27th, 2018

A fascinating and brief historical novel about an imagined period in Michelangelo’s early career. Already an accomplished sculptor, but held to a short leash by an autocratic Pope, the artist removes himself to Constantinople. There, the sultan tempts Michelangelo to design a bridge connecting Europe to Asia over the Golden Horn, promising fame to surpass Leonardo… Enard writes sensually about Michelangelo’s immersion in a foreign realm, a drama that ends in mystery and a hasty escape.


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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781984822581
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Crown Archetype - October 2nd, 2018

Do you remember those parties long ago that devolved into riotous renditions of the ‘Knights of Ni’? Or “the creature most foul”? Here, Eric Idle writes a lively biography with a staggering A-list of rock stars, movie stars, movie makers and top notch comedians that circulated intimately within the realm and reign of Monty Python. The book could also be social history as it covers so much of the popular themes of the 70’s and beyond from an irreverent view! Not without a few sad bits: incredible that one of the era’s funniest men was released to an orphanage at the tender age of seven by his mother…overall, a happy and nostalgic romp.
 


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The Mystery of Three Quarters: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062792341
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: William Morrow - August 28th, 2018

This is Hannah’s third incarnation of Agatha Christie (The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket). I swear she’s channeling the Grande Dame of Mystery, and this is her best yet. Poirot is quirky and intense as expected, more so for having to defend himself from four strangers who received forged letters accusing them of the murder of a well-known industrialist. He must clear himself and solve a murder. Trustworthy Inspector Catchpool is at the ready to assist his friend in the investigations. Pure madcap and volley. Written in uniquely dry British humor, it’s a jolly race to the defense of our Inspector and his forensic conclusion. 


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The Mere Wife: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780374208431
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: MCD - July 17th, 2018

This is a stark and gripping retelling of Beowolf in contemporary times. The Aspen-like suburban community, Herot Hill, the realm of Willa Herot, is an extreme counterpoint to the ancient spirits in the abutting mountain mere, where Dana Hill has lived apart with her son Gren all his life. A precocious teenager, Gren leaves the mere to explore the lighted and glistening neighborhoods below. He meets Dylan Herot, and the boys become friends. The differences that only the adults can perceive drive the story to it’s mythical conclusion, events in an environment where Ben Wolf, a local cop says, “the world isn't large enough for monsters and heroes at once."  Headley vividly captures the depth a mother’s love and her madness, successfully developed and contrasted by Willa and Dana. Surprises and suspence kept me interested right up until the last word.
 


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The House of Broken Angels Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780316154888
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Little, Brown and Company - March 6th, 2018

Normally I don’t scan reviews for a book I’ve chosen for my Staff Pick, but this novel - so rich and broad, full of cadences and flashbacks, the lives and deaths of the de la Cruz family -  had me looking for guidance.Those professionals let me down - too narrow! This is a saga, could be episodic, about the initial illegal border crossing from Mexico into America and the evolution of culture/ethnicity with each generation born in the chosen home country - los Dreamers. We begin with Big Angel scrambling to get to himself and his family to his mother’s funeral on time. He is the ascended patriarch of a large family, each member a well developed character, and as a group, hilarious. Big Angel is also terminally ill and set to celebrate his 70th birthday the day after the funeral. He has orchestrated both events as a colossal exit strategy. Cousins come from near and far to joyfully reminisce but also to share sorrow for the expected loss. Written with a bit of a magical perspective to court saints and angels. 


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The Italian Party: A Novel Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250147837
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: St. Martin's Press - March 20th, 2018

A romp of a mystery-slash-historical-slash-spy novel. Lynch spent several years in Italy and gleaned a deep understanding of the country and it’s characters which she delightfully shares in the pages of this debut. Set in Tuscany at onset of the Cold War, newlyweds from America Scottie and Michael try to settle into village life - she to become a supporting wife and homemaker; he to open a Ford Tractor dealership, so we are told… Secrets, unlikely passions and even the CIA are woven into this fast-paced story.
 


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Winter Sisters Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780399564253
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - February 27th, 2018

 

Oliveira's second novel about a spirited and determined woman, Mary Sutter. Her first offering, My Name is Mary Sutter, about a young and experienced midwife who, against immeasurable odds, trains to be a surgeon during the Civil War, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction. This book, also beautifully written, has a sinister slant. Mary, now an established physician with a successful family practice leads the citizenry of Albany in a desperate search for two missing girls, sisters lost during a cataclysmic winter storm. Also lost are their parents in sweeping tragedies of snow and flood that nearly destroy the local lumber mills. Intrigue, politics, and finally grit bring the girls back to the Sutter home. Tenderness and love temper their mistreatment and recovery. An untried attorney skillfully puts the pieces of the case together and sensitively draws out the girls’ account of what happened. During a climactic prosecution, the perpetrator is discovered, and a raw justice is served. Haunting but ultimately satisfying.


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Dunbar: William Shakespeare's King Lear Retold: A Novel (Hogarth Shakespeare) Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9781101904282
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Hogarth - October 3rd, 2017

I imagine that after reading Dunbar, Shakespeare himself would stand in ovation for St. Aubyn’s brilliant contemporary re-telling of King Lear. An aged Henry Dunbar is in the midst of multi-faceted betrayals and a savage corporate takeover involving his two eldest daughters, a former physician, a business partner, and a major competitor!. His youngest daughter, immune to his vast empire and unscrupulous power is banished and disinherited in a fit of rage, yet loves him still. The heat is on to locate their father prior to the Annual Board meeting where the coup is set. Henry does his part to escape from the sanatorium where Abby and Megan have stowed him, surviving inclement weather, madness and a personal reckoning. Very clever and intricate story-telling, with laugh out loud moments and tragedy, too -  it's heavy at times, but a thrilling read to the spectacular  finish. I'm keen to read the other Hogarth’s Shakespeare 're-imaginings'.
 


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Basics to Brilliance Cover Image
$40.00
ISBN: 9781460751428
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: HarperCollins - September 19th, 2017

It's a shame that there isn't an image of this cookbook to accompany my review because this is the most beautiful cookbook published this year AND the recipes are easy and commonsensical - nothing pretentious here! -  her personal tips for success well appreciated. The photographs are extraordinary. Golden fluffy souffles, reliable gnocchi dough and no-fail meringue; all these and others sing on the pages.This is the kind of book to settle with on a Sunday morning or a rainy day and plan the week's menu.
 


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Little Fires Everywhere Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780735224292
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Penguin Press - September 12th, 2017

Set in Shaker Heights, OH, where the residents aspire and conspire to perfectly plan their lives in the same manner the community had originally been planned. We meet the Richardson family assembled in their front yard watching their house swiftly burn to the ground. The older children are fairly glib, all agreeing their youngest sister set the house ablaze. What follows is the family backstory, and how Mia and Pearl, an unconventional single mother and her high school daughter, factored into this climatic disaster. The two family's distinctly separate histories begin to merge when Pearl becomes enamored of the Richardsons' lifestyle, but split irretrievably when a neighborhood couple adopt a Chinese infant abandoned at the town fire station. Beautifully and insightfully written, Ng has captured the best and worst of her characters and tells a really, really good story.


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The Red-Haired Woman: A novel Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780451494429
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - August 22nd, 2017

An intricate, expanding tale that folds upon itself and yet, continues to grow… Young Cem apprentices with a master well digger as a means to support his mother. Master Mahmut becomes an authority and spiritual figure for him. Each evening under star-filled skies, he retells the old stories, foundation myths of Persia - all very foreign and fascinating to me, but irritating to Cem. One day deep into the process of digging, Cem accidentally tips a bucket full of debris back into the well cavity. He hears a terrible scream from his master, then silence. Destiny, humanity and a seductive red-haired woman are the threads of this Sophocles-esque story, the ending of which still haunts me.


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See What I Have Done Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780802126597
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Atlantic Monthly Press - August 1st, 2017

That silly rhyme always comes to mind whenever the Borden murders and Lizzie's trial are mentioned. It's a cold case after 125 years! However, Ms. Schmidt gives the story a new twist. If all the facts and evidence are the warp of the story, she cleverly provides the weft: a cruel and dysfunctional family, the complex relationship between the sisters, and an introduction of another possible party to the crime...The reader wonders at times: did Lizzie do it? 


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The Velveteen Daughter Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781631521928
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: She Writes Press - July 11th, 2017

This is a brilliant work that gently recounts the history of Margery Williams Bianco and her family, most specifically her wildly talented and troubled daughter, Pamela. An art prodigy at a crazy early age, encouraged by Pablo Picasso,  unabashedly promoted by her father,  Pamela’s life is consumed by painting and routinely derailed from normalcy.  Her mother, Margery,  and references to The Velveteen Rabbit ‘s question, ‘what is real’, serve as her compass at several life crises. Touted as a novel, Huber’s thorough research and easy writing style reads like a page-turning memoir. 


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Mozart's Starling Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9780316370899
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown Spark - April 4th, 2017

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year! Part memoir, part science and research projects, part nature study, and just just chock full of interesting information regarding starlings, Mozart and his family,  mimicry and music!  Haupt robs a doomed starling nest and hand-raises Carmen, who becomes a beloved member of the family and muse. Which is Haupt’s intention as she teases out by experience an obscure story about Mozart’s pet starling. Moves right along and is a joy to read - especially for bird lovers.


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Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy Cover Image
$20.00
ISBN: 9780735213586
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Riverhead Books - April 4th, 2017

Another thought provoking book of reflection and discovery from a master, well suited for the times. A how to access an abiding forgiveness and grace:  “the radical kindness, the softening and surrendering that is a part of mercy, is what Lamott longs for, but it often seems out of her reach.” Written in brief essays, it’s a quick read the first time through...
 


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Jimmy Bluefeather Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781943328710
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Alaska Northwest Books - September 6th, 2016

Heacox is already reaping superlative reviews for his first novel with enthusiastic comparisons to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Milagro Beanfield War.  Set in Crystal Bay, southeast Alaska, this is a coming of age story for both Keb Wisting, an aged grandfather and the last canoe maker in the village, and his grandson James whose dreams of a basketball scholarship are ruined in a careless logging accident. Feuds and rivalries abound. There is an investigation of the boys responsible for James’ injuries, Keb’s daughters represent opposing positions on the native Tlingit lands, the US government, even a rascally old dog has a place in the fabric of this tale. All threads culminate in a great chase - Keb and James in the last canoe they made, residents of Crystal Bay in all manners of boats and the Crystal Bay Natural Marine Reserve. Beautifully written, the characters and scenery pop and the story is engaging on many levels. This novel is supremely deserving of the many kudos it has received.
 


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The Dry: A Novel Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250105608
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
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: The New Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries) Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062458827
Availability: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: William Morrow - 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: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
Published: Wisconsin Historical Society Press - February 1st, 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: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
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: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
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: A Novel Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: Backordered (call or email to check availability)
Published: William Morrow - 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 Available 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), Jane Billinghurst (Translator)
$24.95
ISBN: 9781771642484
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
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: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
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 (call or email to confirm availability)
Published: Laurence King Publishing - 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: Usually Available in 1-5 Days
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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Chicago: A Novel Cover Image
$25.99
ISBN: 9781250061997
Availability: Usually Available 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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Find Momo Coast to Coast: A Photography Book Cover Image
By Andrew Knapp, Andrew Knapp (Photographs by)
$14.95
ISBN: 9781594747625
Availability: On Our Shelves Now (call or email to confirm availability)
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.