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Bobby's Staff Favorites
[Bobby in the early '80s]
I opened Annie Blooms over thirty years ago, while still in law school. It remains my favorite place to be; the staff is exhilarating and there are books everywhere! I like complex stories with a twist in the world view. Dark humor also pleases me. In both fiction & nonfiction I like authors who can show me the world from fresh perspective.
Alan Bradley's tenth installation of the Flavia de Luce series, The Golden Tresses of the Dead is another charming adventure of teen chemical genius Flavia. The setting is a combination of Charles Dickens (absent parents, crumbling country estate with many secrets) and Edward Gorey (strange visitors, odd relatives and dark deeds). This one opens with the discovery of a severed finger in Flavia's sister's wedding cake ... and the mystery is afoot! The novels are sequenced but are enjoyable as individual tales, as well.
Deep Creek by Pam Houston is, as two reviewers have declared, "a love letter to the earth" and those who inhabit it. It is an account of the beauty and brutality of living on a ranch in the high Colorado Rockies. The subtitle is a mild comment on the full freshness, warmth and humor it brings.
Though I usually do not find young adult literature completely satisfying, I make an exception for Portland author Cindy Baldwin's Where the Watermelons Grow. It deals with mental illness and coming of age with so deft a touch, I felt changed by reading it.
Clock Dance is pure Anne Tyler. A woman of a certain age and gentility responds to a call for help from a relatively unknown former girlfriend of her son. She lands in a modest neighborhood in Baltimore and, after having overstepped her bounds, ends up with a whole new family.
Bearskin by James McLaughlin took my breath away. A man fleeing a Mexican drug cartel by working in the wilds of Virginia encounters both brutality and beauty in the isolated hills. This is a thriller written with the clear intensity and detail of Cormac McCarthy and it will totally absorb you.
In the midst of uncertain and unsettling times, the joys of finely crafted short stories wherein mayhem, murder, and the miscarriage of justice are craftily resolved, are a welcome respite. Peter Robinson is a fine British crime writer whose tales are atmospheric and psychologically complex gems. The title story, Not Safe After Dark is a brief but gripping tale. Several of the stories feature DCI Alan Banks, a character somewhat reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s Hieronymus Bosch, both in musical taste (from Miles Davis to Bach), a slightly world weary outlook and rather fraught love life. The volume ends with a moving novella in which Banks goes to his childhood home for his parents’ 50th anniversary. All in all this collection of twenty stories has given me many hours of lovely escape.
Woolly is a completely absorbing, intriguing, and controversial true story. Mezrich uses his ability to vividly dramatize nonfiction narratives (The Accidental Billionaires, Bringing Down The House) to weave together the stories of two brilliant scientists trying to save the world. A gifted geneticist works with a talented group of young scientists at Harvard's renowned genetics lab to splice the DNA from a frozen woolly mammoth into the DNA of a modern elephant to create a viable embryo. A hemisphere away, a world renowned and passionate conservationist has a scientific plan to save the permafrost from breaking down and releasing tons of methane by repopulating the tundra with giant herbivores. Of course it feels like Jurassic Park, but this is a real and ongoing current endeavor, with many fascinating ethical issues to ponder.
From the beginning it is clear that something terrible has happened at a neighborhood barbecue on “one ordinary afternoon” in suburban Sydney. The hosts are the flamboyant Vid and Tiffany whose backyard is a gilded homage to classic Greek décor replete with statuary fountains and gazebos. The guests are neighbors Erica & Oliver, tightly wound and childless and their close friends Clementine (a cellist with an audition for a dream job looming), her husband Sam, an intense parent of their two small daughters. Also present is an eccentric lurking neighbor and the bookish adolescent daughter of Vid and Tiffany. Erica and Clementine are life- long friends with sister-like connections and competitions. The story unfolds prism like through chapters reflecting each characters perceptions of the events often layer by layer. Suspense pulls the reader immediately into the story and the gradual intricate development of events and characters keeps one entranced. A completely compelling and thought provoking novel!
As a water skipper glides across the still surface of a teeming summer pond, so this beautiful novel gracefully moves across the life of Lucy Barton, gradually testing its depths. Lucy is a young woman living in NYC during the 1980s, married with two beloved young daughters, yet in virtual exile from her home in the rural Midwest. She is confined to a solitary hospital room for over two months with an unidentifiable infection. One day she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting at he foot of her bed. There is a sweet bravery in her mother's presence and, in her gently squeezing Lucy's toes and using her childhood name: "Wizzle". The hesitant give-and-take inevitably deepens into the tension beneath the surface. It is at times sad, but never ugly; and always riveting.
Sadly, Haruf passed away shortly after completing this exquisite final novel. Seventy-something widow Addie Moore walks down the block of her small town to make a proposal to Louis Waters, also in his seventies and windowed: namely, if he would consider coming to her house sometimes to sleep with her. She assures him it is not about sex but about companionship. Ursula Le Guin describes Haruf as "... stunningly original...He talks quietly, intimately, yet with reserve, as one adult to another." Our Souls at Night is a careful meditation, not without drama, upon the meaning of human companionship and the sometimes conflicting family ties. Fortunately Haruf leaves a treasury of work including Plainsong, Benediction, Eventide, Where You Once Belonged, and The Ties That Bind, all fine and thoughtful novels, each of which I can heartily recommend.
What a wild ride! I would not have thought I would be so caught up in the entangled lives of a group of 30ish Londoners. Most reviews cite comparisons to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for its unpredictability and gripping narrative. However, Ms. Hawkins has upped the ante with a whole cast of unreliable characters and hidden agendas. Told from the point of view of three female narrators within a shifting timeline that brilliantly reveals their interconnectedness, The Girl on the Train is a fascinating and breath-taking psychological thriller that is both smart and magically engrossing.
Tom Rob Smith writes deft and engrossing, character driven thrillers . His Child 44 trilogy (Child 44, Secret Speech & Agent 6) won high praise. His most recent, The Farm, is one of those books that grabs you from the first paragraph. A young man in London receives a frantic call from his father who has retired with his mother to her native Norway on a seemingly idyllic farm. His fathers tells him that his mother has become violent and he had to commit her to an asylum. As he is preparing to go to his father's aid he receives a call from his mother saying she has been released and is boarding a plane for London and that his father is involved in a conspiracy and cannot be trusted. What ensues is a compelling tale in which the truth is elusive and the ending truly surprising.
I picked up Badluck Way, subtitled "A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West," drawn by the title but uncertain whether I would find it interesting. I emerged from this haunting meditation two days later feeling "heartsore"-- the word Andrews uses to describe his anguish at being torn between his rage at the ravaging of the cattle under his care and his fascination and kinship with the wolves, one of which he must kill. The gorgeous 18,000 acre ranch in southern Montana is also a character, covered with windswept grasslands but also littered with blood and bones. As author Jana Harris noted, this account reads like "a campfire ghost story." Andrews does justice to a timely issue in a candid and eloquent voice.
Delijani was born in Iran's Evin Prison in 1983, as was one of the characters in this intense, stunning debut novel. In the riveting opening scene, a young woman who's about to give birth is shackled in the back of a prison van, being roughly shuttled from one location to another. This is an intimate story of the brutal effects of revolution and religious tyranny upon three generations of families and loved ones. The story emerges almost as a chorus of voices. Many characters weave details of their losses and hopes into the narrative beautifully, and sometimes horrifyingly. There is separation and betrayal. Lies are told; but there is also great strength and courage in the search for the comfort of family and place, like the fragrant jacaranda tree.
This fast-paced, fact-based, Grisham-esque thriller enthralled me. It cost me sleep and ultimately made me want to write to my Congressperson. Ryan Evans is a biologist working for Oregon DEQ when he discovers extreme environmental dangers, corruption, and corporate greed that will take more than one life. Really well written and researched, everyone should read The Mine!
I have long been recommending this fine novel to readers of all ages & persuasions. Ms Tsukiyama is half Japanese and half Chinese and brings a unique perspective to this tale of a young Chinese man who is sent to a small village in Japan on the eve of WWII to recover from TB. The only other person in the house is an old gardener whom he calls The Samurai. Through this gardener/mentor he meets a village of lepers and finds a new compassion. There is also a wonderful & poignant love story. -Bobby
This is one of my all time favorite books! I used it to help keep my sanity during law school. This collection of musings on the strange & wonderful workings of nature based on a year spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains is thought provoking and delightful. It is one book I return to time & again to hone my sense of wonder when it begins to wane. -Bobby
The most compelling thing about this fine novel is the central metaphor which is a term borrowed from physics indicating that fine & difficult balance that allows "repose" in relationships as well as in the physical world. The story traces four generations of one family as they attempt to build a life for themselves in the American West. -Bobby