Mary's Staff Favorites
Mary has been working at Annie Bloom's for over 25 years and still loves it. She's an avid cyclist and likes reading about current events and delving into good fiction. Her grandkids are voracious readers, too! And she is a member of a 25-person, 25 year-old book group and has recently joined a play-reading group
Sometimes a person is in the mood for comfort food, and for bibliophiles there can sometimes come a yearning for comfort reading. I was in one of those moods recently and Frederik Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here was as satisfying as homemade macaroni and cheese. Britt-Marie needs her life and her cutlery drawer to be in just the right order, so when her world suddenly shifts, she must take matters into her own hands to put it right, befriending an unemployment office worker and a Snickers-eating rat. But that is just the beginning of a world that expands to include a struggling small town in Sweden with a passion for soccer. You may have met Britt-Marie in Backman’s My Grandmother Asked me to Tell you She’s Sorry. As with that book and A Man Called Ove, the cast of quirky characters is engaging, endearing and ultimately, comforting.
Remember when Thomas Frank talked to us about What's the Matter with Kansas? Well now he is speaking equally forcefully about what's the matter with liberals. His targets include both Clintons, President Obama, and the Democratic party for abandoning the working class. Frank's indictment of the role of the liberal "well-graduated" innovators and entrepreneurs in perpetuating income inequality is particularly disturbing.
On the off-chance that you haven't read this book about how the American medical establishment deals with end-of-life issues, do track down a copy--for yourself, your doctor, your children. My 25-year-old book group had one of its most intense and personal meetings the night 20 of us met to discuss it. Gawande is a surgeon, teaches at Harvard Medical School, writes for the New Yorker and has produced a readable, anecdotal and possibly culture-shifting book. A genuinely important book. Highly Recommended!
Don't be put off by the goofy title. I was lucky enough to hear the author speak and was so impressed that I bought the book from him that day. Montgomery combines an encyclopedic knowledge of urban design with extensive research on what makes people happy. Portlanders won't be surprised to find support for transportation choice, shorter commutes, green spaces, and the human connections that accompany them. Well-documented research combines with enlightening anecdotes to create this readable book by an award-winning Canadian journalist.
If you don't remember the details of Margaret Mead's life and the uproar her observations caused, this riveting novel will send you off in search of Coming of Age in Samoa. Award-winning author Lily King draws the reader into the (over-) heated relationship among three anthropologists, loosely based on Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Mead's first husband, who are all doing research in a remote village in New Guinea. King's evocations of place and people are both vivid and highly illuminating, especially about approaches to the science of anthropology. But it is the intensity of these three, their relationship to each other, and their differing passions for their work that held me spellbound.
This Portland-based author has conjured in his first novel a society so close to home that you may never want to go online again. OK, that may be overstating it. But this smart, funny and ultimately disturbing novel asks who will control the information scooped from our oh-so-handy devices and how will it be used. Charlatans and do-gooders, addicts and geniuses, friends and family, the super-rich and the developing-world poor have roles to play in this all too believable thriller. Think Snowden, Blackwater, Google, Amazon, NSA ... not actually named of course. WTF is long on plot, and just as long on character development. All that and flashes of local color as Portland’s bridges and skate board parks come into play. Yes, I’d call it brilliant and I want a sequel.
What if we had a US Senator who was truly dedicated to helping the middle class and the poor by pushing for changes that leveled the playing field and pushed back against the rigged game that controls much of our politics? What if she went to a commuter college and ended up teaching at Harvard Law School? What if she were a wife, mother and grandmother who fought for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—and won. And what if she wrote a book that not only told the compelling story of how she went up against the big banks and the power brokers, but laced that story with the homey details that complete the picture? With any luck at all, we’ll be hearing much, much more from this passionate, gifted and powerful woman (yes, I’m a fan). This book is an easy way to get to know the Senator from Massachusetts and the issues she champions.
How did I miss Tana French? Think Frank McCourt and Henning Mankell and you’ll have some idea of what awaits you at Faithful Place. Set in a poverty-stricken section of Dublin, this is mystery and love story, family saga and police procedural, all the while managing to be both heart-breaking and wryly comedic. The writing took my breath away—I can see the street, hear the characters as Frank from the Dublin Undercover squad returns after 22 years to his family and the scene of the disappearance of his first love on the night they were to run away to London. Remember those books where you slowed down towards the end because even though you had to know how they ended, you didn’t want them to? This is one of those.
While it may be rushing the season to recommend a gripping beach read, this novel set here in the Northwest definitely fills that bill. The story opens with the arrival at a Seattle hospital of a critically injured and unidentified hit-and-run victim. Both one of the main characters in the book and its author are medical doctors and we are quickly pulled into a plot rich with personal and ethical drama. Add troubled but loving relationships described with insight and compassion, two apparently unrelated story lines and you have all the ingredients for a book that may keep you up all night reading rather than heading for the beach.
Just out in paperback. Even if you read the hardback a year ago when it created such a stir, you may want to take a peak at this version, updated with an afterward detailing the early reactions from various Washington insiders upset at being included or left out. The story starts at Tim Russert's funeral, and Leibovich gives us an insider's view of the posturing mourners. He goes on from there to names names and tell tales about the highest and lowest profile elected officials, the high-rolling hostesses, the well-rewarded staffers, and of course the media. Much of the story is laugh-out-loud funny, but that laughter never completely masks outrage. As Leibovich says in the Afterward, "Actual readers of the book got the point that the systemic dysfunction of Washington has in fact sustained a vast, decadent and self-obsessed political class." You may not agree, or this may not be news to you, but Leibovich tells the story mercilessly and memorably.
A complex and occasionally chronologically puzzling plot, centered around the life of Ursula and her family all living comfortably in the English countryside. Ursula's life (lives) and those of the people she cares about take several turns, driven in a mysterious way by her ability to sense what may befall her world. The heart of this novel takes place in London during the bombings of World War II and the vividness of the descriptions of both that physical tragedy and Ursula's emotional responses were worth the whole book to me. Memorable characters, challenging premise, enlightening history.
Oregon author, Oregon setting for this moving story of two families linked by their truobled teenage daughters' friendship. Heartbreaking issues handled with insight and a clear-eyed view of the passions that drive us when our children are involved. All that and it's a well-written page-turner that at times borders on being a thriller.
Dave Eggers was one of my favorite authors (Zeitoun, What Is the What) even before he called Annie Blooms and asked if we'd like him to stop by and sign books. The result was a long line of fans, midday on a weekday, for a brilliant author who manged to be both kind and patient. So no surprise that when I got around to reading A Hologram for the King, I couldn't put it down. Echoes of Death of a Salesman, but set in modern day Saudi Arabia. Gentle, wry and revealing.-- Mary
The book I've just finished is usually the one I write about, but this newly-released paperback has stuck with me over the weeks since I first read it. The elderly and increasingly endearing Harold Fry is surprised to receive a note from an old friend, Queenie, who is in hospice care 600 miles from his village in England. How he, and not so incidentally his wife, respond to this message, makes for a revealing and moving novel, filled with mini portraits of a varied cast of characters. A tale of love, loyalty, aging, dreams, failure and redemption. And just enough uncertainty about the outcome to make this unlikely pilgrimage a compelling journey.
When Bobby, Will and I all love a novel, you know something unusual is going on. In this case it's a funny, edgy, good-hearted send-up of all things Seattle; in particular a badly-located, upper-crust private school. But behind all the cleverness is a really touching, often hilarious story about an off-kilter but loving family. Add a little adventure, a little infidelity, the gradual revealing of the secrets of the back-story, and you have a very satisfying read. I became quite attached to this family of three and I'm hoping for a sequel.
Thanks to my daughter the English teacher, I have been "discovering" some compelling young adult fiction. Both of these books by an award-winning author (Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist) deal with life in junior high school, with all the inevitable issues of friends, teachers, parents. But even more significant is the compassionate, humorous way Schmidt handles the underlying questions of morality and values. All that and an irresistible and informative dose of Shakespeare and the politics of the 1960's (The Wednesday Wars) and art and Audubon's paintings (Okay for Now). Good-hearted, insightful, and reassuringly well-written.
A thoroughly engrossing, and ultimately disturbing, non-fiction account of a Muslim family in New Orleans before, during and after hurricane Katrina. The writing is crystal clear, moving and straight-forward. My choice for best book of 2009. --Mary