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Sharon's Staff Favorites
Sharon joined the Annie Bloom's staff in October 2011.
I enjoy reading fiction of all sorts, especially historical fiction, mystery, fantasy and short stories. My favorite novels usually involve a mystery, but not necessarily a murder, and are written in a way that evokes a strong sense of mood and atmosphere.
It is 1967 in Soho, London when two young musicians, Jasper de Zoet and Dean Moss meet. This is the beginning of Utopia Avenue, a band on their way to stardom in the psychedelic folk-rock scene. After bringing on drummer, Griff, and lead singer, Elf Holloway, it soon becomes clear that the band has a special chemistry. But each member has their own personal struggle. As their popularity grows, each of them grapples with their own challenges and their bond as a band strengthens. When Jasper faces the most dire challenge of all, it is not clear if the band… or Jasper himself… will survive. It turns out, being a direct descendant of Jacob de Zoet has dire consequences. For those who have already dipped their toes into the "Mitchell-verse," dreamlike scenes evoked from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet add a dimension to this novel, along with other small details that connect it to the elaborate web of stories Mitchell has woven. But, if you haven't read any of Mitchell's other books, this story stands alone as a fun, yet bitter-sweet, excursion through an exciting time with a cast of characters that you can’t help but grow attached to. As you stick with the band through all of their ups and downs, there are plenty of cameo appearances from the likes of David Bowie, Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Marc Bolan and more. If you enjoy Utopia Avenue, I recommend The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet as a follow-up.
If you are looking for something delightfully different, go into the intriguing and mysterious world of Piranesi. Piranesi's journal does not mark the years by numbers, but rather by happenings—and it takes place in The Year the Albatross Came to the South-Western Halls. Piranesi delights in exploring and documenting every detail of The House he lives in, a labyrinth of seemingly endless vestibules and halls, with a lower level that is periodically flooded by torrential tides. Every room is filled with unique statues, and he is determined to travel and discover them all. His child-like inquisitiveness and love for The House make him an endearing protagonist. He is intelligent too. Twice a week, Piranesi meets with The Other human in The House, and shares his knowledge. The strange thing is that The Other seems to experience The House differently, and The Other knows things that make Piranesi uneasy. Soon, his happiness is threatened as he must face the terrifying truth that The House—and his existence within it— is not what it seems.
Reid's second novel is a one-of-a-kind psychological mystery. The story takes place in the future on an isolated farm. We don't know much about this possibly dystopian world except for the hints we get from our main characters, Junior and Henrietta. They live a quiet life together away from society, until one day a mysterious man, Terrance, shows up and informs them that Junior has won a special kind of lottery (that he didn't even enter) and he may be chosen to participate in a test group that will be sent to live in space for a trial period. Junior and Henrietta react with a reluctant acquiescence that seems strange, and you can't help but think that we are not being given the full picture. This is a deeply personal story of their relationship with an eerie backdrop of the unknown. I was tempted to go back and read some parts again once I finally figured out what was going on!
The story begins at a tavern by the Thames where a young girl has been pulled out of the river, almost dead. All those who meet her are drawn to her, and some even lay claim to her. But who is she really? Captivating and haunting from the start this intricate story does not disappoint! If you are a fan of Setterfield's "The Thirteenth Tale" you should no doubt enjoy this one too.
If you are looking for a good contemporary novel with a touch of Gothic horror, then this book is for you. As in her first novel, The Essex Serpent, Perry's tale revolves around an old legend which seemingly comes to life. Helen's life is forever changed at a coffee shop in Prague, when her friend Karel hands her a mysterious bundle of papers. She is distressed to find him in a state of disarray and fear, but it is unclear why. He points to the papers as explanation. They contain his research: accounts of encounters with Melmoth, the Witness. Legend has it that Melmoth was condemned to wander the earth eternally and bear witness to mankind's worst atrocities. Sometimes she appears as a woman shrouded in flowing black cloth, or a shadow one catches out of the side of one's eye, or the feeling that one is being watched, or even just a prickling at the back of the neck. Helen soon begins to suspect that she is being stalked… either by Melmoth or perhaps by her own guilt. While enjoying Perry's masterful storytelling, I found myself contemplating the nature of one's conscience, and at times even wondered if Melmoth was watching me!
Educated is the extraordinary memoir of a young girl who was raised in Idaho as a Mormon survivalist. Due largely to the extreme views of her father, her family abstained from society at an alarming level. They did not attend school, go to doctors or hospitals, and many of the children did not even have birth certificates. At the age of seventeen, having never even set foot in a classroom, Tara Westover decides to break from her family tradition and enter mainstream society by attending college. Despite being horrifically unprepared for college, she rises to the challenge, and eventually obtains a PHD from Cambridge. In the process, Tara is forced to reconcile her new view of the world with the incongruous way that she was raised. She is faced with the reality that her upbringing was basically abusive, and is forced to make some hard choices. I found it easy to forget that Educated is actually a memoir because the story is so incredible and Tara does an exceptional job of telling it. If I could write as well as she does, you would be reading this book in an instant!
Cyril Avery doesn't know it, but bigotry and intolerance have shaped his life since before he was born. He was adopted and raised by a well-meaning (but decidedly eccentric) couple--they provided a comfortable and somewhat privileged upbringing, but love and affection was lacking. As a result, Cyril struggles to find love and belonging, but the world does not always accept him. From his childhood in Ireland in the '40s to the emergence of AIDS in New York City in the '70s, his story is heartwarming and heart-wrenching. In The Heart's Invisible Furies, Boyne has fleshed out the consequences of intolerance in a way that resonates even today, and opens your heart to the importance of love and acceptance.
In his latest novel Anthony Horowitz cleverly pays homage to the classic murder mystery. The latest (and final) installation of the Detective Atticus Pund novels has been written, and we meet editor Susan Ryeland as she sits down to read it over. The manuscript takes place in a small English village in the 1950's and has all the makings of a classic Agatha Christie novel. As we read along with her, Susan is dismayed to discover that the final chapters (along with the solution to the mystery) are missing. The intrigue deepens when she finds out that Alan Conway, the author of the series, has turned up dead. As she searches for the final pages of the unpublished novel she begins to suspect that there may be foul play involved... and that the key to what really happened to Alan Conway may lie within the pages of his last book. This mystery-within-a-mystery is a double delight for anyone who loves a good old fashioned whodunnit!
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Since We Fell could be described as a psychological thriller, but it is much more than that. Lehane devotes much of the book to our protagonist, Rachel. She is a journalist who has had her share of challenges, from an overbearing mother who refused to tell her who her father was, to a traumatic on-air breakdown that goes viral and crushes her emotionally and professionally. By the time she falls in love and marries the seemingly perfect husband, we are emotionally vested in her. She has overcome a lot, but just when her life starts to regain some semblance of normalcy, she realizes that she has been deceived in a big way. It becomes apparent that things are not at all as they seem, and that's when it gets pretty intense! This is a book that builds steam as it goes. If you are looking for a good escape read, this is a great choice.
Samuel is eleven when his mother abruptly walks out of his life. Decades later she reappears just as suddenly in the form of a news media sensation: the notorious "Packer Attacker." She wants his help... but first, he must find answers to questions about his family that have plagued him his entire life.
Nathan Hill writes with humor and heart in this far-reaching saga that traces back to a small village in WWII Norway and on to the 1968 riots in Chicago, while also taking hilarious pokes at the absurdities of modern America, such as technology addiction, entitled youth, and the national media circus. You won't know whether to laugh or cry-- but either way you'll savor every minute of it!
What happens when parallel universes are able to intersect? A wild and terrifying romp through the multiverse, where every possible outcome of a given moment in time is represented by a new reality. This book is a thriller that will leave your mind reeling, but it will also leave you questioning the nature of reality and examining the significance of how the choices we make in life define our unique identity.
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You can never truly know someone unless you know what they are thinking. This is one of the things Jake's girlfriend is thinking as she embarks on a bizarre road trip with him to visit his parents. She knows something is not quite right, and so does the reader, but it's hard to pinpoint what is amiss. One thing is for sure, it can't end well-- it's dark and it's disturbing, but you will be on the edge of your seat while you figure out what exactly is happening in this psychological thriller.
She's no Jane Eyre... yet her life mirrors that of her favorite heroine in many ways. A self-proclaimed serial murderess who will charm you with her confessions!
A mysterious house only shows itself via a small iron door that appears to a special person (or should I say victim) every nine years. Each occasion is a story of its own, but they connect in that mysterious Mitchell way to work against the terrible two behind it all. Would be a great book to read in one sitting on Halloween!
In this unique novel five distinct stories, spanning time from 1663 to 2040, are elegantly threaded together to form a poignant exploration of what it means to be human. Among them: Alan Turing as he struggles with the loss of his best friend, a pilgrim girl traveling to a new world, and the creator of dolls so human-like that they are banned and he is incarcerated. Their stories are touching... but how much can they really touch the mind of a machine who knows and thinks about them all? Beautifully written and thought provoking, this book is unlike anything I've read before.
A fascinating look into the days, hours, and even minutes, prior to the sinking of the Lusitania. Meticulously researched and well told, Larson tells the story from all perspectives, including the German submarine, the secret intelligence office in England, and of course the passengers and crew of the Lusitania. This book is hard to put down despite the fact that we know how it ends!
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If you are looking for a real page-turner, give this book a try! Suspenseful, and well told this story drew me in from page one. I have never read this author before, but I surely will be reading more of him now!
Declan is fed up with life's complications, people's expectations, and other complexities of existence. He decides to set sail on the Pacific in his boat, The Plover. All he wants is to be alone and unencumbered, to live a simple life on the sea with no destination in mind. But things don't turn out as planned. His first companion is an unwanted seagull, whom he grudgingly befriends ... and this is not the only unlikely crew member Declan takes on during his journey. As the cast of colorful characters grows, the adventure begins. Doyle's prose is amusing, at times profound, full of wonder, and always thoroughly enjoyable. The Ploveris a delightful novel--it is a one-of-a-kind south seas adventure--but also an exploration of the interconnectedness of everything and everyone. It pays homage both to the ocean and to the human spirit, in their vast, mysterious, ever-changing beauty.
Anyone who has any affinity for this marvelous city will appreciate this fascinating account of how a tiny little village in the 1300's grew into a great power of the golden age, and how some of the ideas and values that first appeared there have carried forward to affect many aspects of the governments and economies of today. The writing flows so naturally and the historical tidbits are so interesting that it is a surprisingly fast read!
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When Clay loses his high-tech programming job, he decides to take the late shift at a curious bookshop that is open 24 hours. Once he begins working there he realizes that it is more curious than he first thought-- most of the "customers" are regulars, but no one ever seems to actually buy a book. Clay decides to find out what is really going on, and thus begins an intriguing and fun adventure that is full of surprises. Funny and clever, loved it from start to finish!
Everyone should read this book! It has a great lessons in compassion, acceptance and friendship for all ages. August (Auggie) Pullman is about to enter fifth grade at Beecher Prep. He's a great kid... fun-loving, intelligent and inquisitive... much like any other fifth grader. Except for one thing. His face is deformed to the point that small children cry and run away when they see him. He's never been to school with other kids before because his many surgeries and medical issues have prevented it. Now he has decided to give it a try. InWonder we learn about his experience in fifth grade through many eyes, from Auggie, his sister Via, and several of his classmates, and the challenges each of them face. It is a hearbreaking and heartwarming story, I highly recommend it.
If a book can be described as fun and dark, then Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa is that book. Benjamin Constable (yes, the main character shares the same name as the author) is an English writer living in Paris who becomes the unwitting participant in a very unusual treasure hunt. It begins when he comes home one day and is horrified to find a suicide letter from his good friend Tomomi Ishikawa, otherwise known as Butterfly. Certain information in the letter leads him to embark on a trail of mysterious clues, hidden notebooks, and strange coincidences. The notebooks tell disturbing stories, and both Benjamin and the reader begin to wonder where fact and fiction meet. One of the things I loved about this book was that the characters were funny and endearing, despite the dark psychological thriller aspects of the story. It is a book that keeps you guessing right up until the end. -- Sharon
This book is a great way to learn about the life and art of Frida Kahlo. Using a blend of creative fiction, biographical facts, and some tasty sounding traditional Mexican recipes, Haghenbeck brings us a vibrant rendition of Frida's life. Although she was plagued by crippling health problems, her passionate and colorful personality comes through. We learn of the near fatal bus accident that greatly influenced her life, her tumultuous marriage to the well known artist Diego Rivera (her second "great accident," according to Frida), and her various friendships and affairs with the likes of Georgia O'Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Leon Trotsky, and Nelson Rockefeller. The recipes from her "Hierba Santa Book" (Sacred Herbs Book) add zest to the story by connecting her passion for cooking to the people that she cared about. The story is told beautifully and imaginatively... and in a style as brazen and colorful as the artist herself.
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Does it take more courage to fight in a war, or to conscientiously refuse to fight, only to be called a coward and face execution as a traitor? This is one of the the thought-provoking questions being explored in John Boyne's touching story of two boys who become soldiers in World War I.
This book drew me in from the first page, it opens as Tristan Sadler is traveling to meet the sister of Will Bancroft, his friend who died in France during the war. There are things Tristan would like to tell her about how Will died, but he is not sure if he will be able to tell her the whole truth. Courage, passion, principles, and betrayal are brought to extremes in this compelling story about morality in both love and war. -- Sharon
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Sid Griffiths, an aging jazz musician, recollects his youth playing with Hieronymus Falk and the Hot Time Swingers in 1940, Berlin. Falk, an African-German "mischling" (half-breed), was taken from a cafe in Paris by the Nazis and never seen again, but a tattered recording of him survived and brought him worldwide fame. With unusual slang and a jazz-like tempo, Sid recalls dreams of musical success and a friendship tainted by jealousy. His story is overshadowed by fear as the war encroaches on their lives. Jazz music has been declared degenerate by the Nazis and after an unfortunate encounter with "the boots" the musicians are forced to flee to Paris where they meet up with Louis Armstrong and begin work on the monumental "Half-Blood Blues" recording. I enjoyed this book for its powerful narrative style and for its unique perspective of WWII Europe.-- Sharon
These 16 previously unreleased stories, written early in Kurt Vonnegut's career, bring us a dazzling array of classic Vonnegut characters. From a man in love with a technology-enhanced refrigerator to a lonely stenographer who responds to a plea for help she receives through a dictaphone record, we find people who are at once funny, tragic, hopeful and sometimes even pathetic, but most of all they are achingly human. As a bonus, the book includes illustrations by the author. A great way to get a daily dose of the dry humor, wit, and insight that Vonnegut fans have come to know and love! -- Sharon
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In The Sherlockian, two crimes occur over a century apart and are cleverly woven together, linked only by a missing diary. One storyline follows Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893 London, while the other follows Harold White, a newly inducted member of the Sherlockian group "Baker Street Irregulars", in 2010 New York. When a prominent member of the group is found murdered on the day he was to unveil the missing diary of Arthur Conan Doyle, Harold decides to put Sherlock Holmes' methods of deduction to the test and solve the case himself. Both stories will keep you turning the page while the plots are masterfully merged to finally reveal the content and fate of the notorious missing diary.-- Sharon
This is one of the most touching and beautifully written books I have read in a long time. It takes place during World War II in Germany. The superb but unlikely narrator, Death (who perhaps is not such an unlikely narrator given the setting), tells us about a young girl named Liesel who loses her only real family when she is young, and whose entire youth is marred by the war. Her love of books somehow shapes her life and helps to pull her through the horrors of the war. Through death’s unique perspective we are touched by the bits of happiness she is able to find, we are sympathetic to the fear and sadness she faces, and we are torn by the tragedy she is a part of. But most of all we are able to see with clarity the beauty in Liesel’s life that is created by love for her new family and friends.-- Sharon
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Featuring a great line-up of popular contemporary authors, this is a collection of all kinds of stories: some futuristic and some nostalgic. They are often eerie or melancholy, some tell of childhood gone-by, while others tell of pivotal moments in a life. The common thread is the creativity and imagination that brought them to existence and that they were inspired by Ray Bradbury. The diversity contained in this book is a testament to the widespread influence Ray Bradbury has had on so many writers of our time and, it follows, on so many readers as well. --Sharon
The romantic, mysterious streets of post civil war Barcelona come to life in this wonderfully told tale. A young boy, Daniel Sempere, visits a secret library and finds a mysterious book that is destined to change his life. When he decides to find out more about the author of the book he embarks on a tale of intrigue, love, friendship, adventure, and even a touch of the supernatural. You will never think of Barcelona in the same way after you read this!-- Sharon
Set in the post Cromwell 1600's, this is the story of the death of an Oxford don and Sarah Blundy, the young woman who is accused of his murder. It is a tale of deception and intrigue, told four times over, each time by a different character with a radically different perspective. Each telling sheds a new light onto the story, but not until the last account is the full picture revealed.-- Sharon