Staff Suggestions: April 2022

We have our own special collection with this newest set of recommendations. History is a big key to our recent reads, both in our non-fiction and our fiction. It seems you simply can’t escape it.

 

Ben Recommends

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial by Deborah Cohen

 

 

In the aftermath of World War I, as fledgling democracies emerged from the ruins of defeated empires and strongmen grabbed power across Europe, millions of Americans, desperate to wall themselves off from the chaos, adopted an “America First” stance. But a group of hard-hitting foreign correspondents envisioned a different role for the United States in the world: They warned their readers that tyranny abroad posed a threat even to America, and urged their fellow citizens to see their own fate as tied to global struggles.   

 

As young reporters covering revolutions and coup attempts in the 1920s, John Gunther, H.R. Knickerbocker, Vincent Sheean, and Dorothy Thompson became friends—and sometimes rivals. By the 1930s, they were interviewing Mussolini, Gandhi, Nehru, and Hitler; sharing cigars with Churchill; and chatting with FDR. They started their careers by reporting the story, but by the outbreak of World War II, they were the story, garnering audiences in the millions. Breaking with the objectivity that was then the mainstay of American reporting, they devised a new kind of journalism, both intimate and subjective. Their work raised urgent questions: When should reporters take sides? Was it possible to cover would-be authoritarians without boosting their fame?  

 

But the fault lines that ran through crumbling nations caused rifts in their own lives as well, threatening marriages, friendships, and careers.

 

 

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

 

 

Liesl Weiss long ago learned to be content working behind the scenes in the distinguished rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she’s left to run things, she discovers that the library’s most prized manuscript is missing.

 

Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book, but is told repeatedly to keep quiet, to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian unexpectedly stops showing up to work. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues’ pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomesclear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft.

 

What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long-and about the people who care for and revere them-shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.

 

 


 

Rupert Recommends

Power and Thrones by Dan Jones

 

 

Dan Jones’s epic new history tells nothing less than the story of how the world we know today came to be built. It is a thousand-year adventure that moves from the ruins of the once-mighty city of Rome, sacked by barbarians in AD 410, to the first contacts between the old and new worlds in the sixteenth century. It shows how, from a state of crisis and collapse, the West was rebuilt and came to dominate the entire globe. The book identifies three key themes that underpinned the success of the West: commerce, conquest and Christianity.

 

Across 16 chapters, blending Dan Jones’s trademark gripping narrative style with authoritative analysis, Powers and Thrones shows how, at each stage in this story, successive western powers thrived by attracting – or stealing – the most valuable resources, ideas and people from the rest of the world. It casts new light on iconic locations – Rome, Paris, Venice, Constantinople – and it features some of history’s most famous and notorious men and women.

 

South to America by Imani Perry

 

 

We all think we know the South. Even those who have never lived there can rattle off a list of signifiers: the Civil War, Gone with the Wind, the Ku Klux Klan, plantations, football, Jim Crow, slavery. But the idiosyncrasies, dispositions, and habits of the region are stranger and more complex than much of the country tends to acknowledge. In South to America, Imani Perry shows that the meaning of American is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole.

 

This is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives, and surprising encounters with places and people. She renders Southerners from all walks of life with sensitivity and honesty, sharing her thoughts about a troubling history and the ritual humiliations and joys that characterize so much of Southern life.

 

 


 

Danielle Recommends

In Love by Amy Bloom

 

 

Amy Bloom and her husband Brian’s world was changed forever when an MRI confirmed the truth they could no longer ignore. Bloom reflects back on the loving marriage they shared, and then the sudden cascade of things going wrong: Brian’s decision to retire, his withdrawal from friends.

 

Suddenly, it seemed there was a glass wall between them, and they weren’t able to talk as they always had. Finally confronted with the diagnosis and the daily frustrations and realities of Alzheimer’s, Brian became determined to die on his feet, not live on his knees. Together they find their difficult way to Dignitas, an organization based in Switzerland that empowers a person to end their own life with dignity and peace.  

 

Eyes of the Rigel by Roy Jacobsen

 

 

The war is over, and Ingrid Barrøy leaves the island that shares her name to search for the father of her daughter. Alexander, the Russian POW who survived the sinking of the Rigel, has attempted to cross the mountains to Sweden, and now Ingrid follows, carrying their child in her arms, the girl’s dark eyes and a handwritten note her only mementoes of their relationship. Along the way she will encounter partisans and collaborators, refugees and deserters, sinners and servants in a country still bearing the scars of occupation—and before her journey’s end, she’ll be forced to ask herself how well she really knows the man she’s risking everything to find.

 

 


 

Olivia Recommends

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

 

 

Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she imagined for herself. Over the years that follow, she is forced to keep reinventing herself to survive.

 

From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the country in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been—including the ones she most wants to leave behind—in order to finally claim her own name and story.

 

A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett

 

 

Centering transgender women seeking stable, adult lives, A Dream of a Woman finds quiet truths in prairie high-rises and New York warehouses, in freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days.

 

In “Hazel and Christopher,” two childhood friends reconnect as adults after one of them has transitioned. In “Perfect Places,” a woman grapples with undesirability as she navigates fetish play with a man. In “Couldn’t Hear You Talk Anymore,” the narrator reflects on her tumultuous life and what might have been as she recalls tender moments with another trans woman.

 

An ethereal meditation on partnership, sex, addiction, romance, groundedness, and love, the stories in A Dream of a Woman buzz with quiet intensity and the intimate complexities of being human.

 

 


 

Patti Recommends

Borderland by Anne Reid

 

 

Borderland tells the story of Ukraine. A thousand years ago it was the center of the first great Slav civilization, Kievan Rus. In 1240, the Mongols invaded from the east, and for the next seven centureies, Ukraine was split between warring neighbors: Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Austrians, and Tatars. Again and again, borderland turned into battlefield: during the Cossack risings of the seventeenth century, Russia’s wars with Sweden in the eighteenth, the Civil War of 1918-1920, and under Nazi occupation.

 

Ukraine finally won independence in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bigger than France and a populous as Britain, it has the potential to become one of the most powerful states in Europe. In this finely written and penetrating book, Anna Reid combines research and her own experiences to chart Ukraine’s tragic past. Talking to peasants and politicians, rabbis and racketeers, dissidents and paramilitaries, survivors of Stalin’s famine and of Nazi labor camps, she reveals the layers of myth and propaganda that wrap this divided land. From the Polish churches of Lviv to the coal mines of the Russian-speaking Donbass, from the Galician shtetlech to the Tatar shantytowns of Crimea, the book explores Ukraine’s struggle to build itself a national identity, and identity that faces up to a bloody past, and embraces all the peoples within its borders.

 

 

Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey

 

 

Moving away from their lovely apartment in Munich isn’t nearly as wrenching an experience for Frau Greta Hahn as she had feared. Their new home is even lovelier than the one they left behind, and best of all—right on their doorstep—are some of the finest craftsmen from all over Europe. Frau Hahn and the other officers’ wives living in this small community can order anything they desire, whether new curtains made from the finest French fabrics, or furniture designed to the most exacting specifications. Life here in Buchenwald would appear to be idyllic.

 

Lying just beyond the forest that surrounds them—so close and yet so remote—is the looming presence of a work camp. Frau Hahn’s husband, SS Sturmbannführer Dietrich Hahn, is to take up a powerful new position as the camp’s administrator.  As the prison population begins to rise, the job becomes ever more consuming. Corruption is rife at every level, the supplies are inadequate, and the sewerage system is under increasing strain.

 

When Frau Hahn is forced into an unlikely and poignant alliance with one of Buchenwald’s prisoners, Dr. Lenard Weber, her naïve ignorance about what is going on so nearby is challenged. A decade earlier, Dr. Weber had invented a machine: the Sympathetic Vitaliser. At the time he believed that its subtle resonances might cure cancer. But does it really work? One way or another, it might yet save a life.

 

 


 

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