Staff Suggestions July 2021

‘Tis the season for hummingbirds, so perhaps it’s no surprise a couple of them show up in our most recent set of recommendations.

Ben Recommends

Zero Fail by Carol Leonnig

 

 

The Secret Service was born in 1865, in the wake of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, but its story begins in earnest in 1963, with the death of John F. Kennedy. Shocked into reform by its failure to protect the president on that fateful day in Dallas, this once-sleepy agency was radically transformed into an elite, highly trained unit that would redeem itself several times, most famously in 1981 by thwarting an assassination attempt against Ronald Reagan. But this reputation for courage and excellence would not last forever. By Barack Obama’s presidency, the once-proud Secret Service was running on fumes and beset by mistakes and alarming lapses in judgment: break-ins at the White House, an armed gunman firing into the windows of the residence while confused agents stood by, and a massive prostitution scandal among agents in Cartagena, to name just a few. With Donald Trump’s arrival, a series of promised reforms were cast aside, as a president disdainful of public service instead abused the Secret Service to rack up political and personal gains.

To explore these problems in the ranks, Leonnig interviewed dozens of current and former agents, government officials, and whistleblowers who put their jobs on the line to speak out about a hobbled agency that’s in desperate need of reform

 

Last Hummingbird West of Chile by Nicholas Ruddock

 

 

A stunning work of imaginative fiction, Last Hummingbird West of Chile spins a tale of adventure that is in turn comedic, violent, poignant and thoughtful. Through the exploits of a young sailor born in questionable circumstance and a pair of murderous servants, as well as an assortment of other 19th century regulars, the vital subjects of today—race, religion, sexuality, environment—are framed in history and human culture.

Through narration by human protagonists, a tree, a hummingbird, various beasts, and the landscape itself, Ruddock tells a story of colonialism and environment, brutality and privilege, and the best and worst of human nature.

 


 

Rupert Recommends

African Europeans by Olivette Otele

 

 

As early as the third century, St Maurice—an Egyptian—became leader of the legendary Roman Theban Legion. Ever since, there have been richly varied encounters between those defined as ‘Africans’ and those called ‘Europeans’. Yet Africans and African Europeans are still widely believed to be only a recent presence in Europe.

Olivette Otele traces a long African European heritage through the lives of individuals both ordinary and extraordinary. She uncovers a forgotten past, from Emperor Septimius Severus, to enslaved Africans living in Europe during the Renaissance, and all the way to present-day migrants moving to Europe’s cities. By exploring a history that has been long overlooked, she sheds light on questions very much alive today—on racism, identity, citizenship, power and resilience.

 

Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch

 

 

Janet works at a rundown dog shelter in the woods. She wears black, loves The Smiths, and can’t wait to get rid of her passive-aggressive boyfriend. Her brain is full of anxiety, like “one of those closets you never want to open because everything will fall out and crush you.” She has a meddlesome family, eccentric coworkers, one old friend who’s left her for Ibiza, and one new friend who’s really just a neighbor she sees in the hallway. Most of all, Janet has her sadness—a comfortable cloak she uses to insulate herself from the oppressions of the wider world.

That is, until one fateful summer when word spreads about a new pill that offers even cynics like her a short-term taste of happiness . . . .just long enough to make it through the holidays without wanting to stab someone with a candy cane.

 


 

 

Danielle Recommends

In the Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm

 

 

In the Freud Archives tells the story of an unlikely encounter among three men: K. R. Eissler, the venerable doyen of psychoanalysis; Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, a flamboyant, restless forty-two-year-old Sanskrit scholar turned psychoanalyst turned virulent anti-Freudian; and Peter Swales, a mischievous thirty-five-year-old former assistant to the Rolling Stones and self-taught Freud scholar. At the center of their Oedipal drama are the Sigmund Freud Archives–founded, headed, and jealously guarded by Eissler–whose sealed treasure gleams and beckons to the community of Freud scholarship as if it were the Rhine gold.

A story of infatuation and disappointment, betrayal and revenge, In the Freud Archives is essentially a comedy. But the powerful presence of Freud himself and the harsh bracing air of his ideas about unconscious life hover over the narrative and give it a tragic dimension.

 

Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett

 

 

They say boys don’t cry.
But Finn’s seen his Da do it when he thinks no one’s looking, so that’s not true.
And isn’t it OK to be sad, when bad things happen?

Joe is 17, a gifted artist and a brilliant older brother to 12-year-old Finn. They live with their Ma and Da in a Dublin tower block called Bojaxhiu or ‘the Jax’. It’s not an easy place to be a kid, especially when your father, Frank, is the muscle for the notorious gang leader Dessie ‘The Badger’ Murphy. But whether it’s daytrips to the beach or drawing secret sketches, Joe works hard to show Finn life beyond the battered concrete yard below their flat.

Joe is determined not to become like his Da. But when Finn falls ill, Joe finds his convictions harder to cling to. With his father now in prison, his mother submerged in her grief, and his relationships with friends and classmates crumbling, Joe has to figure out how to survive without becoming what the world around him expects him to be.

 


 

 

Olivia Recommends

My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes

 

 

Quiara Alegría Hudes was the sharp-eyed girl on the stairs while her family danced in her grandmother’s tight North Philly kitchen. She was awed by her aunts and uncles and cousins, but haunted by the secrets of the family and the unspoken, untold stories of the barrio—even as she tried to find her own voice in the sea of language around her, written and spoken, English and Spanish, bodies and books, Western art and sacred altars. Her family became her private pantheon, a gathering circle of powerful orisha-like women with tragic real-world wounds, and she vowed to tell their stories—but first she’d have to get off the stairs and join the dance. She’d have to find her language.

Weaving together Hudes’s love of books with the stories of her family, the lessons of North Philly with those of Yale, this is an inspired exploration of home, memory, and belonging—narrated by an obsessed girl who fought to become an artist so she could capture the world she loved in all its wild and delicate beauty.

 

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanDerMeer

 

 

 

Software manager Jane Smith receives an envelope containing a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and salamander. Alongside the key is a list of five other animals. The list is signed, “Love, Silvina.” Jane does not know a Silvina, and she wants nothing to do with the taxidermied animals. The hummingbird and salamander are, it turns out, two of the most endangered species in the world. Silvina Vilcapampa, the woman who left the note, is a reputed eco-terrorist, and the daughter of a recently deceased Argentine industrialist. And by removing the hummingbird and the salamander from the storage unit, Jane has set into motion a series of events over which she has no control.

 


 

Patti Recommends

What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky

 

 

On a beautiful spring day, a small village wakes up to an omen: Selma has dreamed of an okapi. Someone is about to die.

Luisa, Selma’s ten-year-old granddaughter, looks on as the predictable characters of her small world begin acting strangely. Though they claim not to be superstitious, each of her neighbors newly grapples with buried secrets and deferred decisions that have become urgent in the face of death.

Luisa’s mother struggles to decide whether to end her marriage. An old family friend, known only as the optician, tries to find the courage to tell Selma he loves her. Only sad Marlies remains unchanged, still moping around her house and cooking terrible food. But when the prophesied death finally comes, the circumstances fall outside anyone’s expectations. The loss forever changes Luisa and shapes her for years to come, as she encounters life’s great questions alongside her devoted friends, young and old.

 

Wayward by Dana Spiotta

 

 

On the heels of the election of 2016, Samantha Raymond’s life begins to come apart: her mother is ill, her teenage daughter is increasingly remote, and at fifty-two she finds herself staring into “the Mids”–that hour of supreme wakefulness between three and four in the morning in which women of a certain age suddenly find themselves contemplating motherhood, mortality, and, in this case, the state of our unraveling nation.

When she falls in love with a beautiful, decrepit house in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Syracuse, she buys it on a whim and flees her suburban life–and her family–as she grapples with how to be a wife, a mother, and a daughter, in a country that is coming apart at the seams.

 


 

 

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