Clara's Picks

In previous professional lives, Clara was a marketing executive for large international law firms and earlier, for a national arts foundation. A native of Cuba, she counts her after-school stint at the Monroe County public library in Key West, FL and her work as a Malaprop's bookseller among her favorite jobs. Clara reads mostly fiction, but is easily seduced by essays and memoirs, and occasionally by legal thrillers and cozy mysteries with images of dogs on their covers. She has particular affection for the 19th-century novel (once an English major always an English major), and believes that most problems can be solved by the right mix of books, yoga, and chocolate.

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Less Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780316316125
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Lee Boudreaux Books - July 18th, 2017

Arthur Less, a gay midlist writer about to turn 50, is at a crossroads, though he doesn't necessarily know it. He's cobbled together a series of literary commitments--in New York, Mexico, Germany, Italy, France, India, and Japan--to distract him from his long-time lover's wedding and give him time to work on his new novel. Less is an aging innocent whose life seems to have happened to him almost by accident. His trip puts him in unexpected and unfamiliar situations, asking more of him than he's allowed himself to give in the past.

Less, the book, like its namesake protagonist, is tender with an edge. Less, the character, is beautifully drawn: smart, quiet, sly, exasperating, and charming. The novel's humor is not simply funny (although it's certainly that), but thoughtful and sharp, and drawn from shrewd observation. Andrew Sean Greer has written a sparkling and wise novel whose prose enchants, and which delighted me from start to finish.


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The Essex Serpent: A Novel Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9780062666383
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Custom House - April 24th, 2018

A wealthy young widow is freed by her husband's death to indulge her interests in the natural world. A rector in a small English village--a student of the Enlightenment--is bedeviled by his parishioners' belief that a winged sea monster has caused the death of several villagers and spirited away one of their children. A gifted surgeon incurs the wrath of his fellow doctors for introducing radical new practices in the operating room. There is change in the wind at the end of the Victorian era.

In this beautiful and exhilarating novel faith wrestles with science, superstition with reason, and modernism with tradition. The Essex Serpent is a novel of ideas, but never at the expense of its leading characters, who are always engrossing, or of the lushness of its language. With echoes of Dickens in its rich narrative and social conscience, Woolf in its portraits of women of intellect and heart, and with Emily Bronte's sense of the Gothic, The Essex Serpent is immersive and intoxicating. A Costa Book Award Finalist, and winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year and overall Book of the Year; and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.


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The Changeling Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780812985870
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Spiegel & Grau - March 6th, 2018

A striking, propulsive plot is only one of the many rewards of The Changeling. A book dealer, Apollo Kagwa, and his wife, Emma Valentine, are loving parents to their new baby, Brian, named for the father who abandoned Apollo as a child. An unspeakable act of violence shatters their lives and leads them into a world of mysterious characters and strange events, evoking myth and the burden of ancient folk tales. Always compelling, The Changeling is also enchanting and heartbreaking. Navalle is especially good at creating relationships--parent and child, same-sex friendships, and husband and wife--that are irresistible and that ring true. I look forward eagerly to more of Victor Lavalle's work.


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In the Distance Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781566894883
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Coffee House Press - October 10th, 2017

In this 2018 Pulitzer-finalist novel, Hernan Diaz skillfully turns established tropes of the western, the adventure yarn, and the gentle giant into a compelling story of mythic proportions. In the mid-19th century, A young Swedish immigrant traverses the country in search of the brother from whom he has been separated. Over many years, as he ages and the American landscape is transformed, the wanderer's exploits become the stuff of legend. His objective, however, stays always in the distance.

Diaz adds subtle layers that explore man's relationship to the natural world, the consequences of American settlement, and the role of immigrants. But it's the story of one man's wish to live in harmony with his environment and with himself that is the most affecting. This is a gorgeous novel that engages from start to finish.


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The Perfect Nanny Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780143132172
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - January 9th, 2018

A huge best-seller in France, The Perfect Nanny packs a punch that its brief length belies. It addresses issues both topical and enduring through the lens of the relationship of a young professional Parisian couple and the caregiver they hire for their two young children when the mother has a chance to return to work. The relationship between the children's parents and "the perfect nanny" becomes increasingly erratic and unstable. The plot leads to the unspeakable crime foretold in the chilling first sentence: "The baby is dead." But this is no clear-cut thriller. Slimani subtly weaves a range of complex issues throughout the narrative: society's expectations of mothers and mothers’ expectations of themselves, our connection to the people who work for us, our view of immigrants, and how the ways we see ourselves differ from the realities of who we are. The Perfect Nanny is a striking, powerful, and thoughtful novel that, rightly, leaves the reader with more questions than answers. It's a book that doesn't let go easily, and we’re the better for that.


Chemistry (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780525432227
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - April 3rd, 2018

This is a quiet and appealing novel that left me anticipating whatever Weike Wang writes next. It contrasts a fundamentally dark story of a young woman navigating an emotional breakdown with insightful--and at times highly amusing--accounts of incidents and people in her life. These include Chinese immigrant parents with exacting expectations of their only child, a best friend whose live unravels after she has a baby, and the heroine’s meltdown in pursuit of a Ph.D. in chemistry at a prestigious school. The low-key tone belies the tension even as it reveals the difficulty the character has in confronting her feelings and acting on them. Her growing awareness and transition over time are consistently believable and compelling.


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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780735220683
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Pamela Dorman Books - May 9th, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine begins as what seems a simpler book, then slowly turns into a multi-layered one -- a compliment to the author, who engages us immediately with her light touch and appealing protagonist. As the story develops, we get clues from Eleanor, who never intends them as such, that she is not “completely fine.” By that time, we’re solidly in her corner.

Honeyman has written a comic, feel-good novel that is smart and never feels trite. It is entertaining, witty, and often charming; and also poignant and deeply touching.  It's a hopeful book that often sees the best in people, but also understands the evil in the world. 

The book moved me in ways that surprised me, and confirmed the acclaim that the book received in Britain when it was originally published there.

 


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Exit West Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780735212176
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - March 7th, 2017

Mohsin Hamid’s story of the harsh realities of political violence and migration is also the deeply personal story of a couple who join their fates by choosing to leave the country of their birth together. Brutal, tender, heartbreaking, hopeful, and with great emotional honesty, Hamid has written an eloquent book that is both powerfully of its time and classic in its themes of love, loss, and our shared desire for a better life.


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Autumn (Seasonal Quartet) Cover Image
$24.95
ISBN: 9781101870730
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Pantheon Books - February 7th, 2017

Inventive and tender, Autumn is a story of kindred spirits: eight-year-old Elisabeth and her neighbor Daniel, an old man with an exotic history in a world very different from the one Elisabeth knows. Daniel becomes a mentor to the serious and neglected girl, encouraging her creativity and her imagination. As Daniel shares stories about the excitement of the art world in the 1960s, Smith explores themes of female agency, the transcendence of art, the magic of words, and of the choices we can make to see people and things in new ways. Smith's writing is serious and funny, thoughtful and playful, expressive and restrained. A new book from her is always something to look forward to, and this one delivers on the promise.


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Anything Is Possible Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812989410
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade - March 27th, 2018

As beautifully written as Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton (and all of Elizabeth Strout's luminous fiction), this novel has the same quietly profound resonance of its predecessor. Elizabeth Strout is remarkably astute about human nature: what we know and keep from others, what we know and keep from ourselves, what we don't know, and what we don't want to know. She is achingly compassionate towards her characters, and particularly perceptive about how the psychology of the scars we carry with us from our childhood manifest throughout our lives.


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Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781501163876
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner Book Company - June 27th, 2017

I can’t remember the last time I used the word "picaresque" to describe a novel, and 'Golden Hill' is that and much more. It's an illuminating historical novel, a spirited romp, an intriguing mystery, and an eccentric romance, all in the guise of a young man who arrives in Manhattan from London in 1746 with a bill to be paid to him in the sum of £1000 with no explanation about how he plans to use it. There are sword fights, chases across rooftops, obstreperous love interests, sly clues, a clumsy protagonist, and a delightful narrator. Above all, it's a highly engaging entertainment, artfully told. Highly recommended.


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My Name Is Lucy Barton Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780812979527
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade - October 11th, 2016

Deceptively simple and infinitely profound, My Name is Lucy Barton takes a penetrating look at the complexity--from fierce joy to aching sadness--of the love of mothers and daughters. Days after reading it, I was still finding it hard to step away from this wise and wondrously told story.


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Underground Airlines Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780316261241
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mulholland Books - July 5th, 2016

Although marketed as science fiction, 'Underground Airlines' might be more accurately labeled “speculative” or “alternative” history. It is set in a contemporary United States in which the Civil War never took place and slavery is still legal in four states. The novel delivers on two levels: as a story on how business and political interests collude to drive racial injustice, and as a noir-ish thriller.

The narrator is of the “hard-boiled” noir tradition, a morally-ambiguous bounty hunter employed by the government to find escaped slaves (“Persons Bound to Labor”). Himself a former slave, he uncovers the scheme that drives the narrative and that takes him back to slave territory. Underground Airlines is both surprisingly relevant and nearly impossible to put down.

 


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History of Wolves Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780802127389
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Grove Press - November 7th, 2017

This 2017 Man Booker Prize finalist is a propulsive coming-of-age story that moves elegantly beyond coming-of-age tropes, and doubles as a thought-provoking thriller, with a palpable air of foreboding. Emily Fridlund has created a compelling protagonist who keeps us at a distance and for whom we still root. Every detail of her suspenseful narrative felt entirely true and fully engaged my senses, from the chill of the rural Minnesota north country to the taste of pancakes a father makes for his child, to the sounds of trees in the woods. A powerful debut for author Fridlund.


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Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781439195451
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - August 8th, 2017

One critic’s description of this book as “delightfully personal, yet broadly important,” is apt characterization of this fascinating book. Wright, a Pulitzer prize finalist, relies on the principles of evolutionary psychology and the insights of neurobiology in noting that humans are hardwired with strong emotions that we developed originally to survive in the environments in which we evolved. Unfortunately, in the modern world, these formerly useful emotions--including hatred, anxiety, and despair--have elements of delusion that we’d be better off without. Buddhism, particularly mIndfulness meditation, offers a path out of these delusions by helping us weaken their hold and allowing us to observe them more clearly. Wright doesn’t argue that we need to be Buddhist in order to benefit from this practice. His message is sectarian, not religious. He makes a compelling case for how contemplative practice creates understanding, and how understanding can significantly change our lives and the world for the better. Throughout, Wright is funny, self-effacing, insightful, and engaging. This is a highly readable book about an important subject.


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Lincoln in the Bardo Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780812995343
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - February 14th, 2017

From time to time I come across a book that I'm compelled to start re-reading as soon as I've finished it. 'Lincoln in the Bardo' is one of these. After a brief adjustment period to get accustomed to the alternating voices, I was absorbed into a world that revealed its secrets slowly, poignantly, and powerfully. Saunders' complement of historical and invented sources results in a reality--and a story--that feel more deeply honest than any strtict historical record. It's a novel that is both intellectually exciting and emotionally ardent in equal measure. Highly recommended.


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His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick MacRae Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781628728309
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Arcade Publishing - September 12th, 2017

A chilling fictional account of a triple murder in a small Scottish farming community in 1869. A 17-year-old farmer confesses, but did he do it? And if so, why? Presented as a collection of journal entries and court documents, this is a propulsive, evocative story, compellingly told.


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Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9781250135810
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: St. Martin's Press - October 10th, 2017

There's a good deal that resonates in Ageless Soul regardless of your age, but particularly so if you’re in middle age or beyond. Rather than thinking of aging as a time of diminishment of self, More proposes re-framing aging as a time to grow into our true, best selves. He suggests that we start by fully accepting the difficulties we encounter as we grow older, from physical ailments to emotional states such as loneliness and melancholy. From there, we can make conscious choices that express our complexity and distinctiveness rather than our limitations, finding fulfillment in ways that were not available to our younger selves. More's voice is gentle and supportive, and his background as a psychotherapist is evident. Ageless Soul is, ultimately, a meditation on aging and a blueprint for a happier life.


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Grief Is the Thing with Feathers Cover Image
$14.00
ISBN: 9781555977412
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Graywolf Press - June 7th, 2016

Funny, playful, and heartbreaking by turn, and full of delicious wordplay. A man and his two young sons have lost their wife/mother as a result of a freak accident. The father, a Ted Hughes scholar, is writing a book about the poet titled 'Crow' (coincidentally, Hughes also published a book called 'Crow'). The dad and his kids are visited by Crow, who helps them navigate the mother's absence: "I won't leave until you don't need me anymore." It's an imaginative premise, written in an unconventional style that suits the book perfectly. More poetry than narrative, impressionistic yet full of striking specific language and detail, the book is an evocation of grief as true as I've come across.


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The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9781250081568
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador USA - February 2nd, 2016

An impressionistic, thoroughly entertaining book about five Nordic countries, written by a British journalist who has lived in Denmark for over a decade. The author explores what he sees as the "fascinating dysfunctional family dynamic" between the five Nordic neighbors, how they're alike and how they're different, and why they keep showing up at the top of those darn happiness surveys!


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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780679763888
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - October 4th, 2011

This is a book that is important and engaging in equal measure. As did I, you'll wonder why you didn't read it sooner. Wilkerson does a masterful job of inrterweaving the facts of the "great migration" of African-Americans from the South to the north and west of the U,S. with the narratives of three individuals who emigrated to New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, respectively. She uses both research conducted at the time and more recent studies to fashion a nuanced and compelling history that traces issues and situations that still have relevance today. Highly recommended.


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Middlemarch: (penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions) Cover Image
By George Eliot, Rebecca Mead (Foreword by)
$17.00
ISBN: 9780143107729
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - November 17th, 2015

It seems there's nothing that hasn't been said already about George Eliot's masterpiece. So I'll add only that because it's about the desires of the human heart, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1860s when Eliot wrote it. There was much upheaval at the time--changing technology in farming, a shifting political landscape--that has parallels to contemporary life, but it's the relationships that keep this book timeless. It's a book about hope and disappointment, about living in a small town where everyone knows your business, about making mistakes and learning from them, about underestimating and overestimating other people, about learning to discern your own feelings...and so much more. All entirely relatable. There's something to take away from 'Middlemarch' at each stage of your life, and every time you read it. To me, that's the mark of a classic.


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Universal Harvester Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9780374282103
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - February 7th, 2017

The stories of four families living in the heartland at different times between the 1970s and the present time coalesce around a series of VHS tapes. In the late-90's story, customers who rent these from the local video store are finding odd snippets of tape spliced into their movies. It took me until the end of the first narrative to begin to understand what was happening in this creepy-but-not-overtly-so novel, or where Darnielle might be taking me. The "dailiness" of the characters: their salt-of-the-earth middle-America-ness both comforted me and made me anxious. Surely the author was setting me for a some harrowing and horrifying development. The apprehension persisted as I waited for the other shoe to drop: to learn who was creating and inserting the extraneous film, but it never did, or at least not in the way I expected. Instead, I found characters treated with compassion, stories that reminded me that each of us is broken in some way, usually through the loss of something important, such as a mother. Darnielle's characters are the kind that choose intentionally or instinctively to help, or at least keep from hurting, others more emotionally wounded than themselves. Universal Harvester is unsettling and affecting, and Darnielle a talented storyteller.

 


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Celine Cover Image
$25.95
ISBN: 9780451493897
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - March 7th, 2017

What a pleasure to read fiction that features older characters in all their complexity as human beings, rather than only by the stereotypes of their age group -- negatively by their ailments, say, or positively by their roles as wise mentors. Celine is in her late 60s, a private investigator who specializes in cases that unite separated families. Her husband, Pete, her partner in life and work, is several years her senior. Together, they travel from New York City to the deep woods of Colorado to investigate a decades-old disappearance--and possible murder. Celine, the character, is burdened by some of the conditions that we may associate with advanced age, in her case arthritis and emphysema, but she's also a crack shot, wicked-smart, sartorially astute, and like most real people, complicated. Peter Heller, who loosely based Celine on his mother, who was a P.I., writes with flair, humor, and empathy. I hope Celine has a life in Heller's future fiction.