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.

Books: 
Staff Pick Badge
Evvie Drake Starts Over: A Novel By Linda Holmes Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9780525619246
Availability: Backordered at Our Warehouse. ETA Unavailable.
Published: Ballantine Books - June 25th, 2019

A pitch-perfect grown-up romantic comedy with the wit, warmth, and generosity of spirit that Linda Holmes displays as host of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour.”

Evvie is packing to leave her husband Tim when she gets a call from the hospital telling her that Tim has been in a car accident. By the time she gets to the hospital, Tim is dead. Not surprisingly, Evvie is enveloped in guilt. Not long thereafter, Evvie’s friend Andy suggests that she rent the apartment attached to her house to his friend Dean Tenney, a former Major League baseball player who is no longer able to pitch. What starts as friendship turns into an unexpected romance.

Holmes writes naturally about real people—good people who try their best but mess things up anyway. The dialogue is genuine, funny, and a pleasure to read. Holmes has written a realistic romance whose complications occur not because of cute, easily-resolved miscommunications, but because Evvie and Dean are adults with life histories.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is a delight.


Staff Pick Badge
The Transit of Venus By Shirley Hazzard Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780140107470
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Penguin Books - September 1st, 1990

This indispensable novel is set against a background of postwar London, with themes that include power and corruption, love and betrayal, gender wars, and international politics. Shirley Hazzard's prose is magic on the page. This, her sense of place and time, and her deep understanding of human nature place this book on my list of all-time greats.

Sisters Caro and Grace, Australian orphans, move to England eager to begin their lives in a new land. They see everyone clearly, yet fall for disastrous men. Their stories, and those of the characters in their circle--unfold over several decades, during a time of great societal change--and each pays a price for the choices that they make. 

This is a novel to linger over, not rush through, and to read again and again. Hazzard's sentences are little works of art; they're powerful and striking, and often very funny. I now understand so many writers include this on their list of favorite books.

A marvel of a book.
 


Staff Pick Badge
Improvement: A Novel By Joan Silber Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781640091139
Availability: Backordered at Our Warehouse. ETA Unavailable.
Published: Counterpoint - August 21st, 2018

Improvement begins and ends in New York City, taking us across decades and to Virginia,Turkey, and Germany. The stories of two characters predominate: Reyna, a young single mother who makes a choice that has vital repercussions on the lives of other characters, and her free-spirit aunt, Kiki, who moved to Istanbul in her youth, and who after returning to New York, has kept silent about what transpired while she was away.

The novel is narrated by loosely-connected characters dealing with defining moments: surprises, disappointment, and good fortune. Silber explores the disparate ways in which we manifest love, and how the choices we make--deliberately or carelessly--drive our futures.

This is a beautifully written, wonderfully authentic novel.


Staff Pick Badge
The Friend: A Novel By Sigrid Nunez Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9780735219458
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Riverhead Books - February 5th, 2019

The 2018 National Book Award winner for fiction, The Friend packs a great deal into just over 200 pages. A deceptively simple narrative--a writer inherits a close friend and mentor's dog, Apollo, after the friend commits suicide--becomes a brilliant exploration of loss, mourning, and solace. With language that is crisp and unsentimental, Nunez still beautifully captures the complex feelings of grief and heartbreak. Apollo is a constant reminder of the friend she misses, a wildly imperfect man whom she deeply cared for but who was not always easy to love.

The Friend is both bracingly intelligent and darkly funny, the comedy often prompted, unsurprisingly, by the dog, a Great Dane whom the writer must squeeze into her 500-sq-ft New York City apartment. The novel is also a smart meditation on the writing life and the current state of fiction. But what has stayed with me most is Nunez's resonant portrayal of grief and the comfort of friends--including those friends of the four-footed variety--in helping us through it.

.


Staff Pick Badge
Asymmetry: A Novel By Lisa Halliday Cover Image
$16.00
ISBN: 9781501166785
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Simon & Schuster - October 16th, 2018

My appreciation for Asymmetry unfolded slowly. I was not immediately drawn to the story of a young woman--an aspiring writer--who stumbles into a romantic relationship with a much older man, a celebrated writer (and a dead ringer for Philip Roth).

My reservations evaporated completely as I entered into the second of the novel's three sections, the first-person account of a young Iraqui-American economist who has been detained at border control in London on his way to see his brother in Iraq. 

After I finished the book, I couldn't help returning to the beginning to try to figure out how Halliday had pulled off this delight of a novel. Thought-provoking and smart--although Halliday never hits you over the head with this--Asymmetry asks more questions than it answers--about empathy, about imagination, about whether we can truly understand those who are different from us. That is one of its great merits. Halliday's book easily deserves the accolades it has received.


Staff Pick Badge
French Exit: A Novel By Patrick deWitt Cover Image
$25.99
This book is currently on backorder. Please call or email for availability.
ISBN: 9780062846921
Published: Ecco - August 28th, 2018

As he did in his earlier novel, The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt here takes genre fiction--in this case, the comedy of manners (deWitt has called it a "tragedy" of manners)--and gives it his own special spin. On one level French Exit is a dark comedy about a socialite and her adult son--people with more money than sense--who squander their fortune and most move to a friend's flat in Paris.

But there's more to the book than what's on the surface. One reviewer described French Exit as "mixing the wit of Noel Coward with the loopy sensibility of Wes Anderson,." a high compliment indeed. French Exit is a funny, multi-faceted delight. 


Staff Pick Badge
Transcription: A Novel By Kate Atkinson Cover Image
$28.00
This book is currently on backorder. Please call or email for availability.
ISBN: 9780316176637
Published: Little, Brown and Company - September 25th, 2018

A new book by Kate Atkinson is a cause for celebration. Transcription is smart, wise, funny, and idiosyncratic, a novel in which troubling emotional truths hide under a cooler surface.

The novel takes place in 1940, 1950, and the present, but it's the first two periods that are the most prevalent. In 1940, our protagonist, Juliet Armstrong, 18, is recruited by MI5, initially as a secretary. Soon enough, she's involved in helping to bring down a group of British Fascist-sympathizers; In 1950, Juliet is working for the BBC, producing children's programming.

The time period takes Juliet from naive, romantic neophyte to clear-eyed realist. From working in the world of spies and in the bureaucracy of the organizations that manage them, she learns that no one is what they seem, that the reasons for what do we do and the ways in which we do them are not always as noble as our intent, and that in all of this, there are still things to fight for and care out, in spite of her disillusionment. 

Throughout, Juliet evinces a sharp intelligence, quick wit and a deep sense of irony (and an appreciation for Shakespeare), and all of these are joys of the novel. In fact, more than once I found myself thinking of Juliet as a younger, less jaded version of Dorothy Parker. Juliet is also an astute observer of people and situations, in spite of the fact that at 18, she is thoroughly unsophisticated about such things as sex, which, unsurprisingly, interferes significantly with her understanding of relationships.

Kate Atkinson has a gift for taking an unconventional approach to genre fiction, as she did with her series of mysteries featuring the detective Jackson Brodie (among my favorites of her novels). She does so here with the spy thriller, to great effect. 


Staff Pick Badge
Reservoir 13: A Novel By Jon Mcgregor Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781936787708
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Catapult - October 3rd, 2017

Jon McGregor's beautiful, haunting novel opens on the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl on the moor in an English village where her parents are vacationing. She is never found. Over 13 chapters covering 13 years, memories and conjectures about the tragedy weave through the novel, but the focus is the glimpses of the town--the cycles of nature, the seasonal routines--and its residents. The particulars become powerful by accretion, and the deep feelings we develop for the characters contrast with the rich quietness of McGregor's prose. This is an artful, stunning, and memorable addition to this Booker-nominated author's body of work.


Staff Pick Badge
The Perfect Nanny: A Novel By Leila Slimani, Sam Taylor (Translated by) Cover Image
By Leila Slimani, Sam Taylor (Translated by)
$17.00
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.


Staff Pick Badge
Less (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize): A Novel (The Arthur Less Books #1) By Andrew Sean Greer Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9780316316132
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Back Bay Books - May 22nd, 2018

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.


Staff Pick Badge
The Changeling: A Novel By Victor LaValle Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780812985870
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - 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.


Staff Pick Badge
The Essex Serpent: A Novel By Sarah Perry 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.


Staff Pick Badge
In the Distance By Hernan Diaz 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.


Staff Pick Badge
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel By Gail Honeyman Cover Image
$27.00
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.

 


Staff Pick Badge
Exit West: A Novel By Mohsin Hamid Cover Image
$27.00
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.


Staff Pick Badge
Anything Is Possible: A Novel By Elizabeth Strout Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812989410
Availability: Backordered at Our Warehouse. ETA Unavailable.
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - 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.


Staff Pick Badge
My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel By Elizabeth Strout Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780812979527
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - 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.


Staff Pick Badge
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment By Robert Wright Cover Image
$28.00
This book is currently on backorder. Please call or email for availability.
ISBN: 9781439195451
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.


Staff Pick Badge
Underground Airlines By Ben H. Winters Cover Image
$26.00
This book is currently on backorder. Please call or email for availability.
ISBN: 9780316261241
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.

 


Staff Pick Badge
His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae (Man Booker Prize Finalist 2016) By Graeme MaCrae Burnet Cover Image
$16.99
ISBN: 9781628728309
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Arcade - 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.


Staff Pick Badge
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel By Max Porter Cover Image
$15.00
ISBN: 9781555977412
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
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.


Staff Pick Badge
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia By Michael Booth Cover Image
$19.00
ISBN: 9781250081568
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Picador - 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!


Staff Pick Badge
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration By Isabel Wilkerson Cover Image
$18.95
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.


Staff Pick Badge
Middlemarch: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) By George Eliot, Rebecca Mead (Foreword by) Cover Image
By George Eliot, Rebecca Mead (Foreword by)
$18.00
ISBN: 9780143107729
Availability: Not Currently On Our Shelves. Usually Ships in 1-5 Days.
Published: Penguin Classics - 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.