Devon D. Staff Picks
These stories reach in and grab you by the bones. In turns sexy, vibrant, raw, and weird, it's hard to believe so immaculate a collection is a debut. As lyrical as Angela Carter, as unnerving as Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado has instantly become one of my favorite authors.
Reading Barbara Pym is like drinking a cup of warm tea in a window seat, even if you're actually jammed on a crowded subway platform watching the third train in a row bypass your station. Her bittersweet observational humor is always spot-on and makes you laugh in that way reserved for things that are just so true. ExcellentWomen is considered the best of Pym's novels, but please, don't make me choose!
Kawakami gives us a slice of Japanese suburban life, away from the crowds and chaos of Tokyo. Quietly humorous, The Nakano Thrift Shop is ultimately about transitions in life and the relationships which transcend them.
Embrace your inner-Indiana Jones and dive into this rich, compelling book. Ceram tells the history of Western archaeology through the lives of its pioneers. From the academic gentleman-adventurer, to the conquering general, these pages are full of unforgettable characters, as well as some of history's greatest discoveries.
Say what you will about French patisserie, I think German baked goods are king, and this book contains all the crown jewels. A recent publication, yet every culinarily-minded person I know already swears by this book.
Sensuous, dark and decadent, these stories are so gorgeously written, I want to wrap myself up inside them. Carter reaches into the wellspring of European folklore and drags her characters, kicking and screaming, into the almost-but-not-quite modern world.
The Irish Examiner called Stanisic "offensively gifted" and I agree. His writing is unfairly clever. His tone is so hypnotic, I found myself thinking in the language of the novel. Reminiscent of Gogol, endlessly devourable.
Frame is one of those authors whose popularity ebbs and flows, but her talent is constant. I love the way she plays with language, perception, and perspective in Scented Gardens, which tells the story of three family members robbed of their senses in more ways than one. Full of memorable characters, allegories, and imaginary insect friends, this book is like nothing you've read before.
Declared an old maid before she's thirty, Laura "Lolly" Willowes longs to escape her overbearing family to forge a life for herself, even if she ends up a witch in the process. Independent women, sumptuous nature writing, and the occasional pact with the devil, what more could you want?
This collection of 9 interconnected short stories explore lives intersected by secrets kept under lock and key--literally and otherwise. In what you might call her signature style, Oyeyemi enfuses a fairy-tale-like quality into contemporary settings. Echoes of Borges, Nabokov, and the Brother's Grimm throughout as a pop star is plagued by demons after a YouTube scandal, married psychologists experiment with turning each other into ghosts, and an old woman in a red cape has a fateful encounter with a "wolf". I particularly enjoyed the diversity represented in the characters--nearly every story features a queer character or a person of color--breathing some new life into the European-style fable.With five novels under her belt at 31, it's no wonder Oyeyemi was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists (2013). Don't forget to check out Andrea's review of Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox.--Devon
In LaRose Erdrich does what she does best, creating a multi-generational portrait of a family with careful attention paid to nearly every person mentioned; there are no side characters here, only finely sketched individuals who are part of a whole. Reading this book feels a lot like becoming part of that family. It also contains perhaps the most riveting depiction of a high school volleyball game ever to come into print.--Devon
Writer, historian and activist, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz gives U.S. history a much-needed retelling. Starting with a portrait of the native nations before colonialism, Dunbar-Ortiz charts the impact of U.S. nation-building on the peoples and cultures who were already here. She brings to light often-downplayed individual and systemic violence against Indigenous peoples over the last 400 years and highlights those who have fought to maintain sovereignty and preserve their culture in the face of it all. With engaging prose, Dunbar-Ortiz may have invented the first history textbook that's a page-turner to boot. Required reading for sure.
This book is a wild ride. Dunn means the word 'geek' here in its original sense--yes, as in the person who bites heads off of chickens at the circus--as she paints a family portrait of the Binewskis, carnival-owners and performers. There's conjoined twins; Arturo, the meglomaniacal Aqua Boy; Oly, the hunchback dwarf with a golden voice; and Chick, the seemingly 'normal' child. The San Francisco Chronicle called it "A Fellini movie in ink" and I agree. Riveting, shocking and so, so good.
So engrossing it caused me to miss my subway stop. Twice. Wryly funny, yet heart-wrenching. The phrase 'rediscovered genius' gets bandied about a lot, but with this book, I feel Comyns earns the title.
The Bone People is so many things I almost don't have words to explain it. Startling, almost fragmented prose weaves together the story of three fractured souls; each character isolated, yet increasingly bound to the others, like the islands of Hulme's native New Zealand. It's no wonder this sprawling, beautiful novel won Hulme the Booker prize.--Devon
In this semi-autobiographical novel, Janet Campbell Hale explores the struggle for identity and purpose at the intersection of Native American and white American cultures. On the evening of her 30th birthday, the eponymous Cecelia finds herself in jail for DUI. There, she reflects on the course of her life from her childhood on reservations in rural Idaho and Washington, teenage motherhood, and marriage to her demeaning white husband, to her eventual enrollment in law school--a lifelong goal that now seems soured by previous hardships. Hale's prose is cool, almost detached, which allows her to describe the best and worst moments in Cecelia's life unabashed, without feeling sensationalist. A very raw, unflinching look at a Native American woman's experience that feels as poignant and necessary today as 30 years ago.
Part-mystery, part-political drama, The God of Small Things tells the story of twins living in southern India in the late 1960's and the tragedies that tear their family apart. Roy's prose is rich and playful, making for a truly cinematic novel that conjures up vivid images and leaves you with wonderful musings like, "there are no black cats, only black cat-shaped holes in the universe."
A classic of the horror genre, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is a slow-churning kettle of thrills. Her prose is intoxicating and the characters are rich and delightful. I was surprised by just how funny this book was. Like Hill House itself, the story telling convinces you to let your gaurd down with a playful, comedy-of-manners sort of prose that stands in sharp contrast to the sinister twists and turns that will get your heart racing!
When they signed up to be Lumberjanes, the girls probably thought they'd spend the summer weaving baskets and rowing canoes around picturesque lakes. They probably did not expect to be running from were-bears and fighting supernatural beasties! Riddles, mazes, velociraptors, the Lumberjanes face them all (more or less) fearlessly with each other's help. Winner of the 2015 Eisner awards for Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens, Lumberjanes is a fun series that's full of diverse female characters and great for all ages.
What leads a boy to murder his own mother? Can two souls share a single destiny? These are some of the questions central to Elif Shafak's novel, Honor. Shafak, who is Turkey's most-read female author, constructs this heartbreaking portrait of a family so completely, that the book feels much longer than it is in the best possible since. Spanning across cultures and time, Honor fits the scope of an epic into a slim volume, and left me excited to explore more of Shafak's works.
The Rat Queens are a brash group of lady adventurers. A hipster dwarf, an atheist cleric, a rockabilly Elven mage, and a hippy Smidgen thief walk into a bar, down some ale, and take on the forces of evil in this bawdy, grown-up play on the fantasy genre. Gory, hilarious, and definitely NOT for kids!
After certifying his suburban backyard as a wildlife habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, James Barilla learned that life with wild creatures is not always a peaceable kingdom. Faced with squirrels stealing his garden crops and opossums invading his crawl space, Barilla set out across the globe to see how humans and animals share the urban landscapes we both call home. From monkeys in India and marmosets in Brazil, to black bears in Massachusetts and the squirrels in our yards, this book provides a wonderfully in-depth look at the limits of coexistence. Barilla's prose is both authoritative and friendly--you immediately get the sense he's a man who knows his stuff, but at the same time the book is approachable for anyone, regardless of their academic background.
Saga continues! Star-crossed alien lovers struggle to raise a toddler while on the lam; a Robot Prince with amnesia tries to remember what he's searching for; stuff blows up and relationships fall apart. This genre-bending series from an Eisner Award winning author/illustrator duo is gritty, touching, and hilarious all at once.
Some books you know right away you love, and some you come to love over time. This book is both – Bulawayo’s prose is immediately arresting and her characters and literary voice stays with you long after you’ve finished. Remarkable read!
Totally engrossing and heart wrenching, this book is the perfect blend of page-turning mystery and thought-provoking literature. When a man’s wife goes missing, leaving a doppelganger in her place, he searches high and low to unravel the mystery – from the farthest reaches of Pategonia to just down the street at Hungarian Pastry Shop.
I've been hit with 'Ferrante Fever' ever since I started reading her Neopolitan series in the fall of 2014. Ferrante is an elegant writer who has a masterful ability to capture those fleeting everyday thoughts in just the right way. In Days of Abandonment Ferrante's prose shines even more intensely--it's raw, at times terrifying, and emotionally charged. After her husband leaves her, Olga struggles to reestablish the life she's put on hold to become a wife and mother. Fighting against regret, the agony of love and life lost, and the summer heat, she must relearn how to take care of her children, and more importantly, herself.
Looking to free herself from the tyranny of book reviews and course syllabi, literary critic Phyllis Rose set out on a unique literary experiment: to read a whole shelf of books from the New York Society Library. Everything: good, bad and otherwise. The result is The Shelf: From LEQ to LES, a chronicle of her journey as well as an exploration of the hows and whys some authors become part of our literary cannon and others fade into obscurity. Packed with great insights and written with a great deal of warmth and wit, The Shelf feels like a thought-provoking discussion with Rose--you can almost picture the two of you deep in conversation over a hot beverage.
Did you know that squirrels communicate with tail twitches? Or that most of the bird species you see in an average day aren't native to North America? In her book, Haupt reforges the medieval bestiary for the modern age, taking readers into the lives of some of our most common furry and feathered city-dwelling neighbors. Drawing on history and folklore in addition to tracking techniques and observation, The Urban Bestiaryhighlights the often invisible ways humans and animals impact each other's lives in the ever-growing urban jungle. Haupt has a great passion for wildlife that shines through her writing; thanks to this book I'll always have a warm feeling towards opossums and a great curiosity about pigeons.
Deb Perelman is such a delight. A self-taught home cook and photographer, she's funny, passionate, and as a New Yorker herself she understands the trials of cooking in a shoebox-sized kitchen. I've been following her blog of the same name for years, and this beautiful cookbook is everything I hoped a book from her would be.
Favorite Recipe: Apple Cider Caramels - They're so easy to make, taste sublime, and never fail to impress come holiday time.
As a former Bostonian who frequented Flour Cafe, maybe I'm biased when I say it's home to the greatest sandwiches, but, seriously, this place makes great sandwiches--and now you can, too! Joanne Chang's recipes take simple, wholesome ingredients and make magic. In college, we used to read her cookbooks to each other like bedtime stories; even if we didn't, I'd still dream about her Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake.
Favorite Recipe: Roast Lamb with Tomato Chutney and Rosemary Goat Cheese Sandwich - I have literally walked a mile in the snow for this sandwich. Tender lamb, sweet chutney, and tangy goat cheese. Need I say more?
Yes, Stanley Tucci the actor, that Stanley Tucci. Actor or not, this man knows his Italian food. Nothing against actors, in fact, I got this as a birthday present a number of years ago precisely because I enjoy Tucci's acting so much, but I had no idea this book would be the treasure trove it is. Drawing on several generations of his family's most cherished recipes, this is a book is all about making Italian dishes the old-fashioned way: everything, everything homemade with lots of love and olive oil.
Favorite Recipe: Drum of Ziti - It's pasta inside of pasta inside of pasta. Pasta-ception! This book also contains my go-to recipe for homemade pizza dough: only a few ingredients and just the right amount of rise.
Culinary super star Yotam Ottolenghi has done it again: made me love vegetables. What can I say? I'm a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore. But Ottolenghi's fresh take on vegetarian cuisine never fails to prove me wrong. This highly anticipated sequel to his first book, Plenty, shows yet again how to elevate veggies from side dish to main attraction. Whether you're vegetarian or not, you've got to give his recipes a try.
Favorite Recipe: Butternut Squash with Buckwheat Polenta and Tempura Lemon - The creamy polenta marries well with the savory-sweet squash, with an added kick from the crispy lemon. Make it weeknight-friendly and swap the fancy fried lemon for a squirt of lemon juice instead.
A hilarious satire of the faults and follies of Britain's Lost Generation delivered with Waugh's signature wit. Failing writer Adam Fenwick-Symes and his on-again/off-again, wealthy fiancee, Nina, flow from country homes and auto races to parties, mingling London's decadent, if aimless, youth (aka Bright Young Things). Guaranteed to make you giggle in public.--Devon
A thief in future Shanghai swipes a high tech learning primer meant for a nobleman's daughter and inadvertently sets a revolution in motion. This steam-punk-inspired sci-fi novel is part political thriller, part coming of age tale and a whole lot of fun. Stephanson anticipates some ipad/ebook technology and explores the impact of learning and access to information on a young mind.--Devon
If, like me, you love staring at the dioramas at AMNH, especially the older, more sun-faded ones, this book is for you. An engaging look at natural history museums and their changing place in our culture. From two-headed snakes in jars in a cabinet of curiosities to the modern institutions of research and education and every phase in between. Great read for those interested in history of science, museology and taxidermy.--Devon
Each focused on a particular word, these essays explore the changing landscape in China from the Cultural Revolution, to the perplexing capitalist/communist hybrid of today. Yu Hua's writing is funny, personal, and touching; this book reads more like a chat with a fascinating friend than a stogy cultural history. The chapter on "Reading" is worth the price of admission alone.
A country mansion, an acquitted murderess, her uncle, her sister, and townsfolk that hate them all: these are the ingredients for Shirley Jackson's classic tale of isolation and deception. It will leave you wondering who the real villains are.
In 1985, exiled filmmaker, Miguel Littin, returned to his native Chile disguised as a Uruguayan businessman to see (and secretly film) how the country had changed under the iron-rule of Pinochet. Littin's story, wonderfully rendered here by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is part political thriller, part homage to his homeland, and all stranger than fiction.
Frame is a master lyricist and the inner lives of her characters are rich beyond measure. I am so excited to see this book back in print after far too long--a real classic!
These stories are not for the faint of heart--they are dark, sometimes violent, sometimes grotesque, and deeply unnerving. This is Mariana Enriquez's first work to be translated into English and it will leave you wanting more.
Reminiscent of Shirley Jackson, HP Lovecraft, and Silvina Ocampo.
For three generations the Silver family has lived in their seaside mansion full of hidden passageways and dark secrets. And for three generations the Silver women have been plagued by supernatural powers. But it's the year 2010--the house is being turned into a Bed-and-Breakfast and Miranda Silver is just trying to navigate college, nevermind otherworldly magic. A modern take on the Gothic genre, written by Oyeyemi, who might just be the master of the contemporary fairy tale.