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Gwen's picks

Gwen's Picks

Reading, alphabetizing, shelving, organizing…working here has been a most appropriate outlet for my favorite hobby, as well as for my O.C.D. People who know me best know that my whole life has been leading up to this. I enjoy reading a fairly wide variety of books – both fiction and non-fiction – but I have a special place for more outlandish fiction. Whether it’s a conceptual shark, a talking bat, or an adventurous blue bear – I’m there. That being said, some of my favorite authors include Christopher Moore, Carl Hiaasen, Bill Bryson, Steve Almond, and John Irving.

Abbott Awaits

by Chris Bachelder

Let's start with, I LOVED Bear v. Shark, by Chris Bachelder. I was psyched when Abbott Awaits came out, if just a little nervous about how it would hold up to Bear v. Shark. I was not disappointed. This book tells the story of Abbott's day to day life over a three month period. He is a teacher on summer break who is caring for his young daughter and trying to keep everything else in his life on track as well. At times profoundly sad and hilariously funny, Bachelder does a great job of capturing the exraordinary and the mundane of one man's life.

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Faithful Place

by Tana French

In this third installment of her Dublin Murder Squad series, Tana French explores an old missing person case - just recently unearthed. When the suitcase of a local girl who was presumed a runaway 22 years earlier, turns up in an abandoned building, the investigation heats up. Undercover Officer Frank Mackey is called back to his hometown, but not as a cop, as the once boyfriend of the missing girl. Frank now has to address his past while coming to terms with his strained familial relationships. I've now read all three of Tana French's books, and this one comes in second for me. I'm still partial to her first, In The Woods, but I enjoyed this one almost as much. She once again did a good job of developing her characters, both likeable and not, and of making you want to know what happens next.

 

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Blind Descent

by James M. Tabor

In the same way that I do not have any interest in climbing Mount Everest, I have no interest in descending into to the deepest depths of the earth - in a dark cave no less. But read about it ? Absolutely. Blind Descent chronicles caving explorations that are attempting to find the deepest cave on earth. Tabor outlines the efforts of two men who are racing to be the first to explore the deepest cave - American Bill Stone, and Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk. The descriptions in his book are both breathtaking and unbelievable. What these caving and diving teams are enduring in the name of science, and adventure, is astonishing. Tabor offers a well-rounded description of both men and their respective caving expeditions, both positive and not so positive. He discusses the personal and professional impact that their work has had on their lives. This was an exciting and informative read. On a personal note, I was drawn to this book because I have a friend who worked with Bill Stone as part of the Wakulla Springs Mapping Project in Florida. It was fun to get his input as I read through the book.

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Stories

by Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

What a great collection of short stories from a wide range of authors - many of whom I would not have read otherwise. I heard Joe Hill read his story, "The Devil on the Staircase" when he was at RiverRun, and I couldn't wait for the story to be published in this collection. I was thrilled to get the book, and even happier with how great many of the other stories were as well. "Catch and Release," "Blood" and "The Therapist" were all wonderfully disturbing. Jodi Picoult's story, "Weights and Measures," was striking in a way that I was not expecting. I loved this collection and I'm glad that I took a chance on reading some of the authors that I hadn't read before.

 

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At Least In The City Someone Would Hear Me Scream

by Wade Rouse

As soon as Wade was old enough to leave the Ozarks and move to the city he did, with the intention of never returning. Over time, however, he became frustrated with his job and with city life and decided to try living more simply. He and his partner Gary decide to live "like Thoreau," so they move to rural Michigan. And so the fun begins... Neither of them is quite prepared for what happens when all of the modern conveniences of urban life are removed. What ? No Kashi Go Lean Cereal ? No Jicama at the local grocery store ? Rouse keeps a running scorecard of "Wade's Walden" versus "Modern Society" throughout the book. I thought this memoir was hysterical. I laughed out loud - and read parts of it out loud to anyone who would listen. Rouse is a cross between David Sedaris and Lucille Ball - and I say that as a most positive compliment.

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Blood Oath

by Christopher Farnsworth

 

According to lore, President Johnson entered into a blood oath with a vampire in 1867. This oath tied the vampire into service to the office of the president - forever. As you could expect, the existence of the vampire is kept a very closely guarded secret - only those on a need to know basis are informed. Johnson's vampire, Nathaniel Cade, is a dutiful servant, protecting the president from all threats of a non-human kind. He's got the military for everything else, but he has Cade for the real threats to our safety. In this first story, Cade has to get to know his new partner, Zach Barrows - the most recent member of the "need to know" group, while protecting the president from an old and sinister rival. This was a fun, quick moving read, and I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

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You Don't Have To Be Evil To Work Here, But It Helps

by Tom Holt

OK, so the recession is hitting everyone hard, and we all have to make do with what we have. Or do we ? What if there was another option that could help your small business stay afloat - forever and ever. Colin Hollinghead's father has decided to take a very interesting offer to keep his business alive, so to speak. Now Colin's boring employment at his father's widget company is anything but boring. Between meetings with the folks at J.W. Wells & Co., learning about love potions and engaging in time travel, Colin no longer knows which way is up, or who he can trust. I had never read Tom Holt before, even though he's got 30-something books out there. I'll be checking out more of his titles now that I know how much fun his books are.

 

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One Bloody Thing After Another

by Joey Comeau

For starters, the title is very accurate. Make no mistake, there will be blood. There will also be a lot of laughter, and some sadness as well. Although this is not a traditional coming of age story, there are certainly elements of one offered in this book. One of the central characters, Jackie, is coming to terms with her mother's death, and with her feelings for her best friend, Ann. Ann has problems of her own, including how to keep her mother fed. Oh yeah, her mom is chained up in the basement. It gets even better. There's an old man with a less-than brilliant dog who is being followed by a headless ghost. I read the book twice before deciding whether I could recommend it, or whether it would be too weird. But I decided to go with it because I really did enjoy it, and I know that there are some of you out there who will enjoy it as much as I did.

 

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The Cry of the Sloth

by Sam Savage

Written entirely as a series of letters, this book chronicles the life of Andrew Whittaker - landlord, author and editor. As Andrew's life becomes more unmanageable, the letters become more and more hysterical. Everyone around Andrew is treated to a first-hand acount of his demise. Although this sounds like it shouldn't be funny, it is, quite funny in fact. Savage pokes fun at Whittaker specifically, and happily spoofs the "artistic" lifestyle in general along the way. A lot of laugh out loud fun (I still have quite the visual of Andrew doing his sloth imitation).

 

 

 

 

 

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Vinyl Cafe Unplugged

by Stuart McLean

I must admit that I have never listened to McLean's radio show, The Vinyl Cafe. I have read a few of his books however, including this one, which I think is terrific. In Vinyl Cafe Unplugged, McLean offers more stories about the fictional family that he has created - Dave and Morley, and their children Stephanie and Sam. McLean sets up some of the funniest, often over-the-top, situations for the members of the family, while keeping us interested because we can recognize ourselves in them (and maybe some of our relatives). What I really liked was McLean's ability to tell stories that are mostly funny, but are also sprinkled with touching life lessons along the way, without being too sappy.

 

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Expiration Date

by Duane Swierczynski

Mickey Wade, recently unemployed and out of options, finds himself living in his grandfather's place, back in his old neighborhood. When he takes some expired Tylenol that he finds at the apartment, he has no idea of the chain of events that he will set in motion. Suddenly able to time travel back to the early 1970's when he was born, he is now capable of seeing firsthand his own life history. What Mickey also realizes is that he may be able to alter the outcome of that history as well. This seems like an appealing idea for him, especially when he meets the young boy that will grow up to kill Mickey's own father.
I am a huge fan of Severance Package, also by Swiercyznski, and have been looking forward to reading this book. I was not disappointed.

 

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A Reliable Wife

by Robert Goolrick

When Ralph Truitt placed his personal ad for a "reliable wife," he had his own ulterior motive for doing so. What he wasn't planning on was the fact that the woman who answered his ad had some hidden motives of her own. Goolrick does a nice job of outlining the twists and turns of the plot, as well as developing his characters. The stark setting of Wisconsin in the early 1900's added an additional element of mystery to the story. This was a great read about the impact of family secrects, and about the strength of people to change and become resilient in unexpected ways.

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Requiem, Mass

by John Dufresne

Dufresne tells the story about a family coming apart at the seams, and about the young son who is trying his best to hold them all together.

 

Johnny’s mother is having some “issues,” including a  diagnosis of Capgras’s syndrome (she believes her children have been replaced by exact replicas of themselves). His father is a truck driver and rarely at home. His sister Audrey appears to be struggling with issues of her own.

 

Johnny is trying to make everything right for his family, but his parents are fighting him off every step of the way.

 

Dufresne alternates between Johnny’s life today, and the memoir that he is writing about his past. This was a fun novel, with some serious family issues thrown in to darken it up a bit.

 

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Dragonbreath

by Ursela Vernon

This is a new favorite of mine.  Meet Danny Dragonbreath and his side-kick Wendell the iguana. When Danny gets an F on his science paper, he has to re-do the paper—but this time he has to actually do the research.

Danny takes Wendell along on a trip to visit his cousin Edward the Sea Serpent who lives in the ocean. Edward takes them on an adventure in the sea. There are sharks and whales and puffer fish (oh my).

Lots of fun and excitement for kids (and adults) ages 8 and up.

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Dear American Airlines

by Jonathan Miles

When I first started this book I thought that it was going to be one long rant against the airline that cancelled Bennie’s flight. I thought it would be fun, but that it could have been a funny article and not a book.

 

 

 

As I got further into the book though, I realized that Miles was telling a more in depth story about the relationship between Bennie and his ex-wife Stella, and about his daughter’s wedding—the one that he is in jeopardy of missing because of the flight delay.

 

 

 

Miles does a nice job of blending Bennie’s rant with the background stories.

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The Downhill Lie

by Carl Hiaasen

Although best known for his mysteries, Hiaasen’s memoir about returning to the game of golf following a 32 year hiatus, is just as  entertaining (and funny).

Given that I neither play nor watch golf, I was initially reluctant to read this book. However, I’ve enjoyed everything that I have read by Hiaasen, so I decided to try this one, and I’m glad that I did. 

He approaches this memoir with the same sense of humor that keeps me coming back for more of his books. Golfers and non-golfers alike will enjoy Downhill Lie—whether you can relate to Hiaasen’s plight, or whether you are living vicariously through him.

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The Soul of Medicine

by Sherwin Nuland

This collection of stories from various medical fields was one of the most interesting that I have read in a long time. They aren’t kidding when they say that truth is stranger than fiction. Nuland has amassed stories that address multiple topics —some about the doctors themselves, or about interesting patients or diagnoses; some about what happens when everything goes just as planned, and some about when everything goes very, very wrong. It is the latter category of stories that I would point to when I say that this book is not for the squeamish. But if you like good medical reading, this is it.  

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Breathers

by S.G. Browne

Yes, zombies are “in.” And yes, this too shall pass. But you should read Browne’s book before it does. Andy Warner wakes up   following his funeral to   discover he is a zombie.  Reluctantly, his parents claim him, but returning home as a new zombie isn’t easy for any of them. Think returning home after college, but you’re dead. Although Andy has a hard time adjusting to the new “life” he has been given, things are about to get even stranger when he attends his first U.A. meeting, yes,   Undead Anonymous. Browne’s novel is very funny, and very twisted, in the most positive sense of the word.   

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Unplugging Philco

by Jim Knipfel

Knipfel’s novel is set in a future time following “the Horribleness” that took place in Tupelo, Mississippi years ago. Now the world has changed—separated into Mutual Citizens and Unmutuals. All people are now under close, high-tech supervision by the various government agencies responsible for keeping all citizens safe, and all Unmutuals contained.

Wally, the main character in this satirical book, decides to make a break from the insanity. But how ?  By joining a rebel group known as the Unpluggers.

Lots of fun. A great read for all of you conspiracy theorists out there—and you know who you are—and so do they !!

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The House of Wittgenstein

by Alexander Waugh

Although I enjoy non-fiction books, I seem to read fewer of them than I read fiction. The NY Times book review sparked my curiosity about the book, and I’m glad that I decided to read it. This biography of the Wittgenstein family was fascinating. It outlined the family history from Karl, the patriarch, to his eight children, and then to his grandchildren—spanning from the 1800’s to the present day. The history, although tragic, was also quite interesting.

Waugh provided a lot of background on the history of the time. This included Viennese history, music history, and the German influence on the family during Hitler’s regime. I think Waugh’s extensive research paid off, this is a great book.

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Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

by Kevin Wilson

I often find it hard to recommend books of short stories. For me, there is usually a  combination of some really great stories, and others that are just “OK” at best, making it difficult to fully promote a book.

This is not the case with Kevin Wilson’s book.  Every story was unforgettable—some were disturbing (but in a good way).

Whether it’s with the premise of the story, or the fallibility of his characters, Wilson catches   your interest, and brings you along for an amazing ride.

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Buffalo Lockjaw

by Greg Ames

This novel explores the impact that Alzheimer’s has on the Fitzroy family.
Shortly after her diagnosis, James’s mother Ellen confides in him that she wanted to commit  suicide to avoid the expected outcome of her disease.

Ames tells the story of James’s return home to Buffalo four years later. He gives a touching, and at times funny, account of this homecoming. He explores the dynamics / alliances of the Fitzroy family, as well as the intricacies of returning home to where you grew up.

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The Housekeeper and the Professor

by Yoko Ogawa

Although this book is a departure from the types of books that I usually read, I enjoyed this novel from start to finish.Ogawa tells the story of the relationships between the 3 main characters—a math professor, his housekeeper, and her son. Following an accident, the professor is unable to retain memories for longer than 80 minutes at a time. He remains forever in the year 1975.I thought this was a beautifully written story about time, relationships, and the power of memory.

 

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Last Days of Summer

by Steve Kluger

This is a fun read about a young boy who is looking for a hero. The object of his attention is a ball player who is not quite sure about what this will mean in his life. U.S.A. Today calls it “funny and poignant,” and they are right on. Kluger’s format is also quite fun to read. I’m excited that they did another printing for the tenth anniversary of this charming book.

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Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem

by Chris Monroe

AROOGA
BOOM
CLANG CLANG

Chico Bon Bon is back and better than ever.
This time he has a very noisy problem.

Luckily, he has all the tools that he needs to begin tackling the problem.

 

 

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The Straight Man

by Richad Russo

Although not his most popular book, this is my favorite Russo novel by far.

Both funny and touching, it tells the story of Mr. Devereaux, the reluctant head of the English Department at a school in Pennsylvania.

An enjoyable read from start to finish.

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A Fraction of the Whole

by Steve Toltz

I thought this was a very well-written account of the relationship dynamics between a father and son.  Toltz did a great job of writing from the different perspectives of each of his characters.  I was particularly impressed by his ability to write from Martin's point of view, giving a moving account of his mental status. 

There were parts of the book that were hysterically funny.  Toltz has a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that, luckily, he offers up freely.

 

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Firmin

by Sam Savage

Okay, so I was initially suckered in by the marketing genius of the book. I'll admit freely to that.  I was fully expecting a "cutesy" tale about a rat living in a bookstore.  What I wasn't expecting was the story that unfolded.  It is a sad, but touching summary of Firmin's life-- his hopes, fears, aspirations-- which eerily reflect many of our own. 

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Ten

by Sheila Lukins

I have been experimenting with this cookbook since I got it a few months ago.  Every recipe has been fantastic. You should ask my co-workers for verification (mention the Chocolate-Raspberry Truffles).  These recipes have been easy enough to follow, but have turned out great tasting dishes. Highly recommended.  

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Slumdog Millionaire

by Vikas Swarup

This book was originally published as Q&A.  It starts with the arrest of the main character, Ram Mohammad Thomas, who has correctly answered all of the questions on Who Will Win a Billion? (India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?).  Who knows whether or not the random events that have shaped your life could lead you to the answers on the show? It's a great premise, and Swarup did a great job in setting up the story line.  Although I haven't seen it yet, I have heard that the movie is great, although there are some primary differencs between the two (I've compared notes with people who have seen the movie).  

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The Dart League King

by Keith Lee Morris

This novel takes place in a single day, and tells the interconnected tales of its five main characters.  Morris is adept at character development, and I was reminded of John Irving's style, even though the book is not nearly as long as Irving's usual works.  Morris does a very nice job of telling this town's story.  I finished the book and was hoping that the author would consider another 24 hours. 

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Beat the Reaper

by Josh Bazell

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.  I couldn't wait to see what would happen, and then I was sad that it was over.  Definitely not for the squeamish (the author himself said that he reread the last scene and felt physically ill--and that he was not unhappy about that), and neither was I.  Beat the Reaper has mafia hitmen, outrageous action scenes, and sharks.  A lot of fun. 

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The Angel Maker

by Stefan Brijs

If you like books that are a little "creepy," then try "The Angel Maker." Dr. Hoppe, a geneticist with an intense god complex, has many secrets that unfold in this novel. The author does a nice job of telling Dr. Hoppe's story by outlining the doctor's history, and what brought him to where he is today.

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Bitter Is the New Black

by Jen Lancaster

Anyone who admits to bringing a Prada Bag to the unemployment office deserves what they get--and Jen Lancaster receives more than she would like to admit.  This was a fun read- sarcastic and self-absorbed- but will there be any lessons learned for Ms. Lancaster? You'll have to read it to find out. 

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Not that You Asked

by Steve Almond

Steve Almond's recent collection of essays (a.k.a. rants, exploits, and obsessions) are definitely worth reading-- some of them more than once.  He tackles Oprah (not literally, of course), discusses his crush on Vonnegut, addresses highlights (low-lights?) from his sex life, and talks about being a new father, and the risks associated with the job.

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

by Bill Bryson

This was easily my favorite memoir in a long time.  If you've read anything by Bill Bryson, you'll recognize his laid back, matter of fact style, peppered with his sarcastic wit.  His insights are spot-on, and nothing is off limits.

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You Suck

by Christopher Moore

I'll readily admit that I would recommend anything by Christopher Moore.  You Suck is a follow-up to his earlier Bloodsucking Fiends--but reading them in order isn't necessary.  Of course, I'd recommend you read all of his slightly insane, over-the-top funny novels.  If you are ready to supsend disbelief, he's the guy.

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Company

by Max Barry

Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government, has done it again.  I'm certain you will recognize many of his characters as people you have worked with, or for, over the years.  I know I did...and no, no one from here of course.

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Then We Came to the End

by Joshua Ferris

Even though it's cliche to say "this book has everything", I'll say it anyway.  There were parts that had me laughing out loud (clown suits and paint guns), along with some touching human interactions (involving paint guns again, but you'll see...)

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In the Woods

by Tana French

Tana French's first novel is very well-written, fast-paced, and full of great character development.  It has been a staff pick for several of us in the store, as well as a customer favorite.

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Monkey with a Tool Belt

by Chris Monroe

Hooray for Chico Bon Bon the monkey with the (excellent) toolbelt.  Join Chico on his journey from tree house to circus, and then back home (where he dons his seriously adorable pajamas).

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The Rabbit Factory

by Marshall Karp

Don't let the size of this book scare you off.  Part murder-mystery (of Rambunctious Rabbit for starters), part conspiracy theory (in Karp's Disney-esque setting), part human interest, and all fun.

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A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

Yes, this is my #1 all-time favorite book- ever.  Does everything that happens in our lives happen for a purpose? If you think the answer to that question is "no", you may change your mind after reading this book.

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