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— SPRING 2021 NEW RELEASES — posted 4/2021

The New York Times Cooking No-Recipes Recipe - Sam Sifton

Every morning my iPhone receives a recipe from the New York Times. Throughout the past year of shutdowns and avoiding restaurants, I've used these recipes to make meals I otherwise would not have considered creating. Not one to use cookbooks or recipes, I've always made "refrigerator meals" in which I use what's on hand in the fridge and cupboard to make my made-up dishes. In his "No-Recipe Recipes" cookbook, Sam Sifton of the NYT newsletter "What to Cook," shares this same method of using what's on hand to create meals. The book opens with a list of must-have ingredients and their versatility and function. Each dish features a simple list of ingredients and even simpler cooking instructions and a gorgeous full-page color photo of the finished dish. "Join me in cooking this new, improvisational way, without recipes," says Sifton, who also provides tips and modifications so you can truly come up with your own interpretation of his 100 delicious dish suggestions.

Raft of Stars - Andrew Graff

This story is a deeply haunting, heart-pounding thriller about two young boys who flee into the woods of northern Wisconsin, absolutely sure that they've committed a horrific crime. It is also a deeply touching story of friendship and love, and how blindfolding fear can be. Andrew Graff does a terrific job pulling the reader into the minds of the two ten-year olds, building tension between them, along with building tension around the underlying story of what led them to wind up escaping to the woods. A page-turner written with the skill one would expect from really good literary fiction.


Girl A - Abigail Dean

As painful and horrific as it was to read the story of this family of seven children and their over-the-top-dysfunctional and diabolically abusive parents, it's beautifully written, with impeccable emotional insights. Though the reader isn't privy to the real-life crimes that inspired the book, one can't help but feel like a voyeur  . . and perhaps wonder if this is a true story . . . reading the details of the childhood abuse, but Abigail Dean leads the reader to care deeply for Girl A, compelling you to root for her rather than pity her. Go-girl, Abigail Dean!, that this is your debut novel, and sure to be a must-read that will be passed through the hands of many readers who will be grateful for your skilled writing and storytelling and pining for more!


The Four Winds - Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah's newest historical novel is painfully accurate about a time in US history that beat people to a pulp and literally filled their mouths with the dust of dry earth, rather than food: the Dust Bowl storms and the Great Depression of the 1930's. As achingly honest as The Grapes of Wrath, Hannah has written a quiet tear-jerker about Elsa Martinelli, her daughter Loreda, and her mother-in-law Rosa's dysfunctional personal and family relationships and their struggle to survive the unrelenting storms, with descriptions so real you feel like the dust is swirling around you as you read.


Migrations - Charlotte McConaghy

This was one of the hardest books for me to read. I started reading my ARC copy 6 months ago but had to put it down. I would see it in on my shelf, wanting to return to it but afraid of it. This week I finally made myself commit to reading and finishing it, despite the wrenching pain and anger I knew it would cause. OK . . . not the most positive beginning to a review, but the subject matter is heartbreaking. I'll just point out that I am a fanatic bird lover. Migrations is a novel about loss in the largest sense: mass extinction of the natural world. Charlotte McConaghy's perspective on our world's future is not in any way far-fetched; sadly it's only too true. She does a fine job weaving a love story around a bit of intrigue and a lot of science-world reality. I'm ready to start her newest novel about wolves, Once There Were Wolves, which will be another hard read for me, but necessary for accepting our changed world.


Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems - Keith Taylor

Ann Arbor writer Keith Taylor spent several weeks, at two different times in his life, on Isle Royale in northern Michigan as a part of the National Park Service's Artist-in-Residence program, in 1991 and again in 2019. This sweet chapbook, published by Alice Greene & Co., is Taylor's prose and poetry ruminations written during his wilderness immersion and his reemergence into "Twenty-first Century Wild." From the gorgeous front and back cover painting by Kathleen M. Heideman to the lovely and visually alert words on each page, this little gem of a book is a must-have companion to take along on hikes and camping out in the Michigan woods.


All the Young Men - Ruth Coker Burks, Kevin Carr O'Leary

This is an incredibly moving and enlightening memoir honoring the life of Ruth Coker Burks, who dedicated herself to recognizing and caring for AIDS-inflicted men who, left utterly alone, literally battled for their lives during the heinous and ignorant time in America when AIDS patients were viewed as having the cooties. Ms. Burks is not a household name in the history of AIDS, but she should be — her altruistic advocacy led her to advising Governor Bill Clinton on the national HIV-AIDS crisis.


Vera - Carol Edgarian

A tangled twist of events and people who are all connected to one powerful woman, Rose, who is the notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello. Vera, her illegitimate daughter, is the valiant heroine of this nail-biting, heartbreaking historic novel that takes place during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires that ravished the city.


We Run the Tides - Vendela Vida

As I read this book I realized how delightfully funny it was, despite some drama that quickly unfolds. The main protagonist, Eulabee, a bright 13-year old private girls school student in the fancy Sea Cliff neighborhood of 1980's San Francisco, is outright witty and is with-it about the world and people around her, especially about her teachers --- though everyone is clueless to that wit. Not as wealthy or popular as the other girls, and early on ostracized by the girls for her honesty, she rather delights the reader with her literary and life awareness and her biting sense of humor, despite being a geeky 13-year old who everyone seems to misunderstand. The poor rich families with their blah-blah-blah day-in-day-out lives are so amusing through her eyes, as is her perception of the banality of her teachers. The thing is, Eula is a good person; she's why I adored this book. Yes some "bad" things happen and yes she makes 13-year-old-girl poor choices, but Eula's character is not to be missed. I hope you find this book, and her, as delightful as I did


Unsettled Ground - Claire Fuller

The sadness of this book remained deep in my heart from page one, to the very end. Fifty-one year old twins Julius and Jeanie, living in a small rustic cottage in the remote English countryside they share with their mother, wake one morning to discover their mother dead in the parlor from a stroke, turning their entire lives turned upside down. One unfortunate event after another very quickly leaves them homeless, penniless and hungry, misjudged and mistreated. Wanting to scream at them to do something to help themselves, we witness their situation only gets worse . . . and worse. Deep into the story we learn they have been fed one lie after another from their mother, who was trying to protect them and to keep herself surrounded by their company, lies that forever impacted the "normal' lives the twins might have led. One pitiful affront to the twins leads to another and another, and when you think it can't get worse, it does. The story ends with a teeny bit of salvation. but not enough to erase the feeling of hopelessness and sorrow for these poor people. Incredibly well written, but not for the weak of heart.


At the Edge of the Haight - Katherine Seligman

At a time when more people than ever are on the edge of homelessness due to the pandemic and 2021's catastrophic winter storms that are causing devastation the country, this novel is an eye-opener into an out-of-sight/out-of-mind population. A timeless story, reading this book one can't help but assume this book is about the homeless and drug abuse culture of the Haight of the 1960's, though the novel actually speaks to the current day culture of homelessness in SF. The story follows Maddy, a homeless 20-year old young woman who becomes caught up in the drama of identifying (and staying clear of) the killer of a murder she happens upon, and the "family" she creates on the streets of San Francisco and in Golden Gate Parks. One can't help but embrace and cheer on many of the characters who we come to know, youths who choose to live off the grid and find their own way.

The Midnight Library -  Matt Haig

Nora Seed is facing a life-or-death decision, literally, when she suddenly finds herself in an otherworld “library” in which she is forced to search deep within herself. In The Midnight Library she travels through different times in her life, where she is exposed to the what-if’s we all ponder over . . . and how her life impacted others. Much like Frank Capra’s holiday film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” she learns why life is worth living and how those she met along the way would not have been the same without her. This Big Hit of a book is ultimately a feel-good reminder to embrace the choices we make and to not live a life full of regrets.


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