2015 Summer Reads

Looking for an engrossing, entertaining or fluffy summer read? Check out some of the titles our patrons have recommended below. Some new, some old, some poignant, others pure entertainment, all noteworthy.

 

“The Meaning of Human Existence”  E.O. Wilson

How did humanity originate and why does a species like ours exist on this planet? Do we have a special place, even a destiny in the universe? Where are we going, and perhaps, the most difficult question of all, “Why?”

In The Meaning of Human Existence, his most philosophical work to date, Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson grapples with these and other existential questions, examining what makes human beings supremely different from all other species. Searching for meaning in what Nietzsche once called “the rainbow colors” around the outer edges of knowledge and imagination, Wilson takes his readers on a journey, in the process bridging science and philosophy to create a twenty-first-century treatise on human existence—from our earliest inception to a provocative look at what the future of mankind portends.

Continuing his groundbreaking examination of our “Anthropocene Epoch,” which he began with The Social Conquest of Earth, described by the New York Times as “a sweeping account of the human rise to domination of the biosphere,” here Wilson posits that we, as a species, now know enough about the universe and ourselves that we can begin to approach questions about our place in the cosmos and the meaning of intelligent life in a systematic, indeed, in a testable way.

Once criticized for a purely mechanistic view of human life and an overreliance on genetic predetermination, Wilson presents in The Meaning of Human Existence his most expansive and advanced theories on the sovereignty of human life, recognizing that, even though the human and the spider evolved similarly, the poet’s sonnet is wholly different from the spider’s web. Whether attempting to explicate “The Riddle of the Human Species,” “Free Will,” or “Religion”; warning of “The Collapse of Biodiversity”; or even creating a plausible “Portrait of E.T.,” Wilson does indeed believe that humanity holds a special position in the known universe.

The human epoch that began in biological evolution and passed into pre-, then recorded, history is now more than ever before in our hands. Yet alarmed that we are about to abandon natural selection by redesigning biology and human nature as we wish them, Wilson soberly concludes that advances in science and technology bring us our greatest moral dilemma since God stayed the hand of Abraham. ~Goodreads

 

“The Birth of Rock and Roll”  Jim Linderman

In “The Birth of Rock and Roll,” Americana collector Jim Linderman has arranged a storyboard of sorts that dramatizes the spirit of rock and roll in its early days-when “a juke-joint with fifty patrons was a big show,” as Linderman writes in his introduction. “A church with fifty congregants was a full house. The annual square dance at the town hall, a rent party, a fish-fry, the honky-tonk piano in the whore house, the union meeting There was no real money in it. A performer was lucky to be fed, get drunk and get laid.” The photographs have little to do with the conventional iconography of the birth of rock and roll: conspicuously absent are pictures of young white men in Memphis, poodle skirts, Alan Freed and Bill Haley’s Brylcream. These photographs instead document and celebrate the pure but indefinable essence of rocking. Ordinary, anonymous men, women and children-some white, some black-are holding guitars and strumming while looking relaxed or frantic, but nearly always blissful. Some of the action takes place in rural fields, some in dance halls, some at civic events, some in living rooms and basements. Wherever there was an urge to make acoustic or electric music-whether to help at a rent party, busk in front of a crowd or testify in the name of Jesus-there was an uncredited photographer there to snap an image, and these are the photographs that comprise Linderman’s fascinating narrative. ~Goodreads

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)“Mistress of the Art of Death Series”  Ariana Franklin

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt. Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king. In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again.~Goodreads

 

Black River“Black River”  S.M. Hulse

“Reminiscent of Wiley Cash. Her first novel and one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. I got up early this morning just to read this!”
A tense Western and an assured debut, Black River tells the story of a man marked by a prison riot as he returns to the town-and the convict-who shaped him. When Wes Carver returns to Black River, he carries two things in the cab of his truck: his wife’s ashes and a letter from the prison parole board. The convict who held him hostage during a riot, twenty years ago, is being considered for release. Wes has been away from Black River ever since the riot. He grew up in this small Montana town, encircled by mountains, and, like his father before him and most of the men there, he made his living as a Corrections Officer. A talented, natural fiddler, he found solace and joy in his music. But during that riot Bobby Williams changed everything for Wes–undermining his faith and taking away his ability to play.How can a man who once embodied evil ever come to good? How can he pay for such crimes with anything but his life? As Wes considers his own choices and grieves for all he’s lost, he must decide what he believes and whether he can let Williams walk away. ~Goodreads

 

The Nightingale“The Nightingale”  Kristin Hannah

“Awesome!!! WWII in France. The best book I have read in a long time!”

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime. ~Goodreads

 

A Three Dog Life“A Three Dog Life”  Abigail Thomas
“Highly recommended! A great book for people who are caregivers.”
When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institu­tion. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the acci­dent: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it. ~Goodreads

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette

“In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette”  Hampton Sides
New York Times bestselling author Hampton Sides returns with a white-knuckle tale of polar exploration and survival in the Gilded AgeIn the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. The foremost cartographer in the world, a German named August Petermann, believed that warm currents sustained a verdant island at the top of the world. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, had recently captured the world’s attention by dispatching Stanley to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone. Now he was keen to re-create that sensation on an even more epic scale. So he funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain a young officer named George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.”The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice-a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.With twists and turns worthy of a thriller, In The Kingdom of Ice is a spellbinding tale of heroism and determination in the most unforgiving territory on Earth. ~Goodreads

The Whites“The Whites”  Harry Brandt

The electrifying tale of a New York City police detective under siege-by an unsolved murder, by his own dark past, and by a violent stalker seeking revenge.Back in the run-and-gun days of the mid-1990s, when a young Billy Graves worked in the South Bronx as part of an aggressive anti-crime unit known as the Wild Geese, he made headlines by accidentally shooting a ten-year-old boy while struggling with an angel-dusted berserker on a crowded street. Branded as a loose cannon by his higher-ups, Billy spent years enduring one dead-end posting after another. Now in his early forties, he has somehow survived and become a sergeant in Manhattan Night Watch, a small team of detectives charged with responding to all post-midnight felonies from Wall Street to Harlem. Mostly, his unit acts as little more than a set-up crew for the incoming shift, but after years in police purgatory, Billy is content simply to do his job.
Then comes a call that changes everything: Night Watch is summoned to the four a.m. fatal slashing of a man in Penn Station, and this time Billy’s investigation moves beyond the usual handoff to the day tour. And when he discovers that the victim was once a suspect in the unsolved murder of a twelve-year-old boy-a savage case with connections to the former members of the Wild Geese-the bad old days are back in Billy’s life with a vengeance, tearing apart enduring friendships forged in the urban trenches and even threatening the safety of his family. Razor-sharp and propulsively written, The Whites introduces Harry Brandt-a new master of American crime fiction.~Goodreads

Uttermost Part of the Earth“Uttermost Part of the Earth”  E. Lucas Bridges

Rapturous praise met the publication of Lucas Bridges’ marvelous chronicle of Tierra del Fuego when it first came out in 1947, and that praise has hardly abated these past sixty years, nor has a book been written which supplants Uttermost Part of the Earth as the classic work on Tierra del Fuego and the little-known culture of the now-extinct Fuegian Indians.When the author was born in Tierra del Fuego in 1874, it was truly an unknown land. On the southern coast was the small settlement established by his missionary parents; the rest of it, over 18,000 square miles of mountain, forest, marsh, and lake, was the hunting ground of fierce and hostile tribes. Bridges grew up amongst the coastal Yaghans, learning their language and their ways. In young manhood he made contact with the wild inland Ona tribe, became their friend and hunting companion, and was initiated into the men’s lodge.Surely the New York Times’ critics’s prediction for this book on its first publication has come true: “I have no doubt that Uttermost Part of the Earth will achieve a permanent place in the literature of several subjects: adventure, anthropology, and frontier history.” Indeed it is still the essential work and indispensable introduction for anyone yearning to experience the breathtaking remoteness and stunning landscapes of this far-flung wilderness at the “uttermost part of the earth.” ~Goodreads