Alden's Picks

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Chain Gang All Stars: A Novel By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593317334
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Pantheon - May 2nd, 2023

This story ripped me to shreds and put me back together again! It’s a genre-bending and mind-blowing work of fiction about two female gladiators competing in death matches to earn their freedom from a for-profit prison system. Between the epic battle sequences and a tender love story lies an urgent message about the meaning of freedom in modern America. And it’s all being live-streamed.

This is a thunderous blockbuster of a book with an  eerily palpable vision of the future— the footnotes alone are worthy of a congressional testimony against mass incarceration, but the story is way too entertaining for C-SPAN!

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Yellowface: A Reese's Book Club Pick By R. F. Kuang Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063250833
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow - May 16th, 2023

If you’re looking for a despicable narrator, you’ve found the right book! Normally you root for the protagonist, right? Want the best for them and hope they succeed? Not this one. There were so many times just I wanted to reach into the book and smack her. She holds you hostage with her lies and deceit and you almost start to feel guilty for not being able to stop her. Still, she had me so wrapped up in her fabrications that when something negative happened to her and I started to feel bad, I had to remind myself that she totally deserves it!

It’s a frustrating read in the best possible way— a thrilling page-turner to be devoured over a weekend. And it sheds a lot of light on the inner workings of the publishing industry and the destructive power of social media. Kuang is a literary force to be reckoned with.

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Children of Time By Adrian Tchaikovsky Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316452502
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Orbit - December 11th, 2018

This is one of my new all-time favorite space operas. It’s got it all: generational ark ships with cryosleep chambers, genetically engineered viruses, artificial intelligence merged with brain uploads, and, wait for it…SPIDERS. 

The lone survivors of the human race are concentrated on their last remaining ark ship looking for a new home. When they finally arrive at the most promising planet, they find it guarded by a millennia-old scientist protecting her precious experiment. Little does she know her monkeys did not survive the initial impact, and the nanovirus intended to rapidly accelerate their evolution has impacted the native spiders instead. As the spiders swiftly progress in communication, religion, and technology to finally meet their god, they find themselves threatened by their maker’s very ancestors. The story depicts two civilizations at odds with each other: one in its earliest days of evolution and the other in its final, desperate days of salvation. It’s a wildly fun     exploration of creation and conflict. 

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Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution By R. F. Kuang Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063021426
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Published: Harper Voyager - August 23rd, 2022

Rebecca Kuang is brilliant and this book is a MASTERPIECE. It’s a heaping scoop of historical fiction with a pinch of fantasy. It’s dark academia and secret societies. It’s both the power and the weakness of translation. It’s an ode to language and a rebuke of colonialism. Ultimately, it begs the question: is violence a necessity of revolution?

The character development is phenomenal, her storytelling is addicting, and the content is so clearly well-researched and thought-provoking; Kuang has gifted us a blockbuster movie and a philosophical treatise in one literary package and I devoured it!

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Solito: A Memoir By Javier Zamora Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593498064
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Published: Hogarth - September 6th, 2022

This is one of the best memoirs I’ve read in years! It’s so full of courage, hope, and resilience; and it’s ultimately about finding family in extraordinary circumstances.

In 1999, a 9-year-old Javiercito began his harrowing journey from El Salvador to the United States with a “coyote” to reunite with his parents. He left behind his grandparents and aunts, his school and classmates, and the only home that he has ever known. Can you imagine travelling 3,000 miles and crossing borders with fake documents with a group of strangers? At the age of 9!?

I was absolutely enraptured by the author’s storytelling. He had me reading with my heart in my throat— this is truly a special story.  (P.S. I totally cried at the end)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: A novel By Gabrielle Zevin Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593321201
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Knopf - July 5th, 2022

This is not your typical love story, and by no means is it a romance novel. It’s about two childhood friends that reunite in adulthood to create art together: video games. 

Sam and Sadie care deeply for each other, but there’s  never been any intimacy between them. Together, they begin to create stunning digital worlds and tell stories that will live on forever— stories that can be restarted with the click of a button. 

The book is so human— it’s funny, heartbreaking, and real. The relationships aren’t perfect, the characters are broken in different ways; it’s about life, work, art, lovers, and friends, and we LOVED it! You don’t have to like video games to fall in love with this story, but you might appreciate it that much more. It’s so well-written and wonderful and you should just start reading it already!!

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Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel By Anthony Doerr Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982168445
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scribner - September 27th, 2022

First, let me get this out of my system: HOT DAMN, Tony Doerr knows how to tell a story!! This is one of my new favorite books. Ever. 

Ok, now for some substance: this is a wonderful book that revolves around an ancient text. More specifically, it’s about how this ancient text, Cloud Cuckoo Land, withstands the test of time and connects Doerr's characters over the course of thousands of years and around the world, from rural Idaho to Constantinople to an interplanetary spaceship. It's a story about love, loss, resilience, and hope— it is pulsing with life and emotion. The book itself is a commentary on the power of storytelling, but most of all, it is a love letter to the keepers and guardians of the written word. 

Doerr does a masterful job of immersing us in his locations and showing us the heart and soul of his characters. The way he weaves his storylines together is almost frustrating it’s so good. All The Light We Cannot See has some serious competition for his best work yet.

How High We Go in the Dark: A Novel By Sequoia Nagamatsu Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063072640
Availability: Backordered
Published: William Morrow - January 18th, 2022

Ok, you might not think now is a great time to read another climate-disaster/pandemic book, but hear me out. Poignant, dreamy, and compassionate, this is one of my most anticipated books of 2021. Nagamatsu paints a picture of a dystopian future with interstellar spaceships searching for new home planets, a euthanasia theme park for the terminally ill, and, um...a scientific research pig that develops the capacity for human speech. But what makes the novel so special is the way he portrays how connected we are in the universe, and how we persevere in the face of tragedy. Fans of Cloud Cuckoo Land and Station Eleven will love this one!

Friday Black By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Cover Image
ISBN: 9781328911247
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - October 23rd, 2018

Be warned: this collection of stories will enrage you, frustrate you, and rip your heart out. And you’ll keep reading because it’s so damn brilliant. As a whole, it’s a  wildly entertaining social critique.
The stories are absurd by design. They wrestle with the   absurdities of the black experience in America; the insanity of our justice system and the egregiousness of our consumerist behavior are on full display. You’ll meet a young black man who dials back his blackness, by the number, depending on the situation he’s in. You’ll experience a sick sort of theme park that allows participants to “defend” themselves from Black intruders. And you’ll meet retail employees experiencing the sickening effects of capitalism at its lowest levels. Nana is a master of his craft and I promise that these stories will affect your very soul.

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Sea of Tranquility: A novel By Emily St. John Mandel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593321447
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - April 5th, 2022

Emily strikes again! Fer sentences will stop you in your tracks with their stylish profundity. Together they form a wonderfully accessible story of time travel, art, and love- this is one to be re-read.

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Stories from the Tenants Downstairs By Sidik Fofana Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982145811
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Scribner - August 16th, 2022

You know how gentrification is taking over historic neighborhoods around the country?

(*cough* exeterandportsmouth *cough cough*)

Well, this immersive novel-in-stories brings a vivid   humanity to the plight of gentrification through a subtly woven cast of unforgettable characters. Each story focuses on a different tenant of an apartment complex in Harlem and their individual battles against rent hikes and evictions.

Full of life and sprinkled with humor, Fofana’s portraits of Banneker Homes residents reveal the deeply personal and cultural consequences capitalism can have on a    diverse and struggling community.

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If I Survive You By Jonathan Escoffery Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374605988
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Published: MCD - September 6th, 2022

This is a remarkable debut novel! Escoffery serves up a gut-punching and a soul-soothing literary  elixir of identity and belonging. It’s a triumph of generational stories I didn't know I needed.

The book focuses on two generations of a Jamaican-American family and their struggles to survive the capitalism-driven and white-dominated ways of American life after immigrating to Miami. Themes of familial tension, racism, and flat-out bad luck are balanced with a pleasantly surprising dose of humor, making this portrait of everyday life incredibly readable.

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Hell of a Book: National Book Award Winner (A Novel) By Jason Mott Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593330982
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Dutton - June 28th, 2022

Okay I read this after it won the National Book Award, but I was still blown away — it’s both hilarious and   insightful, and it’s probably the best novel out there that grabbles with blackness in 21st century America. Mott writes with the sharp, quick humor of Kurt Vonnegut and the powerful eloquence of James Baldwin. 

The book follows an author as he tours the country   promoting his book...and it’s the one you’re reading… crazy, right? The protagonist remains unnamed, which adds to the ambiguity and universality of his character and experience. It results in a warping and blending of realities, and one hell of a book about race, identity, and the possibilities that life can bring— and how quickly those possibilities can be taken away. This one will sit with me for a long time

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Dune By Frank Herbert Cover Image
ISBN: 9780441013593
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ace - August 2nd, 2005

I’m obsessed with this book (and the 5 others in the series). The world-building, the character development, the plot— it’s all fantastic. And underneath it all you’ll find profound commentaries on politics, ecology, and religion.

When Paul Atreides and his noble family arrive on Arrakis (aka Dune), they are expected to rule over the desert planet where the only valuable commodity is melange, the spice that prolongs life and enhances consciousness. The family is immediately met with a traitorous plot against them and Paul goes into exile. This marks the beginning of an unimaginably epic space saga...Oh, did I mention the giant sandworms?

If you didn’t already know, this is classic science fiction and a great book to start exploring the genre with. Herbert is a master of his craft.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1) By Becky Chambers Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250236210
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tordotcom - July 13th, 2021

I think the best word to describe this pair of novellas is *delightful*. If you're looking for a quick, heart-warming read, consider this a sign! 

Dex is a friendly travelling tea monk on a colonized moon in a distant/alternate future where robots and artificial intelligence are things of the past. Dex spends their days diligently serving villagers personalized tea blends according to their needs and attentively listening to their woes. One day, Dex decides to venture into the abandoned wilderness and happens to meet a robot named Mosscap. So begins their journey to learn from each other and seek answers to the question: what do people need?

These are super accessible stories, even for those who don't usually read sci-fi. Chambers packs in themes of mental health, environmentalism, friendship, and purpose into these small but mighty books!

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy: A Monk and Robot Book (Monk & Robot #2) By Becky Chambers Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250236234
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tordotcom - July 12th, 2022

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Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) By Seanan McGuire Cover Image
ISBN: 9780765385505
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tordotcom - April 5th, 2016

Think of a queer rendition of Alice in Wonderland where doors to other, imaginative worlds will sometimes spit you out and not let you back in. That’s this book.

It features a delightfully quirky cast of misfit children who have been sent away to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. All of them had disappeared for what felt like months or even years, but only a matter of weeks had passed for their families. Their parents send them away to “get better,” not believing the fantastical stories the children tell them of where they’d been, or concerned about their refusal to tell them anything at all. The children are all hoping to find their doors once again, and make their way back to their true “home:” the one place they felt they truly belonged. It’s a quick and heartwarming story full of queer representation!

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An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us By Ed Yong Cover Image
By Ed Yong
ISBN: 9780593133231
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - June 21st, 2022

This book changed the way I walk my dog. If you have a dog, you know how frustrating it can be when they stop to sniff a spot for a *very* long time. It’s hard to not feel impatient— we’ve all got places to be, right? Well, this book made me realize how important those roadside sniffs are. Smell is a key sense for dogs, and one that helps them make sense of their world. Yanking a dog away from a sniff sesh is like tearing a postcard in half: grandma’s not going to get the full story. 

Yong frames his book around “umwelt,” which is the way a particular animal experiences the world. And they experience it in extraordinarily different ways— through echolocation, electromagnetism, and frequencies of sound we as humans cannot perceive. His research is balanced with humor and fun anecdotes, and you’ll be left with a deep appreciation for the animals we share this planet with— and just how narrow our experience of Earth really is. 

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Crying in H Mart: A Memoir By Michelle Zauner Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984898951
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 28th, 2023

This is a beautiful memoir and it totally lives up to the hype! Zauner offers an honest account of her struggle with her Korean American upbringing and her relationship with her dying mother, and what the loss of her meant in the end. The shared experience of cooking and enjoying Korean food was central to their relationship, and her vivid descriptions of the dishes prepared and savored throughout the story will make your mouth water. It’s both a heartwarming and heart-wrenching story about making meaning from culture and familial relationships, and creating an identity while still    respecting one’s roots. It’s been (or was, depending on how far into the future you are) a consistent bestseller for a reason!

P.S. I read this as an audiobook and it was a great experience. Zauner narrates the book herself, and she’s super ~cool~ Check it out on!

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The Water Dancer: A Novel By Ta-Nehisi Coates Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399590610
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: One World - November 17th, 2020

This is a powerful and timeless alternate history of the underground railroad with a splash of magical realism— it’s like nothing I’ve read before and I devoured it!

The hero of the book is Hiram, a boy born into slavery with no memory of his mother; surprisingly, he also  happens to have an incredible photographic memory. A carriage accident reveals that he has an incredible     ability, which leads him on an incredible journey of  freedom, courage, and hope for a reunion with his family in the North. His superhuman ability brings him deep into the network of the Underground Railroad, encountering key figures of the movement and playing an important role in the salvation of his people.

Scattered All Over the Earth By Yoko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translated by) Cover Image
By Yoko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780811229289
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Directions - March 1st, 2022

Imagine a not-so-distant future where rising sea levels have wiped Japan, known as “the land of sushi,” off the face of the earth. Refugees are spread throughout the world and Japanese is a dying language. Hiruko is one of those refugees. She’s living in Denmark teaching immigrant children her invented language of Panska, which can be understood by most Scandinavians. Through a number of chance encounters, she becomes the center of an incidental troupe of eccentric characters, all of whom are now on a mission to help her find someone else who still speaks Japanese.

It’s told through different characters’ POVs and it’s incredibly clever and funny. Tadawa paints a thought-provoking picture of place, language, and cultural identity against a not-so-far-fetched dystopian backdrop.

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Greenland: A Novel By David Santos Donaldson Cover Image
ISBN: 9780063159556
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Amistad - June 7th, 2022

I adored this wildly inventive debut from Donaldson. His compulsively readable novel-within-a-novel dances between moments of laugh-out-loud humor and solemn observations of race and sexuality with a seamless grace. Plus, who doesn't love a good literary ghost story?

Kip Starling has locked himself in his basement with nothing but a jug of water and a handgun while he rewrites his entire book in time for his publisher’s deadline. He’s telling the   story of the affair between E.M. Forster, a white British  author, and Mohammed el Adl, his black Egyptian lover. As the book progresses, the line between Kip and Mohammed’s realities begin to blur as he realizes their similarities— both queer black men in interracial relationships, fighting the forces of white assimilation. Through this journey, Mohammed’s haunting becomes the ultimate self-reflection for Kip.

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Bliss (Vintage International) By Peter Carey Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679767190
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - January 30th, 1996

This quintessential Australian black comedy is a true diamond in the rough. It’s one of Carey’s earliest novels, and a great introduction to a hidden literary talent.

Harry Joy is living what he thinks is a great life, until he suddenly drops dead. For 9 minutes, he stays dead, and suddenly comes back to life— but it’s not the life he was living before. His perfect wife and kids are unfaithful, selling drugs, and advocating communism. Is this hell, or is he seeing his true reality for the first time?

While outrageously funny at times, the novel simultaneously touches on profundities of life, death, love, second chances, and redemption.

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Klara and the Sun: A novel (Vintage International) By Kazuo Ishiguro Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593311295
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - March 1st, 2022

Ishiguro does it again, and this one really tugs at the heart strings. The narrator of this novel is Klara, an intelligent and realistic “Artificial Friend,” or AF, who begins the story in a retail store waiting to be chosen by a child. Klara is very observant and her artificial intelligence seems to be more aware of certain nuances of human behavior than other AFs. Once she is finally chosen by a little girl, she is taken to a home the with some weird energy— there is some history to uncover and the future is uncertain.

This dystopian novel, though narrated by a robot, does an amazing job of exploring themes of friendship, love, and hope in the face of tragedy. But, at its core, the story is about the limits of technology, and what it really means to be human. I know it sounds super cheesy, but it’s so good!

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The Swimmers: A novel By Julie Otsuka Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593321331
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - February 22nd, 2022

Before you rush out the door to give this book as a gift to your avid-swimmer-friend, you should know it turns a sharp corner about 1/3 of the way in.

The first part of the book is the rhythmic, lyrical writing that we know and love from Otsuka. She offers delightful portraits of the swimmers who frequent an underground pool— their routines, their personalities, and their quirks. Then a crack appears at the bottom of the pool. And it disrupts everything. The second part of the book focuses on the consequences of the crack for a particular swimmer. We get an intimate look at her relationship with her daughter, her deteriorating memory, and her life without the sacred ritual offered by the pool.

It’s experimental fiction that feels semi-autobiographical, and it absolutely wrecked me. If you have experience with a loved one with dementia, I can’t recommend this one enough.

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Open: An Autobiography By Andre Agassi Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307388407
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - August 10th, 2010

This is one of the greatest sports memoirs. Ever.

Andre Agassi is one of the all-time greats in tennis, and he hated the sport. He was a rebel in every sense of the word, especially known for his flamboyant appearance— sporting jean shorts and a bleach-blonde wig, complete with mullet, in professional matches.

He lays out his entire story here in this brutally honest autobiography— from his beginning when his father was forcing him into the sport to his battles with drugs later in life. It’s an emotional ride and worth the read for anyone, tennis fan or not.

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When We Cease to Understand the World By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by) Cover Image
By Benjamin Labatut, Adrian Nathan West (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781681375663
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New York Review Books - September 28th, 2021

One of the most innovative works I can recommend, this is an absorbing and genre-bending book that brings new life to some of the most important academic pioneers in history. By putting his twist on the stories of real scientists and mathematicians and their groundbreaking discoveries, Labatut explores genius, madness, and the consequences of changing the world as we know it.

A super interesting read!


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The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History By Elizabeth Kolbert Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250062185
Availability: Available From Our Distributor -- Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - January 6th, 2015

Not gonna lie, this book is pretty depressing. But it’s also so well written, researched, and organized that I really enjoyed reading it!

There have been 5 mass extinctions on Earth, all caused by various natural events—climate changes, asteroids, etc. Each one caused a massive shift in the ecosystems and species on the planet. Now we’re in the middle of a 6th mass extinction, and humans are to blame.

Kolbert does an awesome job of giving us historical and scientific context for this event— humans have had a greater impact on the planet than any single species in history, and this book will make you think deeply about our impact on the planet.

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This Is Your Mind on Plants By Michael Pollan Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593296929
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - July 19th, 2022

In How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan gave us fantastic perspectives on the history, usage, therapeutic potential of psychedelics (LSD, psilocybin, DMT, ayahuasca). In this highly anticipated follow-up, he focuses on opium, caffeine, and mescaline and the appeals and taboos associated with each.

Why are some psychoactive plants so widely used and accepted, while others are reserved strictly for medical use? Does a gardener's intention matter when growing certain plants? What classifies a plant as a "drug" anyway?

Through his unique mixture of investigative journalism, historical research, and personal experimentation and reflection, Pollan explores these questions and more. 

If you enjoyed The Botany of Desire or How to Change Your Mind, you'll love this book!

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First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers By Loung Ung Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060856267
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - April 4th, 2006

This is my #1 recommendation for anyone that wants to read something about Cambodia— especially if you’re travelling there. It also provides great context for the enduring unrest in Southeast Asia as a whole.

The book is a deeply moving and heartbreaking memoir about growing up during the rise and reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. His army committed one of the worst genocides in history, and this is the best book out there to understand what it was like to survive one of the most tumultuous times in the country’s history. The author’s life was turned upside down when, at 5 years old, she was separated from her family and sent to work and    labor camps. Her story is filled with courage, hope, and love— it’s a devastating but wonderful read.

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Harlem Shuffle: A Novel By Colson Whitehead Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525567271
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Anchor - August 9th, 2022

Ray Carney is a furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem who wants to provide a good life for his family. He owns his own store, but he feels like it’s not enough. He doesn’t feel “successful.” When an opportunity arises to give him a much needed financial boost, he begins to orchestrate a delicate balancing act between his loved ones, his local reputation, and the criminal activity that he has stumbled into. It’s a slippery slope.

This novel is new genre territory for Whitehead, and it’s a good look on him. It’s a fun heist story, but it’s also a powerful commentary on race and socioeconomic status in 1960s America.

The Overstory: A Novel By Richard Powers Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393356687
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 2nd, 2019

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1) By James S. A. Corey Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316129084
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Orbit - June 15th, 2011