Prairie Lights

Staff Selections

Jan

Notes From No Man's Land
Eula Biss

 

 These spare, sometimes lyric essays explore the legacy of race in America, artfully revealing in intimate detail how families, schools, and neighborhoods participate in preserving racial privilege. Faced with a disturbing past and an unsettling present, Biss still remains hopeful about the possibilities of American diversity, "not the sun-shininess of it, or the quota-making politics of it, but the real complexity of it."
 

Ben

An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
Tamar Adler

Reviving the message of M.F.K. Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf, Tamar Adler writes about summoning mouth-watering meals from the humblest of ingredients.  Part cookbook, part cooking philosophy, Adler simplifies the cooking process while at the same time elevating something as basic as an egg, stale bread, or even the rinds of cheese.  One of the best food-related books I've ever read.

Deb

The Snow Child
Eowyn Ivey

This novel takes place in the beautiful wilderness of Alaska in the 1920s.  Jack and Mabel have built their home with grit and labor.  They are determined to succeed.  Things become very difficult and they feel almost defeated until a little girl with her red fox appear from the woods. 

A fairy tale come to reality.

 

Evan

BEFORE I BURN
Gaute Heivoll

Warm up February with this semiauthobiographical novel about a string of arsons in a small town in Norway in the 1970s.  A unique, absorbing book based n true events, Before I Burn delivers the shadowy intrigues and psychological suspense of a Scandinavian crime novel on the one hand, and highly personal ruminations on family, place, and the author’s life as a writer on the other.  The result is a “whydunit” that’s both an artful investigation into the psyche of an arsonist and a profound, poetic memoir.

 

Ingrid

Left Coast Roast
Hanna Neuschwander

 

Well over half of Left Coast Roast is a coffee enthusiast’s travel-guide to West Coast coffee. Author Hanna Neuschwander includes 55 nerdy roaster dossiers that chart the coast’s current and historic coffee cultures. The book is also a coffee primer. It explains coffee jargon, the seemingly mysterious seed-to-bean processes, and how one can roast and brew coffee at home. For anyone interested in coffee or wanting to be, Left Coast Roast is a bookshelf essential.

 

Kathleen

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
Teddy Wayne

Before you disregard this beautiful sparkly silver book as teen pop-dom fluff, open it and sample Whiting Award winner Teddy Wayne's prose.  What I like best about this novel is Jonny's voice.  While the obvious cultural inspiration for the character is Justin Beiber,  likeable 11 year old pop prodigy Jonny doesn't immediately call to my mind any other literary protagonists. He is smart and funny, but never wise beyond his years or precious. I agree with Publisher's Weekly, which said, "Masterfully executed...the real accomplishment is the unforgettable voice of Jonny. If this impressive novel, both entertaining and tragically insightful, were a song, it would have a Michael Jackson beat with Morrissey lyrics."
This book was refreshingly fun to read, and left me thinking slightly differently about celebrity culture.

Lindsay

Grant Wood: A Life
R. Tripp Evans

 Evans' fresh and forceful biography hacks through half a century of misconception and smokescreen obscuring essential truths about Iowa's most famous artist, Grant Wood. Thoroughly researched, generously illustrated and vastly readable Evans' book helps us decode not only Wood the individual's art and life (particularly the effecs of his closest homosexuality) but also the fascinating rise and fall of the American Regionalist Movement that Wood came to symbolize. Evans exposes the conflicting agendas that the art world, the media and the general public wanted this supposedly all-American home-grown art--and artist--to serve.

Mary

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler

The plot turns on the bond between species and lessons learned from species co-habitation, but Fowler's novel isn't a feel-good manifesto for animal rights. The “politically correct” ballast front-loaded into the central circumstance of this novel is farcically dispatched with a stolen Madame Defarge marionette.  Underlying issues of identity and perception, and stories of how families succumb to guilt and grief, are intellectually examined by a passionate stakeholder, and are performed, not preached.  This book offers great suspense and pathos, and provides a lot of points to ponder.  You will want to share it.

Nancy

Elect H. Mouse State Judge
Nelly Reifler

Like a twisted x-rated adventure with your kids’ toys…   H. Mouse is running for office but will not call the cops when his daughters are kidnapped on election day.  What’s he got to hide?  Barbie and Ken drag themselves from poolside (oh, what they do there!) leaving Skipper to wonder if her body will ever change.  They suit up in camo and head for the woods to rescue the girls from the strange robot-like fundamentalist family unit hiding out in a van, waiting for the next phase of Ordination fulfillment.   Crazy, a hoot, read in one sitting!

Ottavia

Elsewhere: A memoir
Richard Russo

Richard Russo blew me away with this memoir about his relationship with his mother, a self-proclaimed independent woman from a run-down upstate New York town.  Russo writes with a poignant simplicity, making us care about his relationship with a more than difficult woman. We follow them from Gloversville, NY, to Arizona, to Illinois, to Maine, all the while watching Russo struggle with doubts about how he cares for her.  It is so easy to be inside of the author's head, to see through his eyes, and yet see much more than he does. We want to help him, help her, shake their shoulders. A very thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking book, for anyone who's ever had a relationship with anyone. So, everyone.
 

Paul

LITTLE CRIMINALS
Gene Kerrigan

 

Justin and Angela Kennedy are doing fine. Better than fine-they have wealth, position, love, children, and a limitless future. Into their lives comes Frankie Crowe, an ambitious criminal tired of risking his life for small change. Together with a crew of singularly dangerous men, Frankie decides that a kidnapping could be the first step toward a better life. Set in modern Dublin, Little Criminals is a story that bristles with tension and expectation, a story about what happens to the fragile things-friendship, love, compassion-when all rules are broken.  If you like the gritty, working class Dublin crime novels, you’ll love Kerrigan. He has three books.  Little Criminals, Midnight Choir, and, most recently, Rage.

Robb

Three Novels
Samuel Beckett

 In Beckett's trilogy, he almost writes without characters, scenes or plots, relying instead on each sentence to propel these novels forward into the oblivion of the writer's imagination. Perfect for a serious yet sensitive laugh, as readers might expect from a writer who was stabbed in the heart by a pimp in his younger years.

Robert

The Waitress Was New
Dominique Fabre

This is a brief, but beautiful little novel made from the simplest stuff. The narrator is a bartender in late middle age. The suburban bistro he works at is falling apart and over the course of a few days he tries to patch things together. In the process he ruminates over his position and life in general. This is Fabre’s ninth novel but the first in English translation.

Sheri

The Eighty-Dollar Champion
Elizabeth Letts

A true-life tale of man and horse literally leaping over inconceivable hurdles to fulfill their dreams. This is the story of immigrant Harry de Leyer and his rescued plow horse Snowman and their quest to win the jumping championship in the prestigious National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. This is one of the most heart-felt stories of the bond between a man and his horse that I have ever read  and I've read them all. Great reading for anyone in search of that rush you get watching anyone succeed against impossible odds.

Tim

Three Graves Full
Jamie Mason

A year ago, Jason Getty buried a body in his back yard.  Too paranoid to do any yardwork, he finally hires a landscaping company to clean up his front yard only.  But Jason's greatest fear is realized when the crew discovers a body in his yard -- it's just not the one he buried.  From this unexpected beginning, Ms. Mason takes on a wild ride of corpses, confessions, secrets and misassumptions.  Her characters include the bumbling Jason, a grieving girlfriend, a clever sheriff, a bitter twin and one hysterical and heroic German shepherd.  This debut novel is one of the most unpredictable and funniest crime stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading.  Don't miss out on the fun!

Terry

The Magician King
Lev Grossman

The second installment  of the Fillory series. Quentin learns, once again, that everything has a price to be payed and often an appallingly costly one. A somewhat different tone than The Magicians