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 Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit
Graham Joyce

The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit is a nostalgic, quietly
suspenseful read that takes place in 1976 at a falling-out-of-fashion
British working class seaside holiday resort. In his summer job as a
striped-blazer-wearing entertainment staff person, twenty year old
University student David becomes aware of the class and racial
tensions embroiled in the changing British Culture. A dangerous love
affair, illusion, psychological mind games, and haunting sightings of
a man and boy on the beach culminate in a summer of heat, acceptance,
and a swarm of ladybugs.
 

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

The Story of Land and Sea
Katy Simpson Smith

Experience life in remote coastal North Carolina from the perspective a ten-year-old colonial girl, the slave girl who was given her as a birthday present, her independent, spontaneous mother, her soldier-sailor-shopkeeper-frontiersman father, and her plantation-building grandparents.  Katy Simpson Smith’s novel is written in crystal clear first person, with telling details that put you there, and observations about human life in general that ring true.  Smith demonstrates her characters’ great hopes and meager stakes, their struggle with faith, and the poison of slavery in the New World.

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

The Martian
Andy Weir

Astronaut Mark Watney was believed to be killed during the sandstorm that forced his fellow crew members to abort their mission on Mars and return to Earth.  But Mark is very much alive, and is now alone in a hostile environment, where air, water, food and finding a way to communicate are his only objectives.  The story is told through Watney's log entries, alongside chapters detailing what's happening back on Earth, as NASA goes from mourning a fallen spaceman to trying to find a way to bring him home.  An exciting debut from first-time novelist Weir, The Martian is a Robinson Crusoe for the 22nd century, filled with science and physics (without leaving the layman reader behind), as well as good old human ingenuity and plenty of well-placed humor to ease the edge-of-your-seat suspense.
 

Terry

Lock In
John Scalzi

A near future thriller.  Scalzi delivers an insightful look into the impact of technology on everyday life and how given enough time even the most bleeding edge tech becomes blasé, all wrapped up in a nifty mystery that keeps the ball rolling.