Staff Picks: Archives

Welcome to the staff picks archives.  Find out what we've been reading in the past here.  These book lists are separated by the date each list was compiled.  The newest lists are at the bottom.  To read our latest recommendations, check out the current staff picks page..

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson

by Mitch Albom

Angela says: “I could not put this book down once I started reading it! A touching story about how one person can profoundly change our lives.”

Summary: Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it.

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A Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

Fran says: “If you liked Twilight, you’ll love this Victorian boarding school mystery/fantasy, the first in a trilogy. I devoured it in one sitting!”

Summary: It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England.

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Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy

Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy

by James Fallows

Jimmy says: “This was written in the 90’s, so the references are a little dated, but the ideas are more true and apparent than ever. Scary stuff.”

Summary: At last a persuasive explanation of what’s gone wrong with the American media—and what can be done about it.

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The White Mary

The White Mary

by Kira Salak

John says: “Set in exotic locations , this tells the story of a woman who searches the jungles of Papua New Guinea for a journalist who has been reported to be dead.”

Book jacket: “Marika Vecera, a seasoned war reporter at thirty-two, is on assignment in the Congo when she’s captured by rebel soldiers and nearly killed.

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Where the Wild Things Were

Where the Wild Things Were

by William Stolzenberg

Ardene says: “One of my favorite reads recently. It’s an entertaining description of the role predators play in the environment, and what happens when the balance between predator and prey is upset.”

Bookjacket: “As illuminating as it is shocking, Where the Wild Things Were offers a provocative new look at the world’s top predators, and the cascades of unforeseen consequences triggered by their disappearance.

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The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet

by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Greg says: “Tyson describes all the science that went into Pluto’s reclassification and all the outrage that followed. Human nature butts heads with knowledge in this entertaining book.”

Summary: In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of planethood. Far from the sun, wonder Pluto has any fans.

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Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

by M.C. Beaton

Diana says: “It’s an English cozy murder mystery updated. This lovable yet ruthless retired PR woman can’t seem to get away with anything in her newly adopted Cotswold Village. Yet she may manage to trip up a villain while trying to catch a man.”

Summary: Agatha has moved to a picture-book English village and wants to get in the swing.

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In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

by Denis Belliveau and Francis O'Donnell

Davis says: “This book was fascinating! The story of two guys from New York who decide to trace Marco Polo’s journey to China over land through the troubled regions of Iraq and Iran—much more than your usual armchair travel book.”

Summary: “Did Marco Polo reach China? This richly illustrated companion volume to the public television film chronicles the remarkable two-year expedition

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Stumbling on Happiness

Stumbling on Happiness

by Daniel Gilbert

Lynne says: “A fascinating and humorous read about how memory and imagination work together to fool us into thinking we can predict what will make us happy in the future.”

Summary: Using cutting-edge research, Harvard psychologist Gilbert shakes, cajoles, persuades, and tricks readers into accepting the fact that happiness is not really what or where it is imagined to be.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

What Got You Here Won't Get You There

by Marshall Goldsmith

Karen says: “One of the best parts of this book about being successful at work and in life is the list of 20 bad habits to avoid.”

Summary: Subtle nuances make all the difference, according to Americas most sought-after executive coach, who now explains how to climb the last few rungs of the corporate ladder.

The Fifth Vial

The Fifth Vial

by Michael Palmer

Candace says: “Author Michael Palmer is adept at tapping into people’s natural fear of disease, doctors, and hospitals. In his medical thriller, The Fifth Vial, Palmer plays with the phenomenon of organ donation and the drawing of blood, forcing the reader to ponder, ‘Where do donated organs come from?’ I visited my HMO shortly after reading this book and found myself spooked.

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Child 44

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith

Dan says: Child 44 is a literate thriller by first-time author Tom Rob Smith. I was blown away by it! It’s rather a typical killer/thriller—and I usually am not interested in that particular genre—but it’s exquisitely written and set in a very unusual place: 1950s Soviet Russia. It’s so oppressive and foreign, and described so artfully that you feel (uncomfortably) that you are there. If you’re looking for a good read, check it out.

Summary: “Stalin’s Soviet Union strives to be a paradise for its workers, providing for all of their needs.

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The Help

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

Joe says: “It is Mississippi 1962. Jim Crow Laws govern the South. Yet, in this time where social boundaries can not be broken, a white, strong-willed writer befriends and convinces a handful of black maids in Jackson to tell their stories. The Help is a powerful and beautifully written novel that illustrates the gentleness and strength of these female friendships. You will cry and cheer with and for these women!”

Summary: In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed.

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Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Jimmy says: “What makes us happy? This book is written with that question in mind, but from a scientist’s perspective. This is not a self-help book; instead, it gives us a glimpse of how to attain a rewarding state of flow, which resembles more eastern concepts of meditation, but in the context of our busy modern lives.”

Summary: People enter a flow state when they are fully absorbed in activity during which they lose their sense of time and have feelings of great satisfaction.

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In the Courts of the Sun

In the Courts of the Sun

by Brian D'Amato

John says: “This is a science fiction book set in the near future and the distant past. In the year 2012 a disaster takes place in Florida. To try to prevent an even worse event, a team of scientists sends the personality of a present-day man back in time to take over the body of a Maya man in 664. The personality lands in the wrong body, of course, and things get interesting from there.

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Train

Train

by Peter Dexter

Scot says: “Yet another strong title from the unprolific yet exceedingly proficient Pete Dexter, who’s easily my pick for the Best, Most Overlooked Post-War American Author. This novel, like Dexter’s others, charts a course through the dark, dark waters of 1950s Los Angeles; on board are an African-American golf prodigy with a murder on his back and a police sergeant with proclivities unbefitting a lawman.

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Same Kind of Different As Me

Same Kind of Different As Me

by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

Ev says: "My new favorite book. The subtitle is ‘A Modern Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound them Together’. That pretty much summarizes the book. It’s also a story about love and true friendship. A wonderful book, more so because it is a true story." 

Summary: A modern-day slave and an international art dealer are bound together by a dying woman’s faith.

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The Heretic's Daughter

The Heretic's Daughter

by Kathleen Kent

Ken says: “This absorbing piece of historical fiction made me think about how much we still have to learn from this part of our past.”

Summary: Martha Carrier was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play

Friends Like These: My Worldwide Quest to Find My Best Childhood Friends, Knock on Their Doors, and Ask Them to Come Out and Play

by Danny Wallace

Greg says: “Spurred on by a box of grade school mementos and his impending thirtieth birthday, Wallace searches the internet and the globe for twelve special childhood friends.”

Summary: As he nears 30, Wallace can’t help wondering about his best childhood friends, whose names he finds in a long-forgotten address book. Acting on impulse, the author travels the world, risking rejection and ridicule, to show up on his old buddies’ doorsteps.

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon--and the Journey of a Generation

by Sheila Weller

Barbara says: “Three of the biggest female rockers of the Sixties who wrote some of the best music of that era and how they became icons of a generation. If you like good music, you’ll love learning about the lives of these three women.”

Summary: A groundbreaking and irresistible biography of three of America’s most important musical artists—Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Mia M. says: “Don’t pass this book up just because it is in the Young Adult Section. The premise of the story might be a little disturbing, but the characters and the writing will have you hooked by the end of the first chapter. Questions of loyalty and morality, mixed with romance and politics, create a trilogy you will want to stick with till the end.”

Summary: The Hunger Games are a tool the Capitol uses to keep its citizens from uprising. Every year, each ‘Section’ must send 2 of its children to compete, to the death, in the Hunger Games.

Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey

by Gwen Cooper

Ken says: “This is a book no cat lover should miss, a light read that should warm the heart of anyone who’s inclined to the charms of the feline breed.”

mmary: The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart.

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A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife

by Robert Goolrick

Rebekah says: “A hypnotic account of human passions and relationships that is full of subtle drama and psychological tension. Intelligently and beautifully written, it is an excellent read.”

Summary: Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.”

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The Well-dressed Ape: a Natural History of Myself

The Well-dressed Ape: a Natural History of Myself

by Hannah Holmes

Merle says: “Holmes does for humans what Goodall did for chimpanzees and Fossey did for gorillas, but with a better sense of humor. Also, check out the audiobook version. The narrator is excellent.”

Summary: “Stiff” meets “Your Inner Fish” in this surprising, humorous, and edifying description of Homo sapiens, as if humans were a newly-discovered animal.

The Shadow of the Sun

The Shadow of the Sun

by Ryszard Kapuściński

Jimmy says: “Ryszard Kapuściński shows us Africa around the end of colonialism. He makes it a great read as it is satisfying in many ways: as history, as memoir, as anthropology, and as travel writing.”

Summary: The book is not about Africa, says Polish foreign correspondent Kapuściński, in fact Africa does not exist except as a geographical appellation.

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Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

Joyce says: “Or… there and back again. No, not The Hobbit, but an ambitious novel that tells six loosely linked stories that span centuries: from the 1850’s to the end of recorded time. After reaching the end of civilization, the novel winds back through the earlier stories to reveal the characters’ fates and how their outcomes affected the future.

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Things I've Been Silent About

Things I've Been Silent About

by Azar Nafisi

J’nai says: “It’s an evocative and beautifully written recollection of the author’s life as a writer, a scholar and a young woman during the Iranian Revolution. I enjoyed this book thoroughly.”

Summary: Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran,

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Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System

Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System

by Raj Patel

Joseph says: “I found the book to be well-written, thoroughly researched, and incredibly informative. It will change the way you think about food.”

Summary: For those with enough money—and that’s most of us in wealthier countries—life is good.

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Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: the Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta

Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: the Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta

by Gary Pomerantz

Barbara says: “It’s a history of two prominent Atlanta families: the Ivan Allen family and the Dobbs family, from which Maynard Jackson is descended. It’s an interesting and fun to read about these families, early Atlanta, and the impact these families had on the area.”

The Dog of the South

The Dog of the South

by Charles Portis

Scot says: “Among the things to be thankful for in the new year is a renewed interest in the fiction of Charles Portis, best known as the author of True Grit. His four other novels are just as fine, if not finer, which is saying something, and The Dog of the South is maybe the pick of the litter.

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Roman Blood

Roman Blood

by Steven Saylor

Elizabeth says: “First in the Roma Sub Rosa Series. Evocative historical mysteries set in ancient Rome. Saylor is extremely knowledgeable in the time period and bases his fiction on political events, documented crimes, and unsolved murders. Vivid historical details and insightful descriptions of Cicero, Pompey, Caesar and others.”

Summary: Gordianus is hired by a young advocate, Cicero, to investigate a murder

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Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now

Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now

by Valerie Steele

Ray says: “Dr. Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, is the author of this excellent & attractive overview of the second half of twentieth century haute couture & street style.”

Summary: From haute couture to hot pants, from glamour to grunge, the past fifty years have witnessed some startling revolutions in fashion.

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Anathem

Anathem

by Neal Stephenson

Jesse says: “This book is hard to pin down. Part hard sci-fi, part philosophical and linguistic exploration of an extensively detailed fictional setting, along with elements of romance and coming-of-age stories, it defies easy categorization. Suffice it to say that it is Neal Stephenson at his best, and well worth the read, despite the daunting page count.”

Summary: Since childhood, Erasmus has lived behind the walls of a 3,400-year-old monastery.

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The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

by Rebecca Wells

Jennifer says: “I listen to a ton of audiobooks and really fell in love with The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells who wrote Divine Secrets of the Ya-yaSisterhood. The story follows Calla Lily Ponder as she is born, raised, and lives it up in Louisiana. The reader/listener follows her as she grows up and experiences life’s greatest disappointments and joys. It is funny, sweet, sad and a generally lovely book.

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The Shack

The Shack

by William P. Young

Mia B. says: “Mackenzie Allen Phillips is living a wonderful fulfilling life until tragedy interrupts the flow. He searches and wrestles with the question ‘Where is God when you need Him?’ His life changes when he receives the answer from God.”

Summary: Mackenzie Allen Phillips’s youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted

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The Yellow House

The Yellow House

by Patricia Falvey

Mia says: “This book is for adults but has many of the elements popular in Young Adult fiction: a fiery heroine able to hold her own and two men from different walks of life that she can’t help but love. Irish history and politics are weaved together with well written characters for a story you won’t want to end.”

Summary: The Yellow House delves into the passion and politics of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20th Century.

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The French Cat

The French Cat

by Rachael Hale

Davis M. says: “You don’t have to be a cat lover or francophile to be enchanted by this book.”

Summary: “One of the most successful animal photographers in the world today, Rachael McKenna (née Hale) turns her lens toward France—her newly adopted home—and the charismatic cats that inhabit this picturesque backdrop.

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Last Night at Twisted River

Last Night at Twisted River

by John Irving

Mary H. says: “I am a fan of Irving.”

Summary: In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious twelve-year-old boy mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear.

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Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon

by Richard K. Morgan

Jesse M. says: “This is one of the best books I had the pleasure of reading this past year, and I read some insanely good books in 2011, so that is high praise. Gritty cyberpunk meets sci-fi murder mystery, with a dash of conflict theory and some excellent quotations. Check it out!”

Summary: In the twenty-fifth century, humankind has spread throughout the galaxy, monitored by the watchful eye of the U.N.

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The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden

by Kate Morton

Lee T. says: “An unusual story of three women—different times, but all related.”

Summary: From the internationally bestselling author of The House at Riverton, an unforgettable new novel that transports the reader from the back alleys of poverty of pre-World War I London to the shores of colonial Australia where so many made a fresh start, and back to the windswept coast of Cornwall, England, past and present.

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In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto rock stars, Klingon poets, Loglan lovers, and the mad dreamers who tried to build a perfect language

In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto rock stars, Klingon poets, Loglan lovers, and the mad dreamers who tried to build a perfect language

by Arika Okrent

Jimmy L. says: “This funny, thought-provoking, and empathetic book explores the weird world of language inventors throughout history and what drove them. I’ve rarely been this entertained while learning so much.”

Summary: Just about everyone has heard of Esperanto, which was nothing less than one man’s attempt to bring about world peace by means of linguistic solidarity.

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The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

by Alice Ozma

Ken M. says: “This engaging book shares a young reader’s unique experience of books, which her father read aloud to her over the course of many years. The ending carries a powerful message for all who love reading.”

Summary: When Alice Ozma was in 4th grade, she and her father decided to see if he could read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights.

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Sarah's Key

Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

Janet F. says: “This is the moving story of the powerful impact of events during the Holocaust on a young Jewish girl and on another, non-Jewish family drawn into those events. Sixty years later, the rippling effects aren’t just life-changing, but empowering as well for those affected.”

Summary: Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup,

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Forbidden lessons in a Kabul guesthouse: the true story of a woman who risked everything to bring hope to Afghanistan

Forbidden lessons in a Kabul guesthouse: the true story of a woman who risked everything to bring hope to Afghanistan

by Suraya Sadeed

Ev says: “Suraya Sadeed is a true inspiration, and this book tells her amazing story.”

Summary: Set amidst some of the most inhospitable conditions in war-torn, Taliban-seized Afghanistan, Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse is an adventure story with heart that tells Sadeed’s inspiring fight to bring aid, education, and peace training to Afghan citizens.

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy

The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy

by Bill Simmons

Gabriel L. says: “If you’re lamenting the lockout and need your hoops fix, ESPN’s Bill Simmons’s well-researched, comprehensive, witty analysis of the NBA will get you through a rough winter of depressing news stories, enhance your basketball knowledge and keep you laughing.”

Summary: There is only one writer on the planet who possesses enough basketball knowledge and passion to write the definitive book on the NBA.

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The Little Friend

The Little Friend

by Donna Tartt

Vivian A. says:“Loved it. She totally pegged small town Southern life. It’s 550 pages but I was sad when it was over.”

Summary: The hugely anticipated new novel by the author of The Secret History—a best-seller nationwide and around the world, and one of the most astonishing debuts in recent times—The Little Friend is even more transfixing and resonant.

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