Best New Physical Books, E-Books, and E-Audiobooks at the Library: November 2, 2021

  • King of the Blues by Daniel de Vise (physical book available at the library): When B.B. King died in May 2015, the world lost an artist whose distinctive style shaped several generations of musicians. Eric Clapton called King “the most important artist the blues has ever produced,” but as journalist Daniel de Vise points out in his absorbing new biography, King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King, King’s journey to such acclaim was never easy. Drawing on extensive interviews with almost every surviving member of King’s inner circle, including family, friends and band members, de Vise chronicles King’s life from his birth into a sharecropper family in Mississippi, to his parents’ split, to his early years being raised by his grandmother. King loved gospel music and sand in the choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church, bust most gospel groups didn’t have a guitar. One of his ministers taught King three chords on the guitar, and when he turned 16, King bought the fire-red Stella that would kick off his journey to becoming a master of the instrument. Soon enough, King left Mississippi for Memphis and became an international star. As de Vise points out, though, King always looked over his shoulder at the poverty and scenes of racial injustice out of which he had grown, incorporating those deep feelings of loss into his music so that his listeners could feel his sorrow as be bent the blues through his guitar strings. King of the Blues is the first full and authoritative biography of King, and it accomplishes what all good music books should: It drives readers to revisit King’s music and savor it again.
  • The Baseball 100 by Joe Posnanski (physical book available at library): Major League Baseball fans, you just won the lottery. In The Baseball 100, noted sports writer Joe Posnanski presents 880 pages of sheer baseball bliss, discussing the history of the game by examining the lives, obstacles and achievements of his nominations for the 100 greatest players of all time, including MLB stars and players from the Negro Leagues. It’s a true masterwork, and his writing is so good that it’s likely to engross even those who know nothing about the sport. Avid baseball fans will easily become absorbed in these pages, and when they reemerge, they’ll be all too ready to debate Posnanski’s rankings. He’s prepared for this, writing, “I stand firmly behind them, and I expect you to come hard at me with vigorous disagreements. What fun would it be otherwise?” In fact, the author even teases, “I have a list of more than 100 players who could have made this list. I think I’ll save them in case the Baseball 100 ever needs a volume 2.” Perhaps he’d better start writing now.
  • Archangel’s Light by Nalini Singh (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Nalini Singh pens an enthralling read in Archangel’s Light. Young warrior angels Illium and Aodhan are committed to putting the world to rights after a devastating supernatural war. Their archangel, Raphael, directs Aodhan to help rebuild the territory of China, which separates him from Illium, his oldest and dearest friend. But when Illium is sent to support the venture as well, the friends have an opportunity to confront new evil as well as old hurts. There’s a chilling mystery at the center of the story–a hamlet of 50 people seems to have vanished into thin air–but the relationship between Aodhan and Illium drives the narrative. As Singh explores the strain that mars their connection, it’s impossible not to root for the pair to find their way back to each other’s hearts and souls–and into a new intimacy. This 14th romance in Singh’s Guild Hunter series is engrossing, entertaining and filled with tender emotion.
  • Noor by Nnedi Okorafor (e-book available on the Libby app with your library card): Nnedi Okorafor’s singular voice is on full display in the sci-fi thriller Noor. Anwuli Okwudili is a Nigerian girl who was born with deformities in her legs and one of her arms, intestinal malrotation and only one lung. After a car accident further limits the use of her legs and gives her debilitating headaches and memory issues, Anwuli gets a whole raft of biomechanical body enhancements. Viewed as half human and half machine, she flees her village after killing several men who attacked her and tries to stay ahead of a reckoning she knows is coming. A leading voice in the subgenre of African futurism, Okorafor’s power on the page is confident, vivid and uniquely her own. Her examination of technology’s influence on health, nature, local communities and so many other parts of life is as precise as it is disturbing. Noor is a cautionary thriller, told with exuberance and conviction.
  • You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy (e-audiobook available on the Libby app with your library card): In this book, New York Times contributor Kate Murphy delivers tips on how we can improve our listening skills, stop getting sidetracked and focus on the present. In a brisk and lively narrative, she talks with professional listeners (including a CIA agent and the production team of NPR’s “Fresh Air”) and checks in with psychologists and sociologists for insights into the process of listening. A rewarding selection for reading groups, Murphy’s book offers numerous discussion topics, including technology’s impact upon communication and the human need for connection.
  • All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Wanda M. Morris’ debut novel, All Her Little Secrets is a multilayered, atmospheric thriller with subplot atop subplot. It’s really hard to even scratch the surface while discussing it. The main characters are Atlanta corporate attorney Ellice Littlejohn, a Black woman who is the lead counsel for a thriving transport company; her brother Sam, a ne’er-do-well who skates very close to the edge of legality, and sometimes over the edge; her auntie Vera, once a ball of fire, now laid low by advancing episodes of dementia; and CEO Nate Ashe, a Southern gentleman who might be looking out for Ellice’s interests but who also might be a corrupt businessman attuned to the optics of displaying a minority woman in a position of power. Then there is a murder, and another, and it becomes next to impossible for Ellice to determine who is in her corner. Examinations of racism, sexism, ageism and classism abound, making this a very timely read, in addition to being a wonderful debut.
  • Silverview by John le Carre (physical book available at the library): When John le Carre passed away in December 2020, he left a gift behind for his readers: Silverview, one last novel from the master of espionage. The story goes that le Carre began work on the book nearly a decade ago, but it was held for publication as the author “tinkered” with it. The tinkering paid off. Silverview is one of his best works, an intricate cat-and-mouse tale in which just who is the feline and who is the rodent is up in the air until the final pages. Julian Lawndsley has recently moved to a small town by the sea, and taken over the running of a local bookstore. When he meets Polish émigré Edward Avon, Julian is virtually bowled over by the larger-than-life demeanor of the elderly white-haired gentleman. Together they hatch a plan to expand Julian’s store. Meanwhile in London, British intelligence has launched an investigation into a long-ago incident in Edward’s life, one that suggests he may still be in the spy game. If this is true, it’s anybody’s guess who his employer might be, for it is certainly not the home team. Not that the home team could even remotely be considered the good guys, mind you. But I suppose treason is treason, irrespective of the morality of the players. Perhaps even more world-weary in tone than the le Carre books that preceded it, Silverview will make readers look askance at the sort of things their countries do on the world stage.
  • The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): “The Arctic had a way of reminding you that your life was unimportant, expendable, and easily extinguished,” writes Nathaniel Ian Miller in his stellar first novel. He knows this harsh environment all too well, having lived there as part of the annual Arctic Circle artist and scientist expeditionary program. During his residency, he happened upon a century-old hut where a hermit once lived on an otherwise uninhabited fjord. The discovery inspired Miller to write a fictional account of the man’s life. The result, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven, seems so authentic in both detail and slightly archaic narrative voice that it’s easy to forget it’s not an actual memoir. Growing up in Stockholm, Sven Ormson dreams of polar exploration and reads not only famous, heroic accounts but also all of the “terminally dull voyage narratives” he can get his hands on. At age 32, he sets out for Spitsbergen, a Norwegian archipelagic isle in the Arctic Circle, where he begins working in a dangerous, soul-sucking mine. Before long, a horrific accident leaves him disfigured and “resolved to spend [his] life alone” as an Arctic trapper. And he’s hardly a gifted trapper. Thus begins a truly walloping tale of solitude and survival told in visceral detail, a combination of Miller’s wild imagination and his beautifully precise prose. By design, the novel is so full of lengthy descriptions that a certain amount of perseverance is required of the reader. But Sven is an insightful yet comically ironic narrator, and there is often great excitement in his story, including “ice bear” attacks, near starvation, northern lights and the haunting sounds of calving glaciers. The arctic landscape is mostly barren, but Sven encounters a parade of quirky yet meaningful characters who appear, disappear and sometimes reappear in his life. He also offers a surprising amount of social commentary, touching on corporate greed, the plight of workers, the tragedy and senselessness of war, the rewards of canine-human-relationships, the necessity of intellectual pursuits and more. Although The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a vastly different book from Peter Heller’s The Guide, these two novels may appeal to the same audience: readers who love exquisite nature writing and crave no-holds-barred, extreme outdoor adventures. Miller goes one step further, however, by imbuing his novel with an unforgettable narrator who asks essential questions of human connection, a remarkable achievement for a novel ostensibly about solitude. What makes a family? What makes a devoted friend? What makes a great life? Like the arctic landscape itself, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is beautifully stark and unimaginably rich, a book that will long be remembered by its lucky readers.
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (physical book available at the library): Readers first fell in love with Lucy Barton in Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, a gentle reflection on the titular character’s life and parental influence during an extended hospitalization. In Oh William!, it’s been years since Lucy left her first husband, William. But despite the many affairs he conducted during their marriage and her own affair that prompted her departure, they remain each other’s confidants. As the novel opens, Lucy has been widowed for a year after the death of her second husband, David. She explores her grief throughout the book, but her devotion to William also demands her attention. As in each of Strout’s novels about Lucy, her narration is nearly a stream of consciousness. The novel’s lack of chapter breaks reinforces its interior nature and invites readers to immerse themselves in Lucy’s ruminations. As Lucy contemplates her lasting bond with William, she considers their marriage and the ways their relationship has affected their daughters. It isn’t always clear whether Lucy likes or respects her ex-husband, but her tie to him is unbreakable, her curiosity about him unwavering: “I wondered who William was. I have wondered this before. Many times I have wondered this.” Likewise, William turns to Lucy, rather than to his current wife, when his sleep is disrupted by night terrors involving his late mother. And it’s Lucy he seeks when he confronts a secret his mother kept from him. Pulitzer Prize winner Strout is a master of quiet, reflective stories that are driven more by their characters than by events. Her fans will find plenty to love as Lucy and William set out to explore his family history. At each step, Lucy contemplates her relationships to the people around her. Though she often feels invisible, her ties to William, their daughters and the strangers they encounter remind her that she has a place in the world.
  • The Chancellor by Kati Marton (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): The key to Angela Merkel’s extraordinary political achievements lies in her beginnings. The first half of her life was spent in East Germany, where she withstood the pressures of a police state. She learned that freedom of thought and action cannot be taken for granted. As the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Merkel also believed in the importance of love as expressed by deeds, not just words, and in serving others. Although she became a brilliant physicist, she had wide interests and was quietly ambitious. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she welcomed the chance to pursue politics in a united Germany. In The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel, former NPR and ABC News reporter Kati Marton explores the public and very private life of the woman who served for 16 years as the head of the German state, which now generally reflects Merkel herself: stable, moderate and civil. Marton, who spent her childhood in Hungary during the Cold War under a totalitarian regime, is a perfect choice to write Merkel’s biography. Merkel’s rise was spurred on by a combination of self-control, strategic thinking, passive aggression and luck. In 1991, she assumed a cabinet position in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s newly unified Federal Republic of Germany. In 1998, however, after a political scandal, she publicly opposed his continuing in office. When she became chancellor in 2005, she did not bring specific policies to the office. Instead, she brought a belief in Germany’s permanent debt to the Jews; precise, evidence-based decision-making; and a loathing for dictators who imprison their own people. At an event for volunteers who had helped with refugee settlement, Marton asked Merkel which single quality sustained her during her long political life. Merkel responded, “Endurance.” Marton’s beautifully written, balanced and insightful biography should be enjoyed by anyone interested in global politics or a fascinating life story.
  • Little Thieves by Margaret Owen (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Vanja Schmidt has never led a charmed life. From a young age, she was forced to work as a maid at Castle Falbirg, where she suffered everything from petty cruelty to unspeakable abuse at her employers’ hands. Even Vanja’s friendship with Princess Gisele left her with more scars than support. So when Vanja saw a chance to swipe a magical string of pearls that she could use to steal Gisele’s identity, she seized it. After a year of posing as Gisele and continuing her covert crime spree, Vanja’s latest theft earns her a deadly curse from the goddess Eiswald. If Vanja can’t find a way to make up for her crimes in the next two weeks, the curse will turn her into the same precious gemstones she’s been stealing. To make matters worse, Eiswald sends her shape-shifting daughter to keep an eye on Vanja, there’s a frustratingly talented young detective hot on her trail–and the real Gisele is still out there, furious at Vanja’s betrayal. This colorful cast is the best part of Little Thieves, and author Margaret Owen pursues every opportunity for her strong-willed characters to clash, banter and bond with one another. Whether they are scheming over breakfast sausages or teaching knife tricks to orphans, the characters’ vivid personalities always shine through. Owen dedicates Little Thieves to “the gremlin girls,” and Vanja wears that descriptor as the honorific it’s intended to be. Vanja’s heists are clever, her insults are creative and her vulnerabilities are striking. She’s a complex protagonist, and Owen expertly demonstrates how her devious personality is simultaneously a flaw, a strength and the direct result of her past experiences. The compassion and sensitivity Owen displays toward Vanja will easily earn her a place in the hearts of all her fellow gremlins. Amid the book’s plentiful action scenes and witty repartee, Vanja also offers biting commentary on power and privilege. Characters wield authority over one another–whether through divine magic, mortal law, the threat of violence or familial obligation–and these power imbalances shape every interaction and drive the novel’s many intertwining conflicts. Little Thieves is an endlessly entertaining fantasy tale about characters on their worst behavior learning to be their best selves.
  • Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): Jennifer Mathieu swings for the fences in Bad Girls Never Say Die, a feminist retelling of S.E. Hinton’s 1967 classic, The Outsiders. It’s not quite the equal of Hinton’s grand slam, but Mathieu’s spin makes for a home run of a read. Evie Barnes is a self-described bad girl living in Houston in 1964. She joins her “tuff” girlfriends in skipping school, smoking and drinking. When Evie is attacked and almost raped by a drunk boy at a drive-in movie, she believes her bad-girl status has been cemented. No good girl would put herself in a position where she could get hurt by a boy, right? Wrong. Diane, the epitome of a good girl, stops the assault but unintentionally kills the boy. This sends Evie and Diane on a police-dodging odyssey of unexpected friendship as they discover what it really means to be a bad girl. The threat in Mathieu’s novel feels more existential than in Hinton’s. Yes, a young man attacks a young woman, but Mathieu also doubles down on the horrors that women face every day. In a moment of catharsis, Evie reflects, “It seems like if you want to really love and feel and breathe…you’re labeled trash. Or bad. Especially if you’re a girl.” Of course, that threat, which is the true antagonist of the story, has a name: patriarchy. And Mathieu knows its. It’s why every female character in the book is imbued with depth and purpose, no matter what side of town they’re from or how old they are. They’re all fighting the same cultural force that is determined to keep them down. Best known for Moxie, another YA novel about young women fighting “the man,” Mathieu offers another rallying cry in Bad Girls Never Say Die and proves it’s good to go bad.
  • Let Me Fix You a Plate by Elizabeth Lilly (e-book available on the Axis 360 app with your library card): The excitement of family gatherings is at the heart of Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens, inspired by Elizabeth Lilly’s childhood trips to see her grandparents. The book follows a girl, her two sisters and their parents as they visit their Mamaw and Papaw in West Virginia, then their Abuela and Abuelo in Florida, before finally returning to their own home. Lilly’s energetic illustrations capture details the narrator observes. At Mamaw and Papaw’s house, she sees a shelf of decorated plates, eats toast with blackberry jam and helps make banana pudding. Abuela and Abuelo’s house is filled with the sounds of Spanish and salsa music, and the girl picks oranges from a tree in the yard and helps make arepas. Lilly’s precise prose contributes to a strong sense of place. “Morning mountain fog wrinkles and rolls,” observes the girl in West Virginia, while in Florida, “the hot sticky air hugs us close.” Lilly’s line drawings initially seem simple, almost sketchlike, but they expertly convey the actions and emotions of every character, whether it’s Mamaw bending down to offer a bite of breakfast or a roomful of aunts and uncles dancing while Abuelo plays guitar. Like a cozy cuddle from a beloved family member, Let Me Fix You a Plate is a warm squeeze that leaves you grinning and a little bit breathless.

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