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Staff Picks

by Thuras, Dylan

Are you familiar with Atlas Obscura's website of quirky travel
recommendations? Then, you will be delighted by Atlas Obscura
Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras
and Rosemary Mosco which embraces the idea of quirky travelogue and
serves up a family-friendly trip around the world. The book begins with a
packing list for the young explorer, and each feature includes precise
latitude and longitude numbers so you can find that point with Google
satellite. As you traverse the globe you learn about locations, cultures,
languages used, populations, foods and flags, and of course, obscure
facts. For example, do you know what common food was used in the
mortar of China's Great Wall? Do you know where to find a wild apple
forest? How about finding a cave of giant crystals where the temperature
is 125* and you must wear a special suit to go inside? And can you
imagine celebrating Easter like some people do by firing rockets at another
church? My favorite aspect of this book is the brilliant segues written in to
take you from one page's place to the next. The book ends with ideas for
explorers of any ability and budget to begin exploring right where they are.

What are you waiting for?

by Banker, Mark T.

This book has a very interesting perspective about Appalachian stereotypes. The author, Mark Banker reveals great details about life in East Tennessee in pre-pioneer times. The author interweaves his family history with the region’s economic interconnections between East Tennessee’s ‘Three Appalachias’—its tourist-laden Smokies, its urbanized Valley, and its strip-mined Plateau.”

The author focuses on the histories of three communities—Knoxville with its urban life, Cades Cove with its farming, logging, and tourism legacies, and the Clearfork Valley with its coal production—to tell a larger story of East Tennessee and its inhabitants. Combining a perceptive account of how industry shaped developments in these communities since the Civil War with a heartfelt reflection on Appalachian identity. The author provides a new lens for viewing East Tennessee and its past, and as a part of Appalachia. The book also speaks most directly to East Tennesseans and other Appalachian residents; it also carries important ideas for those of us wanting to any reader seeking to understand the crucial connections between history, self, and place. As we recall from our history classes---we know more of where we are going if we know where we have been.

by Miller, Madeline

I'm a little late to this one, but glad I finally made the time for it. In case you aren't already familiar, The Song of Achilles is a lovely and moving retelling of the life of Achilles from the perspective of Patroclus. It uses that perspective to reframe the Iliad into an epic and tragic love story. But it's not really the revisionist take you might expect from that pitch. No character is portrayed inconsistently with the Homeric texts. There is still considerable thematic overlap in the portrayal of hubris and arrogance as connected and contrasted with responsibility to your fellow man and the nature of heroism and how violence and power complicates all of that. And Miller never shies away from including the Gods and other mythological elements where they serve the story.

You could describe this as Homer fan fiction; it is after all expanding on an existing text primarily to dig deeper into a specific romantic pairing. But that description is far from pejorative: what we dismissively call fan-fiction is really just how culture worked (most of Shakespeare's stories had been told before) before we devalued artistic work and had to commoditize "originality." And if anything proves that fan fiction can be as artistically compelling, beautifully written and thematically rich as any other work, it's The Song of Achilles.

by Ephron, Delia

Ephron’s memoir offers an intense and tender glimpse at the beauty of second chances for love and life in the face of loss and life- altering hardships. Those who appreciate a good love story will fall hard for the whirlwind affair of Delia and Peter and will find themselves celebrating the magnitude of quality friendships as they turn the pages of Left on Tenth.

by Fike, Jimmy W.

Jimmy W. Fike's "Edible Plants" is a beautiful book of nature photography. It combines both artistry and Natural History to satisfy the eyes and the mind. In this photographic survey of wild plants, one travels across the North American continent searching for edible foods beside marshes, in dry fields, on hillsides and in valleys. The edible parts of the plants are colorized, and the plants are arranged so that you see the underside of the leaf as well as the top, the stems, and the roots. At our home, we kept this book open on the dining room table and every time someone passed, he or she would turn a page and read. This is one book I will check out again and again!

by Kuang, R. F.

This exquisitely imagined and beautifully written novel is my favorite that I've read so far this year. It conceives of a rich and unusual magic derived from the act of translation itself, and then uses that to examine the insidious and destructive effects of colonialism. That might sound a little dry, but in practice the book is visceral, angry, action-packed, and still somehow profoundly tender, especially in the portrayal of the friendship between the four characters at the heart of the novel.

I fully recommend you get on the wait list on Libby for this one. It's worth it.

This title is currently only available as an ebook via Libby or TNReads

by Mackesy, Charlie

"A thought-provoking, discussion-worthy story... the book itself is an object of art" -The New York Times

"I long to inhabit [the world] that Charlie Mackesy has created- a world of infinite kindness, wisdom, mutual care and tenderness, and true love between real friends. My prayer is that our world will become more like this one." -Elizabeth Gilbert

"Simply, the world needs Charlie's work right now" - Miranda Hart

"A delightful treat of a book... If there were classes on how to be a good person, this book would be the textbook." -Horse Nation

This sweet little book was all this and more! What a wonderful, unexpected treat it was to read, enjoy and ponder. I hope everyone reads it because everyone SHOULD read it! Bravo, Charlie, bravo.

by Zauner, Michelle

Food and reflection share center stage in this beautifully written memoir. Sumptuous descriptions of Korean dishes are paired against the struggles of a young woman coming of age and the bitter pill that is watching a family member succumb to cancer. Zauner highlights the ability of food not only to nourish us, but also its transcendent power to bring us together in celebration, connect us to our culture, and evoke memories of those loved ones who may no longer be with us.

by McMahon, Jennifer

No significant other? Sort of wishing you had no significant other? Well, here is a February 14th read for you! Buy yourself a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine and grab yourself a cozy blanket and a copy of this book. Set that mood lighting because this twisty/turny tale of monsters & mysteries will be your new love interest. There are three different story lines and times: the 1950s, the 1980s and 2013. Part family saga, part 1980s horror by way of the 60s, and part homage to Alfred Hitchcock- it's a deliciously dark read. Discover the secrets of the 29th room, the Tower Motel, and the truth about the Night Sister. Jennifer McMahon's plot goes back and forth but ties it all up with a big, bloody Valentine's Day bow at the end!

~Valentine's Month Pick #1- Jennifer McMahon may easily be one of the BEST Valentine's Day dates I've ever had!

xoxo~ hilarie c

by Dodge, Abigail Johnson

So many wonderful cakes in here! The tiramisu cake, the sour cream espresso cake with vanilla buttercream and my favorite, the crumb cake. Okay... so I don't cook but I DO eat and this book is definitely a cake lover's dream. You could say that it's the "PAN" of my dreams! Looks delicious, smells wonderful, good for my soul, treats me well~ gosh I love my "PAN"!

~Valentine's Month Pick #2- Happy Valentine's Month to you & me & "MY PAN"!

xoxo ~ hilarie c

by Blizzard, Kristen

I love mushrooms! Both to eat and to look at and this is a wonderful book, full of wonderful mushrooms. So this Valentine's Day, snuggle up with some mushroom coffee, a southern-fried chicken of the woods sandwich (it's a mushroom! recipe on page 113), a cozy blanket and a dream of dark, green forests full of mysterious fluffs of fungus! And lose yourself in the world of heterotrophs!

~Valentines Month Pick #3- Go on a date with any of these "fun-gi's"! You won't regret it in the morning!~

xoxo ~ hilarie c

by Saunders, George

This book, based on a class George Saunders teaches at Syracuse University about the Russian short story masters, is a thought-provoking and engaging deep dive into seven short stories by Chekov, Tolstoy, Gogol, and Turgenev. Intended for writers (and with some great exercises for the aspiring author) it eschews the stuffy academic voice in favor of a direct and insightful style that's accessible to anyone with an interest in literature. Saunders is perhaps a little too convinced of the moral power of literature to change lives and the world (I can't help but think of Vonnegut's comparison of the power of anti-Vietnam War literature to a dropped custard pie), but his enthusiasm for his subject is infectious and it inspired me to finally read more of Tolstoy's and Chekov's short stories, which was a real highlight of my reading last year. If you enjoy Saunders' voice and perspective (as I do), we also have Saunders' new short story collection Liberation Day as well as his novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which was my favorite book of the year back in 2017.

by Randall, David K.

Maybe it is a result of growing up on a steady stream of films like "The Land Before Time" and "Jurassic Park" in the 90s or that jaw dropping feeling that comes over a person standing in front of an exhibit featuring the fossilized bones of a long deceased giant: either way, I knew I wanted to read this book. Inside its pages, you will learn about Barnum Brown, a farm boy turned paleontologist with an almost bull-headed sense of tenacity, who is the man to thank for unearthing the T. Rex and bringing it into the American zeitgeist. One of the most intriguing aspects of The Monster's Bones goes beyond the biography to examine the intersection of men like Brown and his contemporaries and the desires and demands of 19th and 20th century business tycoons with names like Carnegie and Morgan who financed these early fossil excavations, all hoping for the biggest and best finds to be claimed for natural history museums across the country.

by West, Carroll Van

So often, when we say we are from Tennessee, we get the response; “Oh, yes I love Nashville and Country Music”. This beautifully illustrated book gives us great information on all the varieties and history of art in Tennessee. The visual arts and architecture section includes chapters on sculpture, painting and photography, while the another section celebrates folk arts such as woodcraft, silversmithing, pottery, and textiles. The section on Tennessee’s literary history includes such writers as James Agee, Robert Penn Warren, and Evelyn Scott, while the performing arts are represented by a wealth of storytellers. Finally, Tennessee is home to—and originator of—much of the music that we know as distinctively American. Contributors to the music section examine gospel, blues, rock, soul, and, of course, country music. From prehistoric cave paintings to the “cow punk” music of Jason and the Scorchers, from the elegant capitol building of William Strickland to Ballet Memphis, and from the unique barns of East Tennessee to the chronicles of Alex Haley, the arts in Tennessee truly celebrate excellence. 

by Kingsolver, Barbara

I have been an avid fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s work since I read her first novel, The Bean Trees, in 1989. Her newest novel, Demon Copperhead, reinforces why I love her writing as much as I do. Set in Southwest Virginia, Kingsolver takes the reader on an intimate tour of modern-day Appalachia via protagonist, Damon Fields a.k.a. Demon Copperhead. Born to a teenage mother, Damon struggles with poverty, family abuse, the foster care system, homelessness, school failure and opioid addiction. As in previous novels, Kingsolver is able to bring social issues to the forefront through her beautifully written prose.

by Van Pelt, Shelby

I love a good novel. I also love sea creatures, especially octopuses. So, how could I resist a novel that includes an octopus as one of its narrators? Marcellus is a giant Pacific octopus living at an aquarium in fictional Sowell Bay, Washington. Tova is a widow keeping herself busy cleaning the aquarium each evening after closing time. When Marcellus and Tova form an unlikely friendship, each of them is able to teach the other about kindness, family, and love. And Marcellus is able to find something that Tova thought she had lost long ago.

by Graff, Garrett M.

As you read or listen to this oral history from the perspective of those most affected, you will cry, you will applaud these heroes, you will hold your breath as loved ones search or wait for calls, and you will not regret taking the time to remember what that day was like. I read the audio version through Libby, and the stories and sounds of this audiobook opened my eyes. So many of my memories of 9/11 had been colored by what happened in the years after, but on that Tuesday in September, when first one hijacked plane, then another, then another, and finally another crashed into iconic buildings or a field in Pennsylvania, no one knew what to expect or when the attacks would end. This book returned me to that day as it was, and I strongly recommend this book. Remembering is good, in the way that visiting cemeteries or monuments is good, for remembering and for paying our respect to those who have gone before us.

by Skeslien Charles, Janet

This book begins with an immediate juxtaposition of two young female characters growing up in different time periods under very different circumstances. Odile’s story begins in Paris as World War II looms on the horizon. She is in her early twenties and an eager lover of books who has just started her dream job in the American Library in Paris. She seems to have it all—looks, books, a boyfriend, and a good family. Lily’s story, on the other hand, begins with the death of her mother just before she is about to enter her formative high school years. With this loss and changes to her family structure, Lily finds solace and inspiration in her curious and slightly reclusive French neighbor. As you may have guessed, both stories interweave together creating a poignant exploration of the impact of choices and the power of the relationships that shape us as we grow all while sprinkling in some love and appreciation for language, librarians, and the books that inspire us.

by Bechdel, Alison

A great and heartbreaking memoir in comic book form. It tells the story of Alison Bechdel (whose name you might know because the Bechdel Test for cinema originated in an newpaper comic she wrote) and her youth growing up in a funeral home (the "fun home" of the title), her sometimes difficult relationship with her father, discovering her sexuality and coming out, the consequent revelation that her father was a closeted gay man, and the unresolved aftermath of his subsequent death. That might sound heavy, and it is at times, but it's also profoundly funny and humane and even universal somehow. It's also been adapted by Tesori and Kron into one of the best musicals in the last few years.

by Streets, Annabel

“Walking is not—and has never been—boring,” writes novelist Streets in this inviting exercise guide to a year’s worth of walking. The book describes walking divided into a weekly program, with each week dedicated to a certain type of walking. This would definitely be a motivational book to read to start the new year with a goal of wellness! Examples included: “a stroll in winter”, with advantages of walking in the cold including increased cognition and reduced stress. The benefits of slow walks (shown to lower cholesterol and help regulate insulin levels), early morning treks (exposure to sunlight helps start the day off right), and post-meal strolls (which help with digestion) were also described. The information is refreshing as are the psychological and physical benefits of some movement in the “outside." We're urged to appreciate the world around us, with the added plus that there's no gym fee required!

by Snyder, Sabrina

I love a good cookbook, especially one loaded with appetizing color photographs of the prepared recipes. What makes me love this cookbook even more is that the recipes are limited to either 3, 5, or 7 ingredients. The premise being that with a well-stocked pantry and (maybe) one fresh ingredient from the local butcher or farmer’s market, delicious meals can be easily made at home. I’ve tried several recipes from this book and all were very successful. My favorites are the Easy-Breezy Pot Roast and the Mini Fruit Pies. Add a green salad to those two and you’ve got Dinner then Dessert!

by Bourdain, Anthony

"A guide to some of the world's most fascinating places, as seen and experienced by writer, television host, and relentlessly curious traveler Anthony Bourdain" (Publisher's Summary)

This title is only available via Interlibrary Loan

by Shapiro, Dani

Dani Shapiro’s memoir Inheritance chronicles the author’s personal experience with family secrets. When a spit DNA test reveals that Dani herself is the family secret, Shapiro begins a quest to make sense of and unravel just who she is in light of this discovery. Shapiro pairs moving and honest prose with journalistic inquiry into her family and the questions that surround fertility, sperm donors, medical history, and privacy.

If you enjoy this book and are a fan of podcasts, be sure to listen to Shapiro’s Family Secrets podcast, a project that was spawned from the response to the book and explores family secrets of all varieties.

by Wohlleben, Peter

A fabulous book about TREES! And forests! And how it all works in amazing processes in those forests every day! Rich and beautiful photography that simply takes you to that place in the woods. Wonderfully informative insights from the Tree Whisperer, himself! It'll make a tree hugger out of you... I promise.

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