Welcome to the Summer Staff Picks, Round 7! Every summer, each staff members picks a set number of books that they think make great warm weather and vacation reads. They right a blurb for every book, and we put them out on display in the store for all our customers to see (this year they’re to the left when you walk in the front door, along the wall!)
What we don’t always share, however, is our competitive nature. We never want to be coming across as used car salesmen at the store, but behind the scenes, we’re always subtly checking out whose picks have sold more copies. This year, we decided to change it up, and outright share that this is a competition among us on the staff, and the books you buy determine the winner!
Here’s how it works: Every staff member has picked between 5 and 8 titles that they think make great summer reads. The person who’s picks collectively sell the most during June, July and August wins the competition at the end of the summer (we don’t get a prize, just bragging rights). Each staff member’s name below links to that staff members summer picks (all of them, not just the featured one). Each week we’ll feature one book from each staff member here on the blog and whoever’s featured book sells the most that week gets 10 bonus points to their final tally and the button “Summer Staff Picks #7” right below takes you to this week’s featured titles. If you’ve already read a book on the list and loved it, mention it in the comments and the staff member who picked it gets a bonus point for each mention!
Basically, we hope you like the books and help us nurture our competitive sides!
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Queen Elizabeth II’s sister Princess Margaret was, at best a difficult woman, and at worst a terrible human being. But like most tabloid fodder (and trainwrecks) it is next to impossible to turn away. Or in this case, stop turning pages. It’s a fun and dishy book, perfect for fans of the rebellious and trouble-making royals.
She made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.
Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding. In her 1950s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman. The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.
Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare. Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
This is an entertaining novel, set in the 1940’s, from the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Vivian, who is 95 years old, is looking back and reflecting upon her life. At the age of 19 she was kicked out of Vassar because she did not attend class. So, her parents send her to New York City to live with her eccentric aunt who runs a playhouse and here Vivian is quickly embraced by the theater community and meets an interesting cast of characters.
Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.
In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.
Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu
What an enlightening memoir by Francisco Cantu, a Mexican American, who joins the US Border Patrol, to gain an understanding of the border. In the first part, he describes his training and work as a field officer with the Patrol. Migrants are trying to escape Mexico’s violence and criminality. In the second part, he is working in an office collecting border intelligence. In part three, Cantu is pursuing a graduate degree. The saga of his friend Jose is sad, as he goes to Mexico to see his dying mother. This book shows me there is much to learn about immigration and the border and how the system objectifies these people and loses sight of their humanity.
For Francisco Cantú, the border is in the blood: his mother, a park ranger and daughter of a Mexican immigrant, raised him in the scrublands of the Southwest. Driven to understand the hard realities of the landscape he loves, Cantú joins the Border Patrol. He and his partners learn to track other humans under blistering sun and through frigid nights. They haul in the dead and deliver to detention those they find alive. Plagued by a growing awareness of his complicity in a dehumanizing enterprise, he abandons the Patrol for civilian life. But when an immigrant friend travels to Mexico to visit his dying mother and does not return, Cantú discovers that the border has migrated with him, and now he must know the full extent of the violence it wreaks, on both sides of the line.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
You know that book that leaves you speechless when you finish the last page? STRANGE THE DREAMER is that book. The beautiful writing and expert storytelling draw you into this fantastical world, and the lovely, heartbreakingly flawed characters will make you want to stay forever. If you are dying to go on a wonderful journey and get lost in a truly good book, this is the story you need.
The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?
In this sweeping and breathtaking novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor, author of the New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy, the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.
The answers await in Weep.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
This gorgeous coming-of-age tale fades in and out of August’s thoughts as she remembers pieces of her past. She is a Black woman who has traveled around the world, documenting the dead of other cultures and countries. As a child, she and her brother lived with their father in an apartment in Brooklyn after leaving the home they shared with their mother in Tennessee. Other adults come and go in August’s life and leave impressions on her, but her thoughts flow mostly back to her mother and her three best friends—Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi—as we learn their hopes, dreams, loves, heartaches, and fates.
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.
But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
Like Louise Meriwether’s Daddy Was a Number Runner and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn heartbreakingly illuminates the formative time when childhood gives way to adulthood—the promise and peril of growing up—and exquisitely renders a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives.
The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada
The Factory is a short little book that follows three workers recently employed at a highly segmented, ultra-powerful organization that seems to be embedded in every aspect of its employees lives (Oyamada actually wrote this novella after her experience working for one such company). One shreds paper, another proofreads documents entirely out of context, and another is trying to figure out the optimal way to lay moss around the organization’s campus. Is something sinister going on? And what’s with all the weird birds on the property? I’m not going to sit here and tell you this book isn’t bizarre. But if you’re like me and you’re open to a little absurdity and ambiguity, pick this up; I promise you’ll have a blast.
The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most exciting new writers, The Factory follows three workers at a sprawling industrial factory. Each worker focuses intently on the specific task they’ve been assigned: one shreds paper, one proofreads documents, and another studies the moss growing all over the expansive grounds. But their lives slowly become governed by their work—days take on a strange logic and momentum, and little by little, the margins of reality seem to be dissolving: Where does the factory end and the rest of the world begin? What’s going on with the strange animals here? And after a while—it could be weeks or years—the three workers struggle to answer the most basic question: What am I doing here?
With hints of Kafka and unexpected moments of creeping humor, The Factory casts a vivid—and sometimes surreal—portrait of the absurdity and meaninglessness of the modern workplace.
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
A fascinating what if book that examines one of the most contentiuous areas in the world. What if the Slattery Report had been supported by the United States and followed though on creating a semiautonomous Jewish state, in Alaska. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is a murder mystery as well as a cultural examinatoin of what makes us different, what unites us, what extremes people are willing to go to protect themselves when they feel they are alone, and who should be trusted. An absolute gem of a read this is a great little standalone novel!
For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a “temporary” safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.
Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.
Land of the Lustrous by Haruko Ichikawa
Land of the Lustrous is what I’d call the Steven Universe of manga. Focusing around a race of race of humanoid gemstones fighting to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, Land of the Lustrous stands out to me among other Manga I have read for its breathtaking visuals (look inside). The series mainly focuses around the motif of maturity and greatly rewards reading that continue reading the later volumes. While the plot is slow in this first volume, I would recommend this book for the art alone.
In a world inhabited by crystalline lifeforms called The Lustrous, every unique gem must fight for their way of life against the threat of lunarians who would turn them into decorations. Phosphophyllite, the most fragile and brittle of gems, longs to join the battle. When Phos is instead assigned to complete a natural history of their world, it sounds like a dull and pointless task. But this new job brings Phos into contact with Cinnabar, a gem forced to live in isolation. Can Phos’s seemingly mundane assignment lead both Phos and Cinnabar to the fulfillment they desire?
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
I wanted to include this throwback read, because it is the first book in a series that brought my love of reading back during my second year of college. We follow four boys and one girl named Blue, and these characters are some of my favorite fictional characters ever. Their development over each book is fantastic, and it made Maggie Stiefvater one of my favorite authors. This series involves dead Welsh kings, a boy that can pull things from his dreams, a family of clairvoyants, and two super cute romances. If you love a light fantasy, this series is for you!
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.
His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn’t believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
While we’ve shared all of Elise and Charlie’s picks, you can still see all of them by clicking on their names here!
Don’t forget to comment the title of ones that you’ve read and loved to help the staff member who recommended it get bonus points!