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Staff Book Recommendations

CSB/SJU Staff Book Recommendations for Christmas 2016


All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda; Recommended by Ally Eikmeier

Nicolette is the girl next door. Corinne is the school's princess. Two best friends who balance each other perfectly; until one goes missing. Told backwards from Day 15 to Day 1, this thrilling novel has you turning the page into the past to uncover the truth of a disappearance... or two! When all characters are posed as a threat, this story allows the reader to act as an investigator and delve into the clues that surround Cooley Ridge.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens; Recommended by Joe Miller

This novel is a thrilling page-turner that written by Allen Eskens, a Minnesota author. The majority of the story takes place in Minnesota, where Joe Talbert is a college student at the University of Minnesota. He is given an assignment in his English class to interview a person and write a short biography on their life. Joe ends up interviewing a man who is spending the last days of his life in a nursing home after being released from prison for the rape and murder of a teenage girl. After learning more about Carl's life, Joe makes it his mission to prove that Carl never committed the crimes he was sent to prison for. Joe does all of this while trying to take care of his autistic brother and deal with his drunken mother. This novel will keep you guessing throughout.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware; Recommended by Kari Harren and Krista Lindstrand

I enjoyed this clever mystery very much. It made me nervous, but it was a good kind of nervous. The main character, Lo, gets the perfect work assignment -a week on a small luxury cruise. Aboard the boat, Lo meets the woman in cabin 10, but is surprised to find no one else knows about her and cabin 10 is supposed to be empty! Late that night Lo is positive she hears and sees someone thrown overboard. However, according the steward, everyone is accounted for. Lo is kind of a mess, always teetering on the brink of madness -understandable given the circumstances. I can tell you the author did a great job of making me question everyone. I was convinced it was all in Lo's mind and she was inadvertently making everything up. That she was confused. Until the author managed to throw me off with some of the other shady passengers. Then I felt like maybe I was the one who was confused. I was back and forth so many times with my theories and in the end - I was wrong. I love being wrong. Loved the final twist at the end!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald; Recommended by Kari Harren

This book is set in Broken Wheel, Iowa, a little town off the grid, populated with oddballs and eccentrics with no place else to go. Along comes a Swedish tourist who wants to visit her pen pal friend Amy, only to find she's just in time for her funeral. Sara is a young woman who has lived her life in books, and leaving Sweden is the most daring thing she's ever done. She moves into Amy's house, uses her thousands of books to open a bookshop, and gets involved in the lives of the townspeople, none of whom read. Chaos ensues. Anyone who loves books will love this one: Sara's attempts to get the perfect book in the hands of people who need them are touching, and their acceptance of her and their attempts to get her nose out of a book and into their lives are funny and real.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty; Recommended by Kari Harren

The story is centered around three couples and their children, who all gather for a spur of the moment neighborhood barbeque. There is tension in the air right from the start, but things escalate when the atmosphere turns a little reckless. Then something happens at the BBQ that profoundly affects these couples, causing a ripple through long term friendships and marriages. Moriarty builds suspense, telling us about the aftermath, but not what the actual incident is until halfway through. While the suspense builds, it is hard to put the book down! This would be a fantastic choice for book groups, as there is so much to discuss and a really wonderful and enjoyable personal read.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham; Recommended by Krista Lindstrand

Sycamore Row brings back Jake Brigance and cast of Grisham's novel, A Time to Kill, three years after his famous trial.  Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict over the legality of the handwritten will.
The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  There were some slow moving parts, but Grisham weaves all of the details into an engaging story.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd; Recommended by Krista Lindstrand

This is a wonderful story of the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina (Nina), and their family's slaves, Charlotte, Handful (Hetty), and Sky.  The story begins with Sarah who has just turned eleven.  She is given Handful as her personal maid as a birthday.  She is abhorred by the thought and tries to give her back or to set her free.  Sarah and Nina devote their lives to abolishing slavery and to the women's rights movement.  This story weaves in the special relationship that Sarah and Handful develop through their childhood and into their adult lives.

Faithful by Alice Hoffman; Recommended by Ann Jonas

This coming-of-age novel is a fantastic read! Shelby is a normal teenage girl until she is involved in a car accident; her best friend is now in a coma while she walks away physically unharmed, but mentally very damaged. Fortunately, her mother doesn't give up on her, even when she spends a couple of years in her parents' basement in a deep depression. The tale follows Shelby as she gradually stops feeling unworthy of happiness or success. Hoffman is a gifted writer; readers will soon care deeply for Shelby and the cast of characters she encounters on her journey. A lovely book!

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood; Recommended by Ann Jonas

This book is a quirky but beautifully told tale about a fragmented family and a 104-year-old woman. Ona Vitkus, the elderly but very wily woman, still lives by herself. An 11-year-old boy, whose name is never disclosed, has just started as Ona's helper. He is a strange, lonely, observant boy, obsessed with Guinness World Records and lists with ten items. Their conversations are quite delightful as Ona tells her life story to the boy, who is a good listener and gentle being. When the boy suddenly dies, Quinn, the boy's father, takes over helping Ona.

This book about friendship is a beautiful example of rich storytelling. Although the boy is alive for just the very beginning of the book, he is a main cog in the story. It contains a large amount of clever humor, even chuckle-out-loud passages. The characters in the story are very real -- with flaws, but certainly likeable. It is a poignant, heartwarming narrative with a meaningful ending.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney; Recommended by Ann Jonas

The four middle-aged Plumb siblings are months away from receiving a big chunk of money from a trust fund ("the nest") set up by their late rags-to-riches father. All of them, in their own way, have been counting on the money, in some cases to bail them out of tight spots. However, the oldest, Leo, gets himself in a pickle and, as a result, their mother uses a good chunk of the trust fund to help him out. Leo's siblings all deal with this news in different ways. This debut novel is engaging and witty, with interesting, but not necessarily likeable characters. The relationships between the siblings are really intriguing. An excellent read!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys; Recommended by Ann Jonas

This book, based on a real-life tragedy, is classified as a Young Adult book, but it is an excellent novel for adults, too. In January 1945 thousands of refugees are fleeing Stalin's army, heading for the Polish port city of Gotenhofen in the hopes of boarding a ship that will take them away from the brutal Russian army. The book is told from the point of view of four teenagers: a Lithuanian nurse, a pregnant Polish 15-year-old, a Prussian artist carrying dangerous cargo and a German naval soldier stationed on the ship Wilhelm Gustloff. The teens eventually board the ship, along with 10,000 others (the ship had a capacity of around 1500.) The book has tragedy and sadness, but also some romance and scenes of great kindness. Sepetys did meticulous research before writing this heart-breaking, but beautifully told story.

Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney; Recommended by Ann Jonas

Ellen Boisvert's Irish immigrant husband Fintan always told her that he was an orphan but soon after he dies suddenly, she finds out that his mother is still alive. Ellen travels from her home in New England to Ireland to meet her aging mother-in-law to find out why Fintan never acknowledged his family. This book is like much Irish prose: somewhat dark and sad. Greaney's writing is beautiful as she explores the complexities of family. This book will stay with you-an engaging read.

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show by Daniel deVise; Recommended by Ann Jonas

Most everyone has watched "The Andy Griffith Show" on TV; the syndicated show still entertains countless fans. Daniel deVise, who is Don Knotts' brother-in-law, gives us an interesting history on the making of the show, but also the fascinating biographies of both Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. The men were best friends in the fictional Mayberry, but were also best friends in real life. This book tells how the comedy show came to be, how the episodes were conceived along with lots of anecdotes about the show and the actors. An entertaining and engrossing read.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes; Recommended by Ann Jonas

"The Princess Bride" is one of my all-time favorite movies-it's really a classic now. Actor Cary Elwes (Westley) has penned a memoir of the filming of the movie, with interviews with many of the movie's costars. This book is wonderfully narrated and offers many behind-the-scenes glimpses of the filming process. Elwes recounts how he got the part of Westley, how they filmed many of the action scenes, including the "cliffs of insanity," the fire swamp and the sword fights. Thankfully, there's no dirt or scandals in the narrative - just fascinating and entertaining anecdotes of the making of a great movie. If you've seen the movie, you'll love this book! If you haven't seen the movie - you must! And then read this book.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi; Recommended by Ann Jonas

This debut novel follows two half-sisters who are born in 18th-century Ghana. Effia is the beauty and is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort, while Esi is seized in the slave trade and shipped to America where she will live her life as a slave. The book follows both women and, subsequently, their children and grandchildren, alternating between the two women and their families. The writing is rich and the storyline is compelling-a remarkable book.

Town Ball Parks of Minnesota by Todd Mueller, SJU '74; Recommended by Ann Jonas

This is a great book for baseball fans-especially amateur (town ball) baseball fans. Mueller, a 1974 SJU grad, visited countless amateur baseball fields all over Minnesota and chose 27 unique, historic and beloved parks to feature in this book. The photos are top-notch, but the fun and interesting information and anecdotes about the towns and their baseball history are what makes this coffee table book so great.