Five Book Friday!

Today, dear readers, as the birds begin chirping and the grass begins greening, and it nearly freezing and we very well might see snow this weekend, I find T.S. Eliot’s opening lines from The Waste Land more and more appropriate:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

 So, as we yearn for real spring to return to us, we can take solace in books–especially in these new books that have emerged onto our shelves this week, and are eager to pass the weekend in your company!


The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind: How does physical “stuff”―atoms, molecules, chemicals, and cells―create the vivid and various worlds inside our heads?  The problem of consciousness has gnawed at us for millennia.  And while we’ve benefited in recent years from the marvels of modern science, the question about how brain matter makes ideas is still one we haven’t solved.  In this book Michael S. Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, puts the latest research in conversation with the history of human thinking about the mind, giving a big-picture view of what science has revealed about consciousness.  The idea of the brain as a machine, first proposed centuries ago, has led to assumptions about the relationship between mind and brain that dog scientists and philosophers to this day. Gazzaniga asserts that this model has it backward―brains make machines, but they cannot be reduced to one. New research suggests the brain is actually a confederation of independent modules working together.  But what does that mean for us, as brain-possessing individuals?  And how does it help us learn more about our wonderful minds?  Gazzaniga’s wonderfully readable and enthusiastic book makes this all clear, and, as Kirkus noted in its starred review, “This is a book for readers of all ages who are intrigued by consciousness and how it works. As he has done in previous books, Gazzaniga easily draws readers into one of the most fascinating conversations taking place in modern science.”

TangerineChristine Mangan’s debut is drawing comparisons to authors like Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith, so fans of those illustrious writers should definitely check out this taut, suspenseful novel!   The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.   But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind. The New Yorker wrote a glowing review of this book, calling it “A juicy melodrama cast against the sultry, stylish imagery of North Africa in the fifties. . . . [Tangerine is] endearing and even impressive in the force of its determination to conjure a life more exciting than most. . . . Just the ticket.”

The Woman Left BehindLinda Howard’s latest romantic thriller has all the action of a high-stakes espionage film, and enough passion and intrigue to keep fans (and new readers, too!) riveted.  Jina Modell works in Communications for a paramilitary organization, and she really likes it…But when Jina displays a really high aptitude for spatial awareness and action, she’s reassigned to work as an on-site drone operator in the field with one of the GO-teams, an elite paramilitary unit. The only problem is she isn’t particularly athletic, to put it mildly.  Team leader Levi, call sign Ace, doesn’t have much confidence in Jina, convinced that a ‘tech geek’ is going to ruin their elite operation.  In the following months, however, no one is more surprised than he when Jina begins to thrive in her new environment, displaying a grit and courage that wins her the admiration of her hardened, battle-worn teammates–and the attention of her team leader.  Meanwhile, a powerful Congresswoman is working behind the scenes to destroy the GO-teams, and a trap is set to ambush Levi’s squad in Syria. Thought dead by her comrades, Jina escapes to the desert where, brutally tested beyond measure, she has to figure out how to stay undetected by the enemy and make it to her crew in time.  Pulse-pounding in more ways that one, this book earned a starred review from Booklist, who called it “High-adrenaline action and high-octane passion once again prove to be an irresistible combination in best-selling Howard’s latest addictive suspense novel… the literary equivalent of pure gold.”

CensusJesse Ball’s tale of a father and son journey is one of those magical books that is wonderfully simple in its structure, but marvelously deep and complex beneath the surface.  When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son—a son whom he fiercely loves, and who lives with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.  Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach “Z,” the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?  The Los Angeles Times wrote a beautiful review of this book, noting, in part, “If there’s a refrain running through [Ball’s] large body of work, it’s that compassion, kindness and empathy trump rules and authority of any kind…this damning but achingly tender novel holds open a space for human redemption, never mind that we have built our systems against it.”

Speak No Evil: A book about difference and conformity, about the power to speak and the power to identify one’s self in a society that encourages neither action, Uzodinma Iweala’s newest novel is garnering attention and praise from critics around the country.  On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.  When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.  The New York Times Review of Books loved this work and Iweala’s writing, saying in their review that he “…writes with such ease about adolescents and adolescence that Speak No Evil could well be a young adult novel. At the same time, he toys with other well-defined forms: the immigrant novel, the gay coming-of-age novel, the novel of being black in America. The resulting book is a hybrid of all these. If he’s something of a remix artist, Iweala remains faithful to the conventions of these forms, a writer so adept that the book’s climax feels both surprising and wholly inevitable.”

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

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