The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

sisters brothersWhen Eli and Charlie Sisters — the titular brothers — are hired to track down and kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm, they set out to travel south from Oregon to California.  As they guide their horses through mountains and forests and towns, the impending murder begins to weigh on Eli, and his misgivings only increase once they meet the elusive and eccentric Mr. Warm.

By turns funny and contemplative, Eli’s internal journey is set against the lush landscape of 1850s California gold country.  Written in vivid detail and with biting wit, The Sisters Brothers transports its readers to the gritty reality of everyday life on the frontier.

Quote:
“We headed south.  The banks were sandy but hard packed and we rode at an easy pace on opposite sides of the stream.  The sun pushed through the tops of the trees and warmed our faces; the water was translucent and three-foot trout strolled upriver, or hung in the current, lazy and fat.  Charlie called over to say he was impressed with California, that there was something in the air, a fortuitous energy, was the phrase he used.  I did not feel this but understood what he meant.  It was the thought that something as scenic as this running water might offer you not only aesthetic solace but also golden riches; the thought that the earth itself was taking care of you, was in favor of you.  This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush:  Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination.”

Author:
Patrick deWitt is a novelist and screenwriter.  His novels include Ablutions, The Sisters Brothers, Undermajordomo Minor, and French Exit.  Originally from British Columbia, Canada, he now resides in Portland, Oregon.

Published:  2011
Length:  328 pages
Set in:  California and Oregon, United States

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How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, with Abigail Pesta

how dare the sun riseHow Dare the Sun Rise begins with Sandra Uwiringiyimana’s recollection of a violent night in a Rwandan refugee camp — the night her younger sister was brutally killed by soldiers.

Driven to Rwanda by ethnic persecution in their homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo (also known as the DRC or Congo-Kinshasa), Sandra’s family struggled to reunite and find safety.  Eventually, they were given refugee status through the United Nations and immigrated to upstate New York.  There, Sandra faced a new set of challenges: acclimating to a different culture with unfamiliar expectations around race and gender.  As she settled into life as an American teenager, she turned her turmoil over the horrors of her past into passionate activism — and finds a worldwide platform.

Note: trigger warnings for sexual abuse and child death. 

Quote:
“Ten years before the flames, I was born in the mountains, a scenic land of jewel-green fields, bamboo trees, and forests inhabited by gorillas, elephants, and chimpanzees.  My people lived in small round mud huts with pointy roofs made of dried grass.  They raised cattle and farmed the land.  My parents grew up in these towering mountains, the Hauts Plateaux, in a province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo called South Kivu.  When they were young, my mom and dad lived in neighboring villages that were about a day apart by foot.  There were no roads, no cars.  Everyone walked everywhere, and they still do.  We left the mountains when I was around two years old, in 1996, so I don’t remember much of our life there.  But today when I see pictures of the region, known as Minembwe, it looks like the most idyllic place on earth, with lush, leafy mountaintops scraping the clouds and miles and miles of green.”

Author:
Sandra Uwiringiyimana is an author, activist, and public speaker.  She has spoken at the Women in the World Summit and in front of the United Nations.  How Dare the Sun Rise is her first book.

Published:  2017
Length:  304 pages
Main Settings:  Rwanda; New York, United States
Secondary Setting:  Democratic Republic of the Congo

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The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams

the hour of landWritten to coincide with the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service, The Hour of Land explores how the preservation of public lands has changed American history and culture.  In a powerful and often poetic voice, Terry Tempest Williams articulates her own intimate experiences with national parks and monuments, and decries the destructive forces of development and climate change.

By focusing on 12 specific parks — including Big Bend in Texas, Acadia in Maine, and Canyonlands in Utah — Williams shows the rich diversity of American landscapes.  Also excellent on audiobook, The Hour of Land will compel you to grab a walking stick and set out for your nearest national park.

Quote:
“Knowledge matters.  Justice matters.  Hindsight shows us our blind spots and biases; we can recognize ourselves as human beings caught in the cultural mores of a specific time.  This is not to excuse the brutal and tenebrific acts of the past, but to consider them in the light of what we know now.  By definition, our national parks in all their particularity and peculiarity show us as much about ourselves as the landscapes they honor and protect. They can be seen as holograms of an America born of shadow and light; dimensional; full of contradictions and complexities. Our dreams, our generosities, our cruelties and crimes are absorbed into these parks like water.”

Author:
Terry Tempest Williams is an activist, memoirist, and novelist.  Her works include When Women Were Birds, Refuge, Desert Quartet, and The Hour of Land.  She divides her time between Utah and Wyoming.

Published:  2016
Length:  397 pages
Set in:  Alaska, California, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, United States

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Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler

who thought this was a good ideaWhen Alyssa Mastromonaco began working for political campaigns, she had no idea she would one day serve as President Barack Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.  Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is a collection of stories about her life, interspersed with solid career advice and the quirky lessons she learned while wending her way through the strange world of high-stakes politics.

Told in a frank and funny voice, Mastromonaco’s memoir is as much about the intricate details of working for the president as it is the importance of carrying emergency stashes of stomach medication when visiting foreign dignitaries.  From scheduling snafus to the unique challenges of finding a women’s bathroom in the White House, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is a delight from start to finish.

Quote:
“When I first met Barack Obama in December 2004, I’m not sure he liked me very much.  I had worked for John Kerry on and off for four years, and although the secretary of state has a reputation for being aloof, the two of us had had a very warm and close relationship, pretty much from the moment I started as an assistant in his press and scheduling office in the spring of 2000.  I expected my rapport with Senator-elect Obama, who was much closer to me in age and disposition, would be similar.  Plus, I was coming off the presidential campaign for the Democratic nominee. I figured Obama, who was basically unknown at the time, would be thrilled that someone with so much experience — as well as so much wit and charm and talent! — would want to come and work for him.  I was wrong; Barack Obama is tougher than that.”

Author:
Alyssa Mastromonaco was Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations for President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2014.  Since then, she was worked for Vice Media and A&E Networks.  She is originally from Rhinebeck, New York, and Who Thought This Was a Good Idea is her first published book.

Published:  2017
Length:  244 pages
Set in:  Washington, D.C., United States

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

little fires everywhereIn the small Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, conformity is the ideal to which most people aspire — including Elena Richardson.  A local news reporter and general busybody, she is also the mother of four vastly different children:  popular Lexie, athletic Trip, sensitive Moody, and troublemaker Izzy.  When the Richardson family rents out one of their apartments to artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, these new tenants soon become entangled in their lives.  And with a fresh controversy building in Shaker Heights — the fierce custody battle between an immigrant mother from China and white adoptive parents — tensions between the Warrens and the Richardsons build to a fiery pitch.

Written with a keen eye for character detail, Little Fires Everywhere explores what it means to be a family — and how long-held secrets can fray even the strongest bonds.

Quote:
“Mia looked down at Izzy, this wayward, fiery girl suddenly gone timid and dampened and desperate.  She reminded Mia, oddly, of herself at around this age, traipsing through the neighborhood, climbing over fences and walls in search of the right photograph, defiantly spending her mother’s money on film.  Single-minded almost to excess.  Something inside Izzy reached out to something in her and caught fire.”

Author:
Celeste Ng is the author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.  Her writing has appeared in publications including One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, and the Kenyon Review Online.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Published:  2017
Length:  338 pages
Set in:  Shaker Heights, Ohio, U.S.

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The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

stranger in the woodsWhen Christopher Knight was 20 years old, he abandoned his car by the side of the road and walked into the woods.  For the next 27 years, he didn’t speak to another human being.

The Stranger in the Woods is the fascinating portrait of a man determined to live in complete solitude.  Knight’s survival tactics were by turns ingenious and criminal; he devised incredible means of camouflage for his forest home and scrounged supplies by breaking into vacant summer homes.  Compiled through research and interviews, Michael Finkel’s narration is a heartbreaking, engrossing examination of the desire to live outside the boundaries of modern society.

Quote:
“It’s possible that Knight believed he was one of the few sane people left.  He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer, in exchange for money, was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed.  Observing the trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising.  What did Knight do for a living?  He lived for a living.”

Author:
Michael Finkel is an American author and journalist.  His books include The Stranger in the Woods and True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.

Published:  2017
Length:  203 pages
Set in:  Maine, United States

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The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder by Claudia Rowe

spider and the flyIn 1998, police in Poughkeepsie, New York discovered the decomposing bodies of eight women in the home of Kendall Francois, a mild-mannered young man who lived with his father, mother, and sister.  At the time of Francois’s arrest, journalist Claudia Rowe was living in the area and writing for The New York Times.

Determined to understand Francois’s crimes and state of mind, Rowe began exchanging letters with him.  As she convinced him to share more about his life with her, their correspondence grew into a strange and often disturbing friendship.  The Spider and the Fly is a fascinating memoir about the journalistic drive to uncover the truth — and the human desire to confront evil.

Note: trigger warning for descriptions of sexual assault.

Quote:
“Residents here were professionals, doctors and academics living above well-trimmed lawns crowned with generous porches.  The Francois home, however, looked nothing like its neighbors.  A sickly mint green, it sat back from the sidewalk atop a few cracked steps, its windows opaque with dirt.  An enormous oak had grown into one of the side walls, and even crawling with investigators the house exuded a sense of isolation, as if trying to recede from view.”

Author:
Claudia Rowe has written for The New York Times, The Stranger, The Seattle Times, Mother Jones, and the Huffington Post.  Her work has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and The Spider and the Fly is her first book.

Published:  2017
Length:  320 pages
Set in:  Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.

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The Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

killers of the flower moonWhen vast oil depositories were discovered under the rocky Oklahoma land belonging to the Osage Indian Nation, tribe members quickly became some of the richest people in the country.  As their wealth skyrocketed, they built extravagant homes, purchased fancy cars, and became the topic of incredulous news stories.

And then, in the 1920s, someone began killing Osage members who had a stake in the oil rights.  From bullet wounds to poison to sudden explosions, the murders came one after another.  One woman saw her sister, brother-in-law, and mother all killed under suspicious circumstances.  When the death toll reached two dozen, the newly formed FBI stepped in — helmed by a young J. Edgar Hoover — and the Osage murders became one of its first highly publicized cases.

In The Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann illuminates the brutality of the murders, the complexities of the investigation, and the systemic racial injustice entwined in the case.

Quote:
“Gray Horse was one of the reservation’s older settlements. These outposts—­including Fairfax, a larger, neighboring town of nearly fifteen hundred people, and Pawhuska, the Osage capital, with a population of more than six thousand—­seemed like fevered visions. The streets clamored with cowboys, fortune seekers, bootleggers, soothsayers, medicine men, outlaws, U.S. marshals, New York financiers, and oil magnates. Automobiles sped along paved horse trails, the smell of fuel overwhelming the scent of the prairies. Juries of crows peered down from telephone wires. There were restaurants, advertised as cafés, and opera houses and polo grounds.

Author:
David Grann is the author of The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, The Lost City of Z, and The Killers of the Flower Moon.  He has also written for He has previously written for the  Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.

Published:  2017
Length:  352 pages
Set in:  Osage County, Oklahoma, U.S.

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Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

becoming nicoleWhen Kelly and Wayne Maines adopted twin baby boys, they named them Wyatt and Jonas.  From an early age, there were clear personality differences between their sons:  Jonas was shy and gravitated toward sports and other stereotypically masculine interests, while Wyatt was more assertive and loved dressing up as the Little Mermaid and playing with dolls.

As they grew older, Wyatt expressed discomfort about his body, asking repeatedly when he would turn into a girl and pleading to wear skirts instead of pants.  The Maineses — especially Wayne — struggled to accept the fact that Wyatt was transgender, but they gradually threw their full support behind their child’s true identity as Nicole.  And when Nicole began to face discrimination and bullying at school, they fought fiercely for her rights to be treated as any other female child — pursuing a legal battle that made headlines nationwide.

Written with compassion and insight by Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Amy Ellis Nutt, Becoming Nicole is the remarkable portrait of a family confronting widespread prejudice and emerging victorious.

Quote:
“Kelly and Wayne could tell Wyatt was moodier than Jonas; he would occasionally lash out at his brother as if frustrated just by his presence. There was something else, too. At night, when she bathed the boys, Kelly would catch Wyatt staring into the long mirror hanging on the inside of the bathroom door. As she pulled off Jonas’s clothes and plunked him into the tub, she’d notice Wyatt standing naked and transfixed in front of the mirror. What did the two-year-old see? Himself? His identical twin brother? It was impossible to know, and impossible to ask Wyatt, of course. But often it seemed as if the little boy was puzzled by his reflection, unsure of the image staring back. There was some inscrutable pain behind his eyes. He seemed tense and anxious, as if his heart was in knots and he didn’t know how to untie them.”

Author:
Amy Ellis Nutt is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author.  Her books include Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family; The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Gide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults; and Shadows as Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic TriumphShe currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a science reporter for The Washington Post.

Published:  2015
Length:  279 pages
Set in:  Maine, United States

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Arrowood by Laura McHugh

ArrowoodWhen Arden inherits the large, historic mansion called Arrowood on the Iowa banks of the Mississippi River, she is both thrilled and apprehensive to claim it as her home.  Though she lived there happily with her family until she was eight, the house was also the site of her two younger sisters’ disappearances.

Taken from the front yard while Arden was supposed to be watching them, her sisters’ abduction has haunted her for almost two decades.  And when she moves back into Arrowood, the creaking house itself seems to be urging her to seek out the long-buried family secrets that may hold the key to Tabitha and Violet’s fate.

A modern-day Gothic mystery with a perfectly eerie atmosphere, Arrowood is page-turner until the last chapter.

Quote:
“It was strange, crossing into Iowa, that I could feel different on one side of the bridge than the other, yet it was true.  Each familiar sight helped ease a bone-deep longing: the railroad trestle, the cottonwoods crowding the riverbank, the irrigation rigs stretching across the fields like metal spines, the little rock shop with freshly cracked geodes glinting on the windowsills.  I rolled down the window and breathed the Keokuk air, a distinct mix of earthly floodplain and factory exhaust.  The Mississippi lay to my right, and even though I couldn’t yet see it beyond the fields, I could sense it there, deep and constant.”

Author:
Laura McHugh is the author of The Weight of Blood and Arrowood.  She currently lives in Missouri.

Published:  2016
Length:  270 pages
Set in:  Keokuk, Iowa, United States

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