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SDPL Recommended Books

Staff Picks 2019

San Diego Public Library staff write short book reviews of their favorite titles for the San Diego Union Tribune, which are published every other Sunday. These are a selection of the titles we've recommended. Checkout information may be found in the library catalog under Staff Picks

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka MurataReviewed by Brenda Wegener
Branch Manager, Carmel Valley Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, May 15, 2019
Sakaya Murata is a bestselling novelist in Japan, and this is her first book to be translated into English. The narrator, Keiko Furukura, is a 36-year-old single woman who has worked at the same Tokyo convenience store for the past 18 years. Though she graduated from college, she never pursued a career, preferring the uniformity and order of the store. As a child, she was a bit peculiar and did not really understand societal norms. At the store, she feels that as long as she follows store rules, she can pass as a normal person. But her predictable world is interrupted when a brash new male coworker asks to move in with her so he, too, can “pass” as normal. An uncommon portrayal of the lives of Japanese millennials trying to fit in.

Horizon by Barry LopezReviewed by Trevor Jones
Branch Manager, Scripps Miramar Ranch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, April 28, 2019
National Book Award winner Barry Lopez returns with an urgent “reminder” to readers about traveling as a “moral act,” climate change, and how not to be complacent (or complicit) in the dismantling of the planet. A visitor to over 70 countries in his lifetime, Lopez is far from world-weary: He keeps a sense of wonder, promise and hope very much alive the more he sees on his travels. After facing down an aggressive bout of cancer a few years ago, Lopez wants not only to help readers understand different cultures but to help us understand the culture of the future that will be dealing with the catastrophic consequences of climate change head-on.

The Year of the Hare by Arto PaasilinnaReviewed by Jason Rogers
Accessibility & I CAN! Center Manager
San Diego Union-Tribune, April 14, 2019
This slim, comic novel was originally written over 40 years ago, but its protagonist’s wish to escape the crazy world seems as relevant now as ever. Vatanen is a journalist on assignment who decides to drop everything and wander the countryside after hitting a hare with his car. Rabbit in tow, Vatanen stumbles into absurd, funny and life-changing adventures across Finland. Societal critiques are implicit, but Paasilinna keeps a light touch — and his character barreling from one adventure to the next. The Year of the Hare makes for a great, quick read for anyone wishing to escape for a bit.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp SendkerReviewed by Stacey Richards
Library Assistant III, Carmel Mountain Ranch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 31, 2019
When her father goes missing, Julia’s world is turned upside down. Part mystery, part love story, Julia sets off on a quest to discover the truth about what happened to her father. From city life in New York City to the villages of Burma, the author takes the reader on a magical journey where one is forced to ask, what secrets do we keep? What secrets should be shared? In the small village of Kalaw, Julia realizes she never really knew her father. There she learns his remarkable tale of love, strength and courage that is a testimony to the human spirit.

In the Distance by Hernan DiazReviewed by David Cederholm
Library assistant II, Allied Gardens/Benjamin Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 17, 2019
In 19th-century America, a young Swedish immigrant sets out from the California gold fields on the seemingly impossible task of crossing the entire continent on foot. Hakaan is determined to get to New York City, where he can reunite with his brother. Along the way he encounters treacherous conditions, villainous fortune hunters and, over time, his growing legend. Young Hakaan is a very large man. His notoriety is due to an unfortunate incident in which he killed a large group of bad men. No matter where he turns up, people recognize him as “the hawk” and he is forced into hiding. Diaz’s prose is achingly beautiful, transporting the reader into Hakaan’s world of natural beauty and solitude.

Every Note Played by Lisa GenovaReviewed by Steve Wheeler
Branch Manager, Logan Heights Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, March 3, 2019
Lisa Genova, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, draws on her knowledge of neurological disorders in writing her novels. She is probably best known for “Still Alice,” the story of a psychology professor with Alzheimer’s disease. In “Every Note Played,” a concert pianist develops amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that over time renders him unable to play music, walk, feed himself or even breathe. His ex-wife, a piano teacher who had given up her own dreams of playing professionally, takes him in and becomes his reluctant caretaker. Resisting cloying sentimentality, Genova satisfyingly depicts the struggles of the main characters to come to terms with the fatal illness and the problems in their relationship that had driven them apart.

My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott KingReviewed by Julie K. Wong
Library assistant III, Carmel Valley Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, February 17, 2019
An intriguing and inspiring posthumous memoir. Coretta Scott King grew up in the Deep South experiencing segregation from the day she was born in 1927. Her parents encouraged their daughter to attend school and graduate from college despite segregation. She later met and married the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. They became civil rights activists and leaders and joined others in pursuing pacifism and nonviolent protests to dismantle segregation. She describes the religious faith of her and her family in the midst of harm, murder, and destruction of property in the black community. She developed political coalitions to continue to advocate nonviolent protests for providing human rights to all by establishing the King Center and lobbying for the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday.

The Bird and the Blade - Megan BannenReviewed by Bobbie Xuereb
Library Assistant II, Kensington-Normal Heights Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, February 3, 2019
Author Megan Bannen gives us a wonderful historical fiction that is set during the Mongol Empire in 1280. Jinghua is a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, and a girl with many secrets. When the Khanate is invaded, she chooses to flee, disguised as a boy, with the exiled Khan Timur and his youngest son, Prince Khalaf. The story is woven around a contest of three riddles to win the hand of the cold princess Turandokht, the beautiful, heartless daughter of the Great Khan, and the struggle for power. A retelling of the opera “Turandot,” the story unfolds with mystery and suspense and romance and danger. Enjoy the time travel in this beautifully written debut young-adult novel, and if you are like me, maybe you will even try to see the opera sometime.

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari - Robin S. SharmaReviewed by Bernard Cayetano
Library Assistant II, Skyline Hills Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 20, 2019
Author Robin Sharma brings us these most exquisite fables from the highest elevation of the Himalayas, where the Sages of Sivana live, to share the wisdom passed down to them from 5,000 years ago. Even the wisest of all monks know that life’s greatest secret is simplicity. Each fable provides delightful experiences we can taste in our soul, cultivated by the garden of our minds. If you’re ready to explore the gift of living, give up your busy life and make time for priorities like yourself. As the book says, not giving yourself time is like, “driving a car and not stopping for gas because you’re too busy driving.

Jell-O Girls: A Family History by Alice RowbottomReviewed by Peggy Goings
Library Assistant I, Mountain View/Beckwourth Branch Library
San Diego Union-Tribune, January 6, 2019
Salad or dessert? Sparkling inheritance or toxic curse? Allie Rowbottom’s new memoir interweaves the tale of Jell-O gelatin in the American diet with family history as heir to the Jell-O fortune. This surprisingly feminist tract is ultimately a mother-daughter story. In excavating her mother’s story, Rowbottom reveals the curse of Jell-O’s allure. Read this delicious book for yourself, but the stomachache left behind? It is patriarchy.

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