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Rakestraw's Readers Recommend

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (Viking, $27). Make yourself an Aperol Spritz (or an entire pitcher) and find a comfortable chair because you’re going to spend the afternoon reading Leading Men by Christopher Castellani. Tennessee Williams was a genius — charming, brilliant, and powerful — but he was hell to live with and even harder to love, a challenge even for the man who loved him best, Frank Merlo. Castellani’s fourth novel brings to life not only their fraught relationship, but also the gritty glamour of their time. It’s a rich and gorgeous party whose guests include Truman Capote, Luchino Visconti, and you. Fortunately, you have that Aperol Spritz. Salut!
Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting by Anna Quindlen (Random House, $26). Before mommy blogs were even invented, Anna Quindlen became a go-to writer on the joys and challenges of motherhood in her nationally syndicated column. Now she's taking the next step and going full Nana in the pages of this lively and moving book about her grandchildren, her children, and her new and remarkable role. Perfect for Mother's Day.
Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee (Artisan, $15.95). A natural-born storyteller, Chef Edward Lee decided to hit the road and spent two years uncovering fascinating narratives from every corner of the country. There's a Cambodian couple in Lowell, Massachusetts, and their efforts to re-create the flavors of their lost country. A Uyghur café in New York's Brighton Beach serves a noodle soup that seems so very familiar and yet so very exotic--one unexpected ingredient opens a window onto an entirely unique culture. A beignet from Café du Monde in New Orleans, as potent as Proust's madeleine, inspires a narrative that tunnels through time, back to the first Creole cooks, then forward to a Korean rice-flour hoedduck and a beignet dusted with matcha. Sixteen adventures, sixteen vibrant new chapters in the great evolving story of American cuisine. And forty recipes, created by Lee, that bring these new dishes into our own kitchens.
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo (Catapult, $16.95). Full of humor and heart, Welcome to Lagos is a high-spirited novel about aspirations and escape, innocence and corruption. It offers a provocative portrait of contemporary Nigeria that marks the arrival in the United States of an extraordinary young writer.
Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux (Norton, $27.95). Alcott's novel has moved generations of women, among them many writers. Simone de Beauvoir, J. K. Rowling, bell hooks, Cynthia Ozick, Jane Smiley, Margo Jefferson, and Ursula K. Le Guin were all inspired by Little Women, particularly its portrait of the iconoclastic young writer, Jo. Many women writers have felt as Anna Quindlen has declared, "Little Women changed my life." Anne Boyd Rioux sees the novel's beating heart in its portrayal of family resilience and its honest look at the struggles of girls growing into women. In gauging its current status, she shows why it remains a book with such power that people carry its characters and spirit throughout their lives. Buy this book
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt (Ecco, $25.99). Our friend Andrew Sean Greer writes "French Exit made me so happy -- I feel as if I have downed a third martini, stayed up past sunrise, and still woken up refreshed. Brilliant, addictive, funny, and wise, deWitt's latest has enough charm to last you long after you've put it down, which is what so many of us need in a book. I think you need it, too." Signed copies available. Buy this book
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson (Flatiron Books, $23.99). Brought together by a shared love of the Tollund Man, a Danish professor and an English farm wife begin exchanging letters. "This business, of being no longer young, is occupying much of my mind these days." The friendship that grows between them allows them to imagine a new story for themselves, but how far will they go? This is a beautiful novel and one, we think, that you will find yourself wanting to share. Buy this book
How Do We Look by Mary Beard (Norton, $24.95). In this slim, yet beautifully illustrated, volume, classicist Mary Beard emphasizes the power of the context in which we look at and interpret art, she ultimately suggests that civilization itself is a leap of faith. Beard is having fun in this joyfully accessible primer, backed with a robust appendix, for all interested in a new perspective on religion, art, and history. Despite its brevity, this one of the most thought-provoking books of the season. Signed copies available. Buy this book
In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Light by Jeanne Damas & Lauren Bastide (Penguin, $30). This intensely pleasureable book explores the city of Paris through the lives of 20 different women -- artists, activists, booksellers, and filmmakers -- aged fourteen to seventy. Beautifully illustrated, it is not only a fine guide to hidden secrets of Paris, but also a guide to living a considered life. Buy this book
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday, $25.95). Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. For anyone who has ever been caught as much by cunning colleagues as by faceless bureacracy, this mordantly funny novel is sure to resonate. Buy this book
Small Fry: A Memoir by Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Grove, $26). Born on a farm and named in a field by her parents -- artist Chrisann Brennan and Steve Jobs -- Lisa Brennan-Jobs's childhood unfolded in a rapidly changing Silicon Valley. Part portrait of a complex family, part love letter to California in the seventies and eighties, Small Fry is an enthralling memoir by a brave new voice. Buy this book
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (Doubleday, $27.95). Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes of the Trojan war--the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead--all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis's perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker's latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives--and it is nothing short of magnificent. Buy this book
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (Abrams Press, $30). Historian David McCullough writes, “As the extreme importance of our most gifted teachers, and the credit they are due, become ever more evident, Maxwell King has provided a superb, thoughtful biography of the brilliant Fred Rogers, who with his long-running television show, reached more children than any teacher ever. The enormous amount of thought, creative talent, and hard work that Rogers put into every aspect of the show becomes abundantly clear in this book, as do the lessons in empathy and kindness that he took so to heart.  Much there is for all of us to learn in Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor.” Buy this book
The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (Little, Brown, $28). The Winter Soldier may begin in the glittering ballrooms of Vienna, but its story takes place in an unmapped village deep in the Carpathian Mountains during the long winter of World War I. For every reader who loved All the Light We Cannot See and A Gentleman in Moscow, this marvelous novel of love and war is one of the year's best reads. Buy this book
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (Spiegel & Grau, $28). Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century is a probing and visionary investigation into today’s most urgent issues as we move into the uncharted territory of the future. As technology advances faster than our understanding of it, hacking becomes a tactic of war, and the world feels more polarized than ever, Harari addresses the challenge of navigating life in the face of constant and disorienting change and raises the important questions we need to ask ourselves in order to survive.  Buy this book
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Greystone, $35). In his international bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben opened readers' eyes to the amazing processes at work in forests every day. Now this new, breathtakingly illustrated edition brings those wonders to life as never before. Beautiful images provide the perfect complement to Wohlleben's words, with striking close-ups of bark and seeds, panoramas of vast expanses of green, and a unique look at one of the most ancient trees on the planet. Buy this book


Caroline, Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller (Morrow, $15.99). There's nothing little about the literary legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books or the lives of the pioneer families about whch she wrote. Sarah Miller picks up the story, placing Caroline Ingalls -- Laura's mother -- centerstage in this richly told historical fiction novel that pays tribute to the mettle and maternal dedication of "Ma." Buy this book.

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor (Riverhead Books, $16.00). Peril is made evident in love and war as mysterious events in Austria in 1938 and in Los Angeles in 1989 interweave in Jillian Cantor's gripping historical novel. Austrian resistance during World War II and a postage stamp from the long ago era connect the two stories but it is Cantor's masterful handling of the dual-narrative that keep readers spellbound to the last page. Buy this book.
Half Moon Bay by Alice Laplante (Scribner Book Company, $26.00). Fans of best-selling author Alice LaPlante (A Circle of WivesTurn of Mind) will thrill at this new psychological suspense novel by the accomplished writer. Set in Half Moon Bay, there are plenty of details for Bay Area readers familiar with the locale to enjoy. The dark tale of a mother whose grief over losing her daughter may have turned her to calamatous choices, possibly even including the murder of young girls in the community, is captivating. Buy this book.
How Hard Can It Be? by Allison Pearson (St. Martin's Press, $27.99). Channeling Kate Reddy, the heroine of her previous New York Times bestseller I Don't Know How She Does It, Allison Pearson delivers a rollicking, irreverent take on motherhood, marriage, caretaking aging parents and returning to the workforce at age 49. Obviously funny and deceptively deep, the second installation keeps Kate on the upswing—exactly where lovers of kick-butt women with hidden hearts of gold want to be. Buy this book.
The Bonanza King by Gregory Crouch (Scribner Book Company, $30.00). The real life story of John W. Mackay, born in 1831—a penniless Irish immigrant who rose to become Nevada Comstock Lode's magnate and at the time of his death in 1902 worth a fortune estimated to be $40 billion in today's value—is remarkable. Immensely compelling for sections about the gripping battles of ore mine operators or stock manipulators and a young Mark Twain's early days reporting their stories as a journalist, among other features, Gregory Couch's assured portrayal of American history and one man's journey out of poverty is inspiring. Buy this book.
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan (Little Brown and Company, $26.00). The debut novel by Chinese-American writer Lucy Tan presents the Zhen family and their move from suburban America to post-Maoist Shanghai. The disappearance of a bracelet unleashes a torrent of issues arising from the past and marking the newly affluent family's future. Cross-cultural plot lines are complex but never tangled in Tan's thoughtful, mature treatment of a Western-influenced family living in modern day China. Buy this book.