Reviews: Latest staff selections from the Northshire Bookstore

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"On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel" by Ocean Vuong

This is one beautiful book -- transcendent and painful with a poet's prose. Vuong, as reviewers have said, creates a new kind of immigrant novel. Written as a letter to a mother who cannot read English, the autobiographical narrator Little Dog shares his family history -- his grandmother who married a veteran of the Vietnam war, his mother working in a nail salon, and himself growing up in Connecticut. Gorgeously constructed with recurring leitmotifs, Little Dog takes us through his impoverished childhood, instances of xenophobia, discovering his sexuality, and his love for a tragic young boy. This is a book for our moment: Our fraught political moment, immigration, the opioid epidemic, the difficult inheritance of Vietnam are all here. Gorgeous, destroying, and unforgettable.

— Dafydd Wood

"The Devil's Aspect" by Craig Russell

The year is 1935. In a Medieval castle in the mountains of Czechoslovakia, six of the country's most vicious killers are held in an asylum for the criminally insane. Psychiatrist Viktor Kosarek is eager to begin treatment on these inmates, in the hopes of someday finding a cure for their madness. In nearby Prague, a series of brutal Jack the Ripper like slayings have the city living in terror. As clues are uncovered, the answer appears to lead to the asylum and its depraved inmates. This tale will keep you up at night, turning pages and triple checking the locks on you doors.

— Sarah Donner

"The Saturday Night Ghost Club" by Craig Davidson

Partial Spoiler Alert! This fun-sized novel is not quite as fully supernatural as the cover and title might lead one to anticipate or hope. There are ghosts and spirits and hauntings generously sprinkled throughout, just not fully of a kin to Amityville Horror or Stranger Things. Nevertheless, Davidson's work is ultimately a full-on charmer, with a bevy of memorable characters and a light and warm-hearted (despite some dark material) reflection on life and love, neuroscience and memory that pays the reader back in full for any disappointment if the ghost count falls short. Set amidst the narrator's boyhood in an aging Niagara Falls, this is a perfect summer read.

— Jon Fine

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"The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper" by Hallie Rubenhold

They were more than just victims. They had names -- Mary Ann, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, Mary Jane. They were little girls once with the same dreams and hopes that all children share. They aspired to escape from the mean, dreary lives that they inherited. Four of them married and three became mothers. Whether it was through their own weaknesses and failings or through cruel vagaries of fate, they ended up on the dark streets of the Whitechapel District of London in the fall of 1888. There, they encountered the person who would consign their names to history. It was a terrible way to be remembered. This is a literate, exhaustively researched, and compassionate study of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. It brings into sharp relief the pitiless degradation that the poor were forced to endure and is as much an indictment of a misogynistic and cruelly unjust society as it is the sad chronicle of five lost lives.

— Alden Graves

"The Warlow Experiment" by Alix Nathan

Wealthy landowner and citizen scientist, Herbert Powyss, enthusiastically launches an experiment involving human isolation in the last years of the 18th century. Many unintended consequences result in this fascinating and superbly conceived work of historical fiction. Nathan's stylistic expertise and attention to detail chillingly renders the darkness of the endeavor.

— Stan Hynds

"The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found" by Violet Moller

This is a captivating biblio-adventure across 1000 years from 500 to 1500. Everyone knows that the Renaissance was in many ways engendered by the re-discovery and careful reading of classical texts. But how were they preserved? What happened to them between the fall of Rome and through the Dark Ages? Moller selects three Greek scientific books—Euclid, Ptolemy, and Galen—and brilliantly charts their path from the Library of Alexandria back to Europe. She uncovers a history in large part erased—the Arabic humanist tradition which preserved, studied, and treasured these books as the intellectual environment of Europe atrophied. Moller focuses not simply on these three Greek texts, but structures her book around the vibrant intellectual centers of Alexandria, Baghdad, Cordoba, Toledo, Salerno, Palermo, and Venice with the triumph of the printing press.

— Dafydd Wood

The Northshire Bookstore, founded in 1976 in Manchester Center, is an independent bookstore offering books, music and more at its flagship store in the former Coburn House hotel at 4869 Main St. (near the roundabout), and at 424 Broadway in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.


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