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Downtown & Business Staff Picks

By Asali Solomon

This coming of age story introduces us to Kenya, a black girl growing up in Philadelphia in the 1980s and 1990s. As Kenya matures, she navigates majority black schools, where her family's Afrocentric and sometimes militant political viewpoints make her an oddball and the target of teasing. Later, as one of only two black girls in her class at a private school, she finds herself outcast again. Kenya turns to her parents and the communities she feels estranged from as she grows into herself. Released during Black History Month, Asali Somolon's debut novel is a sensitive reminder that Black History is not monolithic - it is personal, individual and communal.

– Rachel
By Akhil Sharma

Selected as one of the New York Times’ Best Books of 2014, this tender novel follows the Mishra family in its journey from Delhi to the United States. Their American dream is quickly derailed when a tragic accident compels each family member to focus on things within the walls of the home rather than find the promise of a better life that sustained them in India. Ajay is the young boy through whose haunted eyes we see the complex relationships of his parents, his damaged brother, and the world just outside his reach.

– Jane
By Thomas White

Author and University Archivist, Thomas White, takes on us another thrilling dive head first into local paranormal phenomenon with his new book Supernatural Lore of Pennsylvania: Ghosts, Monsters and Miracles. Explore the strange creatures and curious tales that have outlived the individuals and truth of their origin.

This collection of essays, recited by historians, researchers, genealogists, ministers, and practitioners, investigates the cultural and historical significance behind chilling Keystone State legends like the Ghost of Betty Knox, the Weeping Squonk, the Phantom Train on the Great Allegheny Passage and more.

Skeptics and believers alike will enjoy this analytical plunge into the legends that have shaped our region's rich cultural identity.

– LaMonica
By David A Moss
Harvard Business School professor David A. Moss offers a 200 page primer on the sometimes daunting discipline of macroeconomics. The book's subtitle, What Managers, Executives, And Students Need To Know, suggests a treatise accessible to varied audiences, and the text bears this out. Mr. Moss blends basic definitions of key terms, policy history, and analysis into a handy guidebook that makes it required reading for students of the dismal science.
– Scott
By Graham Jones
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales right around the corner, retailers and shoppers are chomping at the bit! Click.ology delivers new ways for both sides of the online shopping cart to understand habits and trends of this trillion dollar industry. Graham Jones, the Internet Psychologist, covers topics such as: why and how people shop online; how social media influences buying; creating dynamic pricing, and reducing cumbersome checkout procedures. Business owners, retailers, and marketers learn specific tactics to make the shoppers' experience more friendly hence driving sales. Each chapter ends with a "Blueprint" summarizing the ideas and the book finishes with Jones' CLICK system: Convenient, Likeable, Informative, Customized, and Knowledgeable for online retail success. When competing against millions of online shopping websites, a company needs to present their product so it will "click" with a shopper. Click.ology can offer some insight into making this happen.
– Kris
By Yukari Iwatani Kane
Yukari Iwatani Kane's Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs addresses the difficult question of how America's foremost tech company moves forward in the wake of Steve Jobs' passing. Kane's brilliant reporting highlights this story of Tim Cook's succession to control of Apple, his initial struggles and triumphs, and the rocky path that lies ahead for America's innovation giant.
– Scott
By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Tied to your computer or mobile device? Always checking emails, tweets or Facebook posts? Author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang investigates the need to balance the technology and information overload we have in our lives with our need to take a breath - a real breath. In Distraction Addiction, Pang discusses his principles of "contemplative computing" which will help you become mindful of using technology to assist, not overwhelm; to extend our abilities not weaken them; and to engage us and not distract us from living.
– Kristine
By Courtney Allison Moulton
AngelFire features an action packed love story of two extraordinary individuals on the forefronts of an apocalyptic battle between heavenly and infernal powers. While the fate of the Earth lies in the balance, Moulton's engaging lead characters will focus readers on the story's more personal aspects.

Ellie is a Preliator, a centuries old angelic warrior who is reborn as a clueless teenage girl who just wants to be that--a clueless teenage girl. Weighed down by tradition, secrecy, and the overwhelming responsibility of saving all of mankind from Reapers, demons that devour the souls of humans and sends them straight to hell, Ellie constantly denies her role in preventing Armageddon. Will is a mysterious older "hot guy" whom Ellie later discovers has been her guardian and trainer for over 500 years.

Ellie slowly begins to remember her past lives as a warrior and soon discovers her romantic connection to Will. For centuries they have sacrificed their lives and their love for the good of the world, but no longer can they deny the draw each feels to other. A pull so tangible and deeply rooted that it survives even in death. Forged in the swells of heaven and shrouded in divine secrecy, Ellie and Will are forced to make a decision; adhere to their divine purpose and forgo their passion or give in to their centuries' old love and destroy the world.

Many reviewers have proclaimed that this book is formulaic and predictable and have often likened it to the 90s television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer with reapers replacing the vampires.
– LaMonica
By Sue Monk Kidd
A moving story of two fascinating American women whose lives are linked by slavery & the abolitionist movement & their unusual friendship which springs from the desire to be set free from the bonds of heritage.
– Andy
By Sonali Deraniyagala
The "wave" in the title refers to the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean that engulfed parts of Asia in 2004. It also describes the overwhelming grief that the author experienced following the loss of her husband, children, and parents in the disaster. A New York Times Notable Book of 2013, this heartbreaking memoir describes her journey from disbelief to anger to final acceptance of a life without her family.
– Jane
by Martha Stewart
Looking for something to do with your kids over the winter break or when the weather keeps you inside? Just look around your house for simple odds and ends such as paper and pencils, buttons, paper towel rolls, tin cans, plastic bottles, boxes, glue and scissors and you are ready to go. This book has many ideas which keep kids engaged and learning while having fun. The projects are easy for short attention spans and have simple instructions for "teachers". So let your budding inventor, superhero, naturalist, or artist try their hand at a project and enjoy quick and satisfying results.
– Kris
by David Sedaris
This collection of holiday tales from Sedaris's life regales us with memories of being Santa's elf, pondering the difference between American and Dutch holiday traditions, and treats us to the traditional Christmas letter Sedaris style. This book is a delightful respite from the holiday madness while still keeping us in the spirit of the season.
– Leah
by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky
An inspiring joint memoir by a former student and the daughter of a strict and demanding music teacher who created a school music program from scratch in a New Jersey suburb. Jerry Kupchynsky was a Ukrainian immigrant who shared his passion for music and discipline with his students, often through comments such as, "Who ees deaf in the first violins?" His tough love approach worked, though, and many of his students went on to play and teach professionally, often without realizing the personal hardships he sustained while pushing them to do better than they ever thought they could.
– Kaarin
by Jim Cheshire
The Kindle Fire is more than just an e-reader, it is a cool device to use for entertainment and to find and manage information. With chapters covering the basics like the initial set-up to the more advanced features of using the cloud, Calibre (a free tool to manage eBooks) and Silk (the web browser included on the Kindle Fire), both new and veteran users of the Kindle Fire will find this book helpful. It is set-up like an easy to read user’s manual, with little known bonus tips sprinkled throughout. This book is filled with images of each screen being discussed alongside step by step instructions for each function and application. While you are trying out some new tricks you learn from this book, don’t forget to check out an eBook from the library too!
– Kris
by Carl Hart
A fascinating look at one man's life that takes him from inner city Miami to a professorship at Columbia University. Dr. Hart's story contextualizes his study of the effects of illegal drugs on the brain and behavior, the results of which are in direct contradiction to both commonly held beliefs and official U.S. policy. If you enjoy inspirational memoirs and have an interest in U.S. drug policy, you will want to read this book.
– Kaarin
Celebrate Poetry Month - take a poetic journey through America with famous poets & unknowns as well who have gotten carried away by a particular place of the American landscape. A wonderful anthology of postcards from the road to lift your spirits & your heart.
– Andy
by Neil Pasricha
Even though Spring is just around the corner, the Winter doldrums may still have some feeling down. Neil Pasricha was experiencing some pretty low times in his life when he started the blog, “1000 Awesome Things” to help himself and others find some daily optimism. The blog won such rave reviews that he was approached to write this book, which you can check out in eBook format. Going to the library and using its many resources is definitely an awesome thing in our book!
– Kris
by Ernest J. Gaines
This classic novel written as an autobiography spans 100 years of an African American woman's life, her struggle for freedom, dignity & justice as a plantation slave through the Civil Rights era of the 1960's. An important story of race in America, it is an excellent choice for Black History month reading.
– Andy
The Economics Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)
The eye-catching cover of this book invites the reader to look inside, where they will find the rest of the book equally engaging. The editors take a potentially difficult, even dry, subject - the history of economics, B.C. to present day - along with its many theories and theorists, and turn it into something readable. It is filled with snippets of information in sidebars, charts, timelines and quotes which complement the main idea of the chapter. This book is easy to move around in, going from one idea to another with "see also" references at the top of the page for most subjects covered. The book ends with a "directory" of influential economists and a glossary. The easy access format is especially good for somebody just learning about this field, particularly students, but would be enjoyed as a fresh look for those already versed in economics.
– Kris
By Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr.
In spite of all of the ink already spilled chronicling the complex life and deeds of Andrew Carnegie and his contemporaries, author Quentin R. Skrabec, Jr. has found a unique angle on the legacy of this American icon. The Carnegie Veterans Association (CVA) operated as a somewhat secretive group of philanthropic capitalists that included such ex-Carnegie lieutenants as William Abbott, Webster R. Balsinger, William Dickson and James Gayley among many others. Stung by the misdeeds perpetrated at Carnegie Steel, these mavericks attempted to practice a kinder, gentler form of capitalism, one tempered by a sensitivity to the plight of the worker. While their noble attempt ultimately failed, the details behind it will both inform and fascinate. Mr. Skrabec's exhaustive research encompasses newspaper articles, personal letters and monographs, and provides compelling reading when rendered by his spartan authorial voice. The Carnegie Boys provides a fresh look into the life and legacy of this complicated man and the many men who worked closest to him.
– Scott
By Junot Díaz
Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Díaz's first book, Drown, established him as a major new writer with "the dispassionate eye of a journalist and the tongue of a poet" (Newsweek). His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was named "#1 Fiction Book of the Year" by Time magazine. Now Díaz turns his remarkable talent to the haunting, impossible power of love -- obsessive love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love. On a beach in the Dominican Republic, a doomed relationship flounders. In the heat of a hospital laundry room in New Jersey, a woman does her lover's washing and thinks about his wife. In Boston, a man buys his love child, his only son, a first baseball bat and glove. At the heart of these stories is the irrepressible, irresistible Yunior, a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness -- and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own. In prose that is endlessly energetic, inventive, tender, and funny, the stories in This Is How You Lose Her lay bare the infinite longing and inevitable weakness of the human heart.
– Gail
By Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright
In 1912, four year old Bobby Dunbar disappeared from a family campground in Louisiana. After a highly publicized eight month search, investigators returned a boy fitting his description to the Dunbar family. Soon, another woman claimed that the child was actually her own missing son, Bruce Anderson. This engrossing exploration of disputed identity before DNA testing, touches on themes of class, family and media in unexpected ways.
– Rachel
Living in southwestern Pennsylvania is wonderful because it is a place where nature, history, technology and culture abound. Two magazines in our collection highlight these aspects of our state and local region in fine form: Pennsylvania Magazine and Edible Allegheny. Pennsylvania Magazine features unique people, places and events, both current and historic. Recent articles cover topics from bird watching to baseball and railroads to rock skipping. Edible Allegheny definitely has great recipes, but also has articles that feature local farms, restaurants, shops and tasty events across the region that focus on sustainable living, buying local and organic.
– Kris
By Deborah Blum
Pulitzer Prize winner Deborah Blum gives a compelling account of the birth of forensic science focusing on poisons, which were often undetectable by the medical standards and practices of the 1920s. Battling widespread corruption and ignorance regarding poisons and their effects, Dr. Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler worked together to further the science of forensics. With each chapter focusing on a different murder by poisoning, The Poisoner's Handbook is a gruesome, yet fascinating look into true crime.
– Danelle and Leah
By Sherman Alexie
Sherman Alexie, regarded as one of America's best-known Native American writers, was awarded the 2010 Pen/Faulkner fiction prize for War Dances, a unique collection of short stories and poems that touch on the universal themes of illness, death, love and redemption. Be sure to read the title story, a son's moving tribute to his father in his final hours as he succumbs to alcoholism and diabetes, a "natural" Indian death.
– Natalie
By Paula McLain
A deeply moving story of love, ambition & betrayal set in Jazz Age Paris, this novel is based on an unforgettable couple, Ernest Hemingway & his wife Hadley Richardson.
– Andy
Edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt
Since 1937, the Library of Congress has chosen the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. This splendid anthology includes selected works by Billy Collins, Robert Penn Warren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, Robert Lowell and more. A biographical and critical essay introduces each contributor and provides a framework for the poems that follow.
– Natalie
by Baratunde Thurston
In the introduction to this memoir/tongue-in-cheek self-help book, Baratunde Thurston acknowledges that "The idea of a book that claims to cover 'how to be black' is, of course preposterous, but I'm doing it anyway." Thurston helps us examine the absurdity of persistent stereotypes through dry humor and sharp observations.
– Rachel
by John Robbins
A passionate manifesto on finding meaning beyond money and status, this book delivers a sound blueprint for living well on less. By author John Robbins, a crusader for planet-friendly food and lifestyle choices, who lost his entire savings in an investment scam.
– Gail
Sound recording with Garrison Keillor
These stories, songs, & sketches from the Prairie Home Companion radio program are delightful fare for the holiday season . . . or anytime.
– Andy
edited by Joan Reardon
Julia Child and Avis DeVoto started corresponding in 1952. What started out as an exchange over the deplorable condition of knives in the United States soon turned into a close friendship conducted primarily through letter writing. These fascinating letters also follow the creation of Child's infamous cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". DeVoto was instrumental in finding a publisher for the book as well as offering suggestions on the recipes, consulting on the goods found in American markets, and offering keen editing advice. Covering a wide range of personal, political, social, and food related topics, this is a book you can really sink your teeth into!
– Leah
by Stacy Schiff
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff reveals her meticulous research to portray one of the world's most intriguing women, Cleopatra. Using her great wealth and intelligence, Cleopatra was able to make shrewd political decisions, military alliances, and foster relationships that kept Egypt at the height of power in the ancient world. Nearly 2000 years after her rule, Schiff gives new life to the myth and exposes the reality of the Egyptian queen and the world in which she lived.
– Danelle
by Joyce Farmer
Inspired by her parents' experiences with aging and death, cartoonist Joyce Farmer wrote and illustrated this compassionately observed graphic novel set in Los Angeles in the 1990s. Lars and Rachel support one another emotionally and physically while weathering the Los Angeles riots and their own deteriorating health. This book is an unsentimental, quietly funny and emotionally gripping slice of life.
– Rachel
edited by Wendy Martin and Cecelia Tichi
Summer is the perfect time to relax and enjoy this excellent collection of short stories by some of our finest writers, including John Updike, Tobias Wolff, Louise Erdrich and Walter Mosley. Be sure to read "Gogol" by Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Fiction, and marvel at her intimate understanding of first-generation Bengali Indians trying to adjust to life in the United States.
- Natalie
by Robert Sullivan
Robert Sullivan and his family make a cross country trip every year. From Oregon to New York their trips are filled with love, laughter, and family fights. This book not only chronicles the Sullivan family road trips but delves into all sorts of characters who had made the trip before them. There are the explorers Lewis and Clark, Emily Post, one of the first cross country writers, beat poets who admire Jack Kerouac and dozens more. A book filled with history and personal anecdotes of cross country adventures, "Cross Country" is sure to fuel any adventurous spirit.
- Leah
by Rebecca Skloot
A haunting story of how countless modern medical breakthroughs were achieved from the preservation of some "immortal" cancer cells of an unknowing abbreviated life.
- Andy
by Richard N. Bolles
This succinct practical book touches on all aspects of job-hunting in an engaging accessible way. Richard Bolles, author of the highly-acclaimed job-hunters' bible What Color is Your Parachute?, has distilled the essence of his original weighty book. He covers the most up-to-date approaches to looking for work in a conversational encouraging style. Even a seasoned job seeker will learn something!
- Esther
by Dan Charnas
Journalist Dan Charnas worked in the music industry and has been covering hip hop music and culture since the 1970s. This comprehensive history is full of insider anecdotes you won't find in other hip hop history books. Charnas demonstrates how money, marketing and industry growth have been core to this creative movement from the beginning. His love for hip hop helps him identify the most telling details to share with readers. Read straight through, or check the index for stories about your favorite artists, labels and music moguls.
- Rachel
by Lisa See
A fascinating portrait of two Chinese sisters, the two diverse cultures they experience, & the strength & solace they find in each other as they struggle to find a new life in America while bound to their old traditions.
- Andy
by Nick Barratt
Newspaper reports, personal correspondence, and oral testimonies of several Titanic survivors taken from official British and United States investigative findings give a sense of immediacy to events leading up to, and following, the tragic conclusion of this "unsinkable" ship's maiden voyage. Photographs included.
- Natalie
by David Sedaris
A quirky little collection of short animal tales presented with wit & humor to make us laugh & perhaps learn a lesson along the way. A perfect modern Aesop's Fables for all of us.
- Andy
by Michael Hirsh
When U.S. soldiers were sent to liberate the Nazi death camps at the end of World War II, they were totally unprepared for the horrific scenes that awaited them. Interviews with more than 150 of these soldiers, now in their eighties and nineties, provide eyewitness accounts of what they saw, how they reacted to it, and their compassionate care of those who somehow managed to survive.
-- Natalie
By Sara Rose
Do you ever stop to consider the actual leaves inside a bag of tea before you plop it into a cup of hot water? If so, you might have a sense that tea comes from India. This is very true, but exactly how tea started coming to the west in such large quantities from India is an intriguing tale of a Scottish gardener, botanist and plant hunter named Robert Fortune. In 1848 the British East India Company sent Fortune into China-the source of much of the world's tea at the time-with instructions to smuggle out tea plans that could be grown in India. This Victorian story of disguise, adventure, and intrigue will change the way you view that cup of tea.
-- Jeff
By Richard Stim
How can you start and run a small business but still keep your day job? Richard Stim's, Running a Side Business may be the answer. Published in 2009 by Nolo, the leading publisher of legal information for consumers, the book covers all the basics and addresses important legal aspects including personal liability, contracts, licenses and taxes. This easy-to-read guide presents legal concepts in plain-English and includes interesting subject-related statistical snapshots from USA TODAY.
-- Nancy
By Greg Grandin
Fordlandia is a fascinating account of the auto magnate's vision of creating an industrial utopia in Brazil based on planting and cultivating rubber trees along the Amazon. However, he failed to realize that rubber trees can be decimated by natural predators, the native population would not embrace a traditional Midwestern lifestyle, and the ever-present dangers and diseases of the jungle were likely to cause madness and death.
-- Natalie
By Brian O'Neill
An adopted son shares his views of Pittsburgh from his perch on the North Side. He sees the city with humorous affection & optimism that Pittsburgh will overcome the numerous challenges it faces in the years to come.
-- Andy
By Jabari Asim
Jabari Asim's new book, Taste of Honey, delves into the lives of a fictional African-American community in the Midwest. These 16 inter-related short stories serve to illustrate themes of family, love, race, and coming of age during the late 1960s.
-- Leah and Danelle
By Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie
Pollution is no longer just about belching smokestacks and ugly sewer pipes; now, it's personal. The most dangerous pollution, it turns out, comes from commonplace items in our homes and workplaces. To prove this point, for one week authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie ingested and inhaled a host of things that surround all of us. Using their own bodies as the reference point to tell the story of pollution in our modern world, they expose the miscreant corporate giants who manufacture the toxins, the weak-kneed government officials who let it happen, and the effects on people and families across the globe. This book- - -the testimony of their experience- - -exposes the extent to which we are poisoned every day of our lives, from the simple household dust that is polluting our blood to the toxins in our urine that are created by run-of-the-mill shampoos and toothpaste. Ultimately hopeful, the book empowers readers with some simple ideas for protecting themselves and their families, and changing things for the better.
-- Gail
By Kitty Martini and Candice Reed
You've been let go, laid off, or downsized. With a dash of humor, the authors offer insights and options designed to help "recover, reconnect, and reposition yourself after job loss."
By Garth Stein
Nearing the end of his life, Enzo, a dog with a philosopher's soul, tries to bring a family together who has been pulled apart by a 3-year custody battle between daughter Zoe's maternal grandparents & her father Denny, a race car driver. A compassionate read with a heart-tugging storyline told from a different point of view.
By Liaquat Ahamed
Learn the intriguing stories of the men in charge of the four principal central banks of the world after World War I, Montagu Norman of the Bank of England, Émile Moreau of the Banque de France, Hjalmar Schacht of the Reichsbank in Germany, and Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. They attempted to reconstruct international finance after World War I and return to the gold standard. In the mid-1920s, they appeared to succeed in stabilizing the world's currencies, aiding the flow of capital, and creating economic growth. This fascinating book includes a discussion of economist John Maynard Keynes' dissenting views.
By Kathryn Stockett
Set during the early years of the civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi, college graduate Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan becomes intrigued by the plight of black maids who work in white families homes and embarks on a risky writing project of stories that bring the maids' abuse, mistreatment and heartbreaking experiences to light. Authenic and compassionate, this is a story of "social awakening as seen from both sides of the racial divide" in the South.
By Audrey Niffenegger
A haunting tale that tells the story of two generations of twin sisters, their struggles for independence, and the secrets that have shaped their lives. The sisters Valentina and Julia have inherited their estranged Aunt's London flat with the conditions that they live there for a year before selling and that their parents never step inside. The year culminates in some unexpected ways, revealing that the best laid plans rarely turn out as imagined.
By Ulrich Boser
Shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and stole priceless masterworks by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Degas. The author, a crime writer, inherited the case files from a leading fine arts claims adjuster, Harold Smith, upon his death. Hundreds of interviews with suspects linked to the Boston mob, the FBI and the Irish Republican Party have offered tantalizing clues but little solid evidence. Although the Gardner Museum is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to the safe return of the paintings, the greatest art theft in history remains unsolved.
The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need
By Andrew Tobias
No matter how much money you have, Andrew Tobias will teach you how to invest it for the best return. His book covers everything from investing in stocks to exactly what you should do when you get that big inheritance or win the lottery. Witty and easy to understand, you will refer to this investment book time and again throughout the many phases of your financial life.
The Seuss the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel
By Charles D. Cohen
Enjoy Geisel’s lesser known works that yield valuable insights into the imaginative and creative processes of one of the 20th century’s most original thinkers.
10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget
by the writers of Wise Bread
We hear a lot about “doing more with less” in the workplace, and many are trying to do the same thing at home. Tight budgets don’t have to mean we stop living well though, this compendium of tips from the personal finance blog Wise Bread will help you make the most of your money.
The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential ... in Business and in Life
by Leo Babauta
How can you motivate yourself to make the changes you need to make when even thinking about change is too exhausting to contemplate? The answer can be found in "The Power of Less."