It’s time for another (long overdue) Staff Picks post, and this one is all about the recent releases. Fall 2014 has been a spectacular season for new books — several big celebrity memoirs, some fantastic nonfiction, and some of the biggest fiction of the year. Here are a few of my favorite fall 2014 releases.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
I really enjoyed Jill Lepore’s latest book and found it to a fantastic read. I’ve become a big fan of comic books lately so when I saw that Jill Lepore was writing a history of Wonder Woman, I knew I just had to read it. But this book is about so much more than comic books. Wonder Woman was created by a fascinating man named William Moulton Marston, a lawyer and psychologist who invented the lie detector test. (For the law nerds out there, Marston’s attempts to get his lie detector test used in criminal cases is the reason for the Frye standard in evidence law.) He had an unconventional and very secretive family life, living with his wife and another woman, who was not merely a mistress but an integral part of their family and a companion for many decades, and his kids with both women. His wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston worked outside the home and was a psychologist herself, and their companion Olive Byrne raised their kids. Marston created Wonder Woman as a symbol of feminism and Olive Byrne was Margaret Sanger’s niece — feminism runs in Wonder Woman’s blood. But there is so much more to the story of this feminist icon and Jill Lepore does a great job of covering so many interesting parts of that history.
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
I adore Neil Patrick Harris, and I adored this book. I listened to the audiobook, which kind of cancels out the Choose Your Own Adventure aspect (since there is no choosing involved) but I thought the way the audiobook handled the structure was great. NPH narrates a touching and in-depth look at his life, from his childhood and Doogie Howser days through the birth of his kids and his run on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It’s funny and sincere in a way that just worked really well, and I think this was one of the better celebrity memoirs I’ve listened to/read.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
Contemplative and beautiful. The Book of Strange New Things is sort of a literary take on science fiction, but it is also much more. It’s the story of Peter, a Christian minister who journeys to the Oasis settlement in a new universe to preach to its inhabitants, leaving his wife behind in England. The first half of the book went a little slowly for me, but I devoured the second half within a day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down. I don’t want to say a lot about it because I think it’s better to go into the book without knowing everything, and just let it unfold. I will definitely be delving into Faber’s backlist and reading his other books.
Jackaby by William Ritter
Jackaby was a fun read. It’s been described as Doctor Who meets Sherlock, and while I haven’t watched more than an episode or two of Doctor Who yet (I know! I ‘m working on it)… I’d say that characterization seems about right. Abigail Rook, having run away from her family, arrives in New England and finds herself in the employ of R.F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with an eye for the supernatural. Abigail becomes Jackaby’s assistant and finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Abigail is a spunky character and Jackaby seems like the twin of Sherlock who just so happens to see ghosts and banshees and other supernatural creatures. The mystery was interesting and kept me guessing, and the tongue-in-cheek humor was fun.