Summer Booknotes from Our Staff – Fiction

The Upright Piano Player
by David Abbott (Nan A. Talese)

Few circumstances are as suspenseful as the quiet brutality of a stalker. Nor are there many trials harder than the loss of a loved one. Entwined with the life of one so unassuming as Henry Cage, the jolting events in David Abbott’s debut novel are written so lyrically, the twists are all the more wrenching. Hung deftly on a spare, direct, literary voice, Abbott’s characters experience occasions savory and severe; transatlantic tension, foreboding suspicions, and emotional wires all crossed against a placid British backdrop, making this novel one that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. –Dave

My American Unhappiness
by Dean Bakopoulos (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Much like the American economy, Zeke Pappas’s life began to unravel in 2008. As the director of the Great Midwestern Humanities Initiative, a federal program designed to “slow the brain drain…in that region,” Zeke started the extensive American Unhappiness Project, dedicated to answering the question: Why are we so unhappy? With his funds drying up, government agents questioning his work, and his mother nudging him to find a wife, Zeke struggles to complete his thesis and make sense of a life that he thought he had all figured out. With a deft hand, Bakopoulos has created a poignant look at a man’s descent from grandeur to delusion. –Casey S.

Jamrach’s Menagerie
by Carol Birch (Doubelday)

An escaped tiger swallows Jaffy Brown, but when the enigmatic Jamrach saves him, our street-urchin is pulled from playing in gutters into the magical world of Jamrach’s menagerie. Jaffy longs for the sailor’s life, and with youthful naïveté, he accepts Jamrach’s offer to embark on a quest to catch a mythical dragon as part of the ill-fated Lysander’s crew. Birch gives the reader a graphic historical portrayal of life at sea, which reads similarly to Melville’s Moby-Dick led by a Dickensian protagonist. Long-listed for the 2011 Orange Prize. –Alex

State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins)

Dr. Marina Singh, a researcher for a Minnesota-based pharmaceutical company, is sent deep into the Amazon jungle to check on the work of secretive head scientist Annick Swenson after a beloved work colleague who was investigating the field team is reported dead. Traveling by river to the village of the Lakashi Tribe where Dr. Swenson is purportedly developing a new drug, Marina is thrown headlong into a world where nothing is what it seems and her deepest fears are laid bare. Fans of Patchett, and readers discovering her for the first time are in for a treat. This is a lush and spellbinding tale that will grip you from the get go. –Laurie

Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.


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