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Book recs: A Kansas City bookstore owner, librarian and author share what they're reading

Jason Wong

Kansas City Public Library's Kaite Stover, author Steve Paul, and BLK + BRWN bookstore owner Cori Smith share their favorite books of the moment, spanning true crime and romance to poetry and biography.

Literature lovers are back on KCUR's Up To Date with 12 recommendations to add to your reading collection.

Kansas City Public Library director of readers' services Kaite Stover, author Steve Paul, and BLK + BRWN bookstore owner Cori Smith share their favorite books of the moment.

Kaite Stover's recommendations

"Yellowface" by R.F. Kuang. Fiction.

After stealing the manuscript of recently deceased literary star Athena Liu, June Hayward finally finds the success she craves. But readers know it's not June's work. How far will June go to keep her secret? The fictional book about the publishing industry is full of drama and suspense and will keep book nerds hooked.

"The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder" by David Grann. True Crime.

A true story about a shipwreck and survival. A British vessel on a secret mission during the War of Jenkins' Ear wrecked on desolate island. As separate boatloads of sailors are rescued, stories of betrayal, cruelty and escape begin to emerge with a court trying to determine the truth. "So this is history, high adventure, survival, suspense, and a cast of characters that will make your loyalties shift with every page," Stover told Up To Date.

"The Bandit Queens" by Parini Shroff. Novel.

A young Indian woman is falsely accused of killing her husband. Now she lives a life with freedom and respect, and other women want her advice on killing their own husbands. The book has humor and friendship and moves quickly.

"Big Tree" by Brian Selznick. Novel.

In this beautifully illustrated book, sycamore seed siblings navigate a dangerous and mysterious world and must find their place in it. The book uses nature as a great way for families to talk about community and adapting.

Steve Paul's recommendations

"Calling for a Blanket Dance" by Oscar Hokeah. Fiction.

Recent winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first novel, this riveting read encompasses the intersecting stories of an extended family in Oklahoma, people whose lives blend Native American and Mexican heritage and who face personal tragedy with a kind of grace. Police brutality, learning disabilities, drugs — Hokeah’s character’s work their way through and beyond so many obstacles. What emerges is an authentic cultural voice speaking on behalf of the many ways family bonds bend, break, and hold on forever.

"A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them" by Timothy Egan. Non-fiction.

As the saying goes, those who cannot remember history are doomed to repeat it. And so it is with Timothy Egan’s excellent narrative history about the 20th-century resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, not just in the once-Confederate south but in middle America as well. The organization’s campaign of hate against African Americans, Jews, Catholics and ethnic immigrants made an especially significant stand in the state of Indiana by the mid-1920s. From behind the scenes, the power-mad D.C. Stephenson built a formidable, corrupt and ironclad Klan-controlled network of politicians and office holders around the state and beyond. Today’s readers will have no problem recognizing the tactics, the rhetoric, the hypocrisy, and the horrific cultural collisions of that period, which echo in prominent ways in the current climate.

"Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins" by Aidan Levy. Biography.

Perhaps the biography of a highly accomplished jazz musician would appeal mostly to fans of the music. But Aidan Levy makes a strong case for Sonny Rollins’s wider place in the culture as a Black American who built a life of art, exploratory consciousness and philosophical meditation based around the realization that he had to unfailingly excel at everything in order to even have a chance to succeed in life. Rollins struggled through the familiar scourge of heroin addiction, maintained a career alongside all the greats of the jazz world, and later emerged as a much-revered performer and musical statesman.

"Traveling Through the Dark" by William Stafford. Poetry.

Just a quick shoutout for the first major book by this Kansas-born poet and teacher, who died in 1993. The book came out of virtual nowhere to win the National Book Award in 1963. In the poem “Vocation,” the last poem in this collection, the speaker recalls a boyhood scene in the landscape when his parents seem to be having a spat. Here’s the closing stanzas: “Now both of my parents, the long line though the plain, / the meadowlarks, the sky, the world’s whole dream/ remain, and I hear him say while I stand between the two,/ helpless, both of them part of me:/ ‘Your job is to find what the world is trying to be.’” I happen to think that’s one of the most memorable lines in all of Stafford’s half-century of poems.

Cori Smith's recommendations

"Love is a Revolution" by Renee Watson. Fiction.

This book tells the story of Nala, a young, Black and plus-sized girl exploring love through a romantic relationship while learning to love herself. She explores her self-identity and language used to describe plus-size individuals, and also works to understand activism as a teen.

"Zora Books Her Happy Ever After" by Taj McCoy. Novel.

Zora has been busy managing a bookstore with little time for love, much less, a love triangle. But eventually she meets Lawrence, the author she's had a crush on, and his best friend. Lawrence is alluring, unlike his grouchy friend, Reid. As a Lawrence and Zora begin dating Reid's true personality comes through. Once too busy for love, now Zora must choose between the two men pining for her.

"Before I Let Go" by Kennedy Ryan. Romance.

The story of college sweethearts takes an unexpected turn. After a life-altering event, the couple knew love wouldn't be enough to save their marriage. Though their marriage fell apart, the two co-parent together and never lose their steamy connection. Will love give them a second chance or will they find a new way to connect?

"Brown Girl in the Ring" by Nalo Hopkinson. Science fiction.

This 1998 novel takes place in Toronto, after riots divide the city's wealthy and poor. One woman must work to save the city by confronting her family's past and making a deal with the gods.

Stay Connected
When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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