Staff Recommends 1999-2004

 

    Reviewed in 2004

For more good reads, visit the Reader Services Page, the Current Staff Recommends Page, the 2005 Staff Recommends Page and our Fiction booklists.

You can check and reserve titles by going to the online catalog of materials.

Recommended by Paula Marsh, Assistant Circulation Supervisor, McAuliffe Branch

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. Fiction. 
Wishing to escape this season from some holiday traditions that are out of control? Find out what happens to the Krank family when they try to make some changes. Grisham has given us a classic tale for modern times, mixing truth and humor in this treat for the holidays.

The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish. Fiction.
A weekly women's group goes for a walk and gains national attention. Meet eight women from Wisconsin who are walking their past, present and future together. The local community protects this group from the press and allows them the freedom needed to explore such issues as unwanted pregnancy, lost loves and lost dreams. This heart-heavy journey of walking, talking and healing will appeal and empower women of all ages.

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. Fiction.
The Passion of Artemisia is a fictional portrayal of the life and times of Artemisia Gentileschi, Renaissance painter and first woman to be elected to the Academia dell'Arte. Rome, Florence and Genoa are the settings for the richly detailed second novel of author Susan Vreeland, who enjoyed success with The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. The social conditions of the 17th century including rape, trial, arranged marriage, single parenting and career success for this Italian woman artist should prove interesting reading for art history fans and feminists.

Recommended by Jenny Allen, Main Library Circulation Department
From three local authors....

Mina by Jonatha Ceely (Fiction)
For those who love historical fiction, Jonatha Ceely's first novel is a delight. Meticulously researched, the story begins in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland during the potato famine where two siblings, sole survivors of their family, set out on a treacherous journey to America. Much of the novel takes place on a grand estate in the English countryside. Ceely brings alive the places and the time with vivid descriptions and convincing historical detail. In the face of relentless hardship and suffering, hope and perseverance prevail and leave the reader wishing for a sequel.

The Mt. Monadnock Blues by Larry Duberstein (Fiction)
Set in the South End and a small New Hampshire town, this is a compelling story about a man approaching middle age who suddenly finds himself "in loco parentis" to his niece and nephew following an accident in which their parents have been killed by a drunk driver. There ensues a custody battle for the children between Tom and his remaining sister and her homophobic husband. The story is set in 1990 when ignorance and fear of AIDS underlie the hostility and negative attitudes towards the gay community that Duberstein explores in this, his sixth novel. 

A Palestine Affair by Jonathan Wilson (Fiction)
The year is 1924, during the British Mandate in Palestine. An artist and his wife, the latter being a passionate Zionist, arrive from London and become embroiled in a murder case that is investigated by the authorities. Wilson evokes the cultural and political tensions between the Zionists, the orthodox Jews, the Arabs and the occupying forces. Still reeling from the horrors of the Great War, the British characters in the novel reflect a society that has been thoroughly shaken up. 

In the hotbed of political unrest and intrigue that is Palestine in the 1920s, nothing is as it seems to be. Staggered accounts of events by each of the main characters form a prismatic tale of love and betrayal, giving the reader an insight into the complexities of an emerging nation which continue to haunt us today.

Recommended by Harriet Hodgdon, Main Library Circulation Department
Books that are light and predictable can be a great comfort when our lives become difficult or complicated. Sometimes an author also surprises us with unexpected twists, and "light" becomes significantly more interesting than we anticipated.

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination 
by Helen Fielding (author of Bridget Jone's Diary) (Fiction)
An inept free-lance journalist turns into a competent writer, a woman of substance, and . . . a spy. We find out how and why she has become the person she has chosen to be, the rules of life by which she lives and, in somewhat unsettling fashion, we cross back and forth between terrorism, romance, and comic fantasy as Olivia Joules discovers what is real.

Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak (Fiction)
An interesting mix of plots combines to create an overextended main character. Wollie Shelley is a greeting card artist who owns a small business. She is dating forty men in sixty days as part of a research project. Meanwhile, her paranoid schizophrenic brother is witness to a murder in which she becomes involved. She is willingly taken hostage by a very attractive man disguised as a doctor - and then the fun begins.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie (Fiction)
Unlikely protagonists create a steamy atmosphere as Minerva Dobbs, on the heels of romantic rejection, overhears a bet being made about her to gorgeous Calvin Morrisey. Minerva decides to string Cal along to suit her own purposes, but from a mutual distrust and dislike grows an attraction that is comic and lusty, enhanced by the involvement of a bevy of good friends and bitter enemies.

Dot in the Universe by Lucy Ellmann (Fiction)
A young, blonde, perky wife decides to end it all but comes back in several reincarnations - once as a possum - and eventually finds herself again as a young, blonde, perky wife-to-be. What at first seems quirky with a shallow main character takes on a depth that is cynical and poignant, goes off on taboo tangents, remains humorous yet disquieting, and finally comes full circle.

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Recommended by Mary Wasmuth, Collection Development Librarian
These original and surprising works enriched my appreciation of the varieties of ways stories can be told.

Any Small Thing Can Save You: A Bestiary by Christina Adam. Fiction.
These very short stories feature twenty-six creatures, from asp to zoo, but they are much more about the varieties of human connection and about the moments that shape us. It's the people that make this book memorable. Sometimes moving, sometimes funny, often surprising, the stories show us people stumbling into new understandings of their lives and relationships. Characters and vividly described settings weave in and out of the stories, creating a mosaic of feelings and places, most strikingly the American West.

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard. Fiction.
A traditional--almost formulaic--love story that takes place, and is transformed by, a world suffused with pain in the years following World War II. Aldred Leith, a 32-year-old British major stationed in Japan, falls in love with Helen Driscoll, a precocious teenager devoted to her dying brother; her loathsome parents are determined to keep the couple apart. Their story is so intertwined with the suffering around them that when they're reunited, it feels like a miracle. 

Shirley Hazzard's previous novel, The Transit of Venus, also opens up a love story in unique and thought-provoking ways.

The Last Report on the Miracles At Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich. Fiction.
Among the features of this compelling and lyrical novel: a woman who for more than half a century passes herself off as a priest in a remote Ojibwa reservation, a malevolent nun who just may be a saint, a hilarious death and funeral scene like no other, and a breakneck opening sequence that took my breath away. 

In the midst of all this, Louise Erdrich portrays the complex weave of interlocking relationships over several generations in the quirky, tough, heartbreaking North Dakota community that has itself become a central character in her work. 

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Recommended by Kathleen Marscher, Reference Librarian
Prince Edward
by Dennis McFarland (Fiction)
A story of a 10-year-old boy growing up in 1959 on a rural Virginia chicken farm where the character-building trials and tribulations of everyday life are added to the societal pains of a populace trying to come to grips with the mandates of the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling. Rather than integrate the schools, Prince Edwards County stubbornly decides to close all public schools. A thought-provoking read based on historical fact. 

The Clarinet Polka by Keith Maillard (Fiction)
A steel town in West Virginia in 1969 is the setting for this novel. Jimmy's life lacks direction and purpose after he returns home from the military. The opening scene in which he wakes up in a cramped attic room facing the posters left from his high school days symbolizes the claustrophobic life he now leads in this small town where Maillard's compassionately drawn heroes struggle. The larger issues Americans grapple with daily come into focus through the lives of these characters and Jimmy's ultimate transformation. 

The City Below by James Carroll (Fiction)
Set in Charlestown's working class neighborhood, this story follows the lives of two brothers with strikingly opposite personalities throughout the 1960s, 1975, and 1984. Beyond thoughts of the Bulger brothers, this story twists through many of the moral headlines of the decades to give it the substance that only a master storyteller like Carroll can create. JFK's presidential rally at the Garden reveals the mob culture of small business protection, birth control mandates become a pivotal moral dilemma for Terry's pending priesthood, and busing issues create a conflict between the brothers' loyalty to their neighborhood and their friendship with a black classmate. 

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Recommended by Judith Rosenbaum, McAuliffe Branch Library Circulation Staff
Breaking Her Fall
by Stephen Goodwin (Fiction)
Tucker Jones, devoted single parent of Kat, 14, and her younger brother Will, answers the phone late one Friday evening, expecting to hear his daughter confirm that she has returned to the home of a friend after having gone to a movie. Instead, he is horrified to hear allegations from another parent that Kat was seen drinking and engaging in sexual games at a pool party with older students.

Enraged, frantic with worry, Tucker finds the party but discovers that Kat has already left. His highly charged interrogation of the boys escalates into a confrontation, and reverberations from this fateful night are many--Tucker's attempts to reach his beloved daughter, make peace with his former wife, and redeem himself provide a read that is impossible to put down. This rich and wonderful book, Goodwin's first in 20 years, has it all: great characters, riveting plot, humor, suspense, and courtroom drama. 

No Second Chance by Harlen Coben (Fiction)
The first chapter of this thriller immediately catapults the reader into one of Coben's most complex and unnerving plots. Dr. Marc Seidman, a reconstructive plastic surgeon and an altogether decent man, is shot twice when his home is broken into and wakes up in the hospital to be told that his wife has been murdered and his small daughter has been kidnapped. The story follows his desperate search for his daughter over the course of a year, during which he becomes the prime suspect in his wife's murder.  Coben's characters are so well drawn that the reader becomes completely invested in the outcome of the story. Plot twists, offbeat secondary characters, and help from many intelligent and resourceful friends combine to keep the reader guessing until the very end. 

A Grave Denied by Dana Stabenow (Fiction)
In the thirteenth mystery featuring Aleut private investigator Kate Shugak, the body of Len Dreyer, town handyman, is found in an ice cave near the mouth of a glacier. When over-extended state trooper Jim Chopin, Kate's on-again, off-again romantic interest, hires Kate to partner with him on the investigation, she discovers that, although everyone in the area knew Len, no one really knew anything about him.  The story just gallops along, and as in every Shugak novel, the theme of wilderness preservation is very much present. As a bonus, we continue to discover more about Alaskan history, Aleut tribal culture, and the dedication of native Alaskans to their independent way of life.

The Quilter's Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini (Fiction)
This is the first book in the Elm Creek Quilt series (five more have followed). This light, charming series examines the lives of "ladies who quilt." The Quilter's Apprentice introduces Sarah McClure, a burned-out accountant who follows her husband, a landscape architect, to a small Pennsylvania college town. He has been hired to revive the historic gardens at Elm Creek Manor, former home of Sylvia Compson, a elderly, lonely widow and master quilter. Unable to find suitable work in her field, Sarah takes a temporary housekeeping job at the manor, assisting Sylvia as she readies the place for sale.

Although the two women are initially uncomfortable and prickly with each other, Sylvia agrees to give Sarah quilting lessons, during which Sarah learns of Sylvia's tragic past. A wealth of quilting lore, history, and the generous fellowship of quilters runs throughout this book. Later in the series, The Runaway Quilt tells the intriguing story of the part played by quilts during the era of the Underground Railroad; The Quilter's Legacy follows Sylvia as she tries to find five lost quilts made by her mother. 

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Recommended by Tim Hilton, Main Library
Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole (Fiction)
This is that rare novel where humor writing and great fiction coincide. With a voice reminiscent of Bill Bryson or Richard Russo, the author weaves scenes that are at once uproariously funny and difficult to watch. The story follows Ignatius Reilly, an obese medievalist malcontent, as he tries to convince a New Orleans that will not listen of his creative genius. Filled with tipsy mother figures, evil nightclub owners, misplaced police attention and one of the most unlikable protagonists in modern fiction, Confederacy of Dunces provides you with the laughs you want with a plot worth reading. Published posthumously, this is the author's only public offering, but it is one not to be missed. 

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis (796.357)
Moneyball is more than a baseball book; it is a case study of how challenging assumptions can lead to success. The book follows Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics as they use statistics, ingenuity and one of the smallest payrolls in baseball to challenge the notion that big money always wins. With unique insight, the author shows us the battle between strict logic and conventional wisdom that affects many of baseball's biggest teams, including our beloved Red Sox. You may not agree with Billy Beane's theory that statistics do not lie, but you will be left with a better understanding of the business of baseball and how it affects the team you love.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie (Fiction)
Although better known for his weightier novels, Midnight's Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie remains, in essence, a master storyteller. In this novel a son aims to help his father, the local storyteller, regain his ability to spin tales. The ensuing quest blurs the line between parable and fairytale as the son finds where good stories come from, travels to Earth's second moon and meets those that would turn good stories bad. This novel may lack the intricacy and literary weight of the author's previous works, but it retains the fanciful characters, unimaginable settings and playful language that keep the reader in a state of suspended reality until the very end. 

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Recommended by Wendy Singleton, McAuliffe Branch Circulation Staff
The Seduction of Water
by Carol Goodman. Fiction.
Iris Greenfelder is an aspiring writer and teacher. She feels the "buts" are taking over her life. All but published, all but a professor, all but married! She lives in New York City's Greenwich Village, with a view of the Hudson River from her five-story walk-up, but her roots are in the Catskills, in a resort hotel called the Equinox, where her parents were the managers. Her mother, Kay, wrote two novels there, and was rumored to have written a third before her untimely death in a fire there over thirty years ago.

Iris finally finds some success when one of the stories she has written about her mother is picked up by a small literary journal with a well-connected editor. She is convinced that leaving the city and going back to the Catskills will be the perfect setting for the biography she wishes to write about her mother. Driving the plot is the not-so-simple question: did Kay write a third manuscript? When Iris starts retelling the Irish tale of the Selke-part woman, part seal-that her mother used to tell, she opens a Pandora's box containing false identities, missing manuscripts and an old murder mystery. 

The hotel has been bought by a famous hotelier, who is trying to make it profitable again. Many of the old guests are invited back. As Iris talks to the guests who knew her parents, she begins to suspect her mother's death was not an accident.

This mystery combines a thoroughly modern story with dark fairy tales, suspense and romance. The Seduction of Water is a thriller that will grab you on the first page and hold your interest throughout.

The Turtle Warrior by Mary Relindes Ellis. Fiction.
In northern Wisconsin, inhabited by working-class European immigrants and the Ojibwe, a family is torn by war from within and without. The father, John Lucas, is a failed farmer. He's an abusive, violent drunk feared by his wife Claire and their children, Jimmy and Bill. Claire is an educated woman who fears she is losing her mind. Her marriage has broken her spirit. Jimmy, 18, the older brother and protector, is a gifted outdoorsman who likes to play pranks on his younger brother, Bill, a sensitive, vulnerable eight-year-old. Jimmy is goaded by his father to "be a man." To escape his unhappy life and prove something to his father, he enlists in the Marines to fight in Vietnam. He does not survive. Young Bill is left to protect his mother with the help of his own inner strength and the spirit of his dead brother to guide him. Bill fashions a warrior shield from a giant turtle shell, which he believes will protect him. 

The story is told from many perspectives. It explores the themes of war, loss and family, the paralysis of grief and the healing power of nature. It weaves a haunting tale of an unforgettable world where the spiritual, physical, past and present merge. The Turtle Warrior is a truly moving, sensitive novel that will speak directly to the hearts of readers everywhere.

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Recommended by Diane Zisk, Technical Processing Department, Main Library

These three historical novels transport the reader into dramatically different American experiences.
Dreamland 
by Kevin Baker (FICTION Baker)
Combining history and romance, Dreamland draws a picture of New York City circa 1910 that is both exciting and frightening. Its strength lies in the vivid depiction of a Coney Island amusement park and the people who loved, worked, and died within that brilliant playground of unreality. Each character represents a different walk of New York life, including factory workers, gangsters, politicians and sideshow freaks both real and imagined. Baker's descriptions evoke the hurly-burly of heat, light and noise and a glimpse into the powerful imaginations of those who dreamed up such a world.

In the Fall
by Jeffrey Lent (FICTION Lent)
Just after the Civil War, a wounded soldier, an escaped woman slave, and an interracial marriage make for a dark but strongly moving story. The painful mysteries of one family's history advance through the generations and influence actions and events into the present time. The writing is lyrical and moving, and the book is a solid achievement of storytelling that addresses the serious subjects of race and slavery. 

Ahab's Wife, or the Stargazer: a Novel 
by Sena Jeter Naslund (FICTION Naslund)
If you've ever found yourself resenting Ahab for his relentless pursuit of Moby Dick, take the opportunity to humanize him by reading this intense novel that centers on Ahab's spouse. Una Spencer is a strong and powerful woman who rises above many extreme circumstances to find happiness in the harsh climate of the Cape Cod islands in the early nineteenth century. Naslund's depiction of Uma's passionate love for Ahab and for life makes reading this novel a soaring adventure.

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Recommended by Lucy Loveridge, Tina Mullins and Elise MacLennan, Main Library

These three well-written books have strong female protagonists. They were written for young people, but can be appreciated by any reader who is young at heart.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (J Fantasy Fiction Levine)
In this amusing Newbery-Honor-book version of Cinderella, Ella has been cursed with the gift of obedience by Lucinda, a foolish fairy. She has a happy childhood despite her compulsion to obey any order addressed to her, but when she is fifteen, her mother dies and her father, a selfish and greedy man, sends her off to boarding school. But Ella, despite her gift of obedience, is an independent, even rebellious person. When her curse is discovered and misused by her future stepsister, she runs away from school in hopes of finding Lucinda and convincing her to remove the curse. Many adventures ensue and many meetings with Prince Charmont occur before the final denouement -- which almost matches the classic fairy tale.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (J Fiction DiCamillo)
This year's Newbery-Award-winning author entered the children's literature field with this heartwarming novel. The main character, Opal, is a shy, motherless girl who has moved to a new town with her distant, preacher father. A stray dog with a winning smile helps her adjust to her new home. From the unforgettable first sentence, Opal's voice rings true and makes the reader want to know more. Although a short novel, the story is rich and the characters are appealing. 

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (J Fiction Cushman) 
"12th Day of September -- I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say."
Catherine of Stonebridge is an ordinary thirteen-year-old in 1290s England, and her diary is revealing and amusing. Based on historical research, the descriptions of medieval life are authentic, and Catherine is an endearing, if sometimes sulky and rebellious, young lady-in-training. 

Cushman draws a plausible picture of medieval family life that is fascinating. Every family is different and every person an individual just as they are today. Catherine's father is a knight only just important enough to require her to behave like a lady and to marry whomever her parents decree. 

Readers will quite easily relate to Catherine's resentment towards embroidery, spinning, and making soap when she would rather be reading or playing outdoors. Catherine's coming of age as told through her journal entries is sometimes surprising, sometimes funny, and always captivating. This Newbery-Honor book is a thought-provoking and satisfying read for historical fiction fans of all ages.

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Recommended by Deborah Kelsey, Reference Librarian, Main Library
An Unquiet Mind
by Kay Redfield Jamison (616.85 1995 Jamison)
This insightful, inspirational, and educational memoir chronicles the life of a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University who suffers from manic depression. As an international authority on bipolar disorder (manic-depressive) she suggests her illness is well managed with medication, psychotherapy, peer support, and love.

Blankets: An Illustrated Novel by Craig Thompson (Y GRAPHIC NOV Thompson)
Thompson recalls growing up in a religious family in rural Wisconsin with his younger brother, experiencing first love, struggling with religious faith and identity, and becoming an artist. This sensitive, autobiographical novel is conveyed graphically with fluid line work, assured compositions, and powerful use of solid black areas and negative space.

The Gates of Hell: A Mystery of Alexander the Great by Paul C. Doherty (FICTION MYSTERY Doherty)
It is 334 B.C., and Alexander the Great has marched southward through Asia Minor to the outskirts of the Persian city of Halicarnassus, overlooking the Aegean sea and the Greek islands. Paul Doherty, British author and historian, integrates his research from primary sources to create the third story of his series on Alexander. His descriptions of costume, customs, weaponry, and battle are stunning and give a riveting sense of reality. Alexander's trusted boyhood friend and personal physician, Telamon, uses his powers of detection to solve a "locked room" death and decipher a mysterious manuscript.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (FICTION Brown)
This is the first story by Dan Brown featuring Robert Langdon, a religious symbolism specialist, with the second being the best seller, The Da Vinci Code. There is a secret society, a papal conclave, an assassin, mysterious ambigrams, antimatter, a plot against the Vatican, and philosophizing on the eternal conflict between religion and science. This is a fast-paced thriller. 

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins (FICTION Robbins)
Robbins wrote a multi-layered, Zeitgeist-rich, phantasmagorically funny story featuring, among other things, a stock market crash, a born-again monkey, tarot cards, Timbuktu, a unique piece of art, and frogs. The book is a whirlwind of mad incidents and semi-profound observations on life, love and global issues.

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    Reviewed in 2003

Carol Maloney, Reference Department, McAuliffe Library

Addictive Reading - Unconventional stories of addiction and recovery
A Million Little Pieces
by James Frey (362.29 Frey)
With an unexpected, stylized structure that is brutally descriptive, energized and engaging, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces leads the reader through an odyssey of detoxification and recovery. Only twenty-three, Frey has consumed heroic amounts of drugs and alcohol since childhood, and touches bottom when he awakes on a plane with his face swollen shut, teeth crushed, covered in muck, and no memory of the events that put him there. His mantra is simple: “I am an Alcoholic and I am a drug Addict and I am a Criminal.” His story is alternately shocking and pitiful. His style is offbeat and unconventional.

Running with Scissors: A Memoir, and Dry. Both by Augusten Burroughs (B/Burroughs, A.)
In Running with Scissors, Burroughs introduces himself and his decidedly twisted “family.” His alcoholic father is mostly absent and his mentally unstable mother ultimately gives him away to her therapist, whose household includes several wild children, biological and found; some patients; and an adopted 33-year-old pedophile with whom the then-13-year-old Augusten has his first affair. School is not mandatory, and free time is spent experimenting with everything that surrounds him in this madhouse of squalor: prescription drugs, sexuality and the vintage electroshock machine under the stairs.

The adult Augusten picks up the story with Dry, which finds him constantly and excessively drunk, yet surprisingly successful as an advertising executive in New York City. The two-martini happy hour is something to which he aspires: dozens of drinks and endless nights and days of blacked-out binges prevail. Once his employer forcibly suggests he enter rehab, Burroughs faces self-discovery he hadn’t anticipated. Upon his release after 30 days, the challenges of returning to life sober nearly consume him. Burroughs’ flip, candid delivery engages humor rather than self-pity to convey his fantastic story.

Sherry Baker, Assistant Branch Librarian
Crow Lake
by Mary Lawson (Fiction)
This beautifully written first novel, set in rural Ontario, is a story of family dynamics, sibling relationships, tragedy and redemption. Seven-year-old Kate, her toddler sister and two teenaged brothers are suddenly orphaned and left to fend for themselves. Twenty years later Kate, now a successful zoologist and professor, reunites with her siblings and finally comes to terms with her past.

Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas (Fiction)
Dallas brings 1860s New Mexico to life in this entertaining historical novel. The story is told in four parts, each by a different narrator. The main characters are Addie, a brothel madam, Ned, a handsome bank robber, Emma, a jilted mail-order bride and Welcome, a former slave employed by Addie as a cook. Together they weave a story filled with humor and charm.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan (Biography/Ryan Family)
Terry Ryan tells her mother's true story with humor and admiration. To support her growing family and alcoholic husband, Evelyn Ryan wrote jingles and entered contests, winning everything from candy bars to a convertible. Family photographs and contest entries add extra interest to this story of one woman's determination in the face of adversity.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (Fiction)
Cannie Shapiro, a 28-year-old reporter, is humiliated when her ex-boyfriend writes about their relationship, and her weight issues, in his magazine column (called “Good in Bed”). Her entertaining, and not very realistic, adventures help her make peace with her plus-size body.

Rebecca Berkowitz, Main Library Reference Department
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler (221.9Feiler)
Bruce Feiler explores the biblical figure of Abraham, patriarch of Christianity, Islam and Judaism in this highly readable combination of history, travel and spiritual memoir. Feiler diligently researches Abraham as he is understood and experienced in all three faiths by interviewing, studying and visiting with clergy and religious scholars from each religion. There is much divergence and dispute uncovered here but also common reverence for the first monotheist and the metaphor he has become. This short accessible book is witty, passionate, and articulate in seeking mutual respect and peace.

Tepper Isn’t Going Out by Calvin Trillin (Fiction Trillin)
This laugh-out-loud account of Murray Tepper’s attempt to park in New York City and read the newspaper in peace pokes gentle fun at the culture and mores of the Big Apple and its denizens. The book is a short easy read, which harkens back to an era before 9/11 when life, if not simpler, was certainly sillier.

In Revere, In Those Days by Roland Merullo (Fiction Merullo)
This coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in an Italian neighborhood of Revere, Massachusetts, in the 1960s has something for everyone. Boomers will love the nostalgia. Many grandchildren of immigrants will recognize their grandparents. Local history buffs and sociologists can trace the evolution of neighborhoods and class distinctions. Young adults will relate to the challenges of growing up. Besides all that, this is a great story beautifully written which explores life and death, love and loss, choices and consequences. How’s that for three hundred pages?

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin Nuland (B Nuland, S. Nuland)
Sherwin Nuland is a Yale-trained physician who has had a successful career as a surgeon and as a writer of award winning nonfiction. Those are the facts and “here’s the rest of the story.” Nuland has written a highly personal and unflinchingly honest memoir of growing upin the Bronx with immigrant parents. His mother dies when he is eleven leaving him and his surviving brother to grow up with his father and an embittered maiden aunt. His father is limited by lack of education, much personal loss and debilitating illness. His brother spent adolescence recovering from rheumatic fever. The resulting relationship between father and son was complex and ambivalent. Lest you think this book is all angst, Nuland has a wonderful way with words and despite his own challenges certainly prevails in life and makes a kind of peace with the past. 


Kristine McElman, Periodicals Supervisor
Life in the Middle East
 
Here are a few titles to help understand the world we live in during these turbulent times.

The Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks (305.48)
Geraldine Brooks was a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in the Middle East. While on assignment, her Egyptian translator and friend suddenly decided to “adopt the veil” and declined an opportunity to study at Harvard University. Why would a woman in these modern times choose such a restrictive life? This question prompted the author to explore Islam, the worlds fastest-growing religion, and how it is affecting the lives of women worldwide.

A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi (Fiction)
A young girl with an Iraqi father and English mother comes of age in Baghdad. When war breaks out, she and her mother move to England where she tries to adjust to the differences between the East and the West and wonders which world she really belongs in.

My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under The Taliban: A Young Woman’s Story by Latifa (305.42)
This is the story of “Latifa,” a 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan and how her life changed when the Taliban took control of the country. She is now 23 years old and living in exile in Paris.

If these books sound interesting, you might want to consider these as well:

West of Kabul, East of New York by Tamim Ansary (973.04927)
Honor Lost: Love and Death in Modern Day Jordan by Norma Khouri (305.42)
Neither East, Nor West: One Woman’s Journey The Islamic Republic of Iran by Christiane Bird (955.054)
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi (Biography)
The Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World by Jan Goodwin (305.48697)

Also, don’t forget to check out our magazine collection for up-to-date information on our ever-changing world

Elise MacLennan, Assistant Director
Ready to be immersed in the details of another world? This pair of historical novels has much in common although they are very different in style. Both are lengthy; just perfect for a week at the beach!

The Crimson Petal and the White
by Michel Faber  (Fiction)
This story of an intelligent young woman named Sugar, forced into prostitution at age 13 by her mother, is set in 1870s London. William Rackham, a young and confused perfume business heir, falls in love with Sugar and makes her his exclusive mistress. Sugar’s intelligence becomes useful to William on many levels, and he seeks her advice about matters of business, removes her from poverty and the public eye, and finally installs her in his home as a governess to his daughter Sophie. This arrangement leads to complication and their familiarity to the proverbial contempt. Faber’s attention to the minutia of daily life and to character development make this a “can’t-put-down” novel.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden  (Fiction)
The tale of the slow transformation of nine-year-old Chiyo, sold by her father after her mother's death, into Sayuri, a beautiful geisha accomplished in the art of entertaining men. Sayuri is trained to dance, sing and perform the tea ceremony, all with the purpose of attracting men to pay money for her company. With age, experience, and some powerful friends, Sayuri becomes a tremendous success in the realm of the okiya. As modern life interferes with age-old traditions, Sayuri must then call on her natural intelligence to succeed in the outside world as well. This fascinating peek into the details of the culture will cure your curiosity about the mysterious and private world of geishas.

Paula Marsh, McAuliffe Branch
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Fiction)
Shipwrecked with a 450-pound Bengal tiger, a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena and a seasick orangutan is Pi Patel, 16, son of a zookeeper from Pondicherry, India. Pi struggles to survive for 227 endless days at sea. An award-winning adventure tale, Martel’s second novel has a magical quality interwoven with the grisly truths of the animal world. His rescuers do not believe this outrageous menagerie so Pi creates a more convincing, very plausible tale. The reader is left to decide which is the truth.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Fiction)
With the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rosaleen, black caretaker of fourteen-year-old white Lily Owen, goes to town to register to vote. She ends up jailed, then hospitalized. Lily decides to leave town with Rosaleen to find answers about her mother who died 10 years before. Lily has a picture, once her mother's, of a black Madonna with the words “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on the back. They arrive in Tiburon and are taken in by May, June, and August Boatwright, three loving and eccentric black sisters who keep bees. Lily’s questions about her mother are finally answered while she learns life’s lessons on race and gender. Female friendships, the black Madonna and the healing power of honey all play a part in this Southern Gothic novel.

The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer (Fiction)
Carrie Bell, 23, is engaged to her high school sweetheart. She has grown disenchanted with her life in small town Madison, Wisconsin, where a diving accident has left her fiancée a quadriplegic. Torn between being selfless or selfish, she chooses to go to New York City, and discovers a different life – one filled with fashion, friendships and love. It is not clear until the very end what Carrie will do. Will she choose New York City or Madison? Her moral dilemma will have readers turning inward for their own resolution.

Disobedience: A Novel by Jane Hamilton ( Fiction)  
Get to know the Shaws of Chicago - Kevin, a high school history teacher; Beth, a pianist and antique music specialist, their children--Henry, a lonely high school senior and Elvira, 13, a Civil War enthusiast. Analyzed through the character of Henry, this mid-western family proves to be anything but ordinary. Henry looks at his mother’s email and discovers she is having an affair. Elvira insists on wearing only hand sewn Union Soldier uniforms. This quirky family’s fascination with the past will amuse you in this, the author’s fourth novel. Also by Hamilton: The Book of Ruth, A Map of the World and The Short History of a Prince.

Emily Center, Assistant Supervisor, Children's Services

Murder, Mayhem, Crime, and Punishment…stories with a flair for the treacherous
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl (Mystery Pearl)
1865, Boston – The plans of the Dante Club, a group of intellectuals preparing the first American translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, are brought to an abrupt halt when a series of brutal murders mirroring the punishments of The Inferno break out in Boston. Matching wits against the police force, the Harvard highbrows, and the murderer, The Dante Club furiously seeks to connect the literary murders with a perpetrator, before their scholarly world comes tumbling down. www.thedanteclub.com

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Y Fiction Goldman)
After Stew and Taxes but before Glamour, Florin – Buttercup’s near-tragic story is well known—how she is engaged to the rapscallion Prince Humperdink, how she is kidnapped by Vizzini to start a war, how the Dread Pirate Roberts, who killed her true love, rescues her and lands her in the perilous Fire Swamp. It’s a classic faery tale, setting schemes, mayhem, vengeance, and torture (coupled with daring swordfights, treacherous landscapes, and royal villains) against imperfect magic and true love.

Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey (364.162 2000 Harvey)
Since Cartography, the World of Maps – Maps! Kings killed for them, explorers thieved them, cartographers counterfeited them, and Gilbert Bland, Jr., stole them, slash-and-dash, from research libraries across the continent. In this piece of investigative writing, Miles Harvey reveals the intriguing subculture of map aficionados, tracing the history of cartography, exploration, the lure of the unknown, and the villainy that has always accompanied them. “A True Story of Cartographic Crime.”

Holes by Louis Sachar (J Fiction Newbery Sachar)
Summer, Camp Green Lake – Nothing about Camp Green Lake is green, and there is no lake. And it isn’t much of a camp, just a lot of trouble-making boys with names like Armpit and X-Ray digging holes day after day in the hot, hot sun under the watchful eyes of the Warden and the yellow-spotted lizards. But there is more to this narrative puzzle than holes and lizards—there are truth and fate, punishment and redemption, onions and spiced peaches, and a no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather….

Kathy Marscher, Main Library Reference Librarian
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (Fiction)
Read this heart-warming and humorous story about Mma Ramotswe’s moral tenacity at “fixing” the problems that arise when modern culture clashes with Botswana’s heritage of witchcraft, arranged marriages, and defined gender roles. The heart of Africa symbolically beats in the soul of the charming main character Mma Ramotswe, who proudly succeeds “by the seat of her pants” as her country’s first woman private detective. Dealing effectively with the business’s colorful customers helps her to slowly embrace the possibility of a future that will neither compromise her new confidence nor take her back to the struggles of her past. The fun continues in several sequels.

Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith. (Fiction)
Posthumously released, these brilliantly crafted and powerful short stories by Patricia Hindsmith are well suited to the busy reader with a taste for Hitchcock-style suspense. She masterfully develops tantalizing psychological portrayals of seemingly innocent characters and everyday events. It is difficult to predict the twist each story will take, sometimes with shocking results. Pick and choose from 23 crisply written, subtly bizarre stories. 

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. (Fiction)
Set in pre-WWII New York City, Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the story of Samuel Klayman (Clay), a writer who teams up with his artist cousin from Prague, Josef Kavalier, to become cartoonists for the popular super-hero world of “Empire Comics.” Originally written for adults, the cartoons serve as a balm against the “evil empires” of WWII for both the creators and their fans. Of note is the mentoring role that the Hungarian escape artist Harry Houdini plays for Kavalier. This super-hero world provides a rich backdrop for the character development of the Kavalier/Clay team. Revealing and heart wrenching, this lengthy story spans decades, yet deserves a sequel. 

Kelly Sprague, Main Library Circulation Department
Eagerly awaiting the rebirth of spring?
 
Keep company with Anna Quindlen’s characters who are full of renewal and reawakened expectations of life and love. Celebrate the vernal equinox! All of these titles are by Anna Quindlen.

Blessings (Fiction)
An act of child abandonment launches this tale of redemptive love. The usual blessing seems not to be one for a teenage couple who leave their newborn on the garage steps of Blessings, an old family estate. A troubled young groundskeeper finds the infant and chooses the life of care and devotion that the baby’s parents have rejected. Lydia Blessing, the octogenarian who presides over the old house and its history of secrecy and sadness, joins him in this secret endeavor. Quindlen’s characters are interesting and her view of love and family compelling.

One True Thing (Fiction)
Ellen Gulden is a bright, hard-charging 24-year-old when she is called home to care for her mother after a cancer diagnosis. Her much-admired father has summoned her for this job with no thought for Ellen or her budding career. In the weeks that follow she discovers the depth she didn’t know her mother possessed. The novel opens with Ellen’s thoughts from a jail cell after being accused of a mercy killing. Ellen’s transforming journey is a tale of awakening and insight into the life of the heart.

Living Out Loud (Nonfiction 081)
This is a collection of Quindlen’s work from her days as a columnist for the New York Times. It is a lovely collection of reflections on family, work, and life. Susan Isaacs summed Quindlen’s work up nicely: “Anna Quindlen’s beat is life, and she’s one hell of a terrific reporter.”

Black And Blue (Fiction)
Quindlen writes about big moments in life, moments of chaos and crisis and conflict. She tackles the subject of domestic abuse with a keen eye in the story of Fran and her abusive husband Bobby. She takes a steady look at the loss in a child’s world when violence forces a family apart and leaves 10 year old Robert with a new, and unchosen, life. There is renewal and hope in a different and safer life, but shadows of that former existence live on.

Also by Quindlen:

Thinking Out Loud (Nonfiction 814.54)
Object Lessons (Fiction)
How Reading Changed My Life (Biography)

Wendy Singleton, McAuliffe Branch Circulation Department
Traveling Light by Katrina Kittle. Fiction.
Summer Zwolenick, a 26-year old ex-ballet dancer whose career was cut short by a riding accident, is now a high school teacher. She is called home to help care for her brother Todd, who is dying of AIDS. She moves in with her brother and his lover Jacob, who is unfailingly supportive, always by his side. She watches her brother share both his struggle and his joy with Jacob. As these difficult days pass slowly, Todd's condition deteriorates. Summer will come to terms with life, death, relationships, and her father's enigmatic, long ago injunction to "travel light." She will learn that true love transcends all illness and the cruelty of time. But it will be when she tries to fulfill the promise her brother asked of her years ago that Summer will meet her greatest challenge–and realize how truly fortunate she is. This is a wonderfully moving story of love in all its variations.

Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg. Fiction.
Elizabeth Berg’s passion for writing is evident in this first novel. It is a particularly lyrical coming-of-age story narrated by a 12-year- old named Katie. Katie’s mother died of cancer. She and her older sister Diane are now at the mercy of their father, an army officer with an explosive temper and a heavy hand. The reader struggles along with the girls as they cope with the burdens of growing up with a volatile father and no mother.

Accustomed to the military lifestyle, Katie leads a fairly normal life. She spends time writing poetry, swimming and discussing boys with her best friend Cherylanne. However, Diane longs for love and adventure, and she risks getting beaten to sneak off with her boyfriend every night. Then the inevitable happens… the military has reassigned them to a Missouri Army base. While Katie tries to accept the change, 18-year-old Diane rebels. She can no longer tolerate her father’s abuse, and runs away with her boy friend. Katie’s admiration for her strong-willed sister leads her on an adventure that transforms her life. While traveling with her sister, she realizes how much she loves and misses her father and returns home. Katie epitomizes the quality her father prizes: emotional durability.

Stephen Russell, Main Library Circulation Department
The Barbarians are Coming by David Wong Louie (fiction)
It is 1978 and Sterling Lung, the 26-year-old American-born son of Chinese immigrants, has been rebelling against his culture and his parents his entire life. Unfortunately, everywhere he turns he is forced to confront his heritage. Instead of going to medical school, as his parents wanted, Sterling becomes a chef and gets a job at an affluent ladies club in Connecticut. Sterling wants to cook French cuisine but the club members only let him cook Chinese food. His parents want him to marry the Chinese picture-bride they have chosen for him even as his girlfriend announces she is pregnant. When the rights to his cable TV cooking show are sold, Sterling is forced to play the stereotypical Chinese cook, complete with phony accent. 

This novel is written with wit and humor, but its true power lies in Sterling’s troubled and distant relationship with his father. His parents are dismayed that Sterling is so Westernized, but ironically this is precisely why they chose “lean lives among the barbarians” so Sterling would be spared “Mao and dreary collectivism, shared destiny, rationed rice and the communal butt-rag." In the father and son scenes, Louie captures the bitter irony and complex realities of Chinese-American life. 

The Middle Son by Deborah Iida (fiction)
Set in the sugar cane fields of Hawaii during the 1950’s, this story revolves around the Japanese tradition of the oldest son giving “extra" sons to childless siblings. Spencer Fujii is the “middle son” of first-generation Japanese-American sugar cane plantation workers. Spencer, bound by honor and family, returns to his childhood home on Maui to aid his dying mother. While taking care of her he is forced to confront the facts of his elder brother’s childhood death, for which he is responsible, and also to come to terms with the past and the ghosts that haunt him. Iida expertly portrays the hardship of living with a burden of guilt and poignantly plunges the depths of familial love.

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (fiction)
Edinburgh is a stunningly poetic novel that deals with the legacy of child sexual abuse in a frank but unsensational manner. It tells the story of Fee, a 12-year-old Korean-American boy living in Maine. The lives of Fee and his friends are destroyed by a pedophile, their choir director, who goes by the name Big Eric. Fee evades Eric’s advances but he does not tell his parents or his other friends. Although Big Eric is finally caught, the boys cannot escape the effect of what has happened. Fee’s best friend, Peter, becomes self-destructive and eventually kills himself, as does Zach, another one of Eric’s victims.

The second half of the novel takes place years later when Fee is an adult. He returns to Maine to teach high school. Fee has lived with guilty feelings of complicity in the victimization of his friends, and their deaths. Outwardly he explains his failure to report Big Eric as based on the fear that Big Eric would kill him. Inwardly he believed that exposing Big Eric would expose his own homosexuality, even though he knows there is a difference between what Eric is and what he is. The story comes full circle when Big Eric’s son shows up and Fee is instantly attracted to him. Chee balances the heavy material in this book with beautiful prose and animal imagery from Korean folklore.

Top

 Reviewed in 2002

Recommended by Phyllis Clopper, Assistant Circulation Supervisor, Main Library
Turncoat
by Aaron Elkins (Fiction)
In the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, a European history professor in New York City is jolted out of his ordinary existence by the sudden arrival and subsequent murder of his French father-in-law. When Pete Simon’s wife Lily disappears, he begins a dangerous journey that takes him through Europe where he comes face to face with the horrors of the Nazi regime, the world of collaborators, saboteurs and his wife’s wartime past. Elkins, the author of “Loot,” has written another intelligent and unpredictable, but not frenetic, thriller with extraordinary plot twists that will keep the reader in suspense to the end.

No Stone Unturned: The Story of NecroSearch International by Steven Jackson (363.25 Jackson)
This is a fascinating account of the founding of NecroSearch International by a dedicated group of scientists, behavioralists, criminalists and other specialists who together use their expertise and the latest technology to locate missing bodies. Jackson chronicles the creation of this organization by an extraordinary team, dubbed the Pig People, who began by burying pig carcasses in order to develop new and better techniques for finding missing victims, analyzing evidence and solving crimes. This is a very well-written and compelling book that will appeal to readers of True Crime as well as mystery buffs.

Open Season by Linda Howard (Fiction)
This is a fast-paced, highly amusing tale of a stereotypical small-town librarian who is dissatisfied with her boring life. Daisy Minor decides to transform her drab appearance, her hum-drum lifestyle and her slim prospects for romance. Likeable characters, witty dialog, and a contemporary, suspenseful storyline with a satisfying ending all combine to make this a very entertaining novel.

Jane Peck, McAuliffe Branch Librarian
Food, Glorious Food! Although November is the month that promises great feasts and lots of comfort food, many of us have little time to cook. Reading about food can be just as rewarding and is certainly better for our waistlines! Here are several books guaranteed to please both your culinary and reading palates:

Ruth Reichl presents essays and recipes from Gourmet magazine in Endless Feasts: Sixty Years of Writing from Gourmet (641.5). The essays are from such culinary luminaries as James Beard and M.F.K Fisher and from literary stars including Pat Conroy, Madhur Jaffrey and E. Annie Proulx. 

If escaping to sunnier climes from the cloudiest month of the year is not in your budget this November, join other armchair travelers and gourmands who have loved the book Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy (914.55) by Frances Mayes. Join Mayes on her travels through the Italian countryside as she creates fabulous food and renews her spirit in the warmth of Tuscany. Then, read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (944.9), which features less food and more house restoration! Both books capture the history and charm of popular sunny European locations and are a great antidote to too many cloudy days. 

Those who prefer lost love and family turmoil with their feasting can try Like Water for Chocolate (Fiction), a magical novel by Laura Esquivel. Each chapter begins with a recipe and careful instructions but the amazing and passionate events that develop flood this delightful tale with heartbreak and true love. Suddenly your own family seems quite charming! Happy Thanksgiving. 

Heather Pisani-Kristl, Young Adult Librarian
Muddling Through Middle School
It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times… read about middle school in all its hormonal glory. 

Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case by Dan Elish. Y Fiction.
Even perfect people can run into bad luck. Matt finds this difficult to believe, though. When his superstar friend Keith shoots an air ball during the final seconds of the school basketball tournament, Matt is sure he’s put an evil spell on Keith… by being completely, totally, obscenely jealous of him. Combine this with Matt’s sudden good luck in the girl department, and you’ve got one confused guy on your hands. Will Matt be able to lower his Jealousy Quotient to restore his friendship with Keith, or will he revel in his own good fortune and leave Keith to suffer alone in Loserhood?

Just Ask Iris by Lucy Frank. J Fiction.
12-year-old Iris Diaz-Pinkowitz has three big problems. First, she can’t leave the apartment without her older brother. Second, she has to learn Dr. Mildred Dornbush’s typing method before she starts school next month. Third, she needs a bra, but Mami won’t admit it. In the face of these obstacles, Iris begins her own business on the fire escape and helps the residents of her New York apartment building.

The Misfits by James Howe. Y Fiction.
The Gang of Five – of which there are four members – have been considered outcasts since kindergarten. When they write down a list of insults they’ve had thrown at them (“fatso, fairy, beanpole, nerdette”), they come up with more than 70 names. They’ve been told that names will never hurt them, but when the Gang of Five becomes the No-Name Party and runs for student council at Paintbrush Falls Middle School, Addie, Bobby, Skeezie and Joe find out just how much name-calling has affected them and their friendships with other people.

Jacqueline Barillet, Assistant Circulation Supervisor, Main Library
One new book, and three on a theme.

True to Form by Elizabeth Berg. Fiction. 
This is the third (after Durable Goods and Joy School) in Berg’s series about Katie, a thirteen-year-old who loses her mother and lives with her abusive father while dealing with teenage struggles. What makes the story wonderful is the humor, sweetness and wisdom of the girl as she learns from friendships, a priest, neighbors and the elderly couple she cares for as a summer job. Readers will be touched and inspired while laughing out loud.

If readers of Anne Perry, the celebrated writer of Victorian mysteries, find themselves looking for something similar but different, they might try these three:

White Crow by Cynthia Peale (aka Nancy Zaroulis). Fiction/Mystery. 
The best so far of a series (Death of Colonel Mann and Murder at Bertram’s Bower) set in Victorian Boston. The brother-sister detectives live on Beacon Hill, and it’s fun to follow the familiar locations. This one concerns a death during a séance - these were apparently popular at the time - and includes questions of truth or fakery as well as the portrayal of the social classes and roles of the time.

Thief-taker: Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner by T. F. Banks. Fiction/Mystery. 
This is set in London earlier in the 19th century, around 1815, and portrays the Bow Street of Anne Perry fame at an earlier stage of its development. The detective is required to investigate the death of a young gentleman against the wishes of his superiors, and becomes involved with quite a rough element. He offers a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian class, crime and police corruption.

Daughter of the Game by Tracy Grant. Fiction. 
Also set in the early 19th century during and after the Spanish war against Napoleon, this is a light, swashbuckling sort of mystery. An upper-class London couple must find the kidnappers of their young son, who demand an unusual ransom. The story involves multiple layers of wartime heroism and romance, treachery and betrayal, and dark secrets on the part of both man and wife. Although not deeply written, the action and plot twists are entertaining and the history intriguing.

Mary Wasmuth, Collection Development Librarian  
Community Reads. 
Books that touch on the meaning of community have found a large audience in recent years. Here are some you may have missed.

A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines. Fiction.
A Cajun farmer is killed. When the sheriff arrives, he’s met by dozens of elderly African-American men and one white woman—all carrying shotguns and claiming to be the killer. As the confrontation evolves, a great deal is revealed about the nature and loss of the area’s black sharecropping community, and about human dignity. This complex novel about racially intertwined lives and hostility in 1979 rural Louisiana provides no easy answers. Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying deals with a similar community in the 1940s.

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman. Fiction.
When the hero of a small Massachusetts town is arrested for a murder he committed long ago, the reaction of the townspeople differs sharply and painfully from that of his wife and son, in this novel by a fine writer with mixed feelings about small-town life. Other Alice Hoffman books that touch on community: Seventh Heaven, River King

That Night by Alice McDermott. Fiction.
A long, leisurely suburban summer night is shattered when a teenaged boy appears, along with his gang, to fight for the girl he loves. McDermott recreates life in a hopeful 1960s suburb in loving detail as she unfolds the story of how the pain of adolescent longing and loss pierces the innocence of the community and of the novel’s ten-year-old narrator.

Mohawk by Richard Russo. Fiction.
A decaying manufacturing town. A varied cast of flawed, endearing characters connected by geographic proximity, shared history, and a web of secrets. These hallmarks of Richard Russo’s fiction characterize his first novel, set in late-1960s Mohawk, New York, where the leather tanneries are in decline, and the emergency room, the town diner, the bars and late-night poker games form the heart of community life. Community is a theme of all of Richard Russo’s novels.

Some other books that deal with community: Plainsong and Where You Once Belonged by Kent Haruf, The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver, Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts, the Big Stone Gap trilogy by Adriana Trigiani, River Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke, and The Bird Artist by Howard Norman.

Elise MacLennan, Assistant Director
Three Big Fat Juicy Novels 
Like your books to go on and on (and on)? Want to take “just one” for a week away? Try these three on for size…sometimes, good things come in large packages.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Fiction) 560 pages
This Oprah pick is the story of the family of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to theBelgian Congo in 1959. Reverend Price's mission is to convert the natives in a small village where the Price family is assigned. The novel is set during the Congo's fight for independence from Belgium. As the political climate in the Congo deteriorates, the family is warned that they must leave; however, Reverend Price will not go until the villagers are baptized. Orleanna Price and her daughters-- teenaged Rachel; adolescent twins Leah and Adah; and five year old Ruth May, narrate the forty-year saga that the Prices and the Congo share.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Fiction) 656 pages
This imaginative novel traces the fantastic adventures of two Jewish cousins, one American and one Czech, who grow up to create comic books in 1939 New York. During the rise of Nazism, Joe Kavalier escapes from Prague and immigrates to America. He teams up with his Brooklyn cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic book characters that act out the dreams of their creators. Meanwhile, both men become involved with the same woman, the alluring Rosa Saks. Joe and Sammy’s story is a riveting look at the immigrant experience as well as a fascinating introduction to the golden age of comics.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Fiction) 1002 pages!
The biggest, baddest, and saddest of them all, Anna Karenina has been called both the greatest novel ever written and anineteenth century Russian soap opera. You decide! Anna, her serious husband Karenin, and her dashing lover Count Vronsky, make a tragic triangle set against the Russian societal taboos of the time. When Anna fights Karenin for a divorce and custody of their son, she comes up against the truth of her own helplessness. Get out your handkerchiefs!

Kelly Sprague, Main Library Circulation Department
Consider These, Oprah!

The library has launched its campaign to urge Oprah Winfrey to reconsider her decision to stop her on-air book club. To help with that effort, here are my suggestions for a few titles she could use to get the club rolling again.

Meeting Of The Waters by Kim McLarin. Fiction.
Meeting of the Waters is both a love story and a study of race in America. McLarin explores the fabric of relationships complicated by the haze of race. Divided allegiances, split loyalties, and the pain of confronting one's own prejudice fuel the emotional fire of this fine novel.

The Many Lives And Secret Sorrows Of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland. Fiction.
In this first of three novels inspired by the life of Josephine Bonaparte, Sandra Gulland spins a rich and detailed version of this historic figure's life. Told in the form of journal entries, Josephine's story begins in exotic little Martinico and leads across oceans to the drama of Europe in the time of Napoleon. This very engaging character has a remarkable tale to tell and tells it well. Happily, Gulland finishes the journey so nicely begun with Tales Of Passion, Tales Of Woe and The Last Great Dance On Earth.  

Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Fiction.
Empire Falls is a clear look at a hardscrabble Maine town through the eyes of a decent man. Miles Robey sees the web that previous generations have spun around him, and has to decide what to accept and what to reject from the way of life that his hometown offers. The characters spring to life for the reader, and the atmosphere of Empire Falls comes fully formed to the page. It is at once a very personal tale and a social commentary on smalltown America.  

Miriam Achenbach, Community Services Librarian
Twisted Sisters: The women in these books are all heroines in their own way…

Liar’s Club: A memoir by Mary Karr (B/Karr, M.)

About Liar’s Club, Molly Ivins wrote, “To have a poet's precision of language and a poet's insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astonishing event.” Mary Karr’s description of the childhood provided by her dangerously whimsical, hard-drinking mother and tough/sweet, hard-drinking father is breathtaking in its honesty. Followed by Cherry, the equally compelling story of Karr’s teen years.

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert (Fiction)

This engaging first novel revolves around eighteen year old Ruth Thomas, “an Austen heroine in a lobster boat.” Ruth is a sharp observer of the Maine island on which she lives, but doesn’t completely belong. On her return to her tiny native town after four years of boarding school, her time on the fringe of the social life, politics and family power plays around her give way to an almost inevitable, but nonetheless satisfying, conclusion.

“Anita Blake, Vampire Slayer” series by Laurell K. Hamilton (Fiction)

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living. She lives in a world peopled by humans, vampires, trolls, were-wolves, were-leopards, were-swans…well, you get the idea. In addition, she is one third of a potent triangle along with her lovers: suave master vampire, Jean-Claude, and Richard, “sexy boy-scout” leader of a were-wolf pack. To appreciate Anita’s evolution from simple zombie animator to potentially immortal power, start with Guilty Pleasures, the first in the series, and follow through all ten titles to the most recent, Narcissus in Chains. (Not for sissies, puritans, or those with a low tolerance for the undead.)

Carol Maloney, McAuliffe Branch Reference Department
Juneteenth
by Ralph Ellison. (Fiction)

Ralph Ellison spent decades building an elaborate narrative, rich with memory and loaded with the vernacular of the black church and jazz rhythm. When Ellison died in 1994, he left around 2,000 pages of manuscript for Juneteenth, his second novel. Ellison’s literary executor and editor, John Callahan, culled this tome into the story of two characters: Adam “Bliss” Sunraider, a white New England senator, and Alonzo “Daddy” Hickman, the black Baptist minister who is part paternal figure to “Bliss” and part political nemesis to Senator Sunraider. Yet when the Senator is wounded by an assassin’s bullet, it is Daddy Hickman who is summoned to the hospital, and it is in that room that the journey of memories begins. We learn of the pair’s shared past and struggle with them to figure their current predicament, both personal and political. Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865, is considered the day when the last slaves in American were freed, and for many African-Americans this date is as symbolic of freedom as the Fourth of July.

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg. (070.92/Bragg, R./Bragg)

In this memoir of his childhood struggles in the poverty of Alabama, Bragg illuminates the worst of white southern poverty, yet maintains a powerful respect for those who remain there, unable or uninterested in moving away as he did. Bragg’s story is alternately humorous, wistful, angry and at times sad and regretful, but always engaging. He recalls his mostly-absent, cruel, alcoholic father and the iron-willed mother who was left to raise three boys on the menial work she could string together between her husband’s brief appearances. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996, Bragg crafts a compelling story that is rich with imagery.

The Story of Jane by Catherine Cusset. (Fiction)

Jane Cook, professor of French at an Ivy League college, discovers an unsigned manuscript on her doorstep. This manuscript is a chronicle of Jane’s love life, from her one-night stands to her unsuccessful marriage. We read along with Jane, learning seemingly as she does at times of the range of her exploits. The device of story within a story successfully draws the reader into Jane’s quest to uncover the manuscript’s author, with Cusset’s own voice coming through the narrative as a commentary on self-image and self-knowledge.

Rebecca Berkowitz, Main Library Reference Department
Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women,
edited by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah (305.48)

Every school child knows that America is a nation of immigrants. But, for the many of us who are now generations removed from the immigrant experience, there is no collective memory. This book of essays written by first generation women immigrants returns us to the process of “becoming American." The twenty-three authors, regardless of race or ethnicity or the circumstances left behind, all experience America as home and not home. They strive to create an identity that remains unique even while they struggle with being different. Their backgrounds are quite varied and their countries of origin span the globe. Anyone could find much to think about and admire in their stories. 

The Unknown Errors of Our Lives by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Fiction.

“Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter” is my favorite story from this collection of nine short stories. A young man’s mother comes to visit him and his family in California. She is from India and brings with her vastly different customs and expectations. Divakaruni masterfully presents the disparity through the older woman’s eyes; her good intentions run amuck, her daughter-in-law's frustration, her grandchildren’s alienation, her son’s dilemma. She illuminates for us the eternal tug between tradition and change--a dichotomy even more exaggerated by the challenges of immigration to America from such a different culture.

Most of these stories address the conflicts created by familial love, duty and the havoc time wreaks with memory. They are beautifully written, each independent and satisfying.

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin. B/Godwin.

This “coming of age story” is a heart-gripping account of much of what happened in southern Africa in the second half of the twentieth century. Peter Godwin, a white boy born of English parents living in Africa, spent his childhood in Rhodesia in the waning days of white rule. He shares matter-of-factly his adventures and experiences in this land of wonders. Unfortunately as the political situation deteriorates, war ensues. Godwin and his family will feel its full impact and the reader will gain an unsentimental view free of nostalgia or hindsight of the bloody transition to majority rule and the birth of Zimbabwe. This is a noteworthy personal and historical saga, which remains sensitive, intelligent, insightful and humane even in the heart of darkness.

Maureen McCaffrey, Main Library Circulation Department
Bark If You Love Me
by Louise Bernikow. 636.7.

A not-so-classic girl-meets-boy story. Happily independent and single, writer Louise Bernikow has a chance encounter while running along the river in New York City that changes her life. She finds herself captivated by warm, dark brown eyes set in a ruggedly handsome face. He is homeless and she brings him into hers, breaking all her rules. She knows nothing about his past, nor what a future with him will bring, but there is something about the way he licks her hand and wags his tail that makes her fall in love at first sight with this four-legged boxer.

This is the delightful true tale of their first year together, getting to know each other and the world of dog-people, one that was completely foreign to her before. Libro, as she named him, changes Louise’s outlook on life and the world around her. He introduces her to the angst of parental separation when she leaves him for the first extended period, to comparison shopping for dog food and to early morning walks regardless of the weather. He broadens her social circle and eventually brings an introduction to another handsome stranger; this time the ruggedly handsome face belongs to a man.

It is a story filled with humor and fascinating characters, a wonderful romp through the streets of New York. It’s a grin from beginning to end.

Wish You Well by David Baldacci. Fiction.

In a departure from his usual thrillers, David Baldacci takes the story to coal country in the Appalachian Mountains. It is a coming of age for 12-year-old Lou Cardinal and her younger brother, Oz. Tragic circumstances cause them to be sent, with their ill mother, to live with their great-grandmother on the farm of their father’s childhood.

Lou has difficulty with her new environment; she greatly misses her beloved father and her life in New York City. Life in the post-depression 1940’s in the rural farming community is difficult, money and education are scarce. She struggles with learning to cope with no heat, no indoor plumbing and never-ending farm chores. All the while, she and her brother wait for their silent mother to return to them. Slowly, they adjust and begin to heal.

The story takes a turn when a large natural gas company tries to buy the farm, but Lou’s great-grandmother refuses to sell. With the powerful gas company and some of her greedy neighbors plotting against her, she digs in. Not all survive the ensuing battle, which, in true Baldacci style, ends in a gripping courtroom struggle.

Written in a gentle style, Wish You Well is rich with interesting characters and a storyline that keeps the pages turning.

Resistance by Anita Shreve. Fiction.

Set in a small farming village in south Belgium during World War II, the story is of love, survival, betrayal and the horror of war. Claire and Henri Daussois are part of the underground resistance, hiding and caring for Jews, Allied pilots and Belgian soldiers in their small farmhouse. Claire acts as nurse and interpreter.

A 10-year-old local boy finds a downed plane in the fields near the village. He discovers the pilot, Ted Brice, is seriously injured but still alive. The boy, Jean Benoit, turns to Mme. Daussois for help and she takes the pilot home to nurse him back to health, as she has done for so many others. While Henri is away, Claire hides Lieutenant Brice in their attic crawl space which is well hidden from the view of possible village collaborators.

In the midst of the nightmare of Nazi occupation, Claire and Ted find a love that is doomed from the beginning but which transforms their daily fear to a renewed hope for joy. They manage to forget the war for a brief time until it is brought back with a shocking suddenness and dreadful horror.

Anita Shreve transports you to the village. You feel fear for young Jean watching from a hiding place as Nazi soldiers kill villagers in an effort to locate the pilot. You experience the hope of the lovers, and the pain of betrayal.

It is a richly textured story. The ending will stay with you for a long time.

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    Reviewed in 2001

Sherry Baker, McAuliffe Branch Reference Department

Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan 
by Elizabeth Kim. 973.04957.

The child of a forbidden union between a Korean woman and an American soldier, Kim is considered a non-person in her culture. She relates a story of unimaginable suffering, including the "honor killing" of her beloved mother by family members as she watches in horror.

Lost Bird of Wounded Knee: Spirit of the Lakota by Renee Sansom Flood. B/Lost Bird/Flood.

Following the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, Lost Bird is taken as a "souvenir" by a Brigadier General Leonard Colby and raised by his suffragist wife Clara. This is a fascinating story of her tragic life, with much historical material about the women's movement-Clara was closely associated with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton-and the exploitation of Native American culture.

Road Song: A Memoir by Natalie Kusz. B/Kusz, N.

Modern pioneers, the Kusz family, including six-year-old Natalie, moves from Los Angeles to Alaska in 1969. Their story of struggle and hardship begins, during their first winter, with the mauling and near killing of Natalie by a neighbor's sled dog.

The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families by Mary Pipher. 306.85.

A psychologist explores how families have changed in the last 20 years, the new challenges parents face and ways families can become and remain strong.

Jackie Barillet, Circulation Department. February 2001

Open House by Elizabeth Berg. Fiction.

At the beginning of this quick, sweet story, a woman left by her husband is wallowing in self-pity. As she starts to come out of it, she tries a number of approaches, including opening her house to boarders and working different odd jobs, and the results become funnier and lighter. After some amusing twists and misunderstandings, she comes to a happy ending. 

Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult. Fiction.

A young Amish girl is accused of killing a baby. Drawn into this astounding situation is a worldly and disillusioned lawyer, who has to figure out what happened as well as try to help. As this fascinating plot unfolds, we think a good deal about how differently Amish people see the world and human relationships. The characters are diverse and appealing, the story touching, and you will probably be surprised at the end.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg. Fiction.

Liza, the nine-year-old heroine, is the daughter of brilliant parents but is considered a mediocre student until the spelling-bee season, when she wins one bee after another. During the upheaval this causes in her family, we are drawn into the inner worlds of Liza, her parents and her older brother. Her struggle to overcome the various family pressures and to find her own way is both heartwarming and uplifting.

Lying Awake by Mark Salzman. Fiction.

This small gem of a book tells the story of a nun whose visions of God are an inspiration to her sisters until the question arises whether they are related to a medical condition. The detailed portrayal of her day-to-day life and her experience of faith is vivid, luminous and deeply touching. The process of resolution could be thought-provoking and inspiring to readers of many backgrounds.

Phyllis Clopper, Main Library Circulation Department.

Code to Zero by Ken Follett. Fiction.

This is a fast-paced tale of espionage, conspiracy, the Cold War, the race for space, Harvard love and betrayal. Even the chapter headings add to the tension as they lead us to the lift-off of Explorer I from Cape Canaveral. Luke, a brilliant rocket scientist, wakes up in a train station with no memory of who he is or how he got there. His search for his identity is unique in its suspense as Luke manages to uncover his background and expose the conspiracy to undermine America’s space program. This intelligent thriller, with its memorable characters and great plot twists, is Follett at his best.

The Last Jew by Noah Gordon. Fiction.

In this remarkable historical novel of the Spanish Inquisition, Noah Gordon brings to life the adventures of a young man, alone in the world, who has vowed to honor his family and his faith by remaining a Jew. As Yonah Toledano zigzags across Spain to evade his Inquisitors, he earns his livelihood as shepherd, armorer, swordsman and finally as respected physician. The compelling story of Yonah's survival and his dual life as Old Christian and Secret Jew, the well-researched background, wonderfully drawn characters and a highly satisfying resolution all combine to make this an extraordinary work.

Death of Innocents by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. 364.1523/Firstman.

When a 1978 crib death triggers a criminal investigation of a family who has experienced multiple SIDS losses, the prosecutor uncovers a long history of deceptive medical studies, misguided research projects, a multi-million dollar SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) industry and probable murder. Husband and wife journalists, Firstman & Talan, have collaborated on a truly riveting and passionate true-crime narrative . 

Dating Big Bird. by Laura Zigman. Fiction.

This contemporary novel about a successful 35-year-old career woman who wants to have a child is handled with wit and wisdom. Ellen Franck’s dissatisfaction with her life, her complicated personal and professional relationships, her fervent desire to become a mother and the steps she considers to achieve her goal all make this an intelligent, touching and thought-provoking story.

The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas. 359.93/Maas.

In 1939 the US Submarine Squalus with 53 men on board was grounded on the ocean floor by a catastrophic malfunction of its equipment. This is the fascinating true account of the heroic rescue of the surviving submariners due to the genius and stubborn dedication of Swede Momsen, a Naval engineer who had spent most of his career developing equipment for just such a crisis. Peter Maas, a gifted investigative journalist, has made the reader an eyewitness to the desperate mission to rescue the doomed men.

Harriet Hodgdon, Circulation Department. January 2001

My Cat, Spit McGee by Willie Morris. 636.8.

Author Willie Morris (My Dog Skip) writes of his miraculous transformation from cat hater to cat lover. He is at once perplexed, mystified and awed as he immerses himself in cat personalities, human and feline, particularly his adored all-white cat, Spit. Informative for the "unenlightened"; a tender, amusing read for those already in love.

The PMS Outlaws by Sharyn McCrumb. Fiction.

Lawyers, oblivious and otherwise; old men with a past; young women with a grudge; psychiatric patients and husbands lost at sea connect three ongoing story lines with a fine balance of suspense, humor and compassion.

The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. Fiction.

A Dutch painting, perhaps by Vermeer, is the common thread binding the chapters of this sensitive book into a cohesive whole. Beginning in the present, the stories trace the painting back in time through its various owners to its inception. The revelations and insights of the characters are emotional and often heartbreaking. Well-written and captivating.

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen. 296.72.

An ontological physician and counselor, the author writes with deep feeling of the lifelong influence of her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi. Using stories and anecdotes, she distinguishes between helping and serving others and describes the joy of blessing others through word and deed.

Ruth Hurley, Main Library Circulation Department

Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding.  Fiction. 

Written before Fielding’s two Bridget Jones novels, Cause Celeb gives us another plucky heroine, who becomes a relief worker in Africa after leaving behind a job in London’s public relations world, and an unresolved relationship. When famine and a massive refugee influx threaten her camp, she organizes a celebrity fundraiser with both serious and comic results. A must-read for Bridget fans.

  Circle of Three by Patricia Gaffney.  Fiction. 

This is a warm novel about three generations of women living in rural Virginia. Carrie is dealing with grief and guilt after her husband’s unexpected death, Dana (Carrie’s mother) is dealing with her own marriage and old age, and Ruth (Carrie’s precocious daughter) is missing her father and trying to understand her life. It’s moving yet humorous as the three women learn more about themselves and each other.

  The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly.  979.929. 

As the host of the Fox Channel news program, O’Reilly takes on people, places, and things to reveal the state of America. Telling it like it is with insight and humor, he makes his book a fast read that makes you think.

  Acts of Malice by Perri O’Shaughnessy.  Fiction.

Nina O’Reilly is a tough but tenderhearted attorney practicing law in Nevada.  She takes a case defending a prominent member of a Tahoe Ski Resort family accused of murdering his brother.  Some characters from O’Shaughnessy’s previous books appear while Nina works a case that becomes one of her most terrifying.  The book moves at a breakneck speed, loaded with as many twists and turns as an expert ski trail!
 

Recommended by Sande Marchetti, Main Library Circulation Department

The mystery novel is a favorite genre with many of our patrons, including myself. Often in these books a recurring character, “the detective,” (investigative journalist, lawyer, forensic pathologist, etc.) will bring us instant recognition with each consecutive book. We feel ourselves back in familiar territory with an old friend. The following are three excellent examples of the best in this field.

Margaret Maron’s popular Judge Deborah Knott series is set in the Colleton County district of North Carolina. In Storm Track, the seventh book of this series, the residents are contending with dual threats. Hurricane Fran is gearing up offshore and the body of promiscuous Lynn Bullock is found strangled in the Orchid Motel. Judge Knott, the youngest of twelve children and the only girl, knows everyone in the county and is never shy about poking her nose in all manner of suspicious happenings. Maron immerses her readers in the colorful rural south where intertwined family histories are common knowledge and some old-timers, like Deborah’s unrepentant bootlegger father, still live by obsolete customs. As the storm bears down more bodies turn up and Deborah slowly learns the truth behind the killings. A rousing combination of natural disaster and creative narrative make this book a recommended read.

William Tapply’s likable lawyer/sleuth Brady Coyne is featured in an enjoyable series set in and around Boston. Preferring fishing to practicing law, nevertheless Brady always makes time for helping out his troubled friends. In Scar Tissue, the 17th in this series, Brady is called in when a friend’s son mysteriously dies in a car accident. Subtle investigations in the placid Boston suburb of Reddington soon unearth a cover-up by local authorities and another death, this one definitely a murder. Despite ominous warnings Coyne persists in his sleuthing, earning our admiration for his perseverance and integrity. 

Finally, a personal favorite of mine is Kathy Reichs’ Temperence Brennan. Tempe is a forensic anthropologist who in Fatal Voyage is once again called in to “tease posthumous tales from bones.” Investigating a plane crash in the Smoky Mountains, Tempe stumbles across a foot that doesn’t belong to any of the crash victims. When she tries to identify its owner, she’s smeared by a politician desperate to preserve the secrets of a group of power brokers who have gathered for years at a nearby hunting lodge. Something sinister is going on, and Tempe must unravel the mystery to save her reputation and her life. This is the fourth involving novel featuring this sleuth and I can only hope she will write more. 

Recommended by Paula Marsh, McAuliffe Branch Circulation Department

Stretching Lessons by Sue Bender. 291.4.

Stretching Lessons reacquaints us with the author of Plain and Simple and Everyday Sacred. Bender shares personal experiences whereby her spirituality has grown or “stretched.” Her simple essays are honest, clear and insightful. Anecdotes and affirmations abound. Simple illustrations add to the charm of this book that is inspiring as well as healing.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans. Fiction.

A quick read for the busy holiday season. Mary, a lonely, terminally ill widow, has a young couple, Rick and Keri, along with Jenna, their four-year-old daughter, move into the east wing of her Victorian mansion in exchange for household chores shortly before the holiday season. Their relationship develops into a special friendship while the enigma of the Christmas box allows Mary to share with Rick, a very busy young entrepreneur, “the first gift of Christmas.” This beautifully descriptive short story is a seasonal treasure. With Timepiece and The Letter, Richard Paul Evans continues to touch us with his trilogy of love.

The Diagnosis by Alan Lightman. Fiction. 

A disturbing commentary on modern day life set in Boston. Bill Chalmers, a junior executive for an information company, loses his memory and endures several terrifying mishaps. His memory returns and he is left with tingling in his arms. He makes an appointment with his doctor, who is unable to make a diagnosis despite many tests. Chalmers’ condition deteriorates, as does his world around him. His wife, Melissa, is having an Email affair with a married professor; his “computer geek” son, Alex, who is taking an E-class on Plato, is growing distant. The death of Socrates and Chalmers’ demise leaves the reader with much to ponder. A winner of the 2001 Massachusetts Book Award.

Trans-sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian. Fiction.

A fascinating look at sex reassignment surgery and a very private decision that turns public. Dana Stevens, a college professor in a small Vermont town, and Allie Banks, a long-divorced 6th-grade teacher, are a couple whose relationship is challenged by Dana’s transformation into a woman. Outside pressures cause Dana to appear on Vermont’s National Public Radio where Allie’s ex-husband, Will, is president. Provocative questions on gender, sexuality and relationships arise with Dana’s metamorphosis. Sensitive and caring, this book is informative as well as entertaining.

Recommended by Kristine McElman, Main Library Circulation Department.

The Public and Private Worlds of Elizabeth I  by Susan Watkins. B/Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

See a pair of Queen Elizabeth’s riding boots! Here is a unique portrait of this beloved queen, seen through the eyes of the people she knew, the great houses she lived in, the things she made, and the clothes she wore. This lavishly illustrated book gives you a glimpse of what this great lady’s life was like.

Daily Life in Elizabethan England  by Jeffrey L. Singman. Y942.055.

Did you know that in the late 15th century a pair of scissors cost the modern day equivalent of $12.00? That was one full day’s wages for the average farmer or soldier then. Go back in time to Elizabethan England, and see what kind of food people ate (includes recipes!), the games they played and how they lived.

Virgin: A Prelude to the Throne  by Robin Maxwell. Fiction.

This is an interesting retelling of what Queen Elizabeth’s life might have been like as a teenager. This well-researched volume explores how the teenaged princess handled her turbulent family life, social scandals and her stepfather’s attempted rebellion against her younger brother, King Edward VI.

Mary, Bloody Mary  by Carolyn Meyer. Y Fiction.

Princess Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII, is suddenly banished from her home when her father takes a fancy to the beautiful Anne Boleyn. Separated from her mother, Queen Catherine, young Mary must now be a serving maid to her new baby sister, Princess Elizabeth. Here is another fascinating look into the life of a teenaged Tudor royal, Princess Mary, who later becomes the queen known as Bloody Mary.

Recommended by Judy Noonan, Circulation Supervisor, Main Library

Survival – Fact and Fiction

Longings of Women by Marge Piercy. Fiction.

Leila Landsman is the pivotal character for the three very different women in this story. She becomes interested in Becky Burgess, who has murdered her husband with the help of her teen-age lover. While Leila is researching Becky’s case she employs Mary Burke as her housekeeper. Mary, who once lived a middle-class life, finds herself alone and homeless.  Each character will remind you of someone you know or have read about.

Woman of the House by Alice Taylor. Fiction.

Country life in Ireland is the setting for this novel. After the father of the family dies in an accident, the women of the family step up to be the strong influence. Trying to keep the house becomes the primary theme of the women. (If you like Catherine Cookson, this story will interest you.)

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. B/Ryan Family.

This biography has real-life humor and sadness. Evelyn Reed helps support her family by entering contests and writing jingles, a popular feature of commercialism during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Her winnings brought many essentials to this family of ten children.

A Cambodian Odyssey by Haing Ngor. 959.6.

A devastating story of a Cambodian doctor who survived the four years under the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. This book gives you an insight into the courage and the strength of what the human spirit and body can withstand.  

Recommended by Heather Pisani-Kristl, Young Adult Librarian

The "problem novel" is a staple of young adult literature, usually combining deep emotions and a serious life problem with a bittersweet ending. During Teen Read Week, consider reading one of these novels with a friend or parent and talking about the book afterward. You may find that you have different approaches to solving the central crisis, even while you feel for the characters.

Dancing in Cadillac Light by Kimberly Willis Holt (ages 10-14). Y/Fiction, J/Fiction.

Aunt Loveda says that Grandpap was crazy, but from what Jaynell can see, he just liked to do nice things for people. He gave the old homestead to the Pickens family, even though they’re so dirty that Mama won’t let Jaynell eat or drink anything that Lily Belle Pickens offers her. Jaynell knows that there’s another reason why her mother and aunt don’t like the Pickens, but with Grandpap gone, the truth is hard to find out.

Quinceañera Means Sweet 15 by Veronica Chambers (ages 11-15). Y/Fiction.

Marisol Mayaguez thinks that turning 15 may not be much fun after all. She and her mother don't have the money for the traditional quinceañera celebration, and even if they did, Marisol knows that her long-absent father won't be there to dance with her. Worse yet, her mejora amiga Magda has new friends who make fun of Marisol and her hard-working mother. But the Panamanian community in New York is close-knit, and Marisol soon finds that she has support from many people as she celebrates her womanhood.

You Don't Know Me by David Klass (ages 14-18). Y/Fiction.

"Among the Lashasa Palulu – that tribe that is not a tribe – it is considered wise to hide one’s weaknesses at all times, for enemies often disguise themselves as caring human beings. After all, if I told you what I suffer at the hands of the man who is not my father, you would never believe me, so I keep it to myself. When you see me at this school that is not a school, playing a tuba which is really a frog in disguise, dodging Mrs. Moonface’s algebra attacks, you think, ‘John’s doing just fine.’ But you don’t know me at all.”
 

Stephen Russell, Circulation Department. March 2001.

Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth. Fiction

Every day Charles Cleasby, amateur biographer, relives the events of Lord Horatio Nelson's life. Madly obsessed, Cleasby lives vicariously through Nelson and considers himself Nelson's 'land-shadow' stating: "I was his heir, I had inherited his being." Cleasby meticulously recreates each of Admiral Nelson's battles with model fleets on the very days and at the exact hours of the original conflicts. He is determined to disprove Nelson's involvement in the 1799 massacre of the Neapolitan republican leaders. Cleasby's madness becomes worse as doubts and questions begin to crack his divine image of Lord Nelson. Unsworth delicately balances both the comic and tragic aspects of a man's descent into madness and his twisted struggle to come out of the darkness. A taut, suspenseful psychological thriller with an unusually effective surprise ending.

A Close Run Thing by Allan Mallinson. Fiction

This novel follows the fortunes of young Matthew Hervey and Wellington's army during the last years of the Napoleonic wars. Mallinson recreates the life of a cavalry officer as war takes him from France to Ireland and eventually to Waterloo. Mallinson expertly portrays cavalry life on and off the battle field. An excellent and accurate historical adventure novel.

The Battle by Patrick Rambaud. Fiction

This historical novel follows a group of soldiers during the battle of Essling, Napoleon's first major defeat. The author creates engrossing scenes of combat which poignantly reveal the atrocities of war. A detailed depiction of an ambitious Napoleon produces a riveting novel.

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    Reviewed in 1999 and 2000

 

MIRIAM ACHENBACH, Community Services Librarian
These novels, based on the lives of real people, use language to enhance our understanding of the person and their times. 

The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby. Fiction.

Using waka, or coded poetry actually written by Murasaki and her circle as her starting point, Dalby recreates the eleventh-century life of this celebrated author of the Tale of Genji.

The Doctor by Patricia Duncker. Fiction.

The life of enigmatic British Surgeon General James Miranda Barry, who was born female, is told with a cool complexity that mirrors the personality Duncker imagines for him/her.

Abe: A novel of the young Lincoln by Richard Slotkin. Fiction.

This combination of Little House on the Prairie and Huck Finn for grownups pulls no punches as it brings alive the frontier life that shaped Lincoln's character. 

Other novels that tell the story of real or imagined characters in wonderfully reflective language include: The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur (King Arthur) by Bernard Cornwell; The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. and Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe (Josephine Bonaparte) by Sandra Gulland; Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner; The Gospel According to the Son (Jesus) by Norman Mailer; and Chang and Eng by Darrin Strauss.

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REBECCA BERKOWITZ, Reference Librarian

Shalimar by Rebecca Ryman. Fiction.

This is a good old-fashioned read set in late nineteenth century India and Central Asia. The story is chock full of romance and political intrigue. Ryman, who grew up in India, provides fascinating historical background about the conflicting interests of Russian and British imperialism in Asia and depicts her homeland and culture in luscious, vivid detail. 

A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed. 305.42/Ahmed.

Leila Ahmed grew up in a privileged family in Cairo Egypt during the 1940s and 1950s. She was educated at Cambridge in England and exposed to experiences as disparate as teaching in Abu Dhabi, Arabia and at U. Mass. Ahmed's personal memoir reveals Egyptian history and culture, the Islam of women, the assumptions of British imperialism, the prejudices of the west and the tensions of the Middle East. She writes with elegance and charm, intellectual integrity and an open heart. Ahmed's life is an incredible journey and she shares it generously.


All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald. 974.46.

On the face of it, this is one young man's story of growing up in a poor Irish family in South Boston in the seventies--the years in which the public schools were integrated via court-ordered busing. In fact, it is a powerful portrayal of family, community, local history, manipulation and betrayal. At once riotous and heartbreaking, MacDonald's story reminds us that things are rarely what they seem and the value of collective responsibility for setting things right cannot be overestimated. It is neither a vindication nor an indictment of a unique neighborhood in a tumultuous time, but a point of view which bears understanding as we continue to wrestle with issues of race and class in America.

The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth. Fiction.

Forsyth's compelling blend of fact and fiction about the War in the Gulf is a real page-turner. The Fist of God refers to a mysterious and powerful weapon being developed in Iraq, the discovery and destruction of which is the premise of this action-packed thriller. Espionage, politics, and military fireworks set in Washington, London, Baghdad and Kuwait provide a convincing tale of what might have happened in that dangerous time.

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THERESE CHASE, Circulation Department

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. 803.3/Year's. 

Published since 1988, this anthology is consistently excellent, filled with stories from genre and mainstream authors, new and established. Over the years, writers such as Robert Silverberg, Charles de Lint, Tanith Lee, A. S. Byatt, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Nancy Kress, Jane Yolen, Amy Tan, Stephen King, Jorge Luis Borges and many others have contributed stories to send the mind soaring and the flesh creeping.

The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. 828.

"Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light..." Anthropologist, naturalist, poet and philosopher, Loren Eiseley wove his magic through more than nine books and volumes of poetry, writing of his encounters with the natural world and the speculations to which it led him. His observations are as timeless as the Earth and Universe he wrote of in thought-provoking, often deeply moving prose. 

Howard's End by E.M. Forster. Fiction.

As an outsider living in Edwardian England, Forster was able to step back and observe the foibles and follies of society and human nature and write about how they influenced each other, with often disastrous results. Many people have seen the movie, but although well done, the film does not reveal everything Forster was trying to say about his theme. Separated more than ever from each other, we can still listen to Forster's message and take it to heart: "Only connect! ...Live in fragments no longer."

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. Fiction.

Readers of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre will remember the minor but significant character of "the madwoman in the attic." Jean Rhys took up that character, known as "Bertha" in the Bronte novel and revealed to us how this woman from a small Caribbean island came to marry an Englishman from the bleak moors of northern England, an event which ultimately leads to her own destruction. A vividly imagined tale of passion, possession and dislocation.

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PHYLLIS CLOPPER, Circulation Department

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English 
Dictionary
by Simon Winchester. B/Murray, J.A.H.

The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary spanned 70 years, from 1857 to 1920, required more than 400,000 complete entries and involved thousands of learned contributors. However this fascinating true narrative focuses on two men: the brilliant editor, Professor James Murray, a former bank clerk and schoolmaster, and his extraordinarily prolific contributor, Dr. William Minor, an American Civil War surgeon confined to Broadmoor, the asylum for the criminally insane. Simon Winchester has made the mysterious circumstances surrounding their 20-year collaboration stand out against the rich description of life in England and this remarkable literary achievement.

Loot by Aaron Elkins. Mystery.

A former museum curator is drawn into tracing the rightful ownership of a Vermeer painting stolen 50 years earlier from a convoy on its way to the Austrian Alps at the end of World War II. This is a fast-paced intelligent mystery that starts with the murder of a Boston pawnshop owner and takes the reader throughout Europe as Ben Revere investigates the world of stolen art treasures. Adding to our enjoyment is a romantic subplot, several plot twists, witty dialog and great descriptions of Boston.

Death of Innocents by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan. 364.1523.

When a 1978 crib death triggers a criminal investigation of a family who has experienced multiple SIDS losses, the prosecutor uncovers a long history of deceptive medical studies, misguided research projects, a multi-million dollar SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) industry and probable murder. Husband and wife journalists Firstman and Talan have collaborated on a truly riveting and passionate true-crime narrative.

Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander. Mystery.

Beginning with the suspicious suicide of Lord Goodhope in Blind Justice, Bruce Alexander has created a terrific series featuring Sir John Fielding, the blind English magistrate and real-life detective. The mysteries are chronicled by a fictional thirteen-year-old orphan who is the eyes of Judge Fielding, the co-founder of the Bow Street Runners and half-brother of novelist Henry Fielding. The author has successfully managed to blend fictional cases, authentic 18th-century London settings and likeable characters, both real and imaginary, who are wise and compassionate.

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JANET DRAKE, Circulation Department

The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil. 006.3.

Early in the next century, physically non-invasive technology will scan the human brain and nervous system for information processes, then download that information to an advanced neural computer, virtually reproducing that person's responses in the computer. To back up this and other visions, Ray Kurzweil takes the reader on a scientific, thought-provoking exploration of our rapidly accelerating technology, envisioning machines with capabilities that will surpass the human intelligence that created them.

Seeing a Color-Blind Future by Patricia Williams. 305.8.

How can it be that so many well-meaning white people don't think about race, while so few people of color pass a single day without being reminded of it? In this slender yet powerful book, Patricia Williams shows why it's so hard to talk about race, ethnicity, or class these days. As she examines quiet, unconscious forms of prejudice, myths, and the new rhetoric of racism that never mentions race, Williams illustrates how white America can go beyond the quick fix of "Just love one another." She offers deep insight, inspiration for serious discussion, and understanding that color-blindness is one of the biggest myths of all.

The Coffee Book by Gregory Dicum and Nina Luttinger. 338.1737.

Whether you're a lover of this ancient commodity or not, a fun and informative binge awaits you. Within these five chapters you'll journey from the 6th century A.D. to that ritual first cup you had this morning. Along the way, you'll see an amazing mosaic that includes coffee's connection to myth, healing, slavery, imperialism, profiteering, and environmental degradation. On a final and positive note, the authors examine how growing consumer demand for fair traded coffee is promising to balance environmental and human exploitation of conventional coffee trade. Altogether, this book can help you wake up and smell the coffee.

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TOM GILCHRIST, Director 

Offbeat Thrillers from the 1990s


The Caveman's Valentine by George Dawes Green. Fiction.

Romulus Ledbetter, a homeless schizophrenic who lives in a New York City park, fights a one-man battle against an evil-and imaginary-power broker who he believes controls the world. However, when he finds a corpse outside his cave in the park, Romulus becomes an unlikely and obsessive investigator and runs afoul of villains who are all too real.

The Monkey House by John Fullerton. Fiction.

In war-torn Sarajevo during the winter of 1993, police superintendent Rosso doggedly investigates the murder of a police informant, despite the many obstacles of living in a city under siege. This unique thriller provides a convincing snapshot of a society where all the rules governing a 'normal' life are suspended.

Buffalo Soldiers by Robert O'Connor. Fiction.

Specialist Ray Elwood, clerk of the battalion commander of the Fighting 57th, is a master manipulator of the Army bureaucracy-and a major heroin dealer. Violent, comic and mesmerizing, Buffalo Soldiers is both a dark and troubling satire of Army life in peacetime Germany and a deftly plotted crime novel written from the point of view of a strangely charming and manipulative crook.

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KAIA HENRICKSON, Young Adult Librarian

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Li Jiang. Y951.056.

Growing up in Chairman Mao's communist China, Ji Li Jiang believed in the communist party, and thought that Mao had China's best interests in mind. Then in 1966, with the start of the Cultural Revolution, everything changed. Suddenly, it was a crime to be intelligent, to come from a wealthy family, and to believe in the old traditions. Ji Li's family came under attack, not just by the party, but by neighbors and former friends. Ji Li could not even escape the persecution at school. Red Scarf Girl recounts those troubling years in Chinese history through Ji Li's eyes, and tells the story of the most horrible decision she would ever have to make.

Shiva's Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples. Y/Fiction.

On the day of Parvati's birth, crows speak, elephants charge, and a cyclone ravages her village in India. Soon the townspeople notice that Parvati is no ordinary child (her dancing quiets cobras and keeps flames from burning her skin), and they become both suspicious and fearful of her. When she turns thirteen a dance master offers her a place in his school. Dancing means everything to Parvati - it is her dharma, the path she was born to follow. But going with the dance master means she must leave her family and she may not be able to see them again until she is a grown woman. Will she make the right decision? 

The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin. Y/PB.

David killed his girlfriend. The fact that it was accidental and that he's been acquitted of her murder does not matter to him at all. Now he needs a place to get away from the media attention and finish his senior year of high school. His aunt and uncle in Massachusetts have reluctantly invited him to live with them for a year. What David doesn't know is that Lilly, his eleven-year-old cousin, harbors a secret even greater than his own. Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.

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HARRIET HODGDON, Circulation Department

Love and Eccentricities: Fiction with Heart

Eccentric characters fill these stories. They live in small towns everywhere. By the genuineness of their lives, they free others to respond in their own idiosyncratic ways, setting off events, bringing out kindnesses, and opening doors of compassion. Their stories unfold through these interactions, leaving the readers more accepting of themselves and others, and more at home wherever they live.

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani. Fiction.

Ava Maria Mulligan, a self-proclaimed spinster of 35, lives in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When she finds out a long-hidden family secret, her well-ordered life is turned around. She is finally able to see that she has always been surrounded by people who love her. Heart-warming and compassionate.

Marrying Mom by Olivia Goldsmith. Fiction.

What do three grown children, all with humorously troubled lives of their own, do when their opinionated, embarrassing, widowed mother returns from Florida to be with them? Now is the time for "Operation Geezer Quest," a plan to marry off Mom to a millionaire and solve everyone's problems at once. Laugh-out-loud funny.

The Notebook of Lost Things by Megan Staffel. Fiction.

A widowed mother and two small children flee the horrors of bombed-out Dresden in World War II, thinking they are coming to Paris, New York, to join a distant relative. Instead they move in with a lonely bookseller, a dwarf, with whom they become family, each one filling in the other's empty spaces.

Second Hand by Michael Zadoorian. Fiction.

Richard is the humorously self-deprecating, yearning, philosophical owner of Satori Junk, a second-hand store just outside of Detroit. His mother dies, leaving him a basement of memories, just as he's falling for Therese, a fellow junk-hound. Together, Richard and Therese share their love of castaways of all kinds, and find a way to view love and loss.

Other books to help soften your view of the world:

Bob the Gambler by Frederick Barthelme. Fiction.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Fiction.
Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik. Fiction.

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KRIS McELMAN, Circulation Department - Historical Mysteries

The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb. Mystery.

Great historical mystery set in 14th-century England. Owen Archer (formerly Captain of Archers) learns how to spy for the Lord Chancellor of England. This warrior-turned-sleuth goes undercover in York as an apprentice to an apothecary and finds obsession, love, and murder in this gripping historical mystery.

The Queen's Man by Sharon Kay Penman. Mystery.

The Year is 1193; Eleanor of Aquitaine sits on the throne of England. Her dear son, King Richard Lionheart, is presumed dead and rumors spread that her other son, John, plans to seize the crown. Meanwhile, while on the road from Winchester, a young Justin de Quincy stumbles upon a roadside attack. One of the victims, a goldsmith by the name of Gervase Fitz Randolph, makes a dying request to Justin to deliver an important letter to the queen with news of her son, King Richard.

Death Comes as Epiphany by Sharan Newman. Mystery.

Catherine LeVendeur is a young woman sent to the Convent of the Paraclete to tame her willfulness and independent spirit. Yet, it is just those qualities that enable her to help uncover a plot involving evil priests, stolen jewels, and murder. Set in 12th-century France, this book gives the reader an interesting look at everyday life in medieval times.

Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland. Mystery.

In 17th-century Japan, Sano Ichiro, a former teacher, now a reluctant detective, must investigate the apparent ritual suicides of a noblewoman and a peasant artist. Shinju is the Japanese word for double-love suicide and there is more to this pair of tragic deaths than meets the eye. It is up to Sano Ichiro to solve this mystery and maintain his family honor.

To Shield the Queen by Fiona Buckley. Mystery.

Introducing Ursula Blanchard, a recently widowed young mother who becomes a Lady of the Presence Chamber to Queen Elizabeth I. Early in her reign, Queen Elizabeth makes use of Ursula to help solve a mystery. Ursula soon finds herself in the middle of court intrigues, and uncovers a plot that could disgrace her majesty.

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JULIE MELLY, Collection Development Librarian

When Venus Fell by Deborah Smith. Fiction.

Deborah Smith's latest book is filled with unconventional characters and unusual plot twists. In the beautiful mountains of Tennessee, Venus and her sister try to regain trust after years of being hounded by government agents. Southern backgrounds and strong family loyalties are featured in Smith's previous novels as well. In A Place to Call Home the two central characters, coming from opposite sides of the track, form a bond that a lifetime of family pressures can't break.

Rose's Garden by Michele Leber. Fiction.

This is a deeply touching, beautifully written debut about a New Hampshire man recently widowed. After a 50-year marriage, he is absolutely lost without his wife, especially since she was his social contact with the town. A visit from an angel changes his life, making him want to share his story with others. He becomes less of a recluse and forms relationships with people in the community.

Eminence by Morris West. Fiction.

Morris West, the prolific writer of turmoil in the Catholic Church, focuses on the election of a pope in the new millennium. With all the warring factions in today's world, who will be the next pope? Will it be the controversial and dynamic priest whose colorful past includes a love affair with a woman who once again becomes part of his life? With a fast-moving story line, Eminence also presents many timely issues to ponder.

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JUDY NOONAN, Circulation Supervisor

When you need a mystery fix and you've read all of Robert Parker...try these!

Rick Boyer

Having won the prized Edgar award for his first novel, Billingsgate Shoal, Rick Boyer has written several books with Doc Adams, an oral surgeon, as the principle character. Each story is based in Concord, where he lives with his beautiful wife Mary and their almost-grown sons. The reader will recognize many local areas in the stories. 

Philip Craig

He writes a mystery series featuring J.W. Jackson, a former Boston cop who now lives on Martha's Vineyard. It combines the local geographical interest with humor, fishing, good food and family values. Each book has a different focus, which gives variety to the series.

Robert Crais

The author won the Edgar Award for his first book, Monkey's Raincoat. The main character, Elvis Cole, is a Vietnam veteran who has become an LA private eye. His novels are fast-moving and take you inside crime on the west coast.

Sue Henry

Alaska is the setting for this series. Her first book, Murder on the Iditarod Trail, gives the reader factual and historical information about this famous race. State trooper Alex Jensen and his girl friend, Iditarod musher Jessie Arnold are the continuing character links in the books.

Charles Knief

John Caine, a retired naval officer, is introduced in Diamond Head. He is a private investigator who spends his time in California, Hawaii, and the waters in between. His tour of duty spent in Vietnam definitely impacts his personality and experiences in the books.

William Tapply

Brady Coyne is a Boston lawyer who would rather fish than settle lawsuits or negotiate contracts. In fact you will find Brady's name appearing in the other local-based mysteries when fishing is involved. He is a very likable character with many familiar area settings.

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KITTY SCHACHT, Children's Department

Good books for ages 9 to 12

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley. J/Fiction/Fantasy.

Corinna has disguised herself as Corin, because only boys can be Folk Keepers. One day she is summoned mysteriously from the Rhysbridge Home for orphans and sent off to Cliffsend, a huge house by the sea. There the Folk who live underground are especially fierce, and there are other dangers above-ground. Some people seem to know Corinna's secrets, even some secrets she herself does not know the answers to. Who is Corinna really, and where did she come from? The Folk Keeper is spooky, mysterious, and compelling, and Corinna is a heroine that the reader won't soon forget. Ms. Billingsley's first book, Well Wished, is also excellent. 

The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw. J/Fiction/Fantasy.

Moql has spent all of her short life living among the Folk - fairies who live beneath the moors - but everything changes when it is discovered that she cannot make herself invisible. Because her father was human, Moql is only half Folk, and an outcast. The Folk send Moql up to the village as a changeling named Saaski, and there she forgets who she was and where she came from. Still an outcast, Saaski struggles to fit in, but the villagers blame her for every misfortune and threaten her human family. How Saaski finds the courage to set things right in the village, rescue her family's real child from the Folk, and find a place for herself in the world makes an exciting and moving story. A Newbery Honor Book.

The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris. J/Fiction.

A chance meeting with the famous knight Gawain changes Terence's life forever. He leaves the woods where he grew up and goes to King Arthur's court to become Gawain's squire. There Terence enters into a world of knightly excitement, enchantment, and danger. The Squire's Tale is a funny, thrilling story that will appeal to anyone interested in King Arthur and the age of chivalry. The sequel, The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady, is terrific as well.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. J/Fiction.

Dragged from the King's dungeons to take part in a mysterious and top-secret quest, master thief Gen finds himself thrust into an adventure that will prove to be the ultimate test of his thievery skills. Gen and his companions, the King's powerful Magus, his two apprentices, and a bodyguard, struggle to keep their mission secret, and to keep their own secrets from each other. With plenty of excitement along the way, the plot twists and turns to a surprising conclusion. A Newbery Honor Book.

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MARY WASMUTH, Assistant Director

Hit Man by Lawrence Block. Fiction. 

Prolific mystery writer Lawrence Block creates a unique new protagonist in Keller, a hit man enduring a midlife crisis. In linked short stories, the poor guy tries therapy (spectacularly unsuccessful), finds and loses a dog and a girlfriend, and takes up stamp collecting--all in between trips to kill a stranger or two. Funny, satisfying, and completely original.

They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell. Fiction. 

This 1937 semi-autobiographical novel creates a subtle, moving portrait, through the eyes of two boys and their father, of the woman who is the emotional center of a complex family, and whose death in the 1918 influenza epidemic is completely devastating. If you enjoy fine, unflashy writing, try any novel by this wonderful writer.

Bad Land: An American Romance by Jonathan Raban. 978. 

Drawing on descendents' accounts, official records, and his own acute observation, Mr. Raban heartwrenchingly evokes a nearly forgotten American tragedy--the government program that lured hopeful families to homesteads in the arid Montana prairie, where their dreams were destroyed.

Devil's Dream by Lee Smith. Fiction. 

This entertaining saga traces the history of the eccentric, musical Bailey family from 1830s Appalachia to modern Nashville. Each chapter brings to life the distinct voice and story--tragic, funny, or just plain odd--of a different character to weave the spellbinding story of one family, and of the roots of American music.

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SYLVIA WEBB, Reference Department, McAuliffe Branch

Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. Fiction.

Little Green Men is a comedy laced with more than a little political satire. It concerns John Oliver Banion, a popular TV talk show host whose pampered life is thrown into upheaval when he is abducted by aliens, not once - but twice! A concurrent plot has to do with a government worker who becomes a wanted man because of his part in initiating the abductions. Then, there is an appearance by Banion at a UFO believers convention. This is a very, very funny and clever novel--a good summer read!

The Golden Summers by Richard O'Connor. 974.5.

For almost a quarter of a century (1890-1914, when the income tax laws were born), Newport, Rhode Island, was the favorite playground of the rich and royal, who built their marble "summer cottages" full of European antiquities and entertained lavishly. The Golden Summers is a social history of those years, full of interesting anecdotes about the owners and guests, their parties and personalities, and their quirks and intrigues. Anyone who has visited the Breakers or others of the Newport mansions or plans to do so will find this book highly entertaining and informative. It was written in 1974 by O'Connor, author of many historical and biographical works.

Land Girls by Angela Huth. Fiction.

The setting for this novel is England in 1941. John and Faith Lawrence own a farm and need help to run it because their farmhands have been called to serve their country in World War II. They apply for help through the government Land Army Plan, and receive three "land girls" who share an attic room on the farm and learn farming - hands on. Prue is a hairdresser from Manchester; Agatha, a brainy Cambridge undergraduate; and Stella, a dreamy Surrey girl. Land Girls is the poignant, intelligent, and often heartbreaking account of their first summer together in which they become firm friends despite their different backgrounds and expectations. This is a novel with wit, charm and emotion, and an interesting look at the World War II rural home front in England. A video is also available in both branches.

Back to current Staff Recommends Page

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