Staff Recommends 2006



You'll find many more ideas in the Reader Services Page, the Fiction Booklist Section and among our previous Staff Recommendations.

Recommended by Paula Marsh, McAuliffe Branch Circulation Department
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Fiction.
Born in 814 AD to an English father and Saxon mother, Joan learns to read and write from her oldest brother, despite the fact that she is female. She runs away to join John, her other brother, who has been sent off to Dorstadt to study. When John is killed in a Viking attack, Joan assumes his identity to study at a Benedictine Monastery and eventually becomes Brother John Anglicus, a scholar and healer who heads for Rome and the Papacy. Romance, suspense and adventure fill this fictional tale.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. Fiction.
1000 Horses for 1000 Brides - this federally sponsored program frees May Dodd from the insane asylum where her family placed her for loving a man beneath her class. The women show incredible courage, wit, and humor as they take on their roles as brides for Cheyenne warriors. Life on the prairie, as recorded in May's diary, is rich with Indian culture as well as political and religious issues that still exist today. The premise is both factual and entertaining.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Fiction.
Living in rural nineteenth-century China are Lily and Snow Flower, "laotong" or "old sames," joined for life. Expounding with details of duty and ceremony unique to the Chinese culture, this is a story of friendship. A fascinating look at a way of life that women endured not so long ago. 

Recommended by Carol Ames, Circulation Department
Kindred
by Octavia Butler [FICTION]
Would you save the life of the owner who enslaved your family? Dana confronts this dilemma when she is transported from her twentieth-century life in California back to the antebellum South. She repeatedly is pulled away, returned to situations that enable her to save Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner. During her increasingly dangerous tenure as a slave, Dana understands the strength required of her ancestors, and that her modern life has not prepared her for such brutality. Her ancestor Alice attempts escape but is captured, beaten, sold as a slave, and raped by Rufus. But while Dana returns to tend to Alice, she also continues to save Rufus, because in doing so she ultimately ensures her own birth. Although Butler uses the science-fiction device of time travel to tell this story, the novel is not standard Sci-fi fare. It presents a compelling dilemma.

Halfway House by Katherine Noel [FICTION]
High-school swim star and ace student Angie Voorster appears flawless. Yet, unexpectedly, she suffers a psychotic break. After a series of hospital stays, halfway houses, and medication merry-go-rounds, she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In a narrative told in turn from the perspective of each family member, the unraveling of Angie's stability frays the edges of everyone's psyche. Father Pieter becomes more distant; mother Jordana seeks solace in the arms of a younger man; and younger brother Luke drops out of college to stay close to Angie. 

Noel's narrative is compelling. She draws the reader in as Angie and her family endure the labyrinth of mental illness: from her manic and depressive episodes to a lithium overdose, and eventually her return home to a "normal" life. 

Blood Memory by Greg Iles [FICTION]
Cat Ferry, an alcoholic forensic odontologist, is contracted by the New Orleans Police Department to work on a disturbing serial-murder investigation: the killer leaves bite marks on the victims. But she retreats to Malmaison, her family home in Natchez, Mississippi, when she learns she is pregnant by her married lover and partner, Sean Regan. Here an alternate plot line takes shape, as Cat discovers old bloody footprints in her childhood bedroom. This discovery sparks dormant memories of abuse and violence. While tracking the serial killer in New Orleans, Cat also searches for answers to the questions that surround the suspicious shooting death of her father 23 years ago. The two investigations are brought to close in an exciting and surprising climax.

Recommended by Judith Rosenbaum, McAuliffe Library Circulation Staff
Nervous Water by William Tapply. Mystery.
Brady Coyne, Boston lawyer and avid fisherman, is surprised to receive a call for help from his Uncle Moze, a taciturn Maine lobsterman. Terminally ill and anxious to make amends with his estranged daughter Cassie before he dies, Moze became concerned when she doesn't return his phone calls. Brady meets with Richard, Cassie's new husband, who confirms that she is missing but seems strangely unaffected by her disappearance. Learning that Richard's two previous wives died under suspicious circumstances, Brady becomes alert to "nervous water" - a fishing term that describes the way the ocean appears just before a school of fish strikes. As he unravels the past, Brady discovers a long-buried family secret: the unsolved murder of another of his uncles. When Moze is beaten and suffers a heart attack, the search for Cassie becomes more intense. 

Readers of the Brady Coyne series will relish this easy-reading, satisfying mystery all the more for its familiar Boston and Maine settings.

The Husband by Dean Koontz. Fiction.
Landscaper Mitch Rafferty's fledgling landscape company is just beginning to attract clients, and money is very tight. He's deeply in love with his wife, Holly, and they are hoping to start a family. One perfect morning, as he and his assistant plant flowers for a client, Mitch receives a heart-stopping cell phone call: Holly has been kidnapped, and Mitch has 72 hours to ransom her for $2 million, an absurd amount of money for an ordinary guy whose bank account is nearly empty. To reinforce the kidnapper's intentions, a seemingly random dog-walker is shot and killed before Mitch's stunned eyes. Having no hope of raising the ransom money and becoming frantic, Mitch confides in his brother, who shocks Mitch with an offer to give him the full amount. The story rockets on from there, complete with a dogged but compassionate detective; Mitch's bizarre, abusive parents; and a brother who is the opposite of what a horrified Mitch has always believed. 

Cold Moon by Jeffrey Deaver. 
NYPD criminalist Lincoln Rhyme is challenged by a sadistic serial killer self-named The Watchmaker. His calling card is a clock left at the crime scene along with a poem that suggests future killings to come - killings that will be carried out in ways that will prolong the victim's suffering. Injured in the line of duty, Rhyme is a quadriplegic who has the use of only one finger. His specially equipped apartment makes it possible for Rhyme to continue to work as an investigator for the city. 

With the help of his partner and long-time love Amelia, his vast knowledge of forensics, and the use of voice-activated computers and cutting-edge technology, Rhyme sets to work tracking down the cunning Watchmaker. An intricate plot, great character development, and realistic dialogue make this one of Deaver's most complex Rhyme thrillers.

Recommended by Jane Peck, McAuliffe Branch Librarian
The Coroner's Lunch
by Colin Cotterill (Fiction Mystery)
A magical and mystical mystery set in Laos in the 1970s introduces Dr Siri Paiboun, who has been named the country's chief coroner due to the lack of any other candidates. Dr Siri is in his seventies, has a plump, homely nurse and a down's syndrome assistant and is expected to solve a political killing without noticing the political ramification and without equipment for performing autopsies properly. Political satire, gentle humor, a stunning setting, and unforgettable characters make this book a winner. Sequels include Thirty-three Teeth and Disco for the Departed.

Piece of My Heart
by Peter Robinson (Fiction Mystery)
This mystery follows the band "The Mad Hatters" from a concert in the 1960s where a woman is murdered to the present-day murder of a journalist working on a freelance article about the now-classic rock band. In the course of the twin narratives, the ugly side of the swinging sixties is uncovered. Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks and Annie Cabbot link the two murders and uncover more than they bargained for as they investigate the two murders. Fast paced and tightly woven this is a great story for rock fans and mystery lovers. Read other Detective Chief Inspector Banks mysteries, including Blood at the Root, Cold is the Grave, and A Dedicated Man.

One Step Behind
and Before the Frost by Henning Mankell (Fiction Mystery)
Henning Mankell is a Swedish author whose main characters, father Kurt Wallander and daughter Linda, solve serious crimes in Ystad, Sweden. Some books feature Kurt and others Linda but they appear in each other's stories. This dynamic makes for an added emotional component. The books are cleverly plotted and the descriptions of Sweden and the cold are a welcome change from our broiling summer. Mankell makes you feel the cold and the snow that influences so much of the stories. 

One Step Behind focuses on a ritual killing and the involvement of a fellow officer investigated by Kurt. Before the Frost follows Linda, who has just graduated from the police academy and is hoping to move into her own apartment. In the meantime she is living with her father and they are driving each other crazy. Soon she is investigating the disappearance of an old friend and her Dad is investigating a series of animal killings. The cases converge as daughter and father work together to solve the mystery. Read other Kurt Wallander mysteries, including Dogs of Riga and Faceless Killers.

Recommended by Millie Gonzales, Reference Librarian
When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today by Harvey Cox (232.9 Cox)
For fifteen years, Harvey Cox taught the course "Jesus and the Moral Life" to Harvard University's undergraduates. Cox underestimated the interest in a course on Jesus and morality. He was surprised each year as of his classes overflowed with students from various religious denominations. The book is a memoir about his recollections on how he structured the course throughout the years and of his student's reactions to the moral dilemmas he posed. Cox asserts that the stories about Jesus and the parables Jesus told are relevant today. These stories help Christians and non-Christians work through contemporary moral problems. Among other issues, Cox discusses the use of torture and the popularity of the end-time theology. There is even a mock retrial of Jesus with a guest appearance from Alan Dershowitz as defense counsel. 

A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration Of The World's Religions Seen Through The Eyes Of Children by Laura Buller (J200 Buller)
A Faith Like Mine is a children's book on the diversity of religion that both children and adults can enjoy. I got a sense of what makes each religion special through personal accounts from children, and stunning photography. Buller presents Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Sikhism's main tenets, symbols, rites of passage, holidays and special events. As I read about these religions, I was surprised and reassured to see more similarities amongst religions rather than differences.

An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned But Probably Didn't by Judy Jones & William Wilson (031.02 2006 Jones)
In a newly revised edition, An Incomplete Education presents key information on a number of topics you may have learned in college and subsequently forgotten. The book is organized by the following subjects: American Studies, Art History, Economics, Film, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Science and World History. Jones and Wilson explain complex topics in an easy-to-understand, enjoyable, and witty manner. One of my favorite sections of the book provides an overview of a country, its system of government and what one needs to know if one is dating a person from this country.

Recommended by By Lisa Taranto, Reference Specialist, McAuliffe Library
For Lovers of Letters: Epistolary Fiction and Literary Correspondence
Lady Susan by Jane Austen (Fiction)
The epistolary novel was popular in the eighteenth century, and Jane Austen's first mature work was a brilliant foray into this genre. In her letters, beautiful, ruthless Lady Susan candidly reports her conquests-including an affair with a married man-and complains about her daughter, Frederica. Meanwhile, timid Frederica is horrified by her mother's manipulative schemes. Jane Austen's characteristic wit will not fail to delight.

Sorcery and Cecelia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer (Fiction)
This modern work of epistolary fiction, set in 1817 England, adds a twist of fantasy and romance to the mix. Two cousins correspond with each other on the subject of family, gentlemen friends, and evil wizards. The plot thickens when they find themselves solving a mystery and contending with the evil witch Miranda. Intriguingly, the two authors started this book by playing a letter game-the witty prose and clever plot twists that resulted make this an engagingly fun book.

Also try World's Greatest Letters, compiled by Michelle Lovric (808.86 World's). 

For advice on writing letters for all occasions, try Lifetime Encyclopedia of Letters by Harold E. Meyer (808.6 Meyer).

Recommended by Kristine McElman, Periodicals Supervisor
Things to do with PAPER!
There are so many wonderful things you can do with paper. Draw on it, paint it, cut it, glue stuff to it, fold it, stamp it, and even sculpt it! The possibilities are endless! Listed below are some of many fine titles the library has on this versatile material.

Creative Collage Techniques by Nita Leland and Virginia Lee Williams (702.81)
If it can be glued to paper this wonderful book will tell you how to make it stick.

Vintage Paper Crafts by Anna Corba. (745.54)
Anna Corba uses old photographs, antique greeting cards and other ephemera to create one of a kind pieces of art and decorate household items. You will never look at a yard sale or thrift store the same way again.

The Pop-Up Book by Paul Jackson. (745.54)
With a few cuts and simple folds you can make a surprising pop-up greeting card your friends will remember.

Altered Books, Collaborative Journals and Other Adventures in Bookmaking by Holly Harrison. (702.81)
Learn techniques for altering everyday books into personalized journals you will treasure.

Urgent 2nd Class: Creating Curious Collage, Dubious Documents, and Other Art from Ephemera by Nick Bantock. (745.54)
Artist and author of the Griffin & Sabine books shares some of his secrets for creating unique collages and mail art. Check out his other books for fine examples of the potential of this medium.

The Decorated Page: Journals, Scrapbooks & Albums Made Simply Beautiful by Gwen Diehn. (745.593)
This lovely book has many examples of creative ways to record those treasured memories. 

Brave On The Rocks: If You Don't Go, You Don't See by Sabrina Ward Harrison. (158.1084)
This book is great for folks who like to get messy! This book is an actual journal as written and illustrated by Ms. Harrison as she travels to Italy to rediscover herself. The artwork in this book gives you permission to create a beautiful mess.

The Main Library also has two great new magazines devoted to paper arts and scrapbooking: Somerset Studio and Simple Scrapbooks. Be sure to stop by the Periodicals Department for a look at these excellent magazines.

Recommended by Rebecca Berkowitz, Reference Librarian
Two By Don J. Snyder
The Cliff Walk: A Memoir of a Job Lost and a Life Found. (B Snyder, D.Snyder)
A popular but untenured professor at a prestigious university loses his job. He is married with three small children and a fourth expected. So begins an odyssey that results in a completely different life. A poignant memoir filled with hubris and humility.

Of Time and Memory: A Mother's Story. (B Snyder, D.Snyder)
Don Snyder's mother died when he and his twin brother were sixteen days old. Raised in a family that never spoke of their mother or her death, Snyder gave little thought to the matter until he reached middle age. With his father in declining health but willing to help, Snyder sets out to recreate his mother's life and try to discover who she was. It is a bittersweet story told with great tenderness and beautifully crafted glimpses into everyday family life. 

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. (Fiction)
Brooks weaves a compelling tale of a year's time in a rural English village circa 1660. It is loosely based on the historic fact that when plague spread through this area, the local minister convinced the townsfolk to voluntarily quarantine themselves until the epidemic was spent. Well-drawn characters embody the best and worst in human nature. Unexpected plot twists keep the reader totally involved.

Pears on A Willow Tree by Leslie Pietrzyk (Fiction)
The story begins starts with a recipe for pierogi and ends with one for poppy-seed cake. In between, four generations of Polish-American women talk, cook, argue, sew, tell stories, understand and misunderstand each other in the way that only mothers and daughters can. The novel explores the issues of immigration and assimilation, nostalgia and modernity with which millions of American families have grappled. Pears on a willow tree refers to the universal longing for that which we cannot have. Read the book and find out why! 

Recommended by Mary Wasmuth, Collection Development Librarian
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro. (Fiction)
At the English country boarding school where Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grow up, the students are frequently reminded of how special they are. The reader, however, sees that they are in fact deeply deprived, both materially and also of any touch of adult affection. In this parched world, the three children develop an intricate, caring friendship that survives into the terrible adult roles ordained for them. This quietly devastating portrait of a strange but plausible social order opens readers' hearts to the characters' tragic fates, in which we may ultimately see a reflection of our own condition. 

Changing Places by David Lodge. (Fiction)
This historical novel is set in that quaint far-off year 1969, when brash, successful Euphoric State (read Berkeley) professor Morris Zapp and plodding University of Rummidge (aka Birmingham, England) professor Philip Swallow exchange positions for a year. Both their worlds turn upside down. Philip is met with sunshine, landslides, feminism, student rebellion, and the sexual revolution. Morris encounters dampness, incomprehensible colleagues, and a deplorable lack of amenities. Each encounters the other's wife. Quotes from a helpful tome called Let's Write a Novel make a hilarious running commentary as the action spirals wildly out of control.

Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley. (Fiction)
My favorite of the always-strong mysteries featuring unlicensed P.I. Easy Rawlins, Little Scarlet is set in the days after the 1965 Los Angeles riots. A police detective approaches Easy to help the L.A. Police Department investigate, in this racially charged atmosphere, the murder of a black woman, Little Scarlet, found dead after a white man escaped into her building from the angry mob that pulled him from his car. The mystery's plot is riveting, and the setting--a time when no one can rely on the old assumptions about how the races relate to each other--is original and eye opening. 

Recommended by Harriet Weiner, Main Library Circulation Department
Flesh
by Hollis Seamon. (Mystery)
Flesh is about a woman of abundance in both heart and size. Written with elements of mystery, fantasy, eroticism, and academia, the main character Suzanne fills the book with her lusty take on life. When one of her lovers apparently commits suicide, the chain of events suggests to Suzanne that there is great evil involved, and soon the reader sees that she is innocently at its core. Suzanne is also a graduate student doing her thesis on cannibalism, which provides an interesting foil for this hungry character.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. (Fiction)
Smithy Ide is a three-hundred-pound, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, lost-in-the-world, forty-three-year-old man. His parents have both died as a result of an accident, and his long-lost but much-loved schizophrenic sister has been identified in a Los Angeles morgue. Smithy finds his old beat-up Raleigh bicycle in the garage, and sets out from Maine in the direction of LA, not yet understanding that he is on a quest. As he struggles to ride across the country, he meets every sort of person and at the same time whittles himself away to find the deeply loving and endlessly forgiving man he has always been.

Sight Hound by Pam Houston. (Fiction)
Sight Hound is a book about love in all its mutations, but most movingly between a strong but insecure woman named Rae and her beloved three-legged Irish Wolfhound Dante. When Dante is diagnosed with cancer, Rae's devotion has no boundaries, and she shows her love for him without reserve. Dante, very much a three-dimensional character in the book, feels he must teach Rae to love herself and to be more courageous in her complicated relationships with people. Dante's views on his adored person are simple yet deep, and show an understanding of love in its purest form. 

Recommended by Jenny Allen, Circulation Department
Bread and Dreams by Jonatha Ceely. (Fiction)
This is the sequel to Ms. Ceely's first novel, Mina, and explores the life of the young Irish girl, Mina Pigot, after she finally reaches America on one of the last sailing ships to make the voyage. Once again the fine historical scholarship and masterful storytelling combine to make this novel as compelling as its predecessor. New York City and then upstate New York become vibrantly alive as we follow the twists and turns of Mina's fortunes and learn more about the immigrant experience. To really enjoy this novel, be sure to read Mina first.

Saturday by Ian McEwan. (Fiction)
In what will undoubtedly become a post-9/11 fiction classic, McEwan describes one day in the life of a neurosurgeon in London. A seemingly harmless decision to take an illegal shortcut on his way to a squash game has ramifications that lead to a suspenseful chain of events. The lives of the surgeon, Henry Perowne, and a small-time gangster become entwined. The gangster has a deteriorating condition of the brain, which Perowne can diagnose from the man's behavior. 

The story is at once an exploration of the workings of the brain, an examination of the unease felt by Londoners after the 9/11 attacks and just prior to the invasion of Iraq, and a meditation on the responsibilities of the individual in society. It is a superb novel with balanced political perspectives.

My Name is Legion by A.N. Wilson. (Fiction)
Written by one of Britain's most respected authors, this is another novel set in London. It is a savage satire on the morality of contemporary Britain, doing for today what Evelyn Waugh did for the thirties and Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities did for the eighties. The Legion is the name of a trashy tabloid, and the plot revolves around a cast of characters who either work for the paper or are connected to it. From the glitzy world of the paper's owners to the destitute inhabitants of the homeless shelter run by a maverick priest, Wilson paints a vivid picture of a multicultural society fraught with tensions.

Recommended by Phyllis Clopper, Main Library Circulation Supervisor
Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. (974.446)
Until this book, not much has been written about the disaster known as the Great Boston Molasses Flood, which killed 21 people, injured 150 more and destroyed part of Boston's North End on January 15, 1919. Puleo has thoroughly researched the tragedy and introduced the reader to the events that allowed the construction of the 50-foot-high, 2-million-gallon storage tank, and led to its devastating structural failure. The descriptions of helpless employees who saw the leaks and were ignored or fired, local acts of bravery, the social and political climate, the lengthy trial and its impact make this a fascinating historical narrative.

The Mold in Dr Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle by Eric Lax. (615.329)
In these times when the possibility of new exotic diseases threatens our welfare, we can appreciate this historic account of the discovery of penicillin mold and the subsequent research and development of antibiotics. For 12 years following Alexander Fleming's discovery in 1928, the little-known Dr. Howard Florey and his colleagues at Oxford University worked tirelessly to find the key to isolating the active ingredient and producing the quantities of penicillin that would be needed if and when World War II broke out. This is a broad well-written history of the rise of modern medicine, the important role of US drug companies, and with fascinating biographies of some of the gifted and dedicated scientists involved.

Point Blank by Catherine Coulter. (Fiction)
The latest entry in the FBI thriller series again features agent Dillon Savich and his wife Lacey Sherlock who are drawn into a kidnapping and a murderous crime spree that challenge their talents and threaten their lives. Coulter typically interjects new FBI agents and local law enforcement characters into her plots to make the narrative more complex, contemporary and fresh. Beginning with a surrealistic scene in a West Virginia cave, this novel is fast paced and suspenseful with intelligent likable characters, witty dialog, a romantic subplot and a highly satisfying resolution. 

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Updated on 10/28/2013 02:40 PM
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