Staff Recommends 2007


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

Recommended by Jeanne Kelley, Assistant Director
Without Reservation
by Jeff Benedict (338.4779 Benedict)
A timely, revealing, and disturbing look at the players behind the scenes of the creation of Foxwoods, the world's largest casino. Benedict, an investigative journalist, recounts the questionable process by which the Mashantucket Pequods, seemingly without members or reservation, were transformed into the wealthiest and most powerful tribe in history, owners of 2,000 acres of land.

Channeling Mark Twain by Carol Muske-Dukes (Fiction)
A poet engaged in the politically charged environment of New York City in the seventies teaches writing at both Columbia University and the women's prison in Riker's Island. Negotiating her way through the literary world and that of society's outcasts, she tells of a transformative experience that reveals how the muse speaks in many guises.

Recommended by Kelly Sprague, Circulation Supervisor
If the holidays are getting too hectic, take a break and escape into a big, comforting book. Take a look at these chunky fiction titles and find a story that suits you! 

Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett. Fiction.
Follett weaves a story of betrayal, love, and revenge around the building of a twelfth-century cathedral in Kingsbridge, England; the tale begins with a public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king. If you enjoy this book, consider reading the just released sequel, World Without End, which picks up in Kingsbridge 200 years later.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Fiction.
"Of all my books, I like this the best," Dickens wrote of this tale full of delightful, memorable characters and wonderful, intricate plots. What better recommendation could there be? 

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Fiction.
The American west comes alive in this epic tale of love and adventure on the frontier. This rich, satisfying story won a Pulitzer in 1986.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen. Fiction.
This engaging story is narrated by a 90 (or 93, he can't recall) year-old man who is looking out of a nursing home and back over his life as a vet for a traveling circus. Not as long as the other titles, but certainly perfect for curling up by the fireside this winter!

Nobel Prize Authors
Recommended by Paula Marsh, McAuliffe Branch
by Orhan Pamuk (2005 winner) Fiction
Ka, a blocked poet and political exile living in Germany, visits the small Turkish town of Kars where radical Islam and Western ideals clash. Ka is intrigued that a succession of young girls have chosen to commit suicide rather than remove their headscarves, and he is enthralled by the beautiful Ipek. Politics, religion, and other issues cause a bloody uprising during a snowstorm that isolates this little-known part of the world. Ka rediscovers his poetry and belief in God, while Pamuk becomes part of the story to offer his explanation of these events.

The Cave by Jose Saramago (1998 winner) Fiction
Cipriano Algor, an old potter from a small village, is told by The Center, a shopping and residential complex, that his finely crafted pots and jugs are no longer wanted. With the help of his daughter, he is forced to make ceramic figurines that The Center finds acceptable. When they have to move into the complex, a shocking discovery leads to the conclusion of this parable of art, love and individualism. 

Recommended by Rebecca Berkowitz, Reference Librarian, Main Library
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time
by Greg Mortenson and Oliver Relin. 371.822 Mortenson
Finally some good news from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 1993 Greg Mortenson, an American, became ill and disoriented during his descent from a failed attempt to climb the world's second-tallest mountain. He wandered into an isolated village in rural Pakistan. For seven weeks he was nurtured, cared for, and treated as an honored guest. As a result of this chance encounter Mortenson eventually established the Central Asia Institute, which is responsible for the establishment of over fifty-five schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Through the efforts of one grateful man and many in Central Asia and America who have embraced his mission, Muslim girls in the heart of Taliban country receive a secular education. 

Mortenson's book reads like an action thriller, including all the current events and political intrigue of the current day. It will hearten and inspire you to learn what a difference ordinary folks can make in each others' lives, and how much people have in common despite all our apparent differences.

Recommended by Stephen Russell, Circulation Assistant
Lost City Radio
by Daniel Alarcon. Fiction.
Lost City Radio is a powerful novel depicting how war can traumatize a country and plunge it into an unending spiral of moral decay. It tells the story of a country that has been torn apart by continuing violence for ten years after the end of a civil war. Once a week, on her radio program Norma reads the names of those who have disappeared, becoming the voice for those who hope to be reunited with their lost loved ones. Be they freedom fighters or government soldiers, we are reminded that those who fight are also sons, husbands, and fathers. As Norma goes in search of her own lost husband, Alarcon unflinchingly depicts the horrific acts of violence committed by both sides in this conflict and exposes for us the senselessness and futility of such violence. "What does the end of war mean" Alarcon writes, "if not that one side ran out of men willing to die."

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu. Fiction.
An engaging but heartbreaking story of a lonely immigrant trying to acquire his own piece of the "American dream." After his father is beaten and arrested during the Ethiopian Revolution, Sepha Stephanos flees to the U.S. leaving behind his mother and brother. His attempts to assimilate into American culture have only made him feel more isolated. When a white woman and her biracial daughter move in next door to Sepha and befriend him, he begins to believe he may once again become part of a family. Sepha has opened a small grocery store in a poor, mostly black neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with dreams of making it into a prosperous restaurant. The area, however, is beginning to change as affluent whites move in, at first bringing hope for revitalization but ultimately creating tensions and troubles for the neighborhood. This is an eloquently written novel exploring the themes of exile, hope, despair, and family as it portrays both the beauty and the ugliness of the immigrant experience in the United States.

Recommended by Janet Drake, Circulation Department, both branches
Don't Get Taken Every Time: The Ultimate Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car in the Showroom or on the Internet. Remar Sutton. 629.222/Sutton.
So you think you'll buy or lease your next car on the web. Read this guide and learn how dealerships are mining all of your data as you search. This inside look at what's happening in today's automotive arena can give you the knowledge you need to avoid the outrageous profit realities, ploys, and pitfalls practiced by car dealerships. It can show you how to save thousands of dollars on purchase of your next vehicle.

Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes. Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown. 305.235/Lamb.
According to marketers, boys live for action and girls live to attract boys by looking cute. And, marketers are counting on you to never open your eyes to the pre-packaged image they are presenting. The authors write not to keep young girls away from the real world, but to join with them in rising above it and seeing it for what it is. 

The Beethoven Factor: The New Positive Psychology of Hardiness, Happiness, Healing, and Hope. Paul Pearsall. 158.1/Pearsall.
This book brings the reader far beyond the power of positive thinking and survival from suffering. It's about the process of discovery and thriving past our prior level of functioning. Suffering can lead to new insight, as when Beethoven escaped the prison of his deafness by finding his own way to listen - finding meaning in his life that freed his spirit.

Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny, Growing up in the Shadow of Saddam. Zainab Salbi. B/Salbi Z. 
What does courage mean in one case, and how can it be defined differently in another? Zainab Salbi vividly describes the confusion of growing up in the 1980's and 90's with her adoring family in the beauty of her beloved Iraq, while trying to comprehend the atrocities perpetrated on innocent Iraqis by their president Saddam Hussein. As she watches her family remain silent witness to his crimes, she wonders why her dad who flies 747's can't simply fly them away to safety. 

Sharing amazing insight into some of life's most profound questions, Salbi brings the reader along on her arduous, inspiring journey of survival. 

Recommended by Sherry Baker, Assistant Branch Librarian
by Danzy Senna
Set in Boston in the 1970s, Caucasia is the story of a biracial couple and their two daughters, Birdie and Cole. White-skinned Birdie and dark-skinned Cole are so close that they have a secret language, but they are torn apart as their parents' marriage disintegrates amid the tensions of the Civil Rights movement. Each daughter goes with the parent she resembles in color, Cole to Brazil with her black father searching for racial equality, and Birdie "passing" for white with her mother in a small New Hampshire town. Birdie searches courageously for her sister and her own identity, ultimately finding both.

Recommended by Jane Peck, Branch Librarian, McAuliffe Library
One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. Fiction.
The author of Case Histories, Emotionally Weird, and other books has written a fascinating story that chases its own tail, much like the movie Pulp Fiction. We are introduced to numerous characters who begin their day in Edinborough as witnesses and participants in a road-rage incident. What follows is a dramatic, sometimes violent, and often humorous story that traces the lives of each character and introduces new ones as the fallout from the road-rage incident spreads insidiously into all the characters lives. There is corruption, murder (more than one), a millionaire, a mystery writer, and the Russian mafia-all trying to get ahead and survive to live another day. 

Recommended by Deb Ervin, Head of Reference Services
Where God Was Born: A Journey By Land to the Roots of Religion
by Bruce Feiler. 200 Feiler Harper Audio, 2005 unabridged.
Read by the author, this book is an engrossing travelogue of the lands of the Bible. Feiler uncovers little-known details of ancient life in visits to Iraq, Iran, and other areas. He is concise and insightful in his narrative. From the author of Abraham and Walking the Bible, Where God Was Born is a great journey to take with the author right from your favorite armchair. 

Recommended by Mary Wasmuth, Collection Development Librarian
Three novels explore the lives of a quartet of families-sometimes happy and sometimes unhappy, at times familiar and at other times strangely illuminating in ways that could leave you reflecting on your own mysterious family.

Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay. Fiction.
Movies have become the heart of family life for Ottawa writer Harriet Browning, gorging on the classic films her strict parents had forbidden her. Harriet, teenaged daughter Jane, and Sinatra-obsessed misfit son Kenny connect deeply through their shared experience of movies-to the profound puzzlement of Harriet's architect husband, Lew. When attractive neighbor Dinah joins the film circle and self-involved Aunt Leah and her much-married stepson invite themselves for a visit, the resulting turmoil of conflicts and attachments threatens to shatter the cocoon of glamorous fantasy that Harriet believes has kept her safe. Nuggets of film lore energize and amplify this tale of an eccentric, baffled, loving community.

After This by Alice McDermott. Fiction.
Spare, beautifully written story-like chapters chronicle the lives of the Irish-American Keane family-John and Mary and their four children-from the stable, certain postwar years through the disorienting 1960s. The apparently unremarkable family members, their Long-Island Catholic community, and that tumultuous era come to vivid, moving life as we journey through the decades with the Keanes. The author draws you into her characters' lives so slowly and unobtrusively that you may be startled to discover how deeply you experience the loss at the center of this unassuming, heartbreaking novel.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler. Fiction.
A dizzying array of banners, balloons, baby gear, and raucous extended family accompany Bitsy and Brad Donaldson to meet the flight bearing their adoptive Korean daughter. Meanwhile, Iranian-American Sami and Ziba Yazdan, along with Sami's mother Maryam, quietly await the arrival on the same flight of their Korean daughter. Over the years the two disparate families develop a surprisingly close connection that sheds light on the complications of love, belonging, and loss that accompany the delights and misunderstandings of multicultural America. You'll never forget the stubbornly misconceived party that sends forth a shower of binkies over suburban Baltimore.


Recommended by Julie Heagney, Director of Literacy Unlimited
For February, the month of Valentine's Day, here are three novels about star-crossed love that lasts a lifetime-all from the perspective of people who are no longer young. 

The History of Love: A Novel by Nicole Krauss. Fiction.
The story of Leo Gursky, an aged Polish immigrant, has been one of loss. He loses his girlfriend to America just before World War II. She marries another man, and Leo never knows the son with whom she is unknowingly pregnant when she leaves. His family is killed in the war, and even the great book he has written is published under another's name. He is an invisible man until two young people intervene. Gursky's capacity to love without being loved in return and to create art in obscurity shows the triumph of the human spirit, even against terrible odds.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Fiction.
After fifty years, Florentino is finally able to renew his courtship of Fermina, the lost love of his youth, when her husband dies. Thwarted by Fermina's family in his youth and oppressed late in life by a culture that regards love between old people as ridiculous and impossible, Florentino arrives at a clever solution for fulfilling their love without offending society or letting the world impinge upon their lives. The novel is both a great romance and an insightful portrait of late-nineteenth-century Latin American society. 

The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve. Fiction.
The story of Linda and Thomas is told backwards, from the poetry reading where they meet in middle age to their teenage romance in Massachusetts. Shreve keeps the reader in suspense about the lovers' final fate, making the novel an irresistible pageturner. With its dead-on descriptive passages, the portion of the book that takes place in Africa evokes a true sense of place, and there is an authentic feel to the relationship that Linda and Thomas share despite events that wrench them apart again and again.

Recommended by Lucy Loveridge, Children's Librarian
It's a new year, and many people's thoughts are turning to resolutions to remake their lives. Here are three books in which new lives, new worlds, and new ways of looking at things feature prominently. 

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde. Fiction.
In Fforde's humorously off-kilter literally literary alternate England, Constable Mary Mary has transferred to the Reading Police Department in hopes of working with the famous DCI Friedland Chymes. Unfortunately, she is assigned instead to work with DCI Jack Spratt who runs the Nursery Crimes Division. Trying to fit in while trying to get transferred, Mary learns the special workings of the division during a case involving Humpty Dumpty's fatal, and possibly suspicious, fall off a wall. 

The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells. Fiction.
Tremaine Valiarde is very tired of her life and ready to end it. Her country has been losing a battle with mysterious invaders for three years, most of her friends and family have died or disappeared, and the life she used to live as a successful playwright and author seems impossible to recapture. So when her guardian, Gerard, needs her help with a sorcerous experiment for the national defense that will probably end with a fatal explosion (the last one did), she's happy to help. This is a very atmospheric, engrossing fantasy involving not one, but two very different, well-described worlds.

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. Fiction.
In Seattle, Margaret Hughes has lived alone, except for a guilty secret, in a large mansion filled with exquisite porcelain for close to 40 years. She's just found out she has a fatal brain tumor, and decides to face her fears and open her house to a stranger, a boarder. Enter Wanda Schultz, a woman reinventing her own life as she searches for an ex-lover she can't let go of. Margaret and Wanda's interactions, and the widening circle of people they get to know as their relationship progresses, bring about amazing changes in their lives and the lives of many others. This is a beautifully written book with extremely quirky characters and a lovely ending. 








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