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2006 Staff Reviews

December 2006

Book Cover for The Woman in White Collins, Wilkie
The Woman in White

Classic Fiction
Wilkie Collins wrote what was called "sensation" novels in his day. The "sensations" that comprise this novel would probably be considered hohum by today's standards but that aside, The Woman in White still manages to maintain a level of almost excruciating suspense throughout. The story is well-populated with well-drawn and despicable characters acting out against a detailed backdrop of the culture, history, and economics of the time. The result is a rewarding immersion akin to time travel and a sense of familiarity with a humanity that existed before our level of technology.
Recommended by Geo, December 2006

Book Cover Dobson, Joanne
Quieter Than Sleep

Higher education sure is murder. At least, it is if you're a 19th-century American Literature scholar at Enfield College. Karen Pelletier, who specializes in Emily Dickinson studies, is thrust into a web of murderous intrigue when a lecherous colleague's corpse literally falls into her arms at the annual Christmas party. Who would strangle a professor with his own tie? Karen matches wits with a variety of suspects and struggles to win the trust of the skeptical police detective (who doesn't have much use for "college folk") assigned to the case. Readers who enjoy mysteries for their plot will probably figure out who the killer is halfway through (I did!). However, what makes this novel fascinating is its deliberate engagement with class issues: as Karen struggles with the variance between her blue-collar roots and her white-collar profession, she is forced to look beyond her own biases and see the people and routines of Enfield college in a new light. There's also a touch of sultry romantic subtext, for those who like a good flirtation, and perhaps the best mystery here is which one of Karen's attractive admirers will win her affections. Recommended for mystery lovers from all class strata who like their books smart AND fun.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, December 2006

Book Cover Goldsmith, Jack and Tim Wu
Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World

Many people who have read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman might assume that the Internet has liberated us from borders and government control; however, Goldsmith and Wu challenge that assumption. The authors, both professors of law, strongly assert that within the last decade the internet "did not displace the central role of territorial government in human governance." In Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World they examine a number of important internet legal cases and the international legal environment in which they were decided. They conclude that national regulation is necessary to make the internet a useful and beneficial tool of communication and commerce. On the other hand they acknowledge that authoritarian countries, particularly several Arab nations and China, have exerted their power to restrict internet contact and content within their borders to a very large degree. Although Chinese officials have encouraged use of the internet to promote economic growth, they have suppressed and censored sites which question government actions. They have also gone to great lengths to locate and punish those who use the internet to post critical opinions. Large multinational corporations, such as Yahoo, Dow Jones and Google, who wish to conduct business in this market, must observe internet rules and restrictions which would not apply nor be accepted in their home countries. Internet retailer, E-Bay, also must comply with additional restrictions and local laws. These are viewed by the authors as a necessary balance to protect the e-commerce system from those who would illegally exploit and destroy it. Goldsmith and Wu have raised important issues concerning government control of the internet. They have made persuasive arguments in favor of regulating business as a means of promoting the orderly growth of commerce, and have noted that businesses have always had to respect local and national laws in the countries in which they operate. However, the authors do not adequately explore government control of the internet relative to the rights of individuals.
Recommended by Noufissa, December 2006

Book Cover Setterfield, Diane
The Thirteenth Tale

Margaret Lea works and lives in her father's antiquarian book shop, occasionally writing the biography of some obscure author who strikes her fancy. When she receives a letter from Vida Winter, England's most famous and reclusive contemporary author, requesting her as a biographer, she can hardly imagine why. Miss Winter is notorious for making up her life as if it's a novel, but now she's old and ailing, and appears to be ready to tell the truth. Margaret loses herself in the dark and brooding story of a disturbed, aristocratic family and it's dramatic decline. Whether she finds herself is a testament to the power of storytelling.
Recommended by Kaarin, December 2006


November 2006

Book Cover for Jane Eyre Bronte, Charlotte
Jane Eyre

Classic Fiction
Having recently reread Jane Eyre, I found that it was far from the book I'd read originally as a teenager. I'd remembered only the bare bones of the story and was surprised that as a teenager I'd loved something so dour. My teenage affections must have been snared by the integrity and resilience of Jane, the protagonist and heroine of the story. I have a new appreciation and admiration for this book which stems from Bronte's amazing development of character and motivation. My favorite character was one I'd forgotten; Jane's zealous missionary cousin, Mr. St. John, who tries to tempt Jane with an interesting proposal of marriage. Mr. St. John's rationalization, manipulation, and will, while recognizable as universal qualities and thoroughly familiar to modern readers, take on a frightening ruthlessness when forged on the anvil of agenda. This work is definitely worth a second look or, if you're lucky enough to have ducked this assignment in school, a first.
Recommended by Geo, November 2006

Book Cover for Eat, Pray, Love Gilbert, Elizabeth
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
G154.5 .G55 A3 2006

After a long and messy divorce, Elizabeth Gilbert gets the chance to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia over the course of a year. She begins this personal journey in Italy, moves on to an ashram in India, and ends up in Bali, with the intention of experiencing both pleasure and prayer, and finding a balance between the two. Much of the pleasure takes the form of pasta and gelato, along with loving Italian friends, and much of the prayer is in the struggle to quiet her mind through chanting and meditation in India. At one point in the book, she tells the reader that one thing she has always been able to do is make friends, and with her intimate tone and self-deprecating sense of humor, you can easily see why. I found that I would be laughing one minute and crying the next, which for me, made this a most satisfying read.
Recommended by Kaarin, November 2006


October 2006

Book Cover for Undead and Unwed Davidson, MaryJanice
Undead and Unwed

In this hilarious take on the afterlife, Betsy Taylor wakes up after getting hit by a truck and finds herself being sought as the vampire queen. Just trying to get used to being dead, and craving blood (yuck!), she has no interest in vampire politics, but some vampires just can’t let you live, or die, in peace. Horror, romance, and comedy all come together for an enjoyable and original adventure. And if you enjoy this one, you can go on to read the next one in the series, Undead and Unemployed.
Recommended by Kaarin, October 2006


September 2006

Book Cover for Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do Cleage, Pearl
Some Things I Never Thought I'd Do

Regina Burns is a recovering addict who has to straighten out the mess she made of her life. The first order of business is to make enough money to save her family home, and the opportunity she can’t pass up involves working for her former employer, idol, and almost-mother-in-law in Atlanta. When she arrives she finds a formerly run down African American community called West End, whose complete transformation is credited to her new landlord, the mysterious Blue Hamilton. As she falls in love with her new community, she also falls for the man who saved it, but she has to delve into the painful past in order to have a future with him. For me, Pearl Cleage writes strong, passionate, and socially conscious women like no other, which is the joy of reading this book.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2006

Book Cover for Love Walked In De los Santos, Marisa
Love Walked In : A Novel

In alternating chapters, we get the story of Cornelia, a cafe manager who's trying to figure out what to do with her life, and Clare, an 11 year old who’s trying to keep her life going as her mother experiences a breakdown. Their lives are connected by a Cary Grant look-alike, who walks into the cafe one day and offers to take Cornelia to England. While Cornelia wonders if Martin is too good to be true, she comes face to face with his daughter for the first time. The sweetness of that relationship is the beauty of this book, which is filled with characters who come to feel like your own friends.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2006

Book Cover for You Never Can Tell Eagle, Kathleen
You Never Can Tell

Kole Kills Crow is a fugitive running from the law. Heather Reardon is a reporter, looking for the truth behind Kole's disappearance. After they connect in a bar, under very strange circumstances, they decide to join together on a mission to defend the rights of Native Americans. Neither expects this mission to lead to romance, but this is only one of many surprises they uncover.
Recommended by Karen R., September 2006

Book Cover for Booking Passage Lynch, Thomas
Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans

This book has something for every reader who would like to learn more about the Irish American experience. You'll find travelogue, memoir, history, politics, culture and customs, enhanced by lovely photographs and drawings at the beginning of every chapter.
Recommended by Karen R., September 2006

Book Cover for Dogs of Babel Parkhurst, Carolyn
The Dogs of Babel

The Dogs of Babel starts off with a body at the foot of a tree. The body was the beloved wife of Paul Iverson and the shock of her death sends him on a quest for the truth of how she got there. Did she fall? What was she doing in the tree? The only witness is their dog Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Paul decides that the only way he is ever going to know the truth is if he can teach Lorelei to talk. This story abounds with wonderful details that will make you want to read the book again even though the real mystery becomes how Paul could be so devoted to Lexy, an emotional psycho, in the first place.
Recommended by Geo, September 2006

Book Cover for Don't Kill Anyone Polajnar, Gojmir
Don't Kill Anyone, I Love You

The novel's principals are Dot, a dolled up, middle aged night club singer and Jurij, a bisexual student, soon to be diplomat. Dot's vocation is singing, her avocation is the pursuit of every attractive young man in town. Jurij is engaged to Aga and there is talk of a baby. However, Jurij is also quite taken with Peter, a football playing ecstasy dealer. No wallflower, Jurij is also on and off again with Dot. More about Dot. Around chapter three, a bulb illuminated in my head, enabling me to realize that Dot was no lady. At least, in the anatomical sense. Dot is in fact two characters--he is somebody by day and she is someone else by night. Jurij, soon after his first foreign posting succumbs to AIDS, leaves in his wake a trio of broken hearts. Goymir Polajnar, has created a novel of vivid characters. His prose is at times poignant and poetic. Yet, Don't Kill Me... is for the discriminating reader because it's explicit Romance, is at times--stunning. By the way, all of the above action takes place in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Perhaps freedom is on the march.
Recommended by John, September 2006

Book Cover for Carnival Wolves Rock, Peter
Carnival Wolves

Peter Rock gives the reader a philosophical gift in this portrayal of how perception can alter reality and just being interested can reap fascinating results. Meet Alan Johnson. You may not like him, but you will be drawn to his relationship with the world. Alan supports an appreciation of the most mundane that is contagious and magnetic. A dog falling from a cliff frees Alan from his security guard job and triggers a nomadic non-quest. Through Alan’s wanderings the pathways of the people he meets crisscross in ways that only through the aerial view given the reader can be appreciated. This is a profoundly affecting rendering of the interconnectedness of people and the undeniable power we have over each other, both humbling and inspiring.
Recommended by Geo, September 2006


August 2006

Book Cover O'Faolain, Nuala
My Dream of You

Journeys to health and wholeness are usually pockmarked with periods of ugliness and despair. O'Faolain, best known for her award-winning memoir, Are You Somebody?, makes this abundantly clear in her painfully frank debut novel. Stunned by the premature death of her best friend, Kathleen de Burca quits her job as a travel writer and returns to Ireland on a whim to research the facts behind the Talbot divorce case, a scandal set during the Great Famine. As Kathleen unravels the facts behind William Mullen and Marianne Talbot's sordid (or was it?) affair, she comes to terms with her own life's traumas. Redemptive, movie-of-the-week fare this is not; O'Faolain pulls no punches in her descriptions of Kathleen's past hurts, which include sexual assault and parental neglect. However, as Kathleen grows to a better understanding of how her life has taken form, she also finds the courage to move forward and make changes, painful though they may be. Readers who enjoy realistic fiction will appreciate O'Faolin's gritty, determined heroine and her self-deprecating humor; those who appreciate a well-constructed plot will revel in the way the author gradually unfolds the secrets of both the Talbots and the de Burcas. Although the novel-within-a-novel structure tends to err on the side of hackneyed, O'Faolain executes it beautifully, leaving the reader anxious to learn what the truth of the Talbot affair really is. Passionate, emotional, and decidedly earthy, My Dream of You is the perfect novel for those who know all too well that it's easy to talk the talk, but harder to walk the walk.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2006


July 2006

Book Cover for The Blessing Orr, Gregory
The Blessing

Gregory Orr’s poetry is golden nectar for all those who have ever longed to find meaning in the incomprehensible suffering of life. His memoir, The Blessing, is a story of intense sadness and loneliness, but also intense beauty. When Orr was twelve years old, he accidentally shot and killed his little brother in a hunting accident. The emotional gulf that separates him from his parents is profound, and the grieving boy comes of age in a vortex of guilt and despair. But art has the power to redeem even the most wretched…it’s no exaggeration to say that poetry saved this beautiful man’s life. His recent collection, Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved, is a stunning testament to the power of poetry to transcend confusion, to gently lead us out of our nightmares and back into our hearts.
Recommended by Jeff, July 2006

Book Cover for Firmin Savage, Sam

Firmin is the story of one literate rat's philosophical struggle with life. He was the runt, the thirteenth in the litter, born in the basement of a used book store. Unable to compete with his siblings, he was forced to eat the shredded paper of his nest, which happened to be pages of Finnegan's Wake. Eventually he learned to read the scraps instead of eat them, and thus was born an avid bibliophile with frightening intellect. As Firmin's understanding of and affinity for humanity grows, he thinks of himself less and less as a rat. And yet his undeniable ratly appearance and inability to speak will forever separate him from the humans he loves. Fortunately, his life isn't without occasional periods of happiness, though those are few and hard-earned. Is Firmin a "fur-man," or just vermin? The book offers no easy answers. Sam Savage uses this brilliant, tormented, and self-aware rat as a way of digging into the darker side of human nature, as well.
Recommended by Denise, July 2006


June 2006

Book Cover Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

This is a horror story of the most civilized kind. On the surface, Never Let Me Go appears to be a story about a school. You are introduced to students and teachers as you become privy to the mechanics of this intimately enclosed society. The subject matter and time are futuristic without being technological. Mysteries, clues, and questions propel the story until locking in on what is looming over this microcosm; society has taken the potential of cloning to an obscenely organized level of dehumanization. The subject is compelling in and of itself, but Ishiguro's true stroke of genius is generated by the blanket of passivity and acceptance over it all. The horror lies not in the offense, but in the toleration of it. Is humanity beyond experiencing the outrage that could save us from ourselves? Very well written and detailed, you will think about this book a long time after you've turned the last page. And yes, fear.
Recommended by Geo, June 2006

Mason, Bobbie Ann
Feather Crowns

In 1900, Christie Wheeler becomes the first recorded American woman to give birth to quintuplets. In the backwoods of rural Kentucky, a family already on the brink of utter poverty is pushed further toward the edge. As the five tiny infants struggle to stay alive, the word of their miraculous birth spreads rapidly. Christie finds herself in the center of a national spectacle as train loads of people literally stream through her home. The Wheeler family is denied every semblance of normalcy and privacy. Tragedy inevitably strikes, and Christie breaks down, calling into question her identity as a mother and the validity of her relationship with her husband and older children. Bobbie Ann Mason has a talent for integrating the grotesque with the sublime. She has painted here a portrait of an American woman from an era when women were not expected to do extraordinary things. Yet, the character of Christie Wheeler transcends expectations, and is neither defined by traditional roles, nor by her grief.
Recommended by Connie, June 2006

Book Cover Alexander, William
The $64 Tomato

If you've ever renovated a house, hired a contractor, or planted a garden, you just might get a wicked frisson of schadenfreude from Alexander's misadventures in the Hudson River Valley. After his wife falls in love with a fixer-upper property, known locally as "The Old Brown House," Alexander finds himself plunged into near-constant battles with weeds, critters, and a rotation of neighbors who serve as temporary help, with often disastrous results. Each chapter illuminates a particular man versus nature struggle, with Alexander taking the pratfall each time a critter, weed, or handyman doesn't live up to his grand expectations. It's a one-trick narrative technique, but the tricks are so delightful, and Alexander's dry "I know better now" tone so perfect, the reader can't help but be charmed by the details. Chapter titles like "Christopher Walken, Gardner" and "Childbirth. Da Vinci. Potatoes.," will lure you in; Alexander's wry prose, snappy sentences, and obvious respect for animal and plant life, will keep you reading. Recommended for fans of humorous non-fiction, especially those who enjoy Bill Bryson.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, June 2006

Book Cover Claudel, Philippe
By A Slow River

Originally published in 2003 as Les Ames Grises, this literary mystery will be available in English in June 2006. I got my hands on an advance galley, and am pleased to report that it's definitely worth waiting for. In 1917, miles away from the French front, a ten-year-old girl is found strangled near a riverbank. The murder investigation, as revealed in the private memoirs of a policeman assigned to the case, seems to implicate Pierre-Ange Destinat, the town prosecutor. By virtue of his social position, however, he is summarily dismissed as a suspect by the mayor. Could an upright, virtuous man have committed such an awful crime? Claudel leads us from this ghastly question to other, equally disturbing ones as he unravels the history of secrets and lies that pervades the village. At times it's hard to believe that a simple country policeman could be so lyrical and yet so earthy at once; however, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Claudel is really talking about the horrors of war, and how huge social concerns seep down into individual thoughts and acts. That he does this by suggestion, and not by beating the reader over the head with the carnage of WWI, is admirable; however, Claudel pulls no punches about the realities of battle, leaving you to wonder, as you learn one last secret in the final pages, is anyone truly good or beautiful? Or has war spoiled us forever?
Recommended by Leigh Anne, June 2006

Book Cover Lalami, Laila
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

The hope of a better life spawns two Moroccan men and two women to attempt the dangerous trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to illegally enter Spain. This story begins with that harrowing crossing and both looks back on the characters’ lives leading up to their leaving and forward to what becomes of their efforts. An apt title for a book filled with despair and hope.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2006

Book Cover
Norris, Chuck (with Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem)
The Justice Riders

General Sherman wants to hasten the end of the Civil War. To this end, he commissions Captain Ezra Justice to select six of the best men he can find, and lead them on secret missions that could get them all hung as traitors if they're caught. Captain Justice assembles Shaun O'Banyon of the Irish Brigade; Reginald Bonesteel, a disgraced former member of the Queen's Guard in England; Harry Whitecloud, a Princeton-educated Native American medicine man; Carlos and Roberto Hawkins, half-gypsy twins with a penchant for explosions; and Nathaniel York, a former slave owned by Justice's family, who happens to be Ezra's best childhood friend. The Justice Riders' exploits do, in fact, help bring about the end of the war, but of course, their troubles are just beginning. This book is the first in a projected series. It's a must-read for fans of explosions, roundhouse kicks, the Walker, Texas Ranger TV series, and all things Chuck Norris.
Recommended by Denise, June 2006


April 2006

Book Cover Anna Jane Grossman and Flint Wainess
It's Not Me, It's You: The Ultimate Breakup Book

So, he's not that into you any more, or maybe it's you that's not into him. Unfortunately, you've never been all that good at kicking people to the curb. Well, now you're in luck! Flint and Anna Jane have dissected the process for you, from Relationship Death, through Rock Bottom (see also their travel guide), all the way to getting over it ("hint- it's never really over"). They give good advice on such tricky points as web stalking, replacing the furniture your ex took, and the perfect songs to play while eating ice cream in the dark. They packed the book with quotes, pie charts and graphs, based on a survey of 500 other veteran daters, so even if you've been dumped, you can feel a little bit less alone. They offer "Profiles in Not-A-Lot-Of-Courage," which analyze the breakup history of celebrities, such as Liz Taylor and Zsa Zsa Gabor. They even have some real-life adventures in breaking up, and offer alternatives to the craziest. (For example-- instead of burning down your ex's house, have a campfire and toast marshmallows over their stuff.)
Flint and Anna Jane say, "Breakups are often treated like a memory box or a crazy aunt that should be locked up in the attic. But we think that even though they can be ugly, breakups are something to be embraced... After all, they're unavoidable, and potentially a lot more interesting than another white wedding."
Recommended by Denise, April 2006


February 2006

Book Cover Martha Beck
Leaving the Saints

Most people are taught that certain things shouldn't be discussed in polite company. For those readers who have always chafed under such restrictions, there's Martha Beck to light a path. Best known as a regular advice columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine, Beck steps outside this oeuvre to deliver a passionate, poignant account of her childhood in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Framed by an ongoing confrontation with her father in a hotel room, Beck's narrative alternates between her present and her past, candidly exploring how her own personal experience as a Mormon fits into the history of the faith and its treatment of women in general. The story is not, however, a blanket condemnation of the LDS; Beck writes with genuine affection and anguish, clearly illustrating the pain of growing away from a tradition that mixed its abuses with so much direction, love and support. Alternately snarky and heartbreaking, Beck's sincere search for the divine will appeal to readers who are curious about Mormonism, or who find inspiration and comfort in others' personal faith journeys. Recommended for those who have enjoyed the blunt, earthy meanderings of Anne Lamott, though fans of Sue Monk Kidd may find it a little too graphic for comfort.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2006

Book Cover Mimi Smartypants
The World According to Mimi Smartypants

Don't judge this book by its cover. If you do, you might pick up this novel assuming it's chick lit, and while chick lit can be wonderful, this is not it. What Mimi Smartypants has given us is a series of amusing rants and speculations, as first published in her blog, designed to make ambivalent thirtysomethings feel better about themselves just the way they are, in a singular, "still attached to my goth phase and loving it, thank you very much," style. See Mimi chat on IM about the raunchy innuendo inherent in medieval cookbooks. See Mimi take pleasure in the foibles of various public transit eccentrics. See Mimi subvert the corporate hegemony by keeping an electric teakettle in her office and using it with reckless abandon, despite many sternly-worded memos forbidding this action. In short, see Mimi cheerfully dismantle the notion that anybody, ever, is "all grown up," or has anything "figured out." It's okay, the book argues. It's okay to be sad and confused. It's okay to be strange and neurotic and cranky and quirky. It's even okay to wear combat boots with fingerless gloves if that makes you happy, and make inappropriate remarks to strangers on trains, provided they provoked you first. Recommended for thirtysomething female readers, the men who love them, and anyone who shares Mimi's dictum that "There is no such thing as one beer."
Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2006

Book Cover Anne Perry
Face of a Stranger

When Monk wakes up one day in a hospital, he's not sure where he is or who he is. While quietly struggling to figure out the details of his life, he returns to his job with the London police, where he's assigned to the brutal murder of Joscelin Grey, the youngest and favorite son of Lady Shelburne and a well-liked figure by many. Could his murderer be a complete stranger as feared? A business associate? A jealous brother or even Monk himself? As Monk's memory returns, he begins to piece together the story of Joscelin Grey. A fine Victorian mystery by a master in the craft as well as an examination of human nature and relationships.
Recommended by Joanne, February 2006

Book Cover Sujata Massey
The Bride's Kimono

Rei Shimura, Japanese-American antiques dealer, finds herself smack in the middle of another mystery. Hired as a fine-art courier, Rei is entrusted to bring several rare and valuable kimonos from a Japanese museum to one in Washington, D. C. Almost immediately, her passport and one kimono is stolen. Soon, her passport shows up, and so does the body of the young Japanese tourist that Rei suspected of stealing it. Full of information about Japanese customs and cultures, this enjoyable book is the sixth in the series.
Recommended by Susan, February 2006

Book Cover Nevada Barr
Track of the Cat

Anna Pigeon, a Law Enforcement Ranger in national lands near El Paso, stumbles upon the body of another ranger in a remote area of the park. Evidence at the scene makes it appear the ranger was killed by a mountain lion. After other "accidents" occur in the park Anna realizes that not all the evidence in the death of the ranger fits a cat attack. Anna begins to piece clues together and, because of her investigation, soon finds that her world of peaceful tranquility in the wilderness has become more violent than the old life she left behind.
Recommended by Terry, February 2006


January 2006

Book Cover Mickey Spillane
Black Alley, "A Mike Hammer Novel"

Aging private investigator Mike Hammer is recovering from getting "shot-up" in a Mafia gunfight on the docks. His guts still "churned up by .357 slugs," Hammer finds out Marcus Dooley, an old military pal, is dead and $89 billion of the mob's money is missing.
The Feds, NYPD, and Mafia are on the case for their own reasons. Toting his .45 in a leather shoulder holster, Hammer and his ravishing assistant, Velda, try to stay one step ahead.
Enter Mike Hammer's world where the women are beautiful, the sky can turn "dirty," and redemption or death are just down the black alley.
Will Hammer crack the case or die trying?
Recommended by Jeff J., January 2006

Book Cover Keith Ferrazzi
Never Eat Alone and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time

Keith Ferrazzi's frenetic book attempts to cast a virtuous and philosophical light on business networking by describing how it is really just about people helping people, and in his case people helping people to become incredibly successful. Ferrazzi, a former CEO and business whiz kid, describes how his career was built by making relationships with people in power, and how he has used his massive network of thousands to bring success to others. Raised in a working class home near Latrobe, Ferrazzi got his start as a child when his steelworker father went to Alex McKenna, the CEO of Kennametal, and asked him to help his young son get ahead in life. McKenna pulled some strings and got little Keith into an expensive private elementary school on scholarship. From then on Keith attended exclusive schools and met rich people by caddying at the local country club. He went on to Yale and Harvard and quickly ascended the corporate ladder, receiving assistance along the way by leveraging relationships with important people. While readers may feel dazed and slightly queasy at the opportunistic intensity of Ferrazzi's networking ambition, Never Eat Alone contains some powerful advice for job seekers and anyone trying to get ahead in life: that by connecting with others we will get much farther than we would alone.
Recommended by Leslie, January 2006

Book Cover Jasper Fforde
The Big Over Easy

Humpty Dumpty sat on his wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Or did he?
Down-and-out Detective Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes division is put in charge of the investigation, and he's found a few things that don't add up-- Humpty's numerous shady business dealings, for one, and a lengthy string of ex-girlfriends, for another. And what's with the strange hole in the victim's shell, that appears to be months old? Solving the crime will be harder than it sounds-- Spratt must dodge his ridiculously successful ex-partner and nemesis, who is attempting to take over the investigation by any means necessary. Furthermore, every question he answers only raises more questions. Why was Humpty buying up the Spongg Foot Care company, when it was on the verge of bankruptcy? Is the murder of Mr. Willy Winkie, across the alley, related? Where did the 28 foot long human hair in Humpty's apartment come from? Will Spratt's assistant, Mary Mary, go over to the enemy? And most importantly, will Spratt get to do a write-up for Amazing Crime Stories magazine, so he can be inducted into the Detective's Guild?
Like all of Fforde's books, this one is fun and silly. But, also like his other books, the constant references to other stories, and the artistic spoofing of mystery cliches (for example, "the butler did it"), means there's a lot more meat on the bone than you'd think. Reviewers have not been kind to this book, but I think that's only because it's the first in a spinoff series, and not one of Fforde's celebrated "Thursday Next" books.
Look for a sequel later this year -- currently titled The Fourth Bear.
Recommended by Denise, January 2006

Book Cover Mark Stevens and Analyn Swann
de Kooning: An American Master

Willem de Kooning (1903-1997) was born on the waterfront, in Rotterdam, Holland. An absent father, an abusive mother and a great deal of poverty, made for a less than ideal childhood. Chance provided a seat at one of Holland's most illustrious academy's of art. Soon after graduation, leaving his fellow Rotterdammers behind (had to work in Rotterdammers) de Kooning stowed away on an ocean liner and disembarked, circ 1926, in the U.S.A. Settling in New York City, the young Dutchman first found work as a carpenter and then as a commerical artist. However the 9-5 life was not for him (by a long shot) and he gave it up to become a serious painter. Paint he did. de Kooning became the prototypical "starving artist" ambling around town in his paint splattered coveralls searching for a bite to eat, a drink, or a helping hand, for nearly twenty years! His dedication paid off. In the late 1940's "abstract expressionism" became the rage of the art world and it's two brightest lights, de Kooning and the madcap drip-artist Jackson Pollack became famous. Fame would suit neither of them. de Kooning would seek seclusion on Long Island, ending thirty years in the big apple. The dripper would drunkenly drive into a tree, ending his life. Once on Long Island de Kooning fell in and out of favor. When the world wanted figures, he painted abstracts, when the world wanted abstracts, he painted figures (he has been called the greatest painter of the human figure since Picasso). Yet, in the 1970's one of his paintings sold for $ 1.2 million, at the time the highest fee ever paid for the work of a living artist. de kooning's personal life was just as fascinating as his work. He was extremely handsome, incredibly personable and everyone liked him (excepting the critic Clement Greenburg, whom he punched in the face).
He had one wife (Elaine, who taught at C.M.U. in the 70's) various loves and many, many, girlfriends. He also suffered from an alcoholism so acute and evil that it is difficult to comprehend. de Kooning was stricken with Alzheimer's in his mid seventies and lived in a near vegetative state until his death at 93. He outlived his friend/rival Jackson Pollack by over 40 years. He also seemed to outlive himself. Notwithstanding, de Kooning deserves to be remembered as the "genius in the garrett" standing and staring for hours at a blank, white canvas, fighting through blocks, starting a painting up, then tearing it down, over and over--seeking perfection. Yeah, thats him! Stevens and Swann's wonderful book should be the standard account of the artist's life for years to come.
Recommended by John, January 2006

Book Cover Meg Cabot
Size 12 is Not Fat

Heather Wells is a former pop singer who's broke (her mom ran off with her agent, and all her money), lonely, chubbier than she was (but not fat -- size 12 is not fat), and working as the assistant director of a residence hall at New York College.
Pretty traditional chick lit fare, right? But then Heather gets a call, saying that one of the residents is dead. Everyone's pretty sure it's a fluke accident, death by elevator surfing. Heather's not so sure, since girls don't elevator surf. And then, two weeks later, another virgin's dead.
Is someone killing the freshmen? Or has elevator surfing just become a hot fad among lonely, preppy girls who suddenly have their first boyfriend?
Size 12 is Not Fat is a fluffy, fun mystery by one of teen fiction's star authors. Although this title is written for adults, it will appeal to the young (and young at heart). I look forward to the sequel, Phat Chick.
Recommended by Karen B., January 2006

Book Cover P.D. James
Cover Her Face

A not-so-innocent victim is murdered at the time when you hate him/her the most. A nucleus of suspects hem and haw exhaling fumes of guilt, while an intriguingly intelligent and potentially dashing police inspector sifts through just the right amount of evidence. The summation is arranged and dramatically delivered with excruciating suspense et voila, the murderer/ess is exposed. Sounds like every good mystery? The difference lies in the details. James, in her first book, provides wonderful interiors and a procession of realistically flawed characters, none of which could ever commit a murder, or could they?
Recommended by Geo, January 2006

Book Cover Carlos Maria Dominguez
The House of Paper

Carlos Maria Dominquez turns prose into poetry. He bequeaths visual treasures that you will turn over and over in your mind's eye as if exploring the facets of a rare gem. The House of Paper is a mystery, a quest, a dreamlike parable, and an expose of bibliomania. Take comfort that the characters and locales are exotic because the psychology and motivation will be disarmingly personal. Curiosity, passion, obsession, fear, and the sordid degradation and murder of that most cherished is all contained in these few pages beginning with the most intriguing of first lines:
"One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson's poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car."
Warning: This book is infusive and in the event that you ever need a transplant will render you only compatible with other people who have been exposed to this book's transformative power.
Recommended by Geo, January 2006

Book Cover Dava Sobel
The Planets

From bestselling popular science writer Dava Sobel, a personal introduction to your local Solar System. With equal parts science, mythology, cultural history, and astrology, think of it as a miscellany of the heavens. Or a traveler's guide to the evening sky. With each chapter dedicated to a heavenly body, you can savor them in any order you choose. Each is thoroughly absorbing, with delightful wonders on every page. A celestial treasure chest!
Recommended by Jeff, January 2006

Book Cover Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451

Classic Fiction
Imagine a world in which owning a book is illegal. It's a world in which few people care to have books anyway- they just cause people to think and have unpleasant feelings. But for those who do have books, their discovery means having your house along with the offending items burnt to the ground. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to set such fires. His feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness lead him to want to read the books he is destroying, and this decision to pursue knowledge changes his life forever.
Recommended by Joanne, January 2006

Book Cover Robert Whitaker
The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon

An extraordinary true story that has all the makings of a good adventure novel. A group of mapmakers from France travel to Peru in the 1700s to study latitude and longitude in an attempt to determine the shape of the Earth, the hot scientific topic of the day. The extent of the work to be done and the dedication of the scientists results in a ten-year stay. Jean Godin, one of the assistants, marries a Peruvian woman, Isabel Grameson. Their plans to move to France go awry, and the couple is separated for 20 years. Isabel makes a daring and horrifying trip through the Andes and along the Amazon to reunite with her husband in French Guiana.
Recommended by Joanne, January 2006

Book Cover Lynne Truss
Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door

The author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves takes her ornery approach to confront the detestable state of manners in the new millennium. In the hands of anyone else, this topic could easily come off as whining and griping. But, in the hands of Truss it is a laugh-out loud funny exposition on the way we respond to strangers. Well researched and laudably self-effacing, Truss makes some incredibly valid and edifying points about our complete disconnection with those around us and corporations' new approach to customer service. That you can almost hear the English accent through the pages doesn't hurt at all.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

Book Cover John Crawford
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq

When John Crawford joined up with Florida National Guard for help with college tuition he never guessed he would actually be deployed to a combat zone - the deal is one weekend a month, two weekends a year, right? But when he is shipped out to Kuwait before the invasion of Iraq, he realizes just how mistaken he'd been. Told with a degree of bitterness, but also with humility, this book provides a glimpse into the experiences of a reluctant soldier who wanted "nothing to do with someone else's war."
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

Book Cover Jill Watts
Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood

Hattie McDaniel gained worldwide recognition in 1939 when she became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Her success however, was a two-edged sword. The Black community expected her to use her newfound notoriety to expand opportunities for African Americans, while the studio heads continued to offer her acting roles portraying maids and cooks. She made some enemies by accepting the movie offers and was famously quoted as saying, "I'd rather play a maid than be one". An entertaining and informative look at the Hollywood system.
Recommended by Karen G., January 2006

Book Cover Steve Turner
A Man Called Cash

In this biography, the author tries valiantly to provide some balance to the life of Johnny Cash. For the most part, Turner is successful. From his devout religion, to his drug abuse, to his uneven recording history; Turner frames them all as expressions of a multi-faceted man. One leaves the book with a small understanding of the enigma and a whole lot of rock and roll history.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

Colby Buzzell
My War: Killing Time in Iraq

In an age of rabid political partisanship it is refreshing to read an account of the Iraq War that is free of overt bias. Buzzell achieves this in a fluff-free memoir that recounts his year-long deployment with the US Army in Iraq. Stationed outside the northern city of Mosul, the author recounts the intense highs and dangerous lows he experiences while battling insurgents and adjusting to life in a war zone. To combat boredom, Buzzell begins chronicling these experiences on a blog that quickly becomes a barometer of truth for soldiers and military families, and a thorn-in-the-side of military brass. Though it is difficult to discern Buzzell's feelings about the justness of the war (he frequently provides support for it, but aligns himself with outspoken opponents), this tell-it-like-it-is account of military life is frank, funny, and irreverent.
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

Book Cover Charles Dickens
The Adventures of Oliver Twist

Classic Fiction
Excluding Shakespeare, Charles Dickens has given form and significance, to more characters that populate our imagination than any other writer. Oliver Twist, Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Bill Sykes and the exquisite Mr/Mrs Bumble are members of the honored club. Extremely entertaining characters make for an extremely entertaining novel. Yet, Oliver Twist is most important as the jumping off point for Mr. Dickens life long assault upon the hypocrisy and cold, cold, heartedness of Victorian England. An England where children of the poor were bought/sold and used, like, what the Romans referred to as "living tools." Oliver Twist is one of these children, as was the author himself. Charles Dicken's "social consciousness" his capacity to effect change and his gift to delight like no other are what make him one of the divinities of world literature. "Please, Sir, I want some more."
Recommended by John, January 2006

Book Cover Truman Capote
In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

Capote's "nonfiction novel" about a multiple homicide in a sleepy Kansas town has been hailed as a watermark of modern crime reportage. Written as a narrative, Capote slowly unfolds actual events that surrounded the brutal Midwestern slayings in acute detail, drawing from evidence, testimonies, and newspaper reports. Punctuating the keen storytelling is a detectable undercurrent of Americana, as well as up close and personal examinations of the crimes perpetrators.
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

Book Cover Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet
Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes

Peter Mayle once again returns to France to share their gifts with American audiences. As Mayle explains in his introduction, Auzet suggested the idea for this book after so many visitors to his bakery requested something to take away with them. It begins with a history of the Auzet family bakery and a couple "secrets." It ends with recipes interspersed with fun facts about bread lore. A charmingly simple book for those who are passionate about their bread.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

Book Cover Julie Powell
Julie & Julia

Julie Powell is about to turn thirty; she has accepted her lot as a secretary, is facing a syndrome which may affect her ability to bear children, and can't quite figure out what went wrong. So, she embarks on a quest. She will cook every recipe in Julia Child's masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. While she does it, she will blog about her experiences. This book is a perfect balance of cooking, neuroses, and professional strife, utterly endearing and honest. Oh, and sometimes she cooks brains.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

Book Cover Jordan Crane
The Clouds Above

Graphic Novel
This is a charming little graphic novel about a boy named Simon and his cat named Jack. Poor Simon gets locked out of school one day for being tardy. To escape the wrath of his evil teacher the duo goes to the roof. The adventures begin when they find a staircase to the clouds. Each page is its own panel representing a part of the adventure. The art is a pleasing combination of detail and soft lines with colors that are muted but wide in their palette and usage. And the cat, oh the cat. He's yellow and fat and ornery and perfect.
Recommended by Ellen, January 2006