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2007 Staff Picks

Fiction

Book Cover for Call Me By Your Name Aciman, Andre
Call Me By Your Name

Fiction
This tender, lyrical love story follows the emotional ripening of 17 year old Elio, who falls gloriously hard for older visiting scholar Oliver, a research assistant for Elio’s father. Set during an idyllic Italian summer, Aciman’s story chronicles the subtle nuances of desire, fear and illogic known to all as first love. Early comparisons to a modern Proust not withstanding (a modicum of the insight balances out a fraction of the difficulty), Call Me By Your Name captures all the beautiful passion and fine, demonstrative detail of young love at its obsessive best.
Recommended by Don, June 2007

 
Book Cover for I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody Antoon, Sinan
I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody

Fiction
Don’t skip the preface to this one. In it, Sinan Antoon explains the meaning of the word i'jaam, diacritical marks that distinguish similar Arabic letters from each other. Without them, a word can have numerous meanings, discernible only by context, so i'jaam also means “elucidating” or “clarifying.” The novel is so named because it is a state translator’s disambiguation of a fictional political prisoner’s diary, written without diacritical dots and found in a Baghdad prison during Saddam Hussein’s regime. The novel plays with the concept of i'jaam, emphasizing the disparity between appearance and reality at several levels. Furat, the prisoner, employs the lack of diacritical marks to make lewd puns that mock state maxims. The tyrannical Leader publicly encourages free expression while he clandestinely arrests those, like Furat, who display dissent. Undercover guards posing as students monitor mandatory patriotic rallies and enforce myriad regulations meant to create the facade of a unified populace. Furat’s many linguistic musings will intrigue those with an understanding or interest in the Arabic language and script, while his knowledge of literature and Iraqi poets will entice others. His vignettes include flashbacks, visions and jarring accounts of prison life whose descriptions range from mundane to surreal. Essentially, I’jaam boasts a compelling premise, but one executed in sometimes stilted language and a slightly rushed plot. The timely political relevance and the novel's brevity, however, still make it worth the read.
Recommended by Renée, September 2007

 
Book Cover for Journal : Amy Zoe Mason found by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson
Journal : Amy Zoe Mason

Fiction
Reading Journal is a unique experience. The story, told through notes, letters, and emails, is presented as a gorgeous antique scrapbook. The detritus of life is given a glorious makeover lending background music to the sinister plot. The clues Amy accidentally stumbles upon are inadvertently and alarmingly given a cohesiveness rendering both the reader and narrator helpless in the face of what is to come. While the story is suspenseful, sad, and poignant, the reader can't help enjoying a certain sense of adventure in having "found" the evidence of this horrific crime.
Recommended by Geo, July 2007

 
Book Cover for The Sweet Hereafter Banks, Russell
The Sweet Hereafter

Fiction
Some people are incapable of watching a film until they've read the book on which it was based. I am one of those people. Whenever I'm teased about this proclivity, I point to books like The Sweet Hereafter to support my case. Banks's tale of a tragic school bus accident and its aftermath grabbed me by the throat on page one, and didn't let me go until the bitter end, and while Atom Egoyan's companion film of the same name is very good, it cannot compare to the exquisite horror of tracing that fatal bus ride through the driver's memory, knowing what's coming, but not how, powerless to stop it even if you did. Subsequent chapters alternate narrators, describing the weight of the grief, guilt and anger various parents and survivors feel. Russell even manages to bring a sense of gravitas and honor to the motives of a big-city lawyer who comes to Sam Dent to initiate a class-action suit on behalf of the bereaved parents. If you liked the film The Sweet Hereafter, you should definitely pick up the book and drink deeply from the dark and brackish well that inspired it. If this is your first exposure to either work, why not try both and make the comparison yourself?
Recommended by Leigh Anne, January 2007

 
Book Cover for Before You Know Kindness Bohjalian, Chris
Before You Know Kindness

Fiction
Meat or meat-free? This is the personal-political choice that forms the backbone of Bohjalian's stunning novel about a middle-class family on the Eastern seaboard. The action begins with a devestating accident at a summer home in New Hampshire, then spirals back in time to examine how the prinicpal players (and one dangerous prop) came to be there. The primary action revolves around Spencer, a committed animal rights advocate, and his wife Christine, who agrees with Spencer's principles in public, but sneaks Slim-Jims on the side. Their daughter, Charlotte, can't understand why she's not allowed to wear leather skirts or use certain kinds of makeup, and Nan, the family matriarch, can't understand how anyone could choose to live a life without meat. A pack of hungry deer, a father's desire to bond with his son, and the memory of countless lobster dinners contribute to Bohjalian's thoughtful examination of how the carnivore wars look from all sides of the spectrum. By itself alone this attention to structure and theme would make for a satisfying reading experience, but Bohjalian goes even deeper, fleshing out his characters' personality quirks and lacing family interactions with serious questions: what, exactly, is kindness? Who is deserving of love, and why? What is our responsibility to each other, and does it or does it not trump our responsibility to the planet? Can the two duties co-exist peacefully without personal sacrifice? Bohjalian offers no easy answers, but, instead, raises all sorts of passionate, prickly questions that make this novel an excellent choice for book groups who enjoy a healthy debate of social issues, wrapped in an engaging narrative. Four stars and a vegan griller, hold the soy cheese.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, April 2007

 
Book Cover for If on a Winter's Night a Traveler Calvino, Italo
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

Fiction
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler is clever metafiction sure to thrill anyone who loves to read. The premise is that you (the Reader) buy a copy of Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, only to discover that the copy has a binding error, forcing you back to the bookstore and into a chain of absurd events. Calvino weaves multiple stories with self-referential wit, satire and philosophizing punctuated with humor. William Weaver seamlessly translates Calvino's effortless, vibrant prose. This book, which makes the experience of reading its central theme, is definitely a must-read.
Recommended by Renée, October 2007

 
Book Cover for The Perks of Being a Wallflower Chbosky, Stephen
Perks of Being a Wallflower

Fiction
This quick but great read is the story of Charlie, a freshman in high school. You learn about him and his life through the letters he writes to an unnamed friend. The letters are written with such sincerity that as more is revealed about this very gifted but troubled boy, you become even more intrigued and interested in his life. While this book is found in the Teen section, this book would appeal to older readers, too. His experiences in high school, such as football games and the first school dance, are ones that anyone growing up or grown up can identify with. Charlie also faces more serious issues like drugs and sexual discovery. Other themes include the importance of giving heart-felt gifts, the need to be true to oneself, and how much people in your life affect you, for good or for bad. In this book, the plot is just as important as its subtle and poignant messages. The author, Stephen Chbosky, is a Pittsburgh native. Although Charlie never makes direct reference to the city's name, the story takes place in Pittsburgh. After reading this book you might not travel through the Fort Pitt Bridge the same way again.
Recommended by Susan M., April 2007
Book Cover for A Child Again Coover, Robert
A Child Again

Fiction
Robert Coover populates this collection of short stories with characters from myths, fairy tales and folklore who display surprising twists of modern sensibility. Prince Charming suffers an existential crisis at his wicked stepmother-in-law's funeral. Jackie Paper, now an aging equestrian, returns to Honah-Lee to find Puff the Magic Dragon listless and depressed. The Invisible Man abandons his superhero lifestyle for a lonely path of perfect crime. Alice goes through menopause among her ageless, insane Wonderland companions. While he infuses the stories with humor, Coover also uses the familiar icons of our cultural narrative to access serious themes. "Playing House," a parable, questions the difference between light and darkness, and human response to both. "The Return of the Dark Children" visits post-Piper Hamelin to explore the roots of hysteria. Coover electrifies his stories with his characteristic sarcasm and witty wordplay. Vocabulary ranging in topic from elocution to royal court titles to architecture should satisfy any logophile. Each tale flows into the next via common theme or tone, creating a compelling narrative thread through different settings and voices. These stories transform formerly two-dimensional, moralistic caricatures into complex beings enhanced with sexuality, anxiety, memory, fears and hopes. Coover affords us the chance to reevaluate our culture by seeing its foundations anew, giving us the freedom to question it from the same fresh perspective we did as children.
Recommended by Renée, January 2007

 
Book Cover for Generation X Coupland, Douglas
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Fiction
Credited with terming low-paying/low-status/unsatisfying/dead-end employment as a "McJob" and introducing/popularizing the phrase "Generation X" to the American lexicon, Coupland conveys the lives of three friends as they attempt to escape their collective quarter-life crisis. Using a raw ironic tone that is anything less than subtle, Generation X entwines the exhausted lives of twentysomethings with relevant pop culture references. Choice moments in the novel include Coupland's incorporation of cartoons, slogans and Couplandisms, all of which are specific to the sentiments portrayed by both the characters and the author himself. "Tele-parabolizing" is a personal favorite of Coupland's invented terms which is defined as describing everyday morals by using widely known plots found on television (think, "that's just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!"). Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture may not cure your frustration with our culture's habit of excessive consumption and extreme commercialism, but it will at least provide you with the solace of knowing you're not alone.
Recommended by Lisa, May 2007

 
Book Cover for Next Crichton, Michael
Next

Fiction
This was a frightening book. Imagine a world where a university can own your cells, and, therefore, those of your offspring. Also, ocean creatures are genetically engineered to have corporate logos on them. There are transgenic creatures such as humanzees that think and talk like humans, but are aggressive like chimpanzees. Parrots can carry on a conversation and do math, and wild orangutans can curse at observers in Dutch. Through several story-lines, Crichton presents these and other possibilities, and the ethical questions that surround them. He has done lots of research in the field of genetic engineering, so his stories are not creepy because they are only science fiction, but because they are real extrapolations of science today. Anyone who reads this book will realize that we are just a stone's throw away from such frightening realities, and that we must address such topics now, before we really do find ourselves in such a world.
Recommended by Terry, March 2007
Book Cover for Inheritance of Exile Darraj, Susan Muaddi
The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly

Short Stories
These intertwining stories follow the lives of four girlfriends who are now women and their parents-- primarily their mothers. The daughters are all Arab-Americans, while their parents are primarily Palestinian immigrants living in Philadelphia. The stories highlight the family relationships and experiences of growing up with or adapting to two cultures. The conflicts in culture for these first generation Americans at times find the young women in a limbo of sorts, not belonging to the world of their parents but not being completely accepted by their American peers. The stories also explore universal issues such as finding one’s place in the world and understanding a time and place that is not our own.
Recommended by Joanne, November 2007

 
Donovan, Gerard
Julius Winsome

Fiction
Through a simple story told in sparse and elegant prose, this novel provides a powerful look at humankind and its complex potential for true kindness and harmful destruction. Donovan writes eloquently about Julius Winsome, a man who lives peacefully and contentedly alone in the Northern Maine woods until the outside world, accidentally or not (and is this relevant?), violently intrudes. From the very first page the reader is drawn inexorably into Julius's world, a world of wonder and beauty and then increasing horror, sadness, and desolation. A story of murder, of this man's recent and remote past and acutely evoked present becomes much more: this is a tale of love and loss, solitude and community, communication and isolation, language and understanding, loneliness and fulfillment, peace of mind and the passion of emotions driven beyond control, and of respect for living things and the harm that results from absence of that respect. It is one of those rare books that is hard to put down because the story and the language are completely harmonious; with spare words and without deviation from the central narrative this (dare I say it?) Shakespearean drama draws surely to its irrevocable conclusion.
Recommended by Deborah, January 2007

 
Donovan, Gerald
Julius Winsome

Fiction
Julius Winsome, surrounded by 3,282 books, is living an idyllic life in a cabin in the woods of Maine. But they've left something out of the guidebooks: the constant sound of gunshots and the killers and victims that they represent. Julius has been under a constant barrage of reminders of mortality his whole life, both historically (both his grandfather and father were soldiers) and daily. When he finds his dog murdered it is as if this is the last death he can tolerate. Something is unleashed in Julius and sets off a need to somehow restore balance to his world. There are times when having sympathy for Julius gets to be a bit much, but that is when another crumb of truth is thrown on the path and you can't help but follow. This is a tight, intense, and eye-opening experience instinctively muted at times and made bearable by Julius's affinity for nature and deep respect for all forms of life.
Recommended by Geo, February 2007

 
Book Cover for The Valley of Fear Doyle, Arthur Conan
The Valley of Fear

Fiction
This short Sherlock Holmes novel is one of the best stories in the whole canon and, without a doubt, the single finest example of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The story takes place in the coal mining district of Pennsylvania and is divided into two parts, the first being the mystery and its solution and the second the back story. A thrilling variation of a locked room murder, The Valley of Fear concerns a secret society’s terroristic hold over an entire community and how that hold was finally shattered. A jim-dandy, crackerjack of a tale.
Recommended by Don, August 2007

 
Book Cover for Mistress of the Art of Death Franklin, Ariana
Mistress of the Art of Death

Fiction
12th-century England was no picnic, despite the glossy patina of legend. Readers who appreciate accurate historical fiction will find themselves intrigued--and, quite possibly, repulsed--by the circumstances in which Franklin's heroine, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortesia Aguilar, operates in this mystery that piles on unpleasant truths in the best possible way. Our creeptastic tale begins in the year 1170, with the murder of several Christian children in Cambridge. The local Jewish community is blamed, and Henry II (who depends heavily on the tax revenue from said community) is forced to send to Salerno, Italy for a forensics expert, or "master of the art of death." The wily dean of medicine sends, instead of a master, his best mistress of said art, the aforementioned Adelia, who, despite fears of being tried as a witch, is so appalled by child murder that she is determined to find the fiend and bring him to justice. Accompanied by her protectors, Simon and Mansur, Adelia struggles against the ignorance and prejudice endemic to her times while treating the sick of Cambridge, examining the children's corpses for clues, and longing for her far-more-enlightened homeland. Rife with bawdy language, poor hygeine, and statements of appalling taste to contemporary ears, Franklin's novel is, nonetheless, a jawdrop of a page-turner that shatters any illusions the reader might have had about "the good old days." Recommended for CSI-loving types who prefer their historical depictions hard-boiled, as opposed to sunny-side-up, and don't mind being shocked and appalled every few pages or so.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, July 2007

 
Book Cover for Water for Elephants Gruen, Sara
Water for Elephants

Fiction
If you'd like to go dancing at a speakeasy, if you'd like to jump a moving train and find yourself immersed in the world of a traveling extravaganza, or if you'd like to meet and fall in love with a Polish-speaking elephant, Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants is a tender and colorful under-the-big-top tale for you. Sprinkled with historic photographs and with characters born out of true circus stories, this page-turning novel alternates between the narrations of Jacob Jankowski as a young man and as an old man. One topples face first into love and the grisly and glamorous circus world and the other struggles to maintain his dignity and his memory in an assisted living home. Both stories have unpredictable, uplifting resolutions and might leave you wishing that you could run away and join the circus too.
Recommended by Laura, February 2007

 
Book Cover for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers Guo, Xiaolu
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Fiction
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo, is the story of a young Chinese woman who discovers loneliness, love, and self-actualization for the first time in London. “Z,” as she calls herself, since she perceives her name as too difficult for Westerners to pronounce, is the protagonist and narrator who finds herself completely culture shocked and isolated in a country that makes no sense to her. She writes in disjointed, sometimes garbled English about her thoughts on her past in China, her feelings of being “other,” and her lover, whom she refers to as “You.” This is where Guo seems to bite off more than she can chew: her lover is not only of a different generation, culture, and language, but he is also a different sexuality. “You” is bisexual and is a sculptor of the erotic male form who seems to spend more time wallowing in depression and introspection to notice the blossoming Z in front of him. I found Z to be needy and even a tad unlikable in the beginning, but as the book progresses her English gets better, as does her understanding of her own strength, power, and identity.
Recommended by Bonnie, December 2007

 
Book Cover for The Accidental Time Machine Haldeman, Joe
The Accidental Time Machine

Fiction
One particular afternoon, unknowingly, unwittingly, lab assistant Matt Fuller invents a time machine. For Matt, this fortuitous event could not have been (forgive me) more timely. Our hero had no money, had just lost his girlfriend and was about to lose his job. In a word, Matt's present, like that of so many of his contemporaries----sucked! Matt's only dilemma was whether to go backward or forward in time. He knew how horrible the past was (although if he went back to the 2nd Tuesday of the month he would have $50.00 in his account). Certainly the future, any future, must be better. Well, maybe yes-maybe no. The Accidental Time Machine is such a cogent, rollicksome, and intelligent novel, that it inspired me to reread Professor Haldeman's The Forever War, (1974). In that classic tale, earthlings battle a species known as the Taurans across space and through time for so long that no one can remember the purpose of the war. Intended to parallel The Vietnam Conflict (in which Haldeman served), the novel resounds once again. Best of luck to time-travelers everywhere.
Recommended by John, December 2007

 
Book Cover for The Raw Shark Texts Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Fiction
Eric Sanderson is having a very bad day. He wakes up not knowing who he is, discovers he has a rare form of dissociative amnesia (this is the 11th occurrence), receives daily letters from "Eric Sanderson the First," and is being hunted by a lethal, voracious conceptual shark. And that's just for starters. Gaiman meets Nabokov (by way of L. Frank Baum) in a tour de force of metafiction with that rarest of rare commodities: a heart.
Recommended by Don, July 2007

 
Book Cover for Returning to Earth Harrison, Jim
Returning to Earth

Fiction
Returning to Earth chronicles a year in the life of a closely knit family in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Four characters are each given one-quarter of the novel to tell their first-person tale. Donald, who is Chippewa- Finnish, begins the story. He is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease at age forty-five. As he dictates to his wife the story of his ancestors, he weaves family history, strong ties to the natural world, and hints of private, mystical views of life, death, and an afterlife. On page one Donald says, "I don't have the right language to keep up with my thinking or my memory or all of my emotions over being sick." But his authentic, distinct voice and stream of consciousness style is just right for a man overwhelmed with love for life. The members of Donald's family who narrate the remaining three sections of the novel face their private grief as well as struggle to help each other cope with Donald's death. Each narrator's voice is distinctive and utterly believable, and the themes of integrity and reverence for the earth are completely compelling.
Recommended by Julie, February 2007

 
Book Cover for Here on Earth Hoffman, Alice
Here on Earth

Fiction
Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth explores the many aspects of relationships, including lost love, abuse, death, single-minded ambition, separation and abandonment. Creating more than one love triangle, Hoffman brings characters to life in perplexing situations that confuse but never disappoint.
Recommended by Karen R., February 2007

 
Book Cover for A Thousand Splendid Suns Hosseini, Khaled
A Thousand Splendid Suns

Fiction
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the incredibly powerful story of life in modern day Afghanistan, as told in the voice of two women whose lives are inter-connected in a most dramatic and unusual way. As in his first novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini’s characters struggle with the tragedy of their lives, while showing incredible strength, dignity and resilience. They live with hope, love and courage even in the most dire and unimaginable circumstances. A compelling page-turner.
Recommended by Karen R., July 2007

 
Book Cover for Trouble Kellerman, Jesse
Trouble

Fiction
Jonah is just a medical student trying to get home in New York, when he hears a woman scream. In an attempt to save the woman from the man attacking her, Jonah inadvertently kills him. This is only the start of Jonah's problems in this thriller involving murder, sex, and deception. He ends up having a sexual affair with Eve, the woman he saved, but she’s not the woman she appears to be. Complicating matters further, Jonah also feels obligated to help take care of his former girlfriend who is now mentally ill. From vivid descriptions of operating room endeavors to the dark accounts of Eve’s sadistic desires, this chilling novel of suspense is sure to make Jesse Kellerman a novelist to watch-- a writer with his own bold, contemporary style.
Recommended by Terry, September 2007

 
Book Cover for The History of Love Krauss, Nicole
The History of Love

Fiction
Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you remember that all of humanity is connected, there are no accidents, and our lives intersect for reasons we are here to find out. The History of Love was one of those books for me. As a young man, Leo Gursky writes a book for the woman he loves. More than 60 years later, Alma Singer starts off looking for a new man for her mother, and ends up searching for something more for herself through her namesake, a character in a book called The History of Love, by Zvi Litvinoff. Learn how these unlikely characters are connected and discover how far beyond physical reality human connection can go.
Recommended by Kaarin, June 2007

 
Book Cover for Unfinished Business Langhorne, Karyn
Unfinished Business

Fiction
I have always been a sucker for a transformation story, and this romance, between a liberal, African American teacher and anti-war activist from Washington, D.C. and a conservative, Southern white senator and decorated veteran, does not disappoint. Sparks fly when she disrupts his committee hearing on education, and she invites him to visit her inner-city classroom. Not to be outdone, he invites her to visit his Southern state. With all that visiting, sparks are bound to ignite, but wanting to see how they could possibly get over their ideological aversion to each other kept me engaged to the very end.
Recommended by Kaarin, September 2007

 
Book Cover for Einstein's Dreams Lightman, Alan
Einstein's Dreams

Fiction
Einstein's renowned E=mc2, which expresses mass energy equivalence, is arguably the most famous physics equation. But it is only part of Einstein's theory of special relativity, whose other consequences include factors that seem more like science fiction than science. Alan Lightman's brief novel Einstein's Dreams plays with the potentially wild behavior of time, and reflects on its effect on our lives. Each short chapter describes one of Einsteins's dreams, different worlds in which time behaves differently (it moves backwards, it doesn't move, it is qualitative instead of quantitative), and explores the way that behavior impacts the people in that world. Lightman describes both setting and characters (most of whom exist for only a sentence) with painterly poeticism to craft moving meditations on the nature of our life and our role in shaping it-with or without time's help.
Recommended by Renée, December 2007

 
Book Cover for The Highest Tide Lynch, Jim
The Highest Tide

Fiction
Thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley loves the natural life of the Washington bay where he lives. During this particularly incredible summer in his life, he discovers things in the bay that are unusual, drawing the media’s attention and quickly spiraling into a frenzy of more discoveries and more attention. Complete with the college-age girl next door, the old woman who’s his friend, a popular teenage business partner, and his somewhat absent parents, the story finds Miles growing in more ways than one. Lynch is right on the mark in showing the way in which a young boy would understand and react to the situations at hand, and the results are sometimes quite humorous. Recommend.
Recommended by Joanne, April 2007

 
Book Cover for Ports of Call Maalouf, Amin
Ports of Call

Fiction
In describing the life of Ossyane Ketabdar, an Arab/Armenian hero of the French resistance, Maalouf delicately and intimately describes the genocide and war that engulfed Europe and the Middle East throughout the twentieth century through the lens of a beautiful and poignant love story. Over four days, Ketabdar pours out his story to our unnamed narrator, a man he meets on the Paris Metro, a fellow countryman who recognizes him from a photo in his school history book. In Ports of Call, Maalouf weaves a tale of relationships between countries told through the relationships between very specific and moving individuals. Alberto Manguel's translation allows the passion and hopefulness of Maalouf's writing to shine.
Recommended by Candice, April 2007

 
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
McCarthy's prose alternates between terse and utterly poetic. He describes the desolation of nuclear winter, despair, and violence with language that is almost paradoxically beautiful. As the man and the boy (as we know them) wander through an America all but destroyed by an undefined catastrophe, they confront starvation, freezing, and cannibals. McCarthy envelops us in the characters' boredom, hunger, cold, loneliness, heart-pounding fear, and shadowy hope. Their dialogue is brief and simple, but buried in these short lines are layers of meaning that imply their relationship and opinions. One of The Road's most compelling themes is the difference between the man's and his son's perspectives of their surroundings. The man regards the world as charred ruins of the vibrant planet that used to be; the boy sees the only world he has ever known. The tension that results from these subtly stated views becomes the subtext which colors their behavior and beliefs, and which offers two opposing avenues of approaching the novel's philosophical questions. What is the difference between a primal society and a society that emerges from destruction? How do people behave in anarchic conditions? How do we know what is right? Why live? Yes, the plot is dark, but McCarthy is a master, and The Road is a masterpiece - one with imagery and argument powerful enough to linger in the minds of those who read it long after they've finished.
Recommended by Renée, May 2007

 
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
There are few books that come along that are simply profound in their execution; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is one of those books. The style and diction used to communicate the apocalyptic scenario are so basic that certain words at once jump out at the reader and resonate long after the page is read. The Road, like The Great Gatsby before it, is a prose poem, a lyric masterpiece whose horrific beauty is underscored by a stark, relentless vision.
Recommended by Don, April 2007

 
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
Reading The Road made me want to totally curl up into the fetal position. Humankind has descended into an Apocalyptical Hell of global proportions after an unidentified calamity. Our protagonist is never named by the author, and therefore he is never awarded the individual identity taken for granted in a pre-disaster world. Nostalgia and optimism are irrelevant and dangerous in a present that has no use for either past or future tenses. But how to remove the humanity from the man? What can you do with both memories and dreams? All that exists is the now and the road. The man, his son, and the constant fear of death and hunger are the major players. The writing itself is both sparse and elegantly poetic. This is an intense, unrelenting, and beautifully sublime portrait of human emotion and the value of humanity.
Recommended by Connie, January 2007

 
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
McCarthy serves up the thinnest and most potent sliver of apocalyptic hell in his latest, The Road. As a father and son make their way through a stark and devastated landscape where all the "roads" go nowhere, the reader can't help but wonder, "What is the point?" along with the characters. The difference between hope and survival is blurred leading to the suspicion that hope might just be "will to survive" in a tux and consequently overdressed for this occasion. The subject matter is grim, but the poetic flow makes it impossible to sink or stop swimming. In spite of already knowing the end of the story, readers of The Road will find themselves rushing along to find out how the book about the ultimate end of everything is going to end. Oh, and as an added bonus, you will never look at a grocery cart the same way again.
Recommended by Geo, January 2007

 
Book Cover for On Chesil Beach McEwan, Ian
On Chesil Beach

Fiction
I love small books. This particular small and wonderful book portrays Florence and Edward, a young couple who are freshly wed and who, in a seaside hotel, attempt unsuccessfully to consummate their marriage. Despite the book's slight stature, it is no lofty read. Their love for each other will be subjected to pride, distrust, impatience, abandonment and-worst of all-apathy. On Chesil Beach during their wedding night, their lives will be changed forever. Each word is important, each word is anchored, and each word is remarkably placed among every other remarkably-placed word. McEwan depicts the intricacies of human communication-or lack of communication-with precision, grace, and heartbreaking honesty.
Recommended by Laura, July 2007

 
Book Cover for The Time Traveler’s Wife Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler’s Wife

Fiction
Reading is a form of time traveling. In times of stress, opening a book can instantaneously transport the reader to another place and another time, allowing her to straight away abandon her worries. For Henry, a dark-haired punk librarian, time traveling is involuntary, inconvenient and undignified. Materializing in the past, present, and future “in his altogether,” Henry manages his Chrono-Displacement Disorder the best he can. A gritty and suprising tale, Niffenegger layers this narrative with smart, immaculate storytelling and easily coaxes the reader through the expanse of time.
Recommended by Laura, April 2007

 
Book Cover for The Quickie Patterson, James
The Quickie

Fiction
I read my first James Patterson, The Quickie, and came to appreciate that the source of his popularity is that he has practically invented a new genre: quickies. The periods don’t even stop you. If there’d been a squad car behind the couch, I would have gotten a ticket for speed-reading. I almost broke my neck tripping over some implausibilities, but I brushed myself off and turned the page. Reading has never been this breathless, reckless, or fat burning. If you’re ever tempted to indulge in an almost unbearably suspenseful read, James Patterson is the man.
Recommended by Geo, September 2007

 
Book Cover for The Abstinence Teacher Perrotta, Tom
The Abstinence Teacher

Fiction
Perrotta's writing continues to improve with every book, and the highlight here is the honesty with which he portrays his main characters and their stories. Perrotta is great at describing how someone can be in the middle of a family and still feel isolated, apart, and lonely, and he does so in a way here that really rings true: The two main characters are both parents in their late 30s, but both are still trying to figure out where they fit into their lives, and who they fit with. The female protagonist-the abstinence teacher-has a strong personality and convictions to match. She projects a sense of independence despite being lonely, and while she is sometimes bitter and even a little desperate, she's always human. The male protagonist is a former addict and general loser, who starts to get his life back together after becoming a Born Again Christian. He and the other religious people in the book are portrayed as people, not as stereotypes. Perrotta just sort of puts them into normal situations and invites readers to look at them, but not necessarily to laugh at them; they're treated with respect, even when the characters around them feel something less than respect for them. This is a fun book that's filled with honesty, romance, love, and Perrotta's signature humor-definitely worth a read.
Recommended by Gina, November 2007

 
Book Cover for Little Children Perrotta, Tom
Little Children

Fiction
Absorbing and unsettling, yet filled with laugh-out-loud moments, Little Children conceives a sardonic landscape of suburbia where nothing outside of the mundane ever seems to happen. Suspense soon shakes the plot as a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood and an unlikely affair between two young parents captures an intense romance. While Sarah and Todd desperately embrace an oasis from feeling trapped, alone, and deflated by the drudgery of their lives, their children nap from a typical day at the town pool. From the neighborhood housewives to the local pedophile to the children of the restless adulterous parents, Perrotta remarkably manages to design every character as interesting and oddly engaging.
Recommended by Lisa, September 2007

 
Rankin, Robert
The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse

Fiction
The tone is dry, the plot is twisted, and the title is priceless: when young Jack goes off to the City to make his fortune, he never imagines his new best friends and sworn adversaries would be...toys. Having lost his horse and most of his money, Jack tries to keep from losing his mind in a metropolis where fairy tales come to life, humans are rare, and nursery rhyme characters are known as "pre-adolescent personalities." Befriended by Eddie Bear (a fuzzy, boozy Guy Noir of a teddy), Jack finds himself swept up in the hunt for a serial killer who's taking out targets like Humpty Dumpty and Little Boy Blue, leaving hollow chocolate bunnies as his calling card. If your reading tastes regularly park at the corner of Snark and Parody, you'll want to pull up a chair for this droll afternoon-burner of a book.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2007

 
Book Cover for Year of Endless Sorrows Rapp, Adam
The Year of Sorrows

Fiction
Four young men pursue their dreams in New York City in a reality more conducive to suicide. In spite of that, the main character and novelist wannabee maintains a healthy attitude. While it is hard to understand how these people stay motivated, an almost catatonic, smelly centerpiece of a roommate may be the answer. No one would want to end up like The Loach. Rapp’s language is fresh, although disturbingly olfactory-obsessed at the beginning. The odors blessedly taper off and his wide and wild palette of adjectives is put to better use.
Recommended by Geo, May 2007

 
Book Cover for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Fiction
Is there room in the court of public opinion for one more review of the year's most frequently hyped book? I believe there is, if only for the sake of those who would avoid this series for fear of "unsavory elements." Skeptical readers who are willing to take a leap of faith, and begin with the first volume, will find themselves well-rewarded by the time they reach the final, action-packed chapters of this brilliant conclusion, in which Rowling tips her hand to reveal a larger pattern that's clearly influenced by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. After many dreadful revelations and upsets, Harry finally learns the truth about his own destiny, and takes up his final task with such fortitude that only the most hard-hearted reader could fail to be moved. Without giving away the ending, I can only assure you that you will not be sorry you signed up for several thousand pages of fantasy adventure, especially when the ultimate payoff is so sweetly satisfying. Think of it as a riddle with a very long set-up, and a surprising punchline. Want a hint? "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Recommended for children ages 11-99, and the wizards and Muggles who love them.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, September 2007

 
Book Cover for All He Ever Wanted Shreve, Anita
All He Ever Wanted

Fiction
Nicholas Van Tassel sees Etna Bliss for the first time by chance. At that moment he decides he wants to marry her. But does she feel the same? This book is about a fateful meeting and how it changes the course of two lives. The story is written from the point of view of Nicholas, 15 years after they met, while riding on a train to Florida. It is about love and obsession and secrets and desires. I became so enamored with these two characters, their interactions, and their private wants and needs, I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. This story begins innocently, but many surprises are in store.
Recommended by Terry, November 2007

 
Book Cover for The Hummingbird's Daughter Urrea, Luis Alberto
The Hummingbird's Daughter

Fiction
A beautifully rich tapestry woven from historical research, magical realism, and the astonishing life of Teresita, this novel about the life of Urrea's great-aunt, born in Mexico in 1873, is epic in scope, magical to its core, and as real as the sky. Teresita, born to a 14-year-old Indian girl and the Mexican land owner for whom she labors, becomes both a Western-educated young lady invited by her father into his household and a curandera taught by one of the most powerful curanderas in Mexico. As such, she goes on to defy a near-deadly rape, raising from her coffin, to become one of Mexico's unique legends. Her miraculous recovery brings thousands of pilgrims to the Urrea ranch, where Teresita inspires Indian uprisings and revolution.
Recommended by Candice, June 2007
Book Cover for Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams Valente, Catherynne M.
Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams

Fiction
A story with no definite plot unfolds and refolds like origami as the narrator describes her dream-visions which may actually be her life, memory or imagination. The narrator might be Ayako, an ancient hermit living on a mountain, or she may be "The I-that-is-Ayako," "a hinge which opens and shuts strange windows, who dreams she is more than her flesh." Several forces propel this book. First, Ayako's visions cross cultures and time with the vast range of mythology she encounters. In one dream, her dream-sister is Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. In another, she births the Egyptian god Horus. Others involve quantum physics, circuses, Oedipus, medieval Japanese culture, and a host of dream-guide animals. All deal with themes of change, transience and uncertainty. The second force behind the book is its lush, adjective-laden language, which fluidly draws comparisons and metaphors that employ even more images. Chapters are named after months from the Japanese Heian period calendar, and they detail changes in animals and nature that signal seasonal cycles, like "Grasses Wither" and "Earthworms Come Out." While the storyline is sparse and buried in surrealism, glimpses of plot emerge from Ayoko's interactions with River, Mountain and Gate-beings who teach her Zen koan-like lessons. With its poetic style, abundance of symbols and ambiguous plotline and characters, the book can be overwhelming, despite its short length. Too many symbols, after all, can become meaningless. But Valente may have intended this shadowy environment to immerse us in the same confusion Ayoko experiences, as she tries to navigate and interpret her visions and distinguish her thoughts from her Self.
Recommended by Renée, April 2007

 
Book Cover for Luncheon of the Boating Party Vreeland, Susan
Luncheon of the Boating Party

Fiction
A fascinating fictional account of the story behind Renoir’s painting of the same name. Vreeland’s latest novel uses historic records and biographies of the famous impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir to compose the story of how and why this painting came to be. A look at life in France during the late 1800s shows the importance of Renoir’s depiction of “la vie moderne” to the time. Meet the models, among them another French impressionist painter, an aspiring writer and adventurer, an actress, an Italian journalist, and the woman who eventually becomes Renoir’s wife. Vreeland has expertise in art and art history, which also is apparent in her previous works – Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia – both recommended as well.
Recommended by Joanne, October 2007

 
Book Cover for The Roaches Have No King Weiss, Daniel Evan
The Roaches Have No King

Fiction
"I had reinherited the earth." Our protagonist, Numbers, named himself after a chapter in the book that sheltered and nourished him for two of his molts--he is a Bible baby and he is a cockroach. From innumerable perches, positions and perspectives, this one cunning Blattella germanica roach manipulates and manages the unknowing, bumbling, self-absorbed Homo sapiens who live in and around his apartment and who conceitedly think they "have their bug problem under control." Numbers' survey of the inferiority of the human species is not only truthful but extremely graphic and laugh-out-loud funny. When Ira commits mass slaughter on the colony, revenge is sweet and deserved. You will never doubt the power of pheromones and you may never again touch a canister of poison.
Recommended by Laura, June 2007

 
Book Cover for My French Whore Wilder, Gene
My French Whore

Fiction
You’ve seen his talent as a comic actor and as the original Willy Wonka. Now Gene Wilder stars as a debut novelist with My French Whore, a love story composed with simplicity and honesty. Peachy is a young man who leaves his life in Milwaukee to join the Army during WWI and keeps a notebook in which he journals all that follows. Shortly after his arrival in Germany, he successfully deceives his captors into believing that he is a German spy. He is catapulted into a world of enemy military relationships and luxuries and must depend upon his wit and luck and upon the love of a French courtesan for survival. A short read and a small book, this title is perfect for a train ride or a rainy night.
Recommended by Laura, May 2007

 
Book Cover for Good Grief Winston, Lolly
Good Grief

Fiction
Much like actual grief, Lolly Winston's novel Good Grief is easier to process than to describe. Not that processing grief is a picnic, as Sophie finds out when she becomes a widow at thirty-six. Despite antidepressants, a therapist, a support group, and a frighteningly efficient mother-in-law, Sophie is having difficulty getting it together. The chance to start over in another state might be the antidote...that is, if Sophie can get past the notion that there's a "right" way to be a widow. If you have ever lost someone, you will appreciate the skill with which Winston depicts the stages of grieving without toppling over into Hallmark sentimentality or movie-of-the-week melodrama. Sophie handles the challenges of her post-married life much in the same way anyone else would handle a difficult burden: with confusion, creative improvisation, panic, biting humor, lots of Oreos, secret reservoirs of inner strength, and, ultimately glimmers of grace. A well-written piece of women's fiction, yet with the pacing of chick lit, recommended for readers who appreciate well-rounded protagonists, unusual plots, or the gumption it takes to get up and start all over again.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2007

 
Book Cover for Sorcery & Cecelia Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Fiction
Readers who enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Pride and Prejudice might enjoy this charming novel that combines the historical elements of Regency London with the current craze for books about magic. When Kate goes off to London for her first Season, she writes to her cousin Cecelia to tell her about all the goings-on in the city, including her curious misadventure at the Royal College of Wizards. Cecy, for her part, has plenty of stories to tell Kate, especially when a mysterious new girl in the neighborhood turns the heads of all the young gentlemen. Is natural charm involved, or that of an entirely different kind? The girls' adventures entwine around the presence of a mysterious Marquis, a series of charm bags, and the search for a very important chocolate pot. The epistolary narrative works beautifully in terms of creating suspense, and the authors cleverly weave the story elements together into a conclusion that's both pleasing and believable (considering that half the characters in the novel turn out to be magicians, this is no mean feat). Recommended for teen and adult readers searching for something suspenseful and fanciful, and who relish a good (yet wholesome) Regency love story.
Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2007

 

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