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2011 Staff Picks

December 2011

Book Cover for You Better Not Cry Burroughs, Augusten
You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas

Nonfiction
The holidays bring out in people the very best and the very worst. Factor in a mentally ill mother, an alcoholic father, and a precocious child with an overactive imagination, and the holidays take on new levels of intensity. Established memoirist Burroughs presents seven Christmastime vignettes, ranging from the outright hysterical (as a young boy, the author had Jesus and Santa entirely reversed), to the wrenchingly tragic (as an adult, he must come to terms with losing his partner to AIDS). While the tone varies from piece to piece, the message remains constant: there’s just something remarkable and transformative about the sheer light of the season. Burroughs explores childish greed and grown-up vices with the caustic humor his audience anticipates and loves.
Recommended by Connie, December 2011

 
Book Cover for Averno Gluck, Louise
Averno

Poetry
Louise Glück’s voice attains mystical perfection in these poems, which use the myth of Persephone to explore the nature of the soul. Her cadence varies from defiance to weariness to reverence as she intertwines natural imagery, especially the seasonal cycle, with the human life cycle. Poems also include references to a contemporary family. Glück establishes a parallel with Persephone’s conflict between Demeter and Hades and a daughter’s choice between her mother and lover. The poet uses these structures to express the equal pressures on the soul to connect earthly and divine spheres. Lines from some poems linger, as when, addressing her soul, the speaker asks “What will you do, / when it is your turn in the field with the god?”
Recommended by Renée, December 2011

 
Habe, Hans
The Mission

Fiction
1938: President Franklin D. Roosevelt extends an invitation to the governments of the world to attend an international conference at Évian-les-Bains, France, in order to address the growing problem of refugees – particularly Jewish refugees – fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. While Germany officially boycotts the conference, the Nazis secretly arrange to send a Jewish representative instead, with the mission to offer up all of the Jews of Europe to the governments of the world: salvation for sale, with a price list. According to the author, only three newspapers bother to report the events. Hans Habe was one of the journalists filing a report. In this novelization, Habe provides an interior description of an international political confrontation. Yet it is not a novel of history or politics, but a novel about the opposition of the personal and the political, and how this hostility defines our lives, and our living, every day—mostly, with tragic consequences.
Recommended by Miguel, December 2011

 
Book Cover for Emeril's There's a Chef in My World! Lagasse, Emeril
Emeril's There's a Chef in My World!: Recipes That Take You Places

Nonfiction
Emeril's goal is to show kids how to prepare favorite ethnic dishes, and to introduce them to new foods. My son found the book at the library and wanted to try some of the recipes. Simple recipes are easy to follow, with specific directions and lists of ingredients and tools required. Though geared toward kids, the results can be enjoyed by all ages. The book is divided into sections: Breakfast; Snacks, Salads, and Starters; Soups and Sandwiches; Main Meals; Sides; Breads; and Sweets. Each section features from 6 to 16 recipes, with information that includes the country of origin and cultural facts. We've made Fruit Gallette (France) many times—it's become a favorite. Recently we tried Portuguese Rice, and it was a big hit too. Next on the list are Hot Cross Buns (England) and Mexican Tortilla Soup.
Recommended by Joanne, December 2011

 
Book Cover for In Case We're Separated Mattison, Alice
In Case We're Separated: Connected Stories

Short Stories
These stories link family members and places in a chain reaching from the 1930s to the Reagan years. An adulterous cousin from one story appears as a protective mother in another, a doting son as the somewhat controversial cousin in another, and various sisters as flirts and gossipers throughout. As they pop up in story after story, characters are seen from more and more perspectives, making them more nuanced than in an ordinary novel. Mattison writes literary fiction with populist appeal that deserves more attention. Poets will be delighted by "A Note to the Reader" at the end.
Recommended by Rita, December 2011

 
Book Cover for Saveur: The New Comfort Food Saveur
Saveur: The New Comfort Food – Home Cooking from Around the World

Nonfiction
The pages of this book offer more than 100 recipes for comforting foods from around the globe—spring rolls, empanadas, potato latkes, hummus, huevos rancheros, Korean fried chicken, kimchi pancakes. Many are recipes of fare prepared by home cooks. Though the dishes are not fussy, these recipes don’t cut corners. Many require planning ahead. The beautiful design of this book includes hunger-coaxing photographs and sidebars offering cultural and historical information. Dig in, and satisfy both body and soul.
Recommended by Julie, December 2011

 
Book Cover for Growing Up Amish: A Memoir Wagler, Ira
Growing Up Amish: A Memoir

Nonfiction
Author Ira Wagler tells the story of growing up Amish, first in Canada, and then in Iowa. At age 17, Wagler secretly leaves home in the middle of the night to take a ranching job in Oklahoma, the first of many attempts to attain the freedom and excitement of typical American life. Still, the sense of familiarity, his family and friends and comfortable surroundings pull him back home, again and again. He delves into many challenges inherent in an Amish life, in particular, limited career choices and lack of dating opportunities. Positive facets are also illustrated, especially through his parents' unfailing love. They welcome him home each time he returns, and attempt to bring him back to the family and their faith. With a fresh perspective and a wealth of intriguing anecdotes, Wagler writes an eye-opening account of what it’s really like to grow up Amish.
Recommended by Karen G., December 2011

 

November 2011

Book Cover for It Looked Different on the Model Notaro, Laurie
It Looked Different on the Model: Epic Tales of Impending Shame and Infamy

Nonfiction
My favorite humanistic cynic returns to writing pithy essays on things that make nearly everyone nuts. My relatives send me “fwd: fwd: fwd:” emails about doomsday, too. I have had an ongoing power struggle with an internet service provider and fanaticized about the ultimate one-up. I also wished for a device to interpret the language of my incomprehensible pet! This book is so much fun! It really validates the nerdy person I am, who has also gotten stuck in a too-small garment in a fitting room. The story about the chocolate on the pillow had me in tears. Watch out for "Ambien Laurie," who will surely sleep-eat all of the junk food in the house.
Recommended by Connie, November 2011

 
Book Cover for Tails of Wonder and Imagination Datlow, Ellen (editor)
Tails of Wonder and Imagination

Short Stories
A great pick by my colleague for an October Halloween display led me to Tails of Wonder and Imagination. Cat lovers, here’s a book for you. 40 stories featuring cats range from science fiction and fantasy to mystery and horror, with a mainstream fiction story or two mixed in. All have previously been published in anthologies, collections or magazines, by popular authors such as Joyce Carol Oates, Laurence Block, and Neil Gaiman, and lesser known but accomplished authors like Nebula winner Mary Turzillo, a local writer from just across the Ohio border in Trumbull County. In her story “Pride,” a cuddly laboratory experiment comes to life as a frightening saber tooth tiger. In my favorite piece, “The Jaguar Hunter” by Lucius Shepard, Esteban, a jaguar hunter by trade, has grown up believing the black jaguar with its magic powers is the one jaguar not to be hunted. But an unfortunate circumstance finds him in the jungle trying to kill the animal. The work by Shepard is said to be based on a story told to the author “in a bar in Telas, Honduras by an old and very drunk man.” At the start of each piece, the reader finds such tidbits of information that illuminate the story and give a brief background of the author. Pick it up, and see what captures your imagination.
Recommended by Joanne, November 2011

 
Book Cover for Clara and Mr. Tiffany Vreeland, Susan
Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Fiction
When the Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit visited the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh in 2006, the docent told us of a remarkable woman who did much behind-the-scenes designing of Tiffany lamps, while Mr. Tiffany got all the credit. Tiffany hired only unmarried women, so they would be fully dedicated to the job. This novel is the story of Tiffany's most important female employee, Clara Driscoll, as Vreeland imagines her—a woman who struggles to get ahead in a man’s world. At the turn of the twentieth century, she is ahead of her time both in what is expected of a woman in her work life, and in her relationship with men. Clara is devoted to her work. However, she also wants love, and is sometimes torn between the two. Tiffany will not let her have both. Tiffany’s company is at the forefront of decorative glass manufacture with novel designs, yet Clara struggles to get the recognition she deserves. I loved the historical setting of this story, including descriptions of the World’s Fairs where Tiffany’s new works were showcased. This is a beautiful, descriptive novel, made even better for fans of Tiffany’s art.
Recommended by Terry, November 2011

 
Book Cover for The George Carlin Letters Wade, Sally
The George Carlin Letters: The Permanent Courtship of Sally Wade

Nonfiction
George and Sally met in a bookstore. They were both wearing sweatpants and baseball caps. Actually it was her dog, Spot, that introduced them. George invited Sally to see him perform in Las Vegas. After the show he thanked her for coming and said he would call her to go out for coffee in four months. Four months would mark one year since his wife’s death. George did call Sally after four months passed. He came over for coffee and never left her home again. This is the beginning of a beautiful story of love, companionship, and humor. George and Sally spent the last ten years of his life together. This book is a collection of the notes, doodles, sketches, jokes, and stories written by each for the other. The pages are covered with artfully arranged, colorful scraps of paper, and each chapter covers a theme: items pertaining to Spot, stories about their true home of Jupiter, food and dining, and wordplay are just a few examples. This tangible history of their love and relationship lets you get to know George and Sally on a personal level. You get to peek at their thoughts and dreams. You follow along as they adjust to living with each other, squabble, make up, and make love. Everyone wants to be loved like this and it’s refreshing to see that people actually are. “There’s no better place in the world than the room where Sally Wade is located.” — G. Carlin
Recommended by Melissa, November 2011

 
Book Cover for Forget Sorrow Yang, Belle
Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale

Graphic Non-Fiction
In this one book, Belle Yang writes and draws two parallel stories about two places. First and foremost, it is the author’s own story, set in California: a memoir of personal redemption. After moving back home to live with her parents, following college and a traumatic relationship, she faces the desperate challenge of living up to failed expectations, both her parents' and her own. Also, it is her father’s story of his own arrival, set in China — a family history of generations struggling against history, and with each other. Yang is easy to relate to, as an imperfect being grappling with herself and fighting with her parents — particularly with her father — despite her prior unsuccessful attempts to escape the environment she continues to think is part of the problem. She can't uncover a constructive method of belying her insecurities or safely expressing her sense of self. The various arguments with her father, however, ultimately prove rewarding: stories begin to break through, underscoring the combative words. Yang, intrigued by apparent similarities despite differences of time, geography, and culture, begins to pay closer attention to the stories than to her sense of frustration. The family stories, which Yang and her father eventually agree to share (without the necessity of a shouting match), demonstrate to Yang the subtle continuity with and participation in the wider world that she, in her isolation, has never felt. Ultimately, the responsibility she feels toward preserving these stories — in effect, her own story — leads her out of painful isolation. The family, separated, unites in this narrative to bring Yang's two halves back together, writing and drawing. A story of finding your place in the world should always be shared.
Recommended by Miguel, November 2011

 

October 2011

Book Cover for Please Brown, Jericho
Please

Poetry
Jericho Brown’s poetry collection Please is organized into four sections: Repeat, Pause, Power and Stop. Brown continues the musical theme throughout a cycle of poems whose titles are all numbered tracks and whose content references song lyrics. Other poems refer to characters from The Wizard of Oz and slide fluidly between elevated verse and rhythmic slang. These devices serve as entry points for Brown’s intimate explorations of love, violence, and the lines where they intersect. Sometimes those lines fall between lovers, sometimes between father and son, sometimes within crime-ridden neighborhoods. All of them result in verse as immediate as it is well-crafted, strung with such arresting lines as these from “The Burning Bush:” “Remember me for this sprouting fire…/No ash behind, I burn to bloom. / I am not consumed. I am not consumed.”
Recommended by Renée, October 2011

 
Book Cover for At Elizabeth David's Table David, Elizabeth
At Elizabeth David's Table

Nonfiction
Elizabeth David was born in England in 1913. During WWII she lived in the Middle East, which, along with time she spent in Greece, inspired her to write a prose cookbook. A Book of Mediterranean Food, published in 1950, became the first of five influential books she wrote that changed the course of cooking in Britain and America. The recipes don't include strict lists or formulaic instructions. David expects you to improvise with what's in season and on hand. Standards for ingredients are high, and she assumes the reader knows her way around the kitchen. Her descriptions make you want to cook. This new edition, compiled by Jill Norman, David's literary executor, is the first to illustrate dishes with photographs. At Elizabeth David's Table is a beautiful introduction to an important, spirited food writer.
Recommended by Julie, October 2011

 
McElroy, Kelly
Biophile #2, Biophile #3, Biophile A Pocket Guide to Evolution: A Biophile Special

At University of Iowa Libraries, Kelly McElroy is the Undergraduate Services Librarian as well as a zine librarian. She also writes a wonderful science zine entitled Biophile. Biophile #2 is all about the scientific method. This wonderfully accessible yet smart zine is handwritten and illustrated with clip art and drawings. McElroy very clearly explains the major components of the scientific method: observation, question, hypothesis, test/revise, and theory. She also makes an important point when she cautions scientists about bias, citing the example of Samuel George Morton’s racist cranial size research. Biophile #3 is an interesting look at an interesting animal, the eel. With a resource list at the end, this is an entertaining and informative zine. A Pocket Guide to Evolution: A Biophile Special is a lovely handwritten and drawn mini-zine. My favorite part is the Common Misconceptions section. In “It’s Survival of the Fittest!” McElroy writes, “Remember! Fitness = reproductive success. This doesn’t mean the Arnold Schwarzeneggers will rule the world." Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's zine collection is located on the First Floor.
Recommended by Jude, October 2011

 
Book Cover for Amaryllis in Blueberry Meldrum, Christina
Amaryllis in Blueberry

Fiction
Exquisite language and phrasing are hallmarks of this novel. This story of a family who leave everything they know in Michigan to be missionaries in Africa reveals that though you are related, you can’t be sure what another person is thinking or feeling. We often think we know someone, when we really don’t know them at all. This becomes apparent as each chapter of this book is told from a different family member’s point of view. But since the tale is told in chronological order, you never lose the story or have to backtrack. You’ll want to understand each character's motivation, you’ll empathize with them all, in different ways. I initially picked this book up because of its beautiful cover, but what I found inside was even better.
Recommended by Melissa, October 2011

 
Book Cover for BodyWorld Shaw, Dash
BodyWorld

Graphic Novel
For his fourth graphic novel, Dash Shaw has created a genre-blending and participatory book. BodyWorld endeavors to absorb the reader in its disorienting tale by its very design: the book is laid out to be read vertically, turning pages from bottom to top, rather than right to left. Chapter beginnings refer to maps on both inside covers. The plot and story devices are just as demanding of the reader’s attention. The story involves several characters in an idyllic suburban town that undergoes mind-altering changes when a sleazy (yet sympathetic) stranger introduces the natives to a hallucinogenic plant he discovered on the school’s campus. Psychedelic, layered drawings express the drug’s telekinetic effects as characters shift into one another’s minds and the plot builds to a frenzied climax. Narrative viewpoints change frequently, and the book includes elements of science fiction, high school drama and detective mystery. Among all of these special effects, Shaw develops a truly fascinating tale full of engaging characters.
Recommended by Renée, October 2011

 
Book Cover for Abide with Me Strout, Elizabeth
Abide with Me

Fiction
A small-town Maine minister, Tyler Caskey, grieves the death of his wife, the mother of their young children. The townspeople, however, wrapped up in their own petty concerns, are unable to give Tyler the support and love he has been hired to show them during times of crisis. Her mother's death has taken a toll on Katherine, Tyler's five-year old daughter, who has stopped talking and has been misbehaving since the loss of her mother. Meanwhile, Tyler’s mother continues to belittle him, claiming that he can do nothing right and insisting on caring for his baby daughter. This separates the two girls since she refuses to help with the ill-tempered Katherine. Tyler keeps his pain and stress bottled up inside until he has a public breakdown on the pulpit and tries to leave the town that has been central to all his problems. Will the congregation let him go? Read this novel about what lurks beneath the surface of a quaint New England town.
Recommended by Terry, October 2011

 

September 2011

Book Cover for The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands: Poems Flynn, Nick
The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands: Poems

Poetry
In this poetry collection, Flynn continues his examination of torture, specifically in Abu Ghraib prison, that he began in his memoir The Ticking is the Bomb. While he still explores violence in humanity, this work takes a more elliptical approach. Poems quote Walt Whitman and pop lyrics, often achieving a song-like rhythm as they speak in the voice of a soldier ordered to violently interrogate a prisoner. Distortion and disorientation dominate the syntax as Flynn fractures lines with enjambed breaks. He punctuates with slashes, parentheses and spaces, and uses obsessive repetition and serial questioning. He also uses the language of official documents to compelling effect in one poem that reveals only excerpts of non-redacted lines of detainee testimonies. The book’s central concern is the immediate relevance of state-sanctioned torture and acts of war to ordinary citizenry, but the framework used to examine culpability shifts constantly. From the body, to the classical elements, to the radio, to detainee interviews, to the satirized but urgent voice of a soldier addressing his silent “capt’n,” the scope of these contexts suggests that such violence and the responsibility for its existence is inescapable. In both form and subject matter, this troubling collection confronts questions of war, truth and patriotism in an era when those three themes arise and transform daily.
Recommended by Renée, September 2011

 
Book Cover for The Physics of Imaginary Objects Hall, Tina May
The Physics of Imaginary Objects

Short Stories
Tina May Hall is a writer who pays exquisite attention, a collector of news stories and ordinary facts whose inclusion in her prose sparks it to life. The table of contents is enough to pique any reader’s curiosity, with titles like “Skinny Girls’ Constitution and Bylaws,” “Faith Is Three Parts Formaldehyde, One Part Ethyl Alcohol” and “There Is a Factory in Sierra Vista Where Jesus Is Resurrected Every Hour in Hot Plastic and the Stench of Chicken.” The collection abounds with quotidian detail and quirky trivia that instantly develop characters and settings. Hall's writing is electric, sizzling with precise description, impeccable timing and masterful rhythm. While the darkly magical tone and grounded detail connect the stories, they vary in style, including fables, flash fiction, a novella, lists of fragments from poems and historical records, even a prose sonnet. Some sentences are weighted with so much implied narrative, their collective force creates worlds more than stories, as in “Our mothers won’t let us sit on their laps” or “For a moment, I think you are going to propose to me in front of the fry-bread cart, but you are just tying your shoe."
Recommended by Renée, September 2011

 
Book Cover for What to Cook and How to Cook It Hornby, Jane
What to Cook and How to Cook It

Nonfiction
This has everything I want in a cookbook. The recipes span a wide range, from an omelet to BLT sandwich to Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding. Each recipe begins with a list of ingredients next to a photograph of each in its proper amount, stunningly laid out in neat rows. Besides being simply beautiful, these photos show exactly what plum tomatoes or shallots look like before you shop for them. Step by step instructions follow, with a color photo accompanying each step. You'll know what that dough is supposed to look like once it has risen, been punched down and stretched out on the sheet pan. Each recipe concludes with a photo of the finished dish. (“Yes, it’s supposed to look like that!” or “No, I don’t think that turned out quite right.”) I have no doubts about succeeding with this fabulous cookbook.
Recommended by Melissa, September 2011

 
Book Cover for Between, Georgia Jackson, Joshilyn
Between, Georgia

Fiction
Nonny is by blood a Crabtree but was adopted by the Frett family. The two families have been feuding in tiny Between, Georgia, for generations, and Nonny is caught in the middle. Tension escalates when vicious dogs owned by Ona Crabtree, Nonny’s biological grandmother, attack Nonny’s adopted mother and aunt and put the women in the hospital. To get back at the Crabtrees, Nonny’s other aunt fatally shoots the dogs. Now Nonny fears that Ona will call on her trouble-making sons to come to town to get even. Meanwhile, Nonny is in the midst of divorce proceedings with her husband, but she’s not sure she wants to leave the comfort of marriage, or her apartment in nearby Athens, but the feud, her cousin’s little girl who she wants to adopt, and a new love interest keep her coming back to the town she wants to escape. If you’re looking for a light drama with a happy ending, try this novel.
Recommended by Terry, September 2011

 
Book Cover for The Paris Wife McLain, Paula
The Paris Wife

Fiction
Real life events portrayed in fiction make me nervous. "Did she truly say that?" I wonder. "How did the author know what he was wearing?" I worry that history will be muddled by prose and I'll never be able to extricate it. So it was with trepidation that I started reading Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, a fictional version of Hadley Hemingway's life with her infamous husband. After a few pages, my fears disappeared. McLain had snuck into Hadley's head so completely and written such compelling conversations that I no longer cared about historical accuracy. McLain gives nuance to Ernest's philandering and betrayals, as well as to his first wife's all-too-frequent forgiveness, without painting either as a total tyrant or victim. Anyone fascinated by the Paris scene of the twenties will also enjoy the eccentricities of Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound, and other expatriates.
Recommended by Rita, September 2011

 
Book Cover for The Paris Wife O’Farrell, Maggie
The Hand That First Held Mine

Fiction
In post-war England, Lexie Sinclair runs away from her bucolic family inn for a new life in Soho. In present-day London, Ted and Elina confront the harsh reality of life with a newborn. Lexie moves in with a man who promises her an exciting life among artists and writers and bohemians. Elina experiences wide gaps in her memory as a result of post-partum panic disorder. Ted continually has flashbacks to a childhood he is sure he doesn’t recognize. Lexie finds herself pregnant and alone, yet resilient. Ted and Elina feel like they are falling apart. And then somewhere in between these stories, connections are made. Love exists and persists. O’Farrell deftly weaves these narratives together. The landscape is moody but not desperate. All three protagonists ultimately find satisfaction in the face of despair.
Recommended by Connie, September 2011

 

August 2011

Book Cover for Cruddy Barry, Lynda
Cruddy

Fiction
Lynda Barry’s Cruddy is a novel illustrated with one black ink murky-feeling drawing per chapter. The tone of the novel is also dark and somewhat muddled, or rather the situation of the girl protagonist is dark and muddled. She, however, remains amazingly clear about what is happening around her, which includes extreme physically and emotionally abusive treatment by her parents, and she's clear about what she wants to do about it. This makes a terribly sad story bearable for the reader. The girl’s name is Roberta Rohbeson, though her father, who wants a son, calls her Clyde. Cruddy is Roberta’s suicide note in which she describes how her father basically holds her hostage on a trip he takes to track down some money. Along the way many strange and violent things happen, but Roberta survives only to end up being abandoned along with her younger sister by her hideous mother. Barry is really funny at times, the way she is both funny and dark in her Ernie Pook's Comeek and Marlys/Freddie graphic novels, which are of course more illustration-heavy. Cruddy could be both triggering and deeply affirming for young adults and adult readers who have suffered abuse at some point in their lives. It's an absolutely touching and captivating read.
Recommended by Jude, August 2011

 
Book Cover for Cats Are Weird Brown, Jeffrey
Cats Are Weird: And More Observations

Graphic Novel
If you’ve ever been owned by a cat or been friends with someone owned by a cat (or two or three or twelve), much in this graphic novel will look eerily familiar. You’ll wonder how Mr. Brown was able to get into your house, observe your cat’s adventures, and draw pictures of exactly what occurs in your domicile on a daily basis. The expressions he creates on the cats’ faces are precisely animated and precious. You know exactly what they think and feel. This is a quick read, mostly sequential picture frames with few words, which makes it accessible to young readers as well. This wholesome and hilarious graphic novel can be shared with your entire family, and you’ll find yourself passing it along to your cat-loving friends. Then you’ll look for the prequel, Cat Getting Out of a Bag.
Recommended by Melissa, August 2011

 
Book Cover for Simple Sewing For Baby Jansdotter, Lotta
Simple Sewing For Baby: 24 Easy Projects For Newborns to Toddlers

Nonfiction
First of all, let me be clear: I cannot sew. However, I have always really wanted to sew. The intricacies of machines and devices and implements just boggled me, and I never got off the ground with even the simplest project. Enter my son, who by shear adorableness has inspired me to do a number of silly things. Thanks to this book, I can now sew pants and bibs, and I am currently working on a complete plush alphabet for him to gnaw on as he learns his letters. Patterns and stencils are included. The instructions are clear. The projects are deliciously cute.
Recommended by Connie, August 2011

 
Book Cover for We, The Drowned Jensen, Carsten
We, The Drowned

Fiction
Hailed as a modern-day classic in Europe, We, The Drowned is the story of ships, the sea, and a Danish port town. Marstal is a place where the seven seas form, frame, and define the very essence of its citizens. Commerce by ship rules, and from an early age men are hardened to spend years away at sea, the women steeled for a life alone. The tale stretches from the 1850s to the 1940s, from the golden age of sail, to the advent of steam, to modern ships of the twentieth century. Three succeeding characters steer the action, Laurids Madsen, his son Albert, and Albert's protégé, Knud Eric. Laurids, after a near death experience, becomes rather eccentric and sails to the South Pacific never to return. After years of searching, Albert discovers him, drunk, naked, climbing up and down a coconut tree. Realizing that his father is not only eccentric but insane, Albert looks windward and rises from shipmate to ship captain to ship owner/builder. Knud Eric carries the Marstal town banner, as well as the story, into the Second World War. All the major characters have common as well as unique experiences, including shrunken heads, sea battles, hurricanes, exotic locales, bravery, treachery, lovers, cannibals, murderers, Nazis, but thank Neptune—no pirates! Also, a lot of people drown. We, The Drowned is a wonderful, memorable book that deserves a place alongside the splendid seafaring tales of yore.
Recommended by John, August 2011

 
Book Cover for And the Pursuit of Happiness Kalman, Maira
And the Pursuit of Happiness

Nonfiction
In January, 2009, Kalman began a year-long exploration of democracy and history in the U.S., posting monthly on the New York Times Opinion Page web site. Printed on paper, the hand-lettered text and illustrated pages (sprinkled with photographs that surprise the eye) become a 400+ page picture book for grownups. The year kicks off with January's chapter, "The Inauguration. At Last." February, "In Love With A. Lincoln," includes a visit to a Lincoln archive in Philadelphia, a Lincoln scholar in Illinois, and to the battlefield and Lincoln Diner in Gettysburg. In March, a tour of Monticello. April, "May It Please the Court," features a chat with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And so on. As Kalman travels, interviews, and muses, her stream-of-consciousness prose narrates a sincere, inquisitive, cheering, appreciative, and optimistic romp across the country and back.
Recommended by Julie, August 2011

 
Book Cover for Year We Left Home Thompson, Jean
Year We Left Home

Fiction
If you enjoy a good family drama, try this novel. Author Jean Thompson weaves the tale of the Erickson family, and all that happens to them between 1973 and 2003. The point of view switches with each chapter, so the reader becomes well-acquainted with the various characters. Anita marries and settles down in her hometown but soon grows dissatisfied with her decision. Ryan takes the opposite route and leaves home as soon as possible. Chip, a veteran of the Vietnam War, struggles to fit in with American society. An eating disorder creates problems between Torrie and her mother, but a tragedy brings them closer. Blake works hard but becomes frustrated by his lack of material success. The narratives interlock flawlessly and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics of one Midwestern family, and a superb ending brings the stories full circle.
Recommended by Karen G., August 2011

 

July 2011

Book Cover for Case Histories Atkinson, Kate
Case Histories

Fiction
The first book in Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series gives us a memorable and sensitive detective worth rooting for, and three intricate, involving mysteries for the price of one. Private detective Brodie (an ex-cop and ex-husband) is hired to investigate three separate cold cases—two disappearances and one murder. In turn, he is hired by a father to find his daughter’s killer, two squabbling sisters looking for their sister who disappeared when they were children, and a young woman looking for her runaway niece. All three cases create an overall portrait of family dysfunction and cruel fate. Although the mysteries and their resulting conclusions are satisfying in their own right, it is the very human and damaged characters that give this book its emotional heft and make it a mystery worth checking out, even for those who are not typically fans of the genre.
Recommended by Tara, July 2011

 
Book Cover for Sugar Snaps & Strawberries Bellamy, Andrea
Sugar Snaps & Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden

Nonfiction
Andrea Bellamy grows enticing edibles on her balcony and in a community garden in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her credentials include a certificate of garden design from the University of B.C., which she puts to good use in Sugar Snaps & Strawberries. Her book (and blog, Heavy Petal) brim with smart advice on cultivating fruits and vegetables in tight quarters, but her work stands out for its design sense. Photographs of small and smaller working gardens inspire, teach, and delight. See narrow planter boxes in alleys, basil seedlings thriving in a hanging basket, sage shooting up in a tin can. Let Bellamy lead you, and before long you'll savor your own small, tasty harvest.
Recommended by Julie, July 2011

 
Book Cover for Sleepwalk with Me Birbiglia, Mike
Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories

Nonfiction
It is a rare and satisfying thing when a comedian is as funny on paper as he is on stage. Birbiglia has been around for awhile telling stories and doing stand-up. This collection of personal stories, told chronologically, rounds out an interesting memoir. He struggles with the usual childhood things, bullies, parents, teachers, but he puts a humorous spin on it all. As an adult, Birbiglia narrowly escaped death after jumping from the second-story window of a motel during a severe sleep-walking episode. Even in light of such a serious chronic health problem, he finds a way to laugh, which is a terrific coping mechanism. Fans of Justin Halpern’s Sh*t my Dad Says will appreciate Birbiglia’s self-deprecating humor.
Recommended by Connie, July 2011

 
Book Cover for Attachments Rowell, Rainbow
Attachments

Fiction
Lincoln is painfully shy and lives with his overbearing mother. His life lacks direction, he thinks a lot about his long lost high school sweetheart, and his only social activity is playing Dungeons and Dragons with old college buddies. He lands a night job at a newspaper reading employees' email, making sure they aren't using their work email for inappropriate purposes. He begins reading the flagged messages between two women he's never met, Jennifer and Beth. Absorbed in their funny, intelligent messages and affectionate friendship, he falls for Beth, and becomes wrapped up in her story despite misgivings and guilt for reading her email. Then he discovers through her email that she's developed a crush on him. She refers to him as MCG (My Cute Guy), but he doesn't know who she is or what she looks like! This delightful read should appeal to fans of quirky romantic comedies.
Recommended by Bonnie, July 2011

 
Book Cover for The Complete Guide to Backyard Recreation Projects Smith, Eric W.
The Complete Guide to Backyard Recreation Projects

Nonfiction
How cool will you be when you have the only zip line in your neighborhood? If that doesn’t bring all your kids’ friends running to your yard, try an ice rink or your very own putting green. My son went straight to the directions for the skateboard ramp and then looked for a ride to Home Depot to get the necessary equipment. This book has a great assortment of backyard projects, from building the familiar play set to installing a pool, constructing a bocce court, and setting up a tetherball. Backyard entertaining is also covered. The projects range from small in scope – a fire pit or a beanbag toss – to pretty complex – an outdoor kitchen or tree house. Each section lists the tools and materials you will need and gives clear step-by-step instructions complete with color photographs so you can see what you should be doing. It also includes safety issues and special tips for your projects. Pick your favorite project and get started.
Recommended by Joanne, July 2011

 

June 2011

Book Cover for The Second Nine Months Glembocki, Vicki
The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells the Real Truth about Becoming a Mom, Finally

Nonfiction
No one tells you how gross it is. They don’t talk about the shock and awe of experiencing your post-pregnancy body—not to mention your post-pregnancy mind. And just what does real sleep deprivation feel like? No one is honest with first-time mothers. Maybe that’s for the best. Unnecessary panic might be unhealthy, after all. However, I am so grateful for this book. I know I am not crazy. Or, at least, now I know I am not unusually crazy. In month-by-month chapters, Glembocki divulges the truth of her postpartum weeks. She talks about the ambivalence, the stress, the endless crushing hours without sleep, and trying to reestablish herself as a human being after becoming a mother. Her encounters with other new parents are priceless. She is hilarious and honest.
Recommended by Connie , June 2011

 
Book Cover for Drop of the Hard Stuff Block, Lawrence
Drop of the Hard Stuff

Mystery
Matthew Scudder, a private detective and recovering alcoholic, recounts a story to a friend about a man he grew up with named Jack. While Scudder went into crime investigation by becoming a police officer, Jack entered into a life of crime. The two old friends reconnect as adults at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Jack is trying to turn his life around and wants to atone for all his past sins by confronting the people he has wronged. These confrontations, however, lead to disastrous results. Scudder tells his story in flashback mode, allowing the action to take place in the first year of Scudder’s quest for sobriety. The 1980s setting also allows for the absence of modern day investigation conveniences, such as the Internet and cell phones. Scudder fans have been waiting since 2005 for a new installment in this series, and their patience will be richly rewarded with this fast-moving mystery.
Recommended by Karen G. , June 2011

 
Book Cover for The Distant Hours Morton, Kate
The Distant Hours

Fiction
When a letter arrives at the Burchill home more than 40 years after it was mailed, Meredith is overcome with emotion but refuses to acknowledge to her grown daughter that it is significant. The letter has something to do with Meredith’s wartime evacuation as a young girl to Milderhurst Castle, but why won’t she talk to daughter Edie about it? On her way home from a business trip, Edie stumbles upon Milderhurst and realizes she has been there before. She can’t resist the place, with its many stories. What does her mother have to do with the mysteries surrounding the castle? And what about The True History of the Mud Man, the famed novel written by father Raymond Blythe? The story moves back and forth in time, primarily between the 1940s British Kent countryside and 1990s London. In the end, when all the secrets and details are revealed, only the reader knows the entire story. I listened to the outstanding audio version read by Caroline Lee. The story pulled me in and I could not stop listening.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2011

 
Book Cover for Revolution Unferth, Deb Olin
Revolution: The Year I Fell In Love and Went to Join the War

Nonfiction
It's 1987, and college freshman Debbie is so enamored of her new Marxist-quoting boyfriend George that she drops out of college to travel with him to Central America. What follows is a tender, honest, and painfully funny account of the idealism of youth and the banality of revolutionary life. The author and her increasingly disappointed boyfriend travel from Guatemala to El Salvador and finally to Nicaragua. They occasionally take up odd “revolutionary jobs,” but mostly just hang out and argue politics with fellow revolutionary tourists, and occasionally suffer from food poisoning. Surprisingly warm and moving, the story is less about the revolution of countries and more about the slow, inevitable, and not totally revolutionary changes that take place as memories become unreliable and adulthood starts to stake its claim.
Recommended by Tara , June 2011

 

May 2011

Book Cover for Dolci di Love Lynch, Sarah-Kate
Dolci di Love

Fiction
Lily, a 44-year-old executive, makes an astounding discovery when checking her husband’s shoe size. A photo, folded neatly under the sole, takes her breath away: her husband, embracing another woman and two children. As she inspects the laminated photo closely, she realizes that Daniel has been leading a secret life during monthly trips to Italy. On a drunken whim, she flies to Tuscany to confront her husband and soon becomes the newest cause of a group of elderly women, "The Secret League of Widowed Darners," who specialize in finding happy endings. They try to work their magic on Lily while she enjoys lush Tuscan scenery and the relaxed Italian way of life, not to mention a handsome widower whom she always seems to run into. This light, romantic tale will keep you rooting for Lily’s happiness all the way.
Recommended by Karen G., May 2011

 
Book Cover for Emily, Alone O'Nan, Stewart
Emily, Alone

Fiction
80-year-old Emily Maxwell lives alone in the Pittsburgh house where she and her late husband raised their children. Emily is stoic about her age, but not resigned. She cooks and cleans, gardens, shares weekly breakfasts at Eat'n Park with her sister-in-law. Having outlived many of her neighbors and friends, she spends time meditating on the past, thinking her way through the days. She's a frank, refreshing narrator. O'Nan portrays an ordinary life full of gentle humor and wisdom.
Recommended by Julie, May 2011

 
Rabin, Nathan
My Year of Flops: One Man's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure

Nonfiction
Nathan Rabin, a writer for the Onion's A.V. Club, has long specialized in writing about the dregs of popular culture in his columns "Direct-To-DVD Purgatory" and "My Year of Flops." The book My Year of Flops: One Man's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Cinematic Failure collects some of Rabin’s best writing, as he chronicles cinematic failures past and present, covering classics such as Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and Cleopatra, as well as newer stinkers like Battlefield Earth, Gigli, The Love Guru, and Elizabethtown. The point of the book is not, however, to kick a bad movie while it’s down. The truly great thing about Nathan Rabin’s writing is that he clearly loves cinema, and so is not merely engaging in schadenfreude. He obviously loves the films he gingerly pokes fun at, even while watching films like the 2001 comedy Freddy Got Fingered, and gasping with open-mouthed glee, ”how did this movie even get made, let alone released.” This book is a true treat for lovers of awful cinema, or anyone who has ever been giddy over what Rabin enthusiastically refers to as, "toxic buzz, noxious press, and scathing reviews."
Recommended by Tara, May 2011

 
Book Cover for From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden Stewart, Amy
From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden

Nonfiction
When she finally gets the opportunity to indulge her gardening fantasies, Amy Stewart keeps a written record of her endeavors. Full of hard-won gardening tips and fun adventures such as keeping worms, by expressing her enthusiasm she makes gardening accessible to the timid and non-expert. The most fascinating aspect of this memoir is that through transforming her little plot of land into the garden of her dreams, she transforms herself.
Recommended by Geo, May 2011

 

April 2011

Book Cover for In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks Carolla, Adam
In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks

Nonfiction
Adam Carolla has opinions about everything and most of them are hilarious, as well as smart and possibly even wise. Or maybe common sense has become so rare it looks like wisdom. Aliens, peanut butter, airlines, pandas, and women are all given their due, but it is his take on cats (page 87) that is worth the price of this book (free at the library!).
Recommended by Geo, April 2011

 
Book Cover for Homer and Langley Doctorow, E. L.
Homer and Langley

Fiction
This is a fictional account of two actual brothers who were born in the late nineteenth century and lived their lives in a Harlem brownstone, with a view of Central Park. Doctorow takes liberties with the facts surrounding their lives, but one thing remains true—they were hoarders. When the nation learned of the Collyer brothers in the 1940s and how they lived, they became celebrities. They wanted to avoid publicity, however, and the mental illness of one and physical afflictions of the other caused them to become recluses who left the house only to garner the necessities of life. Doctorow’s novel investigates not only the strange goings-on of the Collyer household, but explains their lifestyle with compassion by delving into the psyche of one brother through the voice and mind of the other. The characters are lovable and their tale will make you laugh out loud as well as shed a few tears. I loved this story!
Recommended by Terry, April 2011

 
Fukuoka, Masanobu
The One-Straw Revolution

Nonfiction
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) was the son of a rice farmer in Japan. He trained as a plant scientist, and after the end of WWII returned to his home where he farmed for the rest of his long life. In 1975 he wrote this manifesto, which could be called "Zen and the Art of Farming." The philosophy by which he lived and farmed emphasized reverence for all life. He also brought a skepticism of specialist knowledge to his farming techniques. The One-Straw Revolution advocates interfering as little as possible with nature, which means no tilling, no chemicals, no flooded rice fields. Fukuoka called this his "do-nothing" method. One-straw refers to returning harvested straw back to the field where it was grown. The straw composts over the next season, replenishes the soil, keeps weeds from flourishing, retains moisture. Though you'll find similar advice in many current gardening books, read The One-Straw Revolution for the charming, light-hearted, poetic words of a founding "organic" farmer.
Recommended by Julie, April 2011

 
Book Cover for Mr. Chartwell Hunt, Rebecca
Mr. Chartwell

Fiction
Watch out for the twist at the end! OK, not really, but that leads me to explain that reviews are both precarious to read and prickly to write. The purpose of a book is for readers to enjoy, in their own time, the unfolding of the story in all its literary glory. Mr. Chartwell does not keep the reader perched in ambiguity too long, but I appreciated the brief mystery of Mr. Chartwell's identity. In the summer of 1964, Mr. Chartwell is a looming presence in the lives of both Sir Winston Churchill and Ester Hammerhans, a librarian at the House of Commons. At times companionable and other times fiercely objectionable, Mr. Chartwell is inextricably linked to the two main characters during this momentous period in Churchill's life, his retirement from Parliament. Fluid prose and a small cast of quirky, amiable, and ever-loyal characters bring humor and hopefulness into Churchill and Esther's unsettled paths. If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and I know you did), then Mr. Chartwell will charm the anglophilic trousers off of you.
Recommended by Sheila, April 2011

 
Book Cover for The Big Picture Kennedy, Douglas
The Big Picture

Fiction
Looking for a book that’s hard to put down? Look no further than The Big Picture. The story centers on Ben Bradford, a wealthy lawyer living in Connecticut. He is married to Beth, a woman who hoped to be a writer but is now a stay-at-home mother of two. Ben also had aspirations of another profession–but despite his dreams of being a photographer, he followed his father’s footsteps into the law profession. Partly because of their unfulfilling occupations, the couple does not have a happy marriage. Their dismal relationship is the springboard for the rest of the action in the story–which turns into quite a thriller. It reminded me of reading a suspenseful Harlan Coben book. If you like to be on the edge of your seat, try this book–you won’t be disappointed!
Recommended by Karen G., April 2011

 
Book Cover for Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang Oates, Joyce Carol
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang

Fiction
Oates knows the situations and characters that she creates so deeply that the words ring absolutely true. I am captivated, I care about the people in the work, and I don’t stumble over any words because they’re so fitting. The title is straightforward and accurate: Maddy, the narrator, was one of the members of a girl gang called Foxfire in the early 50s, who as an adult has deep regrets and needs to come clean. The girls are led by Legs, a powerful young feminist with a deep commitment to social justice. They have exhilarating success with creative tactics, to punish sexually abusive men, for example, and people who mistreat animals, and they create a supportive refuge for themselves in their own household. Their friendships are beautifully deep. This all makes it very painful when things go south. I’m not sure what Oates intended with the ending. Nonetheless, I didn’t end up deciding that the girls’ resistance was justly punished. I’m grateful that Oates' writing is not so simplistic.
Recommended by Jude, April 2011

 

March 2011

Book Cover for Lucy Kincaid, Jamaica
Lucy

Fiction
Jamaica Kincaid’s Lucy tells the tale of a 19-year-old woman who leaves the West Indies to come to New York City and work as an au pair for an affluent young couple with four children. Lucy has very powerful feelings of love and hate for her mother. As she leaves home she struggels to explore and develop separately from those conflicting feelings. Kincaid uses wonderful, powerful language to express Lucy’s experience, exploring how colonialism and class issues show up on a personal and interpersonal level, primarily in interactions between Lucy and the well-meaning but privileged mother and wife Mariah. I find the novel full of truth as Lucy experiences it. Both Lucy and the novel are smart, honest, and interesting.
Recommended by Jude, March 2011

 
Lonely Planet
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2011

Nonfiction
Your boss might not recommend this book. After a few pages of the lush, full-color photos, you'll want to call in sick permanently so you can depart for Lonely Planet's top-ranked locales. This veteran publisher of travel guides has picked the best destinations for 2011, including old standards (Italy and Hawaii) as well as places that some folks might not have considered (Syria and Namibia). The editors aim for affordable travel, but throw in some over-the-top extravagances like an underwater hotel and double-bed airline suites that go for $6,445 a flight. Don't miss the top-10 lists in the back of the book, such as Best Places To See Red (Soviet-themed destinations), Best Places for Dance Fever, and Fieriest Foods.
Recommended by Rita, March 2011

 
Book Cover for Blood and Ice Masello, Robert
Blood and Ice

Horror
It's 1865. A couple is chained together and forced off a ship into an icy ocean. Forward to the present. Following a tragedy, a young travel journalist is offered a trip to Antarctica. Shifting between the past and present bring these two seemingly separate and unrelated events closer and closer together until they meet, with spectacularly haunting results. Masello's writing brings the reader so close to what is transpiring that the fictive events almost become an actual experience in your memory. You watch the scenery change on your way to the Antarctic. You suffer on the side of a mountain following a climbing accident. You ride in a sled pulled by barking, jostling dogs. You hear, see, and smell what is conjured on the page. Look for Masello's next book, The Medusa Amulet, coming out in April, 2011.
Recommended by Geo, March 2011

 
Book Cover for Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing Ruhlman, Michael
Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

Nonfiction
Bologna sandwiches and PTA-sponsored hot dog days, my childhood lunches often supported Oscar Mayer. (Remember the jingle, "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener"?) Years later I learned that cold cuts are part of a centuries-long tradition called charcuterie. Pullman’s contribution to the craft of making bacon, sausage, ham, salami, pâté, confit, and other cured meats is a food book that's inspiring, detailed and scientific. It is also a lyric love letter to meat that is salted, smoked, and cooked to preserve it. These are not recipes for tonight's dinner. They require a commitment of time, but like other preserved foods (sauerkraut, cheese), taste that develops over days (months, in some cases), is a delicious, nearly magical, reward.
Recommended by Julie, March 2011

 
Book Cover for Midnight’s Children Rushdie, Salman
Midnight’s Children

Fiction
At the stroke of midnight on the night of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is born and accidentally given to the wrong parents. As he grows, he discovers that his fate is inextricably linked to that of the nation with which he shares a birthday. His strange birth has also given him the power of telepathy, linking him to the other “Midnight’s Children,” of which it turns out there are 1,001. Midnight’s Children mixes elements of the fantastic with the political. Rushdie’s prose is masterful, giddy, and acrobatic. This is a don’t-miss novel, especially for people who love India.
Recommended by Shannon, March 2011

 
Book Cover for Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Simonson, Helen
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Fiction
Major Pettigrew receives a call informing him that his brother has died. As he sits in a fog trying to comprehend the news, he absentmindedly answers the doorbell. Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper, has come to collect the newspaper money. After that seemingly mundane meeting, the two begin a formal but lovely romance. They find they have much in common – recent widowhood, demanding relatives, and a love of literature – but wonder if their cultural differences are too great to overcome. Their relationship slowly develops amidst comical and poignant happenings in the small English village where they live. This debut novel is sure to please readers who enjoy a leisurely tale about lovable, multi-faceted characters.
Recommended by Karen G., March 2011

 
Book Cover for Drinking at the Movies Wertz, Julia
Drinking at the Movies

Graphic Nonfiction
Julia Wertz has a bad attitude and a knack for getting into trouble, or, as she herself claims, “I attract chaos and people who sleep in garbage.” Reading her comics is a cathartic experience. She has an elegant way of stating all the witty (and filthy) observations that most people are either too polite or too repressed to utter out loud. Drinking at the Movies, Miss Wertz’s third foray into graphic memoir, chronicles her big move from the dirty streets of San Francisco, to the cleaner (but slightly meaner) streets of Brooklyn, NY. Over the course of a year in New York, Julia lives in four different sketchy apartments, works seven different dead-end jobs, engages in all matter of debauchery, and tries to figure out the whole growing up business. This is not your typical coming-of-age narrative however, as there is no redemptive arc—the narrative happily starts and ends with sloppy, drunken behavior, and throughout Julia remains the same old curmudgeon and prankster we have grown to love. It's not a pretty story, but it certainly is funny.
Recommended by Tara, March 2011

 

February 2011

Book Cover for A Visit From the Goon Squad Egan, Jennifer
A Visit From the Goon Squad

Fiction
"Time's a goon, right?" This is the question asked by Bosco, a once incomparable punk rocker (think Iggy Pop), now obese, depressed, and heavily medicated in his Soho apartment. In any other novel, Bosco might be a main character, but in Egan's latest, he is merely one of a number of casualties of that perplexing goon, time. Other victims include womanizing music mogul Lou and his wayward children, the failed marriage of ex-punks Bennie and Stephanie, Bennie's kleptomaniac assistant Sasha, failed movie ingénue Kitty Jackson (a stand-in, I imagine, for both Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears), and many other friends, relatives, co-workers, and children. Time is kind to almost no one in this novel, but it is still fascinating (if occasionally painful) to discover how the characters travel from A to B, while trying to keep dignity and humanity intact. Not unlike a great, dystopian rock album, chapters in Goon Squad read like disparate songs, until by the end, the themes of time, disappointment, aging, and addiction come together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Recommended by Tara, February 2011

 
Book Cover for Spies of the Balkans Furst, Alan
Spies of the Balkans

Fiction
Set in Greece on the brink of the Second World War, Spies of the Balkans begins with the death of an unidentified man under suspicious circumstances in a warehouse. Costa Zannis, a senior police official in the northern port city of Salonika, investigates and tries to determine who the man is and why he was there. Things are not what they seem, a theme that continues throughout the novel. Who is the woman who owns the dance school that Zannis is involved with? What’s the story with the British travel writer? The Hungarian gangsters? In addition to political maneuvering and spying, Zanni helps German Jews find escape routes to Turkey. Much of the action takes place while the characters contend with Greece’s impending entry into WWII.
Recommended by Joanne, February 2011

 
Book Cover for Winter's Tale Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Fiction
Tale, as in fairy tale, includes fantastic characters, events, places: time traveling Peter Lake, his flying horse, a lake so far upstate in New York no one could find it. It's an epic tale, written in poetic, often breathtaking prose, whose narrative voice never tires of describing color, sound, beauty, benevolence, balance, and justice. Winter's Tale is a story of New York City between 1900 and the turn of the millennium. 700 pages divide into four books. The island of Manhattan and a very mysterious cloud wall that hovers nearby function as characters. Icy winter, too, plays a constant roll. In the late 19th century, orphan Peter Lake is raised by illiterate marsh dwellers. At age twelve, they send him alone to live in the city. Ignorant of civilization, he quickly learns what money is, dances for coins, and becomes a thief. He learns the trade of mechanic, joins a gang, makes a lifelong enemy of the gang leader, Pearly Soames, surviving by his wits and the speed of a magical horse. (That brings us to page 100.) Helprin brilliantly borrows from Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Whitman, and Einstein, yet offers the willing reader an entirely new experience. Winter's Tale contains a description of a character's library, an apt summation of the novel itself. "The shelf was filled with books that were hard to read, that could devastate and remake one's soul, and that, when they were finished, had a kick like a mule."
Recommended by Julie, February 2011

 
Book Cover for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian Lewycka, Marina
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Fiction
Don't be misled by the title—this not a foreign-language guide to combines, but a hilarious novel. Two years after Nikolai's wife dies, the 84-year-old marries a mail-order bride less than half his age. His daughter is hardly enthusiastic, but tries to stifle her resistance. When the Ukrainian wife arrives with her son and berates and abuses Nikolai, the family unites to take action. Recommended for children who have been parental caregivers, readers with Ukrainian roots, or anyone seeking comic relief.
Recommended by Rita, February 2011

 
Richard, Sandi
The Family Dinner Fix: Cooking for the Rushed

Nonfiction
According to Sandi Richard, anyone can make a family dinner, even after work. The Family Dinner Fix emphasizes the importance of sharing a family meal and provides time-saving tips to help you put together a good meal in a relatively short time. What I like most is that the recipes are tasty, and at the same time, feature foods my kids will actually eat. While the book categorizes recipes by length of time from start to table, you would have to be moving pretty quickly to get them done in the amount of time listed, at least on the first try. However, the time element does give you a means of comparing recipes. The book includes weekly menus and shopping lists. Highly recommended.
Recommended by Joanne, February 2011

 
Book Cover for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life Rosenthal, Amy Krouse
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Nonfiction
Rejected by publishers for being too random or too hard to pigeonhole, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life finally found a publisher, giving us the opportunity to enjoy a truly original memoir. This nonlinear sift through the minutiae of a life will have you asking, "Why didn't I think of this?" Your mind will love connecting the entries, which add together to become the author's story, at the same time you pick and choose entries that fit the encyclopedia of you.
Recommended by Geo, February 2011

 

January 2011

Book Cover for Murder in the Marais Black, Cara
Murder in the Marais

Mystery
If you liked Lisbeth Salander, the female computer-hacking investigator in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you might like the Aimée Leduc mysteries by Cara Black. Aimée is also an unconventional and computer-savvy private investigator but the series has the advantage of taking place in Paris. Each book highlights a Parisian neighborhood so, if you are planning a trip to Paris, you might want to pick up the volume corresponding to the arrondissement in which you are staying (it’s an easy read for the plane ride). Here’s the background: Aimée’s mother, an American, abandoned Aimée when she was eight, leaving her in her father’s care. Aimée worked with her father, a police investigator, until he died in a bombing. Despite these traumatic experiences, she continues investigative work as Detective Leduc. Black’s stories take place in the 1990s and the history and politics of each neighborhood play a large part in the plot. For instance, in Murder in the Marais, since the Marais was an historically Jewish neighborhood, the murder has its roots in the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s. Paralleling LeDuc’s investigation are chapters on individuals who play a role in the murder or the political situation and it is always interesting to see where they come in. Cara Black gives the reader a taste of Paris that is not in most guidebooks since she lives in an Ile St. Louis apartment with “a temperamental electrical system, archaic plumbing and warped seventeenth-century parquet floors overlooking the Seine,” and the neighborhoods she investigates are often gritty. Cara Black, who lives in San Francisco, does historical research for each book. If you enjoy spunky female private investigators and Paris, I recommend the Aimée Leduc mysteries.
Recommended by Cathy, January 2011

 
Book Cover for The Stuff That Never Happened Dawson, Maddie
The Stuff That Never Happened

Fiction
If there is a sad chapter in a marriage, does it make more sense to keep talking about it or to never bring it up again? That is the central question in The Stuff That Never Happened, a well-written debut that begs the reader to skip ahead to find out how it ends. The story focuses on Annabelle, a middle-aged empty nester with a stable long-term marriage to a reliable, albeit workaholic, husband, and a fulfilling career as an illustrator of children’s books. When she suffers a full-blown panic attack while grocery shopping, she realizes she must take time to consider her choices in life. The novel then alternates chapters between the present day and incidents early in the marriage, including an extramarital affair, which were never to be talked about again. This is a great book, full of realistic characters and emotions.
Recommended by Karen G., January 2011

 
Book Cover for Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips Garten, Ina
Barefoot Contessa, How Easy Is That?: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips

Nonfiction
Cooking can be just that easy. Ina shares many tricks to simplify weeknight dinners and entertaining. She's a fan of shortcuts and describes them exactly. Her recipes aren’t complicated, and don't include lots of steps and ingredients. I appreciate that when she likes a product, she specifies the exact brand. (Heinz ketchup is a pantry must-have.) Every recipe is accompanied by a full color photo. The introductions for each recipe are interesting, too. I've been a fan of Ina’s recipes ever since her roasted brussel sprouts made me a family legend (in a good way, of course), and I imagine these recipes would increase my status as the family cook. In particular, I'm eager to try French mussel bisque, roasted shrimp salad, baked fontina, caeser-roasted swordfish, couscous with toasted pine nuts, and easy cranberry & apple cake. If you are also a fan of Ina’s television show, you might recognize several recipes. When I originally saw them on the show, I thought, “Oh, I should make that.” Now they are here in print, I will. Maybe you will too.
Recommended by Melissa, January 2011

 
Book Cover for Ape House Gruen, Sara
Ape House

Fiction
John Thigpen is assigned to cover a story about the Great Ape Language Lab in Des Moines. He becomes enthralled with how well the bonobo apes communicate with each other—they even communicate with humans using American Sign Language. He's also attracted to Isabel Duncan, the scientist who works most closely with the apes, although he has a wife back home. When the laboratory is bombed by protestors who are convinced the apes are being tortured, Isabel is severely injured. The apes are then purchased by a company run by a pornographic movie producer, and they are broadcast on a 24/7 reality TV show! The premise is hard to believe, the side stories among the human characters aren’t entirely plausible either. Ape House is not the spectacular read that Water for Elephants is. However, Gruen’s respect and love for apes (she has worked with an ape communication center) is obvious, and her message about the intelligence of apes is clear. Despite the silliness, I eagerly turned pages to find out what would happen. I recommend this book, especially to animal lovers.
Recommended by Terry, January 2011

 
Book Cover for Lighthead: Poems Hayes, Terrance
Lighthead: Poems

Nonfiction
Terrance Hayes’ National Book Award winning title simmers with the energy of formal experimentation and linguistic daring as the poet reflects on themes of family, masculinity, music and US history. Many of these poems make use of unique forms, including pecha kucha, which Hayes adapts from a twenty part structure inspired by a Japanese business presentation technique. Lighthead bustles with literary and cultural allusions, including Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Fela Kuti, and figures from blues, hip hop and contemporary pop music. Hayes’ skilled use of language includes surprising rhyme, slant rhyme and wordplay. When he employs slang, the effect is a poem that sounds almost encoded, as in “New Folk,” with “A month later, / in pulled a parade of well-meaning alabaster post-adolescents.” Hayes’s mastery of voice allows him to move easily between gravity and humor, lyrical rumination and straightforward statement. He draws imagery from a wide range of sources, often rapidly shifting among them, as in “The Elegant Tongue,” in which he discusses kissing, a parable involving an elephant, and Biblical allusion. The poem closes with “Darling, kiss me again in the nastiest possible way. / When the blind fondle the elephant's trunk, an organ / of fifteen thousand miraculous multipurpose muscles, and hiss / ‘This creature is most like the serpent in Eden,’ / tell them, ‘If there is goodness in your heart, it will come / to your mouth,’ and if that doesn't work, tell them, / ‘In the dark it's not the forked tongue that does the piercing.’”
Recommended by Renée, January 2011

 
Book Cover for The Girl Who Played With Fire Larsson, Stieg
The Girl Who Played With Fire

Fiction
The Girl Who Played With Fire is probably the most relaxing kind of read I could find. I started the first novel in the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but didn’t finish it because I left the book on the bus and then saw the Swedish movie. It wasn’t hard to re-connect with the story line in the second book. The writing isn’t particularly impactful or innovative, and I wonder if the translation has something to do with the somewhat flat and awkward prose. The content of the book, though interesting, is not very challenging or deep. It’s a thriller set in Sweden about a strong female protagonist who is a sexual abuse survivor, brilliant researcher and hacker, and various intrigues she gets involved in. The novel has a clearly feminist point of view, is critical of the media, against dominance culture, and depicts gay and lesbian relationships in a respectful way. It held my attention without too much effort, like an easy knitting project can do—lovely.
Recommended by Jude, January 2011

 
Book Cover for Let the Right One In Lindqvist, John Ajvide
Let the Right One In

Fiction
Lindqvist’s debut novel Let the Right One In was made into a movie of the same name that is now a cult horror phenomenon. This is an instance, however, where the book is far superior to the movie. Both contain the same general plot: a bullied human boy and a misfit vampire girl meet and become best friends amidst the dusky ambience of snowy Sweden. The friendship inspires courage in the boy, and invokes the girl's lost humanity. But while the movie does an adequate job of recreating the gore and bleak feel of the novel, it never reproduces the emotions invoked by the book’s telling of the children’s transcendent relationship. Worse, the movie unacceptably leaves out major climactic events described in the book. So skip the movie and read the book. It masterfully redefines the vampire genre for the 21st century while being one of the best vampire stories ever written.
Recommended by Wes, January 2011

 
Book Cover for Local Wood, Brian
Local

Graphic Novel
These 12 graphic short stories follow the young wanderer Megan McKeenan as she drifts across America and the extended childhood of her twenties. Each story represents a year spent living in a different city, as she takes on dead-end jobs, gets into unhealthy relationships, deals with sketchy apartments and roommates, and finally finds her own sense of peace and home.
Recommended by Tara, January 2011