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Geo's Picks

Book Cover for The Summer We Fell Apart Antalek, Robin
The Summer We Fell Apart

The layers of a disfunctional family are revealed by the four distinct voices of the siblings involved. Two sisters and their brothers grapple with the aftermath of the indifferent parenting provided for them by their self-absorbed parents. Each has developed their own unique survival tactics and they all strive to support one another. There is an unanticipated addition to the story at the end which gives readers the distance needed to separate from the fray and provides a potentially healing viewpoint for anyone struggling with family issues. If you like this book as much as I did, you may want to check out The Grown Ups.
Recommended June 2015

Book Cover for Nine Inches Perrotta, Tom
Nine Inches

Short Stories
Tom Perrotta's latest collection of stories, Nine Inches, is rife with my kind of action. People see, hear, think, and sometimes even walk and talk at the same time. You can't wait to find out what isn't going to happen next. Being transported into the mind of the protagonist wrestling with his/her dilemma is enough to keep the pages turning. If you're worried that the action in these stories may be too subtle for you, there is almost always a revelation at the end. Satisfaction guaranteed. I was recently reading More Baths Less Talking, by Nick Hornby, and discovered that Hornby is also a fan of Perrotta — and for the same reasons that I am!
Recommended April 2015

Book Cover for Spoiled Brats Rich, Simon
Spoiled Brats

Short Stories
Simon Rich's Spoiled Brats is very clever and entertaining. He will relieve you of your complacency throughout this collection of stories. Unusual characters will deliver assaults to your sense of reality. The muscles of your imagination will ache from the unfamiliar and strenuous exercise herein. No matter how outrageous the premise of a story, it all makes sense by the end. Look for Rich's Last Girlfriend on Earth for more of his peculiar style of seduction.
Recommended March 2015

Book Cover for Summer House with Swimming Pool Koch, Herman
Summer House with Swimming Pool

Those of you who found The Dinner disturbing should give wide berth to Koch's latest, Summer House with Swimming Pool. But for those of you who, like me, enjoy creepy characters who do terrible things to each other, take the plunge. Koch tells stories and creates characters that marry the best parts of Joyce Carol Oates and Patricia Highsmith. At times he even surpasses them both with his relentless determination to avoid happy endings.
Recommended October 2014

Book Cover for Far From the Madding Crowd Hardy, Thomas
Far From the Madding Crowd

This classic starts off in the usual ho-hum way of introducing a main character through a description of his lineage, how he came to be where we find him, and the background of his present occupation. Don't get complacent. Both the fate of the main character in Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust and the devastating beginning of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love could have been inspired by what befalls Gabriel Oak in these first few pages. While Hardy's work is dense with tragedy, it is the tragedy of being human, not of being a victim. Devastations are unleashed by moments of pique. All of the drama takes place without props outside on English lanes evoking a universality to the pain of being human and the realization that we can all be victimized by our own emotions. Hardy's prose captures landscapes, weather, and the emotional palettes of his characters with equal aplomb. Sharply pin-pointed prose reaches and awakens places in the psyche possibly rendered dormant by exposure to much duller fare. Two chapters appropriately named "Storm" and "Rain" stand out as examples of Hardy's incredible ability to describe weather. If you like weather to be part of your reading experience, M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series provides that, along with great characters and cozy mysteries to be solved. If you like unrelenting suffering, you will like Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvaneys, or the classic by A. J. Cronin, Hatter's Castle. Available on dvd: A Handful of Dust, Enduring Love, Hamish Macbeth, We Were the Mulvaneys, Far From the Madding Crowd (classic), and the Masterpiece Classic remake of Far From the Madding Crowd.
Recommended March 2014

Book Cover for A Simple Plan Smith, Scott
A Simple Plan

This is the story of three men who find $4.5 million in the woods and become casualties of a war between fantasy and reality. From the moment these men find the money any action is rationalized in their attempt to hold on to it and escape detection. Smith's brand of suspense is so unrelenting that you will beg for mercy more than once. The movie by the same name, starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, surprisingly altered the events of the story, but without any loss of quality. Both the book and the movie are good storytelling. If you like merciless suspense you will also like The Ruins, Smith's second book, which features a unique manifestation of evil as the main character. (You can skip the movie version of The Ruins.) The Blunderer, by Patricia Highsmith, is also a good choice for suspense with the added bonus of a sucker-punch ending. An equally brutal treatment of characters can be explored in Evelyn Waugh's civilized, subtle, and unforgettable A Handful of Dust; Waugh was chastised for his treatment of the protagonist and accused of hatred toward the characters.
Recommended February 2014

Book Cover for Cartwheel duBois, Jennifer

Although this story will evoke thoughts of the Amanda Knox case that took place in Italy, the author assures us that this is not Amanda's story. The location is a hot and hostile Buenos Aires. The focus is more on the satellite characters of the story and less on the actual crime. The character of the accused is illuminated through the perceptions gleaned from her family, the prosecuting attorney, and her boyfriend. The eponymous cartwheel is central to the perception of guilt, as well as the proverbial blood in the water fueling the tabloid feeding frenzy. The truly fascinating cast of characters — including her boyfriend, who is described as looking like a "homosexual pirate" in one instance and a "postapocalyptic butler" in another, and the prosecuting attorney haunted by his mad wife — lend a humanity to the chaos that ensues when innocents are embroiled in the horrific repercussions of a criminal act. Do not skip the author's note at the end of the book. For similar reading experiences try Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan, for its literary caliber and other brilliant lives scarred by violence, Defending Jacob, by William Landay, for the debilitating experience of having a child in trouble, and In Cold Blood, classic true crime by Truman Capote.
Recommended January 2014

Book Cover for Diary Palahniuk, Chuck

An artist, detoured by life into a bizarre marriage to a local scion and motherhood, finds herself being relentlessly maneuvered into taking up her paint brush again. The plot is rhythmically driven by diary entries and "weather" reports. "The weather today is increasing concern followed by full-blown dread." (The weather reports became my favorite part of the book — and now I come up with my own.) Comments addressed to and about her husband, who is now in a coma, punctuate the narrative and keep him a main character in the story. The impression that the narrator is possibly unreliable renders the unspooling of the underlying conspiracy of the story borderline atmospheric. The ending veers off at the last minute, ruining (in a good way) any confidence the reader might have had thinking that they knew what was going to happen. Great setting, great details, and interesting style elements make this a memorable reading experience. Reminiscent of Vonnegut's rhythmic repetitions, and Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping came to mind because of the characters' eccentricities and attachment to place.
Recommended December 2013

Book Cover for He's Gone Caletti, Deb
He's Gone

A woman wakes up alone. Her husband is gone. She assumes that he has left to get something for their breakfast. Hours later, worry sets in — worry that gradually turns into agony. Everyone becomes a suspect in his disappearance; however, the possibility of his absence being willful cannot be completely ruled out. Unrelenting suspense, paired with the constantly pivoting opinion of the reader as to what has happened to this man, causes some doubt as to whether the author can conclude this story satisfactorily. She does. The ending is surprisingly subtle and yet devastatingly effective. Other books that may interest you: The Laughing Policeman, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, has the same calibre of excruciating suspense; Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh, has the same mystery of characterization of the "missing" man; and Black Seconds, by Karin Fossum, has the crushing, atmospheric doom that encompasses those who wait.
Recommended November 2013

Book Cover for Ordinary Victories Larcenet, Manu
Ordinary Victories

Graphic Novel
In this action and adventure tale, our hero tries to find his calling in life while tending to a budding romance. We watch and listen as he processes his experiences through personal and professional analysis. You will witness the moments of realization that alter his perspective and allow him to genuinely evolve. Sometimes his vehicle spins out of control, but by the end of the story he's become a better and wiser person and so have you. This is a subtly powerful illustration of how strenuous an examined life can be—and how worthwhile.
Recommended December 2012

Book Cover for Creole Belle Burke, James Lee
Creole Belle

As if good writing weren't enough, we have flawed but noble characters, ring-true dialogue, an exotic locale, and a plot that won't quit. Burke's 19th might be my first, but it certainly isn't going to be my last.
Recommended December 2012

Book Cover for Wild Flavors Carolla, Adam
Not Taco Bell Material

Adam's story is reminiscent of that legendary species of crab that can be collected in a bucket and left unattended, for when one of them attempts to escape the others pull him/her back in. Only a real comedian could sidestep maudlin bitterness and make a childhood characterized by apathy, poverty, malaise, and contempt, both sympathetic and hilarious. In spite of bad DNA (his claim, not my judgment), Adam successfully climbs out of the bucket. He's no longer a crab. He's evolved into a caring husband and father—who still likes fart jokes.
Recommended October 2012

Book Cover for Naked in Death Robb, J.D.
Naked in Death

This first book of the series introduces Eve Dallas, tough, no-nonsense cop, and the impossibly handsome and fantastically wealthy Roarke. Love blossoms amidst grisly murder, suspicion and betrayal. Scenes of cosmopolitan sophistication and opulence vie with seamy characters and the sinister streets of Eve's milieu while Roarke and Eve connect through mutually tormented pasts. The year is 2045. Completely plausible technological advances are evenly incorporated into everyone's jobs and lives. Auto-Chefs have to be stocked, so grocery shopping hasn't been eradicated. Felinebots flit among garbage strewn in alleys seeking out rodents. People are transported off planet both for recreational and business reasons. Human foibles accessorized with a layer of future technology make for an entertaining backdrop to the dynamic pairing of two forces of nature. J. D. Robb's "In Death" series, started in 1995, consists of 33 books with more on the way. From what I hear, they never get old.
Recommended February 2012

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

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 May 2011

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

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 April 2011

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

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 March 2011

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

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 February 2011

Book Cover for The Cold Light of Mourning Duncan, Elizabeth J.
The Cold Light of Mourning

Located in the North of Wales, this tale of a runaway bride is both picturesque and suspenseful. The main character, the manicurist who polished the bride's nails on the morning of her wedding, gives the author the opportunity to invent very cute nail polish names: Altar Ego, Big Apple Red, Sonora Sunset. How about Pinkslip Pansy, Palsied Peach, Livid Lavender? A location junkie after reading M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series, I like mysteries set in or around Scotland, with weather uninviting and water treacherous. Throw in a dead body and there is no resisting. The Cold Light of Mourning is first in this Cornwall series, followed by A Brush With Death.
Recommended October 2010

Book Cover for I'll Mature When I'm Dead Barry, Dave
I'll Mature When I'm Dead

If you picked up this book you are either already a Dave Barry fan or will soon be one. A witty wordsmith, Barry is never mean-spirited, always original, sporadically wise, and his collection of new essays does not disappoint. But be warned: the chapter "Fangs of Endearment: A Vampire Novel" will cause both cheering and cringing. Behold, this parody of the Twilight series is so excruciatingly right on that I had to laugh, and then cringe as well. Picture Dave Barry actually reading Twilight.
Recommended September 2010

Book Cover for Juliet, Naked Hornby, Nicholas
Juliet, Naked

When a woman comes to the realization that she has been voluntarily participating in a boring relationship for years, the cracking begins, and you won't be able to wait to see what hatches. The most salient feature of the man she's with is his obsession with a musician who suddenly and mysteriously retired from public life after an apparently innocuous visit to a restroom. Fame and fandom are explored here, as well as the temptation to settle for safe as opposed to sublime in our personal relationships. Hornby makes the reader's relationship with his characters intimately friendly. You'll laugh, listen, hurt, anticipate, and ultimately care about them.
Recommended August 2010

Book Cover for I [heart] Macarons Ogita, Hisako
I [heart] Macarons

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia, I knew I wanted to try cooking my way through a recipe book, but I didn't want to cook my way through Julia Child. (No way, aspic and duck.) I thought about Moosewood. I thought about vegetarian. And I thought about a Southern Living Annual with all the butter left in. Then I found it. The cookbook I was going to cook my way through: I [heart] Macarons. The instructions are easy to follow and well illlustrated. The flavor and color pairing examples ignite fantasies in your mouth. The only way this cookbook could be better is if the pictures were edible or at least scratch and sniff.
Recommended July 2010

Book Cover for Brangelina Halperin, Ian

The title is deceptive if it makes you think it's about Brad and Angelina’s great love affair. The majority of Brangelina deals with Angelina and the making of the brand "Brangelina." In an attempt to validate, normalize, or garner sympathy, every one of Angelina’s attention seeking behaviors is analyzed. The litany is long and exhausting. Just when you think about tossing this book aside, there is a chapter on Jennifer Anniston, and sanity is juxtaposed with shenanigans. What a relief! I don’t want to give it all away -- just let me say there are answers to the questions that some of us may have percolating in our brains, but those are found mostly between the lines. I think the key to understanding this relationship isn’t to go deeper but to go shallower.
Recommended February 2010

Book Cover for The Shack Young, William P.
The Shack

Fiction (Inspirational)
Part mystery, part fantasy, part philosophical discussion, the key to enjoying The Shack is keeping an open mind. When a man's daughter is abducted from their campsite and later presumed dead, he is overwhelmed by a depression that curdles everything in his life. A mysterious note left in his mailbox compels him to return to the place where the last evidence of his beloved child was found. Though dreading what he might find there, he makes the trip. What the bereaved father encounters tests his faith, helps him turn his life around and move on as he tries to make sense of what has befallen his family. The scenery and characters are well-wrought and memorable. My favorite is a fractal garden described as a controlled chaos of color. It is easy to appreciate The Shack if you think of the characters as representing different schools of thought, each trying to understand and relate to the others. Some of your own beliefs will be validated even if you don't agree with them all.
Recommended November 2009

Book Cover for Free-Range Knitter : The Yarn Harlot Writes Again Pearl-McPhee, Stephanie
Free-Range Knitter : The Yarn Harlot Writes Again

"Never in a million years would I become one of those people who reads books about knitting." I guess I'll have to eat those words. Meet Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, a fantastic knitter, brilliant woman, and great writer. The world seen through her eyes is full of interesting characters, a lesson is learned around every corner and the mundane turns into adventure. You won't get very far into this book before you forget it's about knitting or knitters. Two favorite chapters are "Glory Days," about a competition called The Furnace Wars, and "Things Crappy Yarn Taught Me," which offers insights far beyond judging yarn quality. Start with those if you're sceptical. I know you'll want more. If you do, try Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair: The True-Life Misadventures of a 30-Something Who Learned to Knit after He Split by Laurie Beasley Perry, recommended for knitters and nonknitters alike. This reading experience was so good I'm thinking of branching out into books about fishing, or perhaps even a golf memoir.
Recommended September 2009

Book Cover for The Survivor’s Club Sherwood, Ben
The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life

The premise of The Survivor’s Club is that too many people die in disasters who shouldn’t. Studies done to find out why some people survive when others do not reveal surprising insights that could save your life. From the first anecdote involving a misstep and a knitting needle, you will be riveted. You might recognize some stories from the news, but Sherwood supplies clarifying information and answers the question, "What happened to these people?" One example is Dr. Phil. I didn't know he had a sister and certainly wasn't aware of the tragedy that befell her. Hers is just one of the incredible stories in this book, stories that will haunt you long after you've read the final page. You will learn from this book and, as incredible as this may sound, be uplifted as well.
Recommended August 2009

Book Cover for Go Fug Yourself Presents The Fug Awards Cocks, Heather and Jessica Morgan
Go Fug Yourself Presents The Fug Awards

Being barely aware of the website didn't stop me from picking this up and reading it from cover to cover in one sitting. The Fug Awards features photos of known, unknown to me, and unknown-and-could-happily-have-stayed-that-way celebrities, in various states of dress, undress, overdress, underdress, and what the ? dress. A lot of the time I actually loved what the authors hated, but the commentary is amusing whether you agree with them or not. Glossy photos, funny commentary and perhaps even a few fashion do's and don'ts, and what's not to love?
Recommended July 2009

Book Cover for Black Seconds Fossum, Karin
Black Seconds

Black Seconds, an Inspector Sejer mystery penned by Norway's "Queen of Crime," displays a curiously civilized and sedate tone. Although I was certain I'd figured out the mystery long before the end (in spite of purposely trying to be dense), Inspector Sejer's need to understand the suspects and their motives kept me enthralled. Black Seconds may sacrifice the fun of guessing the "who" of the crime, yet it contains emotional and psychological depth that is thoroughly satisfying, and surpasses most mysteries in character development. Add to this the subtle attractions of a Norwegian locale and few will be disappointed. Fossum has been compared to Ruth Rendell, who is another author I've enjoyed and you may too.
Recommended May 2009

Book Cover for Mrs. Kimble Haigh, Jennifer
Mrs. Kimble

The title of this book suggests one person but actually stands for three different women who married the same man consecutively. The weight of the story subtly shifts from the wives’ individual experiences to the bigger picture of who or what their husband is. Always mysterious and chameleonic, Mr. Kimble gradually comes into focus in the wake of devastation he leaves behind. Haigh’s book, The Condition, was a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Best Books of 2008” pick.
Recommended April 2009

Book Cover for The Book of Murder Martinez, Guillermo
The Book of Murder

A woman approaches a man she worked for briefly ten years before with a fantastic story. She believes that another of her previous employers is murdering everyone close to her. The alleged murderer is now a profoundly successful and famous author who is apparently murdering her loved ones in ingeniously contrived “accidents.” Not just a murder mystery, Martinez attempts to analyze life itself. Is life just a series of random events or coincidences that the human mind needs to organize in an attempt to make meaningful? Or is all this philosophizing just a smoke screen to discredit the victim and hide the truth? Guillermo Martinez also wrote The Oxford Murders, another psychological and philosophical mystery.
Recommended March 2009

Book Cover for Martin Eden London, Jack
Martin Eden

Jack London, known predominantly as the author of The Call of the Wild and the short story "To Build a Fire," is often pigeonholed for his “dog” and “man-against-nature” books. But he actually wrote on other subjects, including a memoir of his struggles with alcoholism, John Barleycorn. Considered too shocking to be published in his day, today it would rest on a crowded shelf. Martin Eden is not about dogs or nature but is an adventure story of another kind. Imbued with philosophy and the difficulties faced by anyone who tries to circumvent society’s predilection for squelching individualism and nurturance of mediocrity, the peril of our hero, while not physical, is real. Attempting to become worthy of a woman far above his class, autodidact extraordinaire Martin Eden manages to outstrip all his contemporaries only to find that it is, indeed, lonely at the top. Throughout Martin’s quest, London gives glowing examples of public libraries and librarians and the self-empowerment they facilitate. I felt as if I’d been thanked. Thank you, Jack.
Recommended February 2009

Book Cover for Death of a Charming Man Beaton, M. C.
Death of a Charming Man

This is number ten of the Hamish Macbeth series and I can honestly say, since I am reading the series in order, that these never get old. Instead, I have a new favorite country: Scotland. I have a newfound respect for the unambitious--albeit one probably confined to Hamish. I revel in the descriptions of the smells and dank weather and always-threatening storms, mists, fogs, and even the occasional sunny day. The characters are maddening, and Hamish's on-again-off-again relationship with the love of his life is always intriguing. I have avoided series my whole life as being too much of a commitment, but I have to say that these and M. C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin series (I'm alternating between the two not having been able to choose between them after having read the first of each) are a constant delight. I'm serious! So enter if you dare. Guaranteed: the well-written Agatha and Hamish series will become not only a welcome, but necessary part of your life.
Recommended October 2008

Book Cover for 42 Cooper, M. Thomas

I was attracted to this book not only because of its title (an homage to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) but because Booklist's review described it as "Highly recommended for adventurous readers willing to expand the boundaries of genre fiction." It starts off at the apparent cliche--end of a marriage; two people married to each other and each experiencing discontent, hohum. George married a painter and ended up with Martha Stewart. When George comes home to find a cryptic note from his wife stating the obvious while invoking Murakami--she's left with their child, a subtle and yet relentless decline begins in George and consequently the life they'd built together. As George becomes more obsessed with finding his family the pace of the narrative becomes downhill-rollercoastering breathtaking. You will rush to find the answers to all his questions, dodging falling debris and careening events. While the end leaves a lot of questions unanswered, this is truly a fun reading experience. You might just be tempted to hop right back on and take this ride again. I can't wait to see what Cooper is going to do next.
Recommended September 2008

Book Cover for When You Are Engulfed In Flames Sedaris, David
When You Are Engulfed In Flames

Where else can you read about an assault with a cough drop, an abduction by a spider, and the boy scout motto, which isn't be prepared to ask people for stuff? David Sedaris does it again, globally.
Recommended July 2008

Book Cover for Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain! Adams, Scott
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain!: Cartoonist Ignores Helpful Advice

Having loved all the previous Dilbert books, I didn't hesitate to pick this up. It is at first a disorienting read since this book does not adhere to a business theme, but finding out how brilliant Scott Adams can be in his take on the world from globe to doorstep was startling and satisfying. Adams is a very funny and wise man and writing this review makes me just want to pick the book up and read it again. Anyone who has read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 thinks about what book they would commit to memory to preserve for generations to come. This would be the one for me.
Recommended June 2008

Book Cover for The Unsettling Rock, Peter
The Unsettling

Short Stories
I first discovered Peter Rock when I read Carnival Wolves(reviewed Sept. 2006). He reminded me then of the "grotesques" of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and this short story collection is also populated by the subtly awry. Rock’s stories beg the question “what if?” His characters are just lost enough to pursue ghosts of temptation. The message throughout this collection seems to be: if you don’t seek, you are never going to find. The quest is its own reward; a variation on the theme that the journey is more important than the destination. Rock doesn’t do anything crass or rude or violent, but he does keep you teetering on a brink that somehow you’ve imagined. Perhaps the title says it all.
Recommended May 2008

Book Cover for I Am Legend Matheson, Richard
I am Legend

Richard Matheson’s original story of a man who finds himself alone in a world overrun by the “living” dead is a misanthrope’s fantasy. The plot has been done over and over again since without improvement. Matheson’s version is so practical in its details, it is almost a how-to book for an apocalyptic event. (I found myself taking mental notes just in case I ever ended up being the “one.”) However, if you read this as a simple story of what could go horribly wrong, you will be unseated when the narrative segues into the philosophical side of what it means to be the “other.” This novel could be a truly refreshing interlude for those who need a break from the turmoil of modern life or a timely read for a world threatened by the not so unrealistic consequences of power shift. You will want to read more of Richard Matheson.
Recommended May 2008

Book Cover for Leaving Home Brookner, Anita
Leaving Home

On the surface, Leaving Home is about a woman trying to reach a decision about her future and is typical of Anita Brookner’s writing. Brookner specializes in real people, unheroic and almost insanely normal. Their outer lives may appear dull, possibly pathetic, but their inner lives are rich with observation, imagination, and projection. They turn the minor events in their lives into adventures and the major events into only temporary excursions away from their practically unassailable equilibrium. The life of the mind makes these people rich and shows up the pursuits of their more active and adventurous counterparts as being shallow and futile. Read Brookner for her character development and a break from writers that try too hard to stimulate only to exhaust or at best provide only a temporary escape. You will think about her characters long after you've finished her books as if you'd actually met them. Her people think and analyze; perhaps a habit we could all benefit from developing.
Recommended April 2008

Book Cover for Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War Bageant, Joe
Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War

Remember, not long ago, the horror some of us felt over the result of the last election? Red vs. Blue? How could the very people most brutalized by the current economic system not take a chance on even just the possibilty of relief from these conditions by their vote? The answer is frightening. Bageant understands and even loves these people and his compassion and concern comes through. This is a problem and reality that none of us can afford to remain ignorant about, for it can, and will, engulf us all. I truly feel that there isn't anyone that wouldn't benefit from the insights Deer Hunting With Jesus provides, including the people being discussed.
Recommended February 2008

Book Cover for The Vanishing Little, Bentley
The Vanishing

The Vanishing is written almost as a series of vignettes or short stories that traverse time and introduce what, at first appearance, seem to be jarringly unrelated characters, victims, and manifestations of dark and brutal forces. The individual stories are fascinating in their own right, but it is the juxtaposition of past and present, ancestors and progeny, and the karmic play of justice that makes this much more than just a scary story and a bumpy ride. Bentley Little is my new favorite horror author.
Recommended January 2008

Book Cover for The Ruins Smith, Scott
The Ruins

There is something wrong with Scott Smith. Someone call a professional. The Ruins is the most relentless horror experience I have ever had. Page after page, you keep telling yourself it can’t get any worse, and it does. I didn’t care about the characters at all (whether that was the author’s intent or just my personal antipathy, I don’t know) and still cringed throughout the entire story. I don’t want to reveal the nature of the horror, but I guarantee that you have never come close to imagining it. Even as the characters’ horror builds through physical hardship and deprivation, their minds can’t accept what has become their reality. I was experiencing voyeuristic guilt. Just keep in mind you can’t help them or save them without sacrificing not only yourself, but the entire world.
Recommended November 2007

Book Cover for The Eight of Swords Skibbins, David
The Eight of Swords

David Skibbins’ debut into the mystery genre is a wonder to behold. In a field so crowded and prolific how could it be possible to come up with something not only unique, but potentially long running? Make your reluctant sleuth a fugitive from the law with multiple identities and then you're not cornered. Plots and characters don't all have to disgorge from the same center. How do you provide titular cohesiveness without mimicking what's already out there? Use the great visuals and interpretations inspired by the tarot deck without weighing down the storyline. In this first of the series, Warren Ritter is older, wiser, and nonaffiliated. He reads, loves poetry, philosophizes, and attempts to be a better person. You will like him and root for him even as he tries to evade the sometimes life-and-death responsibilities that befall him.
Recommended October 2007

Book Cover for The Quickie Patterson, James
The Quickie

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 September 2007

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

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 July 2007

Book Cover for Bitter is the New Black Lancaster, Jen
Bitter is the New Black

Being a memoir written by a survivor of the crash which in itself contains enough material to be a superficial kind of hysterical, I was surprised by the amount of real depth and truth contained here. Between the lines about material excess, bloated egos, and entitlement issues, a real story emerges. There is heart among the thorns and the dawning of a true awareness that ironically, some would pay millions to achieve. Jen Lancaster maintains a certain edginess to her tone and sense of humor throughout that never waivers or jars even as she becomes a mature and caring adult. Lancaster's new book, Bright Lights, Big Ass is available at a library near you.
Recommended June 2007

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

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 May 2007

Book Cover for Nursery Crimes Waldman, Ayelet
Nursery Crimes

As fluff goes, this is a dandelion seed riding its parachute across a playground. So why couldn’t I put this down? The characters are charming. That’s how you know they are the “good” guys. The villains are cliché and stereotypical making them very familiar and adding coziness to the mood. The very pregnant crime buster has a charming husband with whom she has a charming relationship. Her child is imperfectly charming, as are her mothering skills. They all have the right attitude and a buoyancy that while it may not keep them from harm at least guarantees another day. Mysteries and murders are solved almost matter-of-factly and the book is short enough to guarantee a desire for the next installment in the Mommy-Track Mystery Series.
Recommended March 2007

Donovan, Gerald
Julius Winsome

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 February 2007

Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

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 January 2007

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

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

Book Cover for Jane Eyre Bronte, Charlotte
Jane Eyre

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

Book Cover for Carnival Wolves Rock, Peter
Carnival Wolves

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

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

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

Book Cover Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

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

Book Cover P.D. James
Cover Her Face

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

Book Cover Carlos Maria Dominguez
The House of Paper

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

When Plague Strikes: the Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin; woodcuts by David Frampton
Teen Nonfiction
When Plague Strikes brings together three plagues to provide a continuum and historical perspective leading up to 1995. The juxtaposition of these three plagues shows the evolution not only of the medical establishment but the changing faces and modes of ignorance that will probably always be with us. Informative and well-done, When Plague Strikes also provides a bibliography for further research including Rats, Lice, and History by Hans Zinsser.
Recommended October 2005

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman
Teen Nonfiction
On September 13, 1848, Phineas Gage, railroad man, is shot through the head with his own tamping rod. Miraculously, he survives another eleven years, but not as the man he was. Phineas becomes not only a curiosity, but an insight into how the human brain works. Phineas survived, but he was so altered in personality that he could no longer live the life he'd led. The story of Phineas is poignant even from the distance of more than one hundred and fifty years and will make you not only aware of how far we have come, but grateful for it.
Recommended September 2005

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Serial) by Max Allan Collins; art by Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood
Graphic Novel
This graphic novel is based on the television show by the same name and does a fine job of living up to the standard. The characters are all here and through the dialogue their personalities shine. The graphics are glossy and in color. "Serial" actually refers to the first serial killer case, Jack the Ripper. A convention of Ripperologists is in town and apparently one fan has decided an actual reenactment of the crimes is in order. Like the show, the story jumps back and forth between cases and murders with all being neatly tied up in the end. CSI is thoroughly and surprisingly enjoyable and there is a series.
Recommended by Geo, September 2005

A Treasury of Victorian Murder by Rick Geary
Graphic Novel
This slim little volume by Rick Geary comes complete with a thumbnail history of the Victorian era, timeline, rogue gallery, and three murders culled from the headlines of the time. The subject may be murder but Geary injects just enough humor to keep the spirit afloat while his graphics provide satisfying detail and mood.
Recommended by Geo, September 2005

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
A happily single and social woman of thirty succumbs to both the real and mostly imagined pressures of society to get married. Her subsequent marriage to a farmer is the beginning of a deterioration that ends with a corpse buzzing with flies on a veranda. This is Doris Lessing's first novel.
Recommended by Geo, August 2005

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen
Louis Drax, a precocious and darkly endearing 9-year-old, is a plague of crisis in the lives of his desperate and frustrated parents. Louis is accident-prone. When an innocent afternoon picnic turns ugly, Louis is left in a coma and his father disappears. Left to her own devices, Louis' mother accompanies him to a specialist in coma patients. The small fragments of truth then revealed, add up to a shocking denouement.
Soon to be a movie.
Recommended by Geo, July 2005

Eden Close by Anita Shreve
Anita Shreve has managed to free evil from the dark and unleash it on a brilliantly lit summer day. This horror hides in the mundane details of peeling paint and broken steps, laundry hung in a backyard, and insects buzzing through soft, dry grass. Childhood memories are imbued with a patina of depravity as maturity seeks to understand a tragedy too complex for a young boy. The omnipresent evil is not supernatural but as near as a heart or mind, and as unexpected as a shattered mirror reflecting a painful glint from its nest of weeds. Through an atmosphere of impending doom, a path of relentless hope shines leading to a calamitous truth and a poignant redemption.
This is Anita Shreve's first novel.
Recommended by Geo, July 2005

The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
A woman wakes up on the first day of her honeymoon, a widow. One of the darkest ladies of letters strikes again. The real protagonist of this meandering hell is Niagara Falls. Oates captures everything about the falls in her prose and effectively transports the reader to this Mecca of tourists and suicides. You can smell the falls, hear them, look into their depths, and above all, wish you were there. The question on the lips of everyone at the beginning of this book is, "why would anyone commit suicide?" Joyce Carol Oates commences to provide many possible reasons for this. At the end of the book the question has become, "How do so many people survive?"
Recommended by Geo, July 2005

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
If you think that statistics are cold and downright boring, Freakonomics will change that. Levitt and Dubner take us through the processes of economics and show how they can be applied to make the world understandable and our problems potentially solvable. They investigate and correlate sumo wrestlers to teachers, abortion to crime, and expose the inner workings of crack gangs and the Ku Klux Klan. Long held assumptions are shaken when the numbers don't add up.
Recommended by Geo, July 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
In this new book, Foer illuminates the complexity of grief and the injury of being left a survivor. Body counts don't take into consideration the devastation launched by monumental tragedy or the ripple effect that can wreak havoc through generations. Meet Oskar Schell, inventor, writer, and precociously charming nine-year-old. Join him on his pilgrimage of healing from the loss of his father on 9/11. Oskar's need to make sense of his world is going to magnify his hope and imagination and delight anyone who meets him. While the subject matter is dark, juxtaposing the firebombing of Dresden and 9/11, the unwavering quest of an undefeated boy never lets the reader down.
Recommended by Geo, April 2005

Road to Perdition (DVD)
Road To Perdition is a beautiful movie. Gorgeous cinematography coupled with a haunting score deliver a story rich in subtlety in spite of a violent theme. Tom Hanks plays an understated hitman whose attempts to keep his family protected from his occupation fail suddenly and shockingly. What follows is a touching story of growing, bonding, and redemption. (You can listen to samples of the soundtrack at
Recommended by Geo, February 2005

Psychopath by Keith Ablow
A forensic psychiatrist writes a book about a forensic psychiatrist helping the FBI hunt down and capture the Highway Killer who happens to be a psychiatrist sans forensic. Sounds good to me. Sounds like a triple whammy. So why is the first burning question I have, 'What happens to the earth-toned-natural-fibered clothes our killer sports? Is he so successfully control freaky that he can keep the mess of murder off his ensembles?' He is also supposedly outdoorsy. No mention of flannel or denim. Does he go camping in his bloodied day clothes? If this isn't riveting enough, he, a doctor mind you, takes blood from his victims with a syringe and keeps it mixed in a vial from which he has the occasional taste. I guess his victims look healthy. The most frightening thing about this book is how easily this could be about a Highway Killer, who is a forensic psychiatrist, writing a book about a forensic psychiatrist who is writing a book about a forensic psychiatrist hunting a forensic psychiatrist who is killing people and writing a book about it.
Perversely, I fully intend to read all his other books. Oh, and don't worry, I haven't let any cats out of the bag. I didn't even tell you about the naked ego running rampant throughout or the truly pathetic female characters and that's only the ones that are allowed to live.
Write on Ablow. I'll be there.
Recommended by Geo, December 2004

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri writes with a poetic clarity that makes the act of reading akin to being born again. Her style is such a pleasure to read that it almost relegates the story she is telling superfluous -- almost. Instead, you are softly carried along and privileged to be present as a gentle Bengali couple adjust to life in the Northeast with their two children. The cultures involved loom large and create tension without overshadowing the characters or derailing our sympathy for them. Hopefully, Lahiri will be a prolific author so that when other authors exhaust, there will always be a place to go to be refreshed.
Recommended by Geo, August 2004

A Sight for Sore Eyes by Ruth Rendell
Rendell starts off with a character whose interesting problem solving technique -- serial killing -- is not only justified, but cheerable. Halfway through the book, Rendell turns you back into a civilized human being and returns you to the right side of the law. From entertainingly creepy to sinisterly edgy, she holds you until justice is served -- a perfect justice.
Recommended by Geo, August 2004

Unless by Carol Shields
Shields has created an interesting torment for her characters in a story that pivots on the abdication from life of an apparently healthy young woman. When a daughter opts to sit on a corner wearing a sign with just the word "Goodness" on it, the rest of the family is thrown into psychological turmoil. The reader is immediately drawn into the mystification of this family -- especially that of the mother, Reta. Reta's obsessive self examination seems strangely out of place, but actually provides the depth of this novel as well as the answer to the burning question: Why?
Recommended by Geo, August 2004

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
If you ever get curious enough to revisit an author who has survived the test of time, make it Waugh. A Handful of Dust will lull you into complacency then deliciously betray you in a manner so outrageous, it will make you want to read all his other books just to see if he can do it again. Although previous readers have been alarmed and confused by Waugh's brutalization of the main character, I say sit back and enjoy. You're perfectly safe.
Recommended by Geo, August 2004

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
While this is "much ado about nothing" (The Sims, Billy Joel, tribute bands, etc.), the ado is very entertaining and instructive. Klosterman is a master at turning an opinion about anything into a deconstruction and morphing this into a philosophy. By the time you finish this book you will be able to supply your own weft to the warp of life. So get on board the Deconstruction Train and head for Philosophy City.
Recommended by Geo, August 2004

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Don't let the title throw you; this is perfect Sedaris. From being raised by housecats to potpourri and funerals, Sedaris can find the hilarity in tragedies great and small. So what if his family hates him, if they do. Sedaris belongs to us, his global family. His new book begs the questions: is a sense of humor genetic or can it be taught? and if humor were a color, what would it be? I, too, would like to see the world through Sedaris' or puce-colored glasses. Instead, I will accept his generosity and incorporate his memories into my own. Is there a cult out there I can join?
Recommended by Geo, August 2004
Cynthia Rylant

A poignant collection of observations about a mysteriously intriguing cat named Boris. Atmospheric without being maudlin, sympathetic without the requisite death, this was a pleasure to read and will strike a chord with most cat lovers.
Recommended October 2005