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Noufissa's Picks

Book Cover for In The Woods French, Tana
In The Woods

Fiction
In a grim suburb near Dublin, Ireland, three 12-year-old children playing in a local woods do not return for supper. A frantic search locates one of the three cowering beside a tree in a near catatonic state with no memory of what happened. The other two children are never found. Flash twenty years into the future and the lone survivor, now a police detective, and his female partner are assigned to investigate the murder of a young girl in the same wooded area. The story, told through the survivor-detectiveís eyes, recounts an intense murder investigation against the background of a complicated relationship with his partner, and his attempts to resolve the fate of his childhood friends and to recover his memory. As the book progresses it becomes clear how much his childhood trauma has damaged him. This is a beautifully written book with interesting, well-drawn characters and a sophisticated, multi-layered plot. Rather like a Dennis Lehane novel, this story will not completely satisfy readers who require happy endings and all questions resolved.
Recommended March 2009

 
Book Cover for The March Doctorow, E. L.
The March

Fiction
E.L. Doctorow is an accomplished master story teller and he does it again with The March. It is 1863, and General Sherman is marching through the Southern Confederate states. Doctorow weaves together an epic story line that includes Sherman, several other generals from both the North and South, and the ongoing travels of the newly emancipated slaves who follow the troops. We also meet a German surgeon who operates on wounded Union soldiers, a Southern woman who becomes his aide, and two AWOL confederate soldiers. The writing is spellbinding. The way Doctorow meshes all of these stories together is masterful. Building to the climax, we even get to meet Lincoln. There is an assassination attempt, though itís not the one you might suppose.
Recommended February 2009

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

Fiction
It is July 1962 in England. Florence is a talented musician who dreams of a career on the concert stage and of the perfect life she will create with Edward, an earnest young history student. Their courtship has been both cerebral and platonic. Newly married, Edward and Florence honeymoon at a Dorset hotel on the English coast, on Chesil Beach. At dinner in their room, they are anxious about the wedding night. Edward harbors a private fear of failure, while Florence's anxieties are overcome by sheer disgust at the idea of physical contact. All goes badly. In spite of their deep love and affection for each other, what might have been a marriage of great compatibility comes to a halt. Their lives go forward in different directions. You feel compassion for both Edward and Florence as they struggle with their lack of ability to communicate with each other. On Chesil Beach is another solid novel from British writer Ian McEwan. This is a story of lives changed forever by the gesture that wasnít made and the words that werenít said.
Recommended January 2009

 
Book Cover for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Diaz, Junot
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Fiction
Oscar is a precocious and overweight nerd who lives with his mother and rebellious sister in a New Jersey Dominican ghetto. While he lives with his traditional mother, he periodically visits relatives in the Dominican Republic where he finds out more and more about his father and also about Fuku. Fuku is the curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, misfortune and star-crossed love. Oscar is the current casualty. Diaz provides us with an intriguing and most readable entry into Oscarís life and the history of his family. He gives us warmth, humor and a window into the Dominican-American experience, as well. Underlying this, Diaz shows the reader how to persevere and go on. Read this novel. You will remember Oscar and his plight for a long time.
Recommended December 2008

 
Book Cover for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Wroblewski, David
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Fiction
Edgar Sawtelle is a young Wisconsin boy born with a handicap - he can hear but cannot speak. For three generations, his family has been involved in raising and training dogs. As part of the story, you will learn a lot about the science of raising dogs the right way. For example, Edgar's mother explains that there is a huge difference between selling puppies and placing yearlings that have been fully trained. The Sawtelles don't sell dogs - they place them. Wroblewski, in an amazing way, not only gets into Edgar's mind but also gets into the mind of the dogs. Edgar cannot speak but he signs - and the dogs learn his sign language and respond. To hear the dogs work through problems and situations is just remarkable, and especially noteworthy for any of us who perceive our pets as thinking and feeling beings. This is a moving and compelling story of great dimensions. You may be compelled to read it in one sitting!
Recommended by Noufissa, November 2008

 
Book Cover for The Gravediggerís Daughter Oates, Joyce Carol
The Gravediggerís Daughter

Fiction
The Schwart family came to the United States as refugees from Hitlerís Germany. Rebecca, their only daughter, birthed in New York harbor, was the familyís only American born member. This gripping novel tells the spellbinding story of how Rebecca transcended a horrendous childhood growing up in a cemetery hovel and her gritty life in an upstate New York factory town. The Gravediggerís Daughter is a tribute to the difficult choices people must make in their lives Ė some with positive outcomes, some not. After this compelling read, you will long remember Rebecca Schwart, also known as Hazel Jones, Niles Tignor, Chet Gallagher and Zack.
Recommended September 2008

 
Book Cover for Thriving On Chaos Peters, Thomas J.
Thriving On Chaos: Handbook For A Management Revolution

Nonfiction
This book definitely deserves a reread in 2008. First, it shines a mirror on how far the approach to customer services has come in the past 20 years. Second, it contains many valid observations and strategies for the road still to be traveled. Chapters are divided into well written commentaries and include strategies and next steps. Major units cover customer responsiveness; innovation; empowerment of people; learning to love change; and building systems for a world turned upside down. Read it all or read a chapter or two. You are sure to find a concept, an idea, a tidbit to add substance to your day and improve your own work process.
Recommended August 2008

 
Book Cover for The Yiddish Policemenís Union Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemenís Union

Fiction
Chabonís book begins with the premise that following WWII, Jews established a settlement in Sitka, Alaska. On top of that, you can count on Chabonís mesmerizing writing abilities and an intricately plotted murder mystery. Meyer Landsman is the noz (yes, thereís a dictionary of definitions at the end) who unravels the consequences of the demise of a former boy wonder chess champion. At each turn, Landsman finds more layers of plotting that will keep you busily turning pages until you reach a very satisfying ending.
Recommended July 2008

 
Book Cover for The Secret Byrne, Rhonda
The Secret

Nonfiction
The Secret received Oprahís stamp of approval. And why shouldnít it? Itís an easy read of 180 pages and extols the benefits of releasing positive energy to make good things happen, both for you and to you. Ms. Byrne has put together a compendium of the best thoughts from a ďHall of FameĒ group of positive achievement gurus. The added bonus is that after you read it, whenever a thorny situation arises, Ms. Byrne suggests that you randomly open the book and words of wisdom, appropriate to your situation, will be on that page. The Secret espouses no particular religion or philosophy. If it helps get you through the day, what is not to like about it? Maybe you will start noticing nice things happening to you!
Recommended June 2008

 
Book Cover for Jim Cramer's Stay Mad For Life Cramer, James J. with Cliff Mason
Jim Cramer's Stay Mad For Life: Get Rich, Stay Rich (Make Your Kids Even Richer)

Nonfiction
Cramer focuses on successful investment strategies that investors can take advantage of over longer periods of time. He cites specific stocks and mutual funds that he feels can be excellent long-term investments based on the previous successes of their managers. Cramer also identifies several mistakes that investors can make that could substantially impact their retirement objectives. He recalls his personal experiences as a hedge fund manager and identifies other top money managers such as Ken Heebner and Eddie Lampert and the strategies they employed to be successful. I highly recommend this title as it is a very interesting and informative read for both the novice and experienced investor.
Recommended March 2008

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

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

 
Book Cover Aslan, Reza
No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam

Nonfiction
If an uninformed but curious American had the opportunity to read only one book about Islam, this might be that one.
Beginning with pre-Islamic Mecca, Mr. Aslan builds vivid descriptions of Muhammad, his companions and adversaries, and the world in which they lived. Before the introduction of Islam, Mecca was an important trading center, whose wealth was built in part on its ability to draw many visitors to worship the many different gods of the region and patronize the merchants of Mecca in the process. Seen within this context, the hostility and assassination attempts which occurred with Muhammad's introduction of an exclusive, one God religion are more understandable. The historical characters surrounding Muhammad are also well drawn, although occasionally romanticized.
The historical development of Islam in the aftermath of Muhammad's death is described with insightful detail. Particular attention in given to two themes: the explosive growth and organization of the religion, and the conflict which quickly emerged about who were Muhammad's rightful heirs to leadership. This latter issue culminated in battle and the separation of Islam into its two major branches, the Sunni and the Shiites.
The last chapters of the book examine Islam in the modern world. One particularly interesting account describes the emergence of the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia. Its great influence on the religion and culture is portrayed as the result of a trade-off with the Muhammad Ibn Saudi, who was fighting to centralize all of the Arabian tribes into one nation under his control.
No God but God is an obviously well researched, scholarly book. However, it is written in a familiar, comprehensible style. This is a recommended read for anyone with even a marginal interest in this subject.
Recommended December 2005

 
Book Cover Grisham, John
The Broker

Fiction
John Grisham's most recent book replaces his customary lawyers with a Washington insider, who stumbles into the world of espionage. Joel Bachman, the most powerful lobbyist and power broker in American government, is able to buy or sell congressional votes or almost anything else. When he is approached by Pakistani scientists who have discovered and learned to control an invaluable spy satellite of unknown origin, he agrees to help them sell it to the highest bidder. His world soon comes crashing down when these scientists and one of his partners mysteriously die, and he becomes the target of a federal investigation. He pleads guilty, and is sent to a federal prison in solitary confinement for his protection. Seven years later a president in his last day in office pardons Bachman at the request of the CIA Director, hoping to learn what "the broker" knows about the mysterious satellite and which governments are chasing him. Bachman is given a new identity, and secretly shipped to Italy, finally ending in Bologna. What follows is his furious effort to learn the Italian language and immerse himself in Italian culture while avoiding the top assassins from three different countries. The Broker is an extremely well-written book with interesting characters and clever, fast-paced plot that helps to overcome the book's improbable premise. As an extra bonus the city of Bologna was thoroughly researched and described in almost travelogue detail. Were you aware that requesting a cappuccino rather an espresso after breakfast is an Italian social no-no?
Recommended March 2005

 
Book Cover McCall Smith, Alexander
The Sunday Philosophy Club

Fiction
This latest mystery novel by McCall Smith deals with murder and moral philosophy. The story takes place in Edinburgh Scotland. Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher and editor of the prestigious and highly esteemed Review of Applied Ethics, witnesses the fatal fall of a finance manager Mark after a performance at an Edinburgh concert hall. She felt it was her duty to investigate and find the villain. The suspects are Mark colleague's spouse, an annoyed broker, and Mark's distrustful roommate Neil. The results of the investigation are a surprise to Isabel and readers alike. This is a very pleasant story but it lacks the humor of McCall Smith's bestseller The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.
Recommended January 2005

 
Book Cover Mahfouz, Naguib
The Journey of Ibn Fattouma

Fiction
This book is written by the leading Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. It is a short but important work. The Journey... is set in a mythical, timeless Middle East, and yet based on a classic of Western literature: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The story shows the challenges of exile, following a trip by a young Koranic scholar, Ibn Fattouma, who is disappointed in love and disillusioned with his own country -- as is the case of many young people in the Middle East. Ibn is travelling as a way of finding the true meaning of life. He joins a caravan and sets out to explore the world, his ultimate destination the enigmatic land of Gebel, where perfection, truth, and happiness prevail. Ibn Fattouma finds, to his surprise, that many of the countries he visits, though heathen, are in some ways superior to his own. His first stop results in marriage to a non-believer. However, war with another country and a clash with a city official cause him to lose his family, and he is forced to leave. In another country he is imprisoned because he is accused of crimes against the state. Civil war frees him, and he continues his journey, always seeking an insubstantial truth he is never able to find, always vulnerable to the winds of social and political change. Finally, he joins a caravan bound for Gebel -- a country so distant and mysterious that no one has ever been known to reach it and return to tell the tale. I enjoyed every chapter of this book that reveals the vast differences in the cultural assumptions between East and West.
Recommended August 2004

 
Book Cover Ben Jelloun, Tahar
Islam Explained

Nonfiction
This book was written in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. The author Tahar Ben Jelloun is a French writer of Moroccan origin. His book is useful for all educators who know very little about Islam and a good introduction to scholarly books on Islam. It is also a very valuable source of information to recommend to young people or adults who have no background in the religion. In an accessible question-and-answer format, Ben Jelloun explains the doctrine of Islam and traces its history -- starting with a brief outline of Muhammad's life and the tenets of the religion, then focusing a good deal on the Golden Age of Islam (about 900 years ago) before he comments frankly on the 'decline' of Islam as a unified culture in the following centuries. He finally elucidates the current politics of Islamic fundamentalism. He also offers fairly balanced clarifications of the key words that have come to dominate coverage of the current crisis: terrorism, Jihad, fundamentalist, fatwa. He uses simple language to explain Islam. He implies that the current situation, with fanatical and violent people 'claiming to be' adherents of Islam, is due to the long slide of Islamic culture (as opposed to the Islamic religion itself) into 'decadence.' He goes further to decry the current atmosphere of terrorism and violence as a corruption of the idealistic principles of Islam -- denouncing it forcefully.
Recommended August 2004

 
Book Cover Said, Edward
Orientalism

Nonfiction
This book is an important clarifying guide for anyone who is interested in the study of the Muslim Orient. It plays an important role not only in the way the Near East is studied but also how it is viewed. I personally think that this book presents a rational explanation for the on-going misunderstanding between the West, the Middle East, and Islam. Though the essays in this book are not an easy read, any reader can still get a grasp of Said's persuasive case against Orientalism. Orientalism, which he defines as "a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient." It is the image of the 'Orient' expressed as an entire system of thought and scholarship. Said's evaluation and critique of the set of beliefs known as Orientalism is to the point. Said argues that concepts such as the Orient, Islam, the Arabs, etc. are too vast to be grouped together and presented as one coherent whole. Said adds that Orientalism can be found in current Western depictions of "Arab" cultures. The depictions of "the Arab" as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-Western, dishonest, and --perhaps most importantly -- prototypical, are ideas into which Orientalist scholarship has evolved. Using the above research and indisputable evidence from two centuries' worth of Western writing about the East, Said lays down an indisputable case about how Western so-called "objective" and "scientific" study of the East has been corrupted and is far from describing reality. Many readers who are eager to understand the conflict of today's world will likely find satisfaction.
Recommended August 2004