Saturday, November 15, 2014

February 2010 Staff Picks

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome CharynThe Secret Life of Emily Dickinson
By Jerome Charyn
W.W. Norton, $24.95
Recommended by Michelle
The author, Jerome Charyn, miraculously captures the vivid, startling voice of Emily Dickinson in this
first person narrative novel. The pages literally read as though they could have been torn from Emily’s diary. Crafting words into sentences that sparkle, the author offers an intimately absorbing glimpse into Emily’s secrets, fears, and passions. We meet Emily as a mischievous and ferociously intelligent young woman at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and enter her world to see the places, people, and ideas that helped to shape Emily as a poet. The elusive (and reclusive) Emily will both charm and haunt you in this beautiful and lyrical novel that is so full of sharp observations, wit, pain, and love.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine HoweThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
By Katherine Howe
Voice Publishing, $25.99
Recommended by Kelly
If you are a fan of historical fiction, and are intrigued by magic & witchcraft, then this is the perfect book for you!
Connie Goodwin is working on her doctorate at Harvard while her eccentric, new-age mother asks her to spend the summer at her grandmother’s house in Marblehead, MA getting it ready to be sold. From the moment Connie discovers the hidden key with the secret scroll hidden inside its handle with the name Deliverance Dane inscribed on it, the book catapults the reader into a story of mystery and magic set between Salem of 1692 (t
he witch trials) and present-day Salem. Uncovering the past through scattered documents and records, Connie soon learns that Deliverance Dane was accused and killed as a witch during the famous Salem Witch Trials, leaving behind a book of receipts, or what we would refer to as recipes. Connie passionately searches this book out, tracing the lives of mother to daughter until she comes to see her own family connection in this all. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane weaves reality, history, and magic together as the usually logical and realistic Connie faces the possibility that there may be something more to this world than can be explained by reason alone, especially when her own safety begins to be threatened by something faceless and nameless. You won’t be able to put this one down!

December 2009 Staff Picks

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn WallSweeping Up Glass
By Carolyn D. Wall
Delta, $14.00 Order Online
Recommended by Kathleen
This book has the distinction of possessing the best-last-50-pages of any book I have read this year. The other 286 pages are excellent also! Olivia has lived on her mountain top for all of her hard-scrabble life. This debut novel begins in her middle age at a point when she has to stand up to hunters killing wolves, the town toughs and her own family. Discover, as I did, in Wall’s tight, emotional writing the strength Olivia possesses as she fights for her beliefs.  Inspiring, entertaining and the perfect read for your enjoyment and/or that of your book club.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg LarssonThe Girl Who Played with Fire
By Stieg Larsson
Knopf, $25.95
Recommended by Kay
Larsson’s follow up to The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is superb. Lisbeth Salander, a misanthropic computer genius, is accused of a double murder, and she goes into hiding while trying to clear her name. These Swedish mysteries are international bestsellers - which comes as no suprise as they are smart, tautly written and provocative.

October 2009 Staff Picks

Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieSweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
By Alan Bradley
Delacorte, $23.00
Recommended by Michelle
When Flavia de Luce knocks An Elementary Study of Chemistry to the floor while scaling the bookshelves of her family’s library, her life is changed forever by a consuming fascination with chemistry. She spends her days on the top floor of the East Wing of Buckshaw, the ancestral home of the de Luces, in a glorious laboratory that once belonged to her eccentric Uncle Tarquin. Nothing gives her more joy than conducting experiments and studying poisons, much to the dismay of her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. When her father is implicated in the death of a stranger found in their garden, Flavia resolves to use her scientific skills to exonerate him. There’s just one problem…Flavia is eleven years old.
Alan Bradley has crafted one of the most charming sleuths ever. Flavia narrates the story with a voice that is clever, morbid, and hilarious. Opening up Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to any page reveals dialog and prose that sparkle vivaciously, just like Flavia!

Excerpt from
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie:
“I thought a great deal about how I felt and finally came to the conclusion that being Flavia de Luce was like being a sublimate: like the black crystal residue that is left on the cold glass of a test tube by the violet fumes of iodine. At the time, I thought it the perfect description, and nothi
ng has happened over the past two years to change my mind.
As I have said, there is something lacking in the de Luces: some chemical bond, or lack of it, that ties their tongues whenever they are threatened by affection. It is as unlikely that one de Luce would ever tell another that they loved them as it is that one peak in the Himalayas would bend over and whisper sweet nothings to an adjacent crag.”

August 2009 Staff Picks

By Donna Jo Napoli
Simon Pulse, $6.99
Recommended by Kathleen
If you find this title on your young adult’s summer reading list, how lucky you are! Ms. Napoli has wound a wonderful tale incorporating themes of jealousy, hardship, perseverance and family relatio
nships. She bases the story of young Xing Xing on a familiar fairy tale (which I shall keep secret), however her writing is anything but ordinary. Descriptions of an arduous life in China including the binding of feet and isolation of country life are, at the same time, both fascinating and informative. Although the culture seems unfamiliar, the ever-so-human emotions of Xing Xing as she navigates her childhood will be recognized by all students.

Magician's ElephantMagician’s Elephant
By Kate DiCammilo
wick, $16.99
Recommended by Abby (Age 10)
This book is absolutely, positively great in every possible (and impossible) way. It is the story of an elephant and a boy named Peter who are trying to find his little sister, Adele. And a fortune teller starts it all! This wonderful story switches back and forth between the characters until they all join together eventually. There are plenty of cliff hangers at the end of the chapters which keep you reading past your bedtime. The Magician’s Elephant has magic, fortune-telling, and soldiering.
Preorder your copy today...published on September 9, 2009

July 2009 Staff Picks

Darling JimDarling Jim
By Christian Moerk
Henry Holt & Co., $25.00
Recommended by Michelle
Moerk spins a deliciously dark, modern fairy tale about three sisters and a mysterious stranger who simultaneously entices and repels them. In a small Irish town, the Walsh sisters, Fiona, Aoife, and Róisín, rue the day that a séanachai (Irish storyteller) named Jim Quick rode in on his red motorcycle luring them with tales of wolves, murder, and true love. The rich, mythic words Jim recites in packed local pubs haunt each sister’s reality by having surprising parallels to their interactions with him. Jealousy and rivalry are put aside as they seek to uncover Jim’s past when his dark proclivities gnaw at the initial glamour he had cast upon them.
Layered with stories within stories, the end of the book is actually revealed in the first chapter. This is remarkably effective in propelling the reader through the pages since the path the story takes is more important than where the path ends. By showing the fate of the characters at the beginning, the reader becomes entranced by the story, yet is constantly reminde
d by the implacability of the ending. It sets up a complex and rewarding tension throughout the novel.
The greatest strength in the book is the individual voice of each sister as she tells her story through a journal. The eldest, red-haired Fiona, understands and unconditionally loves her younger sisters. Aoife is exploratory and free-spirited. Róisín is a quirky, dark-haired pixie, who also happens to be an anti-social genius. The perspective of each sister enriches the story, adding new details and motivations to each event as it is remembered. Darling Jim is a fiercely provocative and heartfelt fable of desire, betrayal, and above all - love.

June 2009 Staff Picks

Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous YouthTwenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
By Xiaolu Guo
Nan A. Talese Books, $21.95
Recommended by Michelle
Xiaolu Guo’s impressive first novel has a narrator who leaps off the page and strides into our world commanding attention with her paradoxical fragility and virulence. Seventeen year old Fenfang leaves behind her family and their provincial way of life as sweet potato farmers for the seething city of Beijing in search of something more than a monotonous existence.
The story is told in twenty brief chapters brimming with deadpan humor and shining with Fenfeng’s resiliency amidst squalor and failed relationships. On the streets of Beijing, she tries to satisfy her insatiable hunger with instant noodles, Western literature, hot coffee, and movies. Her resigned acceptance and blank face imperfectly cover her longing and vulnerability. But after four lost years, Fenfeng feels her life has finally begun. She’s twenty-one, has found work as a movie extra, and believes this will be the catalyst for great changes in her life.
 Xiaolu Guo writes short, sharp prose that captures the hard edge of youthful angst. Her infectious novel is written with an authentic and idiosyncratic voice that brings to mind the way Holden Caulfield speaks to disaffected youth. With a fierce honesty, Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth will transfix and transport you as Fenfeng comes of age and finds her place.
- Excerpt from Twenty Fragments
“My youth began when I was twenty-one. At least, that’s when I decided it began. That was when I started to think that all those shiny things in life—some of them might possibly be for me. If you think twenty-one sounds a bit late for youth to start, just think about the average Chinese peasant, who leaps straight from childhood to middle age with nothing in between. If I was going to miss out on anything, it was middle age. Be young or die. That was my plan.”

Dog On ItDog On It
By Spencer Quinn
Atria Books, $25.00
Recommended by Kay
It’s difficult for me to find words to express how much I enjoyed this book. Therefore, I am going to quote what Stephen King (who is far more eloquent) says – “In this irresistible new detective series featuring a canine narrator, Quinn speaks two languages - suspense and dog - fluently. Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and in a few places terrifying…a one of a kind novel.” What I can say is - I loved it and recommend it highly!
p.s. Spencer Quinn is the pen name of Falmouth’s own Peter Abrahams.

May 2009 Staff Picks

The Last DickensThe Last Dickens
By Matthew Pearl
Random House, $25.00
Recommended by Michelle
Pearl plunges the reader into the world of 1870, skillfully blending historical fact and literary fiction into a riveting tale about Charles Dickens’ unfinished last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Drawing on original letters and newspapers, Pearl recounts the extraordinary celebrity of Dickens during his speaking tour of America, at a time when hundreds would line up overnight, enduring freezing temperatures in the hopes of obtaining tickets to his sold out shows.
The mystery begins when the seedy underworld of the opium trade washes ashore in Boston Harbor with tragic results. Daniel Sands, a young apprentice for publisher Fields, Osgood, & Co., is killed while on an errand to pick up the coveted manuscript of Dickens’ last serial installment of Drood.
Daniel’s mentor, James Osgood (of the aforementioned Fields, Osgood, & Co.) is disbelieving of the police’s insinuation that Daniel was involved with opium. In an effort to unravel the mystery, Osgood and Daniel’s sister Rebecca set sail for London to investigate the recently deceased Dickens’ papers. They hope the answers to Daniel’s death might lie in the missing ending to Drood.
Intelligent and fun, The Last Dickens is chock full of insights into the history of publishing, the politics of opium, and the trials and triumphs of literary genius.
Pearl has garnered acclaim for his previous books, The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow. His well-researched literary mysteries are thoroughly enjoyable, and particularly appealing to avid readers. They are literally literary. His titles say it all.

Still AliceStill Alice
By Lisa Genova
Simon & Schuster, $15.00
nded by Steve
Author Lisa Genova has a PhD from Harvard University in Neuroscience. She is also an actress. It is with these credentials that she has written an emotional novel of high impact that will touch all who read it. Her influences which led her to write this book are not limited to her background, they include her experiences with her grandmother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In the novel, Alice Howland is a Harvard University cognitive psychology professor at the height of her career. She leads a fulfilling life with a husband, three children and upscale homes in Cambridge and on Cape Cod. At the age of 50, she becomes aware of minor changes in her memory abilities. The affliction increases rapidly, leading her to seek a medical opinion. The diagnosis is early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The suspenseful novel is written through the unique perspective of the character of Alice. The reader gets insight into Alice’s frustration and inability to remember. Genova writes convincingly and in easy to understand terms about Alzheimer’s. Alice has typed in a series of questions into her BlackBerry under the file name Butterfly with the intent that if she can’t answer any of them in the future, she will kill herself.
The emotional pain Alice feels is intensified because she is aware of what is happening to her, and yet she has to endure people talking about her as if she were not present. Her family and friends are the ones forgetting she is still alive, that she still has feelings, and is still Alice. She realizes time is short. She makes a list of things to do which includes: developing a better relationship with her daughter and reading all the books she has been meaning to read. The book affected me emotionally, and tugged on my heartstrings. There are many moving moments in the book such as when Alice gets lost in her neighborhood, and the most powerful for me is when she gets lost in her own home, frantically trying to remember where the bathroom is.
I highly recommend Still Alice, particularly for book club discussions.

2009 Staff Picks

The Good ThiefBy Hannah Tinti
Dial Press,  $25.00
Recommended by Michelle, Kathleen, and Steve
Michelle says, "The Good Thief is a rare find, a feat of imagination that thrills and captivates the reader from the first chapter. Set in Colonial New England, the unsettled and unlikely cast of heroes faces squalor and hard luck with a curious mix of deadpan humor and hope. Tinti tells a gripping tale about a one-handed orphan boy named Ren and his search to unravel the mystery of his past. The answer might lie with the charismatic and enigmatic con man, Benjamin Nab, who adopts twelve-year-old Ren from St. Anthony’s orphanage. Nab introduces Ren to a shadowy world of thieves, grave robbers, and mercenaries. A quirky household forms around Ren and Benjamin: Tom – an incurably drunk teacher, Mrs. Sands – who lets them stay for a night then can’t get rid of them, a dwarf  - who lives on the roof and sneaks in at night by descending the chimney, and Dolly – a hired killer who was buried alive. Ren glues these strangers together in his humble desperation for a family, and he is the catalyst that cracks the hardened hearts of the adults around him who have been broken and scarred.
It’s not just the wonderful characters and plot that make The Good Thief a novel to treasure, it’s the talent and insight that Tinti exhibits with her assured writing style. From the very first paragraph, the reader is a willing accomplice to the story. Tinti writes with a precise pen, using words with care – lavishly when Benjamin is in his tall-tale telling mode, and sparingly when a scene is sentimental:  
“Is that what you wanted to hear?”
The man reached over, took hold of the lantern, and blew it out. Night enveloped the barn.
“Well,” he said at last to the darkness between them, “that’s when you know it’s the truth.”
The irrepressible Ren lodges in your heart with his mix of world weary acceptance and yearning hopefulness. His search for his place in the world reveals the most basic of human needs: the desire to love and be loved."

Steve says, "By dropping you right into the middle of the action at St. Anthony’s orphanage, Hannah Tinti’s debut novel takes you on a fast paced journey. Immediately we learn that the protagonist Ren may never be adopted because of a physical deformity. Ren and the other orphans pine away their hours wishing for ideal parents. Upon leaving St. Anthony’s, Ren is immersed in a world of mayhem that includes: graves, medical science, murder, thieves, child laborers, and liars. Redemption is a major theme in this novel. A stolen copy of Lives of the Saints nurtures Ren’s faith in the bad company he keeps. All the characters suffer, but by the end, we find their suffering was worth it. Critically, the language is simple and beautiful. Emotionally, the words of the story flow, creating a fast paced fable, like a road race in Munchkinland. Our book club’s praise for The Good Thief was unanimous. I loved it so much that I read parts aloud to my wife. She is now anxious to read it too. I plan on buying copies for family and friends."

Kathleen says, "Let’s be frank, anyone who has ever been a member of a book club has been forced to read a book they would never have picked up on their own...and after having read the book, now had concrete evidence to back up their original reluctance. This is NOT the case with The Good Thief. True, I was forced to read it, but having been drawn into Hannah Tinti’s imagination from the very first paragraph, I was glad to accept my fate.
With few words, Ms. Tinti does an outstanding job imparting Ren’s desperation and the constant imagining of what life would be like with parents. When a man named Benjamin finally picks Ren out of the line-up, you find yourself warning Ren “be careful what you wish for.” As Benjamin and Ren set out together living a life of criminal pursuits, they meet characters that are both intensely flawed and uniquely endearing. Through a deft use of words and exceptional story-telling, this author raises the themes of family relationships, self-sacrifice, and the ultimate wish – to belong.
To add just the right amount of mystery to a novel, and keep the reader hanging on until the very last page, is truly an art - one that Hannah Tinti has mastered. For the beach, book club, travel or in the comfort of your own reading chair, I highly recommend The Good Thief to entertain, absorb and enthrall your inner-reader."
March 2009 Staff Picks

What Angels FearWhat Angels Fear
By C.S. Harris
Signet, $6.99
Recommended by Michelle
With a great eye for period detail, and the ability to create a cast of charming, clever characters, C.S. Harris delivers a perfect historical mystery. Sebastian St. Cyr, a former soldier and a gentleman, is forced into hiding when his dueling pistol is found at the scene of a murder. He becomes the prime suspect in the brutal slaying of an actress who had suspicious political connections. St. Cyr discovers that he can’t even trust his family, and so he dons multiple disguises as he traverses the streets and alleyways of London on a dangerous quest to clear his name. With insight and humor, Harris gives us a story filled with the most classic themes: deception, love, betrayal, friendship, and honor. What Angels Fear is a fantastic start to Harris’s Regency mystery series featuring the beguiling St. Cyr.

The Pirate's DaughterThe Pirate's Daughter
By Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Random House, $15.00
Recommended by Charlotte
Cezair-Thompson’s novel conjures the glitter of Hollywood and the rich history of Jamaica through the bittersweet coming of age of teenager Ida Joseph, and the legacy she leaves for her daughter, May. It is set on Jamaica where the “roguish” Errol Flynn maintained a home during the 1940’s. With Flynn’s arrival came the lure of Hollywood and its temptations for the young women of Jamaica. Pirate’s Daughter is a romantic pageturner, and the author, who was born in Jamaica, effortlessly captures the essence of the island throughout this engaging novel.

February 2009 Staff Picks

The pH MiracleThe pH Miracle
y Dr. Robert Young
Wellness Central, $14.95
Recommended by Steve
Recommended by my good friend and alternative physician Dr. Babcock, this book is a life changer! Take control of your health by learning what to eat as well as what to avoid to maintain the proper pH. Most people’s blood runs too acidic which is detrimental to the body. Fat exists to keep toxins away from vital organs, and that is why most diets do not work. You may cut down on consumption, but the fat will remain long after the decrease to protect the organs from the toxins. I feel better already, and I haven’t even finished the book!

January 2009 Staff Picks

A Fraction of the WholeA Fraction of the Whole  
By Steve Toltz
Spiegel & Grau, $14.95
Recommended by Kathleen
“Hilarious?” Not in my opinion. It’s not often I disagree with a glowing blurb, yet still absolutely love the book. I adore it for different reasons than the reviewer. Unleashing philosophical diatribes in the character of Martin Dean, an Australian man as quirky as the outback, it is clear why Toltz was short-listed for the Booker Prize. Dean is raising his ever-forgiving son on his own, in a labyrinth, while suffering under the shadow of a murderous, iconic brother. He utters some very clever lines! If this is what the inside of Steve Toltz’s head looks like, I want to meet him

The Kiss MurderThe Kiss Murder
By Mehmet Murat Somer
Penguin, $14.00
Recommended by Josh
A thriller by genre, a character piece at heart, Mehmet Murat Somer’s The Kiss Murder is a week in the life of an unnamed drag queen who looks like Audrey Hepburn and kickboxes like Tony Ja. When one of the girls at ‘Audrey’s’ nightclub goes missing, our hero/ine finds him/herself thrust into a mystery involving right wing politicians, bored housewives, catty co-workers and lustful cabbies. There’s murder, of course, and sex. These are the stock and trade of mysteries, after all. But where The Kiss Murder subverts the genre is in its exploration of the Cinderella-like lives of the club queens who must make it home before sunrise lest their facial hair grow too thick. Somer has created a diverse community of outlandish outcasts who, when not fighting against their repressive society, are cat-fighting mercilessly amongst themselves. So vicious are these vixens that even the sudden disappearance of their cross-dressing co-worker fails to unite them. In fact, it makes things worse. Old rivalries re-arise, dead drama is resurrected, and what might have been a simple whodunit becomes a labyrinthine journey through the backstreets and bachelor pads of Istanbul. In Turkey, Somer’s anonymous Audrey Hepburn lookalike is already the star of her own series of books. Not only is she the classic, accidental action hero, but she’s got enough emotional baggage and quirky acquaintances to fill a dozen novels. Beneath ‘Audrey’s’ fantastic facade of witty one liners and stylish ensembles, she’s all of us, male and female.

December 2008 Staff Picks

The Tomb of ZeusThe Tomb of Zeus
Barbara Cleverly
Delta, $13.00
Recommended by Michelle
Clever dialogue, a feisty and intelligent heroine, along with vivid descriptions of the culture and landscape of Crete circa 1928 meld to create a perfect historical mystery. Fans of Eli
zabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody series) and Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs series) will be equally charmed by this first book in the Laetitia Talbot series.
Laetitia Talbot finds herself not quite welcome at Villa Europa, the home of Theodore Russell who is a prominent archaeologist on the island of Crete. Laetitia is an aspiring amateur archaeologist, but her excitement for her first dig is tempered by the inexplicable hostility of Mr. Russell, and by the apparent suicide of his wife Phoebe.
The twists of the plot and the wonderful characterizations add to the storytelling, however it is the well-researched, fascinating tidbits about the history of Crete and the ancient Minoan civilization that delight the reader. The Tomb of Zeus succeeds with a depth beyond the traditional mystery. It also reads like a good travel essay by sparking an urge to explore Crete - its history, food, and culture come to life in the pages of Cleverly’s book.

Chez MoiChez Moi
By Agnès Desarthe
Translation Adriana Hunter
Penguin Publishing, $14.00
Recommended by Stephen
At the age of 43, the protagonist Myriam decides to open a restaurant. She loves to cook! During the course of being a first time business owner she reveals her life slowly as if preparing a complex yet sumptuous cuisine. Making her tiny Paris restaurant profitable and also living there is a struggle. Literally, her work is her home. Myriam’s secrets are slowly peeled like an onion, scandals, circus life, love and the lack of it. At times French and Jewish author Agnès Desarthe writes like a poet and a musician. The book has a distinct meter, and the use of the words makes the novel read like a poem. The book is intelligent and complex. Those familiar with Joanne Harris’s Chocolat will find a this an equal rival.

November 2008 Staff Picks

Doctor Olaf van Schuler's BrainDoctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain
By Kirsten Menger-Anderson
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $22.95
Recommended by Michelle
This fantastic debut by Kirsten Menger-Anderson is the best book I’ve read in the past few months. (Thanks are due to Kathleen for the terrific suggestion.) In addition to using language to potent effect, the author plays with an unusual format of linked short stories – each chapter delves into the life of one person from the Steenwyck family tree starting in the 1600s and progressing to the modern day. Each generation carries on the legacy of the original patriarch, Dr. Olaf van Schuler, by pursuing the medical profession. Odd lore from the history of medicine, from phrenology (the study of bumps on the skull) to spontaneous combustion, adds to the rich story of a family’s madness and passion. Interwoven into the narrative is the history of a burgeoning New York City from its beginnings as New Amsterdam in the 17th Century. It astonishes how the author is able to illuminate a person’s life, in all its pain and glory, in a mere twenty page chapter.


By Anita Shreve
Little Brown and Company, $25.99
Recommended by Kay
At a prestigious Vermont boarding school shocking sexual acts among a few students are caught on videotape. The resulting scandal is huge and involves not only the teenagers themselves, but also the parents and faculty. Told in different voices from varying points of view, Shreve has written an absorbing emotional story with compassion for all the characters while delineating the moral dilemmas and tragic consequences that can result from a single reckless act.

October 2008 Staff Picks

This I Believe IIThis I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
By Jay Allison, Dan Gediman
Henry Holt and Co., $23.00
Recommended by Steve
 Without trying, This I Believe II  becomes like its predecessor, one of the most inspiring books about the human condition that I have ever read. On this planet we are all one. We all feel the same emotions: love, sorrow, amusement, and anger. We all make mistakes and try to learn from them. These essays eliminate our surfaces and reach to the roots of our ideals, emotions, and souls. NPR listening will become a fixture in your life because of this book. You’ll find This I Believe II a trip you will never forget.

Woman WarriorThe Woman Warrior
By Maxine Hong Kingston
Vintage Books, $13.95
Recommended by Wendell
I don’t know much about mytho-biography, but I get the sense that Maxine Hong Kingston wrote the flagship of the genre. The Woman Warrior has all the mystery, wonder, and torment of an ancient myth, while being rooted in her own life. She successfully conveys a sense of what it must be like to be a first generation American of any background, finding themselves in between two cultures, having allegiances to both though struggling with reconciling the conflicts that arise. Growing up in San Francisco, going to both American public and Chinese cultural schools, and working in the family laundry, the author draws heavily on the influence of her mother’s “talk-stories” (tall tales), which gives the book its mythological feel. This book is a fascinating look into the convergence of two major cultures happening in one person.

September 2008 Staff Picks

White HeatWhite Heat:
The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson
By Brenda Wineapple
Knopf, $27.95
Recommended by Steve
The friendship between the reclusive, genius, and trend-establishing poet Emily Dickinson and the object of her affection Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the radical abolitionist, reformer and writer is revealed through historian Brenda Wineapple’s new book. Her brilliant and patient research of a recently discovered trunk of personal letters has brought us a real life drama. White Heat has received glowing reviews from The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and me. White Heat is lot like that trunk of letters in the attic that made this book possible, it contains hidden gems.

By Andrew Davidson
Doubleday, $25.95
Recommended by Kathleen
The cover almost kept me from picking up this book. I am glad that I decided to give it a chapter or two before placing it in the “reject” pile. For lovers of historical fiction and fans of the “interwoven storyline,” this book deserves your attention. Marianne arrives at the bedside of a burn victim and tells tales of medieval, international romance and intrigue. Davidson adeptly crosses between worlds and time periods with main characters you will remember long after you finish the book.

July & August 2008 Staff Picks

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
By Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Dial Press, $22.00
Recommended by Michelle
The charm and grace of this debut novel decisively made it my favorite recommendation of the summer. Set just after the end of World War II, English writer Juliet Ashton is fretfully seeking a topic for her next book. When she receives a mysterious letter from a stranger who found her name in a book by Charles Lamb, not only does it solve her writer's block, it introduces her to the quirky inhabitants of the island of Guernsey. Juliet finds solace in the stories of the inhabitants of Guernsey which was occupied for five years by the Germans during WWII. The novel is strikingly told through letters between the characters, and each voice is distinct and amusing. Guernsey is a loving ode to the transformative power of literature which can reveal hidden truths and help us through the darkest days. 

Life Beyond MeasureLife Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great Granddaughter
By Sidney Poitier
Harper, $24.95
Recommended by Charlotte
We all know Sidney Poitier as a stellar actor. Eight years ago he brought his perfectionism and class to the written word with his excellent memoir, The Measure of a Man, a memoir in which he traced his life from being born and raised in the Bahamas to becoming a movie star.
In Life Beyond Measure he offers heartening stories and life lessons to his adorable 2 year old great granddaughter, Ayele. Poitier moved us to tears in To Sir With Love and Lilies of the Field will have your eyes just as misty when you read his newest memoir.

Notes from a Minor KeyNotes From A Minor Key
By Dawn Baliff
Hampton Roads Publishing $22.95
Recommended by Steve
A captivating memoir, Notes From A Minor Key reads like a compelling novel, and covers an intimate spectrum of topics including sex, musical genius, suicide, love, depression, multiple sclerosis, stamina, birth, marriage, and young couple struggles. Every gumdrop you can think of is here to make this an unforgettable read. At the age of ten pianist Dawn Baliff performed with Leonard Bernstein, and was accepted into the Peabody Conservatory of Music at age 15. Through a brazen act as musical undergrad she appeared in a standing ovation concert that made her a high demand musician. Dawn will begin a new path of healing as she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This unknown gem is a compassionate read for women and men who are sensitive and intelligent. Notes From A Minor Key allows men a greater understanding of women and vice versa. Book clubs will find this a great selection.

Train Your Mind Change Your BrainTrain Your Mind, Change Your Brain

By Sharon Begley
Random House, $14.95
Recommended by Wendell
This book uses one of the Mind and Life conferences as a starting point in explaining what neuroplasticity is. The conferences are where the Dalai Lama and prominent scientists in their fields share findings and learn from each other. The conference focusing on neuroplasticity was particularly interesting, because Buddhist thought has long held that the mind can change the brain through mental training and discipline. Neuroscience has recently found neuroplasticity—the capacity of the brain to be re-wired at any stage of life—to be experimentally verifiable, and even an integral part of the machinations of the brain. Of course, it takes work to do such a thing intentionally, but the book—excellently written by Begley for layfolk curious about science—shows the myriad possibilities and aspects of neuroplasticity. Most salient for me is how neuroplasticity disproves genetic determinism—likely a misreading of genetic studies by science writers who have an agenda, as genetics are stunningly complex—and shows not only how our surroundings are constantly shaping who we are as individuals, but also how neuroplasticity makes a better case for taking responsibility for oneself. By extension, this new area of neuroscience makes an excellent case for living in accordance with the golden rule, though this is my own ideology talking now! All in all, Train your Mind, Change Your Brain is a book that has the potential to inspire, and to instill wonder at how we can, indeed, change who we are if we so wish.

June 2008 Staff Picks

Boys in the TreesThe Boys in the Trees
By Mary Swan
Henry Holt & Co., $14.00
Recommended by Kathleen
Set in the late 19th century in a small Canadian town, this novel is told from the voices of the inhabitants. Been there, done that? Not like this. The story centers on the murder of a family and the ripple effect of the crime on the townspeople. Written in a spare, stimulating fashion, this novel keeps you on your toes both with its plot and prose. Pared down to 224 potent pages, each one is a concentrated nugget of inventive writing. This multi-layered first novel would be a perfect consideration for your book club as it is sure to generate discussion. I am so sure that this book belongs on your nightstand that Inkwell is offering a 20% discount on the purchase of The Boys in the Trees for the month of June when you mention this review.

Abstinence TeacherThe Abstinence Teacher
By Tom Perrotta
St. Martin’s Press, $24.95
Recommended by Steve
Page one has you. Similar to taking your finger to the first domino in a page after another leads to the novel’s end.  I loved this book!
The Abstinence Teacher is a satire filled with characters: soccer moms, divorced parents, and sex educators that make guilty compromises. The protagonist, Ruth Ramsey, has the strength throughout the story. Women and men will identify with her when she stands up for her beliefs. Many of the residents of Stonewood Heights are flawed with some affliction or habit. Whether it is religion or sex education, the author never forces his point of view. It is a great novel that lets us reside with our own perspectives.

Italian FolktalesItalian Folktales
By Italo Calvino
Harvest Books, $25.00
Recommended by Wendell
Calvino’s Italian Folktales is now my favorite folktale collection. It is a huge paperback with hundreds of stories in it, which average about two pages each. Calvino collected Italian folktales, sometimes building on previous folktale collectors’ work, and made slight changes—which he makes note of, unlike the Grimms—for continuity or even aesthetics. I would not have noticed the changes myself, as the tales still feel “authentic” to the spirit of the story, while having an elegant simplicity to the language, even in translation! The wonder I find in the stories shares space with a matter-of-fact attitude towards the roughness of life—giving it no more or less attention than it should have—as well as just the right amount of the bizarre to please my tastes. Thanks to these folktales, my imagination is sparked, and my interest in using the phrase “seek my fortune” in daily life is growing. Now to see whether this fortune includes a castle!

May 2008 Staff Picks

CounselorCounselor: A Life at the Edge of History
By Theodore C. Sorensen
Harper, $27.95
Recommended by Steve
Theodore Sorensen was counselor and confidant to the late John F. Kennedy, the first member of his staff and one of the last surviving members, making Counselor a must read memoir. Sorensen reveals intimate details of his eleven years with JFK and tells what it was like to give hope to a nation while contributing to JFK’s policies during the tumultuous 60’s.  
In Counselor, Sorensen remains the gentleman. Although privy to conversations of a private nature, he remains loyal to the leader whose untimely death has left an ache in this country’s heart. With so much material on JFK, we might think we have heard it all. Surprisingly, we have not. Counselor includes new information: from Sorensen’s role with Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the peace corps, the moon race, and a parody of the inaugural speech. Recently I joined a writing group and I particularly enjoyed reading Sorensen’s chapter on his speech writing techniques. People in Washington are still eager to be the next Sorensen, and after reading this memoir you will truly understand why.

Watching Baseball SmarterWatching Baseball Smarter
By Zack Hample
Vintage, $13.95
Recommended by Wendell
Zack Hample’s Watching Baseball Smarter is a great book to pick up if you want to learn more about baseball. There is some interesting historical baseball trivia in the book as well. The author keeps things light with his humor, with very few interjections of his opinion. The situation-dependent responsibilities of each fielder; the many different kinds of pitches there are, the complexity of calculating some statistics, the vagaries of official scorekeeping, and much more helps the reader learn to watch the subtleties and nuances of baseball. This may not be the best book for a long-time baseball fan, but anyone who wants to know more beyond what each fielding position is called should pick it up. One thing that concerns me is that there is no index for quick searches for a specific bit of information. Other than that it’s a great read. Jerry Remy’s Watching Baseball: Discovering the Game within the Game is also a good starter baseball book, with small asides from Remy of his opinions and perspective, including a lot of Red Sox coverage—great for a Red Sox fan who wants to learn more or relive some Red Sox moments.

April 2008 Staff Picks

The House at RivertonThe House at Riverton
By Kate Morton
Atria, $24.95
Recommended by Michelle
This rich and wonderful debut novel set in England during World War I offers a compelling glimpse into the tragic secrets of an aristocratic British family as their way of life becomes obsolete. The past is never truly behind us, as 98 year old Grace discovers when a filmmaker comes asking questions about the alleged suicide of a poet that happened 70 years ago. When Grace was a teen, she entered into service of the Hartford family at Riverton House, and witnessed the death of the poet, R.S. Hunter. After long years of silence, Grace must confront the truth of the loves and lives lost through chance and choice. The House at Riverton is not only a gripping novel - it is also a thoughtful meditation on the devastation of war, the end of an era, family loyalty, aging, memory, and love.

By Donald Ray Pollack,
Doubleday, $22.95
Recommended by Kathleen
Is there a dark side to your personality that can be explored through literature? Here is the book for you. Donald Ray Pollack has written an unabashed, meaty, raging series of connected short stories that include hermits and abuse – and this is his debut! Meet the folks from Knockemstiff (the actual name of Mr. Pollack’s hometown), and you will never forget their gritty nature. Not for the faint of heart… this book’s tone is blunt and the characters coarse. Worth your time, if you dare.

How to Read a PaintingHow to Read A Painting: Lessons from the Old Masters
By Patrick de Rynk,
HNA Books, $35.00
Recommended by Ric
Remember that art history class, the one you had to take and didn’t understand and that you’ve since forgotten? Well, redemption is at hand! You may have asked yourself what the masters were talking about in their paintings. De Rynck asks and answers it. Most of us don’t now know, if we ever did, the pictorial language of Christian and Classical traditions. We may only see the works as old and stuffy, albeit sometimes pretty, canvases. De Rynck discusses about 180 European masterworks from the 13th through the 19th century. He tells who and why, what the symbols mean, and how the work fits into local history and culture. Each work gets two pages for images and text. De Rynck is not being exhaustive, not by a long shot, but there’s enough detail to whet the appetite for some, or to create a satisfying feast of color and image, history and culture, for others. The book’s not stuffy or artsy. It’s painless, enticing, and intriguing. It can be a doorway, or it can be just enough. There’s a fine, large cross-referenced index of painters, paintings, subjects, and symbols. Somewhere in this work you’ll find out why lemons are a common feature of Renaissance still lifes. I haven’t found that yet, but I’m working on it.

March 2008 Staff Picks

Invisible CitiesInvisible Cities
By Italo Calvino
Harvest/HBJ Book, $14.00
Recommended by Wendell
Initially a frustrating, fragmented read, this book has settled into my consciousness as a powerful rumination on memory and sense of place. In other words, how we remember home, and how we communicate these memories to another. Of course, there is always the Calvino related pleasure of images lingering in your head long after you’ve read the book, only this time the images are snapshots of imaginary urban landscapes.

February 2008 Staff Picks

Violin MakerThe Violin Maker: Finding a Centuries Old Tradition in a Brooklyn Workshop
By John Marchese
HarperCollins Publishers, $24.95
Recommended by Ric
This fascinating book has a couple of odd qualities. One is its size, 5 1/8 by 9 1/4 inches, which does not fit any of the standard intriguing names of book sizes. It’s smaller than a medium octavo and bigger than a crown octavo. Sort of. It is, in any event, nicely sized for reading, whether in bed, the conservatory, or in an armchair in front of the fire.
  The second odd bit is the author. He’s a professional trumpet player. No strings attached there. But he’s in love with violins. And by the end of his 215 page book most of his readers will likely want to hear some violins.
  Marchese chronicles the saga of premier violin crafter Sam Zygmuntowicz in Brooklyn, New York as he creates a new instrument for Eugene Drucker, one of the top violinists in the world, who usually plays a Stradivarius. While the construction of the Drucker fiddle (a disconcerting choice of word, but one used extensively by author and violin maker) forms the backbone of the story, Marchese takes us into the world of geniuses and hucksters, concert violinists of the first rank and up and comers playing church picnics.
  Marchese follows his fascination with Stradivarius all the way to Cremona, Italy, where live and work well over a hundred violin makers. We learn how little is known of Stradivarius, and we learn about other geniuses, like Guarneri, as well as about collectors and salesmen and musicians.
  We get mythology and legend and what truth can be had, and a completely fascinating view of a great maker creating a violin from scratch, from choice of wood through painstaking shaving and carving using tools as small as a thumbnail to the final treatment of varnish.
  In the end Drucker gets his new fiddle, and Marchese provides an intimate portrait of a brilliant violinist developing a relationship with a violin, a relationship that’s almost as rocky as any between humans.
  In all, a delightful, informative book for anyone who has the slightest interest in such arcane struggles and accomplishments, well seasoned with history and personalities.

The Liar's DiaryThe Liar’s Diary
By Patry Francis
Simon & Schuster, $15.00
Recommended by Stephen
Everyone finds a diary an irresistible read. The outsider is always wondering what’s in there. Available in paperback for the first time, this chilling psychological thriller, The Liar’s Diary, tours troubled minds with characters so real that they continue on in your thoughts even weeks after reading. The character Ali had me wrapped around her finger. She is seductive, reads over a 100 books a year, is a nonconformist, carefree, and a classical musician and composer. Women may either relate to her or hate her. Men who read this book will fall all over her. Patry Francis is an immensely talented new novelist who knows just how to keep her readers guessing. The Liar’s Diary is a Booksense Notable Book. This woman can write!

December 2007 & January 2008 Staff Picks

Baron in the TreesBaron in the Trees
By Italo Calvino
Harvest Books, $13.00
Recommended by Wendell
A whimsical, delightful novel! He paints a picture of an historical, but fictional Italy where there was enough forest to allow the main charcater to travel for miles from tree to tree. He lives a full, interesting life which you vicariously enjoy. Much fun, and masterfully told.

Why We BuyWhy We Buy: The Science of Shopping
By Paco Underhill
Simon & Schuster, $15.00
Recommended by Michelle
This isn't just a business book about marketing, it's an insightful essay about human behavior. Underhill stumbled upon a career in the "science of shopping" by applying ideas he learned from anthropology and environmental psychology to consumers. Small realizations about how people react to their environment (e.g. most people don't notice anything within the first few feet of a store's entrance, they're too busy getting their bearings) have big impact when used as a principle in store design. With humor and a brass tacks kind of writing, Underhill has condensed the massive amounts of data he accumulated through his company, Envirosell, into a pithy must-read for all people in the business of selling, and for anyone interested in human nature.

November 2007 Staff Picks

Down RiverDown River
By John Hart
Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95
Recommended by Kay
This is a well-written novel of suspense involving complex family relationships, lies, secrets, betrayal and redemption. There is also a struggle between economic progress and love for the land, between haves and have-nots. This is an intricate story with several plot lines and the author displays his superb ability as he draws the threads together. Down River is a truly engrossing read.

This I BelieveThis I Believe
Edited by Jay Allison
Henry Holt Co., $14.95
Recommended by Steve
This I Believe has been chosen as the Falmouth Year of the Reader book. The pages contain 80 short essays that will move one to tears, to laugh, or to ponder. You may even consider penning an essay on your own beliefs to submit to NPR. I am unintentionally a different person because of this book, and know anyone who reads it will be inspired by more than one of the essays.

October 2007 Staff Picks

The Best American Short Stories of the CenturyThe Best American Short Stories of the Century: Expanded Edition
Edited By John Updike
Houghton Mifflin, $19.95
Recommended by Marjorie
Now here’s the perfect book for you to keep next to your easy chair and cozy up with in front of the fireplace on cool winter nights. Editor John Updike with co-editor Katrina Kenison have compiled a collection of American short stories that spans the twentieth century years from 1916 to 1999. The expanded edition is augmented with interesting editorial comments about the process of selecting the 66 stories, with the aim of having the stories reflect the flavor of their respective decades. I was not disappointed in their selections. Each story has its own brand of uniqueness, entertainment, and depth. The beauty of this collection is that there are so many stories with diverse topics, and each is short enough in length to read in one sitting. This makes it an ideal choice for those of us with overextended lives and relatively limited time to read in the evenings.

Political BrainThe Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation
By Drew Westen
PublicAffairs, $26.95
Recommended by Ric
Quick! What wins elections? Reasoned discourse on the issues, or emotion?
The Democrats discuss the issues, bringing the power of reason to bear on the important matters. The Republicans go after your emotions. The Republicans win elections. That’s one of the basic analyses offered by Drew Westen in his new book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Lest he be viewed as just another political hack, Westen’s credentials include a Ph.D, and a full professorship in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University. He is a lucid, compelling writer.
His book is about “the science and practice of persuasion in American politics” and is full of details about what works and what doesn’t, why the Republicans are so good at emotional manipulation and the Democrats aren’t, and how that wins elections for the Republicans. In the first half he explains the nitty-gritty of how the mind processes messages and emotion. It’s not the Dummies version of brain behavior, but it’s not a textbook, and you’ll get the ideas without busting a neuron.
Then, in the second part of Political Brain Westen explains how savvy Republicans twist things up and how Democrats let them get away with it. And then he shows you how the Democrats can start winning again, and winning honestly, with integrity, not by the cheap manipulation of your emotions. Principles matter, and honestly coupled with emotional underpinnings, principles win elections.
One key idea: “Policies matter to the extent that they influence voters’ emotions.” That’s the difference between John Kerry giving a dry speech full of facts and figures on the estate tax and George Bush calling it the ‘death tax’.
Had Al Gore responded with the speech on page 129 when Bush challenged his integrity in 2000, the election would have ended right then and there, and we wouldn’t be in Iraq today. Westen’s explication of what happened in that first debate is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Finally, if you think you vote for candidates because you’ve reasoned out their positions and considered all the facts and evidence, you didn’t. One of them got to your emotions. Westen tells you how and why, and gives you the tools you need to make a genuinely intelligent decision and not get bamboozled again.
Protect yourself. Buy this book. Read it at least twice. Over the next eighteen months you’re going to need to understand what Political Brain says about politics in America.

September 2007 Staff Picks

By Charles de Lint
Orb Books, $14.95
Recommended by Michelle
My tattered mass market copy of Moonheart shows proof on its creased cover that it has been well-read and thoroughly loved. This review of an older book (published in 1984) came about through a discussion with fellow bookseller Cristin about the kind of books that make your fingers itch with a yearning to fly through the pages. Moonheart is a delightful, fantastical book dense with mythology (Native American and Welsh), magic, and music. Sara Kendall and her Uncle Jamie co-own a wonderful, eclectic antiques and books shop in Ottawa. They live in a house that straddles our world and the “otherworld”, a primeval forest of ancient magic. When Sara discovers a Native American medicine bag with a gold ring, a bone disc, and a feather inside, her fate becomes entwined with the mysterious artifacts. Although it is so difficult to describe, Moonheart is a rich, vivid story that will appeal to fans of literary fantasy such as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

August 2007 Staff Picks

Tom BedlamTom Bedlam
By George Hagen
Random House, $25.95
Recommended by Steve
First, a little mention about the author’s debut novel The Laments: From the first paragraph, I was hooked on The Laments. Page one had me laughing out loud. I read the paragraph to my wife Donna, and soon we were both laughing. The book opens with a baby swapped at birth on the continent of Africa. The novel is not all laughs - there are themes that the characters evolve with: bigotry, family, loss, and the search for identity as they move from one country to another. This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys a well written, intelligent, funny and moving novel. George Hagen’s new novel Tom Bedlam is a journey well worth taking... it is set in Victorian England and like Tom, we too lust, feel loss, and crave lemon tarts. Similar to a Dickens novel, Tom goes from a child laborer to becoming an exclusive prep school student by means of a mysterious family benefactor. After making a pact that will haunt him, he proceeds with his education to become a doctor. With humor and insight, Tom Bedlam delves into the issues of family, grief, and loyalty. You will want to catch the author’s train early and stay on for the duration of the ride. This is the author’s second book, and it will be exciting to see his works as he evolves as a writer.

Ralph EllisonRalph Ellison: A Biography
By Arnold Rampersad,
Knopf Publishing Group, $35.00
Recommended by Charlotte
Ralph Ellison: A Biography is the story of the rise of one of the most elusive African-American writers out of desperate poverty and virulent racism to reign as one of the most sought after intellectuals in America. Rampersad has written a meticulously detailed biography of Ellison and his universe as a result of Rampersad’s unrestricted access to Ellison’s papers at the Library of Congress, his literary executor, and his late widow. The narrator in Ellison’s Invisible Man (winner of the 1953 National Book award) states in the prologue, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The character is a complex African-American man whom the world refuses to see as a full human being. In the epilogue, he questions why the invisible man is never more hated than when he is honest, and never more loved than when he says what people want to hear. I strongly recommend that one must read Rampersad’s richly detailed portrait to comprehend the burden and measure of Ellison’s brilliance in his novel Invisible Man.

July 2007 Staff Picks

If on a Winter's Night a TravelerIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler
By Italo Calvino
Harcourt, $14.00
Recommended by Cristin
Calvino’s work is unlike anything I’ve read. Yes, I’ve experienced authors who playfully manipulate the conventional structures of a work of fiction, but nothing matches Calvino’s humor and panache. There is something so strange about If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler... it is a novel that dares to personally address the reader. Containing ten miniature stories, If on a Winter’s Night showcases one overarching story that ponders the simultaneously isolating and unifying aspects of being a reader. Two main characters become obsessed with their search for one particular novel which has escaped their grasp (a major flaw in the printing of the book has made it impossible for them to reach a satisfying conclusion.) Befuddled and totally entranced by their pursuit of this mysterious novel, the two protagonists develop a friendship that blossoms because of their mutual misadventures. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is not merely a book. It’s a delightful experience that will change the way you think about being a reader. The writing is superior. You’ll surely marvel at Calvino’s unexpectedly acute descriptions and amazing authorial skill.

Poisonwood BibleThe Poisonwood Bible
By Barbara Kingsolver
HarperCollins, $14.95
Recommended by Marjorie
In what appears to be an ordinary Missionary assignment, an evangelical Baptist minister, his wife, and three daughters are relocated from the State of Georgia into the heart of Africa. The author cleverly describes how this radical change impacts the Price family as each member attempts to adjust to life in the rural Belgian Congo village of Kalanga. For example, they find that the villagers, with the exception of the Chief, were lucky to have even one set of clothes. This is in stark contrast to the Price family’s typical 1959 American lifestyle, in which they were accustomed to attending church properly hatted, gloved, and groomed. Fueled by an undercurrent of tribal and political unrest, the clash between these traditions and cultures slowly skyrockets and the story concludes with a suspenseful ending. Kingsolver’s outstanding novel is one the reader won’t soon forget.

June 2007 Staff Picks

Lapham RisingLapham Rising
By Roger Rosenblatt
HarperCollins, $13.95
Recommended by Kathleen
This funny, satirical book is finally out in paperback - just in time for reading on the beach or your front porch. Every Cape Codder will relate to the antics of the anti-social Harry vs. the over-the-top well-heeled Hamptons residents. Rosenblatt is a prize-winning journalist and television commentator. This is his first novel, but I am ever hopeful not his last.


By Laura Joh Rowland
Harper, $7.99
Recommended by Michelle
If you are looking for a book to sweep you away to a far flung destination, look no further than Shinju which is set in exotic 17th century Japan. When the daughter of a powerful family is found dead, apparently part of a “shinju” which is a ritual double suicide, investigator and former ronin Sano Ichiro finds himself compelled to solve the case, even at the risk of his family’s honor. Rowland brings to life the vibrancy of feudal Edo (Tokyo), and gracefully weaves fascinating details about the time period and culture into the unfolding mystery.

May 2007 Staff Picks

Blind Watchers of the SkyBlind Watchers of the Sky
By Rocky Kolb
Perseus, $18.00

Recommended by Michelle
My brother is an amateur astronomer who introduced our family to the wonders of stargazing. On his recommendation, I read Blind Watchers of the Sky. Kolb, theoretical astrophysicist and a Professor and Chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago is described as having a dry wit. His humor enlivens this history of cosmology, and makes the personalities behind the great astronomical discoveries of the past 400 years really come to life. My favorite part of the book follows the passions and obsessions of two early astronomers: Tycho Brahe, a Danish nobleman in the 16th century, who recorded the most accurate astronomical data at Uraniborg, his research facility where he built large astronomical instruments, and his assistant Johannes Kepler, a mathematician who used Brahe’s data to form the Three Laws of Planetary Motion. After reading Blind Watchers, the night sky is more comprehensible, but even more awe inspiring.

Leaving SaturnLeaving Saturn: Poems
By Major Jackson 
University of Georgia Press, $16.95
Recommended by Cristin
Major Jackson is a poet who deserves a great deal of recognition. Leaving Saturn is a collection of masterful sounds and edgy beats. He makes you see steam grates and smell city smells. His work goes through incredible phrases - at once hard and soft. Jackson explores more than his observations of life in Philadelphia. He takes stock of what it is to be an artist, a master of words when all thoughts and words seem used and taxed. His energy - wild and uninhibited - is well worth your while.

April 2007 Staff Picks

About AliceAbout Alice
By Calvin Trillin
Random House, $14.95
Recommended by Steve
Calvin Trillin, staff writer for The New Yorker Magazine, has written a moving, at times humorous, tribute to his wife and muse: Alice. Although this is a quick read, the book has 
enormous appeal.

So Many Books, So Little TimeSo Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
By Sara Nelson
Berkley, $13.00
Recommended by Michelle
Sara Nelson made a New Year’s resolution to read a book a week for a whole year and to record a diary of her experiences. The result of her experiment is a smart, quirky collection of essays that avid readers will gobble up. Books about reading are so tantalizing; delving into another passionate reader’s descriptions of her reading habits brings back memories of my own favorite moments spent reading. So Many Books, So Little Time is brimming with wit and personality. You will certainly be captivated by her year long adventure in literature, and ready to start your own list of must-reads, starting with So Many Books, So Little Time!

Places Left UnfinishedPlaces Left Unfinished At the Time of Creation
By John Phillip Santos
Penguin, $ 15.00
Recommended by Charlotte
Santos has written a haunting and unforgettable memoir in the literary style of Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits and Eva Luna, Victor Villasenor’s Rain of Gold, and Oscar Hijuelos Mambo Kings and 14 Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien. This memoir is a chronicle of the experiences of immigration and assimilation of a Mexican family living in a border town of  Mexico to the New World; it is a rich portrait of his family written in a poetic tempo.

March 2007 Staff Picks

A Star Called HenryA Star Called Henry
By Roddy Doyle
Penguin, $14.00
Recommended by Cristin
Oh, what a book! How I adore, truly adore Henry Smart. This book had me after the first sentence. I am bound to it, invested in it, in love with it. My sister read it and highly recommended it, and how I thank her! This is one passionate, raucous, brilliant tale of an unforgettable Irish rebel, Henry Smart. It is a truly Irish experience and it will make your eyes sparkle in a way that is exclusively, mischievously, magically Irish.

Operating InstructionsOperating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year
By Anne Lamott
Anchor Books, $13.95
Recommended by Kathleen
Looking for the perfect book for an expectant Mom? Forget What to Expect Whey You Are Expecting!  You will laugh, cry and enjoy the ride as Anne Lamott describes her pregnancy and first year as a mother.  A gifted writer and teacher, Lamott is a single mother and ex-alcoholic with a pleasingly warped social circle and a remarkably tolerant religion to lean on. She responds to the changes, exhaustion, and love Sam brings with aplomb or outright insanity.

February 2007 Staff Picks

Daily AfflictionsDaily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe
By Andrew Boyd
W.W. Norton, $ 13.95
Recommended by Michelle
Instead of daily affirmations, try Daily Afflictions! A satirical perversion of the self-help genre that has chapter headings like “selfless selfishness,” “love the wrong person,”
“succeed at failure,” and “the nurturing power of dysfunctional families.”  The brief chapters are twisted and funny, and best of all, insightful and wise. To completely embrace the afflictions mindset, listen to Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor while reading this book!

January 2007 Staff Picks

The Game of KingsThe Game of Kings
By Dorothy Dunnett
Vintage, $15.95
Recommended by Michelle
Beware. I am fanatically devoted to Dunnett’s six book series of historical novels set in the Sixteenth Century. I’ve been known to scare people with my enthusiastic description of the books, so much so, that they promise to read them just to evade my zeal. The Game of Kings is the first book of the Lymond Chronicles, named after her anti-hero Frances Crawford of Lymond. With consummate skill, Dunnett has created a fiercely intelligent, complex, passionate adventure that is such thrilling and addictive fun. The exploits of Lymond are larger than life, always vivid, and as hilarious as they are heartbreaking. Spanning the countries of Scotland, England, France, Turkey, and Russia, the story delves into the politics, religion, and the arts of the time period. The novels are a whirlwind of deception, passion, swashbuckling and intrigue. I have a tradition - I re-read all six books every February. Even though I know how the story ends, I will sometimes stay up until my eyes are bleary and the sun is rising!

The Book of Lost ThingsThe Book of Lost Things
By John Connelly
Atria, $23.00
Recommended by Cristin
If the books Wicked and Neverending Story had offspring, I’m pretty sure it would bear a striking resemblance to The Book of Lost Things. This novel takes the twisted fairy tale genre to an even more dreamlike, hair-raising level. Ultimately, this is a story about surviving the pain that accompanies the cruel losses we experience in our lifetimes. I have been contemplating this book since I read it. That’s a good sign, I think.

Intellectual DevotionalIntellectual Devotional
By David Kidder
Rodale, $22.50
Recommended by Marjorie
An excellent way to improve your worldly knowledge. The daily format is perfect way to capture these thought provoking tidbits.

December 2006 Staff Picks

The LamentsThe Laments
By George Hagen
Random House, $14.95
Recommended by Steve
From the first paragraph, I was hooked on The Laments. Page one had me laughing out loud, and my wife Donna questioned me as to what was so funny. I read the paragraph to her, and soon we were both laughing. The book opens with a baby swapped at birth on the continent of Africa. The book is not all laughs, there are themes that the characters evolve with: bigotry, family, loss, and the search for identity as they move from one country to another. This book is a must read for anyone who enjoys a well written, intelligent, funny and moving novel. This is my first time saying this - consider this my highest recommendation. This is George Hagen’s first novel, and I am already eagerly waiting for his next novel.

November 2006 Staff Picks

Blind Willow, Sleeping WomanBlind Willow, Sleeping Woman
By Haruki Murakami
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95
Recommended by Wendell
Sure, I really enjoy his novels, but these short stories are sublime. If you are at all a short story fan, both this and his After the Quake will entrance you. Murakami is a master at merging the surreal and mundane; the results are intoxicating.

Ladies of Grace AdieuThe Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
By Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury Publishing, $23.95
Recommended by Cristin
Bestselling author Susanna Clarke returns with a thoroughly diverting collection of short stories. Fans of Jonathan Strange will be especially pleased to reunite with some of her familiar characters. Readers should prepare to meet more mischievous faeries, women who transform into owls, and a variety of magical friends and foes. Blur the boundaries of reality as you delve into Clarke’s latest literary treat! Enjoy!

October 2006 Staff Picks

Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale
By Diane Setterfield 
Atria Books, $26.00
Recommended by Cristin
Spooky! This is a relatively light (but well-written) read. As you read, you will become exposed to a batch of memorable, haunting, forlorn characters who each have a number of cobweb covered skeletons in their respective closets. The strange, dark themes of loss and mysterious circumstances behind The Thirteenth Tale will make you compulsively look over your shoulder. Watch out! You may just see a ghost or two ... or three ... An excellent book to read in the fall, The Thirteenth Tale will make you feel as though a blustery wind is blowing through your chest.

At Blanchard's TableAt Blanchard’s Table
By Melinda and Robert Blanchard,
Clarkson N Potter Publishers, $32.50
Recommended by Cyndi
My daughter and I recently challenged each other to a cook-off. Weeks ahead of time, I started long lists of possible menus and recipes, pored through all my cookbooks - carefully choosing what I thought would be hands-down winners, practicing and sweating in the kitchen with pots and pans clanging everywhere. Well, do you see where this is going? My daughter also works full-time, but she quickly chose what she knew were tried and true contenders – and darn if she didn’t win. She announced at the end of her night that most of her recipes came from At Blanchard’s Table. She and her newly-married and working friends all rave about the simplicity and wonderful tastes in these recipes. So, I do highly recommend this book!

So Many BooksSo Many Books
By Gabriel Zaid,
Paul Dry Books, $9.95
Recommended by Michelle
The human race publishes a book every thirty seconds,” writes Mexican author and self-confessed bibliophile Gabriel Zaid. How can anyone keep up with the hundreds of books they should read? Titles pile up over the years into precarious stacks that cry out to be read, and seem to frown each time a new book purchase is added to the pile. So Many Books is a philosophical and passionate love letter to the books that change us, and it serves as a reminder to the publishing industry that the blockbuster ultimately means less than the little known gem when viewed from a reader’s perspective. All avid readers will savor this little treasure of a book.

2006 Staff Picks

Rise and ShineRise and Shine
By Anna Quindlen
Random House , $24.95
Recommended by Kay
Bridget Fitzmaurice, the narrator of Anna Quindlen’s engrossing new novel, works for a women’s shelter in the Bronx. Her older sister, Meghan, co-host at the popular morning show, Rise and Shine, is the most famous woman on TV.  After a particularly contentious interview with a major politician, Meghan mutters an obscenity not realizing her microphone is still on. The fallout is catastrophic and Meghan’s and Bridget’s lives change forever, as does that of Meghan’s college age son, Leo. As Bridget struggles to maintain family and emotional stability, Quindlen has her lob plenty of pungent observations about both life in class-stratified New York City and family dynamics. She poignantly reveals the sisters individual strengths and faults, and in top-notch prose writes a beautifully perceptive homage to the city she loves. Her marvelous observations of the human condition underlie the Fitzmaurice sisters discovery of the transience of fame and the permanence of family.

Any Bitter ThingAny Bitter Thing
By Monica Wood
Ballantine Books, $13.95
Recommended by Stephen
Maine author Monica Wood is the one to keep your eyes on. Her tale of a Catholic woman recovering from a near fatal accident while simultaneously reflecting on and trying to resolve the conflict surrounding her uncle, a Maine priest accused of child molestation twenty one years ago, is powerful.  Wood’s characters show depth and complexity.  They struggle with the past, and are very human and real. With this book, Monica Wood can be added to the list of great Northern New England authors like John Irving.

2006 Staff Picks

Seal WifeThe Seal Wife
By Kathryn Harrison
Random House Trade, $12.95
Recommended by Marjorie
The author tells this captivating story through the eyes of a male scientist who is on assignment at a weather station in the harsh, frontier town of Anchorage, Alaska, in the early 1900’s. He fills the depressingly long, sunless winter months with two consuming passions: the design of a novel weather kite, and his desire for an Aleut native woman. Her aloofness and self-absorbed nature, and her choice to not speak during their romantic meetings, only fuels his desire to possess her. When the Aleut woman goes away for several weeks, his life takes a poignant turn. Anyone who has travelled to Alaska, or worked in science will love this story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury Publishing, $15.95

Recommended by Cristin
Surprisingly witty, eerie, and fantastical! It is always so delightful to experience an author’s unique perception of magic. It is obvious that Clarke is enamored of the highly detailed, creepy, and well-crafted world she has created. Sold in 27 countries and with a major motion picture from New Line on the way, this epic tells the tale of two very different magicians who change 19th century England.

Ask and It Is GivenAsk and It Is Given
By Esther and Jerry Hicks
Harper, $14.95
Recommended by Kelly
A gentle and inspirational piece that will change your life and give new meaning to the way we manifest our desires. This book presents the teachings of the nonphysical entity: “Abraham” who will teach you how to create a more fulfilling and joyful life that we all deserve!

July 2006 Staff Picks

Sounding the TrumpetSounding the Trumpet: The Making of JFK's Inaugural Address
By Richard Tofel
Ivan R. Dee Publisher, $25.00
Recommended by Steve
This book is ideal for anyone interested in JFK history. Sounding the Trumpet is a full account of the making of one of history’s great inaugural speeches. Toefel does a great job of dissecting the speech and revealing the inspirations and contributions from the Bible to Shakespeare, and the man whose opinions and thoughts were one with  JFK’s... Theodore Sorenson. Also recommended is Kennedy by Theodore Sorenson. Mr. Sorenson was Kennedy’s speech writer, and this book is the equivalent of listening to JFK. Kennedy is currently out of print, but available from Isaiah Thomas Books in Marstons Mills.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud & Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer
Mariner, $13.95
Recommended by Kathleen
Foer established himself as a young writer to watch with his debut Everything is Illuminated. With his second novel, he is not just a writer to watch, but a writer that must be read. He tells the hilarious and heartbreaking story of nine year old Oskar Schell by inventively incorporating photographs and unusual typography into the narrative. Oskar’s search through New York to find the lock that fits a mysterious key belonging to his father, who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, hauntingly addresses the great questions of life and love.

Little, BigLittle, Big
By John Crowley
Harper, $15.95
Recommended by Michelle
Little, Big is a mesmerizing, brilliant novel that predates Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by twenty years. Smoky Barnable falls in love with Daily Alice and loses himself in her strange, otherworldly family. Edgewood, a place not found on any map, is home to the Drinkwaters, an eccentric, secretive family living on the edge of reality. Filled with mystery, past and present drift as the tale of the Drinkwaters is uncovered. Like Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, Little, Big blends myth and magic with a family saga. The result is an intoxicating and vivid masterpiece.

June 2006 Staff Picks

Just a GeekJust a Geek
By Wil Wheaton
O’Reilly, $24.95
Recommended by Wendell
Wil Wheaton’s self-deprecating style of humor has broad appeal; for those who know him from Star Trek to those who know him as one of the first to popularize blogging. He also shared some insights into the difficulty actors have in getting work. A memoir that is completely honest and funny.

Eyre AffairEyre Affair
Jasper Fforde
Penguin, $14.00

Recommended by Michelle
This witty literary mystery will delight word lovers and bibliophiles. Characters from great works of literature are being kidnapped, and literary detective Thursday Next is on the trail of the villain. Eyre Affair is a quick-paced, quirky novel that is jam-packed with wordplay and sly references to enjoy.

Three JunesThree Junes
By Julia Glass
Anchor Books, $14.95
Recommended by Kay
This debut novel is wise and illuminating about the lives and loves of a Scottish family. Intelligent, well-written characters burst into life on these pages, and the insights about family interactions and happiness are so true. Three Junes is a perfect choice for book club discussions.

2006 Staff Picks

Crooked Little HeartCrooked Little Heart   
By Annie Lamott
Anchor Books, $13.00
Recommended by Kathleen
I just love Annie Lamott’s writing. I give her memoir Operating Instructions to all the prospective parents I know. Her expressive writing style is tender and funny. Her novel, Crooked Little Heart asks big questions in intimate ways: what keeps a family together? What are the small heartbreaks that tear at the fabric of our lives? What happens to grief when it goes underground? And on what road must we walk with our flawed and crooked hearts? Don’t miss this gem!

America's BoyAmerica's Boy
By Wade Rouse
Dutton, $24.95
Recommended by Cyndi
In the tradition of such quirky and smart coming-of-age memoirs as Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors and Haven Kimmel’s A Girl Named Zippy, America’s Boy is an arresting and funny tale of growing up different in America’s heartland. I couldn’t put this book down. Wade Rouse’s memoir is intensely personal, totally engaging, and in a very ironic sense, an everyman’s tale. He writes with raw honesty and humor – about loss and gain, isolation and kinship, and shame and self-respect.

No Great MischiefNo Great Mischief
By Alastair Macleod
Vintage Books, $14.00
Recommended by Pete
I only discovered this slim, powerful book because I have family from Cape Breton. This novel weaves together the story of a Scottish man who sets sail with his wife and 12 children for Cape Breton in 1779 and the tale of his descendant, who struggles with family loyalty 200 years later on the same bleak landscape. No Great Mischief is a paradox: a compact epic, a funny heartbreaker, a not to be missed book that was missed by many!

April 2006 Staff Picks

By E. Annie Proulx
Scribner, $14.00
Recommended by Michelle
This is Annie Proulx's debut novel which was eclipsed by The Shipping News. It is an alluring, dark contemplation of loneliness and forgiveness. Her character, Loyal Blood, is alienated and on the run from an awful mistake.
Loyal's haunting past and long journey towards redemption is an absorbing story. Annie's writing is luminous with small details and alive with intelligence.

Mermaids SingingThe Mermaids Singing
By Lisa Carey
Harper Perennial,
Recommended by Pete
This impressive first novel is lovely Irish fiction. Fifteen-year-old Grainne, alone after her mother’s death, is being taken back to Ireland from Boston by her grandmother. She will meet a father she has never known, her heart pulled between a far-distant home and a family she cannot remember. On the rocky shores of Inis Muruch (Island of Mermaids), she will discover her own sexual identity even as she struggles to understand the forces that have torn her family apart. A beautiful book about mother-daughter relationships.

Plain and SimplePlain and Simple
By Sue Bender
Harper San Francisco, $15.95
Recommended by Charlotte
About her book, Sue Bender said, “I had an obsession with the Amish. Plain and simple. Objectively it made no sense. I, who worked hard at being special, fell in love with a people who valued being ordinary.” So begins her story, the captivating and inspiring true story of a harried urban Californian moved by the beauty of a display of quilts to seek out and live with the Amish.  Plain & Simple is a gem! Everyone should be required to read this small book on a daily basis.

March 2006 Staff Picks

Souls of Black FolkThe Souls of Black Folk
by W.E.B. Du Bois
Penguin $9.95
Recommended by Wendell
Du Bois is probably America’s foremost sociologist; his gorgeous prose elucidates the color line of his time. However, most of what he writes is still pertinent to today’s milieu. The subjects range from the death of his firstborn child to the politics of his day with the common thread of “the veil” (his metaphor for the dual nature of being black in the U.S.) running through it all.

by P.J. Tracy
Signet, $6.99
Recommended by Kay
This debut is a smart, funny thriller. The creators of a new software game called Serial Killer Detective are horrified to discover that game scenarios are being played out in real life. Monkeewrench has received rave reviews from many mystery authors like Harlan Coben, Robert Parker, and Nevada Barr for being an expertly researched and thoroughly enjoyable page turner. You won’t sleep a wink until you finish the book!

Snow Flower and the Secret FanSnow Flower and the Secret Fan
by Lisa See
Random House, $21.95
Recommended by Cyndi
Historical fiction at its finest! Set in Nineteenth-Century China where women were kept in seclusion and bound by strict codes of conduct. Women created a secret code, “nu shu”; by painting on fans and embroidering handkerchiefs they were able to communicate in secret. This moving and haunting story of friendship between two women is a perfect book club choice.

February 2006 Staff Picks

by Ha Jin
Vintage $13.00
This sublime novel is set in communist China in the second half of the 20th century. Torn between tradition and desire, army doctor Lin Kong spends years leading a double life. With simple prose that sounds like poetry, Ha Jin deftly creates an elegant, restrained love story.


Don't Try This at HomeDon’t Try This at Home
by Kimberly Witherspoon
Bloomsbury, $24.95
Recommended by Kathleen
This book delivers exactly what it promises...dire, yet entertaining stories from kitchens all over the world. Read about the chef who got drunk on the job to spite his boss, and the New Year’s Eve gala event that was an unmitigated disaster. Don’t Try This at Home proves that all of us can have an off day. If you are a Food Network addict, this book is for you!

February 2010 Staff Picks

The Glass Room by Simon MawerThe Glass Room
By Simon Mawer
Other Press
Recommended by Steve
Don’t be deceived by the cover nor the weight of this hefty four hundred and sixteen page novel. This was a book I never would have picked up, but am so glad I did. Simon Mawer’s brilliant literary masterpiece (nominated as a finalist for the Booker Award) is a well-written and fun read for the culturally endowed.
The pivotal setting of this literary novel is an ultra modern house built in the mid nineteen twenties on the side of a Czechoslovakian slope with complex characters as spokes. Love is apparent as Viktor Landauer, a Jewish businessman, marries Liesl, a Christian. With an abundance of money, the Landauers hire Rainer Von Abt, an elite German architect who designs buildings with a Bauhaus dogma.
The Landauer House is a splendid feat of design with an enormous glass room and an onyx wall. The philosophy behind the structure is that everything is transparent. The characters struggle with this as they often have hidden lives. Although the book is fiction, there actually is such a house, and the book reads like a historical novel. Throughout the book is the use of the Czech and German languages which enha
nces the prose, and is never cumbersome. The context makes it easy to understand the foreign phrases.
As the novel progresses, music and the arts flourish in the house as the philanthropic and cultured Landauers entertain in their new home and raise their children. Life is good. As the tumultuous thirties gain momentum in Europe with the rise of the Nazi party, the main characters parallel the confusion going on in the world. Whom do you trust? For the characters it also includes who is sleeping with whom?
Viktor Landauer foresees the future, and begins setting up Swiss Bank accounts and turning over his assets to Liesel’s family. He plans flight for his wife, two children, his mistress and her child, and himself. The character with the most strength, Liesel’s best friend Hana, remains behind. After the family flees the country and abandons the house, it then serves a variety of uses including a genetic lab for research by the Germans in hopes of finding the key factor in Hitler’s racial propaganda.
I would love to reveal the ending but will not. Those that pick up this gem will have an opportunity to discover the surprising conclusion for themselves.

9 Dragons by Michael Connelly9 Dragons
By Michael Connelly
Voice Publishing
Recommended by Kay
This is the bestseller Connelly’s fourteenth novel featuring L.A.P.D. homicide detective Harry Bosch. As always he delivers a suspenseful story full of twists and turns.
While investigating the cold-blooded murder of a liquor-store owner he becomes involved with the Chinese Underworld and their triads. He pays no attention to a warning to drop the case, but then his daughter, who lives in Hong Kong with her mother, (his ex-wife), is kidnapped.
With his personal and professional lives now intertwined Bosch flies to Hong Kong and the action ratchets way up. This is a really entertaining entry in the crime-thriller genre from one of my favorite authors.

2009 Staff Picks

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz ZafonThe Angel's Game
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Recommended by Michelle
From the author of the international sensation The Shadow of the Wind comes The Angel’s Game, an absorbing and magical novel set in Barcelona in the early 20th century. Just as The Shadow of the Wind thrilled readers with its descriptions about the captivating nature of books, The Angel’s Game delights as it delves deeply into the creative life of a writer. From his humble beginnings as a foundling with an abusive father, David Martin attains huge success as the author of gothic thrillers, yet remains haunted by his lack of acceptance among his peers and from Cristina, the woman he loves. Compelled by forces he doesn’t understand, David decides to live in the mysteriously vacant Tower House in Calle Flassaders, and this choice sparks the dangerous and exciting adventures that ensue. Betrayed by his most trusted mentor and disappointed with the failure of his latest book, David rashly accepts a commission from a foreign publisher named Andreas Corelli. As David’s obsessions with writing and his lost love leave him tasting madness and despair, he begins to suspect that Corelli’s mephistophelian contract was literally a p
act with the devil. Zafon writes in a richly descriptive prose that is the perfect ingredient for a literary gothic novel. The settings he creates are spectacular and inventive: from the bookshops and cafes of Barcelona to the seedy tenements and the Cemetery of Lost Books, his sense of place makes the story come alive for the reader. Brimming with intrigue and a crackling plot, The Angel’s Game succeeds both as a suspenseful novel and as a paean to literature.

October 2009 Staff Picks

True CompassTrue Compass
By Edward Kennedy
Twelve, $35.00
Recommended by Steve

This book does not need a recommendation but rather a review because it is selling quickly off the shelves of bookstores all across Cape Cod. True Compass: A Memoir by Edward Kennedy, better known as Ted, has captured his life in an autobiographical 532 page book that is both entertaining and educational.
A few readers have chosen to limit their reading to the juicy parts or the gossip of this memoir, i.e. assassinations, cancer, Chappaquiddick, weddings, etc., and have skipped over the rest. Not me! It is the rest of the material in the book that chronicles his life as the youngest of the Kennedy siblings, and also provides insight about the members of his extraordinary family. It is a fascinating history from the perspective of last surviving child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. Despite being hostages to fortune, the emphasis for the Kennedy Clan was strong family ties and a focus on intelligence and spirituality.
History fans will enjoy reading about young Ted’s exploits, such as living in London and meeting Queen Elizabeth during the escalation of the Holocaust and receiving his first communion from Pope Pius the XII. At times the pages contain the voices of Ted’s parents revealing their great parenting skills. His mistakes are addressed in open admissions and apologies that are stimulated by his parents’ voices (his conscience) and his religious upbringing. True Compass upholds his legacy as a survivor.

August 2009 Staff Picks

Little StrangerThe Little Stranger
By Sarah Waters
Riverhead, $26.95
Recommended by Michelle
Sarah Waters (Fingersmith and The Night Watch) has built a reputation for writing literary gothic stories reminiscent of Henry James and Shirley Jackson. Her talents for creating realistic historical settings and unique characters come to fruition in her newest novel, The Little Stranger.
Post WW2, the Ayres family struggles to hold onto Hundreds Hall, a crumbling English great house that still retains a fading remnant of its glory. Mrs. Ayres clings to her past in an attempt to imagine that the aristocracy still holds power, even as massive social changes sweep postwar England. Her son, Roderick, terribly wounded and scarred from battle, exhausts himself working on the land to try to keep Hundreds solvent. Spinster daughter, Caroline, who is bright and bitter, tries to keep up some semblance of family. Into their Grey Gardens style lives appears Dr. Faraday, who as a young boy visited the great house during a village fête, and became enamored of Hundreds. The Ayres alternately welcome the distraction of the outsider Faraday and then remind him of his humble origins.
Each ch
aracter is trapped by circumstance and by the house that holds deep secrets. Their lives are bound by a darkness they have yet to comprehend, and the unraveling of their pride, fears, and longings brews up a chilling storm of consequences.
The Little Stranger makes for compelling reading; in addition to featuring nuanced characters and psychological insight, it has a surprise ending that will change your interpretation of all the preceding events.

Italian FolktalesItalian Folktales
By Italo Calvino
Harvest Books, $25.00
Recommended by Wendell
Calvino’s Italian Folktales is now my favorite folktale collection. It is a huge paperback with hundreds of stories in it, which average about two pages each. Calvino collected Italian folktales, sometimes building on previous folktale collectors’ work, and made slight changes - which he makes note of, unlike the Grimms - for continuity or even aesthetics. I would not have noticed the changes myself, as the tales still feel “authentic” to the spirit of the story, while having an elegant simplicity to the language, even in translation! The wonder I find in the stories shares space with a matter-of
-fact attitude towards the roughness of life-giving it no more or less attention than it should have - as well as just the right amount of the bizarre to please my tastes. Thanks to these folktales, my imagination is sparked, and my interest in using the phrase “seek my fortune” in daily life is growing. Now to see whether this fortune includes a castle!

June 2009 Staff Picks

Death and HonestyDeath & Honesty
By Cynthia Riggs
Minotaur Books, $23.95
Recommended by Steve
Death is what it is, whether it's by natural causes or murder. “Honesty” -- or “Lunaria” -- is known as the money plant. Together these two words form the title of Ms. Riggs eighth book featuring ninety-two-year-old sleuth Victoria Trumbull. All of Riggs' novels are named after plants and flowers, which double as clues in her mysteries. Set in modern times on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Death & Honesty has a Ms. Marple quality to the story. It features Islanders with eccentricities and old fashioned ways such as making jellied candies from island berries, raising chickens and goats, and quarreling with neighbors over an out of control rooster that crows morning, noon and night. The book opens with Victoria on an investigation involving murder and mistaken identity. Soon we discover the island’s three town real estate assessors, Ellen, Ocyepete, and Selena are running a tax scam on wealthy property owners by sending over assessed bills and stockpiling the money into secret accounts. When a fourth party arrives looking to get in on the action, even more bodies begin appearing!
A sub-plot involving one of the rich homeowners, an unholy clergyman, and a chauffeur thickens the plot.
Cynthia Riggs'
prose is clear and flowing. She uses rapid fire dialogue effectively, both as a way to propel the story and bring her characters to life. Death and Honesty makes a great, fun beach read. My only regret with this novel is that the character Victoria Trumbull did not have her usual Saturday night fare of baked beans.

Mercier and Camier
Mercier and Camier
By Samuel Beckett
Grove Press, $15.00
Recommended by Wendell
Mercier and Camier by Samuel Beckett threw me for a loop. It was my first reading of Beckett: I knew he was well-respected, and a writer who played with writing conventions. I didn’t expect to be as amused as I was,nor did I expect such a literary experience based on two oddball, directionless stragglers. To exaggerate a bit, nothing at all happens in the book in the most glorious way. The two of them are convinced they have a destination or objective, yet they seem to wander about aimlessly. Their banter is the main thing that amuses me; the phrasing used is “off” just enough from what we might actually say, which makes for some head-scratching and chuckling. Just one example of many is when Camier asks, “Do you feel like singing?” and Mercier replies, “Not to my knowledge.” What? I chuckled, and then wondered what possibly could cause Mercier not to know whether he feels like singing. Little absurdities tucked away throughout the text draw the reader in, and yet give one pause to think about any possible deeper levels they may imply. Whether or not more meaning actually lies in waiting is another matter, and feels like part of the exploration the reader goes on. In that sense, we as readers/observers may have more direction than Mercier and Camier.
 Some darker themes arise (likely due to main characters’ vagabond natures): futility, violence, illness – mental and physical, lewdness, drunkenness, rudeness, and a few others which escape me. Interestingly, these don’t bog down the story for me, nor do they make it too diff
icult a read. There are some books where I can barely read the text due to the rough subject matter. Only one or two passages in Mercier and Camier come anywhere near making me want to stop reading; however the episodic nature of the book keeps the pace moving which makes the scenes all the more fleeting.
 I found it interesting I felt barely attached to the characters; usually it’s important to me that the author cares for the characters in some way, leading me to care. It’s not entirely clear to me in Mercier and Camier how Beckett may care for them, though the style of writing he employs and his non-traditional approach to the story may preclude the need for care of characters. He makes us complicit in the unraveling of the story, and allows us to see things from the narrator’s perspective (sometimes sarcastic and even acerbic) while rarely focusing on the characters’ perspective. I like feeling like I’m in league with Beckett, watching things happen. It may seem odd to say after all this that, while these two characters do exist in their own little world, their world is firmly entrenched in ours, with all the ethical and moral obligations intact. Their rejection of our world and their unwitting creation of their very own is one of many reasons why this book interested me. Their rejection of the usual social mores does not distance them from the reader any more than the narrator wishes, which I like; I wouldn’t want to feel totally removed from main characters.
 I’ve enjoyed all the big words Beckett employs, which force the reader to refer to a dictionary for elucidation (even if I didn’t devote myself to looking up every one). These polysyllabic words give the characters a mad professor type of feel to them, which has a delicious tension with how absurd their banter and actions are.
 While n
ot an easy or even straightforward book, Mercier and Camier is a rewarding meander. And it’s brief—a novella—which makes it well worth the Beckett-curious reader’s time.

May 2009 Staff Picks

The HelpThe Help
By Kathryn Stockett
Recommended by Kathleen
This book found its way into my hands because of a customer who told me this was the best book she had read this year. Always on the hunt for good, meaty summer fiction, I gave it my usual 3 pages...and I was hooked! It is 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi. Eugenia Phelan has come home from college and is attempting to become a writer. The budding social reformer takes on the risky and complicated task of a book based on the stories of the black women that clean the homes, raise the children and live with the white women of Phelan’s country-club set. Follow Aibileen and Minny as they tell the truth to Phelan about what it’s like to raise the white children only to see them grow into their racist parents, to be constantly fearful of losing their jobs, and of living in poverty and terrified of the law. Stockett handily draws characters that are memorable, repulsive and thought-provoking in a story that will keep you reading on your porch all evening.

Sense and Sensibility
Sense & Sensibility
By Jane Austen
Random House, $6.95
Recommended by Wendell
I’m fully at the mercy of my Jane Austen fixation now. It started with Persuasion, ramped up with Emma, and is continued by Sense and Sensibility. The latter has all the usual elements of a novel by Austen: a female protagonist; marriage at the end; some sort of impropriety by a character in the protagonist’s immediate social circle; prose which brings grown readers to their knees; and use of the nowadays-rare literary voice “free indirect speech.” Interestingly, I noticed some differences. Sense and Sensibility mentions the servants regularly throughout, unlike the other two novels. Also, it focuses on a pair of sisters, with one of them fulfilling the role of primary protagonist. There is a richness to their sisterhood, and it endears you to both of them, even when one holds a little less sense than the other. In contrast, I found myself under-whelmed by the male characters. The previous books had male characters that impressed, while one in Sense and Sensibility comes off as a bore at first. Another is far too charming, to the point of being suspicious. Both characters eventually show other layers. Still, I didn’t find myself rooting for any of them to end up with the protagonist on account of their personalities; only because of the female character’s own desire did I have allegiances. The protagonist Elinor Dashwood is thought by some scholars to be one of the first literary depictions of a female intellectual. Her consideration of social situations and her pleasure at playing with ideas seem to back this up. To borrow a line from Moreland Perkins’ Reshaping the Sexes in Sense and Sensibility, Elinor is “a talent
ed analyst of human conduct, character, and convention who is equally dedicated to concretely applied reason - although we imagine her functioning this way long before the phrase ‘an intellectual’ was put to its current use.” (Perkins, p.13) To put a personal spin on it, I found myself becoming attracted to Elinor mainly for the above reasons - in the previous two novels I was extraordinarily happy for the protagonists for their eventual fortunes, though I could not share in their husbands’ love. I was endeared towards the protagonists, most certainly, though I didn’t find myself jealous of an Austen character until Elinor was scooped up. I won’t tell you by whom - you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Enjoy!

March 2009 Staff Picks

Little BeeLittle Bee
By Chris Cleave
Simon & Schuster, $24.00
Recommended by Kathleen
I have been waiting for months to write this review!  An advance copy of this book arrived in the mail late last year, and I began it immediately based on the back cover blurb. This book is my top pick for 2009! Nothing can compare to this captivating novel.  The story begins with a young woman from Africa in an immigration detention center in Great Britain. Her life is intertwined with a British woman whose marriage is falling apart and the relationship between these women reflects not only a sharp realism, but the beauty possible in any coming together of two people. This novel will keep you on the edge of your seat (couch or bed) until the final page. A heart of a novel in both its horrific depiction of violence in Africa to contemporary life in Europe and back again. Warning – cliché dead ahead – if you read only one book this year, make it Little Bee.


The Way Through DoorsThe Way Through Doors
By Jesse Ball
Vintage, $13.95
Recommended by Wendell
Jesse Ball’s second novel with Vintage may confuse and frustrate some. I daresay this is of no import to Mr. Ball, though I could be mistaken. Indeed, there is a care for both the characters and the reader in this book, accompanied by an understanding that not all may find the book as engaging or enjoyable as others.
As with my Samedi the Deafness review, I’ll spare you a recounting of events and names found within in favor of attempting to convey the experience of reading The Way Through Doors. As with his previous book, this one makes reality seem blurry. In fact, it is handily placed out of reach as if you say, “you need not be concerned with this, dear reader. Please join me for the experiences and playfulness I hope to share with you.” In this sense reading any work by Ball requires a sort of trust and submission to the story. Obviously, only through the reader’s agency to engage the text in the first place does the book take on life, but one’s expectations should be checked upon opening the book; any preconceptions should be vanquished. Why such hyperbole? Because the thread of this book may not even end up being a thread! It may end up a web, and if the reader struggles or resists it may entrap and cause dis
comfort. If the reader relaxes into it, the web serves nicely as a hammock of sorts, though dozing off is strictly prohibited; one must pay full attention to the swirls of characters and events moving throughout the web. Some of these swirls are more brightly-colored than others, though any number of these will make an imprint on your psyche and linger as pleasant images in the mind’s eye.
There is always a playful nature to Ball’s writing, though you may find it manifesting as glee in one example, and shortly after it may emerge very dire and obfuscated. Others have noted his work does not follow many conventions of the novel. There have been writers who discarded these conventions in disgust and furrowed their brows to create a sort of reaction to the novel. Again, in this regard Ball comes off as playful, folding and re-folding conventions into forms—whether paper airplane or origami crane—which please him.

February 2009 Staff Picks

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionThe Yiddish Policemen's Union
By Michael Chabon
Harper, $15.95
Recommended by Michelle
Those who’ve read Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, are familiar with his virtuoso writing style - it’s smooth, yet meaty - witty, but tender. He’s a natural and creative storyteller. In his latest novel, the sentence structure is consciously shorter to mimic the noir mystery genre - think Raymond Chandler. In Chabon’s foray into the pulp, hardboiled mystery featuring the down-at-heels detective, Meyer Landsman, we are introduced to a very different world, one in which the Jews after WW2 lost Israel and were forced to settle in Sitka, Alaska. Using the framework of a mystery opens a panoramic window to see into the private moments of a people whose very existence is threatened by deportation. Landsman bridges all levels of society as he investigates the death of a chess prodigy and son of the local, Orthodox mob boss. The murder is a thread that wends through the story, revealing and illuminating the secrets, fears, and bravery of an isolated and displaced people. Chabon is funny and melancholy, often in the same sentence, and the result is a literary treat that has an appeal across genres and genders.

Disappearance DiaryThe Disappearance Diary
By Hideo Azuma
Ponent Mon S.L., $22.99
Recommended By Josh
Like Ditko & Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man and Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary is escapist wish fulfillment at its finest. Only, instead of the adolescent power fantasies made by Marvel, Azuma’s autobiographical comic is a flee-from-responsibilities fantasy crafted especially for adults. Chronicling Azuma’s various ‘vacations’ from work-a-day reality, Disappearance Diary follows the author/artist through homelessness, alcoholism, and finally, rehab. If this sounds like yet another depressing memoir, fear not. Disappearance Diary is a pity-free comedy, or as Azuma says in the comic’s second square, “This manga has a positive outlook on life, and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible.” And Azuma keeps this promise. No matter how bad things get, he chooses to highlight the absurdity of the situation rather than the tragedy. Foraging for food and alcohol becomes a treasure hunt. Getting arrested is treated as a comedy of manners. Hell, even the violent crime that results in his hospitalization is only given one panel and two goofy sound effects! Of course, this casual approach to autobiography does have its draw
backs. Anything approaching introspection is given the boot, and one can’t help but wonder if the comic wouldn’t have benefited from a little more emotional depth. For example, the fact that Azuma repeatedly abandons his wife while he’s on these misadventures is glossed over completely. Would Disappearance Diary have had more resonance if Azuma delved into the hurt he caused others and/or the guilt he felt in doing so? Probably. But asking such a question isn’t reviewing the book for what it is, but for what it isn’t. So then, what is Disappearance Diary? It’s a delightfully drawn, hilariously scripted account of one man’s repeated escapes from society’s expectations and requirements. It’s a playful reminder that we all have the choice to just walk away from it all. And - last but not least - it’s an engaging bit of armchair escapism for wage-slaves everywhere.

January 2009 Staff Picks

HawthorneBy Brenda Wineapple
Random House, $16.95
Recommended by Steve
Wineapple presents a fascinating biographical account of the tortured author who was a paradox even to contemporaries who knew him well like Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfel
low, and Margaret Fuller. Hawthorne, reclusive and eccentric, fluctuated in his opinions about being a writer. He even burned original drafts of his stories to control how he would be portrayed by future critics!

The Etched CityThe Etched City
By K.J. Bishop
Spectra, $15.00
Recommended by Michelle
Because we like comparisons that enable us to label something, most reviewers have praised The Etched City, a literary dark fantasy by K.J. Bishop, as being similar to Perdido Street Station by China Mieville and The Dark Tower by Stephen King. The three authors do share an overall tone, one of loneliness in a hostile environment. That feeling also reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Despite these surface similarities, The Etched City remains gloriously unclassifiable. The best way to describe it is by stringing together superlatives such as brilliant, strange, intense, and poetic so that the atmosphere of the story might come to life. Raule is a talented physician, on the run and seeking a new life after taking part in a failed revolution. She finds her fate ensnared with that of Gwynn, a former mercenary, who is also a casualty of the bitter war. Bishop has crafted a stunning world - a decadent, crumbling empire where mercenaries, priests, and drug dealers rub shoulders, talk philosophy, and politely kill.

December 2008 Staff Picks

White Tiger White Tiger
By Aravind Adiga
Free Press, $14.00
Recommended by Kathleen
I suspect that winning the Booker Prize for 2008 allows this novel to speak for itself, however I enjoyed reading it so much that I feel it deserves an extra review. Meet Balram, who refers to himself as an “entrepreneur” in India as he tells his life story as a child and then driver, in the form of letters to the Premier of China. This is an engaging, meticulously crafted novel that stands out in the current spate of stories about India and the life of the Indian people.  Congratulations to a well-deserving author.

In the WoodsIn the Woods
By Tana French
Penguin, $14.00
Recommended by Kay
Irish author Tana French has written a very well-constructed debut novel that is both a police procedural and psychological thriller.
It ties together two murders of children committed twenty years apart and features a wonderful team of detectives - Cassie Maddox and Rob Ryan. Only Maddox knows that Ryan was the sole survivor in the 1984 case, and is still scarred by the experience. Set in contemporary Ireland, In the Woods is an intelligent, exciting story with a perfectly crafted plot.

November 2008 Staff Picks

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningWhat I Talk About When I Talk About Running
By Haruki Murakami
Knopf, $21.00
Recommended by Wendell
I was so excited to see that Murakami finally had another nonfiction book coming out, and I was not disappointed. I’m a huge fan of his fiction, and what little non-fiction I’ve read of his had me craving more. The unique perspective and illuminating observations in his non-fiction likely spring from his practiced ability at writing fiction. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR) is a biography in name, while focusing on his long-distance running lifestyle and how this relates to and nourishes his creativity. There is some discussion of his transition from jazz club owner to writer, though he primarily talks us through his thought process about and his motivation to write. He quickly found that creativity was draining to him on numerous levels, and had to change his jazz-club-influenced lifestyle. He likens the creative process to searching for and drawing from a well until a piece is finished and the well runs dry—an exhausting process. Taking up running helped him stay strong physically and mentally when diving deep within himself for his stories.
As one would expect from the title, he spends a good amount of the book speaking on long-distance running, and he was quite successful in keeping a non-runner like me interested. His descriptions of the stages one goes through physically and mentally when running a marathon fascinated me because they were only partially related to what I would have imagined. I was amused at his frustration with the cycling aspect of a triathlon, because I myself prefer bikes to running! He is correct to point out that there is an elegant simplicity to running, while cycling uses a complex tool: the bicycle. The bike requires regular maintenance to reliably assist one in the act of cycling, while the only extraneous item needed for running is a pair of good athletic shoes. Of course both running and cycling must be backed by rigorous training and care for the person and their body, but Murakami found himself frustrated during the triathlon having to depend on his bike.
WITAWITAR only serves to reinforce my allegiance to Murakami’s writing, and gives pleasing glimpses into his own life, habits, and ideas. I’ll be re-reading it whenever I want a kick in the pants for my own exercise or creativity regimen.

October 2008 Staff Picks

The Given DayThe Given Day
By Dennis Lehane
William Morrow, $27.95
Recommended by Kay
Dennis Lehane has written an engrossing epic about this country following WWI. Set mostly in Boston, it encompasses social turmoil, racial prejudice, the Spanish flu pandemic, the molasses disaster, the birth of the union movement and the police strike of 1919. We see all of this through the eyes of several well drawn characters, especially  Danny Coughlin, an idealistic young policeman and the son of an influential police captain with whom he is in conflict. We meet anarchists, corrupt politicians and ordinary citizens struggling for survival, as well as some of the leading figures of the era including Babe Ruth, W.E.B. Dubois, and
Calvin Coolidge. Above all it is a story of people caught in turbulent times and ultimately a tribute to the triumph of the human spirit.

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood
By Haruki Murakami
Vintage Books, $13.95
Recommended by Wendell
I just finished reading this book for the second time in six years, and I’ve found it even more rewarding. It could be called a coming-of-age love story, with its themes of emotional maturity explored through the protagonist’s relationships with the women in the book. It is set in Japan in the late 1960s, with the music of the time playing a key role, and some commentary on the unrest of the time added. Like Murakami’s other earlier works, the protagonist considers himself (his early protagonists were always male) an average sort of guy, though through chance occurrences he meets up with unique characters who can see his uniqueness and special qualities when he still can’t recognize them. Unlike Murakami’s other earlier works, Norwegian Wood aims to be a human story, focusing on the human dramas instead of the usual supernatural, magical-realist themes. For the author, it was a challenge, and it turned out to be an incredibly successful venture, exploding his readership in his home country of Japan to such a degree that he felt the need to leave the country for a few years. Norwegian Wood is very much for adults, with dark themes running through it. Like his other books, there aren’t many resolutions, but it has a sense of momentum and even a glimmer of hope at the end, which, for the characters you’ve grown to care for, is all one could wish.

September 2008 Staff Picks

The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
By Stieg Larsson
Knopf, $24.95
Recommended by Michelle
Larsson’s chilling debut is crime fiction at its best, a multi-layered smart and provocative story of buried secrets, high finance, corruption, and morals. Disgraced Swedish journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is hired by Henrik Vanger, the head of a powerful corporate empire, to write the story of the Vanger family to the dismay of Henrik’s relatives. The Vanger family has many sordid secrets to keep, and Mikael stirs up a hornet’s nest when he becomes obsessed with an unsolved mystery that happened more than 30 years ago when teenage Harriet Vanger, the heir to the Vanger Corporation, disappeared without a trace from the family’s enclave north of Stockholm. Most mysteries feature duos that work together to solve crimes, and Larsson has created an inventive and unlikely partnership between the exiled journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, a 24 year old computer genius with severe misanthropy. This is a fascinating portrayal of the darkness that inhabits each of us, and our ability to survive.

I'm a Lebowski, You're a LebowskiI’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski

By Bill Green, et. al.
Bloomsbury, $16.95
Recommended by Wendell
I remember watching “The Big Lebowski” in college for the first time. It was such an incredibly odd movie: the climax it seemed to be building towards never came, or showed up in a different guise; I couldn’t tell if it was really dark, or really funny. The more I’ve watched it, the more enjoyment I’ve gleaned from it. I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski has only enabled my enjoyment of the movie to grow. I can’t claim to be anywhere near as big a fan as the authors are (after all, they started the “Lebowski Fest” phenomenon, which has been gaining in popularity since it began in 2002), though their level of fandom has birthed a fun book.
The book has in-jokes galore; interview with most of the cast, including many extras and small parts; interview with fans of the movie; interviews with the Coen brothers’ acquaintances whose individual stories and personalities were drawn on for the movie; descriptions of Lebowski Fests past; a guide to noticing certain details in the movie; and a spirited attempt to find all the locations for each scene of the film. You don’t have to be as big a fan as the authors are, but the book has the potential to bring you perilously close! Recommended for any fans of the movie.

July & August 2008 Staff Picks

The ConditionThe Condition
By Jennifer Haigh
Harper, $25.95
Recommended by Kay
Award winning novelist Jennifer Haigh has written an engrossing story about a dysfunctional New England family. Each member, mother, father, two sons and a daughter, has his or her problems or secrets. The characters are so well-drawn that I found myself very involved in their lives and caring about what was going to happen to them. It is a fascinating and compelling chronicle in which love’s healing power is finally transcendent.

Stand the StormStand the Storm
By Breena Clarke
Little Brown & Co., $24.99
Recommended by Charlotte
Breena Clarke’s debut best selling historical novel, River, Cross My Heart and her new novel take place in the setting of the historic Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. before, during, and after the Civil War. The author has spent many years doing research about the lives of African Americans in Georgetown who lived there since the 1770’s. Stand the Storm speaks to the complex circumstances for African-American women during the early years of the Civil War because there was more than one slavery experience, and  more than one freedom experience.

By Jane Austen
Bantam, $4.95
Recommended by Wendell
Emma is the second Jane Austen I’ve read, and I must admit that I am hooked. At first I was daunted by the larger size of Emma, as my first Austen experience was one of Persuasion. Once I began reading I felt more at home, because I had already been acclimated to Austen’s fine writing, and was grateful for the story the larger number of pages had to tell me. I could really stretch out, relax, and savor Emma’s good graces, good intentions, and follies. I won’t recount the story, as this has been covered enough elsewhere. I was glad, due to the larger size of this novel, that Austen could introduce more characters into Emma’s social circle. Some characters’ true natures were enhanced by the partners they chose in marriage—and made for some truly amusing yet ghastly social interactions! I can’t help but suspect that these characters, their willingness to marry for convenience and social standing, and how this reveals their lack of integrity are a window into Austen’s opinion of some of the “uses” of marriage during her time. I knew Austen folded some social satire and critique into her words: now I’m starting to notice it. I knew that Emma would find happiness by the end of the book, but I was particularly relieved for her to realize her true feelings because she had done so much in the name of serving others (sometimes solely running on perception rather than others’ own wishes) that she tended to neglect her own happiness.

June 2008 Staff Picks

Serpent's TaleThe Serpent’s Tale
By Ariana Franklin
Putnam, $25.95
Recommended by Michelle
The Serpent’s Tale is a remarkably satisfying follow-up to Franklin’s historical mystery Mistress of the Art of Death. Return to 12th century England under the rule of Henry II where Dr. Adelia is once again called upon to use her medical forensic skills to solve a string of murders. The King’s mistress, Rosamund, is found poisoned in a tower in the middle of a labyrinth, and the primary suspect is Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Adelia is unwillingly stranded at an abbey by fierce weather with fellow travelers, one of whom is the murderer. As the world is gripped by a perilous cold, Adelia is confined not only by location, but by society and her own demons. Franklin vividly captures the isolation and hush of a winter storm, and sustains a shadow of impending danger throughout this wonderful mystery.

By Peter Abrahams
William Morrow, $24.95
Recommended by Kay
Peter Abrahams, Falmouth’s own master of suspense novels, does not disappoint with his latest book, Delusion. Twenty years ago Nell Jarreau witnessed the murder of her boyfriend and her testimony convicted Alvin Du Pree and put him in prison. Now evidence has come to light and exonerated him. Nell’s world is turned upside down. She had married Clay, the detective who solved the case, and they have been very happy, but he is of no help to her, because for him the case is closed. Her feelings of guilt lead her to ask questions and look for answers with potentially devastating results. This well-written story definitely holds one’s interest.

Getting Things DoneGetting Things Done

By David Allen
Penguin, $15.00
Recommended by Ric
Got too much to do?  Feel harried, worried?   Allen’s created a deceptively simple and profound system to handle all the stuff in your life - work and personal. The basic tenet tells you to get all the stuff out of your mind and into a system you can trust, and then process it. Not do it, but process it. The five basic steps are collect your stuff, process what things mean and what needs doing, organize the results, review it to choose options, and do what you choose. You break things down into next actions, apply simple criteria (what’s the context, do you have time now, do you have the energy, is there priority?), and then do. If you get your stuff out of your head and into a trusted system then you can relax and actually get more done.  Allen’s not selling a philosophy, not offering a lockstep, rigid way to live. Just the opposite. Flexibility is the key. Your world, at work and home, determines priorities and actions. Getting Things Done is about getting free, getting relaxed, and getting more done more easily than you ever thought possible.

May 2008 Staff Picks

The Legend of Colton H. BryantThe Legend of Colton H. Bryant
by Alexandra Fuller
Penguin Group, $23.95
Recommended by Kathleen
Writing about what she knows gives Alexandra Fuller the ability to develop an unparalleled truthfulness and depth to both her scenes and subjects. The unusual format (short chapters with a hint of playwright) makes the story even more riveting. Reading this book means slipping from chapter to chapter as seamlessly as it is written. I have never been to Wyoming or visited an oil rig, but I can see them both in my mind’s eye with crystal clarity. Her subjects are people you wish you’d meet, but never seem to find, not unrealistic, just painfully tied to a harsh landscape with the hardscrabble incumbent wisdom. Purposely skipping the chapter index, I was shocked and thrilled at the end, which I intentionally delayed, to find out that this larger-than-life cowboy walked this earth. So few authors hit again with a third book, but Ms. Fuller surely did. We can only look forward to her next masterpiece.

Mistress of the Art of Death
Mistress of the Art of Death
By Ariana Franklin
Berkley Publishing, $15.00
Recommended by Michelle
Become immersed in the scandal and intrigue of Henry II’s England by means of Ariana Franklin’s well-researched historical mystery. Outsider Dr. Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno is hired in secret by King Henry II to investigate the murders of several children in Cambridge which threaten to become a political nightmare. Adelia’s plight as an educated, independent woman in a repressive society is handled with delicacy, unlike so many historical novels that imbue the characters with modern sensibilities. Adelia is a winning creation - intelligent, prickly, and truly alive on the pages. Mistress of the Art of Death is certain to appeal to fans of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries.

Thousand CranesThousand Cranes
By Yasunari Kawabata
Vintage, $12.95
Recommended by Charlotte
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Kawabata has written a short but enlightening novel about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Kikuji shows his indifference to this ancient custom as offered by Chikako, one of his late father’s mistresses. Chikako is a master of tea who attempts to manipulate Kikuji and others to realize her plans for his future and marriage. The masterful, subtle novel offers a fascinating glimpse into another culture, and is a must read for anyone planning a visit to Japan.

April 2008 Staff Picks

The Book of JoeThe Book of Joe
By Jonathan Tropper
Bantam, $10.00
Recommended by Steve
The Book of Joe is a compelling read. You will laugh and cry as Joe Goffman confronts his past and present. Thirty years after Joe writes a fictional novel, he begrudgingly returns to his hometown in Connecticut. It is there that Joe attempts to rekindle romance with his high school sweetheart, and shed the black sheep image from his family. Themes in The Book of Joe deal with the complexities of family relationships and lost love. Find out why the entire town of Bush Falls is mad at Joe, and resorts to throwing books and milkshakes at him. Fans of Tom Perrotta, Nick Hornby and Jennifer Weiner will jump on the Tropper Wagon. I too am now a follower. Heads up all local book clubs - this is an excellent selection!

By Jane Austen,
Oxford, $5.95
Recommended by Wendell
Persuasion was my first exposure to the writing of Jane Austen, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a good entry point to Austen’s oeuvre. I would not call the language “difficult,” but it does take getting used to, and once I was, I wanted to savor it, so reading the book took some time. I savored it because there was no telling when Austen would stir up a sentence or paragraph that would cause me to take pause. This happened to me at least a handful of times throughout Persuasion. The subtlety of social mores in those days came through strongly in the book, and I myself was moved to emotion when certain incidents occurred; which would be considered largely insignificant in our era; which held particular import to the characters in the book. Did you catch that? I just wrote a semi-Austenian sentence, not consciously thinking to do so. I would never think my writing at all comparable to hers, but reading her writing has brought more sub-clauses into my own! Reading Austen, even more than the most interesting non-fiction book, has made me feel like my brain’s potential for growth and change has been encouraged, both when it comes to knowledge as well as agility of mind. Time to pick up another work by Austen!

March 2008 Staff Picks

Anatomy of DeceptionThe Anatomy of Deception
By Lawrence Goldstone
Delacorte Press, $24.00
Recommended by Michelle
Goldstone’s memoir and paean to books entitled Used & Rare was delightful, so I was intrigued to start his debut novel, The Anatomy of Deception. It’s an absorbing psychological thriller set in late 19th Century Philadelphia. A young, idealistic doctor, Ephraim Carroll, is proud to study under the famous Dr. William Osler, but suddenly finds himself at odds with his mentor when the body of a murdered young woman turns up at The Dead House, the hospital’s morgue. Enriching the atmospheric novel are well-researched period details, figures from history, and particularly the medical innovations of the time period. Spanning the city’s glittering elite and the shadowy, perilous dives of the waterfront, Carroll pursues a killer armed with his medical knowledge. The Anatomy of Deception is a thoroughly satisfying read for discerning fans of historical mysteries.

Head First HTMLHead First HTML with CSS & XHTML
By Elisabeth Freeman
O’Reilly Media, $39.99
Recommended by Ric
For the longest time I tried to learn HTML, the language of web pages, and stumbled and bumbled through text-heavy textbooks. One would think with all the books out there that someone could have explained it in brainfriendly terms. Well finally someone has. O’Reilly Media last year published as part of their series of Head First books. You won’t find pages and pages of text here. No mind numbing parade of gray paragraphs broken only by programming examples. You will find pages with pictures and diagrams, puzzles, brain teasers, clear explanations, handwriting fonts and little arrows, Q & A sessions, and more, much more. The Head First books use the latest findings in effective teaching to get the material across. You can’t not learn from these books. And you can have great fun, which is much of the point. O’Reilly set out to make complex computer subjects easy to learn, fun to learn, without diluting the power of their complexity. Next time you’re in the bookstore and have an urge to learn HTML or SQL or C# or JavaScript or any of a dozen other subjects, flip through one of the Head First offerings. Your brain will catch the difference right away. You’ll be two hundred pages into learning before you know what hit you. And when you’re done you will have been hit with the learning stick, and liked it.

2008 Staff Picks

The Secret Adventures of Charlotte BronteThe Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte
By Laura Joh Rowland
Overlook Press, $24.95
Recommended by Michelle
This is a most worthy addition to the popular sub-genre of mystery which features famous people, like Jane Austen in Stephanie Barron’s series of books. The premise in these mysteries is that a recognizable figure from history is unwittingly embroiled in murder and scandal which precipitates them becoming a sleuth. That’s where the fun begins! Rowland, an already proven master of historical mysteries with her feudal Japan series featuring samurai detective Sano Ichiro, sets her skills to recreating the life and times of the Bronte sisters. On the heels of the success of the publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte finds herself on a perilous trip to London where she witnesses the murder of a young woman named Isabel White. What follows is a tangled web of subterfuge, opium dens, kidnapping, and intrigue. In addition to being a terrific mystery, Charlotte’s relationship with her sisters, Anne and Emily, is a thoughtful and tender portrait of the love, pain, jealousy, and endurance in a close knit family.

December 2007 & January 2008 Staff Picks

Then We Came to the EndThen We Came to the End
By Joshua Ferris
Little Brown & Co., $23.99
Recommended by Steve
Not only did this fictional account of an office facing downsizing make me laugh, but it made me reflect and find humor in the world of corporate layoffs. In the 90’s, I worked in an art department for a corporation. Although I was never a “dead man walking” i.e. layed off, or as Ferris calls it “walking the Spanish,” he hits the nail on the head engendering thoughts like “poor guy” and “thank god it’s not me.” We laugh with the characters, and also feel their pain. They are both quirky and neurotic  (aren’t we all?), and this brilliantly written novel makes them very real. This will ring true especially for office workers, but a coworker pointed out that anyone with a sense of humor will truly enjoy this author’s first novel.

Senator's WifeThe Senator’s Wife
By Sue Miller
Knopf Publishing, $24.95
Recommended by Kay
This very well-written novel presents portraits of two marriages at opposite ends of the spectrum. Meri and Nathan are newlyweds who move to New England and into a townhouse, and find themselves neighbors with 70ish Delia, the Senator’s wife and Tom, the Senator who visits occasionally. Bestselling author Sue Miller cleverly contrasts the two complicated relationships as the women become friends, and involved in each others lives. Filled with insights about the complexities of love, marriage and friendship this is a totally engrossing book - one of the best I have read in quite a while.

November 2007 Staff Picks

Look Me in the EyeLook Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s
By John Elder Robison
Crown Publishers, $25.95
Recommended by Kathleen
One might want to purchase this book based on the cover art alone. What’s written on the pages will keep you glued and staying up late to read “one more chapter.” John Elder has Asperger’s, an alcoholic father, mentally-ill mother and a famous brother, author Augusten Burroughs. He also has an incredibly unique perspective on his own life and those he meets along the way. His honesty and simple prose cuts across gender and generational lines to reach all of us who have felt awkward at best and completely perplexed by other humans at our worst. Not one of those “and YOU thought YOU had it bad” autobiographies, Look Me in the Eye is immensely readable and another reason to love this quirky, literary family.

AbundanceAbundance: A Novel of Marie Antionette
By Sena Jeter Naslund
Harper, $15.95
Recommended by Marjorie
Having read another of her engaging novels, I can truly say that Naslund is among my all time favorite writers of historical fiction. Naslund’s novel is set in 18th century Europe at the grand Palace at Versailles, outside Paris. Through a politically-correct arranged marriage between the Austrian and French Royalty, Marie Antionette is the innocent but socially well-groomed Austrian child-bride who weds France’s young future king (or Dauphin), the quirky Louis Auguste. The chapters are brilliantly constructed as excerpts of the young Queen’s diary and personal letters to her mother in Austria. With the turn of each page in Abundance, you, the reader, will find your self becoming one with Marie Antionette, as she matures and adapts to the opulent life at Versailles, surrounded by the Royal court and her extended family. Marie’s womanly observations, thoughts, and sometimes whimsical behavior seem timeless in nature. Naslund is brilliant in depicting the heart, mind, and soul of Marie Antionette and in transforming 18th Century historical events into “real-time” reading.

October 2007 Staff Picks

Murder on Astor PlaceMurder on Astor Place: A Gaslight Mystery
By Victoria Thompson
Berkley, $6.99
Recommended by Michelle
Edgar Award nominated author Victoria Thompson evokes turn of the century New York City through the lives of her well wrought characters. Midwife Sarah Brandt, estranged from her prominent family, is forced to confront her bitter past and return to high society when a young woman she once knew is murdered. Horrified by the rampant police corruption, Sarah is determined to help Irish Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy of the NYPD whether he wants her to or not. What begins as an unlikely and unfriendly encounter evolves into a surprising friendship. Fans of Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters will be thrilled to discover this wonderful series of historical mysteries.

Spanish Bow The Spanish Bow

By Andromeda Romano-Lax
Harcourt, $25.00
Recommended by Steve
Romano-Lax creates the epic story of  Feliu Delargo, an underprivileged child prodigy whose musical ability brings him into contact with world leaders, first-class artists and a social life filled with loss and triumph. Killed in Cuba just before the Spanish-American War, their father leaves a crate with 5 unusual gifts for Feliu, his 3 brothers and one sister. They manage a meager life in a small Catalan town, while their strong-willed mother fends off suitors. Soon, Feliu and his mother travel to Barcelona, where a cello tutor agrees to take on Feliu as a student. Over the years, as Feliu establishes himself, he crosses path with Al-Cerra, an egotistical, manipulative pianist, and their touring leads to an intertwining of lives that becomes more complicated when they encounter Aviva, a violinist with her own emotional damage.  Romano-Lax weaves into the narrative historical figures from Spanish royalty to Franco and Hitler, giving Feliu the opportunity to ponder the roles of morality in art and art in politics.

September 2007 Staff Picks

Death of a River GuideDeath of a River Guide
By Richard Flanagan
Grove Press, $13.00
Recommended by Cristin
Little do customers know it, but their book selections are often an inspiration to us booksellers. You must understand that booksellers are book hounds by nature, and whenever we receive a remotely enthusiastic recommendation from any customer, we’ll track down the scent left by the title and pounce on it as soon as it’s in sight. Death of a River Guide happens to be a title that one of our customers recommended to me. When I heard this customer’s praise of Flanagan’s unique approach to fiction, I felt obligated to read his work, simply because I was sure it would be a rewarding reading experience. Now I’m writing this article in order to spread the recommendation around, opening it up to anyone who is in the mood for something completely compelling and absorbing. This book begins with the narrator’s matter-of-fact realization that he is in the process of drowning. There is something pitiless and unflinching about the narrator’s tone that makes him immediately respectable, despite his rough exterior and self-debasing humor. He is simultaneously vulnerable and impenetrable Our narrator, Aljaz, begins to review the moments that lead up to his demise...he does so in a surreal way, showing the reader moments that are at turns melancholic, amusing, and mysterious. The unusual premise of this stirring novel is reason enough to pick it up and give it a chance. There is something so tangible about the atmosphere Flanagan creates - the wild Tazmanian landscape makes for an incredible setting to visit. This is one of those books that has kicked up memories of my own. The passive, curious interest with which Aljaz examines his own life is an inspiration to me. Although he feels pain, remorse, happiness, and myriad of layered emotions, he seems to do so with a gracefulness that I have yet to see in a fictional character. Thanks to one of our customers, I’ve been introduced to Richard Flanagan’s work, and have become one of many who appreciates his daring, well-crafted work.

August 2007 Staff Picks

Booked to DieBooked to Die
By John Dunning
Pocket, $7.99
Recommended by Michelle
Finely drawn characters and good hardboiled dialogue propel this mystery to the top of the stack. Denver homicide detective, Cliff Janeway, finds himself on the wrong side of the law when his nemesis and all-around bad guy, Jackie Newton, forces Cliff to action in the name of justice. Cliff is an anomaly among his fellow detectives…he collects rare books, and eventually owns his own antiquarian bookshop. The lore about the collectible book trade is fascinating. Dunning, who owned an antiquarian shop, is the perfect tour guide into the realm of the passionate, unscrupulous, and quirky book collectors and dealers. This one will make you wish for a first edition!

Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
By J. K. Rowling
Scholastic, $34.95
Recommended by Cristin
I was fourteen years old when a friend recommended the Harry Potter series to me. She loaned me the first three books, and I read them all in one weekend. It wasn’t until book three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that I admitted to my adoration of the series. I was so reluctant to jump on the HP bandwagon, but here I am, nearly a decade later, reviewing the final installment of the series...the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seem fairly choppy and unfocused, as though Rowling had too many scenes flitting through her mind. Rowling’s style made me wonder whether she felt encumbered by the responsibility of meeting her readership’s high expectations. Rowling’s fears (assuming that she had any) seemed to be reflected in the plot, as there is a large portion of the book which shows Harry fumbling about, haphazardly making slow progress toward his ultimate goal - in short, feeling unsure of what to do next. Many peripheral characters make cameo appearances - which I must confess, I wish Rowling had expanded upon a bit more-and vanish as abruptly as they appeared, as though they disappeared into thin air. There are some compelling scenes and interesting introductions to new aspects of the magic that exists in Harry’s wizarding world (again, it would have been great if Rowling had lingered here, and shown it to us in more detail.) In short, I wish the book had been packed with more detail. I vehemently detest spoilers, so I will not write any further on the topic of the last installment of an inexplicable literary phenomenon-the likes of which I doubt I’ll ever see again in my lifetime. I must admit, there is something about Harry Potter... perhaps it is the idea of going to Hogwarts that is so appealing. Whatever it is, Harry Potter has obviously provided people with delight, and is an undeniably great source of entertainment.

July 2007 Staff Picks

Reading DiaryA Reading Diary:
A Passionate Reader's Reflections on a Year of Books
By Alberto Manguel
Picador, $13.00
Recommended by Michelle
Struck by the coincidental themes that were occurring in current events and his reading choices, Manguel started a “commonplace book” – a reading diary. The sparkling result is an intimate diary by a literary scholar that will inspire avid readers for whom reading and living are bound together like the pages of a book. Re-reading his twelve favorite books, one each month, Manguel recorded his observations in brief journal entries that are replete with literary quotations, remembered books, childhood memories, descriptions of world travel, and conversations with other authors. Manguel is a list keeper, and he peppers the text with them (mad scientists, books by his bed, favorite cities) in between the daily musings. This is a remarkably thoughtful and enjoyable book.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
By Mark Haddon
Vintage, $12.95
Recommended by Steve
I bought the book and before I read it, I loaned my copy to a friend, who then loaned it to another, and so on. Four years later it was chosen as the Falmouth Year of the Reader Book. I was reminded that I had always wanted to read it, so I bought it again. If you love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures, you will love this story of Christopher Boone who knows all the countries of the world and their capitals, and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals, but has no understanding of human emotions. He is autistic. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual detective novels in recent years.

June 2007 Staff Picks

The AlchemistThe Alchemist
By Paulo Coelho
Harper, $13.95
Recommended by Cristin
I am one of several million readers who admires the simplicity of Paulo Coelho’s compassionate and insightful messages. One of Coelho’s main messages is essentially: “follow your dreams.” This loaded message is conveyed in a very simple, familiar way. The Alchemist is a tale of a young shepherd who experiences an extraordinary journey in pursuit of his passion. The shepherd’s story is familiar because it is the story of the human heart. In many ways Coelho’s novel is a prolonged meditation on the mysteries of life. If you shy away from books with mass appeal, please make The Alchemist an exception. This novel, much like Hesse’s Siddartha, will certainly prove to be a memorable and peaceful experience
for all who read it. Enjoy!
May 2007 Staff Picks

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle
By Shirley Jackson
Penguin, $14.00
Recommended by Steve
Re-released in 2006 with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem, is a dark tale of the bond between two sisters living on a secluded estate with a little magic to aid in keeping unwelcome guests away. Jackson writes with a passion. She knows what it’s like to feel the pain of isolation, and conveys it well with her characters Constance and Mary Katherine. Anyone who has ever been excluded from some social circle will sympathize with the odd remnants of the Blackwood Family. Shirley Jackson was a writer for The New Yorker Magazine and won critical acclaim for her short story “The Lottery.” This book is at the top of my list of enjoyable reads. I long to tell you the entire tale but will leave you with two final words - sugar bowl.

Barefoot Contessa Family StyleBarefoot Contessa Family Style:
Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family
By Ina Garten
Clarkson N. Potter, $35.00
Recommended by Kathleen
Given the 100 plus cookbooks I have collected over the years, you would think it would be difficult to pick a favorite – it’s NOT!  Far and away, I refer to this particular Barefoot Contessa cookbook more than any other, both for family meals and entertaining. No recipe requires special trips to expensive markets and every one is easy to follow.  How many recipes actually turn out looking like the beautiful color photograph?  These do!  Ina has also included a “Cooking for Kids” section.  I encourage you to take a look at this book for the chef or new bride in your family.

April 2007 Staff Picks

Madame Mirabou Madame Mirabou’s School of Love

By Barbara Samuel
Ballantine Books, $13.95
Recommended by Marjorie
This contemporary romantic novel, by award-winning author Barbara Samuel, unfolds through the eyes of Nikki, a middle-aged divorcee. Nikki was a devoted wife, caring mother to her teenage daughter, and content in her upscale home. But a string of events turns her comfy world upside down: Nikki finds herself without a husband, without legal custody of their daughter, in dire need of a job, and suddenly, homeless (after the furnace blew up her house in a freak mishap.) Amidst these circumstances, Nikki finds the strength to overcome her depression as she enters the Singles world. Living in a tiny apartment in a Colorado resort town, Nikki learns to waitress. She meets a gambit of characters (each with their own emotional baggage.) She deals with the awkward dating scene. Ultimately, Nikki finds her greatest happiness after she learns to trust her own instincts and reconnect with her creative side. There is much depth to this story. Samuel incorporates present day social issues, including divorce, custody battles, underemployment, low self-esteem, post-war stress, and interracial relationships. More importantly, what makes this an inspiring read is the author’s transformation of Nikki. It is a lesson in self-empowerment, making lemons out of lemonade, and embracing the cards you are dealt - with a little help from your friends.

You Are HereYou Are Here:
Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination

By Katharine A. Harmon
Princeton Architectural Press, $21.95
Recommended by Cristin
Feast your eager eyeballs upon this wonderland! These are maps of the imagination, and are at once a study of the mind, body and spirit. Compelling!

March 2007 Staff Picks

Freedom & Necessity Freedom & Necessity
By Stephen Brust and Emma Bull
Tor, $7.99
Recommended by Michelle
This is a book to read for the sheer joy of the language and imaginations of the authors who have recreated a magical England with panache to rival Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the story begins (and is told through letters and journal entries) with James Cobham, presumed dead and just recovering from amnesia. What follows is an intricately plotted, ingeniously paced novel of intrigue, passion, betrayal, and philosophy. Superb from start to finish, Freedom & Necessity is perfect for anyone craving high adventure and witty dialogue.

Liar's DiaryThe Liar's Diary
By Patry Francis
Penguin, $24.95
Recommended by Steve

This chilling debut novel unforgettably tours troubled minds with characters so real that they continue on in your thoughts even weeks after reading other books. The character Ali had me wrapped around her finger. Not just because she is seductive, but she reads over a 100 books a year, is a nonconformist, carefree, and a classical musician and composer. I desperately want her to be real. Men who read this book will fall all over her. Women on the other hand may either relate to her or hate her. Patry Francis is an immensely talented new novelist who knows just how to keep her readers guessing. The Liar’s Diary is a Booksense Notable Book for the month of March and although I received a desk copy from the publisher, I have bought a signed first edition. This woman can write!

February 2007 Staff Picks

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants
By Sara Gruen
Algonquin Books, $23.95
Recommended by Cyndi
A lot of customers have been buying this book, so I thought I’d read it myself to see what everyone was exclaiming about. This is a wonderfully written story that takes place in the world of the circus in the 1930’s as well as the present time. This has more depth than a “beach read”; you will be touched by the character of 90-something Jacob Jankowski as he struggles with the indignities of old age, and retreats into his exciting memories of the past. Sara Gruen researched meticulously for this book, and has pulled back the curtain to show gritty, quirky, real characters (and they are characters!) living in the strange and exotic mini-society of the circus. Well recommended!

January 2007 Staff Picks

Ordinary WolvesOrdinary Wolves
By Seth Kantner
Milkweed, $14.95
Recommended by Cyndi
A rare and fascinating story about a part of American culture that we know almost nothing about. Seth Kantner grew up in a sod igloo in the Alaskan wilderness, and has written a powerful novel about this solitary and raw life.  Wolves, caribou, bear, and huskies are his references to reality in this strange and stark world. Engaging and freshly written.

MayflowerMayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
By Nathaniel Philbrick
Viking, $29.95
Recommended by Steve
I spent twelve years in the Plymouth Public School System, and not once did they mention that Mrs. Bradford committed suicide by jumping off the Mayflower into the ice cold waters of Plymouth Harbor that first December. The Wampanoag and Narrangansett population dwindled by disease suffered even worse with the arrival and the permanent settlement of what we are spoon fed as the pious Pilgrims. This nonfiction account serves up blood and betrayal and a lengthy war. Philbrick’s writing makes this a great read for both fans of history and those not inclined to touch any book with such a topic. A New York Times Top 10 Book of 2006.

The BetrayedThe Betrayed
By David Hosp
Warner. $24.99
Recommended by Kay
Compelling, extremely likeable characters, and a well-paced story line combine for a very enjoyable read. Sydney Chapin returns to Washington to be closer to her family only to learn that her sister has been murdered. For help she turns to a pair of mismatched D.C. detectives. At first the murder seems to have been committed by a druggy looking for cash, but amid the political pressures of Washington, nothing is what it seems and readers are left guessing to the very end.

December 2006 Staff Picks

The Company They KeptThe Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships
By Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
New York Review of Books, $24.95
Recommended by Michelle
This smart, quirky collection of essays gathered from the New York Review of Books is compulsively readable. Intimately written, the essays capture the mundane and profound moments in the interaction between writers and those who inspired them. The table of contents reads like a Who’s Who of the best in their fields: Derek Walcott, Susan Sontag, Albert Einstein, Seamus Heaney, Gertrude Stein, Octavio Paz, Anna Akhmatova, Isaiah Berlin… the list goes on. Yet, it isn’t just the titillation of reading about famous people that makes this a perfect book, it is the seductive voices of the talented writers that draw you in and take you by the arm to point out the smallest details that capture your heart and imagination.

2006 Staff Picks

The King's EnglishThe King’s English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller
By Betsy Burton
Gibbs Smith, $15.95
Recommended by Michelle
This book is sure to delight the kind of person who can’t pass by a bookstore without stopping to browse. The King’s English is the name of an independent bookstore owned by  Betsy Burton. Although subtitled “Adventures of an independent bookseller,” it goes far beyond the business of selling books. Betsy’s intrepid spirit sparkles in this funny and thoughtful memoir of a life surrounded and inspired by books. Her passion for literature is contagious. The reading lists at the back of the book are worth more than the price of the whole book!

White DawnWhite Dawn
By James Houston
Harvest Books, $17.00
Recommended by Cyndi
An extraordinary story of two vastly different cultures - three stranded whalers taken in by an Eskimo village in the late nineteenth century. This profound novel challenges the concept of civilization, and with vivid authenticity portrays the Eskimo way of life.

2006 Staff Picks
Liberated BrideFeatured author: A.B. Yehoshua
“Gentleman of Haifa”
Recommended by Wendell Edwards
A friend of mine told me about it, said it would be an easy class. This is golden to a senior in college heading into his second semester. The class was “Modern Israeli Literature.” The professor was an Israeli woman whose reason for leaving Israel “we could only guess, and we’d still be wrong,” said my friend. We read some fantastic literature and were taught the historical contexts in which each piece was written, picking up some of the history of Israel along the way. When the professor read the poems we were studying in the original Hebrew, they sounded centuries older than the 1970s in which they were written.
    A few writers stood out from the many we studied, and one in particular grabbed my attention: A. B. Yehoshua. It was a short story in his rare collection “Continuing Silence of a Poet” that first caused me to take notice. This story was understated and rather stark, following a single character during his time working in a fire lookout tower. Imagery and metaphor shine through strongly in a story that quiet. In our discussion, we touched on how ambiguous the main character’s relationship with Israel had become through his experiences being the forest’s caretaker.
    The strength of Yehoshua’s writing is his ability to create nuanced, deep characters that you get to know well, though they can still surprise you and reveal more about themselves later on. Sometimes these revelations are not at all pleasant, but they augment the reader’s interest in and the overall complexity of the character.
    Not only are his characters nuanced, but their relationships to each other, whether Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Arab, are complex as well. Very few bridge the national or ethnic divide with friendship, but some unpredictable and remarkable relationships, whether of business, convenience or necessity, arise. His portrayal of characters in their respective domestic situations is remarkable. When it comes to a family’s dynamics, you feel fully involved due to the way he shows (and doesn’t tell!) the way a family member feels about their interactions and others’ actions.
    Yehoshua has experimented with different writing styles. His “Journey to the End of the Millennium” was rough going for me, with multiple clauses and sub-clauses within one sentence, and very little dialogue. “The Lover” changes perspective from one character to the next many times throughout the book, yet this device doesn’t feel jarring or unfocused. I have not yet read “Mr. Mani,” but it is said to have a story that goes back in time, as well as only one side of dialogues of different people in the Mani family through the years. “Liberated Bride,” while having tangential tendencies, is as “normal” as his writing goes. I just began “A Woman in Jerusalem,” and it is promising to be a quiet, enjoyable read in his less experimental vein.
    When the professor entered the classroom, she would greet us with “shalom.” Granted, it was a small thing, but I felt welcome both in her classroom and to explore the larger world of Israeli literature with her and my fellow classmates.
Both this and the quality of the work we read left a lasting impression on me. I have enjoyed revisiting the literature we read for the class, and look forward to reading more Israeli writers as time goes on.  - In addition to Yehoshua, readers may enjoy Amos Oz, David Grossman, and the hard-to-find-but-worth-it collection “Ribcage: Israeli  Women’s Fiction.”

2006 Staff Picks
Devil of NankingThe Devil of Nanking
By Mo Hayder
Penguin Books, $7.99

Recommended by Michelle
Like the intense thrillers by Philip Kerr, The Devil of Nanking is a sophisticated suspense story that delves deep into the darkness of the human psyche. An English woman travels to
Japan in search of rare film footage from the Nanking Massacre in 1937. Her quest leads her on a harrowing journey through the Tokyo underworld.  Mo Hayder, with precision and an eye for historical detail, has crafted a haunting and stunning story of terrible beauty.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by WolvesSt. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
By Karen Russell
Knopf, $22.00
Recommended by Kathleen
One of my favorite books this year. Karen Russell bursts into the reader’s mind with this gorgeous and confident debut that features ten stories written with skill and fierce imagination. In the title story, a pack of girls raised by wolves are painstakingly reeducated by nuns. In “Haunting Olivia,” two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab.  Russell creates a rich, new mythology filled with whimsy and darkness. Fans of Jonathan Safran Foer, Kelly Link, and Denis Johnson will love Karen Russell. Have you been missing what it feels like to be totally absorbed in a wonderful book? Here is the answer to your longing!

Stories of Breece D'j PancakeThe Stories of Breece D’J Pancake
By Breece Pancake

Back Bay Books, $13.95
Recommended by Marjorie
Before the author’s life ended at the tender age of 26, he wrote an engaging collection of stories. You will enjoy these vignettes of life in rural West Virginia in the 1970’s. These were published posthumously by the author’s college professor and friend.

August 2006 Staff Picks

Lost and FoundLost and Found
By Carolyn Parkhurst
Little Brown and Company, $ 23.95
Recommended by Kay
This novel, a subtle satire about an amazing race type reality show, features seven unlikely couples who scour the globe searching for love, treasure, fame, family, and themselves. Employing a constantly shifting perspective, Parkhurst admirably juggles the large cast of characters, whose carefully constructed TV-ready personas slowly unravel. Emotional confrontations, surpressed desires, and unexpected connections surprise the Vannes contestants in this delightfully complex and fast-paced story. The game show is treated as an opportunity for the characters to decide “What have you found?” The answer for readers is a thoroughly enjoyable journey.

Sarah CanarySarah Canary
By Karen Joy Fowler
Plume, $14.00
Recommended by Michelle
Sarah Canary is a richly detailed historical novel with a slender vein of the unreal threaded through it. Chin Ah Kin is a Chinese railway worker in the Washington Territory in the late 1800s. A mysterious, seemingly mad, white woman appears, and Chin becomes her caretaker on a journey to find an asylum. Fowler brackets the chapters with period news clippings and pronouncements, and also captures the Victorian fascination with the freakish & bizarre. With dazzling flair, she has written a novel that can be read on multiple levels: for pure enjoyment of language, as a literary mystery, and as a commentary on racism and sexism in America.

JunkyJunky: The Definitive Text of Junk
(50th Anniversary Edition)
by William S. Burroughs
Penguin Books, $14.00
Recommended by Wendell
A disturbing, but fascinating glimpse into the world of heroin addicts, written dispassionately with veritas. While the language may seem dated, the idea that addiction is moral problem, rather than a health problem, is still relevant and prevalent today. This book is a subtle critique of addicts, their subculture, as well as societal attitudes towards them.

2006 Staff Picks

King of LiesKing of Lies
By John Hart
St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95
Recommended by Kay
This stunning debut is an exceptionally deep and complex mystery thriller. As suspenseful as it is poignant, it is a riveting murder mystery layered beneath the southern drawl of a humble North Carolina lawyer. When Work Pickens finds his father murdered, the investigation pushes a repressed family history to the surface, and he sees his own carefully constructed facade begin to crack.The author is a lawyer who knows his way around the courtrooms and jails, the police and the judges. Well-written and intricately plotted. Read the first chapter, and you will be hooked!

Ordinary ManAn Ordinary Man
By Paul Ruseabagina
Penguin, $23.95
Recommended by Charlotte
Paul Rusesabagina’s haunting and riveting memoir of his struggle to survive and provide leadership for 1,200 Rwandans who escaped the evil genocide of 1994 inspired the film Hotel Rwanda. The Rwandans looked up to Paul not as an “ordinary man”, but as a person of great determination, courage, and faith in a higher being. He is an exemplar of selflessness to the rest of the world.

Phaselock CodeThe Phaselock Code
By Roger Hart
Pocket Books, $14.00
Recommended by Cyndi
A thoroughly thought-provoking book, The Phaselock Code by geophysicist and marine biologist Roger Hart begins with a personal investigation into his near-death experience while climbing Mt. Everest. The experience forces him to question his view of reality, and over the course of years, Hart experiences other events that uphold his changing beliefs. Hart recounts his personal struggle to justify the spiritual world with scientific logic. A juxtaposition of quantum physics and metaphysical questions, this is an engrossing tale.

2006 Staff Picks

End of StoryEnd of Story
By Peter Abrahams
William Morrow, $24.95
Recommended by Steve
Local Falmouth author, Peter Abrahams, has written a compelling psychological thriller that offers unexpected suspense and surprise. Ivy, an ambitious struggling writer, takes a job teaching writing to prison inmates. Share her discovery of a rare talent in this most unlikely place and the reversal of roles that results. This is a terrific page-turner for the beach.

Blue Shoes and HappinessBlue Shoes and Happiness
By Alexander McCall Smith
Pantheon, $21.95
Recommended by Charlotte
This is the concluding book of the "adventures" of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency of Botswana. Ms. Precious with her infamous white van, and Ms. Makutsi, her assistant, investigate, probe, and eventually provide clever solutions to many age-old problems of mankind. Conclusion by Ms. Precious is that a "properly" brewed pot of bush tea will ease one's travels across the bumpy roads of life. One cannot buy happiness!

2006 Staff Picks

By A.S. Byatt
Vintage, $14.00

Recommended by Michelle
Possession is an intellectual mystery about two rival scholars, Maud and Roland, who endeavor to unravel the secrets of two Victorian poets through journals and letters. Brimming with a passionate love for words and books, Byatt has crafted a perfect novel of romance and wit. Anyone who is in love with the “reading life” will be enraptured by this book.

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down
By Nick Hornby
Riverhead Books, $14.00
Recommended by Steve
Funny, and at the same time could it not be? Imagine being so utterly depressed that you decide to end it all by jumping to your death, and at that very moment, you meet three others who wish to do the same. Each chapter is written from the distinct voice of that character and makes them all the more real. Another author I recommend who writes this way is Daniel Wallace.

2006 Staff Picks

Last of the Donkey PilgrimsLast of the Donkey Pilgrims
By Kevin O’Hara
Forge, $14.95
Recommended by Cyndi
This is one of the finest books about contemporary Ireland ever written. Sit back and enjoy this account of Kevin O’Hara’s unique journey around Ireland – by pony and cart. Among the Irish, opinion was divided as to whether Kevin was a madman . . . or a saint. Bets were made, and most of the locals predicted that this strange American wouldn’t even get out of the county, much less circle the entire island. But Kevin had a vision in his head, and a goal. And so, with Missy, the shaggy brown mare by his side, he set off on a long mad walk, an eighteen-hundred-mile trek that would take months. Hilarious, nostalgic, and witty, this engaging tale is highly recommended.

Two Minute RuleThe Two Minute Rule
By Robert Crais
Simon & Schuster, $24.95
Recommended by Kay 
With all the elements that have made Robert Crais one of the very best crime writers today, The Two Minute Rule is gripping, edgy suspense from the author who sets the standard when it comes to surprising plot twists and powerful characters. Anyone on the shady side of the law knows about the two minute rule…it is the amount of time you have at a bank robbery before the cops arrive. Max Holman broke the rule when he stopped to perform CPR on a bank customer. Finally out on parole, he hopes to reconnect with his estranged son. This is a superior mystery that also explores the nature of justice, love, and the sins of a father and son.

Spiral DanceSpiral Dance
By Starhawk

Harper San Francisco, $17.00
Recommended by Kelly
The influential masterwork that launched the American Goddess movement is now released in a beautiful 20th anniversary edition. This in depth history of the Goddess religion among different cultures is insightful and informative about feminine spirituality. Spiral Dance is a spiritual guidebook that provides both the tools of ancient practice and the means to adapt them to our lives today for according to Starhawk, “A living tradition is not static or fixed; it changes and responds to changing needs and changing times."

2006 Staff Picks

Lapham RisingLapham Rising
by Roger Rosenblatt
Ecco $23.95
Recommended by Kathleen
Lapham Rising is a furiously funny novel that Cape residents will find all too true. Harry March, a disgruntled novelist, is outraged by the huge trophy mansion that is being built across from his home in the Hamptons. His plot to bring down the house sets up a comedy of errors. Rosenblatt skewers our society’s worst excesses with a deft touch; he is a modern day Jonathan Swift.

Stories of Your Life and OthersStories of Your Life and Others
by Ted Chiang
Orb, $14.95
Recommended by Michelle
Ted Chiang’s short story collection is a heady blend of pure science and human emotion. He incorporates Fermat’s Principle of Least Time into a story about remembering the future and the loss of a child. In “Division by Zero” a mathematical concept explains the disintegration of a relationship. The award winning stories are intense, brilliant and captivating…they deserve a wider audience.


by Pete Dexter,
Vintage $13.00
Winner of the National Book Award. Train is vintage Pete Dexter - a fierce, tautly written novel of suspense and violence. Set in 1953, a young black man named Train is a golf prodigy who comes to the attention of a gambler with a plan. Add in a beautiful, wounded woman, and a dangerous triangle of scarred people is set to implode in this hypnotic crime novel. “Exquisite, painful. . . he’s the Faulkner of our time; just when you’ve passed judgment on a character, Dexter pulls the rug out from under think you understand fear and race?” – Los Angeles Times

2006 Staff Picks

The InnocentThe Innocent
by Harlan Coben
Dutton, $26.95
Recommended by Kay
An electrifying novel that peeks behind the white picket fences of suburbia. It is a twisting, turning, emotionally charged story, and a compelling tale of the choices people make and the repercussions. It keeps you guessing, and is stocked with fascinatingly creepy characters.

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Knopf, $24.00
Recommended by Michelle
Ishiguro has written five other acclaimed novels, including Remains of the Day. His sixth, Never Let Me Go, is another stunning feat of writing. The choosing of words and details to fill each scene is done with such precise skill that the power of the novel grows imperceptibly until the final pages. Three children are bound by a terrible fate, pawns in a society that doesn’t see them as human. Particularly striking is the exploration of childhood logic, memory and behavior that becomes almost mythical upon retelling. This is a futuristic morality tale in the tradition of Margaret Atwood.

Gentlemen and PlayersGentlemen & Players
by Joanne Harris
William Morrow, $24.95
Recommended by Marjorie
This intriguing novel, set at an English boys school, is cleverly constructed. Each chapter offers a piece of the puzzle, presenting a challenge for the reader to solve. You won’t want to put this book down!

December 2005 & January 2006
Staff Picks...

Andrew Jackson  Andrew Jackson:
His Life & Times

by H.W. Brands
Doubleday, $35.00

Recommended by Marjorie
"A great gift. This is by far and above the best biography I have ever read. The author has a wonderfully engaging writing style, which brings out Jackson’s colorful character to its fullest while also keeping the reader informed of the historical timeline."
Red Azelea  Red Azalea
by Anchee Min
Berkley Books, $14.00

Recommended by Michelle

“A searing memoir about coming of age in communist China. The language is spare and beautiful.”
 The Truth The Truth With Jokes
by Al Franken
Dutton Publishing, $25.95
Recommended by Stephen
If you are disenchanted with George Bush this book is for you. It is funny and insightful.
 High Tide in Tucson

High Tide in Tucson
by Barbara Kingsolver
Perennial, $13.00

Recommended by Cyndi
“Kingsolver weaves together the mundane and the mystery of life in a series of wise and thought provoking essays. Highly recommended.”

 The Burn Journals The Burn Journals
by Brent Runyon
Vintage, $12.95
Recommended by Kathleen
“A true story. Brent Runyon captures the essence of fourteen year old angst in a dramatic and well-written fashion. I recommend parents and their teens read and discuss this book.
 The Feast of Love  The Feast of Love
by Charles Baxter
Vintage, $14.00
Recommended by Pete

“A different kind of love story. Not beautiful people in exotic locations unless you consider Ann Arbor exotic.”
 Saving Fish from Drowning Saving Fish from Drowning
by Amy Tan
Putnam, $26.95
Recommended by Charlotte
“A mesmerizing new novel from
Amy Tan. Her best book yet! 12 American tourists traveling through China and Burma experience a  sudden disaster. Tan provokes responses to the ques-tions...what is  real, and how do we know what  is fiction? She seeks answers to moral questions and the secrets at the heart of every individual"
 Between You and Me

Between You and Me
by Mike Wallace
Recommended by Kathleen
"Great gift for someone over 40! An informative and awesome trip down memory lane through the eyes of a controversial newsman. History buffs will love it-can be read in short bursts!"

 Out of the Cave Out Of The Cave:
A First Look at Philosophy

by Dan McCullough
Limulus Press
Recommended by Stephen
"This book is ideal for the person with no background in philosophy...clear and concise, it's a joy to read and learn. I highly recommend it!"
 The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea  The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea
by Yukio Mishima
Recommended by Charlotte
"A novella: haunting, riveting page turner, thought provoking, disturbing, prosaic; Noboru, the protagonist, is innocent and at the same time rebellious and violent: Ryuji, a sailor who is against a land-based society."