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2005 Staff Picks
By Genre


  • Elizabeth Berg
    The Year of Pleasures
    After her dear husband dies, Betta leaves the life they shared in Boston to begin a new life in a small Midwestern town. Struggling with deep grief, she wonders how she can ever go on without him. In her fifties, Betta is too young to give up, but not yet ready to start over. Into her lonely life walks a ten-year-old neighbor boy, her three best friends from college, a young handyman, and a charming older gentleman. Follow Betta's efforts to move forward and rebuild her life, as she learns to appreciate joy in everyday routines. By turns poignant and heartwarming, this lovely novel was a relaxing and pleasant summer read.
    Recommended by Karen R., August 2005

  • Francesca Lia Block

  • Necklace of Kisses
    Weetzie Bat, the heroine of the Weetzie Bat novels, is now forty. Her Secret Agent Lover Man is now just Max. There are no more enchanting kisses. Cherokee Bat and Witch Baby are in college. In short, Weetzie's life has lost it magic. She decides to take a break and visit the Pink Hotel to refind herself. What follows is pure, numinous, Francesca Lia Block. Block delicately renders the cast of the Weetzie Bat books at this new stage, enforcing the lesson that magic can be found at any age.
    Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

  • Geraldine Brooks

  • March
    Inspired by Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Geraldine Brooks imagines and develops the character of Captain March, who leaves behind his family and idealistically acts on his convictions to become a chaplain in the Union army. Drawing from primary source documents, including letters written by Louisa May’s father, Brooks creates a character who is devastated by the horrors and injustices of war. Although his letters home to his family do not reflect the brutalities he has witnessed, March’s idealistic dreams are shattered as he realizes that even his beloved North is capable of inflicting terrible injustices. Surviving a nearly fatal illness, March returns home and must find a way to reconnect with his family. The reader shares in the heart-wrenching drama as March attempts to cope with the challenge of understanding reality even as he struggles to rebuild his dreams.
    Recommended by Karen R., May 2005

  • A.S. Byatt
    Possession is subtitled A Romance, but this is not your typical romance novel. Two current day scholars - Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey - are driven to discover the truth behind an affair between two nineteenth century writers - Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The search to unravel the mystery begins when Roland find letters written by Ash to an unnamed woman. As he and Maud piece together the facts of the unknown liaison between Ash and LaMotte, Mitchell and Bailey begin a romance of their own. The hidden life of Ash and LaMotte is intriguing and its implications far reaching for the scholars. The theme of possession is touched on in the relationships between numerous people. Byatt writes a highly intellectual romance filled with literary references mixing myths, poetry, and letters. At times not an easy read, but worth it in the end.
    Recommended by Joanne, March 2005

  • Orson Scott Card

  • Shadow of the Giant
    This is the fourth book in the "Bean" series, which begins with the events of Ender's Game, but remains on Earth and follows the friends Ender left behind. By now, the children of Battle School are in their teens, and nobody would argue that they're still children. Bean and Petra have some of their own, in fact... they just don't know where they are. Alai's Caliph of the Muslim world, Virlomi's running India, and Han Tzu ("Hot Soup") is emperor of China. Oh, and don't forget Peter Wiggin, the Hegemon - it's his job to make sure the Battle Schoolers don't destroy the world. This book is a satisfying conclusion to the series' issues of world history, although you're left (not unpleasantly) wondering what happened to a few of the characters at the end.
    Recommended by Denise, April 2005

  • Stephen Carter

  • The Emperor of Ocean Park
    Caught in a circle of never-ending questions, Talcott is determined to understand the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sudden death of his father, Judge Oliver Garland. The Judge left a strange message for Talcott, trusting his son to take care of the "arrangements," leaving clues only Talcott can solve. As Talcott tries to figure out the convoluted secrets of his father's life, he becomes totally absorbed, risking not only his marriage and career, but even his own life. This intriguing novel is a real page-turner, with a finely crafted plot and well-developed characters. Highly recommended.
    Recommended by Karen R., August 2005

  • Susanna Clarke
    Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell
    Clarke's fiction debut both invites and defies comparisons to other books. It's Harry Potter for adults; it's Jane Austen with magic; it's War and Peace, only accessible and engaging. It has elements of romance, poetry, history, and humor, and yet it is in its own unique category. Mister Norrell is a practical magician, the last in England. In 1806, England has a surfeit of theoretical magicians, but practical magic has all but disappeared. It is Norrell's mission to restore England's grand magical tradition. Jonathan Strange is Norrell's pupil -- and his rival. This intricately-plotted novel takes us onto the battlefield with Napoleon, to the salons of Europe with Lord Byron, and into the palace of King George III himself. Clarke's language is beautiful and lyrical and perfectly captures the voice of the time. Neil Gaiman calls Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell "the finest English Novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." We agree.
    Recommended by Rebecca, February 2005

  • Frank Darabont

  • Walpuski's Typewriter
    Walpuski was a struggling writer, with five dollars to his name, when his typewriter broke. Getting it fixed on credit turned out to be the best, worst, and most dangerous thing that ever happened to him.
    This novella was written by a very young Darabont, long before he got into a film career. He admits it was a silly, pulpy, and distinctly unpolished piece several times over the course of the introduction. Still, it's entertaining, it has a classic horror feel to it, and it definitely pays homage to the greats who influenced him. Darabont works for Castle Rock Entertainment, and was involved in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as well as a few others.
    Recommended by Denise, October 2005

  • Nelson DeMille
    Night Fall
    What really happened to TWA flight #800? Why did it crash off the coast of Long Island? Was it mechanical failure, as the government report concluded, or was it shot down by a surface to air missile? On the evening of July 17, 1996 a man and a woman engaged in an adulterous affair on a deserted Long Island beach, videotaped their antics. Their video inadvertently recorded the explosion and subsequent crash of Flight 800. Five years later, a career FBI agent convinces her husband, an agent of the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force, to reopen the crash investigation and locate the incriminating video. Their investigation leads to a compelling hunt, packed with suspense and intrigue. You won’t be able to put down this page-turner, until you read the very last page. Based on true events.
    Recommended by Karen R., February 2005

  • Janet Evanovich
    Metro Girl
    Alexandra Barnaby's life is hum-drum until her brother calls her long-distance and a woman screams in the background. Then he disappears and Alex's (Barney's) life becomes anything but ordinary. She travels to the Florida Keys to find him and finds herself caught up in a mystery of international intrigue. With Hooker, aka Nascar guy, Barney sets offshore into Cuban territory to save her brother's life, dodging angry Cuban gold seekers and cops along the way. The novel is classic Evanovich with loads of mystery, laughs in the style of sexual innuendo, and a bit of romance. I thoroughly enjoyed this new set of characters even though I'm already addicted to the Stephanie Plum crew of Evanovich's most popular previous books.
    Recommended by Terry, January 2005

  • Jonathan Safran Foer
    Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    Oskar Schell is a 9-year old boy on a mission: to discover what a key left behind by his father, a victim September 11th terrorist attacks, might unlock. With few leads, eccentric Oskar, (a self-described inventor, jewelry designer, jewelry fabricator, amateur entomologist, Francophile, vegan, origamist, pacifist, percussionist, amateur astronomer, computer consultant, amateur archeologist, and collector), begins wandering the boroughs of New York City to ask the help of strangers who share a common link. Employing whimsical fantasy, heartbreaking realism, and a scattering of quirky literary devices (photographs, numeric codes, playful typography, etc.) Foer has created an emotional narrative that is touching and inspiring.
    Recommended by Brad, April 2005

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

  • Diana Gabaldon
    This book appears to be a regular historical romance for the first few pages, while Claire Randall and her husband relax in Scotland at the end of WWII. However, by a quirk of fate, Claire discovers an ancient stone circle that inexplicably throws her back into the 1700s. The adventures that follow involve an abusive British army officer, a mysterious Scottish outlaw, and the entire clan MacKenzie of Leoch. Funny, charming, nerve-wracking, and heart wrenching, but don't worry! Four more books follow, and the author has plans for a sixth.
    Recommended by Denise, January 2005

  • Mary Gordon

  • Pearl
    Pearl Meyers traveled to Ireland to study linguistics. How is it, then, that we find her now chained to the American Embassy in Dublin, close to death from starvation? Maria, Joseph and Hazel ask themselves this question as they struggle, each in his/her own way, to convince Pearl that life is too precious to throw away, even for a political cause. Told largely in flashback, the novel explores how religion, politics, and the circumstances of birth make us who we are, and shape our relationship to the divine. Although the omniscient narrator's tone is sometimes gratingly pedantic, the narrative is arresting enough to hold all but the most anti-intellectual reader's attention. Pearl's grief over her supposed transgressions, Maria's stubborn blindness to her own faults, and Joseph's temporary flirtation with madness weave around each other like silken cords, which Hazel, Pearl's doctor, must skillfully unwind without slicing the bonds. This book will appeal to those who like literary fiction, as well as those who like to read about spiritual conflicts and crises. A compelling read.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, May 2005

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

  • Kent Haruf
    Ah, look at all the lonely people in Holt, Colorado. In this sequel to his best-selling novel, Plainsong, Haruf continues the story of the McPheron brothers, their friend Victoria Robideaux, and her daughter Katie. However, the novel is also a story about quiet desperation, bad choices, and dashed hopes. Resignation blankets both the major and minor characters as they weave in and out of each other's lives, changing each other occasionally for the better, but most often for the worse. If you're hoping to escape from everyday life and its problems, this novel isn't for you. If, however, you'd like to read a story about ordinary people trying to scrape by with as much dignity as they can muster, you should definitely take a look at Eventide.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, February 2005

  • Pete Hautman

  • Godless
    This award-winning young adult novel rocked my world with its snappy dialogue and wry perspective. Jason Bock doesn't believe in God. This causes some friction at home and at church, so he decides to invent his own religion in an attempt to prove how stupid organized religion is. Much like bona fide religious faiths, Jason's starts to take interesting turns as his friends get involved and worship "The Ten-legged One" in different ways. What knocked me out about this story was its honest dialogue; nobody comes off as preachy or sulky in this story - just as normal teenagers trying to figure out what they believe, and concerned parents who want their children to be healthy and happy. Lest this sound preachy, let me assure you that there's plenty of teenage geekboy slang and behavior to love, a subtle romantic subplot, and more snails than you can possibly count. Recommended for teens looking for fiction with an edge to it, as well as open-minded adults.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2005

  • Zoë Heller
    What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal
    I hate to admit it, but what drew me to this book was the cover. A pleasing arrangement of an apple and a cherry set against an ominous black background. What lies inside the cover, though, is equally as pleasing and ominous. Barbara Covett is a middle-aged schoolteacher who has been perfectly content to avoid any social interaction with her fellow teachers, that is until Sheba Hart joins the staff at St. George's as the new Art teacher. Barbara is drawn to Sheba and instantly sees the possibility of a true friend. Sheba also is drawn to someone, Steven Connolly, an underage male student. What follows is an engaging look at the scandalous affair that ensues between Sheba and Steven, the friendship that grows between Barbara and Sheba, and the eerie dependence that intensifies as the story progresses. Heller deftly moves the story forward while injecting fragments from the past giving the reader a practically simultaneous look at the characters' development and ultimate decline.
    Recommended by Hilary, January 2005

  • Frank Herbert
    Often referred to as "the most important science fiction book of all time," this book is one of those great classics that somehow never actually get read. Part of the problem is its dense language and deep philosophical debate. Part of it is the way the plot is structured. The characters often know what's going on before the reader, but Herbert never states this; he just lets the readers continue reading, confused and regularly feeling like they've missed something. However, most, if not all, is revealed in the end, and the book has so many relevant, timely issues to discuss that perseverance is always rewarded.
    Recommended by Denise, January 2005

  • Nick Hornby

  • A Long Way Down
    From one of today's most warm and devilishly-clever authors, comes the story of a has-been musician, a desperate mother, a shamed celebrity, and a bratty young girl, who meet haphazardly at a notorious suicide spot on New Year's Eve. After revealing their intentions to end their lives, this rag-tag group of unlikely compatriots share stories of their circumstances and personal failures with humor and wry honesty.
    Recommended by Brad, July 2005

  • Liz Jensen

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

  • Sue Monk Kidd

  • The Secret Life of Bees
    "Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open." With only this mysterious wisdom from out of thin air and a portrait of the Black Madonna to guide her, fourteen-year-old Lily travels to Tiburon, South Carolina to create a new future for herself. Accompanied by her grumpy, yet devoted, housekeeper, Rosaleen, Lily is taken in by August Boatwright, a beekeeper who sells honey, candles and other bee products to the townspeople of Tiburon. However, while these details constitute the backbone of the plot, no simple summary can begin to do justice to the moving beauty and sumptuous grace of Kidd's complex first novel about mothers lost, found and acquired through friendship and chance. If you've ever wanted a safe place to belong, you will enjoy the festive atmosphere of August's home, her friends, and the rituals and ceremonies they create to celebrate life, and you will cheer for Lily as she learns lessons both sweet and painful about becoming an adult woman. Once you're completely besotted, you can try Kidd's latest novel, The Mermaid Chair, to see how it measures up...but I think you'll be more likely to flip back to the first page and start again.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, 2005

  • Sharon Krum

  • The Thing About Jane Spring
    Jane Spring, attorney, was raised by a single father, a military man, who instilled in her his values: a sense of duty, loyalty, honesty, and aggression. Jane's certain that she has all the qualities any man would want, but she can't understand why first dates rarely turn into second dates, and second dates never turn into third dates. After overhearing a couple of colleagues discussing her, she realizes that maybe she has something to learn about how to find love. Jane decides to remake herself into the image of someone who's never had a problem with love: Doris Day. At first, Jane's new image confounds those around her. Has she gone insane? Is this just a ploy to win a high-profile case? But as Jane continues to stay in character, those around her begin to adjust, and realize that there really is something about Jane Spring. A light read about becoming who you want to be, The Thing About Jane Spring will please those readers who are looking for something fun and entertaining with a bit more wit and intelligence than some of the other "chick lit" offerings.
    Recommended by Karen B., July 2005

  • Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
    Born to Run
    This little forgotten gem is the purest urban-fantasy fluff, but the real selling point is how convincingly these authors weave their weird, unrelated story elements into a somewhat coherent world.
    Tannim is a sport-racing enthusiast and human mage. Keighvin Silverhair, his boss, is the leader and lord of Fairgrove Industries, a company with a secret double life. They don't just design, build, and race cutting-edge cars; it's also a true underhill Elfhame. Tania is a teen runaway, forced to turn to prostitution to survive-until she meets Tannim and the elves, who are fierce in their defense of abused children, of all species. Unfortunately, elves aren't all good guys. The Fairgrove crew has Dark-Elf enemies, and these scoundrels are willing to use any means necessary to destroy them. At first, Aurilia and Vidal are content to undermine Fairgrove's racing credibility, but when that becomes impossible, they begin to consider more discreet, and deadly, tactics.
    If you like fantasy of all kinds, read this book while traveling, lounging, or simply for a bit of "mind candy." Granted, it deals with some pretty heart-wrenching subjects, but if you stick it out, the Shining Heroes always save the day. It's the first of a series, so if you like it, there's plenty more where that came from!
    Recommended by Denise, February 2005

  • Doris Lessing

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

  • Leopoldo Lugones

  • Strange Forces
    While this Argentinean writer is not widely known in the U.S., his work is often compared to that of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Strange Forces is a collection of short stories which make for quick and entertaining reads. Lugones is a florid writer who incorporates biblical, mythlogical, historical and scientific themes into his haunting tales.
    Recommended by Kate, May 2005

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

  • Ron McLarty
    The Memory of Running
    "Discovered" by Stephen King after years of rejection from big name publishers, author Ron McLarty delivers a unique, inspiring, and at times, macabre debut novel with The Memory of Running. Unlikely protagonist, Smithson Ide, a drunk, overweight, and apathetic loner, finds himself at an awkward crossroads in his life when soon after his parents meet a tragic end, he learns that his long-missing sister has been found dead. Starting off on a cross-county journey by bike, leaving his home in Rhode Island to claim his sister's body in Los Angeles, Smithy confronts past demons and undergoes profound changes as he meets a bevy of strange and inspiring characters along the way.
    Recommended by Brad, February 2005

  • Walter Mosley

  • 47
    You already know and love Mosley's mystery fiction, particularly his gripping, gritty novels about private investigator Easy Rawlins. Now you have a chance to experience Walter Mosely in a whole new way as he turns his attention to young adult fiction. Forty-seven is a slave on Tobias Stewart's Corinthian Plantation, which means his life is seemingly destined to be nasty, brutish and short. When a runaway slave named Tall John appears on the plantation, however, everything Forty-seven thinks he knows about life is turned upside down. Tall John is actually a being from another planet, come to find the chosen one who will save not just Earth, but the entire universe, from the evil machinations of a creature called Wall. This amazing, cross-genre story combines the brutal realities of a slave narrative with the magic and mystery of a fantasy novel. Without being preachy or didactic, Tall John shows Forty-seven (and the reader) what it means to be a free man in a chained world. This is a great novel for parents and children to read together, as it works on several levels, and will give readers of any age plenty to talk about. Recommended for readers aged thirteen and up.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, June 2005

  • Joyce Carol Oates

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

  • Richard North Patterson
    Terri Paget has fifty-nine days to convince the California courts that her client, Rennell Price, is innocent of the horrific crime for which he has been sentenced to death by lethal injection. This complex, compassionate legal thriller ramps up the suspense page after page and never lets you take anything for granted. Each chapter reveals more about the accused murderer, his victim, the gritty subcultures in which they were raised, and the dark secrets that make achieving justice for Rennell so important to Terri and her family. Patterson's plot unfolds like a poisoned flower, revealing in its petal-pages just how difficult moral, ethical, and legal decisions about the death penalty are. If you like fiction about contemporary issues and social justice--or the lack thereof--you'll definitely like Conviction.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2005

  • Alice Randall

  • The Wind Done Gone
    Alice Randall's novel is a satirical alternative re-telling of Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone with the Wind. Told from the perspective of Cindy, Scarlet O'Hara's biracial half sister, the book is alternately witty, touching and wise. It is a fascinating, refreshing, and more realistic lens through which to view Gone with the Wind.
    Recommended by Kate, March 2005

  • Marilynne Robinson

  • Gilead
    As his health continues to decline, a 77-year-old father begins a lengthy correspondence to his 7-year-old son. Through letters to his young son, the Reverend John Ames thoughtfully reflects on his life, philosophy, and faith, while sharing stories of his mysterious and startling family history dating as far back as the Civil War. Compelling and mesmerizing, the letters illuminate the life and philosophy of a country preacher in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, much as his sermons reflected on the truth as he saw it. By turns poignant and dramatic, this aging father passes on to his son the knowledge and wisdom gained through a lifetime of experiences.
    Recommended by Karen R., May 2005

  • Joel Rosenberg
    Guardians of the Flame
    Fantasy Gaming: You roll your dice, create your character, and delve into action and adventure. There's nothing quite like it…all the fun of living in a fantasy novel, without actually risking your skin. Unless, of course, you're a character in the book Guardians of the Flame, by Joel Rosenberg.
    An omnibus of the first three books in the Guardians of the Flame series, this book tells the story of seven intrepid adventures that suddenly find themselves sucked from the gaming table into the game. Their "real life" personas are fully integrated with their gaming personas, for good and ill. Karl Cullinane, Walter Slovotsky and the rest find themselves battling wizards, slavers, and ancient dragons as they struggle to make their way home - and beyond.
    Like many fantasy novels, the plot is the driving force behind this book. Although the dialogue is sometimes stilted and the writing lacks style, the great conflicts over which the players must triumph and the adventures in which they take part are riveting. The characters are also quite engaging: Karl Cullinane, the gawky college student who is incapable of committing to anything is suddenly a powerful warrior who must take control in battle; James Finnegan, crippled in this world by muscular dystrophy yet a powerful dwarf who wields a mean battleaxe in the other; Andy-Andy, whose very first foray into fantasy gaming results in a struggle to control her magic in Ehvenar; and several other characters, all of whom you learn to love. The characters are not without their flaws, however, which make them all the more likeable.
    Guardians of the Flame is set up much like an actual role-playing game would be, with several small tasks (or modules), leading to a major task. In all, this collection of novels is an excellent choice for fantasy readers, gamers or otherwise, who are looking for a fast-paced, adventurous read.
    Recommended by Karen B., February 2005

  • Lisa See
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
    Lily and Snow Flower are laotong, or "old sames." This means they chose to draw up a contract that makes them soul friends for life. But life is very long, and sometimes hard, and the girls' relationship is tested and strained at numerous points as they grow to womanhood in ancient China. Reminiscent of Pearl S. Buck, but more intimately concerned with the secret world of women, Lisa See's delicate historical novel is a story of secrets and lies, love and letters, wishes and writing, friendship and fracture. These various plot threads are framed against the rigid structure of a society that considers a woman worthless unless she bears sons, and binds her feet to suit its own cruel conception of beauty. See's elegantly restrained prose and meticulous attention to detail knocked me out; if you like character-driven historical fiction, and enjoy reading about women's friendships, you will definitely want to give this novel a try.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2005

  • Peter Sheridan

  • Every Inch of Her
    Philomena Nolan is a brash, plus-sized, smoking, tattooed mother of five from Dublin who decides to leave her cruel husband Tommo (and her whole family) and join a convent. After just a few days it is obvious to the nuns that Philo is definitely not nun material, but they take a liking to her after she turns their local senior center upside-down by adding prizes to the bingo games and arranging a game of "Blind Date" that reunites two former enemies on a romantic date at a local hotel. Tommo tries to get back together, but Philo just doesn't know if she can trust him or is she can face returning to her old life.
    Philo is the type of character that you'd like to have as a friend: kindhearted, flawed, gutsy, spontaneous and a lot of fun. In turn hilarious and poignant, every page of Every Inch of Her was a pleasure to read.
    Recommended by Susan, August 2005

  • Anita Shreve

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

  • Amy Thomson

  • Storyteller
    Samad is an orphan, homeless and hungry, when he stops on the street corner to listen to Teller. Her story touches him so much that he wants to give her a gift, but because he has no money he steals a loaf of bread. When he is caught, Teller takes him under her wing. Although at first reluctant to take on the role of mother, Teller's harsel (imagine a giant fish with human intelligence, able to carry humans inside their bodies without harm) convinces her that she needs Samad as much as he needs her.
    Although peppered with minor flaws (awkward dialogue and an overenthusiasm to leave a moral message) this is a fantasy novel that manages to touch the heart. Thomson draws the reader through the lives of her characters, combining the story of Samad, Asbeh (the harsel) and Teller with tales of the history of Thellasos and the Pilot, the original settler of the planet. By the end of the novel, I found myself carring deeply about all of the characters, very much involved in the minor details of Samad's life and anxious to know what path he would take next.
    Recommended by Karen B, April 2005

  • J.D. Townsend

  • The Assassin's Dream
    When a disease eliminates 3/4 of the Earth's male population, the women re-organize the government into a series of World Councils, which strive to improve the world through genetic manipulation. What constitutes improvement, however, is called into question when K-class Assassin Kay Black has a disturbing experience during what should have been a routine assignment. Kay, and others like her, are the products of an underground genetic crusade that has a different vision of humanity's destiny than the Councils' As the superhumans awake to their potential, political chaos and intrigue ensue on multiple levels as the various sisterhoods battle it out for the right to shape Earth's future. As I read, I found myself chilled, fascinated, disturbed and encouraged by turns; if you like political intrigue and/or dystopian sci-fi, you will probably enjoy this disturbing excursion into the world of "what-if."
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, July 2005

  • Jack Vance

  • Tales of the Dying Earth
    If the sun were only a few short years from burning out, how would you live your life? If you were a magician or an adventurer in Vance's "Dying Earth" series, your goal would be to make your existence as pleasant and comfortable as possible in the face of oblivion. This collection of the four novellas in the "Dying Earth" series follows the adventures of various spellcasters and wanderers as they travel the globe searching for treasure, magical artifacts, and as many creature comforts as they can acquire. Trickery, guile and deceit abound, and loyalty and love are rare, making them all the sweeter when they pop up in unexpected places. My favorite of the four, "Rhialto the Marvellous," pits the foppish Rhialto against his brother magicians in their quest for magical stones, political influence, and the attentions of the fairer sex. Vance--a/k/a John Holbrook Vance, a/k/a Ellery Queen--is a highly literate, painfully sardonic writer who clearly keeps a dictionary on hand at all times, in order to use strange and unusual words. The effect, however, is more pleasing than pedantic; if you enjoy dreamily strange fantasy novels with dry, wry humor, you should definitely pick up this collection.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2005

  • Thomas Wheeler

  • The Arcanum
    If books were fruit, Thomas Wheeler's first novel would be a tangelo: a curious hybrid creature, known for its juicy pulpiness and strange bite. Imagine, if you will, that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were the head of a secret society dedicated to defeating the forces of evil. Imagine further that said society's fractious, squabbling members included Harry Houdini, Marie Laveau, and H.P. Lovecraft. This unlikely (in more ways than one) cadre of heroes is then plunged into a fast-paced series of events and adventures that feature William Randolph Hearst and Aleister Crowley as supporting characters, a book of apocryphal scripture, a series of grisly murders, a host of gem-eyed demons, a highly disturbing seance, frustrated sexual advances, unrequited love, and more underground horrors than you can shake a very large walking stick at. Wheeler, a veteran screenwriter, has sacrificed character development here for plot; in fact, the short, descriptive chapters read as if he were trying to make it as easy as possible for someone to write the film treatment, and most of the dialogue is better left imagined than described.
    The book, however, works on two levels: readers familiar with the subject matter will have a good time wrestling with the novel's historical accuracy, while fans of weird, pulpalicious smackdowns will relish the chases and fight sequences, as well as the gloomy, desperate atmosphere in which they're soaked. By no means a literary classic, this is, nevertheless, the sort of book that, to borrow the fictional Lovecraft's point of view, "makes a dull, gray world suddenly quite remarkable" (250). Recommended for adult readers who like their escapism wrapped up with a little history and a lot of modern-day Matthew Lewis sensibility.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, September 2005

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Classic Fiction

  • Ray Bradbury

  • Fahrenheit 451
    Imagine a world in which owning a book is illegal. It's a world in which few people care to have books anyway- they just cause people to think and have unpleasant feelings. But for those who do have books, their discovery means having your house along with the offending items burnt to the ground. Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to set such fires. His feelings of dissatisfaction and emptiness lead him to want to read the books he is destroying, and this decision to pursue knowledge changes his life forever.
    Recommended by Joanne, January 2006

  • Truman Capote

  • In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
    Capote's "nonfiction novel" about a multiple homicide in a sleepy Kansas town has been hailed as a watermark of modern crime reportage. Written as a narrative, Capote slowly unfolds actual events that surrounded the brutal Midwestern slayings in acute detail, drawing from evidence, testimonies, and newspaper reports. Punctuating the keen storytelling is a detectable undercurrent of Americana, as well as up close and personal examinations of the crimes perpetrators.
    Recommended by Brad, January 2006

  • Charles Dickens

  • The Adventures of Oliver Twist
    Excluding Shakespeare, Charles Dickens has given form and significance, to more characters that populate our imagination than any other writer. Oliver Twist, Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Bill Sykes and the exquisite Mr/Mrs Bumble are members of the honored club. Extremely entertaining characters make for an extremely entertaining novel. Yet, Oliver Twist is most important as the jumping off point for Mr. Dickens life long assault upon the hypocrisy and cold, cold, heartedness of Victorian England. An England where children of the poor were bought/sold and used, like, what the Romans referred to as "living tools." Oliver Twist is one of these children, as was the author himself. Charles Dicken's "social consciousness" his capacity to effect change and his gift to delight like no other are what make him one of the divinities of world literature. "Please, Sir, I want some more."
    Recommended by John, January 2006

  • Charles Dickens

  • Our Mutual Friend
    Often overlooked in the classic book lover's mad rush to pore over Great Expectations or David Copperfield one more time, Dickens' last complete novel is the fitting cap to an accomplished career. Peopled with the diverse range of sweethearts and scoundrels one expects from the master, this book will delight those who read Dickens for his oddly amusing characters. The central plot revolves around John Harmon, who will inherit a fortune if he marries Bella Wilfer, a lovely, yet misguided, young lady with materialistic goals; an accident at sea gives Harmon the opportunity to court Bella in disguise, and attempt to mold her character into something a little more tractable. Meanwhile, impoverished young Lizzie Hexam, who makes her living as a waterwoman, finds herself in a love triangle with two completely inappropriate men, one of whom frightens her deeply, while the other tempts her to thoughts of a life far above her station. Secrets, lies, mistaken identity and the blurring of social roles, to say nothing of the inevitable criss-crossing of plots and subplots, make this broody novel a fascinating read for a chilly December night.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, December 2005

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  • Frank Darabont

  • Walpuski's Typewriter
    Walpuski was a struggling writer, with five dollars to his name, when his typewriter broke. Getting it fixed on credit turned out to be the best, worst, and most dangerous thing that ever happened to him.
    This novella was written by a very young Darabont, long before he got into a film career. He admits it was a silly, pulpy, and distinctly unpolished piece several times over the course of the introduction. Still, it's entertaining, it has a classic horror feel to it, and it definitely pays homage to the greats who influenced him. Darabont works for Castle Rock Entertainment, and was involved in The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, as well as a few others.
    Recommended by Denise, October 2005

  • Shirley Jackson

  • The Haunting of Hill House
    A subtle, psychological horror, The Haunting of Hill House revolves around emotionally-troubled Eleanor Vance, who agrees to take part in an anthropologist's unusual study of "supernatural manifestations" at a haunted manor. Though not overtly scary, Jackson skillfully creates an unnerving atmosphere that slowly consumes both the book's protagonists and its readers.
    Recommended by Brad, October 2005

  • Dean Koontz

  • Velocity
    Bartender Billy Wiles leads a fairly reclusive life, spending spare time only by himself and with his fiance who lies in a nursing home in a coma. That is, until he finds a note on his windshield: If you don't take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have six hours to decide. The choice is yours. While not sure whether or not it is a joke, he does confide in a friend. But the next day a schoolteacher is found murdered. Then his friend is murdered. When Billy receives a second note, he realizes he cannot go to the police because evidence of the murders has been planted in his house. For the next few days, Billy finds himself doing things he never imagined doing-- breaking into houses, hiding corpses, destroying evidence, and stalking a killer that keeps souveneirs of his murders in formaldehyde in glass jars. But can he find the killer before the killer murders his fiance, the only person that makes him want to be alive? Velocity is a fast-paced thriller that keeps the reader guessing until the end.
    Recommended by Terry, November 2005

  • Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

  • The Mad Cook of Pymatuning
    It's the summer of 1952, and seventeen-year-old Jerry Muller is looking forward to another summer at Camp Seneca. This year, he's bringing along his nine-year-old half-brother, both to introduce him to the camp Jerry loves and to prove to his father than he is necessary in Peter's life. But this year, something's very different and very wrong and Camp Seneca. Chief Wahoo, the Jewish doctor who's always been in charge of Indian lore at the camp, is gone, and in his place is a real Indian, Buck Silverstone. Silverstone, aka Redclaw, takes his job very seriously, and suddenly time-tested traditions are taking on a sinister edge. Jerry's very wary, and even a little bit scared -- should he grab Peter and run, or is he over-reacting? Treacherous pranks and strange happenings in the woods build the tension in this thriller, which brings to life a 1950s summer camp.
    Recommended by Karen B., November 2005

  • Gregory Maguire

  • Lost
    Hoping to at last create an adult work of fiction, Winnie Rudge travels to London to research the topic of her latest book, Jack the Ripper. The plans have been set. She will travel to London and stay with her step-cousin John Comester in the flat he occupies at the top of the Rudge family home. Before she departs things start going wrong, but in London things go worse than she could ever expect. John is nowhere to be found, there are workmen tearing up the kitchen, and there is an infernal knocking inside the chimney. And this is only the beginning. Maguire interweaves references to children's stories, A Christmas Carol, and the story of Jack the Ripper into a spellbinding tale of ghosts, both personal and otherworldly.
    Recommended by Ellen, December 2005

  • Christopher Moore

  • Practical Demonkeeping
    Catch, the human-eating demon has arrived in Pine Cove, California, along with his reluctant demon-keeper, Travis. Augustus Brine, owner of Brine's Bait, Tackle and Fine Wines, has just been informed by a tiny, wrinkled genie that he's the only one who can send the demon back to hell. As Travis tries to keep Catch's appetite in check, he's distracted by a beautiful waitress who looks vaguely familiar. Meanwhile, a hilarious cast of characters is in danger, including a witch wanna-be and an occult-obsessed owner of the local diner. Together they have to save their sleepy town from Catch's voracious hunger for people and power.
    Recommended by Kaarin, October 2005

  • Robert M. Price (Editor)

  • The New Lovecraft Circle
    Imitation has always been the sincerest form of flattery, and nowhere in fiction is this more true than in H.P. Lovecraft's Cthullu Mythos, a body of work that began with his own creations and extended its tentacles throughout horror fiction with Lovecraft's permission. The collection begins with a helpful essay that explains why this isn't a flagrant copyright violation, and also sets out some ground rules for what, in the editor's opinion, makes a story a legitimate part of the Mythos. If you're not in the mood for scholarship, you can turn directly to the twenty-five stories, which vary in quality, but have some common elements: ancient gods (mostly icky), ancient languages (mostly indecipherable, unless you're the last scion of a long line of wizards), and ancient secrets (most better left alone, all inevitably unearthed by pale, thin, scholarly men whose curiosity tends to do more harm than good). It's not a pretty view of the universe, this notion that beyond the fragile scrim of our dimension there are nasty things with teeth that want their planet back. However, if you want to be scared senseless, you can't do much better than this, unless you grab a volume of the original source material, which I also highly recommend.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, October 2005

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  • Reza Aslan

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

  • Joel Bakan

  • The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
    Corporate entities are programmed for one purpose only: to produce profit for the shareholders. Is there such a thing as "ethical" corporate behavior? Maybe, but only so long it doesn't affect the bottom line. Corporations, as Joel Bakan makes perfectly clear, are in fact legally obligated to place profit-making above everything else; profit at the expense of individuals, society, and sustainable life on earth. More alarmingly, Bakan explains how corporations have hijacked the very government that created them; in less than a century, they have come to dominate and corrupt nearly every aspect of our existance. The Corporation is an eye-opener, to say the least. In today's climate of corporate deregulation and privatization of anything and everything, Bakan's book is a revelation.
    Recommended by Jeff, April 2005

  • Bar Mitzvah Disco: the Music May Have Stopped But The Party's Never Over

  • The Jewish rite of passage into adulthood is chronicled in side-splitting detail in this collection of solicited photographs and testimonies of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs from the 1970's through the 1990's. Embarrassing hairstyles & fashion statements abound, as do hilarious self-depricating stories by Sarah Silverman, Jonathan Safren Foer, and other Jewish personalities.
    Recommended by Brad, December 2005

  • Charles Barkley

  • Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?
    In this book, Barkley interviews several prominent figures about their thoughts and observations on race, among other things. His comments are interspersed throughout. See what Tiger Woods thinks about his own career. Read Samuel L. Jackson's and Morgan Freeman's views of the film industry, and George Lopez's opinion on TV. Hear what Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are saying about race and politics. Get some insight on the relationship between the black and jewish communities. (And, see what everyone's saying about Bill Cosby's most controversial remarks.) As intelligent, eloquent, and fearless as I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It, but much more focused.
    Recommended by Denise, August 2005

  • Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
    He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys
    This non-fiction book, which reads more like fiction, is the product of a Sex and the City writer and consultant. A fun, quirky read with some true moments of insight into the nebulous world of relationships. So, even if you're currently in a relationship with someone who is into you, it's always humbling to look back to see how far you've come. Don't expect any life changing advice, simply sit back and enjoy.
    Recommended by Hilary, January 2005

  • Colby Buzzell

  • My War: Killing Time in Iraq
    In an age of rabid political partisanship it is refreshing to read an account of the Iraq War that is free of overt bias. Buzzell achieves this in a fluff-free memoir that recounts his year-long deployment with the US Army in Iraq. Stationed outside the northern city of Mosul, the author recounts the intense highs and dangerous lows he experiences while battling insurgents and adjusting to life in a war zone. To combat boredom, Buzzell begins chronicling these experiences on a blog that quickly becomes a barometer of truth for soldiers and military families, and a thorn-in-the-side of military brass. Though it is difficult to discern Buzzell's feelings about the justness of the war (he frequently provides support for it, but aligns himself with outspoken opponents), this tell-it-like-it-is account of military life is frank, funny, and irreverent.
    Recommended by Brad, January 2006

  • Thad Carhart

  • The Piano Shop on the Left Bank
    In the grand tradition of American expatriates in Paris, Carhart experiences great passion in the City of Lights. His muse, however, is not a lovely lady; instead, he is captivated by Desforges Pianos, a music store he passes every day while taking his children to school. After several frustrated attempts at penetrating the owner's reserve, Carhart finally gains access to the atelier and meets Luc, the storekeeper, who helps Carhart revive his long-lost desire to own a piano and play it regularly. Written in a passionately affectionate style, this memoir will touch anyone who has ever opened his or her heart to the power of music.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, November 2005

  • John Crawford

  • The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq
    When John Crawford joined up with Florida National Guard for help with college tuition he never guessed he would actually be deployed to a combat zone - the deal is one weekend a month, two weekends a year, right? But when he is shipped out to Kuwait before the invasion of Iraq, he realizes just how mistaken he'd been. Told with a degree of bitterness, but also with humility, this book provides a glimpse into the experiences of a reluctant soldier who wanted "nothing to do with someone else's war."
    Recommended by Brad, January 2006

  • Richard Dawkins
    The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution
    The Ancestor's Tale takes readers on a sweeping journey through human evolution. Beginning with the present and moving backwards in time, Dawkins introduces us to our genetic ancestors from apes and other vertebrate mammals all the way back to the very beginning of life on Earth four billion years ago. Dawkins is a meticulous scientists as well as a great storyteller, employing the most up-to-date research from the constantly evolving field of genetic archeology, including fossil and DNA evidence. A wealth of charts, illustrations and timelines will help readers grasp the science behind Dawkins's compelling theories. Bridging the gap between science and the humanities, the narrative structure of The Ancestor's Tale is loosely based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: the "pilgrimage" to our evolutionary roots is divided into 40 tales, each based on a separate group of organisms, each playing a critical part in the story of life on Earth. Although the scope of this book, weighing in at over 600 pages, may seem a bit daunting, Dawkins provides a unique, big-picture perspective on human evolution that is well worth the effort.
    Recommended by Jeff, Februrary 2005

  • Rachel DeWoskin

  • Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China
    Rachel DeWoskin spent the early 1990s working as a PR consultant in Beijing. She also just happened to be the unlikely star of a wildly popular nighttime soap opera, adored by some 600 million Chinese television viewers. Oh, and did I mention that she's a brilliant writer? Foreign Babes in Beijing is a priceless snapshot of unforgettable people riding on the euphoric waves of an ancient city's latest cultural renaissance. Don't be fooled by the fluffy title; this is one of most insightful memoirs you'll read this summer.
    Recommended by Jeff, August 2005

  • Bob Dylan

  • Chronicles, Vol. 1
    Few artists can muster the kind of creative energy that Dylan still maintains well into his sixties. In addition to his never-ending tour schedule, Dylan wrote and starred in a feature film in 2003 (the fascinating Masked and Anonymous), and now has put out the first of a planned three volume memoir. Chronicles, Vol. 1 is not a conventional, chronological autobiography--but at this point who would expect something conventional from Dylan anyway? Dylan's musings bounce from tangent to tangent, but his prose is always pitch-perfect. The book teems with a cast of characters akin to one of Dylan's epic songs of the sixties, like "Desolation Row" or "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Dylan waxes lyrical about some expected figures: Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash. But even more fun is hearing Dylan's thoughts on countless others, from Ricky Nelson to Tiny Tim, James Joyce to Bono, Gorgeous George to Frank Sinatra, Jr. Dylan may not cover all of the "big moments" that some were expecting, but this book definitely finds the old song-and-dance man in top form.
    Recommended by Keith, April 2005

  • Barbara Ehrenreich

  • Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream
    After her success in revealing how low-wage America lives and works in Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to find a corporate job as a midlevel executive and report about the relatively new difficulties that white collar employees face in a world in which companies routinely downsize and lay off workers for no other reason than to boost company profits. Instead, she was thrust into the world of white collar unemployment - because she couldn't find a job - and the people who help and assist the unemployed (often for a fee).
    During her time meeting with career coaches and attending boot camps and networking events Barbara Ehrenreich came to a few conclusions about job searching (and in white collar jobs in general). One, personality is considered to be more important than identifiable skills and experience. Two, be very careful how you spend your money and time. Since the mid-90s, a whole industry has sprung up to help--or, depending on your point of view, prey upon--white-collar job seekers. Watch out for events billed as "networking" opportunities that really have another agenda--like recruiting you into expensive coaching or proselytizing you into a particular religion. Three, don't count on Internet job sites to find you a job or even an interview. And finally, stop believing that it's your own fault. That's the first step to recognizing the common problems facing white-collar workers and responding to them.
    Recommended by Greg, December 2005

  • Liza Featherstone
    Selling Women Short
    In this hard-hitting look at one of the world's largest and most profitable companies, Featherstone explores allegations made by defendants in the class-action lawsuit Dukes vs. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. that suggest discrimination against female employees is inherent in Wal-Mart's company culture. Through extensive interviews of former (and some current) disgruntled employees, and the use of testimony provided by lawyers and witnesses on both sides of the case, Featherstone delivers a stunning expose of Wal-Mart's questionable labor practices and company policies. Featherstone makes no attempt at impartiality however, leaving her open to charges of bias. Read for yourself and decide.
    Recommended by Brad, February 2005

  • Len Fisher

  • How to Dunk a Doughnut: The Science of Everyday Life
    If you've ever wondered why mundane things work the way they do, you'll get a big kick out of Fisher's tongue-in-cheek explanations of the forces that govern everyday activities like cooking, shopping, and home repair. If you've ever caught a ball or thrown a boomerang, you'll appreciate Fisher's forays into the physics of sports. If you like beer or bubble bath, you'll appreciate the chapter on all things foamy. And if you're searching for just the right language to have "the talk" with your kids, you can skip directly to the chapter entitled "The Physics of Sex." This deceptively slim book is jam-packed with fun facts written in folksy, down-to-earth language that illuminates just how mysterious and wondrous life's simple activities can be. And if that isn't enough for you, Fisher actually includes a technique for dunking cookies that will keep sludgy residue from the bottom of your coffee cup. Who could ask for anything more? Strongly recommended for non-fiction readers who like to win bar bets or impress friends at parties.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2005

  • Richard Fortey
    Earth: An Intimate History
    Richard Fortey is a senior paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of London. His beautifully illustrated book takes readers on a geological tour around the world, from the San Andreas Fault, through the Alps, across Newfoundland, to the Middle East, Hawaii, and down to the ocean floor in search of the distant past. In story after story, Fortey shows that our planet is in a state of constant movement and change. The mountains and valleys that we see around us all hold clues to the past; Fortey shows us how geologists are unraveling the great mysteries hidden in rocks to gain an overall understanding of the history of the planet. While the physics and chemistry behind Fortey's findings are clearly explained, a wealth of entertaining anecdotes and fascinating facts (did you know that the Appalachian Mountains used to extend all the way to Scotland?) make Earth: An Intimate History fun to read. This is an excellent introduction to the latest trends in geology.
    Recommended by Jeff, February 2005

  • Thomas Frank

  • What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
    Anyone interested in examining the much-hyped Red State/Blue State divide in American politics will find Thomas Franks' What's The Matter With Kansas? a timely and engrossing read. Using Kansas as a microcosm of the larger United States, Franks asks why traditionally blue-collar communities are embracing conservative ideology with unprecedented fervor, when its economic policies arguably pose great risks to their livelihood. Some readers may reject Franks' more liberal-minded assertions, but will find his central arguments worthy of debate.
    Recommended by Brad, May 2005

  • Malcolm Gladwell

  • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    Ever wonder how a trend becomes a trend? In this book, Gladwell gives reasons why "social epidemics" start and how they flourish. He gives a few case studies that I thought were interesting - the sudden popularity of Hush Puppies a few years back, the rise of Sesame Street and the decrease in crime in the New York during the 1990s. It turns out that "social epidemics" are spread through three types of people - connectors, mavens and salesmen and that messages spread for several reasons, one of which is the concept of "stickiness." Gladwell's other book, The Tipping Point, was also a bestseller.
    Recommended by Susan, July 2005

  • Malcolm Gladwell

  • Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking
    Blink explores the idea that we think without thinking and make decisions in the blink of an eye. Learning to trust our instincts and make sophisticated decisions on the spur of the moment, we can avoid the perils of introspection. Gladwell examines the art of taking first impressions seriously and filtering out unnecessary variables, in order to make snap decisions skillfully. If you prefer to deliberate and carefully consider all the angles, you may find this to be a whole new approach to decision-making.
    Recommended by Karen R., July 2005

  • Barbara Goldsmith
    Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie
    "There was no doubt that radium destroyed her, slamming its raging power into her bones and organs. A century later, this contamination still clings to the preserved clothes she wore." Thus concludes Barbara Goldsmith's intriguing biography of an intriguing woman: two-time Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie. Using original research (letters, diaries, and family interviews) Goldsmith examines the triumph and tragedy of Curie's life, while detailing the social climate of the male-dominated science community and the prejudices held against women. An engaging story of an amazing life.
    Recommended by Hilary, February 2005

  • Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas

  • You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-up Girls
    Did you really enjoy your tenure in Girl Scouts? Or did you miss out on merit badges, and have always felt a little pang at the thought of them? Fret no more, as there is now a brightly-colored, clearly organized handbook of adventurous goodness to help you identify and achieve your goals. Who says dreams are just for kids? Grandcolas's handbook contains an introductory chapter on dreaming and goal-setting, then offers a variety of different adventures to choose from and achieve a "badge" for completing (represented by darling little stickers that come with the handbook). For each activity, be it dancing, cooking, starting a business or traveling the globe, you get a set of concrete steps that gently help you explore new territory. You also get a reading/resource list and advice from an expert, who is interviewed at length about her dedication to the path in which you're dabbling. Highly recommended for women of all ages who want to make positive, lasting changes in their lives, and have a lot of fun doing it.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, July 2005

  • Terry Gross

  • All I Did Was Ask
    Terry Gross is the host of NPR's Fresh Air and as such has interviewed thousands of people over the course of 29 years. In this book, she highlights 39 interviews with writers, actors, musicians, and artists. I found the interviews with Nicholas Cage, Mickey Spillane, Paul Schrader, Joyce Johnson, Chuck Close, Dustin Hoffman, Isabella Rossellini, and Carol Shields to be the most interesting, with revealing details about their lives, their work, and their inner thoughts. A few interviews are confrontational like that with Gene Simmons, which leaves you wondering whether he's truly an ignoramus or if it's all just part of his stage persona.
    Recommended by Joanne, August 2005

  • Haven Kimmel

  • A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana
    Kimmel's memoir of childhood during the late 1960's through the 1970's is a terrifically funny examination of family. Her descriptions of the relationships inevitable in a small town are by turns poignant and deadpan. She opens by describing Mooreland, a town that has numbered 300 since 1940, as east of Epileptic, Indiana, and continues from there. Her witty and engaging prose leaves one hoping for a second installment covering the teen years and her experiences in college.
    Recommended by Candice, July 2005

  • Matt Lake

  • Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
    Drives across the old covered bridge, turn of your engine, honk the car horn three times, and that's when the ghost of the hanged man appears. Not buying it? Hey, you can try it yourself. Weird Pennsylvania is a compendium of all things weird, curious, unexplained, and bizarre in the Key Stone State, happily inviting readers to check out the mystifying locales it chronicles for themselves. This "travel guide" also works as an encyclopedia of local urban legends and superstitious that are at once unique and strangely universal. Read about the ape boy of the swamp, the phantom hitchhiker of the lake, and the armed albino gangs of the mountains! And you though Pennsylvania was dull.
    Recommended by Brad, October 2005

  • Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

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

  • Susan Marks

  • Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food
    Betty Crocker was "born" in 1921. She was an all-American homemaker who shared her cooking tips with millions of women through mailings and over the radio. Betty grew into a icon of happy homes and domestic bliss. Women across the country turned to her in desparate need when cakes wouldn't rise, the Depression left them hungry, and rationing made baking a scientific feat. Later she became a pioneer of food science and pre-packaged foods. As much social history as biography Finding Betty Crocker is a well-written and thoroughly entertaining look at one of America's most beloved corporate icons.
    Recommended by Ellen, April 2005

  • Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet

  • Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips, and Recipes
    Peter Mayle once again returns to France to share their gifts with American audiences. As Mayle explains in his introduction, Auzet suggested the idea for this book after so many visitors to his bakery requested something to take away with them. It begins with a history of the Auzet family bakery and a couple "secrets." It ends with recipes interspersed with fun facts about bread lore. A charmingly simple book for those who are passionate about their bread.
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

  • Gerald Posner

  • Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection
    Posner, author of the acclaimed post-9/11 bestseller Why America Slept, here turns a critical eye towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its royal "House of Saud". He provides an excellent history of-- Ah Heck! I had a review in my head but I cannot put it to paper. Everyone in this book makes me sick! The Saudi Royals are amoral, immoral, dissolute, dishonest, vicious, umprincipled and greedy to an almost incredible degree, many still believe the earth to be flat. The Americans are exactly the same--they just dress differently and know the earth to be round, like Charlie Brown's head. Petro-dollars talk and the commonweal walks should be the sub-title of this book. Highly recommended.
    Recommended by John, July 2005

  • Julie Powell

  • Julie & Julia
    Julie Powell is about to turn thirty; she has accepted her lot as a secretary, is facing a syndrome which may affect her ability to bear children, and can't quite figure out what went wrong. So, she embarks on a quest. She will cook every recipe in Julia Child's masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. While she does it, she will blog about her experiences. This book is a perfect balance of cooking, neuroses, and professional strife, utterly endearing and honest. Oh, and sometimes she cooks brains.
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

  • Todd Pruzan and Favell Lee Mortimer

  • The Clumsiest People in Europe, or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World
    Despite never having stepped beyond the borders of England but twice in her life, Victorian children's author Favell Lee Mortimer (1802-1878) had a lot to say about the inhabitants of the rest of the world. No matter your ancestral roots, Mrs. Mortimer probably held some incredulous idea of their fundamental faults and detractions, and dutifully recorded it for the educational benefit of the children of England. In this delightfully disturbing collection of her writings, editor Todd Pruzan presents a look at the 19th century stereotyping run amok and gives us food for thought about how we characterize one another today.
    Recommended by Brad, August 2005

  • Davy Rothbart (editor)
    Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around the World
    Have you ever picked up a discarded note lying on the sidewalk or gone out of your way to rescue a tattered photograph blowing across a parking lot? Have any of these little discoveries ever struck you as particularly heart wrenching, humorous, sad, or just plain baffling? This enchanting collection of lost diary entries, break-up notes, e-mails, artwork, and spastic streams of consciousness were found by observant people just like you, and sent on for inclusion in the pages of Found magazine. This fine publication, devoted to showcasing these random and anonymous fragments of our collective consciousness, presents this amazing new anthology of its most interesting and baffling submissions.
    Recommended by Brad, January 2005

  • Dan Savage

  • Skipping Towards Gomorrah
    This book embraces, uplifts, and celebrates each of the "seven deadly sins." Savage sets up the experiment with a little biblical research, then gets philosophical about sinners in general, and the ways in which morality might be overrated. He proceeds to dedicate a chapter each to Lust, Envy, Sloth, Greed, Pride, Anger, and Gluttony. He tries to seek out the happiest sinners in each category, with mixed results, then he follows them to see the natures and implications of their sins. Read this book, and you'll have an entirely different outlook on sin and morality, American politics and priorities, and plain-old getting along.
    Recommended by Denise, August 2005

  • Eric Schlosser

  • Fast Food Nation
    If the low wages of restaurant workers, anti-Union practices of fast food corporations, dangerous slaughterhouse conditions, and government lobbies for big business don't make you want to stop eating fast food, certainly the descriptions of how dirty our meat supply is will. Although the book begins with a brief history of the fast food industry and a description of how it became such an integral part of American culture, it then points out "the dark side of the all-American meal". After reading this you will never look at McDonald's the same way again, and you will understand the true "price" of a fast food hamburger.
    Recommended by Terry, July 2005

  • Barbara Sher

  • Wishcraft
    It is impossible to open Wishcraft and not find yourself dreaming of a new career or a new life, doing the things you never thought you could. Barbara Sher's underground self-help classic makes it all seem possible by tracing career fantasies back to their roots in childhood, and then fashioning a life around achieving them. Intriguing exercises help readers to unbury long-repressed dreams which may be currently disguised as vague yearnings or cherished hobbies. Once these dreams are identified, Sher shows how to develop plans for achieving them. Case studies are described: real life people who have taken up farming, entered medical school, or found their joy by relocating to the Rocky Mountains. Wishcraft was initially published in 1979 and is especially sympathetic to women who may have laid their dreams aside to have families, or who felt constrained in their choices. While younger generations of women may not relate to barriers that Sher's 1970's readers faced, they will nonetheless benefit from her encouragement to follow their hearts and do what they love. And since many of Wishcraft's success stories are men, the book is appropriate to both sexes. Reawakening old dreams and uncovering new ones, the magic of Wishcraft lies in its power to inspire, and even if her methods are not taken up directly, the seed is planted for future transformation.
    Recommended by Leslie, December 2005

  • Robert Sullivan

  • Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants
    Rats live off what humans waste; thus, wherever there are numerous humans there are numerous rats. This is no where more true than in New York City. Sullivan looks at the history of human and rat relations during New York's long history. This history can be surprising, saddening, and at times completely enlightening.
    Recommended by Ellen, June 2005

  • Jennifer Traig

  • Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood
    This memoir, at times heartbreaking and at others hilarious, chronicles the adolescence of a young woman struggling with a unique form of obsessive-compulsive disorder known as "scrupulosity." The daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Traig, at the age of twelve, decides the only way to salvation is by becoming an Orthodox Jew - a very Orthodox Jew. Over the next six years, she follows the rules laid out in the Old Testament with a fervor that leads to numerous other problems: eating disorders, because very little of the food available to her is kosher enough to eat; poor personal hygiene; estrangement from a family that doesn't understand that she doesn't have a choice but to do what her guidebook, the Bible, tells her. Traig's voice as she matures from a child with no interest in religion to a young woman with little interest in anything else remains clear and untainted, and her story is one that will fascinate anyone with an interest in religion, mental disorders, or the intricacies of growing up in the 1970s.
    Recommended by Karen B., August 2005

  • Sarah Vowell

  • Assassination Vacation
    Humorist Sarah Vowell chronicles her macabre pilgrimage to historical sites and exhibits that offer insight into the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Whimsically offbeat, readers will enjoy Ms. Vowell's self-deprecating sense of humor as much as the strange-but-true historical tidbits that pack her book's pages.
    Recommended by Brad, June 2005

  • Sarah Vowell

  • The Partly Cloudy Patriot
    Vowell is slightly concerned with her obsession with those sites throughout the United States associated with some of our history's greatest tragedies, such as Salem and Gettysburg. Her obsession with historical attractions provides us with a tremendous read. Vowell's descriptions of the development of the United States are peppered with glimpses into her own intriguing intellect, "Fact is, I think about the Civil War all the time, every day. I can't even use a cotton ball to remove my eye makeup without spacing out about slavery's favorite cash crop and that line from Lincoln's second inaugural address." (p. 2) These essays offer a profound statement about patriotism in a country where patriotism is often confused with blind belief in a single administration's ideals.
    Recommended by Candice, August 2005

  • Sharon Waxman
    Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System
    Fight Club. Boogie Nights. Being John Malkovich. The most arresting films of the 1990s were directed by a small clique of auteurs determined to break new ground in Hollywood. Waxman weaves the tales of six directors together to create a picture of a decade in film, with enjoyable results. Most of the content favors the average moviegoer, but film buffs will enjoy picking up a tidbit or two they might not have known about, say, Steven Soderbergh's creative slump or Paul Thomas Anderson's near-paralytic inability to cut a film down to two-hour length. In fact, the only real drawback to Waxman's storyline is its excessive fixation on Quentin Tarantino's bad behavior, which is neither breaking news nor very interesting. On the whole, however, the narrative is amusing and arresting, a neat portrait of rebels and rulebreakers whose weapon of choice is the motion picture.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, March 2005

  • Jon Winokur

  • Encyclopedia Neurotica
    This is an absolutely hilarious dictionary of buzz words that poke fun at the politically correct and neurotic aspects of American culture. Winokur spent years collecting irreverent words and phrases that brilliantly characterize the irksome phenomena that occurs in our daily lives. From Road Rage by Proxy to Niche Worrying, you will find bitingly clever definitions which describe situations that are all-too familiar.
    Recommended by Kate, August 2005

  • Bob Woodward

  • The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat
    He signed official FBI documents with an authoritative, bold, capital letter F. He was the number two man in the FBI. He knew that the truth must come out. He was Deep Throat. Follow the 33-year history of Bob Woodward’s long relationship with Mark Felt, who recently revealed himself as Deep Throat. In this intense story of intrigue, deception, mystery and secrecy, you’ll follow Woodward’s clandestine midnight meetings with Deep Throat in underground garages of Washington, DC, view strategy sessions with the editors of the Washington Post, and experience Woodward’s soul-searching efforts to decide whether to reveal Deep Throat’s identity. The Secret Man is Woodward’s attempt to chronicle the whole story, with nothing held back. To read it is to relive the history of Watergate and the 1970s.
    Recommended by Karen R., July 2005

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Teen Nonfiction

  • Amy L. Best

  • Prom Night: Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture
    For nearly half a decade, "the prom" has served as the most iconic high school spectacle in America. Yet, it has been notoriously absent from critical approach or cultural study, perhaps because of its monolithic status. In this thorough, well-theorized book, Amy L. Best deconstructs prom from its Cold War origins to its contemporary status. Best analyzes the prom as a highly elevated microcosm of social organization and uses it to formulate a series of really poignant conclusions about youth culture today, in all of its triumphs of the past decade as well where it might yet lead. From the pinning of the corsage to queer alternative proms, Best's rigorous and compelling prose will captivate readers, high school age and beyond.
    Recommended by Joseph, September 2005

  • Esme Raji Codell

  • Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher's First Year
    This memoir, winner of a 2000 Alex Award, relates the experiences of a first year teacher at an inner-city school in Chicago. By turns uplifting and heart-breaking, Educating Esme is an enlightening look at the joys and triumphs, as well as the frustrations, of being a third-grade teacher. The author worked for two years as a third grade teacher before becoming a school media specialist. She instilled in her students a love of the written word and the joy of learning, while struggling with abusive parents, school board complaints and educational bureaucracy. Despite being written intially for adults, Educating Esme has very high appeal for young adults, especially those who may wish to become educators themselves.
    Recommended by Karen B., September 2005

  • John Fleischman

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

  • Mitch Frank

  • Understanding the Holy Land: Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
    Note: I decided to use the teen nonfiction genre as an opportunity to learn about a subject that I should know more about than I do. I knew there was a lot more to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than I understood and saw this book as a great way to get the facts.
    Mitch Frank does an outstanding job of presenting both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and remaining impartial. He presents the issues in an easy-to-follow format-short sections with titles such as What Is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?, Why is there a conflict?, and Why is the Rest of the World Involved? The details are not as fleshed out as they would be in a more extensive book (as would be expected). For instance, when I read the paragraph about the Holocaust, I realized the author was intentionally giving basic facts without too much of the horrifying details. This holds true for the rest of the book although he does make the reality of the situation clear. I found it to be an interesting read and very informative book. Highly recommended.
    Recommended by Joanne, October 2005

  • James Cross Giblin; woodcuts by David Frampton

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

  • Bethany Hamilton

  • Soul Surfer
    She's back on her surfboard and competing in surfing championships, in spite of the devastating shark attack that took her left arm. In Soul Surfer, 14-year-old Bethany Hamilton tells her amazing story, beginning with her life as a surfer prior to the attack, her recovery, and how she has resumed the life she loves as a national champion surfer. This is a moving account of a young girl who faces disaster and turns it into opportunity, gaining strength from friends, family and most importantly, her faith in God.
    Recommended by Karen R., September 2005

  • Franz Metcalf

  • Buddha In Your Backpack: Everyday Buddhism for Teens
    This is a fascinating, insightful, useful, and pretty trustworthy book. It begins with historical and philosophical overviews, then proceeds into "practical" chapters on homework, dating, and body image (to name just a few). This is the best part: the book doesn't just give the reader a new internal perspective, it shows the reader how to apply Buddhism to common, everyday problems. The book also recognizes that not everyone's parents or family will be accepting of Buddhism, and gives the reader some strategies for handling the situation. It cautions that not everybody is willing to be similarly awakened by the reader's newfound wisdom, either, and explains that these people must be handled gently, with typical Buddhist compassion. Highly recommended for anyone, teen or not, who wants to know more about Buddhism as a contemporary practice, rather than a historical curiosity.
    Recommended by Denise, September 2005

  • Roxane Orgill
  • Shout, Sister, Shout! Ten Girl Singers Who Shaped a Century
    Going decade by decade through the 20th century, Shout, Sister, Shout! offers brief but compelling biographies of female singers who represent their decade musically and historically, and, with the exception of Judy Garland, women who have controlled their own careers. Starting with Sophie Tucker, who started off singing in her parents' restaurant, and ending with Lucinda Williams, this book tells the compelling stories of some of the musical greats of the past 100 years.
    Recommended by Kaarin, October 2005

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  • Scott Eyman

  • Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer
    The MGM studio in the 1930's and 1940's was the largest and most prestigious in Hollywood. Most of the major stars of the time including Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jeannette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Greta Garbo, Esther Williams, and Myrna Loy were contracted to MGM. At the head of the company from 1924-1951 was Louis B. Mayer.
    Much has been written about Mayer's tyrannical ways. While not glossing over his negative attributes, this biography also shows his loyalty to relatives and long term employees, almost perfect business sense, and great love of movies. His personal life is explored here beginning with his humble upbringing in Canada and continuing through his two marriages and many affairs. Mayer's relationship with his daughters is especially emphasized.
    Recommended by Karen G., August 2005

  • Steve Turner

  • A Man Called Cash
    In this biography, the author tries valiantly to provide some balance to the life of Johnny Cash. For the most part, Turner is successful. From his devout religion, to his drug abuse, to his uneven recording history; Turner frames them all as expressions of a multi-faceted man. One leaves the book with a small understanding of the enigma and a whole lot of rock and roll history.
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

  • Jill Watts

  • Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood
    Hattie McDaniel gained worldwide recognition in 1939 when she became the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Her success however, was a two-edged sword. The Black community expected her to use her newfound notoriety to expand opportunities for African Americans, while the studio heads continued to offer her acting roles portraying maids and cooks. She made some enemies by accepting the movie offers and was famously quoted as saying, "I'd rather play a maid than be one". An entertaining and informative look at the Hollywood system.
    Recommended by Karen G., January 2006

  • Robert Whitaker

  • The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon
    An extraordinary true story that has all the makings of a good adventure novel. A group of mapmakers from France travel to Peru in the 1700s to study latitude and longitude in an attempt to determine the shape of the Earth, the hot scientific topic of the day. The extent of the work to be done and the dedication of the scientists results in a ten-year stay. Jean Godin, one of the assistants, marries a Peruvian woman, Isabel Grameson. Their plans to move to France go awry, and the couple is separated for 20 years. Isabel makes a daring and horrifying trip through the Andes and along the Amazon to reunite with her husband in French Guiana.
    Recommended by Joanne, January 2006

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  • Deborah Garrison
    A Working Girl Can't Win
    This slim volume of poetry asserts that life is hard, but you have to play the hand you're dealt with as much grace and style as you can muster, even if you're seething underneath. There's a lot of potential in that theme for whining and self-pity, but Garrison neatly avoids those traps with short, sharp line breaks, clever wordplay, and just the right blend of heartache and humor. "An Idle Thought" is a nice meditation on fantasy and reality, while "November on Her Way" epitomizes helpless longing without stooping to melodrama. The best of the bunch, however, are the work poems, especially "Fight Song" and "Please Fire Me," which will make you gasp and then chuckle, in spite of yourself. If you've ever wanted to go somewhere else that isn't Europe, these poems will take you there.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, January 2005

  • Cynthia Rylant

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

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Graphic Novels

  • Koji Aihara

  • Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga
    Manga, for the uninitiated, is the generic term for Japanese comic books. However, it's ever so much more than that, as this tongue-in-cheek guide to the format makes clear. Presented as a series of writing and drawing lessons, this graphic novel actually serves as a salty critique of the many different styles of manga currently available. From choosing a pen name to submitting your work to publishers, each step of the writing process is blown up to mega-dramatic proportions for the purpose of cracking you up. I have to say that it worked for me; I knew very little about manga when I started this book, and now I can say I've learned something, while getting a good chuckle at the same time. In fact, I'm willing to be that the jokes are even funnier if you're a manga aficianado. Recommended for adults, with or without a background in the format, who enjoy a good satire, and don't mind a few Rabelaisian moments while reading.
    Recommended by Leigh Anne, August 2005

  • Raymond Chandler (adapted by Michael Lark)

  • The Little Sister
    This is the graphic novel version of the mystery by a master in the field. When Orfamay Quest shows up in private investigator Philip Marlowe's office asking for help in finding her brother Orrin, Marlowe knows she's not telling him the whole story. Orrin has suddenly stopped writing home, quit his job, and moved. But what she doesn't mention is that he might be hiding and that it might have something to do with their sister, a Cleveland gangster, and several ice pick murders. Classic 1940s-style who-done-it.
    Recommended by Joanne, August 2005

  • Max Allan Collins; art by Gabriel Rodriguez and Ashley Wood

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

  • Jordan Crane

  • The Clouds Above
    This is a charming little graphic novel about a boy named Simon and his cat named Jack. Poor Simon gets locked out of school one day for being tardy. To escape the wrath of his evil teacher the duo goes to the roof. The adventures begin when they find a staircase to the clouds. Each page is its own panel representing a part of the adventure. The art is a pleasing combination of detail and soft lines with colors that are muted but wide in their palette and usage. And the cat, oh the cat. He's yellow and fat and ornery and perfect.
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2006

  • Will Eisner

  • Invisible People
    Who are the invisible people who live in our cities? They are the people we pass every day on the streets, who go unnoticed in crowded places. Meet Pincus Pleatnik who seeks a sanctum of invisibility where he could be safe from the unpredictable danger of contact with people. In the sanctum of his orderly private world, he enjoys safety and security; however, chaos ensues when Pincus is mistakenly declared dead. Another of Will Eisner’s invisible people is Morris. Morris has an amazing gift of healing and uses it to help others, but what really needs healing is his own pointless life. Eisner further explores invisible people as he develops the character of Hilda Gornish, who after 40 years as a single person, discovers a deep and lasting friendship with Herman. Herman, however, is extremely attached to his mother who will not let him go, creating a very strange love triangle. Will Eisner presents an engaging and thought-provoking reflection on life in the city and the invisible people who live there.
    Recommended by Karen R., August 2005

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

  • Kazuya Kudo

  • Mai: The Psychic Girl
    Graphic Novel
    Mai is a normal 14 year old girl living in Japan. Everything changes, though when Mai takes what she thinks is just another standardized test. The test judges a students telekinetic powers and is given by the super powerful Wisdom Alliance. They soon discover that Mai is actually the descendant of a line of powerful psychic women. Now, the Alliance has plans for Mai and will stop at nothing to see them through. That is, of course, unless Mai has anything to do with it.
    Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

  • Jason Little
    Shutterbug Follies
    Bee is working in a New York photo lab instead of going to college. One of the perks of the jobs is seeing all the depraved pictures people take. But when an "artist" brings in a roll of film that depicts a murder, things get out of hand and Bee takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of the crime. Along the way she involves her best friend, a punk rock cabbie, the "artist's" assistant and the waiter at an Indian restaurant. Pulsing with the rhythms of New York City this graphic novel is a light-hearted romp that will entertain graphic novel fans and mystery lovers alike.
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2005

  • Terry Moore

  • The Collected Strangers in Paradise, Volume One
    Francine and Katchoo are old friends and roommates who could hardly be more different: Katchoo is a blond, man-hating lesbian with anger issues, while Francine is a beautiful brunette carpet - as in "walk all over me, please." When Francine catches her slimy boyfriend cheating on her, the tale of revenge, complete with guns, blackmail and a hilarious scene involving a department store window, is ever so sweet.
    Recommended by Kaarin, August 2005

  • Joe Sacco

  • Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95
    This dramatic story captures all the pathos of the war in Bosnia. Surrounded by Serbian forces, Muslims clung to their homes in the U.N.-designated safe area of Gorazde throughout the horrifying ethnic cleansing of the non-Serb population. Sacco's narrative, coupled with his incredibly detailed drawings, tells the tragic story of the siege of Gorazde and the people who struggled to live in their war-torn homeland. As the people of Gorazde endured unthinkable hardship during the siege, they convinced themselves that world powers would intervene to save them and end the war. A powerful story of the inhumanity and suffering of war.
    Recommended by Karen R., August 2005

  • Hiroaki Samura

  • Blade of the Immortal (Series) Blood of a Thousand, Vol. 1
    Manji, a ronin warrior of feudal Japan has killed over 100 men in his role as Lord Horii's enforcer. Once he learns that many of his victims were innocent farmers--brave or naive enough to question Lord H's tax plan, he slays his master and becomes the most notorious outlaw in Japan. A chance (?) encounter with the witch Yaobikuni and Manji becomes immortal. In order to recover his mortality and his soul, Manji must use his sword to slay 1,000 evil doers. Blade is a classic tale of redemption through suffering and altruistic acts and of the futile cycle of revenge. Although Blade contains a significant amount of slicing and dicing, the violence never seems gratuitous and Samura's artwork is, in a word, fabulous. The Blade Series is more than worthy of the many awards it has received. Just checking in on Blade, On Silent Wings, Vol. 5. Manji has now clipped 11 of the worst of the worst. Rock on Manji.
    Recommended by John, August 2005

  • Shinji Saijyo

  • Iron Wok Jan
    Graphic Novel
    Since an early age, Jan Akiyama was trained by his grandfather to cook with magic. He aspires to be the greatest Chinese cuisine chef of all time. When his grandfather dies, he goes to work at the Gabancho Restaurant. Despite his talent, his competitive attitude and gruff behavior irritate his coworkers, especially the equally talented, Kiriko. Manga fans, comic book lovers, and foodies will all revel in the exploits of this highly driven chef.
    Recommended by Ellen, August 2005

  • J. Marc Schmidt
    Egg Story
    This slim graphic novel is thoroughly endearing, without being saccharine. It begins with the birth of the main egg, Feather, and his sister Five Spots. They leave the farm, arrive at the store, and end up in refrigerator, where they meet Old Man Broccoli. Then, Feather and his friends escape being breakfast, only to realize that their troubles still haven't ended. I don't want to give away too much, but it involves true love, shopping sprees, and a ninja lifestyle. The eggs' adventures are charming and silly, but at the same time have a grimly realistic edge to them. This book will change the way you think about the contents of your pantry, and just maybe, your life.
    Recommended by Denise, February 2005

  • Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim
    Dungeon: Zenith, Volume 1: Duck Heart
    Described by Sfar as "Conan the Barbarian meets The Muppet Show, " this sword and sorcery parody offers plenty of action, adventure, and goofy fun. Originally published in France as a series of black and white comics, this American trade paperback version collects the first volume of the "Zenith" story arc in superb color. The unlikely hero of Dungeon is Herbert the duck, a lowly messenger for the Dungeon Keeper. Through a comedic case of mistaken identity, Herbert is charged with a dangerous mission on behalf of the dungeon, and he is accompanied on this quest by a vegetarian dragon named Marvin and a magical sword of champions that refuses to be drawn. Even those who are unfamiliar with the fantasy genre will enjoy this book: it's not only absurdly funny, but it also explores some timeless themes such as friendship, responsibility, and the ethics of war.
    Recommended by Mark, May 2005

  • Adrian Tomine
    Sleepwalk and Other Stories
    The reader is confronted with stories that are at once completely banal and yet deeply disturbing in this collection of issues from the highly acclaimed comic book, Optic Nerve. The stories in this collection, get under your skin and stay there. Tomine's art is subtle but intense. He portrays facial expressions with a depth unmatched by other contemporary comic artists. Furthermore, the tone and texture of the art corresponds seamlessly with the events being rendered. Sleepwalk will leave you wondering about the neighbors...
    Recommended by Ellen, January 2005

Audio, Video, and Other Materials

  • Elbow
    Cast of Thousands
    It's hard to believe that Cast of Thousands is only the second full-length recording from Elbow. The Manchester, England quintet displays a seasoned maturity on this CD that evokes the qualities of more prolific bands from across the pond: the atmospheric quirks of Radiohead, the electric soul of Spiritualized, and the understated passion of Catherine Wheel. The result is a record that possesses a range of emotional depth and musical style. Some of the highlights include, "Fugitive Motel," a wistful long-distance love song, and "Fallen Angel," a straight-up rock song with fuzzy distortion and soaring vocals.
    Recommended by Mark, February 2005

  • Philip Pullman

  • His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass (aka Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass)
    His Dark Materials is a darker alternative to the Harry Potter series. Pullman's trilogy follows the adventures of Lyra, a reluctant heroine who inhabits a world parallel to our own, as she endeavors to save humanity and the universe itself. While the books are riveting to read in paper form, the audio-book version of the series is phenomenal. All three books were recorded by cast members, who performed in the original stage production at the National Theater in London. These are not your average audio-books and you will find yourself listening to them for hours on end.
    Recommended by Kate, August 2005

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