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Joanne's Picks

Book Cover for The Book of Air and Shadows Gruber, Michael
The Book of Air and Shadows

Fiction
Mystery meets literature in this thriller surrounding the possible existence of an unknown Shakespeare manuscript. The story begins with a wealthy intellectual property lawyer hiding out on a lake in upstate New York while he awaits the arrival of the thugs who are after him and the manuscript. Is the manuscript real? Where is it? Who owns it? Who wants it? Who’s after it? Who’s on whose side? Along the way, we learn the story of the Bracegridle letters, ciphered seventeenth-century letters which give the details of a conspiracy involving Richard Bracegridle and William Shakespeare, a play about Elizabeth I, and the whereabouts of this hidden manuscript. But details are not always what they seem in this story that includes a cast of characters including the daughter of a Nazi officer married to a Jewish businessman, a criminal turned priest, an aspiring young filmmaker and his family in Queens, a mysterious young woman with a sketchy background, several Shakespeare scholars, Israel gangsters and Russian mobsters, and our lawyer friend. Great fun for summer reading.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2008

 
Book Cover for The Saffron Kitchen Crowther, Yasmin
The Saffron Kitchen

Fiction
A young Iranian woman, Maryam Mazar, doesn’t want the married life expected of someone from a wealthy family like her own. Her head-strong ways eventually lead to trouble, and her father forces her to leave her home following an incident with Ali, a close friend and confidante of Maryam’s who works for the family. Once she is sent away, Maryam becomes a nurse, moves to England, marries, and has her own family. When her nephew comes to live with her, Maryam's long-forgotten feelings about Iran and what happened to her so many years earlier are shaken up. Maryam is compelled to return to her Iranian village to face the unresolved issues of her past, leaving her family in England in the dark as to why she left and when she would return. Maryam eventually convinces her daughter, Sara, to join her in Iran where Sara learns what her mother endured, what she sacrificed and what she gained along the way. An interesting cast of main characters shows what life is like for the women, servants and outsiders in different cultures and settings who are virtually powerless.
Recommended by Joanne, April 2008

 
Book Cover for Inheritance of Exile Darraj, Susan Muaddi
The Inheritance of Exile: Stories from South Philly

Short Stories
These intertwining stories follow the lives of four girlfriends who are now women and their parents-- primarily their mothers. The daughters are all Arab-Americans, while their parents are primarily Palestinian immigrants living in Philadelphia. The stories highlight the family relationships and experiences of growing up with or adapting to two cultures. The conflicts in culture for these first generation Americans at times find the young women in a limbo of sorts, not belonging to the world of their parents but not being completely accepted by their American peers. The stories also explore universal issues such as finding one’s place in the world and understanding a time and place that is not our own.
Recommended by Joanne, November 2007

 
Book Cover for Luncheon of the Boating Party Vreeland, Susan
Luncheon of the Boating Party

Fiction
A fascinating fictional account of the story behind Renoir’s painting of the same name. Vreeland’s latest novel uses historic records and biographies of the famous impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir to compose the story of how and why this painting came to be. A look at life in France during the late 1800s shows the importance of Renoir’s depiction of “la vie moderne” to the time. Meet the models, among them another French impressionist painter, an aspiring writer and adventurer, an actress, an Italian journalist, and the woman who eventually becomes Renoir’s wife. Vreeland has expertise in art and art history, which also is apparent in her previous works – Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia – both recommended as well.
Recommended by Joanne, October 2007

 
Book Cover for The Highest Tide Lynch, Jim
The Highest Tide

Fiction
Thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley loves the natural life of the Washington bay where he lives. During this particularly incredible summer in his life, he discovers things in the bay that are unusual, drawing the media’s attention and quickly spiraling into a frenzy of more discoveries and more attention. Complete with the college-age girl next door, the old woman who’s his friend, a popular teenage business partner, and his somewhat absent parents, the story finds Miles growing in more ways than one. Lynch is right on the mark in showing the way in which a young boy would understand and react to the situations at hand, and the results are sometimes quite humorous. Recommend.
Recommended by Joanne, April 2007

 
Book Cover Laila Lalami
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits

Fiction
The hope of a better life spawns two Moroccan men and two women to attempt the dangerous trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to illegally enter Spain. This story begins with that harrowing crossing and both looks back on the characters’ lives leading up to their leaving and forward to what becomes of their efforts. An apt title for a book filled with despair and hope.
Recommended by Joanne, June 2006

 
Book Cover Anne Perry
Face of a Stranger

Mystery
When Monk wakes up one day in a hospital, he's not sure where he is or who he is. While quietly struggling to figure out the details of his life, he returns to his job with the London police, where he's assigned to the brutal murder of Joscelin Grey, the youngest and favorite son of Lady Shelburne and a well-liked figure by many. Could his murderer be a complete stranger as feared? A business associate? A jealous brother or even Monk himself? As Monk's memory returns, he begins to piece together the story of Joscelin Grey. A fine Victorian mystery by a master in the craft as well as an examination of human nature and relationships.
Recommended by Joanne, February 2006

 
Book Cover Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451

Fiction
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

 
Book Cover Robert Whitaker
The Mapmaker's Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon

Nonfiction
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

 
Book Cover Frank, Mitch
Understanding the Holy Land: Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Nonfiction
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

 
Book Cover Chandler, Raymond (adapted by Michael Lark)
The Little Sister

Graphic Novel
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

 
Book Cover Gross, Terry
All I Did Was Ask

NonFiction
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

 
Byatt, A.S.
Possession

Fiction
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