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Geo's Picks

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

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

Fiction
I read my first James Patterson, The Quickie, and came to appreciate that the source of his popularity is that he has practically invented a new genre: quickies. The periods don’t even stop you. If there’d been a squad car behind the couch, I would have gotten a ticket for speed-reading. I almost broke my neck tripping over some implausibilities, but I brushed myself off and turned the page. Reading has never been this breathless, reckless, or fat burning. If you’re ever tempted to indulge in an almost unbearably suspenseful read, James Patterson is the man.
Recommended by Geo, September 2007
Book Cover for Journal : Amy Zoe Mason found by Kristine Atkinson and Joyce Atkinson
Journal : Amy Zoe Mason

Fiction
Reading Journal is a unique experience. The story, told through notes, letters, and emails, is presented as a gorgeous antique scrapbook. The detritus of life is given a glorious makeover lending background music to the sinister plot. The clues Amy accidentally stumbles upon are inadvertently and alarmingly given a cohesiveness rendering both the reader and narrator helpless in the face of what is to come. While the story is suspenseful, sad, and poignant, the reader can't help enjoying a certain sense of adventure in having "found" the evidence of this horrific crime.
Recommended by Geo, July 2007
Book Cover for Bitter is the New Black Lancaster, Jen
Bitter is the New Black

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

Fiction
Four young men pursue their dreams in New York City in a reality more conducive to suicide. In spite of that, the main character and novelist wannabee maintains a healthy attitude. While it is hard to understand how these people stay motivated, an almost catatonic, smelly centerpiece of a roommate may be the answer. No one would want to end up like The Loach. Rapp’s language is fresh, although disturbingly olfactory-obsessed at the beginning. The odors blessedly taper off and his wide and wild palette of adjectives is put to better use.
Recommended by Geo, May 2007
Book Cover for Nursery Crimes Waldman, Ayelet
Nursery Crimes

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

Fiction
Julius Winsome, surrounded by 3,282 books, is living an idyllic life in a cabin in the woods of Maine. But they've left something out of the guidebooks: the constant sound of gunshots and the killers and victims that they represent. Julius has been under a constant barrage of reminders of mortality his whole life, both historically (both his grandfather and father were soldiers) and daily. When he finds his dog murdered it is as if this is the last death he can tolerate. Something is unleashed in Julius and sets off a need to somehow restore balance to his world. There are times when having sympathy for Julius gets to be a bit much, but that is when another crumb of truth is thrown on the path and you can't help but follow. This is a tight, intense, and eye-opening experience instinctively muted at times and made bearable by Julius's affinity for nature and deep respect for all forms of life.
Recommended by Geo, February 2007
Book Cover for The Road McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Fiction
McCarthy serves up the thinnest and most potent sliver of apocalyptic hell in his latest, The Road. As a father and son make their way through a stark and devastated landscape where all the "roads" go nowhere, the reader can't help but wonder, "What is the point?" along with the characters. The difference between hope and survival is blurred leading to the suspicion that hope might just be "will to survive" in a tux and consequently overdressed for this occasion. The subject matter is grim, but the poetic flow makes it impossible to sink or stop swimming. In spite of already knowing the end of the story, readers of The Road will find themselves rushing along to find out how the book about the ultimate end of everything is going to end. Oh, and as an added bonus, you will never look at a grocery cart the same way again.
Recommended by Geo, January 2007
Book Cover for The Woman in White Collins, Wilkie
The Woman in White

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

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

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

Fiction
The Dogs of Babel starts off with a body at the foot of a tree. The body was the beloved wife of Paul Iverson and the shock of her death sends him on a quest for the truth of how she got there. Did she fall? What was she doing in the tree? The only witness is their dog Lorelei, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Paul decides that the only way he is ever going to know the truth is if he can teach Lorelei to talk. This story abounds with wonderful details that will make you want to read the book again even though the real mystery becomes how Paul could be so devoted to Lexy, an emotional psycho, in the first place.
Recommended by Geo, September 2006
Book Cover Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road to Perdition (DVD)
Audio/Visual
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 Amazon.com.)
Recommended by Geo, February 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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