Staff Picks - 2010 November

Staff Picks November 2010
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Staff Picks November 2010 (600KB)
November FEATURE
Great HouseGreat House by Nicole Krauss

This is a superb and haunting story of loss and connection. The centerpiece is an antique desk which may (or may not) have belonged to a famous writer. The characters and their situations are etched with a razor and bound and intertwined with memory and anguish. ~ Karen Frank

A beautifully written novel of four dream-like stories that connects a group of characters who touch obliquely. The reader is at first bewildered, perhaps, by the serpentine relationships, but Krauss pulls the strands together, although every question is not solved - just like real life. ~ Louise Jones
Man with a Blue ScarfMan with a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford

The art critic Martin Gayford has been friends with Lucien Freud for years. But it was only in the early 2000s that he decided to ask if he could sit for a portrait. Sitting for the master is quite an undertaking in itself. Freud's methods means that the subject can often sit before his easel for months - even years... ~ Charles Bottomley
CleopatraCleopatra by Stacy Schiff

A fascinating chronicle of the life of one of the most influential -- and least understood -- women in history. Born into a relentlessly ambitious and bloodthirsty family, Cleopatra used her wiles, her sexual prowess, and an enduring love for the Egyptian people to challenge the absolute might of Rome and change the entire world. ~ Alden Gravess
How Music WorksHow Music Works by John Powell

This is an extremely droll and amazingly informative study of music and music theory meant for everyone. Even musicians will learn the scientific and historical reasons for some of "the fiddly details" and get a chuckle from this physicist/composer's turn of phrase. ~ Karen Frank
EelsEels by James Prosek

A fascinating book on a unique fish - yes, they are fish. While many may shy away from this book because of the "slime factor", it is their loss. This is a truly engrossing (pun intended) study of a unique fish that is treated with disgust in the western world, is a multibillion dollar business in Asia, and is revered in the Pacific Rim. ~ Erik Barnum
The Last BoyThe Last Boy by Jane Leavy

Deep research and sensitive writing combine in an honest, rather sad, yet relentlessly fascinating biography of this iconic American. And a provocative answer to the 50 year old question: who was better? ~ Bill Lewis
The Hard Way AroundThe Hard Way Around by Geoffrey Wolff

If you thought that the only thing Slocum did was sail alone around the world, you'll be surprised and delighted by this rousing account of the captain's eventful and adventurous life and times. ~ Louise Jones
The Civil War of 1812The Civil War of 1812 by Alan Taylor

Fascinating, revelatory, and unusual study of a war that remains very poorly understood. A front rank scholar at the top of his game gives readers a fresh perspective on the struggle for control of North America. A compelling, entertaining, and important work. ~ Bill Lewis
RatificationRatification: The People Debate the Constitution 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier

Unprecedented study of the many stories that occurred AFTER the delegates finished in Philadelphia. Fear was everywhere, debates were ferocious, and the outcome was (and never has been) certain. A masterpiece from a superb scholar and elegant writer. ~ Bill Lewis
Tears Of A ClownTears Of A Clown by Dana Milbank

This is a candid look at the shameless television and radio performer who has managed to parlay his very lucrative schtick into a cottage industry. In professing his great love for America, Mr. Beck has probably done more to undermine and derail social progress than any individual in the nation... ~ Alden Graves
BarkBark: An Intimate Look At The World's Trees by Cedric Pollet

Photographer Pollet circled the world seeking the most beautiful tree barks. His pictures transform a nature guide into an astounding work of art. ~ Louise Jones
The New Biographical Dictionary of FilmThe New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson

It's safe to say that no other book has influenced how I think about film more than Thomson's reference work. The first edition came out in 1975. Thomson's short, incisive essays gave equal credence to directors, writers, actors and producers. His opinions can be controversial. Thomson is no fan of such shibboleths as John Ford, Frank Capra or Federico Fellini. His knowledge of the movies is indeed encyclopedic, and the English-born critic expresses his interpretations in the language of a smart, witty--maybe even rabid--fan. There are surprises, too. The essay on W.C. Fields is written as a letter from Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins. He dismisses the director Lethal Weapon and The Omen with a one-line summation: "Mr. Donner has made several of the most successful and least interesting films of his age."... ~ Charles Bottomley
Our Tragic UniverseOur Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

In-between reviewing dippy New Age books and churning out sci-fi potboilers, Meg struggles to write the masterpiece that will say it all. But maybe instead of writing a book, those empty pages and that blinking cursor are writing her. A shaggy dog story complete with a lovable shaggy dog, Thomas's novel will beguile anyone who loves a good yarn. (Knitters, included!). ~ Charles Bottomley
Skippy DiesBlacklands by Belinda Bauer

Stephen Lamb never knew his uncle Billy, who at the age of 11 fell victim to a serial killer. The disappearance and death has affected his family ever since, though. His Nan still sits at the window waiting for the boy's return and his mum is barely capable of raising her kids. So Stephen spends his free hours digging up Exmoor looking for the body. Then he hits upon an idea, and decides to write the imprisoned killer... ~ Charles Bottomley
AbundanceAbundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

If you enjoy historical fiction, read this book! Marie Antoinette tells her story from the beginning of her journey to France at the age of 14 to wed the young Dauphin Louis Auguste to their death at the guillotine years later during the French revolution. She was adored by the court and the masses but lived such a sheltered life within the court at the Palace of Versailles that she was unable to see the growing discontent of the French as she and the Royal Family lived their live filled with such extravagance... ~ Liz Barnum
Father Of The RainFather Of The Rain by Lily King

An amazing novel that articulates in sharp sweet dialogue, a complicated father/daughter relationship. The story is full of pain, humor love and drama. Great read! ~ Karen Frank
Our Kind of TraitorOur Kind Of Traitor by John le Carré

On vacation in Antigua, a young British couple is approached by a major Russian mobster who wants to defect. Classic LeCarre with secret service shenanigans, colorful characters and betrayals. An entertaining read. ~ Sarah Knight
The Russian ConcubineThe Russian Concubine by Kate Furnival

Set in 1928 China, Kate Furnivall's novel The Russian Concubine ($15.00) tells the story of sixteen year old Lydia Ivanova, a White Russian refugee living with her mother in the 1930's Chinese International Settlement, and her love affair with a young Chinese Communist. Furnivall's attention to period details... ~ Sarah Knight

He Is LegendHe Is Legend by Christopher Conlon

Matheson was one of the writers that fueled my early reading life. He is underrated and overlooked because of the genre in which he plied his craft. Yet many of today's writer's owe him a great deal, and that is what this book is about. Those writers paying their debt to the master... ~ Erik Barnum
Too Much HappinessToo Much Happiness by Alice Munro

These stories are like smooth fast running rivers on the surface, hiding a deep turbulence in each story. Every cool and intelligent voice lures me deep into the tale, but never fails to deal a swift jerk and embed a hook deep and permanent. ~ Karen Frank
The Last ColonyThe Last Colony by John Scalzi

For me a new Scalzi novel automatically means I will be up all night so I can read it in one shot and once again he does not disappoint. Last Colony is a classic science fiction adventure that completes the story of John Perry, the hero from Old Man's War... ~ Ben Parker
Fever Of The BoneFever Of The Bone by Val McDermid

This compelling crime novel is another bravura performance from McDermid. Profiler Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan are forced to work on separate cases until Hill sees similarities. The stunning conclusion solves the crimes and forecasts complex changes in the Jordan/Hill relationship. ~ Louise Jones
Remarkable CreaturesRemarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Very fine historical fiction with one of my favorite themes--scientific curiosity in the face of insurmountable odds. This novel is written in a very 19th century style (I mean that as a compliment)about a young woman's obsession with fossils she finds on the Lyme Regis beach and the impossibility of being taken seriously. ~ Karen Frank
The Little Drummer GirlThe Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

As good an espionage novel as you can find and current as when it was first published in 1983. In this tale of trust and betrayal, an out-ofwork actress is hired by the Israelis to set up a Palestinian terrorist. ~ Charles Bottomley
In a Strange RoomIn a Strange Room by Damon Galgut

Galgut's novel was the red-headed stepchild of the 2010 Booker Prize shortlist. A slim volume, it was overshadowed by showier turns from Emma Donoghue and the eventual winner, Howard Jacobson. I wonder, though, if this isn't the most affecting book on the list. It's a novel made up of three stories originally written for the Paris Review. In each, a traveler named Damon has a different encounter. In the first, he meets a black-clad German and the pair undertake a disastrous hike around Lesotho. In Malawi, he falls in with an alluring trio who takes him to Europe. The final story finds a much older Damon in India. Each tale has something to say about life, love and finally, death. What caught me, however, was the brusque poetry with which Galgut conjures up place--and how finally he captures the rhythm of the solitary traveler and the potential of chance encounters. Anybody who has set off with a backpack and a dog-eared copy of ON THE ROAD should enjoy Galgut's novel. It is, in a sense, a guide book, too; filled with experience, wisdom, and likely to remain by your side for a long time. ~ Charles Bottomley
Astrid & VeronikaAstrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson

A dreamy and gentle story about two women who manage their grief in different ways. Set in Sweden, Astrid is the older woman who has distanced herself from the world to nurse the tragedies of her past life. Veronika is a young writer who rents the house next door for some of the same reasons. When the two become friends, we are allowed a glimpse into life that is greater than the sum of the two women's experiences. The author communicates a lovely sense of time, place and tradition. You will find yourself unable to leave them for long. ~ Louise Jones

Poetically captures the tranquility of pace in the Swedish countryside. A lovely, engaging story of 2 women from different generations, living in isolation, nursing ancient love-wounds. How they intersect, revealing themselves carefully to each other, and the reader is the magic of it. ~ Heather Bellanca