Staff Picks 2006, Issue 1
Today is 1/30/2015
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (STE)
Lyman Ward is ill and divorced, a retired history professor who occupies his time alone in a small California mountain home researching the lives of his grandparents who first came to the unexplored west in the middle of the nineteenth century. He reconstructs their lives through his grandmother's poignant letters to friends she misses back east. Eventually he recognizes parallels to his own life which cause him to reconsider his embittered point of view. A strong sense of place and appreciation of the western landscape are central to this Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
Celestial Navigation by Anne Tyler (TYL)
Told in the first person from the points of view of five different characters, the novel opens with Jeremy Pauling, a 38-year-old agoraphobic. Jeremy is physically a "slug" of a man, amorphous and vague, who has created a boarding house of his family home in Baltimore in order to support his art—kaleidoscopic sculptures he cobbles together from the bits of things he collects. Driven by his need to create, he is out of touch with his own daily needs, but exhibits abilities of selection and arrangement that are the equipment of the artist.
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella (KIN)
Becky Bloomwood is a young woman living on her own in London and writing for "Successful Saving" magazine. Uninspiring story after uninspiring story is getting her nowhere. Her true world is shopping, but she keeps getting notices from her bank and credit card companies informing her of overdrafts and debts which she ignores, hides, and tosses even as she tries to find different ways to earn more money. Her crazy attempts to solve her money problems keep you wondering—will this one be the golden goose?
Deep Six by Jack McDevitt (SF MCD)
Part of a series that started with The Engines of God, Deep Six has lots of action, good character development, and interesting hard science ideas. A rogue gas giant is due to destroy the alien planet known as Deep Six. A team sent to investigate discovers the planet was once inhabited by intelligent beings. When their lander is ruined in an earthquake the stranded team tries to find a way off the doomed planet before it is destroyed.
The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (MYS MAN)
Frumpy, Swedish police detective, Kurt Wallender, tries to solve the murders of two unidentified men whose bodies wash up on a nearby coast. His search takes him to Eastern Europe where government corruption stymies his investigation. This suspenseful book boasts a complex plot while providing insight into Wallender's personal problems with his health, ex-wife, daughter, and cantankerous father.
Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner (WEI)
Kate Klein lives in a wealthy Connecticut suburb with her often-absent husband and three preschool children. She misses her life as a journalist in New York City and feels unfulfilled in her new life. Unlike her neighbors, she is no super mommy. When Kate finds the body of one of those mommies, she begins an unofficial investigation into the apparent murder. She tries to juggle parenting, sleuthing, and the reappearance of an old flame in this suspenseful, funny book.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman (GOO)
In this hard-hitting novel of psychological suspense, Jane Hudson returns as a Latin teacher to Heart Lake, the private girls' school she attended in her youth. The author maintains an action-filled pace and sets a detailed stage as the teacher finds herself involved in solving a mystery from her school days.
Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz (KOO)
A dying man predicts five dates that will prove to be horrifying in the life of his grandson, Jimmy Tock. This tale of contrasts gives bright hope to a dark story of a man dogged from birth by a family of evil madmen. Jimmy grows up battling the traumatic violence of each date foretold by his grandfather. The events pit good versus evil and carry a persuasive spiritual message about the power of love and family and the miracle of existence. Even as it deals with the most desperate of circumstances, it does so with a sense of humor that buoys its darkness while maintaining its suspense.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel (MAR)
Intermingling threads of religion, zoology, and survival contribute to the complexity of this novel. Piscine Molitor Patel, the son of an Indian zoo keeper in Pondicherry, relates the strange story of his life to the novel's narrator. He begins in India, when as a child he developed his peculiar religious convictions. He embraces Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam at the same time. When the family zoo falls on hard times, Pi's father decides to move the family, along with their animals, to Canada by ship. During a strong storm, the ship begins to founder, leaving Pi by himself in a life raft with a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and Richard Parker—a full-grown male Bengal tiger. From that point, the unpredictable becomes commonplace.
Lincoln's Dreams by Connie Willis (SF WIL)
A young psychiatric patient is having very vivid dreams about the Civil War, and she seems to know incredible details that only General Robert E. Lee would know. Aided by a historical researcher, she sets off to find the reason for these prophetic dreams. Willis writes a straightforward plot that moves quickly to a rather uncomfortable conclusion.
Naruto by Kishimoto, Masashi (YA MANGA NAR)
This popular manga series is set in a world where ninja enforce the laws of the land. In The Village Hidden in the Leaves, a troublemaking orphan named Uzumaki Naruto is struggling to graduate from the ninja Academy and pursue his dream of becoming the next Hokage. Naruto and his classmates don't know it yet, but there's a terrible force hidden within him that could prove more dangerous than his rambunctious nature. (Rated T for teens, recommended for ages 13 and up)
One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Richard Proenneke (917.984 PRO)
Richard Proenneke, originally from Primrose, Iowa, moved to the remote area of Twin Lakes in Alaska. Using tools and a few supplies flown in to him, he built a log cabin and its furnishings, planted a garden, and explored the lakes. He lived with caribou, grizzlies, and big horn sheep as his only companions for 16 months. The text is the journal Proenneke kept during his time in Alaska. This first person narrative is enhanced by the awesome color photos taken by the author.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (SF ATW)
The pacing of this book is rather deliberate and slow with several surprises in store for the patient reader. Jimmy and Crake are boyhood friends in a society of runaway social inequity, genetic engineering, and major climatic change. The narrator is apparently the sole survivor of an apocalyptic event and through his eyes we see the trail that led there. This is a dystopian novel, a cautionary tale, and a story of friendship, love, and loyalty.
Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver (KIN)
Strongly drawn characters inhabit this sequel to The Bean Trees. In a setting that includes the Cherokee Nation and hippie culture in Tucson in the 1980s, Turtle, the adopted daughter of Taylor, is now six. When Turtle sees a mentally challenged man fall into the spillway at Hoover Dam and alerts authorities, she earns brief fame. The publicity that follows reaches a Cherokee lawyer who questions the legality, ethics, and circumstances of Turtle's adoption. In a panic that she will lose Turtle, Taylor takes to the road. The story is told with humor as well as sensitivity to the issues raised about the adoption of children from different cultures.
Plainsong by Kent Haruf (HAR)
A well-written, quiet story that evokes a strong sense of place, Plainsong presents likable, realistic characters in a small town in Colorado. The chapters alternate between these primary characters: a high school teacher and his two young sons, a pregnant teenager, and two elderly rancher brothers. The characters' lives connect as they struggle with loneliness and abandonment but are renewed by kindness and generosity.
Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult (PIC)
Philadelphia attorney Ellie Hathaway becomes immersed in the Amish world when she defends a young Amish woman who denies giving birth to a baby found dead in a barn. The conflict between Amish traditions and modern ways is fully developed in this story that ends in a suspenseful courtroom drama.
Polar Shift by Clive Cussler (CUS)
During World War II, a Hungarian scientist discovers the means to create a polar shift in order to disrupt the earth's electromagnetic field. Because of current conditions, such a shift would lead to disastrous weather and climate changes resulting in the obliteration of mankind. An anti-globalization group, not knowing this, plans to create a polar shift to bring attention to its cause. Kurt Austin's NUMA Special Assignments Team is out to stop the shift with lots of action, irreverence, and outrageous feats. And of course, the beautiful woman who holds the key to stopping the shift becomes involved with our hero. This book is part of the NUMA Files series.
Straight Into Darkness by Faye Kellerman (MYS KEL)
Munich in 1929 is a city still dealing with the aftermath of World War I and is the site of political unrest. A series of brutal murders leaves young women dead and the police baffled. Homicide Inspector Alex Berg investigates the murders in an atmosphere of political pressure from his superiors and chaos caused by Austrian Adolf Hitler and his Brownshirt Party. This is an intricate, fast-paced mystery as well as a work of historical fiction portraying the disaffection of a country and an individual.
Truth Seeker by Dee Henderson (HEN Oma V3)
Quinn Diamond, a U.S. Marshal from Montana who is searching for the truth of Amy Ireland's disappearance 20 years ago, crosses paths with Lisa O'Malley, a forensic pathologist from Chicago. Is Lisa's recent investigation somehow linked to Amy's disappearance, and who is trying to stop Lisa at any cost? This suspenseful work of Christian fiction is an interesting look into forensic pathology without excessive gore, and it's love story too! It is book #3 of The O'Malley Series.
White Devil: A True Story of War, Savagery and Vengeance in Colonial America by Brumwell, Stephen (973.26 BRU)
During the French and Indian War, Major Robert Rogers and his rangers attack the Abenaki Indian village of St. Francis in retaliation for the massacre of the British garrison at Fort William Henry in upstate New York. After the attack, Rogers's men endure a terrifying journey home. This is a great story of sacrifice, courage and perseverance, all held together by the indomitable Major Robert Rogers, the man the Abenakis remembered as Wobomagonda—"White Devil."
A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary translated by Phillip Boehm (940.5343 BOE)
This is a translation of an 8-week diary begun in April, 1945, by an anonymous 34-year-old journalist in Berlin. The women, children, and very old men who made up most of the citizenry spend the first weeks in cellars fleeing bombs and gunfire and looting abandoned buildings for food before the Russian liberators arrive. Written without self-pity but with a tremendous show of strength and survival, the diary chronicles the indiscriminate raping of the defeated women that followed the end of WWII. The diary was considered too difficult to discuss when it was first published in 1954 because of the shameful mistreatment of German women. The anonymous author gave permission for it to be published again after her death.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (920 DIDION, J.)
Joan Didion writes about the sudden death of her husband, author John Gregory Dunne, who died while their only child was critically ill in the hospital. The book is the story of how she coped during the year following his death. A theme that begins the book and follows throughout is: "you sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." This beautifully written memoir won the National Book Award and would be a good book for anyone dealing with grief or loss.