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August 28, 2007 > Recreational reading (Part I)

Recreational reading (Part I)

The following are recommendations for recreational reading. These selections were contributed by a number of different staff members, and there's something on this list for a variety of tastes. This week includes a list of first-rate fiction and next week our recommendations will continue with non-fiction favorites. Hope you find one you like.


Allende, Isabel. Ines of My Soul (2006)
A historical fiction novel of heartbreak and romance set in Chile. Story of Do–a Inˇs Su‡rez, Chile's "founding mother."

Baker, Kage, In the Garden of Iden (1997) The first book in a series. Five year-old Mendoza is about to be "questioned" by the Inquisition in 16th century Spain. Instead, she is rescued by a Company called Dr. Zeus and turned into a cyborg, one of many who are sent though history to preserve plants, animals, art works, etc., in anticipation of a melt-down in the 24th century. Slightly misanthropic Mendoza becomes a botanist so that she won't have to deal so much with people, but her first assignment lands her in a place and time where she must squarely face her own humanity. She is in Elizabethan England, collecting rare specimens in a lord's garden, where she encounters Nicholas Harpole, a proud Protestant at a time when Queen Mary and Philip of Spain are on a Catholicizing rampage.

Bayard, Louis. Mr. Timothy (2003)
Takes place in London, 1860's. Timothy Cratchit (all grown up) had lost his mother many years ago, but now recently lost his father. Cratchit still walks with a limp: he now has no means of support, or home. While out and about, he runs across a young girl, dead-with dirty clothes, but more disturbing, "a face like a cuckoo clock"-- round eyes, all features wide open. Her hands are like bloody clawed stumps. And she has a very strange tattoo. Cratchit finds out that it is not a tattoo, but actually a brand. More clues reveal that other girls are in trouble: why are they branded? Why are their hands worn down to nubs? It's a race against time....

De Los Santos, Marisa. Love Walked In. (2005)
"Chick Lit" by a poet author. Cafˇ manager Cornelia Brown is an underachiever, looking for love in all the wrong places. Alternating chapters follow Cornelia and 11-year old Clare; their lives intercept later in the book. This book is being made into a film starring Sarah Jessica Parker (tentative release in 2008).

Fasman, Jon. Geographer's Library (2005)
"For a journalist at a weekly paper, especially one as small as the Carrier, The Day the Paper Comes Out is a day of rest..." Young journalist Paul Tomm sets out to write a simple obituary about a professor who died in his office at Paul's Alma Mater. What really happened to Jaan Puhapaev, and who was he anyway? This story wraps itself around the provenance and travels of each of 15 objects in his collection of antiquities, all of which originated with what may hold the secret of eternal life - stolen from Al-Idrisi, a Spanish-Muslim philosopher, cartographer, linguist, and scholar who served in the court of King Roger of Sicily in Palermo in the year 1154. Full of exotic lore and obscure history, this read demands a willing suspension of disbelief, especially with regard to the naivetˇ of the protagonist and this too-neat meeting of the music teacher with connections. Still and all, a fine debut novel with lots to think about.

Flagg, Fannie Can't Wait to get to Heaven (2006)
Life is the strangest thing. One minute, Mrs. Elner Shimfissle is up in her tree, picking figs, and the next thing she knows, she is off on an adventure she never dreamed of and running into people she never in a million years expected to meet. Meanwhile, back home, Elner's nervous, high-strung niece Norma faints and winds up in bed with a cold rag on her head; Elner's neighbor Verbena rushes immediately to the Bible; her truck driver friend, Luther Griggs, runs his eighteen-wheeler into a ditch-and the entire town is thrown for a loop and left wondering, "What is life all about, anyway?" Except for Tot Whooten, who owns Tot's Tell It Like It Is Beauty Shop. Her main concern is that the end of the world might come before she can collect her social security. In this comedy-mystery, those near and dear to Elner discover something wonderful: Heaven is actually right here, right now, with people you love, neighbors you help, friendships you keep.

Gruen, Sara Water for Elephants (2006)
Jacob Jankowski says: "I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other." At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. Jacob joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn't a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. It's not a story he shares because he's been keeping a secret about one of the circus animals. Gruen has carefully researched circus lore using the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch. It's a tough life for man and beast alike.

Lutz, Lisa Spellman Files (2007)
Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, a San Francisco PI who began working for Spellman Investigations at age 12, could easily pass as Buffy or Veronica Mars's wiser but funnier older sister. Izzy digs TV, too, especially Get Smart (an ex-boyfriend's ownership of the complete bootlegged DVD set is his major selling point). Now 28, Izzy thinks she wants out, but elects to take on a cold case while dealing with 14-year-old sister Rae, a nightmarish Nancy Drew, and parents who have no qualms about bugging their children's bedrooms. When Rae suddenly disappears, Izzy and her family must learn some serious lessons in order to find her. Can the family that snoops together stay together? Stay tuned as a new series unfolds.

McCullough, Colleen. On/Off (2006)
Primarily known for family stories (Thorn Birds, Morgan's Run) and her Roman history series (First Man in Rome, The October Horse), McCullough takes quite a departure from her usual style with this title. She has produced a detective thriller featuring one of the scariest serial killers in recent fiction. Set in southern New England of 1965, On/Off begins with the discovery of a dismembered body in a storage refrigerator at a neurological research center. Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico discovers that this murder is only one of many-with more to come-committed by a meticulous serial rapist/killer who saves the heads of his victims.

Mosse, Kate. Labyrinth. (2006)
Mosse has won high praise and the Orange Prize for her literary fiction. With Labyrinth, she turns to a historical thriller of sorts, in which Alice, on an archaeological dig in France, accidentally uncovers a pair of ancient skeletons and a stone ring embossed with a labyrinth symbol. So begins a fast-paced series of events that not only threatens Alice's life but also duplicates those that befell her medieval counterpart and near-namesake Ala•s, a plucky young newlywed from the nearby city of Carcassonne. A second strand of narrative -- cleverly intertwined with the first -- tells how, in the summer of 1209, as Carcassonne was besieged by bloodthirsty Crusaders, Ala•s headed for the hills with a mysterious book of hieroglyphics entrusted to her by her dying father. Medieval history and legend are nimbly brought together and their echoes and effects reach out and touch today.

Murakami, Haruki. (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel) Kafka on the Shore (2005)
One reviewer said the opening pages of this novel can be like the view out an airplane window onto tarmac. But at some point between page three and fifteen - it's page thirteen in Kafka On The Shore - the deceptively placid narrative lifts off, and you find yourself breaking through clouds at a tilt, no longer certain where the plane is headed or if the laws of flight even apply. The story has many memorable characters, among them a self-disciplined schoolboy and bibliophile named Kafka Tamura who wants to run away from home, an elderly Nakata who can talk to cats after a mysterious event during World War II voided Nakata's mind, a transsexual library clerk and the mysteriously remote head librarian. Murakami likes to blur the boundary between the real and the surreal-- we are treated to such oddities as fish raining from the sky; a forest-dwelling pair of Imperial Army soldiers who haven't aged since WWII; and a hilarious cameo by fried chicken king Colonel Sanders - but he also writes touchingly about love, loneliness and friendship.

Pickard, Nancy. Virgin of Small Plains. 2006
"A very cold case." A body of a young woman is found by a rancher and his sons. The unidentified body - called "The Virgin" - is buried. Seventeen years goes by; elderly Nadine is found wandering around the gravesite of "The Virgin" and dies due to exposure. Who covered up the girl's death? And why?

Russell, Mary Doria. Thread of Grace. (2005)
Story set in WW II of Italian Jews, who work to save themselves...and each other.

Setterfield, Diane. Thirteenth Tale. (2006)
"Spooky gothic book." Vida Winter is a famous novelist who is old and dying. Vida has told 12 versions of her life-story, none of which are true. Margaret, a young writer, goes to Vida's isolated house in Yorkshire to hear Vida's real life's story, the Thirteenth Tale.

Wambaugh, Joseph. Hollywood Station. (2006)
"Gritty, set in L.A., post Rodney King, post-riots." Tough cops in L.A. - a slice of life story - complete with junkies, street people and the Russian mob. It made one reader think twice about dropping checks in the mailbox. "If you like shows like Homicide, and The Wire, you'll like this book."

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