Current Picks: Book Reviews

Them by Nathan McCall

Them by Nathan McCall (2007)
Interesting human introspection story about a changing neighborhood. It makes suburbanites think about other places. As western suburbs of Chicago tear down houses and neighborhoods change, it is everywhere and good to hear about other places and circumstances. It makes the reader think.

Read a review from the Los Angeles Times or check out the official website for fun extras like reading guide questions, an excerpt, a Q&A with the author, or a video.

The Geisha's Granddaughter by Chayym Zeldis

The Geisha's Granddaughter by Chayym Zeldis (2003)
This novel provides readers with a taste of how Japanese Americans felt while adjusting to a new world, when WWII shatters that world with the accompanying internment.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1994)
A courtroom drama provides the framework for this tale of the legacy of racism following WWII in the northwestern United States.

The reading group guide for the winner of the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award contains historical background for the  novel, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading. You can also compare the novel to the 1999 movie starring Ethan Hawke.

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (2005)
A “must read” for every teacher and for anyone wanting a rich, well written story of classroom life in the trenches in the New York school system. My favorite Frank McCourt book.

Check out the author's appearance on CBS' The Early Show, or listen to an interview or read an excerpt on NPR.

Our Mother’s War by Emily Yellen

Our Mother’s War by Emily Yellen (2004)

An excellent history of WWII and women’s roles in the United States – all phases of society. Visit the author's website for more about the book, a discussion guide, and further resources. Read a New York Times review or listen to an interview with the author.

Our Mother's War is suggested as related reading to this year's Big Read -- Dream When You're Feeling Blue. Do you have tickets yet to see Elizabeth Berg? She's speaking at Ashton Place on Thursday, May 8. Go to the Readers Services desk to get your tickets before we run out!

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven (2005)

Coming of age in rural 1930s America with unusual skills like X-ray vision and the power to stop bullets, Clark Kent takes us along on his coming-of-age journey of self-discovery. Covering years (May 1935 through February 1938), the story takes him from Smallville to New York (Metropolis). A Young Clark Kent, newly hired "Daily Planet" reporter; Lois Lane; and evil criminal mastermind Alexander "Lex" Luthor come to life in It's Superman! This is a fascinating idea. The story is as inventive and thrilling as it is touching and wise.

See what Powell's and the New York Times said about the novel. Other books by Tom De Haven include Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies (1996), Dugan Under Ground (2001), Funny Papers (2002), and the graphic novel Green Candles (1997).

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (2008)
Present day, Beijing. A detective story that goes to the heart of modern China. Mei Wang, our first Chinese female detective, is more than just a pretty face. Hired by her uncle to find a rare piece of jade, she slips into the dark side of Beijing as well as the extremely affluent world of her younger sister, Lu.

As the plot unwinds, Mei also reveals her own inner core of isolation from her family, from her lost love, and from her former job in the Ministry of Public Security. In her quest for justice, she uncovers dark secrets and darker choices.

After reading so many novels that lack that special touch of author style, this book is as refreshing as a real spring day. Read an excerpt, other reviews, and an interview with the author.

The Soul of a Doctor

The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death (2006)
This book of poignant stories show doctors (really, doctors-to-be) to be so human… conflicted, drawn in by the drama of life and death, and constantly learning from the situations they face daily. This is a must read, especially for doctors, others in the medical profession, and for all of us who at some time are their patients. The stories draw you in and make you hope that these medical students remember the “heart” lessons they learned as a medical students at Harvard and that the medical profession works to connect with the human side of their patients. This book is fascinating. Dr. Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think, another of my favorite medical books, does the forward for this book.

The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers

The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (1998)
A well written novel of Christian faith. This is the story of an old Welsh custom of symbolically removing the sins of the deceased by eating a meal placed on the coffin. 10-year-old Cadi Forbes, growing up in the Smoky Mountains in the 1850s, is a child of Welsh immigrants whose old country beliefs require a sin eater when someone dies. The child becomes enthralled with this idea when she is present at the accidental death of her much beloved sibling.

Cadi looks for the sin eater, but her search is really a search for Jesus, and eventually she leads the community away from the notion of a sin eater and toward a fundamentalist faith in Jesus the redeemer.

Visit the author's website for an excerpt, a reading guide, and the author's responses to frequently asked questions. In 2007, The Last Sin Eater was made into a movie. You can request it from another library.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982)
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." If you can resist an opening sentence like that, you have more willpower than I. The Gunslinger begins The Dark Tower series, which follows Roland’s quest to reach the nexus of all universes. Since King finished the seven volume series in 2004, it’s safe to start reading! I also would highly recommend George Guidall or Frank Muller’s narrations.

(Nota Bene: This is NOT a horror series or story. King may be best known for writing horror novels, but he is a masterful storyteller and writer in other genres too!)

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child (2007)
As read by expert reader Dick Hill, Bad Luck and Trouble (#11 in the series) goes into overdrive as Jack Reacher solves the brutal murder of a former colleague. Jack Reacher reunites his old team of elite investigators into a wildly exciting assault. Not always probable, tough, mach Jack raises the level of excitement to high – fun. Listen and enjoy.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (1999)
The title of Girl in Hyacinth Blue could also be titled Life of a Painting. All who read this book will enjoy art more because of the wonderful description of the painting and the way the owners of it enjoy its beauty.

Set in Amsterdam from 1939 to 1945, the story gives a wonderful history of the life of the people during WWII. Since the story gives the historical account of the painting Girl in Hyacinth Blue from present day to its beginning, you're reading a memoir backwards to find out how the painting came to be in the current owner's home.

Enjoy an easy read while you learn.

Visit the publisher's website for a reading guide and an interview with the author.

You: Staying Young by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz

You: Staying Young by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz (2007)
Drs. Roizen and Oz review the systems of our aging bodies. Better yet, they provide some “signature” YOU tips to stay young at any age. Quality of life requires a degree of effort. I cannot think of anything more important than keeping my independence. This particular CD flows easily. The authors present their ideas clearly and humorously. This combination works.

 

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (2005)
This book reveals more about Chinese culture in the 19th century than any book I’ve ever read. As the story unfolds, the friendship of the two main characters, Snow Flower and Lily, reflect the needs of women everywhere. We sigh with empathy for both of these women.

Visit the author's website to learn about the story behind the book, read an excerpt, or view book discussion questions.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (2007)
In this first novel, author Amirrezvani introduces a Western audience to the people and customs of 17th-century Persia. The narrator, whose name is never revealed, is 14 years old when the story begins with the death of her father. Without means, she and her mother leave their village and go to live with her father’s half-brother in Isfahan. The young girl who has a gift for carpet making discovers in her uncle a mentor who helps her master the art of carpet design.

As one reviewer said: “This is a story about adversity and persistence, failure and triumph. It is a story about stories themselves, about narratives and the role of oral tradition in Iranian history and culture.” I think this is a beautifully written historical fiction.