Current Picks: Book Reviews

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.

Lost in America by Sherwin Nuland

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father by Sherwin Nuland (2003)
National Book Award winner (for How We Die) and renowned surgeon, Nuland recounts his anguished relationship with his debilitated, angry, Jewish father. At one time, Nuland was so embarrassed by his father, he even changed his name. But as Nuland ages, the depth of his love and his empathy for his immigrant father surface. Nuland is a good writer, and this book helps him come to terms with his relationship with his now deceased father.

Read a BookPage interview or a New York Times review.

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke (2006)
If you've read or seen the Jane Austen books/movies, you will like this witty, suspense-driven story about Jane Austen. Contemporary and historical alternating settings make for an enjoyable story. If you do not know Mr. Darcy and the other Jane Austen characters, you’ll still enjoy the novel, but you may not get the references to Austen’s novels. Fast, fun, female read for all Jane Austen's fans and new readers.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)
Three generations of a family form the core of this novel. Sisters, Gillian and Sally, are raised by their aunts Frances and Jet, also sisters. Sally’s two daughters, Antonia and Kylie, create the third generation. Magical realism is woven into the storyline which focuses on the issues of fate, trust, love, sibling rivalry, and family ties. I highly recommended Practical Magic for readers of multigenerational tales, magical realism, and stories where love, both romantic and between family members, can conquer all.

The movie has much more “magic” to show off the special effects department.

Goodbye, She Lied by Russ Hall

Goodbye, She Lied by Russ Hall (2007)
In a tiny Texas town, Esbeth Walters enjoys her vocation as amateur detective. The local police find her an annoying, old busybody. In this zippy adventure, Esbeth takes on conmen and scams. A particular rest home loses guests a little too predictably, a murder is ruled a suicide, and two mean Vegas hitmen give Esbeth visions she’d rather not see.

As a retired schoolteacher, Esbeth has been well-trained in dealing with problems and problem children. Such an offbeat character makes reading mysteries down home fun.