Our Staff's Favorite Books for 2011: Adult Books

The Night Circus Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385534635
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Published: Doubleday - September 13th, 2011

Recommended by Alison.

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The Art of Travel (Vintage International) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375725340
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Published: Vintage - May 11th, 2004

In The Art of Travel Alain de Botton gives no advice on when to schedule a trip to the Bahamas. He doesn’t recommend any restaurants in London or Paris. And he doesn’t tell us how to pack clothes for a three week trip in just a carry-on bag. Instead de Botton teaches us how to appreciate our travels. In England’s Lake District he recalls Wordsworth and, while sitting under a oak tree, feels the peace the poet so treasured as he listens to the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves above him. In Arles he remembers Van Gogh, and the artist’s choice to capture the bright colors of Provence. He even takes a trip around his own neighborhood and realizes the local butcher shop he had taken for granted is adorned with fascinating Gothic gargoyles. This book is a delight, to savor and remember. ~ Ann

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The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307279088
Availability: Special Order
Published: Vintage - November 1st, 2011

In the late 1880s, murders were not solved through fingerprints on the murder weapon or blood spatter patterns. People in those times claimed that criminality was genetic. Thus, certain facial characteristics or physical conditions constituted proof of a person’s guilt. What changed all that was the arrest of a “vagabond” named Joseph Vacher, who had been moving from village to village across the French countryside in a spree of horrendous murders. Two men—magistrate Emile Forquet and Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne, head of the Department of Legal Medicine at the University of Lyon—began to incorporate what would become modern forensics to prove Sacher’s guilt and convict him. Starr traces the development of forensics in measured and fascinating detail, and this book reads like the most modern of crime novels. ~ Ann

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Making Toast: A Family Story Cover Image
ISBN: 9780061825958
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Published: Ecco - February 15th, 2011

Roger Rosenblatt admits to having a talent for one domestic chore—that of breakfast duty and the ability to make the perfect piece of toast for each of his grandchildren. He is called upon to practice this art after the sudden death of his daughter, Amy. Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, leave home and move in with their son-in-law, Harris, and their three grandchildren. In Making Toast they are still there. This is a gentle book peppered with fond memories of Amy, with instances of healing as each of them deals with his grief, and with the adjustments they all go through as the three generations learn to live together. Through it all, Rosenblatt’s skill with language and form prevents this eulogy from being either too stark or too sentimental. Instead, it’s the story of a family dealing with tragedy one day, one crisis and one piece of toast at a time. ~ Ann

Damned Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385533027
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Published: Doubleday - October 18th, 2011

Recommened by Andrew.

Machine Man (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307476890
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Published: Vintage - August 9th, 2011

Recommended by Andrew.

The Village on Horseback: Prose and Verse, 2003-2008 Cover Image
ISBN: 9781571314420
Availability: Special Order
Published: Milkweed Editions - July 12th, 2011

The Village on Horseback is a collection of poetry, prose, snippets of fiction and two novellas by Jesse Ball. Perfect for travelers or handy to have on a nightstand, it is equally charming and thought-provoking. ~ Andrew

The Dovekeepers: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451617474
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Scribner - October 4th, 2011

This is a historical novel based on the ancient battle of the Masada. In Herod's palace high on a clifftop a community of Jews gathered for protection against the Roman army. They lived for years in security until the Romans devised a plan of attack. This is the story of four Jewish women who arrived at the palace from different directions and different backgrounds, but who became as close as sisters. Together they became the caretakers of the doves of the palace, which held a place of importance in this fragile community. The story is filled with mysticism, magic, and beauty, alongside the horrors of battle and persecution. ~ Jane

Ed King Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307271068
Availability: Special Order
Published: Knopf - October 18th, 2011

A rollicking modern-day version of the classic tragedy Oedipus Rex, this wickedly funny story will leave you in stitches. It has the cynicism of Tom Wolfe mixed with the absurdity of Carl Hiassen. The novel begins with a slow and dangerous seduction, then picks up speed as each new character is introduced, fearlessly taking on contemporary societal themes as it builds to a thrill-ride climax. The story features a cadre of rather despicable but entertaining characters who are caricatures of the 1980s “Me Generation.” The writing is superb and the story is fantastic. I recommend it to everyone! ~ Jane

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The Luminist Cover Image
By David Rocklin, Jacquelyn Mitchard (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780979018879
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Published: Hawthorne Books - September 27th, 2011

This haunting and beautifully written story is set in Ceylon in the mid-1800's during a time of civil unrest between peasants and colonialists. The land and people are vividly depicted; the lushness of the lifestyles, even the smells of the place come through the writing. A complex and powerful relationship develops between a colonial governor's wife and her Tamil servant, as together they work to capture images on glass in the earliest days of photography. A mounting civil war adds suspense and drama to this incredible story. ~ Jane

Bed: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451614220
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Scribner - August 2nd, 2011

Bed: where 40-50% of our lives unfold… unless you are 25-year-old Mal Ede, disenchanted with life and how it locks individuals into predictable tracks. Then the bed becomes 100%. Mal is part philosopher, part hot-blooded teen, part railing son and brother. But he is full-on confident in his decision to drop out of typical life. He takes to his bed on his 25th birthday, never again to rise. Mal’s body grows to garish proportions, perhaps in line with the atrocities apparent in his personal relationships, primarily with his parents. Bed scores on many levels: kudos to Whitehouse for compassion, good storytelling, character development, and magnification of society and humanity. I anxiously await a second work from this author. ~ Janis

The Sisters Brothers: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062041265
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Ecco - April 26th, 2011

This novel, an odyssey of killing, blood and violence, is not only remarkably palatable, but decidedly delicious. DeWitt charms his readers with an 1850s-era wild western tale of two brothers charged with the chilling task of murder. Fueled by alcohol and mixed with eccentric and rambunctious personalities, it is a delightful tale, and a must-read to the end. ~ Janis

We the Animals: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780547576725
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - August 30th, 2011

Torres is, in a word, mind-blowing. His innate literary talent is humbling. This novel, written in an entirely unique prose, can make you cringe while admiring it, can make you cheer and weep. Three brothers, born of a biracial couple, grow up in an environment with little restriction and few borders. This exposure and the resulting experiences contribute to the grown men they become, the men that Torres lays before us. ~ Janis

The Buddha in the Attic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307700001
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - August 23rd, 2011

What gratitude I feel for having concluded 2011with this moving, intensely lyrical work! Revolving around the experiences of Japanese “picture brides” who came to America in the early 1900s, The Buddha in the Attic employs, to masterly effect, devices of poetry including litany and refrain to create a novel that is at once intimate and panoramic. Instead of characters in the traditional sense, Otsuka conjures up what seem like voices in the hundreds, each voice, each sentence, a thread in a hypnotic tapestry. Having as the latter part of its time frame the “relocation” of Japanese-Americans at the outset of War II, this beautifully kaleidoscopic work spans farms, fields, cities and suburbs to capture the complexities of cultural collision, racial discrimination, and myriad other struggles of finding a life in a new land. This slender volume is a masterpiece. ~ John

Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War Cover Image
ISBN: 9780805091533
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - October 25th, 2011

In this masterful, engaging and thoroughly researched account, Horwitz pulls away the cloak of myth surrounding John Brown and his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, bringing forward the human aspects of Brown’s many roles including those of husband, father, charismatic abolitionist leader, patriot of his cause, and martyr. While detailing the background of the raid as well as its far-reaching consequences, Horwitz highlights Brown’s impact on historical figures including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Robert E. Lee, Emerson, Thoreau and Lincoln. The raid and Brown’s vision are thus placed fully in the context of the Civil War and, more importantly, of a legacy that endures to this day. I found this to be an enlightening, inspiring and highly enjoyable read. ~ John

Nightwoods: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781400067091
Availability: Special Order
Published: Random House - September 27th, 2011

Cold Mountain author Frazier, one of the great novelists of our time, has created a beautifully gripping novel through old-fashioned storytelling and his genius for bringing to life the people and landscape of the rural and wild Appalachia he intimately knows. He unfolds his tale with masterful nuances of motive, detail and emotion through the eyes of each of his characters, including Luce, his heroine, who cares for her murdered sister’s children while trying to unravel their dangerous ways. Janis, Andrew and Morley love this book, too. Bravo, Charles Frazier! ~ John

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Someone Knows My Name Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393333091
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - November 1st, 2008

(Norton)Taking as his premise the little-known history of Royalist black settlers to whom the British granted freedom in Nova Scotia after the American Revolution, Hill has crafted a compelling novel around an extraordinary heroine whose life odyssey speaks for the experiences of many. Through vivid, fascinating detail that reflects devoted research in addition to a great gift for writing, we follow Aminata Diallo from her African village to capture, enslavement and the Middle Passage; her work on a South Carolina indigo plantation and as a servant in Charleston; her service for the British Army in Manhattan; her hardships in Canada; a return to Africa and an experimental settlement in Sierra Leone; and finally her life as a darling of London abolitionists. In addition to being a great read, Aminata’s engaging story of survival and triumph, steeped in history as well as abiding patterns of human existence, throws a unique and necessary light on the enduring global issue of race. ~ John

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345505347
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Published: Ballantine Books - October 6th, 2009

This is a tender historical novel of family, first loves, and the unjust and tragic internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Beautifully written, it begins with Henry, recently widowed and finding himself once again at the Panama Hotel in Seattle, looking back on his boyhood. The local history made this book feel more immediate and personal to me. I loved it! ~ Kathie

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385534307
Availability: Special Order
Published: Doubleday - October 11th, 2011

I was always curious about the letters from citizens that President Obama reads every day, so when Washington Post writer Saslow's book came out, I was eager to read it. This book explores the lives behind the letters, and shows how Americans are dealing with hard economic times. It turned out to be a very inspiring read. I can't imagine a president not being profoundly affected by the letters. ~ Kathie

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky Cover Image
ISBN: 9781616200152
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Algonquin Books - January 11th, 2011

Powerful, relevant, and genuine, this novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. As the sole survivor of a family tragedy, Rachel moves in with her paternal grandmother and aunt. In her new community Rachel confronts the challenges of being a young biracial woman in a world that wants to label her one or the other. Through her growing pains, Rachel proves her bravery, intelligence, and sensitivity. With a sincere, haunting voice, Durrow’s storytelling is moving and impeccable. I highly recommend this book! ~ Kristy

Room: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316098328
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Published: Back Bay Books - May 18th, 2011

This novel is a radically original work of art that tells the story of Jack, a five-year-old boy born into captivity whose only world is an 11’x11’ room that has imprisoned his “Ma” for seven years. Ma’s overwhelming love for Jack gives her the strength to create a loving, nurturing environment in a dark and dire situation. Jack’s narration is believable, endearing and haunting, and Donoghue’s depiction of a mother’s courage, resilience, and undying hope for survival is staggeringly beautiful. Both suspenseful and emotionally riveting, this book is a page-turner. This story will linger long after you have closed the book. ~ Kristy

A Visit from the Goon Squad Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307477477
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Published: Anchor - March 22nd, 2011

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for fiction, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a smart and moving book. The chapters form a mosaic connecting aging rocker Bennie and his young secretary, Sasha, to a menagerie of intriguing characters whose stories are poignant, sometimes tragic, and always unabashedly human. This is an engrossing and provocative must-read. ~ Kristy

Atticus: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780060927868
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Published: Harper Perennial - January 16th, 1997

Colorado rancher Atticus Cody’s wife was killed in an accident for which both Atticus and his younger son, Scott, hold Scott responsible. In spite of their best efforts at forgiveness and healing, their relationship is strained. After he is told Scott has committed suicide, Atticus travels to Mexico to retrieve the body, but soon begins to suspect murder. Atticus is not only a page-turning mystery, but also a satisfying redemption tale in which Hansen’s efficient and powerful descriptive prose is comparable to that of John Steinbeck—seemingly effortless, yet immensely effective. A must read! ~ Ranae

A Trick of the Light: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312655457
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Published: Minotaur Books - August 30th, 2011

A seventh murder in the charming Canadian village of Three Pines!?! Mais oui! What better place for murder than among old friends? And a seventh opportunity for Penny to deliver another reliably clever, character-driven, Chief Inspector Gamache mystery. Penny and Gamache never disappoint! ~ Ranae

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143119685
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Published: Penguin Books - December 27th, 2011

Not only did I read this book when it came out in February, but I picked it up again this summer. It is that much fun! ~ Sarah

The Weird Sisters Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399157226
Availability: Special Order
Published: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam - January 20th, 2011

When the three Andreas sisters return home to their Shakespeare quoting father and ailing mother, family drama ensues. The expected sibling squabbles are soon trumped by life altering revelations and Brown's skillful and witty prose will keep you hooked. ~ Sarah

Against a Dark Background Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316036375
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Published: Orbit - July 1st, 2009

Although Iain Banks is best known for his Culture series, this stand-alone is almost more engrossing. Banks’ trademark style is here in full force, dropping you into an unfamiliar world where finding your bearings is half the fun. A (mostly) hard sci-fi space opera of the highest caliber. ~ Tim

Moonheart (Newford) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312890049
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Published: Orb Books - February 15th, 1994

After starting with de Lint’s most recent stuff, I finally went back to the one that made a name for him in the fantasy genre. It may take a little while to really get going, but the momentum is relentless—by the end, I was flying through the pages. A great starting point for anyone interested in contemporary fantasy and its literary potential. ~ Tim

The Sun's Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316091015
Availability: Special Order
Published: Little, Brown and Company - July 13th, 2011

Astronomy has always been a passion of mine, but I don’t think I’ve come across a book that does a better job of conveying the wonder it inspires. The subject may seem almost mundane to some, but Berman deftly demonstrates the sun’s (literal and figurative) centrality to our existence and the mystery and awe that often surround it. A fascinating, accessible book. ~ Tim

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle Cover Image
ISBN: 9780465020133
Availability: Special Order
Published: Basic Books - May 1st, 2011

I love nature, particularly birds. But this treasure by Thor Hanson went way beyond field guide descriptions of one of nature’s most perfect inventions. He wonderfully describes our love affair with feathers—from religious symbol to pragmatic and fantastic attire to the inspiration it has given us in everything from art to science. ~ Victoria

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The Tiger's Wife: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385343848
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - November 1st, 2011

This is a a beautiful, magical story that had me from the first crook of its finger. All the secrets and sadness spilled off the page, and left me breathless, but happy at a tale well-told. ~ Victoria