Staff Picks

Dear Committee Members

Summary: 
Think the epistolary novel is dead? Embattled English and creative writing professor Jason Fitger is known only through his emails and letters of recommendation. He is a self-defeating, self-absorbed, vindictive champion of correct grammar and the liberal arts who is absolutely hilarious. Anyone who's hung around the halls of academe will recognize him instantly and chuckle throughout.

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The Saint John's Fern

Summary: 
This is yet another entertaining medieval tale from Kate Sedley. It's 1477 and Roger the Chapman, still on his 'honeymoon' with his new bride in Bristol, England, finds his restlessness returning. Driven by some instinct that his skills as a sleuth are needed, he sets off through Dartmoor to Plymouth on the southwest coast of England. Roger's instinct is soon proven well founded when he hears of a brutal murder, the victim a Master Capstick, a well respected and wealthy businessman. The chief suspect is Capstick's great-nephew, Beric. He is seen leaving the scene by many witnesses, but when the constables arrive at his manor, Beric had somehow managed to vanish completely. The locals believe the witchcraft of their ancestors, and blame the Saint John's fern, which if eaten can make a man invisible. Roger, not convinced,begins his own inquiries, and when an attempt is made on his life, he knows he must be close to a truth. A most enjoyable read that provides the reader with an excellent sense of life in those harsh times of medieval England. As a murder mystery, the plot was an interesting one, but I have to admit that I solved it a couple of chapters before the end.

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The Marriage of Opposites

Summary: 
This historical novel by the acclaimed author Alice Hoffman is set on the island of St. Thomas in what was then the Danish West Indies. The tale begins with a young Jewish girl named Rachel who grows into a strong, unconventional woman who marries a much younger Jewish man from France. They go on to have numerous children, the youngest of whom becomes the prolific French Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro. A beautifully written story with vivid descriptions of the island, complex characters, and intricate relationships: this book is an enjoyable read for those interested in history, religious controversies, and art.

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My Brilliant Friend

Summary: 
In this first of four novels, one brilliant friend remembers the turbulent lower class neighborhood of her childhood. Here poverty, corruption, ignorance, and brutality threaten to extinguish all light, and only the courage of the other brilliant friend illuminates a way out. The magnetic power and perils of friendship shine against the oppressive atmosphere of 1950s Naples.

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Sacrilege

Summary: 
This book starts in Londoni in the summer of 1584. Radical philosopher, ex-monk, and spy, working for the spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Elizabeth I,Giordano Bruno suspects he is being pursued by an old enemy, but it is in fact Sophia Underhill, a young woman with whom he was once in love. When Bruno learns that Sophia has been accused of murdering her husband, a prominent magistrate of Canterbury, he agrees to do anything he can to help clear her name. With Walsingham's approval he leaves with Sophia for Canterbury, but only if he monitors any Catholic plots against the Queen while he is there. Once in Canterbury, that was once England’s greatest center of pilgrimage, Bruno uncovers a more dangerous plot in the making, one that forces him to turn his detective’s skills to the strange case of Saint Thomas Becket, a twelfth-century cardinal of Canterbury Cathedral whose mysterious murder is only matched by the legend surrounding the disappearance of his body. This is a well-written book, extremely enjoyable to read, with a well constructed plot. Even though this the third book in a series of 4. I will be sure to read the other 3 in the series

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All Together Now

Summary: 
How do quirky people with nothing else in common come together to make music? And how can music bring a depressed community back to life? Gill Hornby's collection of characters make a predictable chorus much more; spot-on writing captures the timbre of now; and a light-hearted read touches a deep chord. "...realise that the trapped and scrunched and narrow little lives are often, from the inside, just the best."

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Maisie Dobbs

Summary: 
Another staffer introduced me to this Mystery series and I love it! I am a lover of historical fiction as well, so having this story set in and around World War l is an added feature for me. Maisie Dobbs is an independent, cerebral, yet spiritual young woman who puts psychology, investigative tools and much inner thought to work solving cases. Before taking each case, Maisie explains to the client her philosophy in solving a case to a satisfactory conclusion which may mean something uncomfortable needing to be said to the client. If they agree, she begins her investigation. Maisie is a wonderful character, the mysteries well-written and developed. The reader is drawn into the time and place with the author's interwoven descriptions.

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The Martian

Summary: 
The Martian was recommended to me and it sounded okay, but the story of an astronaut left behind on Mars and having to fend for himself is really "not my thing." Finally, so many people suggested I read it that I decided to give the audiobook a shot on a long car trip and found it completely absorbing. Now I can't stop recommending it to everyone who asks me for a good book. The narrator inhabits the main character Mark Watney with all the fear, boredom, desperation, humor and ingenuity one might expect from a man abandoned on a distant planet. The book came out in 2011, but has recently regained popularity with a movie starring Matt Damon due in theaters soon.

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Circling the Sun

Summary: 
In this many-layered novel,strong writing beautifully evokes East Africa in the early 20th century and brings to life a rich and inspiring tale of Beryl Markham, one of the most controversial and accomplished women of her time. The powerful African landscape, with vivid descriptions that compel you to re-read them, as well as the political and social history of the period, illuminate the narrative. While Beryl's transition from training horses for wealthy British expats to flying airplanes against the back-drop of her mostly unhappy personal life is central to the story, those chapters detailing her early years and non-traditional upbringing close to the land are the most memorable.

The Weaver's Inheritance

Summary: 
Set in 1476, in the turbulent times that were the 'War of the Roses', Roger the Chapman (peddlar) is looking forward to spending Christmas in Bristol. As well as a peddlar, he is somewhat of a sleuth. Margaret, his matchmaking mother-in-law, has barely introduced him to her cousin Adela when Roger's attentions are demanded elsewhere. He gets involved in the return of long-lost son of a wealthy Bristol weaver, presumed murdered on a visit to London six years before who has miraculously reappeared, to the delight of the old man and to the indignation of his daughter,Alison Burnett. She refuses to believe that the bedraggled stranger is her brother Clement. She hires Roger to prove that the long lost 'brother' is indeed an imposter. The author 'weaves' an interesting plot involving 2 murders that ends with unexpected finale. Another interesting and enjoyable aspect of this tale is the royal intrigues that are going on in the background between the brothers York, King Edward, Richard and George, Duke of Clarence. A thoroughly entertaining read.

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