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January 2005

Librarians’ Choice 2004 · Fiction

cover of The Watchmen The Watchmen
John Altman
Al-Qaeda leader Ali Zattout is being held prisoner at a remote CIA safe house. Louis Finney, a psychiatrist and former US government interrogator, is sent to question him. A third man, an Eastern assassin with almost mystical skills, is headed toward them to stop Zattout from talking. Incredible suspense is mixed with genuine sympathy for both terrorist prisoner and reluctant jailer in this top-notch thriller.

cover of Dead Lines Dead Lines
Greg Bear
In Los Angeles, a former soft-core film director takes a promotional job with a cell phone startup company. Their new device offers crystal clear communication anywhere, but it involves a disturbing collateral effect. In a stunning departure, SF author Greg Bear adopts the hardboiled style of an L.A. crime novel for a compelling and atmospheric ghost story.

cover of The Romanov Prophecy The Romanov Prophecy
Steve Berry
Atlanta lawyer Miles Lord is in Russia at a crucial moment. The country has voted to return a tsar—a remote Romanov claimant—to the throne. But Lord comes across cryptic clues that a more direct heir may have survived the slaughter of the royal family in 1916. Naturally, some factions will do anything to stop Lord from bringing the information to light. Berry combines exciting suspense and a classic historical mystery.

cover of The Inner Circle The Inner Circle
T. Coraghessan Boyle
Boyle has written an entertaining and compulsively readable biographical novel about Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his controversial research on human sexuality. Sexual innocent John Milk meets Kinsey while a student at Indiana University in 1939. The course of his life is altered forever when he is recruited as a researcher and becomes an intimate of Dr. Kinsey’s inner circle.

cover of Confinement Confinement
Carrie Brown
Arthur Henning is a displaced Jew from Austria who lost almost everything in World War II. Now he is a driver for cold, wealthy American Mr. Duvall. When the teenaged Duvall daughter, Aggie, becomes pregnant, Arthur grows deeply involved in her fate. This fascinating character study depicts a life defined by devastating loss and unconventional love.

cover of Had A Good Time: Stories from American Postcards Had A Good Time: Stories from American Postcards
Robert Olen Butler
This delightful volume offers fifteen short stories, each introduced by a vintage American postcard. Stories are extrapolated inventively from the brief message scrawled on the prefatory card. In the hands of this masterful writer, a simple conceit of expatiation results in a collection of artfully written, literary stories.

cover of Little Black Book of Stories Little Black Book of Stories
A. S. Byatt
Byatt plays gorgeously with language and the conventions of fantasy in these five eerie tales. In one, a middle-aged woman finds herself turning to stone; in another, an elderly man meets the “fetch” who has come for his dying wife. These vivid encounters with the Other are counterbalanced by equally vivid depictions of the strangeness of everyday life. A treat for readers of sophisticated fiction and fantasy.

cover of Inheritance Inheritance
Lan Samantha Chang
Chang’s absorbing family saga begins in the 1930s. Two Chinese sisters are separated when one, Junan, is married off to pay family debts. She falls in love with her soldier husband, but faces separation from him, too, when the Japanese invade. Deciding to send her sister to stay with her husband, she sets into motion a betrayal that echoes through the succeeding generations. Her daughter narrates their quietly haunting tale.

cover of Epicure’s Lament Epicure’s Lament
Kate Christensen
In this quirky, entertaining ode to self-determination, forty-year-old Hugo Whittier leads a happily dissolute, solitary life, reading, smoking, cooking, and ignoring his family. When old relationships obtrude and Hugo is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness, he sees no reason to change—except to take the opportunity to pen a fascinating memoir. Hugo is a true original.

cover of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Susanna Clarke
In early nineteenth-century England, magic has been dead for centuries. Then two magicians with amazing skill arise to aid their country in the war against Napoleon. Partners at first, the men become rivals as fussy, secretive Norrell and ambitious, generous Strange disagree on the practice of magic. Clarke’s wondrous debut is lyrical, richly imagined, and full of fascinating period detail.

cover of Crofton’s Fire Crofton’s Fire
Keith Coplin
Lt. Michael Crofton is a young and naive West Point grad whose baptism of fire is the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Escaping that death trap, Crofton begins a series of adventures that take him as far as Kansas, Washington, Cuba, and the Zulu war. There’s plenty to enjoy here: a self-deprecating hero, a vivid historical setting, and a strong and humorous writing style.

cover of Marrying Mozart Marrying Mozart
Stephanie Cowell
Struggling young composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart moves into a boardinghouse and finds his life permanently changed by the four Weber sisters who live there. He breaks the heart of the oldest, while the second sister breaks his. He begins a life-long friendship with youngest, but it is the third sister who ultimately helps to shape his life and his music. This is rich historical fiction that brings both its characters and its period to vivid life.

cover of Shifting Through Neutral Shifting Through Neutral
Bridgett M. Davis
Rae Datsun doesn’t understand the odd relationship between her parents but finds comfort and security sleeping atop her father’s broad, disabled body. Then two stunning events shatter her already shaky world. A tender, accomplished debut about a young African American girl growing up in the cultural and civil unrest of 1960s and 1970s Detroit.

cover of The Circus in Winter The Circus in Winter
Cathy Day
A small Indiana town becomes the winter home of performers, freaks, and support staff when a local businessman purchases a failing circus. From a circus town herself, Day illuminates the lives of circus folks in their intersection with the ordinary world in this wise, wry series of interlocking stories covering nearly one hundred years.

cover of The Hamilton Case The Hamilton Case
Michelle De Kretser
De Kretser subtly explores imperialism’s legacy. Sam Obeysekere, a member of colonial Ceylon’s highly Anglicized administrative class, grows up convinced of British superiority. As independence nears, this belief isolates him tragically from his own family and country. Fans of The Remains of the Day will recognize a similarly painful portrait of a rigidly honorable but misguided man.

cover of Every Time I Talk to Liston Every Time I Talk to Liston
Brian De Vido
This vigorous debut novel about professional boxing is narrated by Amos “Scrap Iron” Fletcher, a journeyman heavyweight whose fight career ends when he is wrongly accused of accepting a bribe. Scrap Iron bounces back, however, as the trainer-manager of a raw young fighter whom he grooms to challenge for the heavyweight belt.

cover of Life Mask Life Mask
Emma Donoghue
This magnificent historical novel is set in the turbulent London of the late eighteenth century, when Whigs and Tories struggled over political reform, the king battled madness, and France exploded into revolutionary violence. Through the eyes of an actress, an earl, and a sculptress (all historic figures) Donoghue explores the tiny-and tottering-world of the era’s privileged few.

cover of The Queen of Subtleties The Queen of Subtleties
Suzannah Dunn
Dunn contrasts the lives of two women in a historic tale told with modern urgency. The reader will know the story of one—Anne Boleyn, whose spectacular success in catching the fancy of Henry VIII ended in tragedy. The other is Lucy Cornwallis, a servant in the royal kitchen. Though their lives are very different, both must rely on their own strength to make their place in an oppressive world.

cover of Voyageurs: A Novel Voyageurs: A Novel
Margaret Elphinstone
A young English Quaker travels to the high fur-trading country of Canada to find his missing sister in this marvelous historical novel set on the eve of the War of 1812. For the first time far from his own village and the company of Friends, Mark Greenhow patiently tries to trace his sister through the strange country and complex society of that embattled borderland.

cover of The Jane Austen Book Club The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Joy Fowler
Jocelyn decides to start a Jane Austen book club with her friends, whose ages range from twenty-something to sixty-something. To her friends’ surprise, she also invites an unmarried man, Grigg (who has never read Austen), to join them. Unexpected romance follows, as well as a number of other parallels to the Austen plots in this witty and well written homage.

cover of Cheat and Charmer Cheat and Charmer
Elizabeth Frank
Dinah has a happy life, married to a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1950s. But when she is called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she faces a terrible choice: if she doesn’t testify, her husband will be blacklisted; if she does, she’ll have to reveal the Party affiliation of her glamorous younger sister, Veevi, who has always overshadowed her. A memorable story of conscience and consequences.

cover of Waking Beauty Waking Beauty
Elyse Friedman
One night Allison Penny goes to bed fat and frumpy. She wakes up the next morning as a gorgeous bombshell. Allison can’t decide if her transformation is a joke or a fairy tale, but her world certainly changes. She decides to get revenge for some of life’s injustices, in a funny, saucy update on the fairy tale.

cover of The Grenadillo Box: A Novel The Grenadillo Box: A Novel
Janet Gleeson
Nathaniel Hopson, an apprentice to cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale, is sent to install a library for a vile-tempered aristocrat, who is promptly found dead. The death appears to be suicide, but Nathaniel’s acute powers of observation suggest otherwise. This absorbing historical whodunit is strong on the period detail and style of its eighteenth-century setting.

cover of Way Past Legal Way Past Legal
Norman Green
Manny Williams, a small-time criminal, becomes involved in a big heist. Knowing he’s in way over his head, he goes on the lam with his five-year-old son and ends up in a little Maine town. There, he gets an unlikely chance to live a new life. This unusual novel expands the classic crime story to incorporate a moving coming of age for its hero.

cover of The Laments The Laments
George Hagen
This quirky tale follows the fortunes of a hapless but appealing family as they try to find their place in colonial British Africa and then in suburban America in the 1950s and 1960s. Though some of the problems they face are decidedly unusual, they never lose the reader’s willing sympathy in this marvelous novel of daunted optimists and ordinary yet extraordinary lives.

cover of Camouflage Camouflage
Joe Haldeman
In Haldeman’s gripping science fiction thriller, an alien artifact is discovered miles beneath the Pacific Ocean, covered by sand deposited a quarter of a million years ago. If it is a vessel, its inhabitants arrived longer ago than modern man has walked the Earth. The news attracts the intense interest of two very different, non-human individuals.

cover of Holy Fools Holy Fools
Joanne Harris
A flying blackbird brings Soeur Auguste, resident of an isolated nunnery in seventeenth-century France, a premonition of approaching danger. And what arrives is Guy LeMerle, the Blackbird, a wandering acrobat-once Soeur Auguste’s lover. Disguised as a priest, he wreaks havoc on her religious community. This is a sumptuous novel of passion and possession.

cover of The Havana Room The Havana Room
Colin Harrison
Bill Wyeth was a successful attorney until an accidental death brought him to ruin. In an old-style Manhattan steak house where he has found companionable refuge, Wyeth agrees to assist in a dubious property transaction. In return, he gains an invitation to a bizarre secret ceremony held in a subterranean chamber known as the Havana Room. Genre-cracking suspense.

cover of Eventide Eventide
Kent Haruf
In this sequel to Haruf’s beloved bestseller, Plainsong, bachelor brothers Harold and Raymond mourn the loss of their housemate, Victoria (off to college now), while eleven-year-old D. J., caring for his elderly grandfather, finds solace in friendship with two neglected girls. These and other stories intertwine to create a candid and graceful portrait of life on the plains.

cover of The Pacific: And Other Stories The Pacific: And Other Stories
Mark Helprin
This is Helprin’s first short story collection in nine years. Particularly wonderful is one of the longer stories, “Perfection,” in which God redresses the balance of justice in the world after the Holocaust by sending a gawky rabbinical student to “the House of Ruth” to play perfect baseball for the Yankees. Incandescently original work by one of the greats.

cover of The Coal Tattoo The Coal Tattoo
Silas House
Like Clay’s Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves, House’s third novel is set in the Kentucky Appalachians, and like them it is a deeply moving paean to mountain life. Easter, a church-going young woman, raises her wild younger sister, Anneth. Though they could hardly be more different, they unite in surprising strength when strip-mining threatens their home.

cover of I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason
Susan Kandel
While researching a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, former beauty queen Cece Caruso turns up a real-life murder mystery in the writer’s files. Following in the footsteps of Perry Mason, our heroine attempts to crack the case. This delightful debut features a Southern California setting and an engaging heroine with a vintage wardrobe and plenty of verve.

cover of The Tyrant’s Novel The Tyrant’s Novel
Thomas Keneally
In an unspecified nation in the Middle East (go ahead—think Iraq), a political prisoner explains to a visiting journalist how success in publishing a book in the West and marriage to a TV actress delivered him to the inner sanctum of his country’s brutal and sadistic dictator. An accomplished and topical political novel.

cover of Dating Dead Men Dating Dead Men
Harley Jane Kozak
In an effort to raise money to buy a Cincinnati-based greeting card company, frustrated artist Wollie Shelley babysits a ferret and participates in a blind-date-related sociology study. But when her brother finds a dead body and then disappears himself, Wollie’s life grows even crazier. This is a smart, funny, Evanovich-like debut.

cover of The Song of Names The Song of Names
Norman Lebrecht
Dovidl, a Polish violin prodigy, is rescued from the Holocaust and brought to live with the family of an English impresario. He becomes fast friends with the family’s son, Martin. When Dovidl disappears on the day of his London debut, Martin is devastated. Forty years later, Martin hears another young violinist and realizes that he must have been taught by Dovidl. It’s the first clue in a haunting, lifelong mystery.

cover of White Devils White Devils
Paul McAuley
Small, swift, savage bipeds known as white devils slaughter rescue workers in a near-future African nation ravaged by warfare and ecological disaster. A British ex-soldier hunts for the origin of the genetically engineered monsters in the lawless, nightmarish landscape of the African Dead Zone. McAuley has written a gripping and imaginative science fiction thriller.

cover of The Sunday Philosophy Club The Sunday Philosophy Club
Alexander McCall Smith
The author of the popular #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries introduces a new sleuth, Isabel Dalhousie. Isabel spends much of her time collecting art or meddling in her niece’s love life. These pursuits are interrupted, though, when she sees a man fall to his death in an Edinburgh concert hall. Isabel’s search for the truth behind the death reveals some truths about her own life in this charming, deceptively simple tale.

cover of No Ordinary Matter No Ordinary Matter
Jenny McPhee
No Ordinary Matter is no ordinary tale. New York sisters Lilian and Veronica hire a p.i. to discover the truth about their father’s death, but meantime their own lives have become more complicated than the soap operas Veronica writes for. Realistic characters balance quirky plot twists in a funny, eccentric, and enlightening romantic comedy.

cover of The Preservationist The Preservationist
David Maine
Noe (Noah) obeys when God commands him to build a great ship to save family and animals from the coming flood. Maine’s imaginative recreation of the story is told from the various viewpoints of Noe’s family as the ark is prepared, the animals collected, and the voyage begins. This is a powerful, riveting tale that plays Biblical history against modern-day sensibilities.

cover of Bandbox Bandbox
Thomas Mallon
Mallon offers a witty glimpse of New York in the late 1920s. The gentleman’s fashion magazine Bandbox is facing sudden rivalry from another publication, as well as a host of other challenges. Strong period detail, a deliciously complex plot, and a mass of odd but likeable characters burst forth exuberantly in Mallon’s cleverly comic novel.

cover of Right As Rain Right As Rain
Bev Marshall
In Marshall’s deeply moving story, two African-American women, Icey and Tee Wee, become both comic rivals and friends united by tragedy when they are hired by a white family in 1950s Mississippi. Their lives and the lives of their families become intertwined, culminating in a murder trial at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

cover of Meriwether: A Novel of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis & Clark Expedition Meriwether: A Novel of Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis & Clark Expedition
David Nevin
More than one historical novel has been inspired by the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and this is among the finest. Told mostly through the eyes of Lewis, the melancholic young presidential secretary whom Thomas Jefferson sent out to explore a continent, it’s both a splendid account of the journey and a believable portrait of a complex, troubled man.

cover of The Falls The Falls
Joyce Carol Oates
Ariah Erskine, widowed on her wedding night, considers herself damned for life, though she soon remarries and has three children. In the next thirty years, Ariah’s sense of impending doom takes on broader significance as her lawyer husband pursues the polluters of Love Canal. A fabulous, sprawling novel of American life, family, and environmental causes by one of America’s great authors.

cover of The View From Delphi The View From Delphi
Jonathan Odell
Two women in small-town Mississippi become unexpected allies at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Vida, born and raised in Delphi, is hired as a maid to wealthy Hazel, wife of a prominent businessman. Vida’s kitchen-table Rosa Parks League with a group of other domestic workers attracts the interest of drunk and lonely Hazel, and an unusual friendship develops.

cover of Coal Run Coal Run
Tawni O’Dell
After a sixteen-year absence, Ivan Zoschenko returns to the Pennsylvania coal town where he grew up. Before he can find peace with the tragedies that drove him away, Ivan must face a high school rival, an old love, broken family ties, and his stubbornly self-destructive behavior. O’Dell’s emotionally powerful second novel triumphantly fulfills the promise of Back Roads.

cover of Little Children Little Children
Tom Perrota
The author of the comic novel Election turns a satirical eye on the suburbs in summertime, examining two unhappy marriages that result in an affair between a bored, thirty-something mom and a handsome, stay-at-home dad. Tom Perrotta offers a smart, funny novel about marriage, domestic life, and unfulfilled dreams in suburbia.

cover of The Egyptologist The Egyptologist
Arthur Phillips
In 1922, just as Howard Carter is about to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamen and change Egyptian archaeology, young Oxford-educated Ralph Trilipush stakes his professional reputation, his health, and his fiancée’s fortune to find evidence of an obscure, perhaps imaginary Egyptian king. This is a dazzling novel of historical and psychological suspense by the award-winning author of Prague.

cover of Cottonwood Cottonwood
Scott Phillips
In a Kansas frontier town, saloon-keeper/photographer Bill Ogden is persuaded into a business deal with industrialist Marc Leval. But it’s really Mrs. Leval Bill is interested in. Their torrid affair forces them to flee town. Twenty years later, both are back for an unexpected resolution. Phillips’s wry, blackly humorous tale overturns the conventions of the western.

cover of My Sister’s Keeper My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult
Anna Fitzgerald, age thirteen, has spent her life donating transfusions of blood and bone marrow to her sister Kate, who has leukemia. But when their parents want Anna to donate a kidney to Kate, Anna sues for medical control of her own body. Her decision has unexpected repercussions for the whole family in this unsentimental, yet moving story.

cover of Gilead Gilead
Marilynne Robinson
Knowing he will die before his seven-year-old son grows up, Reverend John Ames writes a long letter to the boy, telling him everything he would have had he lived long enough. The hard-won wisdom, steadfast faith, and contented life of the last in a long line of ministers comes to rich, vibrant life in Robinson’s long awaited, absolutely splendid second novel.

cover of The Plot against America The Plot against America
Philip Roth
When famed aviator and Aryan supremacist Charles Lindbergh defeats F.D.R. in the 1940 Presidential election, the stage is set for Roth’s chilling, creepily plausible novel of alternate history. A fictional “Philip Roth,” aged seven, watches in fear and confusion as the adults in his family and his Newark neighborhood deal with the possibility of Hitler’s anti-Semitic program on their own home ground. A stunning literary achievement.

cover of The Shadow of the Wind The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
In 1945, eleven-year-old Daniel Sempere is taken by his bookseller father to a secret library known as the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” and permitted to bring home one volume. It’s the beginning of a lifelong obsession with the book’s mysterious author. Fans of biblio-suspense will be intrigued by this Spanish bestseller with its haunting settings in pre-war Paris and Barcelona.

cover of Project X Project X
Jim Shepard
Narrator Edwin has just started the eighth grade. He does poorly in class, resents authority, frequently gets into trouble, and has only one friend. These two self-described “losers” intend to hide firearms in their lockers, then kill students and teachers at a school assembly. A strong, true adolescent voice drives this disturbing psychological study.

cover of The Confession The Confession
Olen Steinhauer
Steinhauer masterfully weaves character study and suspense tale in this intense novel of Eastern Europe under Communist control. Called in to quell anti-government demonstrations in his puppet state, Police Inspector Ferenc Kolyeszar reaches his breaking point. A marvelous read for those who miss the classic Cold War spy novel.

cover of Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Murder: A Revolutionary War Mystery Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Murder: A Revolutionary War Mystery
Karen Swee
As a New Jersey tavern owner in 1777, Abigail Lawrence doesn’t find life easy. Besides keeping her tavern, and her pretty daughter, out of the hands of occupying British forces, Abigail is forced to turn sleuth when one of her guests is murdered. Swee’s debut mystery is as engaging as Abigail herself.

cover of The Master: A Novel The Master: A Novel
Colm Toibin
Toibin creates a remarkably subtle and sophisticated portrait of the artist in this novel about nineteenth-century writer Henry James. Toibin portrays James as a man who wrote brilliantly about every nuance of the society of his day yet preferred to keep at arms’ length his own relationships with family, friends, and potential lovers—a formal reserve maintained at devastating emotional cost.

cover of Number 10 Number 10
Sue Townsend
When he can’t answer a reporter’s question about the price of milk, English Prime Minister Edward Clare is accused of being out of touch. In an effort to reconnect with the people, Edward decides to travel the country incognito—and in drag. Needless to say, the life of the common man has a few challenges for him. Townsend’s latest is another hilarious but thoughtful satire.

cover of Brother and Sister Brother and Sister
Joanna Trollope
Trollope writes wonderfully subtle and enjoyable novels about families. Her latest is about the unexpected ripples of emotion set off among several related families when an adopted sister and brother decide to seek out their separate birth parents. Trollope’s humor, compassion, and deftness in tracing the unpredictable outcome of emotional change make this a great read.

cover of Blue Horse Dreaming Blue Horse Dreaming
Melanie Wallace
The return of two women from Indian captivity profoundly affects a desolate army outpost. Major Robert Cutter, who still carries the emotional and physical wounds of his experiences in the Civil War, tries to understand Abigail Buwell, who proudly refuses to accept her “redemption.” Tragedy is inevitable in this haunting and gracefully written historical novel.

cover of Little Earthquakes Little Earthquakes
Jennifer Weiner
Four new mothers become friends, and help each other to deal with the unexpected sorrows and changing family relationships that accompany this happy time in their lives. Weiner’s realistic novel provides a bittersweet yet ultimately hopeful glance into the many ways motherhood changes a woman’s life.

cover of Small Change Small Change
J. Belinda Yandell
A proud, penny-pinching man is stunned when he discovers that his recently deceased wife had a secret stash of cash. He’s even more amazed when he discovers where the money came from and what Penny used it for. Yandell has written a heartwarming story of the beautiful legacy left by a joyful, giving woman.