Monday, January 1, 2018

Favorites from 2017

Many “Best Books of the Year” lists are available for enthusiastic readers in December. It is always fun to find out which titles are chosen and which appear on more than one list. Here are some of my favorite titles this year.

Stephanie Saldaña’s A Country Between: Making a Place Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide (956.9442Sa) is a sequel to her first memoir, Bread of Angels. Texas-born Saldaña opens her new book with the story of meeting a young monk, Frederick, in a monastery in the Syrian desert while she studied in Damascus. They marry in France and search for a home where they both feel comfortable. They settle in a large, old house in Jerusalem where they are embraced by their Palestinian neighbors, especially after the birth of two sons, the first of whom is born in Bethlehem. Saldaña vividly describes these neighbors, including the falafel vendor who keeps business on their front steps until a checkpoint is set up on the spot, and the French-speaking nuns from whom they rent their house. In spiritual rather than political terms, Saldaña’s hopeful story portrays life as it continues to happen in very difficult and dangerous circumstances.  

Gail Honeyman’s eponymous anti-heroine in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (fiction-Honeyman book and audio CD) survived a savage childhood. At 29, scarred, terribly lonely and socially inept, Eleanor lives a tightly controlled life, without joy or charm or friends, but with plenty of vodka laced weekends. The target of gossip and snide comments at work, some of which Eleanor agrees with, she is unsettled when Raymond, the new, unkempt IT technician actually speaks to her. One evening they leave work at the same time and save Sammy’s life when the elderly man falls to the sidewalk. Slowly, with a few setbacks, these gently developing friendships with Raymond, Sammy and their families, allow Eleanor the courage to confront the harrowing events of her past. Both a thriller and a comic novel, Eleanor begins to uncover a capacity for happiness she hasn’t felt she deserved and is, really, completely fine.

Henning Mankell, the author of the Kurt Wallander mystery series and other books, was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. Quicksand: What it Means to be a Human Being (921 Mankell) is a collection of 67 essays Mankell wrote in response to his diagnosis, treatment, and possible death. In the essays, Mankell reflects on his life from his youth through chemotherapy. His observations cover people he met, his relationship with his father, art, religion, his work as a theater director in Mozambique, mortality, the environment, and wondering what humans, 10,000 years from now, will think of us when they uncover buried nuclear waste. In his farewell, we realize how wide-ranging Mankell’s curiosity was and discover a great humanitarian.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw (fiction-Shaw) is an atmospheric mystery set on the English coast. William South is a policeman in a small town, a birdwatcher, and possibly a murderer. As a youth, William and his mother moved to coastal England after his father was killed. William has avoided taking on murder cases until his neighbor, a fellow birdwatcher, is found dead in his home. But, when another dead body turns up, this one from William’s past, William is taken off the case. He continues to investigate, however, amid flashbacks to his childhood in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The characters, plot, relationships, and sense of place all contribute to a heart-wrenching story.

From England’s coast we turn to the dry lowlands and mountains of northeast Spain in Matthew Carr’s Devils of Cardona (fiction-Carr). This historical mystery follows a lawyer, Bernardo de Mendoza, and his few hand-picked men who are sent to investigate the murder of a priest in Aragon, a small town whose inhabitants are mostly Moriscos, former Muslims who converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition. Clues left at the scene lead townsfolk and authorities to suspect the man known and feared as the Muslim Avenger to be the culprit. Soon more gruesome murders follow. In an electrifying quest for justice amidst danger, sex, intrigue, religion, and politics, Mendoza must uncover the murderer before ethnic and religious war breaks out.

We offer a huge selection of cookbooks at Peter White. Here are three new favorites. Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen (641.5977Do), Life in a Northern Town by Mary Dougherty (641.5977Do), and King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan (641.5676Na). The first two titles offer recipes and anecdotes from Northern Minnesota and Bayfield, Wisconsin, respectively. The last provides a history of Jewish cooking from around the world and across centuries. All three cookbooks contain luscious recipes and mouth-watering photos. Next week, Lynette Suckow will tell you about more new cookbooks.

We’ve just cataloged A French Village, a six-season DVD series set in a small village in central France during the Nazi occupation. The films follow the lives of the inhabitants and the occupiers as each person deals with the war. Townsfolk become collaborators, activists, traitors, or resisters as they live (or not) through five years of occupation. The characters are well drawn, the acting is excellent, and the scenery pulls you right into the village.

If you missed the fabulous Kardemimmit concert at Reynold’s Hall this fall, we now own two CDs by the Finnish women’s quartet, Omni Happiness and Autio Huvila (World-Kar). The four young women specialize in folk music and play the kantele, Finland’s ancient national instrument. 

Happy New Year to you and yours. 

--Cathy Seblonka, Collection Development Librarian

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