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Category: Fiction

Jan 04 2017

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

Reviewed by Callistus Ndemo, NCSU Student, Applied Mathematics

The Course of Love takes us through the love life of two ordinary couples, Rabih and Kirsten. It explores “what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence.”

With great empathy, De Botton makes us appreciate that “love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.” His piece, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person”, was the most-read story in the New York Times this year.

Dec 20 2016

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

Reviewed by Chris Tonelli, Director of Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

Somebody finally gives poetry a break…thanks, Ben Lerner! The Hatred of Poetry diagnoses why every few years our culture declares that, or at the very least asks if, poetry is dead. His basic thesis is that there are two kinds of poetry haters, both of which, he argues, are pretty unreasonable/irresponsible. One line of haters sets up unreachable expectations for poetry–that it can cause in the reader some sort of divine transformation. Most things fail under such scrutiny, and poetry is no different it turns out. The other camp goes one step further, revising history so that it contained poetry that actually achieved such lofty heights, and then unfavorably compares anything written since. No matter where on that spectrum a reader falls, Lerner, himself a lapsed poet–his two most recent books are novels–gives a whirlwind tour through the history of such treatises and provides a few useful lenses through which to view them.

Dec 20 2016

A Hole in the Sky by Philippe Aronson

Reviewed by John Papalas, Friends of the Library Board Member

A Hole in the Sky, by Philippe Aronson is a novel about the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.  With ribaldry and wit, Aronson brings the iconic American back to life through a lively and in the end very touching account of his life. For North Carolina history enthusiasts, the story of Jack Johnson is often overlooked. The controversial international superstar was mortally wounded just 30 miles outside of Raleigh and taken to die to a hospital whose ghostly ruins still peer above Oakwood cemetery.

Dec 13 2016

High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Reviewed by Rob Ross, Executive Director, NCLIVE

Years ago, after exiting an elevator that had experienced the briefest of hesitations between floors, presaging more serious mechanical issues to come, my companion asked me:  “So, which one?”  I didn’t follow.  “Which one would you have eaten?” she clarified.  She already knew which of our fellow passengers she’d have chosen and why.  This readiness to shed all moral pretensions and think strategically and myopically about survival would have served her well as a character in Ballard’s High-Rise, a 1975 dystopian novel about a 40-floor luxury apartment building that devolves, along with its residents, in spectacular fashion.  High-Rise skewers our obsession with modern creature comforts, exposes our affectation of atavistic morality, and posits that humankind’s ultimate goal is to achieve “a realm where their most deviant impulses [are] free at last to exercise themselves in any way they wished.”

Dec 12 2016

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Reviewed by Marian Fragola, Director, Program Planning and Outreach, NCSU Libraries

I was lucky enough to read Kent Haruf’s magical Our Souls at Night, then have the opportunity to discuss it in Read Smart with Belle Boggs, now on faculty at NC State. I was actually quite overcome by this book — it is quietly astonishing. With perfectly crafted but unshowy prose, through scenes that shimmer with feeling, Haruf reflects on some of life’s most challenging issues– loss, loneliness, the complexity of family, and memory.

Dec 08 2016

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

Reviewed by Karen Ciccone, Director of Natural Resources Library & Research Librarian for Science Informatics, NCSU Libraries

The Book of Strange New Things is both strange and wonderful. Although on the surface it is a science fiction book, it is really a book about a long distance relationship. A Christian missionary, Peter, and his wife, Bea, struggle to remain connected across interstellar distance with access to only a rudimentary text communication channel called the “shoot.” Peter struggles to describe his experiences learning an alien language and witnessing to an alien race on an alien world, while Bea pours forth vivid word images of her life on an Earth in crisis–a life growing increasingly strange and remote to Peter. The book is brilliant, sad, beautiful, and unlike anything else you have ever read.

Dec 08 2016

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

Reviewed by Jill Sexton, Head of Information Technology, NCSU Libraries

Sometimes you discover an author who has been writing for many years, but you don’t know, and it makes you wonder: how is it possible that I’ve never encountered this extraordinary voice?  This collection of stories by the late Lucia Berlin, published in 2015, was one of those books for me. Some of these stories literally took my breath away-I’d have to shut the book and sit with it for a while before moving on. Berlin’s writing is spare, economical, sharply observant, hilarious–also dark, harrowing, and real.  Loosely autobiographical, the stories trace the life of a brilliant narrator who struggles with alcoholism and abusive relationships, yet retains her humor and her humanity. Her writing draws you in with its dry wit, disarms you with its humor, then compels you to gaze on something you probably didn’t want to see–and yet you can’t turn away.

Dec 08 2016

Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman

Reviewed by Will Quick, Friends of the Library board member

I’ve read Wherever You are: My Love Will Find You, a 270 word poem about a parent’s unconditional love for a child, to my son, who just turned one in October, well over hundred times in the past year.  Without fail, I start crying every single time.  In fact, I’m sitting in my office right now with the door shut because I can’t stop tearing up just thinking about the words.  Before finding this Nancy Tillman’s simple, but beautiful piece, I’d have never thought there were enough words in all the languages of the world to capture how I feel when I look at Shep.  And maybe those 270 words aren’t enough, but they sure come close!  I also cry when I read it because I think about the way my own parents supported and loved me unconditionally as a child and how they still do as an adult.  And then finally, I cry because, as an adult, I know there are people in this world who haven’t felt the kind of love I have for my son and the kind of love I have been blessed with in my own life.  So go find a copy and read it during this holiday season!

Dec 08 2016

The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life by Flann O’Brien

Reviewed by Josh Wilson, Systems Librarian, NCLIVE

Perfect oddball satire of wretchedly poor turn-of-the-20th-century rural Irish life. Every meal is potatoes, every day is a downpour, and no one knows anything about the outside world. Flann O’Brien’s writing can’t be neatly defined–it’s funny without really being comic, surreal but about daily life. This one serves as a good intro to O’Brien, too, at just over 100 pages.

Dec 08 2016

Partisan of Things by Francis Ponge

Reviewed by Christopher Vitiello, Communications Strategist, NCSU Libraries

The French poet Francis Ponge originally published these prose poems in 1942 under the title Le Parti pris des choses. Since then, they have been translated into English again and again, often under the title Taking the Side of Things. The poems are short, descriptive passages about familiar objects, and have titles like “Orange,” “Cigarette,” “Candle,” and “Blackberries.” If you read them quickly, they’re frankly kind of bland. But translators find them irresistible because Ponge was trying not to make a representation of the object in language, but to make the object itself in words (rather than, say, atoms). Corey and Garneau, in their subtle handling of Ponge’s tone, Duchampian humor, and vocabulary, bring out his phenomenology and, through that, his politics. Ponge, who signed the First Surrealist Manifesto but left the movement to join the French Resistance, becomes a partisan again, fighting on the side of reality itself, in this really enjoyable book.

Dec 08 2016

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Reviewed by Catherine Bishir, Curator, Architectural Records Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

For decades, I had known that the “divine Jane” had millions of fans, but I just didn’t “get it.” Then I took Sense and Sensibility on a long vacation and was determined to read it, and found out what a glorious observer and satirist Austen was/is. I guess I was too young when I first tried to read Austen as an English major in college.

Dec 08 2016

The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson

Reviewed by Daniel Hawkins, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

The best book I read for the first time this year was The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson (available as a standalone novella or as part of the excellent story/novella collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees). This has elements of Lovecraft and David McCullough’s feats of engineering books (The Great BridgeThe Path Between the Seas) but weaves these disparate strands into a masterpiece of concise worldbuilding, believable character development and an deep sense of awe. An engineer must build a bridge across the river of mist, at the bottom of which swim ancient beings while navigating his burgeoning relationship with a woman who ferries people across the mist by raft and will be put out of business by his handiwork.

Runners up: The Plague by Albert Camus, Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers, At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, Live by Night by Dennis Lehane, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, The Sellout by Paul Beatty and Mislaid by Nell Zink.
Dec 08 2016

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Reviewed by Robin Harper, Preservation, NCSU Libraries

Yes, the title sounds pretty boring, but the story is so wonderful, the writing so elegant and understated, and the setting so evocative; it’s hard to overstate how much I loved this book. It’s set in 18th century Japan, on a tiny island just off the coast. Jacob is the intrepid clerk of a Dutch trading company, with aspirations of making at least a small fortune and returning to the Netherlands to claim his bride. He is surrounded by corrupt company men, duplicitous Japanese officials, and impenetrable customs that continually flummox and humiliate him. But Jacob is a man of integrity, and a quick learner. Mitchell’s descriptions of the internal mental workings of Jacob’s mind, and those of people close to him is so real, I felt like I was living the experience myself. Wonderful twists and turns in the story that I didn’t see coming, and only minimal clues left me holding my breath til the very end.

Jan 04 2016

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

Reviewed by Mary Grace Keilhauer, NC State student in Environmental Engineering

I really enjoyed this book. I had no idea what it was about when I began reading it, but it quickly drew me in. Albom does a great job of creating this frame for the story at the beginning. Without giving anything away, it starts at the end, and through this layout of five people, you put the pieces together and begin really connecting with the character. It was just an interesting way to learn someone’s story. Overall a great short read and I would recommend it.

Dec 16 2015

Leaving Auburndale and A Brief History of Seven Killings

Reviewed by Jason Jefferies, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries


The best book I read this year by a regional author is also the first book I read this year, which is Leaving Auburndale by Hank Smith.  In Leaving Auburndale, Smith–a phenomenal banjo player from Raleigh, North Carolina–gives us a Gonzo take on the life of a touring bluegrass musician that reads like Raoul Duke on a whiskey bender at a swampy Floridian carnival.  Smith’s novel, his first, rewarded me with more laugh-out-loud moments than any book I read in 2015.

Reviewed by Jason Jefferies, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

Keeping with the musical theme, the best book I read this year by a non-regional author is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.  This novel is centered around the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, though it covers several years before and after.  A challenging but rewarding read, the scope of A Brief History of Seven Killings is best compared to that of The Sound and the Fury and The Wire.  For what it’s worth, James recently became the first Jamaican author to win the Man Booker Prize.

Dec 11 2015

A Preparation for the Next Life and Mauvais Garçons : Portraits de tatoués (1890-1930)

Reviewed by Dr. John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

A Preparation for the Next Life, the first novel by Atticus Lish, won the 2015 PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. The story-line and structure are so technically good that books like this confound critics who wonder both how some of the current younger generation of writers like Lish can pull this off at such an early stage of their careers, and, more importantly, whether he will be able to continue to produce such high quality pieces of fiction. Regardless of what come next from Lish, this book is a wrenching love tragedy, a For Whom the Bell Tolls set in modern day New York City.  I would like to add this book to the list of books considered in the discussion/debate for The Great American Novel because it captures so well the modern expressions (and failings) of the historically significant American themes of immigration, race, soldiery, violence, and yes, love, all heedlessly mixed up together and exploding out onto the streets of the quintessential city.
Reviewed by Dr. John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

Mauvais garçons : Portraits de tatoués (1890-1930) by Jérôme Pierrat and Eric Guillon and translated by Philippe Aronson is a fascinating collection and analysis of photographs of tattoos taken from various persons (prisoners, soldiers, convicts, etc) associated with French North African battalions during the time period stated in the title. The authors analyze the significance of the tattoos, pointing out both recurring subject themes and more specific if not obscure meanings of individual types. All tattoos aside, the blank faces of the subjects in the photographs staring back at you from off the pages emotionally reflect the strain and suffering that these particular inmates must have experienced.

Dec 10 2015

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Reviewed by Todd Stoffer, NCSU Libraries Fellow

The Dog Stars at its heart is a post-apocalyptic survival story. What I enjoyed most about this novel is how different it was from other stories in this this genre. It is remarkably light and heartwarming. While the world has fallen apart the main character and narrator, Hig, remains hopeful throughout the book. It also is set in my home state of Colorado which I enjoyed

Dec 09 2015

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Reviewed by Josh Wilson, Systems Librarian, NC Live

Neal Stephenson’s take on the consequences of the moon exploding (not a spoiler–it happens in literally the first sentence) employs him in his familiar roles of PopSci explainer and technology worshipper. While his interests seem like they could get him labeled as a writer of “hard” science fiction, a genre that typically elevates technical details over human interest, Stephenson uniquely manages to master both. He’s able to create great sci-fi stories, but fills them with casts of likeable, impossibly smart, witty characters. This is a long novel, and the story could have easily been stretched into three books, but the entire arc of disaster aftermath, survival story, and human recovery is covered in one epic volume.

Dec 09 2015

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart

Reviewed by Marian Fragola, Director, Program Planning and Outreach

“When someone looks back and writes a history of this summer, two people they will almost certainly leave out are Sue and Daniel Bagnold, mother and son respectively . . . ” And with that first line begins Days of the Bagnold Summer. This gloomy charmer chronicles the quotidian life of Daniel, a teen aged boy, and his mom during one doleful summer. Other readers have called it depressing, but I think the tone is more poignant. Winterhart, through the art and the text, really captures a feeling.
Dec 09 2015

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Reviewed by Chris Tonelli, Director of Communication Strategy, NCSU Libraries

This genre-blurring hybrid of poetry, prose, and images exposes and explores contemporary systemic racial discrimination. Through examples of both local micro-aggressions–experiences on public transportation, for example–and very public macro-aggressions–absurd calls going against Serena Williams in an internationally televised tennis match, Rankine collages a frank and unrelenting portrait of race in America, one worthy of being nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in two categories–the first time that’s ever happened (it won for Criticism).
Dec 07 2015

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Reviewed by Dargan Williams, Friends of the Library Board Member

The best book I have read this year is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This 700 page novel tells the story of four college roommates who move to New York after graduation to pursue their careers. Willem is an aspiring actor, JB is an artist , Malcolm becomes a respected architect , and Jude … around whom the novel revolves… is a brilliant and successful lawyer.  Yanagihara’s prose is flowery and impactful, and her characters are unforgettable.  A very emotional and, at times, troubling read, A Little Life deals with abuse, redemption and the complicated male bond of four men.

Dec 04 2015

Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann

Reviewed by Sylvia Sheffield, Library Technician, Natural Resources Library, NCSU Libraries

Mother of Sorrows is a novel (or perhaps a collection of short stories) about a gay man growing up in 1950s suburban America and then living as an adult during the AIDS crisis. Across this timespan we witness the narrator’s changing relationship to his family members and his sexuality. McCann is a poet as well as a novelist, and his prose is beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking; every word is intentional. I loved the way that his descriptions of the most mundane objects turned them into something meaningful.

Dec 04 2015

Seeing Things by Nancy Young

Reviewed by Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

I read this book in one day! Mary Catherine, the divorced mother who takes up ghost hunting in a haunted mansion in Philadelphia after leaving her husband in Raleigh, North Carolina, seems like a best friend.  The conversations are witty and wise; the plot moves at a rapid pace and carries you along with Mary Catherine’s awakening to her self. The descriptions made me see Grey Crag in all its spooky glory, with ladies in Callot Soeurs gowns, languidly roaming from room to room in the mansion during party after party. One of the things I liked best is Mary Catherine’s relationship with her son. She is a mother who cares and also has her eyes wide open. There is steamy sex with a hot tech guy, lots of ghosts, and tragedy from the past. Nancy has portrayed Mary Catherine as a full character. I felt for Mary as a child, and as an adult. She was coping with what life handed her, and grew in the process. This is a smart, sexy, and frightening novel. Nancy Young is a local author and her next book in this series, which features Raleigh, is out now!

Dec 04 2015

Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner

Reviewed by Catherine W. Bishir, Curator, Architectural Records Special Collections, NCSU Libraries

I really liked Angela Davis-Gardner’s novel, Butterfly’s Child. It begins with the plot of the opera Madame Butterfly but then follows the orphaned child of Madame Butterfly through an imagined boy and young man growing up. The story covers a large swath of America and also goes to Japan. The author’s deep knowledge of Japan and her research on American settings as well provide a solid and believable grounding for an engagingly told story. I read it on a long train trip, and it was fabulous as a non-stop read that carried me right along with it.

Dec 04 2015

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Reviewed by Leia Droll, Executive Director of Development, NCSU Libraries

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a beautiful story about a boy and girl in occupied France during World War II  with an unlikely connection.  The book, written from alternating perspectives, is rich in detail and character development, and offers a somewhat unique perspective of young people during this time. The book is difficult to put down—I read it from start to finish on a transatlantic flight and hardly noticed the long trip.
Dec 04 2015

Redeployment by Paul Clay

RedeploymentReviewed by Alex Carroll, Research Librarian for Engineering and Biotechnology, NCSU Libraries

This book was recommended to me by a friend as “The Things They Carried for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” It’s an apt comparison: like O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, each chapter of Redeployment tells the story of a Marine at home or currently deployed. Beyond his keen eye for detail, Klay’s most impressive achievement is his construction of clearly distinct voices for his narrators that makes each chapter feel completely unique and deeply personal. At times tragic, at times farcical, and affecting throughout.

Dec 03 2015

The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Reviewed by Joe Hightower, Friends of the Library Board Member

The best book I read this year was The Cobra Event by Richard Preston.  It isn’t a recent novel (1998, actually) but I only learned of it after reading Micro, which was started by Michael Crichton and completed by Richard Preston.  The Cobra Event is similar to a Crichton book in that it is very exciting but has a strong science foundation.  In this time of frequent acts of terrorism, it is a very plausible and scary story.
Dec 08 2014

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Book: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932

Author: Francine Prose

Reviewer: Jody Herring, Graduate – English (American Literature), NC State

This book came out of Prose’s love of the work of Hungarian photographer Brassai and showcases her incomparable ability to blend fact and fiction. From start to finish (what a beautiful, postmodern ending), it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in many years. If you are interested in photography, gay/lesbian cultures, sports cultures, or Holocaust literature certainly add this beautiful book to your list.

Dec 03 2014

The Book of Dolores and Livability

Book: The Book of Dolores

Author: William T. Vollmann

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I have been a fan of Vollmann since I lived in the San Francisco neighborhoods he writes about in a few of his early novels, and I understand that his work can sometimes seem impenetrable to the uninitiated.  I found The Book of Dolores to be the perfect introduction to his work, and perhaps most representative of both his fictional and his journalistic writing.  The book is a photo essay and process narrative of the time Vollmann spent cross dressing and living as a woman named Dolores (Dolores is the protagonist of one of his future novels, and he found the best way to research her was to become her).  If anyone is interested in finding a jumping on point to the work of an author who is likely to be a future Nobel Prize winner, The Book of Dolores is a great starting spot.

Book: Livability

Author: Jon Raymond

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Project Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival 2014

I picked Livability up on my way to Portland, Oregon because I wanted to read a book by an Oregon author.  What I ended up with is one of the better short story collections I have read in recent memory.  Two of the stories became the films Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, and the other stories are equally heart wrenching and profound.

Dec 02 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Book: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

Even though Murakami’s newest novel doesn’t technically contain the elements of magical realism for which he is so well-known, he somehow creates the same disorientation. Maybe it’s because he zooms so far in–on characters, on place–that the familiar feels uncanny. While we follow the narrator, Tsukuru Tazaki, from Nagoya to Tokyo and back, then to Finland, and finally back to Tokyo, as he tries to heal a decades-old trauma, Murakami often operates at the micro level. At this resolution, the real is denatured, for Tsukuru and the reader, and it is this denaturing that allows Tsukuru to experience the everyday anew, free of the incident that had rendered him colorless.
Dec 01 2014

The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather

Book: The First Four Books of Sampson Starkweather

Author: Sampson Starkweather

Reviewer: Mara Masters, Administrative Support Specialist, NCSU Libraries

This book is exactly what it sounds like- four books of Sampson Starkweather- each with a very different form and feel, all originals but some “transcontemporations,” or loose, creative translations. Starkweather seems to be acutely aware of those every day tensions like life and death, hopelessness and hope, the self and the other, and these poems feel like a sort of fever dream in which the subconscious tries to situate itself in the tension.

Dec 01 2014

Tomatoland, Cobalt Blue and A Stricken Field

Book: Tomatoland

Author: Barry Estabrook

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

A report on the Florida agricultural businesses that supply winter tomatoes to supermarkets, Tomatoland focuses on a city most people don’t know – a drained swamp just 42 miles inland from Naples Florida called Immokalee. It investigates the agriculture techniques required to grow tomatoes in Florida, including the heavy use of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, many of which are dangerous to humans. The book also looks at labor conditions and the efforts that have been taken to improve them.  If you care about social justice for farmworkers and their families, as well as your own diet, then this is a book to read before going to the grocery for your winter tomatoes.

Book: Cobalt Blue

Author: Peggy Payne

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

When a down-on-her-luck North Carolina artist is struck one night with the grace of kundalini energy, she struggles with sexual and creative urges caused by her rising kundalini while having to negotiate her biggest commission ever, the official portrait of a right-wing US Senator from North Carolina whose political values are abhorrent to her. Cobalt Blue is a joyous and affirming book about our inner ability to grow and change.

Book: A Stricken Field

Author: Martha Gellhorn

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager, Engineering, NCSU Libraries

With the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany annexed portions of Czechoslovakia inhabited by German speakers, an area that came to be known as the Sudetenland. A Stricken Field is a novel based on a week Martha Gellhorn spent in Prague in 1938 where she got caught up in the plight of the refugees fleeing the German occupation. No longer citizens of Czechoslovakia, they were being forced to return to German controlled territory where they feared for their lives. Confronted all around by the terrible problems of good citizens hiding and being forced to return to the brutal oppression of the Nazis, Gellhorn wrote this novel about two refugees Rita and Peter who, for a brief period of time, had found refuge in each other’s love.

Dec 01 2014

Sabbath’s Theater and Ablutions

Book: Sabbath’s Theater

Author: Phillip Roth

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

Sabbath’s Theater by Phillip Roth is a full length novel that, while I can’t compare it to everything across Roth’s body of work, I can say gave me a character in Mickey Sabbath that I will never forget.  If you consider the following behaviors prohibitively coarse fictional subject matters: autoerotic cemetery folly, bartering with alcohol for favors at a detox clinic, seducing the college students you teach, et cetera,  then perhaps this one isn’t for you. However, if you want to ride shotgun alongside a reckless genius who crashes through life with a perverse drive fueled by a sense of unapologetic conceit, then I think you too will never forget Mickey Sabbath and perhaps like me, wonder if people like him have ever, or even can, exist.

Book: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

“Discuss, the regulars. They sit in a line like ugly, huddled birds, eyes wet with alcohol” opens, Ablutions: Notes for a Novel, by Patrick deWitt. Dreams die hard on the Sunset strip, and a chaotic dive bar seemingly on the brink of everything is the backdrop for this autobiographical/fictive account given from the perspective of a deteriorating anti-hero barman. Physically occupying a liminal position at the end of the bar near the door, the narrator sees both inside and out, observes who enters and exits (with no ostensible criteria for either), the chronic practice of which produces a bleak, yet by no means humorless, dystopian Cheers. Ablutions is a story told by the Hollywood bar scene’s Johannes factotum who in turn (like the cheep highballs fleeced from the bar), gives the reader a taste of both the sweet and acidulous as we observe his struggle to escape.

Nov 21 2014

The Gift of Nothing

Book: The Gift of Nothing

Author: Patrick McDonnell

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library

What DO you get someone who has everything?  Mooch the cat solves this problem in a sweet and charming way. And he will steal your heart while doing it! The Gift of Nothing is a Zen like story for all ages. Read it slowly, with your heart. YESH!

Nov 21 2014

The Bone Clocks

Book: The Bone Clocks

Author: David Mitchell

Reviewer: Karen Ciccone, Director Natural Resources Library & Research Librarian for Science Informatics

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks is time travel. It begins in a 1984 that is true to memory and ends in a 2043 that is equally believable. One of the characters states then, ”My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing — while denying — that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren with a tab that can never be paid.” Having vicariously lived that lifetime through this book has changed my perspective on now.

Nov 21 2014

Bridge of Birds

Book: Bridge of Birds: A Novel of Ancient China that Never Was

Author: Barry Hughart

Reviewer: Hilary Davis, Interim Head of Collection Management and Director of Research Data Services

Set in an off-kilter version of ancient China, the two protagonists, Master Li Kao and Number Ten Ox, thread one wild adventure into another as they seek a cure for a village of children who succumb to serious illness.  A truly imaginative, creative, and witty read. The best thing is that there are two more books about Master Li and Number Ten Ox.

Dec 16 2013

The Unfinished Garden

Book: The Unfinished Garden

Author: Barbara Claypole White

Reviewer: J. Danielle Miller, NC State alumnae

A beautifully written story rooted in North Carolina about loss, love, and OCD. James, the leading male character suffers from OCD and needs Tilly’s help to conquer his fears, Tilly has enough on her plate with the loss of her husband.  As the plot thickens and the characters develop you will not be able to put it down.

Dec 09 2013

Jennifer Government

Book: Jennifer Goverment

Author: Max Berry

Reviewer: Peter Kelly, student, Poole College of Management, NC State

Fascinating read. What would happen in a world with very little government?  What happens when corporations run rampant?  Would you buy those new shoes if NIKE contracted killers to murder teenagers to make it look like the shoes were extra popular?  A very fast-paced tale with multiple storylines.  The book is the opposite of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Good for all majors but especially interesting to aspiring business people with an eye for Ethics.

Dec 03 2013

The Orphan Master’s Son

Book:  The Orphan Master’s Son

Author:  Adam Johnson

Reviewer: Jason Jefferies, Coordinator, North Carolina Literary Festival, NCSU Libraries

Things that are weird: Kafka, the secrecy surrounding North Korea, the fluidity of identity in the digital age, Dennis Rodman.
How appropriate that these seemingly disparate ingredients coalesced into a perfect media storm, the aftermath of which resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for Adam Johnson and The Orphan Master’s Son. Johnson’s book is the best I read this year, not for entertainment value and quality of writing (both of which it possesses in multitudes), but because it serves as the perfect example of what happens when a veiled entity allows someone else’s fiction to serve as a placeholder for its truth.
Dec 03 2013

Child of Fire

Book: Child of Fire

Author: Harry Connolly

Reviewer: Robert St. Amant, Associate Professor of Computer Science, NC State

The most enjoyable novel I read this past year was Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire, in the genre of urban fantasy. Ray Lilly, former car thief, finds that life after prison is harder than he’d expected. He has no money, his new boss hates him, and the universe is filled with Lovecraftian monsters threatening to devour all life on Earth. Ray has managed to create just one magical weapon he can use: a ghost knife that cuts “ghosts, magic, and dead things.” It’s enough. Connolly tells a compelling story of hardboiled mystery and magic; there’s craft in his writing that pulled me along.

Nov 27 2013

World War Z

Book: World War Z

Author: Max Brooks

Reviewer: Bethany Smith, Director of METRC (Media, Education and Technology Resource Center), College of Education, NC State

For me this book wasn’t about zombies, but how do people react to the apocalypse? Does where you come from impact your reaction? Every chapter takes on a different perspective, from China to Israel  to the Mid-West, voices of “survivors” tell their own mini-memoir of how the war began and ended. Although zombies are apart of it, and how fighting them changes our perspective on the meaning of war, this book is more a Geo-Political thriller that makes you think -”Would I survive?”

Nov 25 2013

Flowers for Algernon

Book: Flowers for Algernon

Author: Daniel Keys

Reviewer: Crystal Wallace, Administrative Support Specialist, University Scholars Program, NC State University

Flowers for Algernon, written by Daniel Keys, is an intimate novel about a mentally disabled man, Charlie, who undergoes surgery meant to turn him into a genius.  I thoroughly enjoyed the journal format of the novel, as it gave incredible insight to what Charlie experienced during his transformation.  By the end of the novel, I really felt as if I had read the private writings of a man who was struggling to come to terms with whether happiness could be obtained through intelligence, or if he was truly happy when he knew nothing at all.  It is a beautifully written, and very believable, story that I would recommend to anyone looking for something outside of the norm.

Nov 22 2013

A Storm of Swords

Book: A Storm of Swords

Author: George R. R. Martin

Reviewer: Allison J. Medlin, Associate Director, University Scholars Program

A Storm of Swords is the 3rd book in George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire.  More commonly known by the title of the first book (and subsequent HBO hit) A Game of Thrones, this series is not-to-be-missed by any fans of fantasy literature or the HBO show. A Storm of Swords is widely regarded as the best book in the series so far (there are still 2 books yet to be published), and I would agree with that assessment.  This book is wonderfully written, rich in detail and exciting from start to finish – it is hands down the best book I read this year.  Here’s hoping that the 6th book in the series will be published in 2014!

Nov 21 2013

The Marriage Plot

Book: The Marriage Plot

Author: Jeffrey Eugenides

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, reprises the trope of the marriage plot through Madeleine, a budding scholar specializing in that very trope. Madeleine and Leonard navigate their own new and precarious marriage, as Leonard, a rising academic star himself, struggles with a debilitating case of bipolar disorder. Eugenides artfully handles this meta-plot, and, in doing so, creates an utterly contemporary and compelling portrait of marriage and mental illness.

Nov 21 2013

A Mercy

Book: A Mercy

Author: Toni Morrison

Reviewer: Frances De Los Santos, Senior, Women’s And Gender Studies, NCSU Libraries Student Worker

The best book I have read this year would have to be “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison. The writing is absolutely beautiful and profound, she really has an amazing way with words. The story is captivating and gives readers a better understanding of the pain that slaves went through, as well as the overall hardships encountered in the past due to disease and lack of technology. It is hard not to fall in love with some of the main characters, as well as sympathize for them when learning their personal stories. I believe Toni Morrison is able to fully develop her characters, with each one of them being unique, with their own flaws and beautiful strengths. I would highly recommend this to anybody, as well as any of her other works.

Nov 21 2013

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Book: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Author: Stieg Larsson

Reviewer: Chelsea Riggs, Senior, Psychology, NCSU Libraries Student Worker

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a novel written by Stieg Larsson that keeps your mind wandering throughout the entire novel. It focuses on a financial fraud and a family’s sinister secret. A journalist and a daring tattooed girl form an inharmonious but credible bond while everyone else is against them. This is an excellent book revolving around crime, revenge, while twisting in a love story.

Nov 19 2013

My New Teacher and Me!

Book: My New Teacher and Me!

Author: Al Yankovic, Illustrations by Wes Hargis

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library, NCSU Libraries

Al Yankovic has written the most marvelous story of a rule-driven teacher and his first meeting with a boy named Billy whose imagination is as large as the universe! Mr. Yankovic’s words bounce off the page with a lively beat and zoom right along with Billy’s ideas that include pink poodles on an island between Norway and Guam and squid-eating contests in zero gravity. The illustrations keep right up, lively and bright and colorfully detailed, spilling over the edges of the page to encourage you to add your own ideas. Billy and his teacher find both that they can learn from each other and that discoveries most often come from people who “look at the world just a bit differently.”  Applause to Mr. Yankovic for writing a story that encourages the child in all of us!!

Nov 19 2013

The Shadow of the Wind

Book: The Shadow of the Wind

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Reviewer: Dargan Williams, Friends of the Library Board of Trustees

My favorite book read this year ( and I literally read 2 per week) was ” The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. “The Shadow of the Wind” is the first installment in a trilogy centered around an ancient library in the heart of gothic Barcelona. “Shadow” follows a young man who falls in love with a book as a child, and later learns that he may hold the only remaining copy. He becomes obsessed with discovering why the other copies have disappeared and what has become of its reclusive author. Zafon’s novel is at once thrilling and haunting, weaving a plot as intricate as the dark streets of his beloved, war-torn Barcelona.
Nov 19 2013

2666 and Teddy Roosevelt Biography series

Book: 2666

Author: Roberto Bolano

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, Overnight Service Manager, James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, NCSU Libraries

The best fiction I read (for the first time) this year was 2666 by Roberto Bolano. The book is comprised of five sections that could have stood as novels on their own but taken together form a powerful mosaic that will stand as one of the great books of this century, perhaps of all time. The stories are all, to one degree or another, about the unsolved brutal serial killings of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa (a stand-in for Ciudad Juarez, where the killings took place in real life) near the Mexican-American border. Several of the sections approach these crimes more obliquely, but the section “The Part about the Crimes” is a bloody Whitmanesque catalog of the dead that is repellent even as it puts names and faces to the victims who would otherwise be anonymous. There is much more to the book, obviously, but my point is you should read it. It is beautiful and devastating.

Book: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt

Author: Edmund Morris

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, Overnight Service Manager, James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, NCSU Libraries

The best nonfiction I read (for the first time) this year was Edmund Morris’s three volume Teddy Roosevelt Biography, The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt. Regardless of whether what you think of the man, his politics and his contribution to the aggregation of power in the President, he is the most fascinating president of all (and I’ve read biographies of all of them up to his cousin FDR). The first volume is probably the best, but that is due to TR’s early life being more interesting than his later, not to the writing, which is consistently excellent throughout. Taken in aggregate, this is not only the best presidential biography I’ve read, but the best biography I’ve read, the one against which others will be measured for the foreseeable future. Even if you aren’t interested in politics, this one is well worth reading.

Nov 18 2013

The Go-Between

Book: The Go-Between

Author: L.P. Hartley

Reviewer: Kristen Wilson, Associate Head, Acquisitions and Discovery, NCSU Libraries

The first great thing about The Go-Between is that Hartley offers some really wonderful descriptions of the natural world. The novel is set at an English country house in the summer of 1900, a record heatwave, and the atmosphere is filled with wheat fields, swimming holes, and cricket pitches. The second great thing is the craftsmanship of the narrator’s voice. With twelve-year-old Leo Colston, Hartley captures the perspective of a child who is exhilarated by his entrance into adult society, yet unable to fully understand its emotional motivations. Despite the famous opening line (“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”), the novel does not embrace nostalgia, but rather evokes the mix of joy and shame that often accompany memories of our formative experiences.

Nov 18 2013


Book: NOS4A2

Author: Joe Hill

Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

As a child, whenever Victoria wants to escape from her family she discovers that she can cross an old bridge that will take her anywhere she wants.  Unfortunately, over the years, this puts her in the path of a monstrous child kidnapper who has a similar magic that allows him to take children to a horror filled place called Christmasland.  This one is equal parts magic & horror and will make you think of a good Koonts or Stephen King (the author’s father) novel.  I’ve enjoyed every novel and graphic novel that Joe Hill has written, and this is one of his best.

Nov 18 2013


Book: Exodus

Author: Leon Uris

Reviewer: Warren Stephenson, Friends of the Library Board of Trustees

I went back and read Leon Uris’ book, “Exodus” which was completed  in 1958.  He is one of the best “story tellers” I have ever read. It is history which he researches and experiences since he covered the Israeli-Arab conflict of 1956 as a war correspondent.

It tell of the founding of the State of Israel and is based on the name of the 1947 immigration ship “Exodus”. It is the story of Ari Ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman in the 1960 movie) hatching a plan to move Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine.  The book then traces the histories of various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.  Uris makes his characters real and almost “touchable”.

Nov 18 2013

The Name of the Wind

Book: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Reviewer: Shaun Bennett, Library Technician, Collection Management, NCSU Libraries

Rothfuss’ writing style draws you into a world constructed with exacting care to be both believable and fantastic, giving a sense of depth and life that is hard to find in many fantasy books. The story is by turns charming, dark, hilarious, and melancholy, but always interesting and always moving forward. The author uses a framing device of a storyteller telling a tale while events occur around them, giving a beautifully crafted two-part narrative that fits together seamlessly.

Dec 04 2012

The News From Spain

Book: The News From Spain

Author: Joan Wickersham

Reviewer: Dr. Angela Wiseman, Assistant Professor, Elementary Education

This book features seven short stories that focus on love and relationships among very different kinds of people at different times in history (in fact, two of the stories are based on prominent historical figures).  The one strand that connects these stories together is that a phrase “the news from Spain” that emerges in each story.  By using vivid descriptions, realistic characters, and true to life relationship contexts, I found myself drawn into complex and insightful stories.

Nov 27 2012

Never Let Me Go and Waiting for the Barbarians

Book: Never Let Me Go

Author: Kazou Ishiguro


Book: Waiting for the Barbarians

Author: J. M. Coetzee

Reviewer: John Papalas, Friends of the Library board member

So hard to pick one favorite, so here are my top two.

In the wake of Ray Bradbury’s death earlier this year, I made a point to read some works by authors he had influenced. The title of the book Never Let Me Go, by Kazou Ishiguro could also describe the readers’ reluctance to put the book down after delving in. What makes the story so subtly unsettling is the otherwise near complete contextual normalcy in which three all but normal friends mature to self-actualized individuals. No cheap thrills are needed (or used) as Ishiguro masterfully highlights the thin yet dark lines that divides our humanity from medical progress.
Do not read Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee if you are looking for a quick pick-me-up. Within the confines of just a few pages, this novel holds a mirror up to the Imperialistic tradition of expansion and progress, and what you see looking back is alien, if not loathsome.   This Nobel laureate draws upon the evocative themes of isolation (mental and physical), exposure to elemental extremes, and societal disorder, to keep the reader eagerly hoping for just a dash of good fortune for the narrator. When I finished reading this book, I was eerily reminded of the prophetic words mumbled by Joseph Conrad’s’ Mr. Kurtz, another monstrosity of Imperialism;  “The horror! The horror!”
Nov 20 2012

Lay Down Your Arms, The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Book: Lay Down Your Arms, The Autobiography of Martha von Tilling

Author: 2d revised edition by Bertha von Suttner; authorized translation by T. Holmes

Reviewer: Orion Pozo, Collection Manager for Engineering & Computer Science, NCSU Libraries

Google Books, Internet Archive and other online sources of Public Domain literature have opened up a new world for me in 19th and early 20th century reading. In 1905 Bertha Von Suttner was the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her novel, Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!), and for her work in organizing an international peace movement. This popular novel, written in an autobiographic style, introduced thousands of readers of her time to the arguments of pacifism by telling the story of a woman, raised in a military family, who becomes opposed to war, and sets out to document rational arguments against the patriotic reasons nations put forward to justify their wars. Leo Tolstoy compared the effect Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the abolition of slavery to the effect Lay Down Your Arms was having towards the abolition of war. Her hope to find a rational way to end armed conflict is so inspiring to me.

Nov 20 2012


Book: 11/22/63

Author: Stephen King

Reviewer: Anna Snyder, Intern, NC LIVE

Jake Epping, a high school teacher, reads a story one of his GED-seeking students wrote about his horrible family history, and then finds out the local diner has a gateway to the past in it. Jake sets out to change the past, starting with preventing the crime his student’s father committed, and then takes over the mission to prevent JFK’s assassination. With good intentions (more civil rights progress, no Vietnam war), Jake finds that every change made in the past creates unexpected changes in the future. With incredibly in-depth details about the years leading up to JFK’s assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, and an interesting cast of characters, this book is one you cannot put down.

Nov 20 2012

Ready Player One

Book: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

This book is for the gamers and children of the 70′s-80′s.  It’s a book that is equal parts Zork, John Hughes, Atari, Willy Wonka, treasure hunting, virtual reality, and of course coming of age.  If you like text adventures, virtual worlds and the movie Sixteen Candles, then you’re really going to enjoy this book.  There was a real life easter egg hunt this summer sponsored by the author to win a Delorian, but unfortunately, someone’s already claimed it.

Nov 20 2012

Drowned Cities

Book: Drowned Cities

Author: Paolo Bacigalupi

Reviewer: Cris Crissman, Adjunct Asst Professor, Curriculum, Instruction & Counselor Education

My vote for best young adult novel for 2012 goes to Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Frighteningly realistic after hurricanes have “drowned” New Orleans and New York, Bacigalupi’s dystopian, biopunk setting presents a grim future of what might yet be if we can’t quell the ravage caused by climate change and loss of homeland and humanity that result. Tool, a bioethics nightmare, is one of the most complex, fascinating characters I’ve ever met.

Nov 20 2012

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Book: Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Author: Carmen Deedy

Reviewer: Sharon Silcox, University Library Technician, Design Library

I know you are looking for a new, delightful book for all the young and young-at-heart on your Christmas list! Martina the Beautiful Cockroach by Carmen Deedy fits the bill perfectly! How does a cheeky little cockroach find true love with the help of her wise Abuela ( grandmother) and – COFFEE? This amusing, clever re-telling of a Cuban folktale will solve that mystery and have you cheering for Martina and all her cucaracha family! Plus, it is so much fun to read aloud! This is what I call a surprise book, a story and pictures that comes seemingly out of the blue and makes my heart smile.

Nov 20 2012

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

Reviewer: Keith Morgan, Librarian for Digital Technologies and Learning

This intelligent and amusing book features bookstores, 3D modeling software, references Aldus Manutius,  plus a dungeons and dragon fantasy , describes the Gerritzoon font  (standard on all Macs according to the novel) and an ancient conspiracy involving books.  A trip to the Google campus in Mountain View and a visit to the Google Book Scanner add more candy to the mix. There’s also lots of conversation about the differences between reading books and reading on a device, between reading and actually not reading books. Recommended for fans of Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind or the bibliothriller in general.

Nov 20 2012

Infinite Jest

Book: Infinite Jest

Author: David Foster Wallace

Reviewer: Dan Hawkins, University Library Technician, NCSU Libraries

I remember seeing this book in stores in the late 90′s and being put off by its size and judging by the blurbs, its pretension. Several years later I stumbled across a book of his essays which I found largely delightful. I then proceeded to another book of essays and then short stories and his first novel. By this time I was a raving fan. I still put off reading this one though, primarily due to its size. I finally got around to it this year, and it is well worth the effort it take to read it (its structure (hundreds of end notes, some with their own end notes) does make it feel at times like the world’s longest choose your own adventure novel). It takes the form of an ironic, distant, dystopian satire, but is in reality a raw look at the ravages of addiction and the dangers of mass culture. Wallace is brilliant, but he does not make you feel dumb. A third of the book viciously satirizes a culture that is entertaining itself to death. The second is a coming of age story. The final third is a searing view of the life of drug addicts and their attempts to quit using which doubles as a warning metaphor for the dangers of vicarious life through media. I might recommend taking my approach and starting with some of the other books, perhaps the essays, and then proceed on to this one. But by all means read this book. It does have pretensions, but it delivers. A truly great novel.

Nov 20 2012

Dancing After Hours and Townie

Book: Dancing After Hours

Author: Andre Dubus II


Book: Townies

Author: Andre Dubus III

Reviewer: Kathy Brown, Director, Planning and Research, NCSU Libraries

After reading Dancing after Hours by Andre Dubus II, I’ll be tracking down his other collections of short stories.  Dubus conveys the struggles of his characters with compassion and a beautiful style, and he was regarded as a master of the short story genre.  A man of great insight, Dubus wrestled his own demons during his life and was, from all accounts, an incredibly lousy father.  Townie, a memoir by Andre Dubus III (also the author of The House of Sand and Fog), describes a life of abject poverty in Haverhill (Massachusetts) after his parent’s divorce.  The younger Dubus exposes the rage that stemmed in large part from his father’s absence and offers a compelling view of how natural it was for him to move down a path of self-destructive violence.  Writing sustained the father and undoubtedly saved the son, who was able to achieve a measure of forgiveness and love for someone who did little to earn it.
Nov 20 2012


Book: 2666

Author: Robert Bolano

Reviewer: Chris Tonelli, Assistant to the Director, NCSU Libraries

This book is like Javier Bardem’s character, Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men. It’s will is simply more imposing than the will of other books. There is more at stake. It is both more disciplined and more brutal. Like Bolano’s Savage Detectives, 2666 splits time between Europe and Mexico and features a group of European literary critics, a Mexican professor, an American journalist, hundreds of murdered young Mexican women, and a young writer on the Eastern Front of WWII. With what amounts to a kind of Cubist narrative, Bolano relentlessly explores the juxtapositions of art, politics, violence, and love.

Nov 30 2011

Little White Lies

Book: Little White Lies
Author: Aimee Laine
Reviewer: Nicole Zimmerman, MBA, ’02, NC State

The author has created an intricate world for her characters. Readers find themselves drawn into the details of this world and the characters’ abilities. Also key to the story are the relationships between the characters; especially between Charley and Wyatt. The suspense builds throughout the book as the story unfolds. Without giving too much away, there are some unexpected twists and a satisfying ending. I look forward to joining these characters in their next adventure.

Nov 29 2011

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Book: The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
Author: Monique Roffey
Reviewer: Suzanne Weiner, Executive Director of the North Carolina Textile Foundation, NC State

This is a story of newlyweds who go to the small island of Trinidad to follow his dream of a better life.  He falls in love with the complex richness of the island, but her struggle to find balance is what shapes the story.  She is torn between her love for him, and an inability to understand and accept his love of this country.   She finds her way using many different coping mechanisms but throughout the book is best known for her youthful trips around town on her green Raleigh bicycle.

Nov 22 2011

The Wise Man’s Fear

Book: The Wise Man’s Fear
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Reviewer: Frankie Johnson, student, Natural Resources, and Park Scholar

This is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. The characters are crafted intricately and the plot is told in a frame story format which creates suspense and intrigue. You can really root for the hero, while simultaneously knowing he is making the idiotic decisions that we all sometimes make. This book is amazing and I can’t wait for the next in the series!

Nov 21 2011

Skippy Dies

Book: Skippy Dies
Author: Paul Murray
Reviewer: Jamie Bradway, Preservation Librarian, NCSU Libraries

As the title suggests, some pretty horrible things happen in this book. That these things happen in a boarding school (to kids) would normally be enough to turn me off of what is, essentially, an entertainment. But there are also some very beautiful things written in this novel; even some very funny things. It’s the book I needed to read to remind myself that novels should be more than mere entertainments.

Nov 21 2011

Kafka on the Shore

Book: Kafka on the Shore
Author: Hakuri Murakami
Reviewer: Richard Felder, Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

A couple of years ago someone recommended Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I read it and was mesmerized by the surreal world he created. I’ve read several more since then and had the same reaction. I recently read Kafka on the Shore and nominate it for this year’s best. I plan to plunge into 1q84 if I can overcome my intimidation by its 944 pages.

Nov 18 2011

The Name of the Wind

Book: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Reviewer: Jason Raitz, Business and Technology Applications Technician, NCSU Libraries

I loved this thick, fantasy novel about a young, precocious boy who undergoes continuous tragedies in his pursuit of love, music, secrets, magic and revenge. It’s full of song, hardship, tragedy, magic and longing.  There is a Harry-Potter-esque magic school, but it plays out a good bit differently and is not really the focus of the entire story. I love the various female roles as well. So many fantasy novels give women such predictable and often sexist roles. Some epic fantasy is hard to continue reading day after day; I was surprised when I reached the end of this one.  Rothfuss is a great new author and I also loved the sequel to this one, called Wise Man’s Fear. Warning, this is an unfinished trilogy which the author has decided to start finishing as part of NaNoWriMo.

Nov 18 2011


Book: Arrowsmith
Author: Sinclair Lewis
Reviewer: Samuel Stephen Gaetz, Building Services, NCSU Libraries

Satirical, witty and insightful, Arrowsmith accompanied me on a trip this summer and was by far the best book I’ve read this year. The portrait of early 20th century American life was new and enjoyable. And I found much of the drama and tension in the story (following a medical doctor making his way through life) to still have weight — some of it almost alarmingly so. The plot seemed to waiver at times but ultimately Lewis crafted an incredible read that was both thought-provoking and humorous.

Nov 18 2011

REAMDE and Steve Jobs

Author: Neal Stephenson
Book: Steve Jobs
Author: Walter Isaacson
Reviewer: Keith Morgan, Research and Information Services, NCSU Libraries

In REAMDE Stephenson reinvents himself as a master of the high-stakes, fast-paced, terrorist-populated thriller. Plus he includes a completely integrated subplot involving a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called T’rain. There’s also a computer hacking subplot, Russian Mafia credit card theft, sneaking in and out of China, British Mi6 operatives, wilderness action in the wilds of British Columbia and a band of jihadists migrating from China to Idaho. What’s amazing is how Stephenson balances all of these subplots together and then weaves them together. All of this is accomplished in only 1,044 pages. I was sorry when it was over.

Here is the  whole story of Apple, the garage founding, the early successes, the decline and triumphant resurrection. All mediated through the personality of Steve Jobs.  The wealth of detail, combined with Isaacson’s access to Jobs, even as the Apple CEO struggled with his cancer, provides a vivid portrait of the cantankerous contradictions of Steve Jobs. Yes, we learn that he could be rude, manipulative, and boorish but the grand progression of “i-things” plus the legacy of Pixar are surely enough to put Steve on any Mount Rushmore of American innovation.

Nov 18 2011


Book: Swamplandia!
Author: Karen Russell
Reviewer: Sarah Stein, Associate Professor, Communication, NC State

One of the best novels I read in 2011 was Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. There’s a genre called Florida Gothic which doesn’t at all appeal to me by its name, but I think Swamplandia! fits and is a terrific book. It is a story about a family of alligator wrestlers in the Everglades, told by an 11 year old, and as adult readers we infer what she cannot. The writing is so limpid and engaging, however, I lost the ability to step outside the narrative as the book went along, and was thus caught up in the events as they unfurled as much as the protagonist. A funny, fascinating, and at times heartrending piece of imagination — I highly recommend it.

Nov 17 2011

The Hundred Year Diet and Kate Atkinson mysteries

Book: The Hundred Year Diet: America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight
Author: Susan Yager
Book: Jackson Brodie series
Author: Kate Atkinson
Reviewer: Sarah Ash, Professor, Food, Bioprocessing & Nutrition Sciences

For a scholarly book, I’d recommend The Hundred Year Diet:America’s Voracious Appetite for Losing Weight by Susan Yager. I think most people assume that dieting is a relatively recent phenomenon, but she does a wonderful job tracing the fascinating history of our obsession with weight.

For pure page-turning enjoyment, I recommend the Kate Atkinson series of Jackson Brodie books. Her writing is sharp and witty (the British do it so well), as are her characters. She can make you laugh and cringe on the same page. You really should start at the beginning with Case Histories and work your way up to the present as many of the characters in the later books get introduced in the earlier ones. I can’t put them down.

Nov 17 2011


Book: Snuff
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Reviewer: Rebekah Anne Jaeger, staff, Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Center, NC State

Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favorite authors whose writing style is like no other authors I have read.  His writing style is poignant, honest and agressive and his stories depict life through a non fairy tale lens.  Snuff depicts a young woman who wants to break a record in the porn industry and is told primarily by three men who are waiting to be filmed each with their own agenda.

Nov 17 2011

More Ghost Stories

Book: More Ghost Stories
Author: M. R. James
Reviewer: Robert St. Amant, Associate Professor, Computer Science

This collection contains one of my favorite stories of the supernatural, “Casting the Runes.” It begins with letters of regret to a Mr. Karswell, who responds badly to the rejection of his work on alchemy… In this collection, published exactly 100 years ago, the stories have an atmosphere perfectly suited to the events: “So he put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth.”

Nov 17 2011

The Inner Circle

Book: The Inner Circle
Author: Brad Meltzer
Reviewer: Benjmain van Ooyen, Staff, NCSU Bookstore

As an avid reader I am always looking for new books that pique my interest, and reading The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer did just that.  This is a book that will keep you entertained from the first page through the last.  It is the story of a young archivist working in the National Archives, when he stumbles upon a dictionary that leads him on a the hunt to solve one of the nation’s oldest secrets.