The Lost by Daniel Mendelsohn

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (2006)
Author Mendelsohn searches out the history of his great uncle, aunt, and their four daughters who perished in the Holocaust. His travels take him to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia, and Scandinavia trying to locate survivors of the small town where his family lived. Finally, the author does find out what were the likely deaths of his six relatives, even standing in the root cellar some of them had hidden in. Mendelsohn believes that these personal stories must be told; otherwise these individual lives are lost to us forever.

Read an excerpt, listen to an interview on Boston's local NPR, get more details from NPR's Fresh Air, and read a New York Times review.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (1982)
"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." If you can resist an opening sentence like that, you have more willpower than I. The Gunslinger begins The Dark Tower series, which follows Roland’s quest to reach the nexus of all universes. Since King finished the seven volume series in 2004, it’s safe to start reading! I also would highly recommend George Guidall or Frank Muller’s narrations.

(Nota Bene: This is NOT a horror series or story. King may be best known for writing horror novels, but he is a masterful storyteller and writer in other genres too!)

The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers

The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers (1998)
A well written novel of Christian faith. This is the story of an old Welsh custom of symbolically removing the sins of the deceased by eating a meal placed on the coffin. 10-year-old Cadi Forbes, growing up in the Smoky Mountains in the 1850s, is a child of Welsh immigrants whose old country beliefs require a sin eater when someone dies. The child becomes enthralled with this idea when she is present at the accidental death of her much beloved sibling.

Cadi looks for the sin eater, but her search is really a search for Jesus, and eventually she leads the community away from the notion of a sin eater and toward a fundamentalist faith in Jesus the redeemer.

Visit the author's website for an excerpt, a reading guide, and the author's responses to frequently asked questions. In 2007, The Last Sin Eater was made into a movie. You can request it from another library.

Starting Out in the Evening

Starting Out in the Evening (2007) PG-13
Frank Langella is aging author Leonard Schiller. He has been struggling for ten years with his current project. All of his old novels are out of print, and he is worried about his daughter, alone at 39 and desperate for a baby. Then a young graduate student, writing her thesis on Leonard, inserts herself into his life. But is she savior or threat? A quiet thoughtful movie about very real, flawed people.

Visit the official movie website or the Sundance Film Festival page. Read a New York Times review of the movie or the Brian Morton book the movie was based on.

The Soul of a Doctor

The Soul of a Doctor: Harvard Medical Students Face Life and Death (2006)
This book of poignant stories show doctors (really, doctors-to-be) to be so human… conflicted, drawn in by the drama of life and death, and constantly learning from the situations they face daily. This is a must read, especially for doctors, others in the medical profession, and for all of us who at some time are their patients. The stories draw you in and make you hope that these medical students remember the “heart” lessons they learned as a medical students at Harvard and that the medical profession works to connect with the human side of their patients. This book is fascinating. Dr. Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think, another of my favorite medical books, does the forward for this book.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom


The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (2003)


At first I thought this book would be a bit depressing. However, I found it to be a quick, easy read that also gave me a “feel good” feeling! I truly enjoyed this book.

Visit Mitch Albom's website for everything you need to know about him or his books. You can read a synopsis or an excerpt, find a reading group guide or a teacher's guide, and learn more about the background of the author and the book.

Our Town by Cynthia Carr

Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America by Cynthia Carr (2006)
The last public lynching in the North took place in 1930 in Marion, Indiana, hometown of the author's father. Carr moved to Marion for a year to research the lynching and to see if her beloved grandfather could have taken part. What she discovers is the truth about race relations in Marion and the U.S. today, the history of blacks in the county, the state of the current Klan, and the history of her own family. A long but rewarding book. The Other Side of the River by Alex Kotlowitz explores a modern day suspicious death of a black man in Michigan.

Wild Hogs

Wild Hogs (2007) PG-13
Have you ever been tired of your life and just wanted to take off for places unknown? Well, sit back and let the Wild Hogs take you on that trip. This is a zany story, filled with stereotypes, slapstick humor, biker wannabes and a cast of characters that work well together. A group of four suburban men (Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence and William H. Macy) find themselves looking for adventure on the open road. They encounter a real biker group called the Del Fuegos and the fun begins.
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H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer

H. H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (2003)
A 64 minute biography of Herman Mudgett, focusing mainly on the murders committed while Mudgett used the name H. H. Holmes, but still describing Mudgett’s early life and later his trial and execution. In the late 19th century, Mudgett built what was then called a “castle,” but in what was more reminiscent of a spider web, he captured and killed visitors thronging to the Columbian Exposition of 1893. This could be thought of as the movie version of the book Depraved by Harold Schechter and could accompany a reading of The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (2006)
The author explores the settling of the southern plains in the early 1900s and the farming methods used to turn grasslands into a wasteland. When the drought of the late 1920s and 1930s comes, the Dust Bowl was created. This book follows several families who only wanted a small piece of land for themselves and their families. The reality of living day after day in the nightmare of blowing wind and dust comes to life in this National Book Award winner.

The Children's Blizzard by David Lasking (2004) tells the true story of a similar misunderstanding of land in the northern plains a generation earlier. Novels about the dust bowl include The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) and The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas (1996). The documentary The Plow that Broke the Plains (1934) was filmed during the dustbowl.

The More the Merrier

The More the Merrier (1943)
This romantic comedy gets its humor from the real-life situation of the extreme housing shortage that occurred in Washington, D.C. during WWII. Office worker Connie Milligan has a sunny two bedroom apartment she decides for patriotic reasons to rent to a roommate. Funny, eccentric retired millionaire Benjamin Dingle, much to Connie's chagrin insists on renting the room. Mr. Dingle decides that what Connie needs is a nice handsome man, so he rents out half of his room to dreamy sergeant Joe Carter--then does all he can to push Connie and Joe together. This classic stars veteran character actor Charles Coburn and two great but overlooked stars of the '30s and '40s, Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea.

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (2008)
Present day, Beijing. A detective story that goes to the heart of modern China. Mei Wang, our first Chinese female detective, is more than just a pretty face. Hired by her uncle to find a rare piece of jade, she slips into the dark side of Beijing as well as the extremely affluent world of her younger sister, Lu.

As the plot unwinds, Mei also reveals her own inner core of isolation from her family, from her lost love, and from her former job in the Ministry of Public Security. In her quest for justice, she uncovers dark secrets and darker choices.

After reading so many novels that lack that special touch of author style, this book is as refreshing as a real spring day. Read an excerpt, other reviews, and an interview with the author.

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven (2005)

Coming of age in rural 1930s America with unusual skills like X-ray vision and the power to stop bullets, Clark Kent takes us along on his coming-of-age journey of self-discovery. Covering years (May 1935 through February 1938), the story takes him from Smallville to New York (Metropolis). A Young Clark Kent, newly hired "Daily Planet" reporter; Lois Lane; and evil criminal mastermind Alexander "Lex" Luthor come to life in It's Superman! This is a fascinating idea. The story is as inventive and thrilling as it is touching and wise.

See what Powell's and the New York Times said about the novel. Other books by Tom De Haven include Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies (1996), Dugan Under Ground (2001), Funny Papers (2002), and the graphic novel Green Candles (1997).

Roommates Wanted by Lisa Jewell

Roommates Wanted by Lisa Jewell (2007)

Leah, while living with her Indian boyfriend, has long observed the interesting characters who live across the street from her London apartment. Leah gets involved when an elderly resident of the mystery house has a heart attack on the sidewalk. She then meets Toby and his assortment of lost souls. Now Toby has the chance to sell the house and move to the country--but he can't bring himself to abandon his housemates. Enter Leah and her ability to make all ship shape. A delightful chick lit novel with considerably more depth than the average.

--Debbie

Set in contemporary London, our gangling anti-hero, Toby, rents rooms to the needy and then passively allows his tenants to dictate his life. Whoa…along comes the girl next door, Leah.  Slowly, not suddenly, our hero falls out of love with and into love with—Ah, but that would be telling. This book is fun: a chick flick that’s tolerable to all.

--Lucille

The Secret of Roan Inish

The Secret of Roan Inish (1995) PG

The Secret of Roan Inish is an American independent film written and directed by John Sayles; Sayles is a wonderful storyteller. This is a good “family” movie.

It is magical story, beautifully filmed, of the legend of a small Irish fishing village in the 1940s and its neighboring island, Roan Inish. The island is a deserted place inhabited only by seals. The legend is of "Selkies," in Irish mythology. Selkies are half-human/half-seal creatures.

The central character is a 10-year-old girl named Fiona who is sent to live with her grandparents. She learns the truth of her parents and Roan Inish. She discovers she has baby brother named Jamie who apparently was pulled out to sea in his cradle by Selkies and is determined to bring him home.

Check out what Roger Ebert has to say about the film that was part of his 7th film festival in 2005.