The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb (2011)

The Ballad of Tom Dooley, the latest tale in Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Series, retells a story that most people only know through the old Kingston Trio song of the same name.

The ballad recounts a tragedy in the North Carolina mountains after the Civil War. Laura Foster, a simple country girl, was murdered. Tom Dula (as he is referred to in the dialect of the mountain folk) was hanged for the crime.

It makes for a good story but this novel is more of a character study…and not a nice one in the lot! Still, I enjoyed reading it.

Check here to see if The Ballad of Tom Dooley is available and find other books by Sharyn McCrumb. 

Spotlight: It Takes a Woman

Sometimes it just takes a woman to get everyone going on the right path. Each of these three light romantic stories is about a young woman who moves in, shakes things up, gets every problem straightened out, and, oh yes, finds love along the way.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)
When practical and straightforward Sophy visits her London aunt after a lifetime on the Continent, she finds life in her aunt's house in constant turmoil. All the young people are involved with unsuitable matches, owe money to questionable personages, and in general, are in a constant state of disruption – until Sophy takes charge.

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson (1998)
Young Englishwoman Ellen Carr has always dreamed of living in Austria and cooking wonderful Viennese food. She has her chance when she gets a job as housemother at an alternative school on the outskirts of Vienna. But what an alternative! The children are running wild and the teachers are all eccentric misfits. It is the late 1930s and the world is about to fall apart. Well, Ellen can't do much about that, but she can set everyone else in ship shape order.

Roommates Wanted by Lisa Jewell (2007)
Leah Pilgrim enjoys watching the comings and goings of the mismatched characters living in the rambling house across the street in her London neighborhood. But across the street Toby, owner of said house, is in despair. He wants to sell up and move away, but how can he abandon his houseful of lonely heart boarders? Leah to the rescue!

The Farmer’s Daughter by Jim Harrison

The Farmer’s Daughter by Jim Harrison (2010)
I discovered Jim Harrison when Anthony Bourdain featured him and his hometown of Livingston, Montana, on his food and travel show No Reservations. Since then I’ve read three of his books, the best being The Farmer’s Daughter, a collection of three novellas.

In the first, a girl grows up quick in Montana. In the second, an alcoholic Indian chases women and struggles to take of his niece; and finally, a werewolf roams the Mexican countryside. I’m still not sure if I like Harrison’s longwinded style, but his passion for food, music, art, and the wilderness keep me coming back.

The Women by T.C. Boyle

The Women by T.C. Boyle (2009)
The Women is actually a book about Frank Lloyd Wright. It is always interesting to read about an unusual person.

Listen to T.C. Boyle read an excerpt from The Women here.

For more about Frank Lloyd's work and personal life check out other books on him here.

The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins

The Worst Thing by Aaron Elkins (2011)
The Worst Thing is a strong suspense novel with a few surprises. Bryan Bennett’s worst thing is panic attacks. But he has learned to deal with them, at least he thinks so. However, when his boss suggests that he make a trip to Iceland to teach a seminar on hostage negotiation his composure begins to slip.

Bryan agrees to go to Iceland to please his very patient and understanding wife and ironically becomes the hostage! The author’s interesting insights and an equally interesting setting make this a good reading experience.

Spotlight: Spotlight: Turn of the Century Vienna: Freud, Pastry, and Murder

Spotlight: Turn of the Century Vienna: Freud, Pastry, and Murder
Two current mystery series use 1900 era Vienna as their setting. Frank Tallis’s Liebermann Papers series follows psychiatrist Max Liebermann as he assists his friend Detective Oscar Rheinhardt as he investigates murder. These murders usually involve serial killers and require Liebermann’s insight into pathological behavior. Occasionally a visit to Liebermann’s mentor, Dr. Freud, is required. Somehow indulging in a great many nicely described pastries is required to solve any crime. The first volume in the series is A Death in Vienna.
J. Sydney Jones's Viennese Mysteries feature lawyer Karl Werthen who investigates alongside real-life criminologist Hanns Gross. These cases involve historical persons such as artist Gustav Klimt and composer Gustav Mahler. Again, meals are lovingly described; this time tending more towards sauerkraut and sausages (although, I am happy to say, pastries do regularly make an appearance). The first volume in the series is The Empty Mirror.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (2008)
All animal lovers should read this book! It is narrated by Enzo, who is a dog. You may need a box of tissues, particularly at the end, but this is a lovely novel which explores the beauty of love and family relationships.

Check out the book trailer for Racing in the Rain below.

Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis

Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis (1929)
Successful Midwestern businessman, Dodsworth, sells his business and travels to Europe with his wife. There he finds his Midwestern values at odds with the Continental worldview. This eighty year old novel is still readable today.

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson (2011)
Absorbing and well crafted, S.J. Watson's debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, is definitely a thriller. It pieces together a story inspired by true amnesiacs and makes you realize how much our identity depends on our memories.

It is the story of Christine Lucas, a woman suffering from severe impairment to her episodic and long term memory. Christine is able to remember things for a number of hours…but when she goes to sleep, she loses all of the memories that she has built up over the course of the day. This book is a psychological thriller and one with a great plot line.

We know that something isn’t quite right from the beginning, but as we are no more clued in than Christine (whose story we continue to follow through her diary entries). We only know what she knows. A great suspense novel!

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (2007)
Kept me quiet and intrigued for a day and a half. I couldn’t put it down! So many characters intertwined to complete the multi-generational saga.

For more medical thrillers view our staff picks here.

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (2005)
This Icelandic writer is pure noire. He is grouped with the popular Scandinavian crime writers who are currently hot sellers. As read by George Guidall, Inspector Erlendur is an empathetic policeman who investigates a complex situation with stubborn persistence, always digging into the past. The paths finally come together, but the journey intrigues the reader. The voice of Guidall gives a humanistic touch that allows the listener to accept the cold, dark atmosphere of Iceland.

For more Scandinavian crime novels here is a list of our favorites.

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter (2011)
Josh Ritter starts with a horse and a goat, a war veteran and his newborn; then he throws in an angel to weave together the story of Henry Bright. Absurd as this sounds, singer/songwriter Ritter’s 1st novel is a humorous and poignant little story.

It reflects the miseries of World War I and the hardships of life in early-20th century Appalachia but with a touch optimism and hope. With his gift for metaphor and unique imagination Ritter has written an enchanting parable; a story of a journey, emotional and physical, it yields unexpected pleasures.

B.Y.O.B. Party Book Recommendations

Here is a list books that people shared at our book party this week:

Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Aleph by Paulo Coelho
Cat Who Could Read Backwards by Lillian Jackson Braun
Greater Journey by David McCullough
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
Mrs. Ted Bliss by Stanley Elkin
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Polish Officer by Alan Furst
Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Still Life by Louise Penny
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose
The Women by T.C. Boyle

The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore

The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore (2011)
A real “chick flick” book. Love! Broken heart! Reunion! Going off into the sunset hand in hand…

For more good chick lit books check out these staff recommendations.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (2011)
A beautifully written debut novel tells the story of a young woman struggling to allow herself to love after a lifetime of abandonment, rejection and disappointment.  Having grown up in a series of foster homes and group residences, Victoria Jones lacks the emotional skills to connect to others in a meaningful way. However, after one genuine woman teaches Victoria the hidden meaning of flowers, she uses it as a way to communicate with others. This heartbreaking novel set against the Northern California landscape is both enchanting and moving. A must read.

Listen to an interview with Vanessa Diffenbaugh with NPR's Scott Simon.