The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 3, 1999


Mosquito staff suggests books for holiday gift-giving

Tomorrow being the first day of Hanukkah and with Christmas only three weeks away, the staff here at the Mosquito has been asked to contribute a list of two or three books that they feel would make an appropriate gift for a friend or family member during this coming holiday season. Each has written a line or two describing what the book is about and, in some cases, who the appropriate recipient might be.

Susan Emmons, general manager, recommends:

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Sobel is the author of the very popular (in my family and elsewhere) Longitude and is described by some reviewers as a master storyteller, in this biography based on letters written by Galileo's daughter and translated by Sobel. She describes the letters as "one of the greatest stories I've ever encountered." Her description of Galileo's dispute with the church gives a new slant on the conflicts between science and religion.

For mystery-lovers, there are several new mysteries out that continue a favorite series: Tony Hillerman's Hunting Badger (with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn), Anne Perry's Twisted Root (with Hester Latterly), Martha Grimes' favorite series: Tony Hillerman's Hunting Badger (with Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn), Anne Perry's Twisted Root (with Hester Latterly), Martha Grimes' The Lamorna Wink (with Richard Jury and Melrose Plant) and Sue Grafton's O Is for Outlaw (with Kinsey Milhone).

Mary Hult, news editor, recommends:

Life: Our Century in Pictures, Richard B. Stolley and Tony Chiu, editors. I'm not usually one for coffee table books but this would be a great gift for a family, a lover of history or perhaps a senior who has lived through so many of the events. There are a number of other "millennium" books out this year which might be worth a look for someone with a special interest, such as the movies, photography and New York Times cartoons.

Harry Potter books on audio cassettes. All three of the Harry Potter books are now available on cassette. Considering the astounding success of the books, the audio version might make a nice gift for a family planning a road trip or someone, young or old, who has difficulty reading.

Marilyn Harte, feature editor, recommends:

I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941, by Victor Klemperer. Klemperer's diary has just been published in paperback. I read it this summer in hardcover and found it to be a profound and beautifully written account of what happened to Klemperer, a Jewish professor of Romance languages married to an Aryan wife living in Dresden during the war years. Klemperer's secret diaries tell the story of everyday German life as the Nazi regime takes hold, and the impact it has on him, his wife and those around them. Volume Two of Klemperer's diaries from 1941 to 1942 will be published in 2000.

Ethel & Ernest: A True Story, by Raymond Briggs. When my children were growing up, I read and reread them The Mother Goose Treasury, illustrated by Raymond Briggs. Now author-illustrator Briggs has written a tender story of the lives of his English working- class parents who met in the 1920s and died in the 1970s. This is a charming story "written" in cartoon style, tracing the lives of Ethel and Ernest from the time they fell in love, through the war years, parenthood and old age. It is a loving tribute to the author's parents, along with a social history of the period.

Verna Gilbert, typezapper, recommends:

Billy Straight, by Jonathan Kellerman. Billy Straight is the story of a precocious and perceptive 12-year-old who runs away from his abusive family. While existing on his own, he sees a man butcher a woman. From that point on, he is hunted both by good guys and bad. Many subplots are woven into this psychological thrillera combination of violence, pathos, misery, and hope. Vintage Kellerman!

Spiderweb, by Penelope Lively. Sixty-five-year-old newly retired anthropologist Stella Brentwood buys a cottage in Somerset, England. After a life spent integrating herself into villages in Egypt, Malta, and the Orkneys, she has trouble settling into her new community. Although she studied lineage and connections, she is an anomalya self-sufficient woman with no desire for normal domestic bonds. This sometimes sad but compelling story of an independent woman alternates between her new country life and her memories of lovers, friends and anthropological journeys.

Barbara Boardman, assistant editor, recommends:

Ahab's Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund. This interesting tale is about Nantucket Island and the wife of Ahab. It has the feel of a Victorian novel. This story draws you into a world rarely revealed. The author gives you a sense of the life of the women who waited years while their husbands explored and traveled the world.

Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende, niece of assassinated democratic president of Argentina. This interesting and well-written book immediately gets the reader involved with the characters and their stories. Each character is uniquely portrayed and described. The tale follows the life of an orphan from Chile in 1840 through the California Gold Rush and beyond.

Phyllis Zinicola, reporter, recommends:

The Writer in the Garden, edited by Jane Garmey. Garmey tells us in her introduction that the original Greek meaning of the word "anthology" is a collection or gathering of flowers in bloom, and that's what you feel like you're doing when you're reading this book. Leafing through the book is like taking a stroll down a garden path with a knowledgeable friend, stopping now and then to pick a blossom. Most of the selections, whether humorous or reflective, will strike a note of recognition with anyone who has gardened or tried to.

The New Traditional Garden, by Michael Weishan. My rule of thumb for buying gardening books is that the pictures must be inspirational or the text must read like good literature. This book has both, but in an unexpected way. The illustrations are not the glossy full-color type but are rather of architectural quality and precision. The text teaches as much about history as about gardening but does so in a way that makes fifty pages fly by in a moment. I especially like the translations of the Latin inscriptions on 19th-century sundials. One reads: Hodie mihi, cras tibi ("Today is mine, tomorrow may be yours").

Anne Marie Brako, reporter, recommends:

The Music Lesson, by Katharine Weber (Crown, 1999). If you find unsolved crimes involving stolen art intriguing, you'll appreciate this tale about a filched Vermeer. The poignant plot is an intricate puzzle with a clever woman at the center. Even Isabella Stewart Gardner might have found the fate of this fictitious painting intriguing.

The Mystery of The Russian Ruby, by Iain Smyth (Dutton Children's Books, 1994). The child in your life will appreciate this classic pop-up whodunit for kids. As the book has variable endings, it'll take you three times as long to get tired of reading this bedtime story.

Parkman Howe, Forum writer, recommends

Winter Hours, by Mary Oliver (Houghton Mifflin). A collection of essays, ruminations, prose poems and poems by naturalist Mary Oliver. The words here compel the reader to throw down the book and rush outdoors to find the bears, wild turkeys, bees and otters that live and breathe all around us.

'Tis, by Frank McCourt (Scribners). McCourt's utterly charming account of becoming an English teacher in New York City. If he were teaching a course on textual problems in the British Museum's Cotton Nero manuscript of the Old English Pearl poem, you would be a fool not to take it. English teachers will get multiple copies of this book this holiday season.

Ahab's Wife, or, The Star-Gazer, by Sean Jeter Naslund (Morrow). Herman Melville took on Shakespeare when he wrote Moby Dick; Naslund takes on Melville in her novel about Captain Ahab's wife. Her first sentence? "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last." And off the novel goes for 666 pages of romance and revelation among whaling captains and the captains of 19th century literature.

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). I haven't read this yet; my copy is in the mail from England. But if ever a contemporary poet was by birth, temperament, and linguistic inclination ready to translate Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic of Beowulf's encounters with the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon, Heaney, the northern Irish Nobel laureate, is the chosen one.

Susan Lehotsky, typezapper, recommends for the younger readers on your list

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, for ages 9 and up. A retelling of the classic Cinderella tale with an interesting twist. A truly enchanting book.

Sammy Keyes and the Runaway Elf, by Wendelin Van Droaner, for mystery lovers aged 9-12. This latest in a series of the Sammy Keyes mysteries is set in the Christmas season.

Sammy Keyes is a resourceful and brave seventh grader whose curiosity takes her places she never imagined. A refreshingly contemporary addition to the genre.

Bea Shneider, proofreader, her family recommends:

Titan, by Steven Baxter. A biography of John D. Rockefeller. A balanced perspective both in terms of the negative and positive impact of his business activities and innovative philanthropic activities.

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. Set in India, a harrowing but ultimately uplifting epic with surprising insight into the sources of the human will to live and enjoy life.

The Mummies of Urumchi, by Elizabeth W. Barber. An archaeologist who specializes in textiles writes an engaging description of the remains of a stone-age Caucasian civilization in Western China. Included are color photos of their weaving.

Sylvia Willard, ad rep, recommends

The Chemical-Free Lawn: The Newest Varieties and Techniques to Grow Lush, Hardy Grass, by Warren Schultz, (Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. 1996, pp.194. $14.95.) If your own personal savannah gives you frustrations, if you want the grass to be greener on your side of the fence with time left over to enjoy it, and if you want this with neither health and environmental worries nor financial ruin, this is your book. Schultz removes the mystery behind what he calls the habitat preference for humans, with a book that is easy to read, with lots of illustrations. He backs up his advice with results of independent research.

Ellen Miller, proofreader, recommends

The Music Lesson, by Katharine Weber. The title refers to a fictional painting by Vermeer, stolen for ransom and kept in a remote Irish cottage under the watchful eye of Patricia, an Irish-American art historian who is the book's heroine. How she came to share a lonely cottage with one of the world's priceless paintingsand what happened to itis a compelling tale, convincingly told. (Another Vermeer-related novel, Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, is number one on my own wish list.)

Unravelling, by Elizabeth Graver. Set in 19th-century New England, this novel is remarkable for its interwoven themes of family and non-family relationships, a young girl's coming of age, treatment of society's outcasts, and broken spirits newly mended. Aimee Slater is a character that stays with you long after her story has ended. The Lowell textile mills are vividly portrayed by this first-time novelist, whose gifts of eloquent story-telling and evocative prose make her a writer to watch.

Elegy for Iris, by John Bayley. At first glance, this might seem to be a downera doting husband writing about his famous wife, writer Iris Murdoch, and her battle (and then their battle) with Alzheimer's Disease. But, in fact, Bayley's simple yet elegant descriptions of everyday life with a mentally deteriorating Iris are poignant, told without despair or sentimentality. Elegy for Iris is the intimate story of the forty-year marriage of a literate, accomplished coupleand far more readable than Iris Murdoch's rather incomprehensible fiction.

Penny Zezima, editor, recommends

Plainsong, a novel by Kent Haruf, seems to be the book every writer is reading these days. At the Concord Authors Festival in October, whenever an author was asked to name a book he or she enjoyed reading, the answer was always Plainsong. Set in Colorado, the story revolves around a disparate (and remarkably drawn) group of residents who come together to form a family of sorts. This is a character-driven book, appealing to women and men alike, that makes you want to finish it in one sitting.

The Most Beautiful Villages in New England, by Tom Schachtman, with photos by Len Rubinstein, is a book I'm asking for for Christmas. I'm an inveterate rubber-necker, and I love exploring quaint little pockets of New England. This book offers sumptuous pictures of great places that are only a day-trip away, along with tantalizing tidbits of information concerning each town.

Cecile Sandwen, reporter, recommends:

If my husband hadn't already bought it, I would be giving him Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian. (If your gift receiver hasn't yet embarked on this series, they will want to start with the first book, Master and Commander.) This is the latest in O'Brian's series set at the beginning of the nineteenth century, which follows Captain Aubrey of the British Navy through multiple adventures. Anyone who enjoys excellent writing, well-drawn characters and a good dose of English humor will love this series, especially if they also have an interest in sailing and the sea. The friendship between Aubrey and his ship's surgeon, Dr. Maturin, is completely believable and their word-play is to be savored. Patrick O'Brian is one of the best writers I have read.

I have a friend from high school who enjoys feminist perspectives. I am interested in what she will think of Hitler's Niece by Ron Hansen. Taking a minor character from history (Hitler really had a niece who died an unexplained death) and combining what is now commonly known about obsessive relationships, Hansen writes a novel speculating on what might have happened to Angelika. We see Hitler from Angelika's point of view, first as the glamorous uncle who treats her to fancy clothes and nights on the town, gradually as the jailer who refuses to let her leave his sight. Through Angelika's eyes, we also watch the rise of Naziism, and meet the players who rule Germany. It is all very creepy, especially as the reader knows what the future holds for Germany (how naive everyone seems in the early 1930s).

Marcy Guttadauro, ad rep, recommends:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby (Vintage Books). This is a moving and witty memoir that will inspire you to appreciate every moment of your life. Despite an awkward title, this eloquent narrative is a quick read that will affect you long after you have passed it on.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito