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Curl up with a good book...

It's winter (almost), and an especially good time to enjoy the pleasures of reading.  To put you in the mood, here are some recommendations from members of the Friends of the Duke University Libraries.

Without Precedent: The Life of Susie Marshall Sharp
Anna R. Hayes
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, c2008

Susie Sharp was a highly significant figure on the twentieth-century legal landscape, primarily in North Carolina, but she achieved some national prominence as well. Anna Hayes beautifully portrays this most impressive judge and the political times in which she lived. Hayes used Sharp’s own journals and other papers loaned to her by the family to reveal a very complex and busy public life and a surprising private life. It was fascinating to read about Sharp’s education, her family, and her early dreams of being an attorney in a time when few women considered law school. Susie Sharp was the only woman in her law school class and the first woman to serve on the North Carolina Supreme Court. You will find this well-written book a treasure to read and to share with others.--N.T.

The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq
Rory Stewart
Orlando:  Harcourt, c2006

Stewart tells the story of his year in Iraq as an official of the Coalition Provisional Authority in a very personal and descriptive way.  The author focuses on his struggle to relate to another culture with differing priorities and to bring some order to the places where he was posted; a view through the small end of the telescope, as it were.  Stewart first was acting governorate coordinator in Maysan and later a senior adviser in Dhi Qar.  Living conditions were poor, getting needed funds for projects to improve such things as education and water supplies difficult, and Stewart never knew whether Iraqi leaders in the area were friends or enemies.  His keen eye and his deep knowledge of the history of the region add depth to his account of events of his year in Iraq.  Both this book and his previous one, The Places In Between, about walking through Afghanistan, give a sobering account of the gulf between our society and culture and that of the parts of both Iraq and Afghanistan that are truly in another century.--C.F.

Snow Falling on Cedars
David Guterson
San Diego: Harcourt Brace, c1994

If you missed David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars when it was first published in 1994, visit library or bookstore shelves to find this gem of historical fiction.  Set in 1954 on a fictitious island in Puget Sound, this murder mystery explores themes of prejudice, injustice, lost love, personal sacrifice, and conscience.  When an island fisherman, Carl Heine, is found drowned in his own nets, speculation targets a local Japanese American, Kabuo Miyamoto, as the killer.  Miyamoto’s trial exposes the residual World War II hostility felt by many for the Japanese Americans who have lived on the island for decades.  Against a vivid backdrop of harbor, forests, village, and strawberry fields, this compelling story explores the bonds of humanity that connect all of us.--G.L.

The History of Love
Nicole Krauss
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005

My college-aged daughter recommended The History of Love, saying that she liked it even more than Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  The two novels are often compared because Krauss and Foer are a married couple, because both explore the complex and often tragic history of Jewish families, and because their writing is so vivid and beautiful.  Krauss’s work is not easy to summarize, moving as it does back and forth in time, narrated by various characters who are linked temporally and geographically by a book called The History of Love.  Emotion—the heartbreak of lost love, the sacrifices one makes for love, a child’s understanding of the restorative powers of love—underlies the narrative.  I was completely smitten with the characters, particularly the endearing Polish immigrant, Leo Gursky. The mystery at the heart of the book is so intriguing that every couple of chapters I asked my daughter how the book would end.  She refused to tell me, for which I was very grateful.--E.D.

Landscape of Lies
Peter Watson
New York:  Felony and Mayhem Press, 2005

Isobel Sadler, an English free-lance photographer, has returned home to manage her family farm in Gloustershire. One night she wakes to discover a thief attempting to steal a medieval painting that has hung in the house for generations. Intrigued by the thief’s interest in the painting, Isobel takes the piece to Michael Whiting, a London art dealer; the two quickly find themselves caught up in a mystery involving the painting and the nine monastic figures it depicts.  As they begin to uncover clues, they realize that the painting is a treasure map and that deciphering the clues will lead them to a valuable collection of silver hidden by monks when Henry VIII closed the English monasteries. This novel, first published in the UK in 1989, blends British history from the time of the Tudors with an exciting contemporary mystery.--A.W.

Black Seconds
Karin Fossum
Orlando: Harcourt, 2007

Black Seconds by Norway’s Karin Fossum begins when a nine-year-old girl and her yellow bicycle disappear.  Tension builds when the search yields no results and a divorced mom disintegrates.  Inspector Sejer’s investigations lead to a mentally challenged adult with a one word vocabulary, “No,” and a formidably resistant mother determined to protect him.  Sejer ingeniously establishes communication with both the suspect and his mother, and truth finally emerges.  Justice is done, but the bleak ending characteristic of Scandinavian mysteries is still achieved.--M.K.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson
New York: Knopf, 2008

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features a discredited male Swedish journalist and the eponymous freelance researcher who is also a hacker.  The journalist is hired by an elderly industrialist to look into the probable murder of a niece some forty years earlier, an event commemorated annually with the anonymous delivery of a pressed flower.  The journalist and the title character become partners, investigating the industrialist’s bizarre family and unraveling a contemporary financial scandal.  Both mysteries are solved, and a lesson is learned about what to do when confronted with an abusive relationship.--M.K. 

Captain Saturday
Robert Inman
Boston: Little Brown, 2002

Captain Saturday, Wilbur (Will) Baggett, has been Raleigh’s Channel 7 weatherman for twenty years.  Married to his college sweetheart and father to son Palmer, a Duke grad and UNC medical school student, Will has the perfect life in Old Raleigh. Or so he thinks until Channel 7 is sold, his contract lapses, and he is unemployed.  Within days of losing his job, he has also lost his identity, his wife, and contact with his son.  As Will Baggett struggles to discover who he is and how he relates to others in his world, you start thinking about who you are and how you relate to family, friends, and even strangers. 

I have recently moved from Duke Forest in Durham to High Rock Mountain in South Davidson County.  I feared I would be lost without the Triangle’s great writers.  Instead, I am discovering new authors here.  Robert Inman lives in Charlotte and Boone and has written three previous novels; I hope he’s well into his fifth.--L.R.

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Posted 12 December 2008

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Last modified December 19, 2008 3:48:59 PM EST