January 2003

Reading Recommendations · Librarians’ Choice 2002 Fiction

Since 1992, the Fiction Department has published an annual “Librarians’ Choice” list of staff picks, sixty or seventy fiction titles that were particular favorites of our reviewers that year. Here’s the list of favorites from 2002.
Cover of Red Poppies

Red Poppies

by Alai
This lyrical account of life in eastern Tibet before the Communist takeover is memorably related by a tribal chieftain’s “idiot son,” who is actually quite accomplished in the colorful society of that time. First in a projected trilogy, the novel is graced with a gorgeous translation.
Also in audio cassette, compact disc

You’ve Got Murder

Mystery
by Donna Andrews
Turing Hopper has strong ties to her friend, Zach Malone—very strong, in fact, since she is an Artificial Intelligence Personality created by him. When Zach disappears, Turing, with the help of two human companions, braves the outer depths of cyberspace to find him. A modern mystery as inventive as Turing herself.

Savannah Blues

by Mary Kay Andrews
Breezy, funny, and with enough plotlines for several books, this tale of antiques and Southern eccentricity begins when Weezie Foley finds a dead body at an estate sale—and it’s the body of her ex’s fiancee. Like the heroine’s family, this story “puts the fun in dysfunctional”.
Cover of Bitten

Bitten

Supernatural
by Kelley Armstrong
The only female werewolf in the world, Elena Michaels, is called back from her human life to help the Pack stamp out some renegade “mutts.” But what the mutts really want is Elena, so that they can breed pure werewolves. A biting, fur-flying supernatural tale.

The Book of Illusions

by Paul Auster
Devastated by the deaths of his family, literature professor David Zimmer finds solace in the silent films of Hector Mann, a minor comedian who disappeared into obscurity after making just a few films. A letter telling him that Mann is still alive launches Zimmer on a strange journey in this absorbing novel about life, death, redemption, and art.
Also in audio cassette

Bow’s Boy

by Richard Babcock
This subtly crafted story of law and moral conscience set in a small American town may remind readers of To Kill a Mockingbird. Famous defense lawyer Bowman Epps and his protégé, high school basketball star Ginger Piper, clash over right and wrong in the defense of a client and about the Vietnam War.
Cover of The Christmas Train

The Christmas Train

by David Baldacci
Journalist Tom Langdon hopes to have a peaceful working vacation when he plans a cross-country train ride just before Christmas. But his journey becomes somewhat less than peaceful when he encounters both his old girlfriend and his current one aboard. The resolution of this love triangle makes for a fast and funny tale in this change of pace by Baldacci.
Also in audio cassette, compact disc

The Gypsy Man

by Robert Bausch
Thirteen voices blend in a complex chorus as the history of a mountain town and its inhabitants is gradually revealed. The “gypsy man,” the mythical figure who preys on small children, becomes a symbol of the dark secrets that have dramatically affected the entire community.

Kill Your Darlings

by Terence Blacker
“A writer writing about a writer writing about writing” may be, as narrator Gregory Keays believes, one of the most pitiable expressions of authorship, but in the right hands, it can also be one of the most entertaining. Blacker gives us the story of a self-deceiving plagiarist in this delightfully sophisticated satire.

Century’s Son

by Robert Boswell
Unable to face their own past—a young son’s suicide a decade before—a political scientist professor and her family are jolted from the cycle of their grief by the arrival of her father, an outrageous Russian émigré who claims he almost assassinated Stalin. History, truth, grief, and family dynamics are explored with heartrending faithfulness in this beautifully crafted story.
Cover of The Soldier’s Return

The Soldier’s Return

by Melvyn Bragg
Returning to his small English town after horrific service in Burma in World War II, Sam Richardson feels painfully dislocated from his old life. Emigrating to Australia may offer him a new start, but uprooting his family may tear it apart. This is a deeply sympathetic portrait of ordinary people whose lives have been altered by the great forces of history.

No Way to Treat a First Lady

by Christopher Buckley
The powerful First Lady of the United States has been charged with killing her philandering spouse. Already convicted by the media, she turns to an old boyfriend, a famous defense attorney, to help her beat the rap. Although the characters of the president and his wife may seem familiar here, Buckley finds a lot of fresh and funny ways to satirize Washington politicos and the media types who cover them.

Walking the Lions

by Stephen Burgen
A mystery from the days of the Spanish Civil War still haunts the small Catalonian town where New Yorker Alex Nadai has just inherited a farm. The locals shun him, still blaming his father for the deaths of three Nationalists in 1938. “Truth isn’t always an option,” Alex is warned when he tries to uncover the facts in this suspenseful debut.
Cover of Fair Warning

Fair Warning

by Robert Olen Butler
In Amy Dickerson, the beautiful, articulate appraiser of a successful Manhattan auction house, Robert Olen Butler displays his hallmark mastery of narrative voice.

The Distant Land of My Father

by Bo Caldwell
Anna Schoene’s flamboyant, wayward father stays in Shanghai when Anna’s mother moves her to the U.S. on the eve of World War II. It’s a separation that shapes Anna’s whole life—even after father and daughter are reunited. A mesmerizing portrayal of “a risky person to love.”

The Emperor of Ocean Park

by Stephen L. Carter
Talcott Garland, son of one of the country’s most famous and controversial African-American judges, is puzzled by the strange “arrangements” his father left at his sudden death. Talcott must leave his own privileged world as a Yale law professor to pursue mysterious—and dangerous—clues to his father’s past in this highly charged thriller, debut fiction by a well-known political and social commentator.
Also in audio cassette, large print
Cover of The Money Dragon

The Money Dragon

Historical
by Pam Chun
This vivid novel of Chinese immigrant society in Hawaii from 1910 to the mid-1930s is based on the life of the author’s great-grandfather. Two wives vie for supremacy in the household of merchant Ah Leong, with their lives further complicated by U.S. immigration law and Hawaiian territorial history.

Grammercy Park

by Paula Cohen
Beautiful recluse Clara Adler is left destitute in a Gramercy Park mansion following the death of her guardian. A handsome Italian tenor rescues Clara, but the buried secrets of her childhood provide shocking disclosures in a frothy debut novel of the operatic milieu in Gay Nineties New York City.

Gallow’s Thief

Historical
by Bernard Cornwell
Rider Sandman, a British officer who has had to sell his commission and now lives in a squalid London tavern, agrees to investigate the case of a convicted murderer. It takes him even deeper into London’s filthy alleys—and its dirty politics. The author of the Richard Sharpe novels offers an unusually gritty view of Regency England in this new historical series.
Also in audio cassette, large print
Cover of The Translator

The Translator

by John Crowley
Kit Malone falls in love with an exiled Russian poet, her professor at a Midwestern college in the 1960s. Kit studies the Russian language to become the translator of his work. The poet’s shadowy Cold War past overtakes the pair, however, in this rare and splendidly written novel of literature and love.

Eureka

by William Diehl
This intricately woven suspense story draws the reader from a small town in the horse-riding days of the old West to a murder in pre-World War II Los Angeles. Discovering the common thread that unites the time frames and characters makes for first-rate reading
Also in large print

Veiled Threats

Mystery
by Deborah Donnelly
Wedding planner Carnegie Kincaid is fast regretting taking on her latest job. The bride’s stepmother is a controlling shrew, and her father is distracted by insider trading charges. When the bride is kidnapped, though, Carnegie pairs with her archenemy, tabloid reporter Aaron Gold, to find her and to make sure everyone lives happily ever after in this frantic and humorous tale.
Cover of Confessing a Murder

Confessing a Murder

by Nicholas Drayson
Drayson takes some of the richest conventions of adventure fiction (the found manuscript, the quest for fantastic treasure, the island castaway) and turns them into an intricate historical and philosophical fantasy, sure to appeal to fans of sophisticated fiction: the tale of a man who gave Darwin the idea for his theory of natural selection.

The Siege

by Helen Dunmore
The horrors of life in war-torn Leningrad, which demand every ounce of energy and determination simply to survive, are contrasted with the devotion with which twenty-two-year-old Anna supports her family and with the sweet romance she begins in this touching story.
Also in large print

Perfect Skin

by Nick Earls
Humor and poignancy combine in this Australian bestseller. Jon Marshall, a young doctor, is trying to cope with his wife’s death from childbirth and care for their six-month-old baby while making a new life for himself—including dating again. Earls’ snappy writing style effortlessly integrates serious and satiric themes
Cover of The Broken Lands: A Novel of Arctic Disaster

The Broken Lands: A Novel of Arctic Disaster

by Robert Edric
The doomed Arctic expedition of 1845, in which Sir John Franklin and his party searched for the Northwest Passage, receives a stirring fictional treatment. Englishman Robert Edric expands upon the few facts known about the fate of the expedition, producing a fascinating novel of courage, adventure, and scientific exploration in the nineteenth century.

Vertical Burn

by Earl W. Emerson
With companies out battling a number of small fires around the city, Seattle’s firefighters are undermanned when a skyscraper goes up in flames. Jack Finney of Company 10 thinks this is a bit too coincidental, but before he can prove his conspiracy theory, he’ll have to avoid being set up for the crimes and arrested for arson in this blazing thriller.

The Mount

by Carol Emshwiller
In the tradition of Jonathan Swift, this is a pointed satire wrapped up in a very entertaining fantasy parable. Young narrator Charley is a “mount,” one of the humans bred like racehorses by the aliens who have colonized Earth. His pampered and circumscribed existence is torn apart when “wild” humans set him free from what he never thought of as slavery.
Cover of The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White

Historical
by Michael Faber
This sumptuous melodrama set in Victorian London observes the ascent of an educated, prototypically feminist prostitute who harbors literary aspirations. Vastly readable and entertaining.

The Middle Ages

by Jennie Fields
Divorced, overweight, middle-aged mom Jane Larsen has nowhere to go but up when she is fired from her job as an industrial architect. Forced to reevaluate, she returns to her old dream of designing houses. Jane begins to restore her personal life as well, reconnecting with an old boyfriend, in this moving story of self-redemption.

Everything is Illuminated

by Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer mixes tragedy and comedy in a stunning debut. An American student, accompanied by a young translator, seeks the Ukrainian shtetl where a woman may once have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. As his quest unfolds, his novel-in-progress traces the village’s dark history.
Also in audio cassette
Cover of Three Junes

Three Junes

by Julia Glass
This remarkably assured first novel sketches three summers in the life of a Scottish family, particularly the newly widowed father and the gay oldest son. Though the main characters are reserved people, their painfully lucid awareness of the complexities of their emotional ties to each other fills this book with feeling.

The Snowman’s Children

by Glen Hirshberg
Seventeen years after a series of unsolved child murders that rocked Detroit and profoundly affected Mattie’s own childhood, he returns to track down the two friends who abruptly disappeared from his life during that long year. He unexpectedly discovers that the past isn’t quite as he remembered.

The Jazz Bird

by Craig Holden
Holden re-imagines the crime that rocked Cincinnati in the 1920s as he relates the story of how bootlegger George Remus murdered his straying wife in front of hundreds of witnesses in Eden Park. Passionate, articulate, and unforgettable.
Also in audio cassette, compact disc
Cover of Dying to Please

Dying to Please

by Linda Howard
In a bestseller sizzling with sex and suspense, Sarah Stevens, butler and bodyguard, gets her fifteen minutes of TV fame when she foils a burglary of her elderly employer’s home. But that flash of celebrity is enough to attract a stalker. Which, of course, also attracts a handsome police inspector…
Also in audio cassette, compact disc, large print

A Scattering of Jades

Historical
by Alexander C. Irvine
Irvine debuts with a strong, original novel of occult fantasy and secret history. Though the story is set firmly in the real world of the early nineteenth century, injected into this fascinating tale are elements of magic, horror, and Meso-American myth that vividly capture the reader’s imagination.

Enemy Women

Historical
by Paulette Jiles
In this haunting and unusual story of the power of both love and war, eighteen-year-old Adair Cooley sees her Missouri Ozarks home destroyed by Union renegades and then is falsely denounced as a Confederate collaborator. While in jail, she unexpectedly forges a relationship with her compassionate interrogator, a Union major.
Cover of The Navigator of New York

The Navigator of New York

Historical
by Wayne Johnston
The historic rivalry over the first conquest of the North Pole is the setting for this entertaining story of young Devlin Stead, whose rocky road to adulthood is filled with Arctic adventure, danger, and life-altering discoveries

Roscoe

by William Kennedy
In Albany, N.Y., following World War II, Roscoe runs a well-oiled Democratic political machine. Dark memories, corruption, and lustful intentions loom, however, in this brilliant character study.
Also in large print

Fragrant Harbor

by John Lanchester
The various narrators of Fragrant Harbor come to Hong Kong to reshape their lives. Their stories illuminate the beauty and mystery of Hong Kong over seventy years of Chinese history.
Cover of All I Could Get

All I Could Get

by Scott Lasser
Happy-go-lucky Barry plans to give up his life of seasonal jobs and skiing in Colorado just long enough to make a fortune on Wall Street for his family. But he’s soon seduced by the fast-paced and high-priced life. Can his wife shock him back to his senses with a few life-altering decision of her own? A convincing portrayal of life both at home and on the Street.

The Last Place

Mystery
by Laura Lippman
Baltimore p.i. Tess Monaghan ought to have learned not to do favors for her old friend Whitney when the last one got her into court-ordered anger management therapy. But looking into five unsolved murders for Whitney’s nonprofit group proves surprisingly intriguing—and may involve Tess more personally than she expected.

Corpsing

by Toby Litt
A bicycle courier fatally shoots an actress in a London bistro, pumping three more slugs into Conrad, her ex-lover. Conrad leaves rehab in wheelchair, ready to find a motive, in this darkly humorous thriller.
Cover of The Piano Tuner

The Piano Tuner

Historical
by Daniel Mason
A Victorian piano tuner is sent out to a remote post in Burma to repair a piano, an instrument on which the fate of the colony may rest. His encounter with a charismatic imperial officer and his seduction by the Burmese landscape and culture are hauntingly recounted in this mesmerizing tale of empire, literary historical fiction at its finest.

Miracle at St. Anna

by James McBride
In 1944, four soldiers from an African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” unit are lost in Italy’s mountains. The men, all very different, come to depend on one another. But St. Anna’s, a small village church they find, may hold the real key to their survival, in this magical tale.

Atonement

by Ian McEwan
An imaginative thirteen-year-old girl glimpses an incident of adult sexuality and later makes an accusation against the man she saw. The consequences of her false testimony follow her to nursing service during World War II, where the terrible suffering she witnesses among the wounded offers, perhaps, the opportunity for atonement.
Also in audio cassette, large print
Cover of The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
If you can’t have Mary Poppins, the next best thing may be a nanny named Nanny who is studying child development at NYU. In this hilarious commentary on family life in society’s upper class, Nanny’s part-time job becomes a 24/7 obligation when the parents need more minding than the child. Julia Roberts reads the audio book edition of this title.
Also in audio cassette

The Only Boy for Me

by Gil McNeil
Between her demanding job in advertising and her equally demanding job as a single mom, Annie Baker has a contented—if somewhat exhausting—life. It is shaken up, though, when she falls for a coworker and when her daughter falls seriously ill. Annie is prompted to reexamine her choices in this touching testimony to the conflicts and joys of human connections.

Family Matters

by Rohinton Mistry
Elderly Bombay patriarch Nariman Vakeel breaks his ankle and becomes dependent on his children and stepchildren—to his own dismay and theirs—in this rich and colorful take on King Lear. From the opening scene, readers will recognize that they are in the hands of a master novelist.
Cover of A Weekend at Blenheim

A Weekend at Blenheim

by J.P. Morrissey
American architect John Vanbrugh is flattered when he is asked to renovate England’s famous Blenheim Palace in 1905. But he’s hardly prepared for the palace’s parade of distinguished guests (including Winston Churchill and John Singer Sargent) or the murder of a housemaid. This debut mystery is full of satisfying period detail.

At Swim, Two Boys

by Jamie O’Neill
In 1915, the son of a Dublin shopkeeper and a boy from the slums renew their childhood friendship and acknowledge the tentative sexual attraction between them. O’Neill draws direct parallels between the Irish quest for nationality and the gay quest for recognition and a “nation of the heart” in this accomplished and heartrending debut, resounding with Irish literary echoes.

The River Road

by Karen Osborn
Kay and brothers David and Michael have formed an inseparable trio since childhood. High on drugs one night, David jumps off a bridge into the icy Connecticut River and drowns. The effect of this tragedy on friends and family is examined through multiple viewpoints in an astute psychological study of anguish and guilt.
Cover of When the Emperor Was Divine

When the Emperor Was Divine

by Julie Otsuka
In spare and understated prose, Otsuka chronicles the experiences of a Japanese-American family removed from their home in Berkley and sent to an internment camp for enemy aliens during World War II. The heartbreaking story of a shameful injustice.

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

by Ann Packer
Restless and irritated with her fiance, twenty-three-year-old Carrie Bell watches him dive from Clausen’s Pier and break his neck. In one unthinkable moment, all of her options are gone—how can she leave him now? A highly readable and deeply affecting novel about life’s choices.
Also in audio cassette

The Dream of Scipio

by Iain Pears
In this powerful novel, Pears examines the resilience of civilization through the lives of three different men, separated by centuries, as each faces a crisis of faith when his intimate, human existence crashes against the overwhelming, impersonal tides of a changing world.
Cover of I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother

by Allison Pearson
In London’s international finance world, Kate Reddy is a star, but her family role is barely a walk-on part. Trying to keep up with the stay-at-home “Muffia” while flying off to present multi-million dollar deals, Kate doesn’t want to be labeled “The Mother Who Didn’t Make the Effort”. A bittersweet, touchingly funny story that will strike a familiar chord with every mother.
Also in audio cassette

The Bartered Bride

by Mary Jo Putney
This is a treat for romance readers, with one of the most gallant heroes to come along in years and a charming, resourceful heroine. An American merchant in the East Indies, Gavin Elliott wins a series of chivalrous challenges to barter freedom for enslaved Alexandra Warren. She must rescue him in return back in London when he is framed for her murder.
Also in audio cassette, large print

Chains around the Grass

by Naomi Ragen
The Markowitz family faces a series of financial failures in New York City in the 1950s. Naomi Ragen’s substantially autobiographical novel portrays a Jewish family that returns to its religious tradition after finding the American dream empty of promise.
Cover of The Smallest Color

The Smallest Color

by Bill Roorbach
Coop Henry has spent the last thirty years maintaining the story that his long-missing brother, a 1960s radical, is alive and in hiding. Only five people know the truth, and it is tearing Coop apart. Past and present alternate with rising intensity as an award-winning writer tells a story of love, loyalty, and lies.

Francesca’s Party

by Patricia Scanlan
Forty-year-old Dubliner Francesca catches her husband kissing a much younger woman, and that shock is just the first in the collapse of her marriage. Somehow Francesca must find the strength to move beyond her roles of wife and stay-at-home mom. Sympathetic and well developed characters separate this story from the crowd.

No Good Deed

Mystery
by Manda Scott
An undercover officer in a shadowy law enforcement agency, Orla McLeod tracks elusive criminal Tord Svenson with the help of the only living person to have seen Svenson’s face—a nine-year-old boy. Scott’s gritty debut ranges from sordid Glasgow tenements to the beautiful Scottish Highlands.
Cover of Lucky Us

Lucky Us

by Joan Silber
Gabe, a middle-aged ex-convict, and Elisa, a giddy twenty-something artist, epitomize the mismatched couple. Their unusual relationship is tried to the point of dissolution after Elisa receives a positive test for HIV. A contemporary love story told with wit and candor.

The English Assassin

by Daniel Silva
Retired spymaster and art restorer Gabriel Allon (whom we first met in The Kill Artist) finds both of his fields of expertise relevant when he discovers the murdered body of a Swiss art collector and Nazi collaborator. Fans will be delighted by another truly thrilling thriller from Silva.
Also in large print

December 6

by Martin Cruz Smith
Raised in Japan by missionary parents, Harry Niles can think, gamble, and con people in two languages. But it’s December 6, 1941. Japan and the U.S. both believe Harry is a spy, and a bit of make-believe has left him vulnerable. Matters are at a crucial balancing point for a man who walks the line between East and West in this gripping novel.
Also in audio cassette, compact disc
Cover of Snowfall

Snowfall

by Mitchell Smith
A cosmic cataclysm destroys the technological world, initiating an Ice Age in which society returns to primitivism and tribalism. Smith has written an exciting adventure story of post-apocalyptic survival.

Snow Island

by Katherine Towler
Sixteen-year-old Alice Daggett has run her family’s store on Snow Island (a tiny islet off the coast of New England) since her father’s death. But the coming of World War II brings changes to the island and to Alice herself. She falls in love for the first time and goes beyond the island to find her own place in the world. A charming coming-of-age tale.

The Story of Lucy Gault

by William Trevor
A misguided youthful action and its far-reaching consequences are the materials with which master storyteller Trevor crafts this novel of guilt, grief, understanding, and forgiveness. The story begins in an Ireland uneasy under English martial law in 1921, when young Lucy Gault runs away to try to force her parents not to flee the country.
Cover of Seek My Face

Seek My Face

by John Updike
A single-session interview with the widow of a famous abstract expressionist offers a recap of the post-War art scene in New York City, in a powerful literary performance.
Also in compact disc

The Caves of Perigord

by Martin Walker
A prehistoric cave drawing on a slab of rock shows up in a London art house. The investigation of its origin introduces the stories of a forgotten chapter of the French Resistance and of the Cro-Magnon clan who created the drawing some 17,000 years ago. An exciting blend of war story and paleontology.

Fingersmith

Historical
by Sarah Waters
Stunning reversals and hidden identities astonish the reader of this lusty Victorian melodrama, packed with period nuance, written obviously in homage to Charles Dickens.
Cover of In Her Shoes

In Her Shoes

by Jennifer Weiner
Rose is the “good” sister in this thoroughly enjoyable modern fairy tale. She’s a successful lawyer with an organized but boring life. When her latest attempt at romance is sabotaged by Maggie, who has always been the “bad” one, both sisters find their lives turned upside-down.
Also in audio cassette, compact disc