THE BEST BOOKS Of 2005
THE TRIBUNE ASKED BOOK EXPERTS for their favorite picks, culled from all titles published in 2005. The result: a little something for everyone, with adventure, drama, information, romance, mystery and even dinosaurs aplenty. Many of the books aren't the ones you'll see on national best-seller lists, but librarians and booksellers in Utah have been recommending them throughout the year.
Catherine Weller recommends Trudeau Vector (Viking, $24.95) by Juris Jurjevics, the first novel by the owner of the small mystery press Soho Press. "He amply demonstrates his ability to craft a fine thriller," Weller says. A team of researchers is murdered at a Canadian arctic research station, and an American goes to figure out what happened.
Bruce Christensen picked Monsters of Gramercy Park by Danny Leigh (Bloomsbury, $23.95), which he calls "a well-written thriller with disturbing characters, exciting plot developments and continual shifts in reality. This book is much easier and more pleasurable to read than describe."
Christensen also likes Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, the second in Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club (Pantheon, $21.95) The popular Smith (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency) has come up with "a new main character, a new location, but still the same wistful magic one expects from this author."
Beth Downs, a librarian at the South Jordan Library, liked The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman (Norton, $23.95). What would happen if Anne's boyfriend from the hidden rooms, Peter van Pels, survived the Holocaust and moved to New York City, hiding his past and starting over? Several years later, the publication and subsequent fame of Anne Frank's diary threaten to destroy his carefully constructed life.
Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner (Berkeley, $12.95) is about a woman who appears to be an ordinary mother; even her husband doesn't know of her demon-hunting past. When demons start cropping up in her town, she gets called out of retirement. "The tone of the book is light but grounded in reality as Kate tries to keep her secret past from her current life and still protect the ones she loves. I love horror novels and this is just plain old fun," says Darlene Dineen, library manager at Kearns Library.
"With a book-within-a-book narrative the author deals with universal themes of love, loss, abandonment, renewal and hope in a fresh manner. I was captivated with the characters, plot, wry humor and tender affections," said Lee Alexander, a librarian at Columbus Library, about The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (Norton, $23.95).
Several of our experts recommended Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam (Knopf, $25). In a Pakistani community in England, the tensions between the older and the younger immigrants, contemporary mores and Islamic strictures play out with beauty and tragedy. "I love a well-written book which gives me insight into other cultures," Alexander said.
Benjamin Bombard liked The Diviners by Rick Moody (Little, Brown, $25.95). With "several chapters describing an entire episode of a WB-worthy TV series; that's worth a great BIG sack of pennies."
Bombard also recommends Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender (Doubleday $22.95), a book of short stories he describes as "emotionally caustic and persistently risible" as well as "categorically innovative."
Linda Frederick, librarian at Draper Library, liked Prep by Cutis Sittenfeld (Random House, $13.95), a perceptive, achingly funny novel featuring a middle-class Midwestern teenager trying to fit in at an elite East Coast boarding school. Prep is also a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender with adolescent angst and ambition.
Margaret Neville of The King's English liked In Perfect Light by Benjamin Saenz (Harper, $24.95). The book, about a Mexican-American family's struggles to stay together and afloat after the parents are killed in an accident, is "the best book I've read in a long time," Neville said.
E.L. Doctorow's The March (Random, $25.95) immediately engaged Betsy Burton with its complex characters and ability to bring the reader inside a historical event during the title event, Sherman's march through the South during the Civil War.
Jan Sloan at The King's English liked Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncy (Random, $21.95), a book that took more than 20 years for the president emeritus of Amherst College to write. In the book, an old man decides to come up with rules for aging.
Burton also recommends The Sea by John Banville (Random, $23), a lyrical novel about a man trying to come to terms with his past and his wife's recent death by visiting a childhood holiday haunt. The widely praised book won the 2005 Booker Award.
Merritt recommends On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Penguin, $25.95), in which the author of White Teeth takes E.M. Forster's Howards End and adds modern complexities of race, culture, politics and religion.
Sam Wellers' Christensen liked The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez, illustrated by Peter S's (Harcourt, $18), a "social satire, intriguing mystery, and a charming read -- the thrills, chills and spills of bibliomania exposed to the bone."
Marsha Leclair-Marzolf, associate director of the Salt Lake County Library, enjoyed A Long Way Down: A Novel by Nick Hornby (Riverhead, $24.95). "Only Nick Hornby, author of About a Boy and High Fidelity, could pull off this novel without resorting to sentimentality as he writes about four strangers who meet on a rooftop New Year's Eve with the intention of jumping, and the subsequent dysfunctional and hilariously funny non-suicide gang they form," she said.
The Bay at Midnight by Diane Chamberlain (Mira, $19.95) is a story of two families who meet every summer at their summer homes. "Someone is murdered and someone is wrongly convicted of the murder. It's an interesting story with well-defined characters," said Daniela Jancovic from the Park Library.
Librarians Danette Hantla and Joni Kohagen recommend March (Viking, $24.95). Geraldine Brooks writes the story of Mr. March, father of Louisa May Alcott's little women, as he leaves his wife and family to serve as a chaplain in the Civil War.
Burton and Ken Sanders recommend Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley's Clueless George Goes to War (White Horse Press, $7.95) Sanders calls it "the perfect stocking stuffer for those living outside of Utah County. Pat Bagley declares war on George Bush! A hilarious look at the Bush presidency."
For those who love the seemingly unlovable West Desert, Sanders recommends Richard Menzies' Passing Through: An Existential Journey Across America's Outback (Stephens Press, $21.95). "This bargain-priced coffee-table photo book is a perfect gift for enthusiasts of the American West and photography lovers, particularly for those who love the empty spaces of Utah and Nevada," Sanders says.
Many local book experts recommend Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild by Ellen Meloy (Pantheon, $26). Meloy, author of The Anthropology of Turquoise (short listed for a Pulitzer Prize), "delivered another amazing natural history with this book," Catherine Weller says. Meloy spends a year observing a band of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, visits New Mexico in an attempt to see the lone survivor of a band living in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range and watches the bighorns of the Baja peninsula. "She has a low key, humorous writing style . . . never melodramatic or preachy, but at the same time very knowledgeable and very passionate about her topics," Catherine Weller said. "A fine last book from Meloy, who died in November of 2004. It was a terrible shame to lose her."
For another look at a peculiarly Western character, Sanders recommends Doug Peacock's Walking It Off (Eastern Washington University Press, $19.95; signed limited edition Hardback "Hayduke Edition," Dream Garden Press, $100). Sanders calls it "a hard-hitting memoir of war and wilderness." Peacock, a Vietnam Green Beret medic known for his work with grizzly bears and for the being inspiration for the Hayduke character in Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, tells his own story of survival amid the background of Abbey's death.
Gwynneth Kovacs liked Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman (Knopf, $35), which she calls "an engaging, thorough biography of Joseph Smith, hailed by critics as the definitive biography of the Mormon prophet."
She and Sanders recommend David O. McKay and the Rise of Mormonism by Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright (University of Utah Press, $29.95). "Based largely on McKay's longtime personal secretary's extraordinary files and the authors' research, this biography reaches far beyond the shallow profiles usually issued on LDS Church leaders," Sanders said. Kovacs adds David O. McKay Around the World, An Apostolic Mission by Hugh J. Cannon (Spring Creek, $16.95), a reprinted collection of McKay's writings during his mission to the Orient, lost for more than 80 years.
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With Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace (Little, Brown $25.95), Bombard says, "My favorite author deliberates on why we boil an animal alive and revel at the same time, plus some edifying stuff about grammar."
Catherine Weller recommended City of Falling Angels by John Berendt (Penguin, $25.95).
Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, writes about Venice in much the same way he wrote about Savannah, Ga. "His book is dishy in its gossip but substantive in its history and sociological examination of the city. Reading about the heirs of the palazzo Henry James resided in when writing in Venice and the disposition of the papers of Ezra Pound are alone worth the price of the book."
Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester (HarperCollins, $27.95) "is more than a blow-by-blow of the tragedy of the San Francisco earthquake and fire," Weller said. "It is a wonderful, entertaining history of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and a history of the development of the field of geography and plate tectonics. Winchester is a master of the entertaining aside and the witty anecdote."
Burton recommends Two Lives by Vikram Seth (HarperCollins, $27.95). Part memoir, part biography, the books tells the stories of Seth's real-life great-uncle and great-aunt, who fled Germany before World War II and rejoined in England amid calamity.
A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich (Yale, $25) is a favorite of both booksellers and Tribune book reporter Christy Karras. This is the first English translation of a book that's stayed in print in 17 languages for more than 70 years. Though written for kids, this is a book the whole family will love. "Gombrich's endearing verbiage is straight from the 1920s, and the wood block prints throughout are charming," Weller said.
Weller and Neville liked The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion, $23.95), about a boy looking for male role models at the neighborhood bar. "Moehringer is an amazing storyteller with a real gift for language, possibly a trait he learned in that Irish bar on Long Island, who shares his growing up warts and all. He never falls into the "poor me" trap, though the circumstances surrounding his quirky family's life in poverty would easily allow him to do so," Weller said.
Frank Pester's pick is Bygone Days: Bison, South Dakota 1907- 1957 (Distributed Art Publishers, $85) with photography by John Penor, which he calls "a fascinating vernacular look at life in the great plains during the first part of the last century. Family snapshots, beautifully arranged, show the simple joys and harsh bitter realities of life."
In Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness (Rodale, $24.95), Marc Ian Barasch looks at examples of compassion in the world at large and in his life and examines its meaning and application. "I was warmed by his words and encouraged to recognize the compassion that holds us in the embrace of life," said Susan Spicer at the West Jordan Library.
Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan (William Morrow, $21.95) is "a heartwarming tale of a 97-pound energy ball of a dog that swallowed everything that would fit into his mouth, got kicked out of obedience training and enjoyed life to its fullest," Dineen said.
And for the kid in all of us, or at least the dreamer, there's The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel, $150). They mean it when they say "complete": This comprises three volumes and 1,440 pages. For those of us who cried at the last comic strip, this is enough to satisfy that need for nostalgia, with all the strips plus a commentary by Watterson himself, in which he describes his battle for artistic freedom within a limited medium.
CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOKS
Debra Evans at Sam Weller's and Park Library librarian Shelly Ward recommend Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, $16). Evans calls this follow-up to Actual Size "scary," while Ward says, "In this 'actual size' look at the prehistoric world, which includes two dramatic gatefolds, young readers will have a fascinating chance to meet these creatures."
Ward also liked Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda (Candlewick, $26.99). "This is a wonderful pop-up book for children, featuring more than 35 dinosaurs. Kids will love it!" she said.
Evans recommends Wee Christmas Cabin of Can-na-ween by Ruth Sawyer (Candlewick, $14.99), a "beautifully illustrated, by Max Grafe, retelling of a redemptive Irish Christmas story first published in 1941."
Vivian Evans at The King's English recommends He Came With the Couch by David Slonim (Chronicle, $15.95), about a family's new couch -- which just happens to include a strange creature who's hesitant to explore the world beyond its cushion.
CHILDREN'S/TEENS' CHAPTER BOOKS
Vivian Evans liked Replay (HarperCollins, $15.99), which she calls "Sharon Creech in top form as always." A middle child in a big Italian clan finds his father's teenage diary and discovers some things he didn't know about his family.
Debra Evans recommends A Family of Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy (Hyperion, $19.95), "a rich anthology of poems fantastically illustrated by Jon Muth," for all ages.
Translated into English for the first time since it was originally published in 1959, Debra Evans calls Nicholas, by Ren Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Semp (Phaidon, $19.95), "the laugh-out-loud adventures of a French schoolboy by the author of the Asterix series."
Septimus Heap, Bk. 1 Magyk by Angie Sage (Katherine Tegen Books, $16.99), the first in a series, was written for the 9-12 age group. But "fantasy lovers of all ages will enjoy this tale of sorcerers, potions, spells and a cat that quacks," Christensen said.
Winnie Kandolin at the Draper Library likes Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow, $15.99). After her mother is diagnosed with cancer and she has to leave her idyllic life on a farm to go to public school, Ida "learns to adapt to a new life and comes to realize the Earth takes care of us in many different ways. This is a good story that young girls, especially those who have a love of nature, will enjoy and learn from," Kandolin said.
In The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going (Putnam, $15.99), the title character is frightened to move up to the fifth grade. His best friend, Frita, is not afraid of anything -- or is she? Gabriel and Frita spend the summer facing each fear, crossing them off one by one. The story takes place in the Deep South in the 1970s, during Jimmy Carter's run for the presidency when racism is alive and well. "I think this is a wonderful story about friendship, fear, prejudice and character that every child should read," Kandolin said.
Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan (HarperCollins, $15.99) is the story of Rachel Sheridan, daughter of English missionaries in East Africa. A 1918 flu epidemic leaves Rachel an orphan and she travels to England, assuming her deceased neighbor's identity, but holds on to a dream of returning to her beloved Africa and rebuilding her parents' mission hospital. "This is a wonderful story of hope, love, forgiveness and resilience," Kandolin said.
Utah native Shannon Hale's first book, Goose Girl, became a national hit. This year's Princess Academy (Bloomsbury, $16.95) is just as popular. While attending a strict academy for potential princesses with the other girls from her mountain village, 14-year-old Miri discovers unexpected talents and connections to her homeland.
The Founders: the 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution by Dennis B. Fradin (Walker, $22.95) gives young readers biographical information about the Constitution's architects and puts them in the context of the era's struggles. "The stories behind the Constitution are as powerful as the nation it created. This companion volume to The Signers brings all of the founders' stories to light," Ward said.
In The Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson (Disney, $17.99), five teenagers are chosen to be models for interactive Disney park hosts and discover weird things are happening to the park and them. "You'll never look at Disneyland the same way," Neville said.
Neville also recommends The Minister's Daughter by Julie Hearn (Simon & Schuster, $16.95). Nell's midwife grandmother is charged with witchcraft in 17th-century America when the minister's daughter is pregnant with no father in sight. Hearn adds supernatural characters such as fairies to this rich drama.
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner (Penguin, $16.99) combines history and fantasy in this story of a girl with a fairy mother and (human) merchant father whose adventures, set against 17th-century London, take her back and forth between her parents' worlds.
MANY THANKS to Benjamin R. Bombard, Betsy Burton, Margaret Neville, John Merritt, Jan Sloan and Vivian Evans at The King's English; Frank Pester, Catherine Weller, Bruce Christensen, Debra Evans and Gwynneth Kovacs and Frank Pester from Sam Weller's; Ken Sanders from Ken Sanders Rare Books; and Beth Downs, Darlene Dineen, Lee Alexander, Linda Frederick, Shelly Ward, Susan Spicer, Winnie Kandoli, Marsha Leclair-Marzolf, Daniela Jancovic, Danette Hantla and Joni Kohagen from the Salt Lake County public library system, as well as Tauni Everett, who helped compile the librarians' responses.