Welcome to another list of personal recommendations from our well-read staff!
Eclectic taste is the only theme this week, with Yasna's Picks. Try an overlooked classic (or one that really should be a classic), a mystery from far-flung destinations, or an absorbing literary read filled with unforgettable characters and beautiful language. And if nothing here is just perfect for your current reading mood, drop by in person, and we can discuss what you enjoy most in a book to help make a good selection for your next great read!
EMBERS by Shandor Marai
Most of this 1942 Hungarian novel, debuting in English in this edition, is a conversation between the General and Konrad, fast friends from military-school days until some 24 years later, when, after a day’s hunt together and an evening’s dinner with the General’s wife, Krisztina, Konrad resigned his commission and left for the tropics. Since then, Krisztina has died, Konrad has taken British citizenship and resides in London, and the General has retreated to live in the room of his castle in which he was born. Their colloquy marks the first time the friends have met in 41 years. It is more the General’s monologue than a conversation, and the wronged man - for Konrad and Krisztina had been meeting secretly - expounds on the fateful events long ago and the characters of their three principal actors in minute detail. Finally, he asks two questions that Konrad declines to answer. The General’s performance is either the height of romantic nobility or proof positive that the aristocracy was too full of itself to survive modernity. (Ray Olson, Booklist)
...This brilliant Borgesian-Nabokovian historical - part pageant, part whodunit - shines with a distinctly dry light: Eco is a professor of semiotics (at Bologna University) with a versatile style (admirably handled by translator Weaver) and an awesome knowledge of the Middle Ages The story concerns a series of murders at a mythical Benedictine abbey somewhere near the Ligurian coast in 1327. The master detective is a wise and tolerant Franciscan scholar, Brother William of Baskerville, while a young Benedictine monk, Adso of Melk, plays the part both of narrator and inevitable sidekick/apprentice-sleuth. The dense and finely spun mystery eventually revolves around the last remaining copy of Aristotle's second book of the Poetics (now lost), his writings on comedy. And this precious manuscript is not just a deadly weapon--its pages have been dusted with poison by a fanatical blind monk - but its imagined contents come to symbolize humanity's ultimate defense against the bigotry and political horror swirling around in the world outside the monastery: lethal feuds between Emperor Louis IV and Pope John XXII; the Inquisition; witchhunts; pogroms; the Albigensian crusade; Fra Dolcino's bloody uprising and its far more savage suppression. Finally, then, when the manuscript is deliberately burned, the apocalyptic conflagration suggests the triumph of a very 20th-century terrorism that aims to mangle mind and body: the insidious obscurantist, Jorge of Burgos, may have been exposed, but a once-peaceful monastic microcosm now lies in ruins. . . (Kirkus Rewievs)
The many readers who enjoyed the author's The Flanders Panel (1994) and Club Dumas (1997) will find this novel absolutely engrossing, and those who ordinarily do not gravitate to thrillers could begin an appreciation of the genre right here. In a wonderfully complicated, greatly atmospheric, and delectably sophisticated narrative, Perez-Reverte sees modern technology at work in an age-old institution; specifically, a hacker sends an anonymous message to Vatican authorities by breaking into the pope's personal computer system, bringing to the Holy Father's attention the curious troubles taking place at a small church in Seville, Spain. Vatican authorities dispatch Father Lorenzo Quart of the Institute of External Affairs, whose charge is to gather information concerning the scandal that is brewing around Our Lady of the Tears Church. Not only have two people associated with the church been killed recently, the church itself faces demolition. There are certainly parties in town that would profit from its condemnation. Is the little church itself responsible for the deaths, as if it were a living being? And what people in the community have a vested interest in seeing that the church remains standing? And how is an attractive man like Father Quart supposed to remember his vow of chastity in a sensuous city like Seville? The answers to these questions provide an exciting read. (Brad Hooper, Booklist)
Lebanese-born Maalouf, a respected journalist who now lives and writes in France, was awarded the Prix des Maisons de la Presse for Samarkand, a rich historical romance that recounts the adventurous life of 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam and the subsequent fate of the much-prized manuscript of his famous poem The Rubaiyaat. In a fast-moving narrative that exudes a distinct Arabian Nights flavor, Maalouf explores the intertwined fates of three protagonists: the embattled Omar, the crafty vizier who means to appropriate the poet's talents, and the enigmatic leader of the infamous Order of the Assassins, who has his own dark designs on Omar's masterpiece. Nor does the story end there, for we continue to trace the manuscript's peregrinations, until it is eventually secured by an American scholar who takes it with him aboard a certain luxury liner for an ocean crossing in the year 1912. Mysteries and their solutions are deployed with masterly authority in this accomplished novel by one of the best known European writers. (Kirkus Reviews)
The African-born author of more than 50 books, from children's stories (The Perfect Hamburger) to scholarly works (Forensic Aspects of Sleep), turns his talents to detection in this artful, pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. A series of vignettes linked to the establishment and growth of Mma Ramotswe's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" serve not only to entertain but to explore conditions in Botswana in a way that is both penetrating and light thanks to Smith's deft touch. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective manual, the frequently cited example of Agatha Christie and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she shines her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers. (Publishers Weekly)