Best of 2011 (Staff Picks) - For Adults

Jennet Conant

A stunning account of Julia Child's early life as an OSS agent in the Far East.

Rebecca Cantrell

Posing as travel reporter Adelheid Zinsli and lover of SS officer Lars Lang, Hannah has been collecting Nazi secrets from Lang and smuggling them back to Switzerland. Wanted by the SS, her travel in and out of Germany has always been fraught with danger, but this trip is especially treacherous. Her relationship with Lang gets more complicated as he sinks into alcoholism; the whispers she hears about his work in the SS give her chills. Whose side is he on?

Louise Penny

Investigating a murder at a solo artist's Quebec village home, Chief Inspector Gamache and his team encounter deceptive nuances in the art world that distort every clue they find with tales of duality and broken hearts. Selected by more than one CRRL staff member.

Diana Abu-Jaber

After a five year absence, an eighteen-year-old runaway returns to her family in Miami to deal with the guilty secret that caused her to flee.

Gabrielle Hamilton

Chef and restaurateur Hamilton, chef/owner of the acclaimed New York City restaurant Prune, offers a sensuous and evocative memoir of her rural Pennsylvania childhood and her training as writer and chef.

Geraldine Brooks

Once again, the author takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold she has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

Alexandra Fuller

In this sequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, the author returns to Africa and the story of her unforgettable family. In this book she braids a multilayered narrative around the perfectly lit, Happy Valley era Africa of her mother's childhood; the boiled cabbage grimness of her father's English childhood; and the darker, civil war torn Africa of her own childhood. At its heart, this is the story of Fuller's mother, Nicola.

Joanna Trollope

After her youngest son, and last one to marry, brings home his wife, Rachel feels her role of family matriarch slipping away and must deal with the loss that comes with it, while maintaining the relationships she holds dear.

Deborah E. Harkness

Witch and Yale historian Diana Bishop discovers an enchanted manuscript, attracting the attention of 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. The orphaned daughter of two powerful witches, Bishop prefers intellect, but relies on magic when her discovery of a palimpsest documenting the origin of supernatural species releases an assortment of undead who threaten, stalk, and harass her.

Mary Doria Russell

After the burned body of a mixed-blood boy, Johnnie Sanders, is discovered in 1878 Dodge City, Kansas, part-time policeman Wyatt Earp enlists the help of his professional-gambler friend Doc Holliday.

Andrea Wulf

A fascinating look at the founding fathers from the unique and intimate perspective of their lives as gardeners, plantsmen, and farmers.

Darien Gee

Still reeling from a personal tragedy that left her estranged from the sister who was once her best friend, Julia Evarts remains at a loss as to how to move on with her life until she receives an anonymous gift of Amish Friendship Bread with instructions on how to make the bread herself, and a request to share it with others.

Paul Hendrickson

An illuminating reconsideration of a key period in the life of Ernest Hemingway that will change the way he is perceived and understood. Focusing on the years 1934 to 1961--from his pinnacle until his suicide--Paul Hendrickson traces the writer's exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.

Mark Richard

Award-winning author Mark Richard tells his story of growing up physically challenged in the American South with a mix of racial tension and religious fervor.

Steve Earle

Wracked by guilt and addiction ten years after administering a fatal morphine overdose to Hank Williams, Doc Ebersole performs illegal medical services in the red-light district of San Antonio before meeting a young Mexican immigrant who seems to heal others with her touch.

Betty White

Drawing from a lifetime of lessons learned, seven-time Emmy winner Betty White's wit and wisdom take center stage as she tackles topics like friendship, romantic love, aging, television, fans, love for animals, and the brave new world of celebrity. If You Ask Me mixes her thoughtful observations with humorous stories from a seven- decade career in Hollywood.

Erik Larson

The bestselling author of "Devil in the White City" turns his hand to a remarkable story set during Hitler's rise to power. The time is 1933, the place, Berlin, when William E. Dodd becomes America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany in a year that proved to be a turning point in history. *Selected by multiple CRRL staff.

Alexander Yates

This is a gritty, ambitious, and often entertaining debut novel about a father and a son, a kidnapping, and a special task force whose members have extraordinary paranormal skills. Set in the Philippines, the story focuses on Benicio's search for his estranged father.

Francine Prose

While working for an idealistic college professor, twenty-six-year old Lula, an Albanian trying to make a better life for herself in America, finds her life taking a complicated turn when her Albanian "brothers" return, in a novel set in the aftermath of 9/11.

Dorothy Wickenden

"A captivating full-length book derived from a widely read and much beloved New Yorker piece about Wickenden's grandmother and her grandmother's best friend who left their affluent East Coast lives to 'rough it' as teachers in the wilds of Colorado in 1916." (Book Summary)

Fany Gerson

Collected and developed by celebrated pastry chef Fany Gerson, this sweet little cookbook showcases her favorite recipes for paletas, those flavor-packed ice pops made from an enormous variety of fruits, nuts, flowers, and even spices; plus shaved ice (raspados) and aguas frescas-the delightful Mexican drinks featuring whole fruit and exotic ingredients like tamarind and hibiscus flowers.

Alexandra Styron

In "Reading My Father," William Styron's youngest child explores the life of a fascinating and difficult man whose own memoir, "Darkness Visible," so searingly chronicled his battle with major depression.

Amor Towles

A chance encounter with a handsome banker in a jazz bar on New Year's Eve 1938 catapults Wall Street secretary Katey Kontent into the upper echelons of New York society, where she befriends a shy multi-millionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow.

Terry Pratchett

Lady Sybil, wife of Sam Vimes, convinces him to travel to the countryside for a vacation. Out of his element, Sam soon finds various crimes to investigate. But he is out of his element and must rely on his instincts to bring the culprits to justice. Part of the Discworld series.

Kate Atkinson

Tracy Waterhouse, a retired police detective leading a quiet life, makes a snap decision to relieve habitual offender Kelly Cross of a young child he's been dragging around town. Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge. Meanwhile, detective Jackson Brodie embarks on a different sort of rescue--that of an abused dog.

Ann Patchett

A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past. Selected by multiple CRRL staff members.

Meg Mitchell Moore

It's early summer when Ginny and William's peaceful life in Vermont comes to an abrupt halt. First, their daughter Lillian arrives, with her two children in tow, to escape her crumbling marriage. Next, their son Stephen and his pregnant wife Jane show up for a weekend visit. When their youngest daughter Rachel appears, fleeing her difficult life in New York, Ginny and William find themselves consumed again by the chaos of parenthood.

Chad Harbach

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big-league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Rebecca Makkai

Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both a kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip from Missouri to Vermont, with ferrets, an inconvenient boyfriend, and upsetting family history thrown in their path. But is it just Ian who is running away? Who is the man who seems to be on their tail? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

Robert Zubrin with Richard Wagner

Explains how scientists can use current technology to send humans to Mars; produce fuel and oxygen on the planet's surface; build bases and settlements; and one day terrafor-- or alter the atmosphere of the planet.

Alexander McCall Smith

"Literary agent Barbara Ragg has agreed to represent a man writing a book about his experiences hanging out with the Abominable Snowman. Terence Moongrove's residence has become the target of New Age cosmologists. And pint-sized terrier Freddie de la Hay is being recruited by MI6 to infiltrate a Russian spy ring."

Richard Panek

Science journalist Panek (The Invisible Century) offers an insider's view of the quest for what could be the ultimate revelation: the true substance of the unseen dark matter and energy that makes up some 96% of our universe.

Brian Greene

"The Hidden Reality" reveals how major developments in different branches of fundamental theoretical physics -- relativistic, quantum, cosmological, unified, computational -- have all led us to consider one or another variety of parallel universe.

Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The story of a woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own past.

Jeffrey Eugenides

Madeleine Hanna breaks out of her straight-and-narrow mold when she falls in love with charismatic loner Leonard Bankhead, while at the same time an old friend of hers resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is his destiny.

Laura Lippman

Once the best of friends until a terrible secret tore them apart, a group of friends are suddenly brought back together under tragic circumstances and wonder if their long-ago lie is the reason for their troubles today and if someone is out to destroy them.

Erin Morgenstern

Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways. Selected by multiple CRRL staff members.

Paula McLain

Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by brash "beautiful boy" Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career. Selected by multiple CRRL staff members.

Scott Carney

A shocking tour through a macabre global underworld where organs, bones, and live people are bought and sold on the red market. Investigative journalist Scott Carney has spent five years tracing the lucrative and deeply secretive trade in human bodies and body parts.

Erin McKean

A tale of a girl who finally discovers herself and finds love in her grandmother's vintage clothing store.

Patrick deWitt

When a frontier baron known as the Commodore orders Charlie and Eli Sisters, his hired gunslingers, to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm, the brothers journey from Oregon to San Francisco, and eventually to Warm's claim in the Sierra foothills, running into a witch, a bear, a dead Indian, a parlor of drunken floozies, and a gang of murderous fur trappers.

Ruth Rendell

When four bodies are discovered in the same underground sewer 12 years after the events of A Sight for Sore Eyes, former Chief Inspector Wexford is pulled out of retirement to follow a complex trail to the original murders only to have his life thrown into turmoil by a devastating personal tragedy.

Andre Dubus III

After their parents divorce in the 1970's, Andre Dubus III and his three siblings grew up with their exhausted working mother in a depressed Massachusetts mill town saturated with drugs and crime. To protect himself and those he loved from street violence, Andre learned to use his fists so well that he was even scared of himself. He was on a fast track to getting killed, or killing someone else, or to beatings-for-pay as a boxer. Nearby, his father, an eminent author, taught on a college campus and took the kids out on Sundays. The clash of worlds couldn't have been more stark or more difficult for a son to communicate to a father. Only by becoming a writer himself could Andre begin to bridge the abyss and save himself.

Denis Johnson

Robert Grainer is a day laborer in the American West at the start of the twentieth century--an ordinary man in extraordinary times. Buffeted by the loss of his family, Grainer struggles to make sense of this strange new world. As his story unfolds, we witness both his shocking personal defeats and the radical changes that transform America in his lifetime.

Jeri Westerson

Disgraced knight Crispin Guest gets himself into some serious trouble in London and as a result is forced to accept an assignment far out of town. The Archbishop of Canterbury has specifically requested Guest to investigate a threat against the bones of saint and martyr Thomas a Beckett, which are on display in the cathedral in Canterbury. The archbishop has received letters threatening the safety of the artifacts, and he wants Guest to protect them and uncover whoever is after them. Part of the Crispin Guest medieval mystery series.

Laura Hillenbrand

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared--Lt. Louis Zamperini. Captured by the Japanese and driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor. Selected by more than one CRRL staff member.

Jon Michaud

Through brains and determination, librarian Clara Lugo has long since slipped the bonds of her confining Dominican neighborhood in the northern reaches of Manhattan. Now she tries to live a settled professional life with her American husband and son in the suburbs of New Jersey--often thwarted by her constellation of relatives who don't understand her gringa ways. Her mostly happy life is disrupted, however, when Tito, a former boyfriend from fifteen years earlier, reappears.

Patton Oswalt

Best known for his roles in the films "Big Fan" and "Ratatouille," as well as the hit show "The King of Queens," Oswalt has been amusing audiences for decades. Now he offers a fascinating look into his most unusual and lovable mind. Recommended by more than one CRRL staff member.