In keeping with this column’s annual tradition of asking readers’ advisors to write about books they enjoyed, I invited one of our profession’s guiding bodies to share their choices for 2011. Founded in 1992, the RUSA/CODES Readers’ Advisory (RA) Committee helped to create the modern RA renaissance. The members of this year’s committee all share a common interest in RA service but hold diverse positions in public, academic, and state historical society libraries. Reflecting their eclectic focus, they offer a list that spans multiple formats and genres.
In Hope Davis’s reading of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder (11 CDs. retail ed. unabridged. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780062072474. $39.99), listeners can vicariously experience the dark heart of the Amazon from the point of view of Marina Singh, a lapsed medical doctor, dedicated pharmaceutical researcher, and loyal friend who encounters extremes of horrifying danger and extraordinary beauty while investigating medical mysteries and a disturbing death. If you listen to this complex and literate adventure novel while driving, be warned: the anaconda episode may force you, too, to pull off to the side of the road until your heart stops pounding.
Tom Perrotta never fails to please fans with his darkly comic, unvarnished look at the absurdity in everyday society. The Leftovers (St. Martin’s. ISBN 9780312358341. $25.99) is particularly on point. While many will think it is a novel about The Rapture, it is so much more: a look at how essentially impermanent the bonds of family, community, and belief can be when we are faced with the sudden realization that everything we thought to be true may not be. As with life, the message is bittersweet, complemented perfectly by Perotta’s resigned yet hopeful narrative style.
Harry Dresden has been murdered, but why should being dead keep the wizard detective from finding his killer? In Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story: A Novel of the Dresden Files (15 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781449846527. $123.75), Harry has cool spirit powers (think X-Men) but, alas, no magic. Which is highly unfortunate, as other ghostly entities are after him, and his friends are left defending Chicago against a powerful new enemy. Actor John Glover’s rich narration matches nicely with each individual character voice, especially his rendering of Harry’s sardonic wit, pop culture references, and soul-searching reminiscences.
In Deadline (Orbit: Hachette. ISBN 9780316081061. pap. $9.99), Mira Grant returns to her dystopian near-future (debuted in the highly regarded Feed) where zombies exist owing to a genetically engineered mishap. Contacted by a source a year after the 2040 presidential campaign, blogger journalist Shaun Mason wants to find out who was involved in the conspiracy that ended the campaign in tragedy. The source’s tip hints at the Centers for Disease Control, leading Shaun to wonder: If you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? With its quick pace and quick wit, this second title in a projected trilogy should please mystery, thriller, and sf fans.
Fables: Rose Red (Vertigo: DC Comics. ISBN 9781401230005. pap. $17.99) collects issues 94 through 100 of writer Bill Willingham and artist Mark Buckingham’s beloved Fables comic book series. The volume covers a great deal of ground, chiefly the unfolding story of Rose Red (Snow White’s sister) and the siblings’ history, the escalating tensions between Fable town’s exiled residents and those fairy-tale characters who must stay on the Farm because of their inability to blend into the human world, and a powerful magical duel that leaves the fables’ fates hanging on the outcome. Featuring rich writing and art, action, humor, philosophy, and well-managed plot arcs and twists, this graphic novel exemplifies great storytelling.
In Juliet Grey’s Becoming Marie Antoinette (Ballantine. ISBN 9780345523860. pap. $15), readers journey with the carefree, indulged youngest daughter of Austrian empress Maria Theresa to the magnificent court of Versailles as she prepares for her union with the future King Louis XVI. Grey reveals through striking detail the transformation Marie must undergo and the extreme pressure placed on her young shoulders, but Marie approaches her fate with determination and perseverance. Grey’s mix of relatable characters, vivid scenes, and a rich evocation of two courts make this a wonderful first book in a planned trilogy.