Reading History                                               A - B - C
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Ablow, Keith. Compulsion, 2002. A forensic psychiatrist investigates the dysfunction of a wealthy family, after their infant is murdered. Interesting insight into therapeutic techniques, although I predicted the ending. 
Acker, Kathy. Don Quixote, 1986. Lesbian author who has received critical acclaim for surreal gender-bending, subversion, and punk sensibility. Seemed ugly, self-indulgent, and incoherent to me. 
Akunin, Boris. The Winter Queen, 2003. Blockbuster series in Russia. Historical mystery set in Tsarist era. Complex conspiracies, punctuated by humor, like a cross between Charles Dickins and Thomas Pynchon. Wonderful discovery! Murder on the Leviathan, 2004, is a disappointment in comparison, with bland passengers on an international ship voyage. 
Allen, Charlotte Vale. Fresh Air, 2003. A reclusive house-bound woman has her heart and life opened by chance encounter with an energetic girl. Lovely and inspirational with realistic characters. 
Amis, Martin. Night Train, 1997. Less a mystery about an apparent suicide than a psychological examination of a female police officer. Reflection takes precedence over plot. Postmodern ambiguity throughout. 
Armstrong, Charlotte. The Witch's House, 1963, involves a woman's hunt for her professor husband, scientific theft, a pair of calculating twins, a father-son police team, and an old woman driven insane by the gas chamber execution of her son. Mischief, 1963, is terrifying novella about a disturbed babysitter, a nine year old girl, and the guests in nearby hotel rooms who must decide whether to intervene. Armstrong has a gift for stylized language, insight into complex motivations, and a distinctive narrative voice. The Dream Walker, 1955, has a twisting plot and innovative narrative structure that documents a con job where an actress appears to dream in one city while appearing in front of witnesses elsewhere in the nation. 
Axelsson, Majgull. April Witch, 2002. Swedish bestseller in translation. Magical story of the bond between three foster sisters, one of whom is institutionalized in a near-vegetative state. Emotionally powerful and beautifully written.  
Baker, Nicholson. Vox, 1993. Telephone conversation between a man and woman who meet through a chat-service, both humorous and erotic as true sexual experiences and fantasies are exchanged. 
Banks, Russell. Affliction. 1989. Tragic saga of a small town well digger and part-time policeman, afflicted by a history of family violence. Very talented writer who kept me reading despite the depressing plot and sadly macho character. 
Bannister, Jo. The Lazarus Hotel, 1996. Northern Ireland writer. Fun read with a vintage feel using the locked-room formula. A group of Londoners are invited to a group therapy retreat in a penthouse suite only to discover that they are linked by a recent suicide victim. The telephones and elevators die, trapping the group at the top floor of a high-rise, as suspicious accidents begin to claim one participant after another. No Birds Sing, 1996. Excellent portrayal of three very different police officers with essential decency and human flaws. When an officer is raped by a serial rapist, the portrayal of the crime, the resulting emotions, and the reactions of loved one are eye opening. As a rape survivor myself, I was touched and inspired by the author's sensitivity and surprisingly original perspective. Echoes of Lies, 2001, involves a solitary schoolteacher and amateur astronomer Daniel Hood who is tortured and left for dead, but has no idea why and is determined to find out. The book introduces the strong female character of Brodie Farrell, an amateur sleuth who finds things ranging from a certain pattern of tea cup to movie props. In True Witness, 2002, Daniel witnesses an attack on a teenage boy but refuses to state that the lead suspect pursued by the police was the culprit. Explores the nature of conscience, ethics, and courage. Very compelling mystery with unusual and richly-described characters. The Hireling's Tale, 2001, involves a hired assassin in the unlikely location of Castlemere after an international sales conference. Changelings, 2000, involves blackmail against the entire town of Castlemere with threats of product tampering and biomedical agents. In Reflections, 2003, Daniel Hood agrees to tutor two adolescent girls after their mother is murdered. A Taste for Burning, 1995: In Castlemere, the chief's photographer son is among the arson suspects after a series of suspicious fires. Broken Lines, 1998: Sergeant Donovan rescues the young driver of a get-away van from an explosive crash, only to be later scapegoated by a local crime family. 
Baricco, Alessandro. Silk, 1997. Translated from Italian by Guido Waldman. Gorgeous novella that can be read in an hour. Set in 1861, the spare plot follows a French purveyor of silkworms to Japan in his quest for their rare eggs. The gentleman becomes entranced with a Japanese beauty who never speaks.  Compressed, stylized, hypnotic, beautiful. 
Barnes, Linda. Flashpoint, 1999. Easy read about wisecracking female detective Carlotta Carlyle and her eccentric sidekicks. When an elderly woman in a rent-controlled apartment is murdered, the possible motives range from real estate development to art masterpieces. Coyote, 1990, involves the exploitation of illegal immigrants in a sweatshop factory. Snapshot, 1993, begins with the suspicious death of a child during hospital treatment. Cities of The Dead, 1986. Who murdered a chef in New Orleans? 
Barnhardt, Wilton. Show World, 1998. Inside look at legislative wranglings is fascinating. But reality is strained, especially by the recreational drug use, as two college friends seek career success. 
Barr, Nevada. Hunting Season, 2002. Mystery series featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon, this time working along Mississippi's Natchez Trace. The case involves a middle-aged corpse found in a historic plantation, violent poachers, and historical research about a slave cemetery. In Firestorm, 1996, the mystery occurs while a fire crew is trapped on a mountaintop battling the elements. Deep South, 2000, portrays the female ranger's struggles as the supervisor of a resentful male crew while investigating a murder with racial overtones. 
Bennis, Warren and Patricia Ward Biederman. Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, 1997. The famous business professor from my alma mater, the University of Southern California, explores how collaboration by the most talented employees led some businesses and organizations to great success. 
Berg, Elizabeth. Joy School, 1997. About a thirteen year old girl finding friends when she moves to a new school and falling in love for the first time.
Blanchard, Alice. Darkness Peering, 1999. A female detective realizes that her current homicide investigation parallels the circumstances that drove her police officer father to suicide two decades below. Explores the nature of disability and loyalty to family. Well-written, emotionally rich, and cleverly plotted with genuine surprises throughout. 
Bloom, Amy. Love Invents Us, 1997. Realistic portrait of an awkward adolescent girl who is seduced by older men before falling in love despite interracial barriers. Powerful descriptions of teenage desire. 
Blume, Judy. Summer Sisters, 1998. Follows the different life paths of two friends from adolescence, with one from a life of privilege. This basic plot has been explored endlessly, but I enjoyed the references to pop culture from my own generation -- from Abba's Disco Queen through the preppy look of college and the carefree sexual promiscuity before AIDS emerged. 
Blunt, Giles. Forty Words for Sorrow, 2001. Mystery series set in northern Canada. Detectives race to save the latest victim held by a pair of serial killers. As with the best crime stories, the most important element is the relationship between detectives and the struggle of officers to handle the emotional toll. 
Bohjalian, Chris. The Law of Similars, 1999. Wonderful novel about a widower who is raising his young daughter alone and then falls in love with a homeopathic practitioner. When the healer is suspected of malpractice leading to a local death, the widower - who is also a state prosecutor - must face issues of ethics, science, loneliness, and love. Compassionate and gentle perspective on characters in crisis. Midwives, 1997 (an Oprah Book Club selection), explores similar themes, as a teenage girl copes with her mother's trial as a midwife accused of killing a mother with an emergency cesarean section. In Trans-Sister Radio, 2000, a female schoolteacher falls in love with a male professor, before learning that he will soon begin a transsexual transformation. With sensitivity and dignity, the novel probes the connection between love, gender, sexuality, and identity. The Buffalo Soldier, 2002, involves a couple whose twin daughters drown in a flood but then extend their love to a foster son. Before You Know Kindness, 1995: The accidental shooting of a vegan animal activist by his pre-teen daughter strains family relationships. Realistic portrait of adolescent angst and tough parenting choices. 
Bowen, Elizabeth. The House in Paris, 1935. Modernist and somewhat cryptic tale of two children waiting in Paris, the boy to meet his unknown birth mother and the girl to catch a train. Backstory involves a love triangle and jealousy. 
Bragg, Rick. Ava's Man, 2001. Brilliant memoir of his poor Southern grandparents by a Pulitzer prize winning journalist. Records life in the Appalachian foothills along the Georgia and Alabama border during the Great Depression. All Over but the Shoutin', 1997, was the first book chosen by my new book group. Disappointing in comparison to the later book, which I read out of sequence. About the author's housebound mother and alcoholic father, interspersed with tales from his own journalistic careers. Feels self-indulgent and poorly edited.
Brown, Carrie. Rose's Garden, 1998. Prose is so beautiful that character and plot are trapped beneath the weight. Shame given the author's abundant talent. A grieving widower in a small town sees a ghost and tells the local newspaper, leading to a lesson in reaching out to others. Lovely descriptions of homing pigeons throughout. 
Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code, 2003. The bestseller Catholic conspiracy novel is a surprisingly mediocre example of the genre with dreadful writing, especially in the middle third. Decent plot and pacing, but the clues are transparent and the codes hardly seem challenging enough for a Harvard professor and professional cryptologist to decipher. The premise that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, based partially on a Da Vinci painting, is interesting and has some academic support, but the evidence is not adequate in this novel. Worth reading because of the popularity, but a disappointment compared to works by Umberto Eco, for example.
Brownrigg, Sylvia. Pages for You, 2001. Undergraduate begins passionate lesbian affair with a grad student, while mentored about literature, scholarship, and hipness. Realistic and poignant. 
Bugliosi, Vincent. With Bruce B. Henderson. And the Sea Will Tell. 1991. The attorney-author gained prominence for prosecuting Charles Manson and writing the book HelterSkelter. This true crime saga about an island murder is weighed down with irrelevant detail and the narrative voice that lacks drama. 
Bultman, Bethany. Redneck Heaven: Portrait of a Vanishing Culture, 1996. Often amusing but ultimately empathetic documentary-style look at the redneck lifestyle. 
Burke, Jan. Bones, 1999. Page-turner about journalist Irene Kelly and her police officer husband. While recovering the remains of victims murdered by a serial killer, Irene faces danger in a remote mountain region and is later stalked until the killer and his accomplice can be trapped. Liar, 1998, involves the same pair investigating the hit & run death of Irene's aunt and the stalking of her storyteller cousin, leading deep into family secrets with hobo codes as a primary clue. Flight, 2001, is much more complex than Burke's other work, with a plot involving a detective who disappeared ten years earlier and was blamed for the death of a teenage witness. Nine, 2002, is unfortunately much darker and more violent, involving serial murders of the fugitives on the FBI's most wanted list. 
Butler, Octavia. Kindred. Unusual time travel adventure about an African-American woman who is drawn into the past to intervene in her ancestors' lives on a Southern plantation. 
Butler, Robert Olen. They Whisper, 1994. Dominating man comes to terms with his mortality, relationships, and life choices. Unappealing characters. 
Caldwell, Erskine. Godís Little Acre, 1933. Poor family in rural Georgia disintegrates while digging up their farm land in the quest for gold. Sad and disturbing. Best-seller when published. 
Caldwell, Ian & Thomason, Dustin. The Rule of Four, 2004. Undergraduates decode the mysteries of a Renaissance text, triggering old jealousies of other scholars and a series of murders. Insight into elite universities by two recent Ivy League graduates. Fascinating and erudite analysis of the text through references to other obscure documents. 
Camilleri, Andrea. The Shape of Water. 1994. Translation from Italian. First of the Inspector Montalbano mysteries set in Sicily. Bestselling series in Europe. Dark and minimalism with slow start, but I was hooked about halfway through. Quick read. 
Camus, Albert. The Fall, 1956. Confessions of a corrupt Parisian attorney. Forced myself to finish but found the narrative style annoying. 
Canin, Ethan. The Palace Thief, 1994. Four stories about mid-life crisis and the struggle to understand our own life choices. A talented writer. Vivid characterization. 
Carcaterra, Lorenzo. Sleepers, 1995. Well-written true story of four boys from Hell's Kitchen who end up incarcerated and abused in a juvenile prison. Years later, they take their revenge against the guards. Slow build-up in first half of the book, with sentimental memories of growing up in the New York neighborhood. 
Card, Orson Scott. Treasure Box, 1996. Speculative fiction about a software millionaire who meets the woman of his dreams, after a reclusive period, only to learn that his new wife is the creation of a witch. Credibly realistic characters confront the supernatural, with surprising plots twists concluding each chapter and an amusing light-touch throughout. Like A Wrinkle in Time or the Harry Potter series for grown-ups. 
Carey, Lisa. Love in the Asylum, 2004. Authentic romance between a manic-depressive and an addict, while in a recovery institution. Subplot involves letters written by a former Native American patient who had a healing touch. Strong novel on every level. 
Carlon, Patricia. Hush, It's a Game, 1967. Great fun to discover this reprint of a vintage Australian mystery. A little girl in trapped in the kitchen of a high-rise apartment during Christmas while other residents, staying alone during the holidays, misinterpret her pleas for help as friendly overtures. Fun, stylized read.
Carr, Caleb. The Alienist. 1994. Excellent historical detective fiction, set in turn-of-the-century New York and using the emerging sciences of psychology and forensics. The plot is dark, involving boy-transvestite prostitutes and gang violence. But the depth of research for historical accuracy and the imaginative language provide ample motivation to read 500 pages.
Carter, William "Buddy". Billy Carter: A Journey Through The Shadows, 1999. Beautifully written memoir of Billy Carter by his son. Feels like an honest assessment of Mr. Carter's troubles -- alcoholism, the Libya scandal, coping with a presidential brother -- while also portraying the charm, loyalty, and wit of a Southern man. Since moving to southwest Georgia, just ten miles from the Carter family hometown of Plains, I'm become fascinated with the family. Billy: Billy Carter's Reflections on his Struggle with Fame, Alcoholism, and Cancer, 1989, by Billy and Sybil Carter with Ken Estes. Autobiographical reflections are interspersed with the voices of family members and friends to tell the story of a rural man's struggle with alcoholism and notoriety. 
Carter, Stephen L. The Emperor of Ocean Park, 2002. A Yale law professor wrote this excellent suspense novel about an affluent African American family and the mystery left behind by the late patriarch, a controversial judge. Also inside look at law school politics. 653 pages.
Case, John. The Genesis Code, 1997. Good example of an international conspiracy thriller, with intellectual detective work more important than brute strength or high-tech gadgets. Involves the Catholic church and an infertility clinic.
Chandler, Raymond. Pearls are a Nuisance, 1958. Short story collection includes the title story,  "Finger Man," and "The King in Yellow," plus Chandler's reflections on writing detective fiction in "The Simple Act of Murder." Example sampler of the hard-boiled genre. 
Chevalier, Tracy. Girl with a Pearl Earring. 2000. Fictional speculation on the young woman in Vermeer's famous painting. Interesting look at the laborious life of a Dutch maid in the seventeenth century with some insight into the artistic eye. But the language is bland and the storyline too simple. 
Christie, Agatha. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 1968. Tommy and Tuppence investigate suspicious activity at a nursing home, which leads the retirees to an insular small town and an abandoned house. Refreshing to be in the hands of a master from the very first page. Cozy genre of mystery but stylish and well-paced. A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953. Suspicious poisonings of a fractured family connects with a practical joke based on the old rhyme. Satisfying, quick read. The Moving Finger, 1942. Villagers receive threatening letters and then Miss Marple arrives to halt the violence that follows. Enjoyable brother and sister from the city find unlikely romance at the same time. Passenger to Frankfurt, 1970, begins with an identity swap at an airport and leads into a political conspiracy. Seems dated and strained. The Secret of Chimneys, 1925, follows intrigue of jewels and scandalous memoirs from a troubled Balkan country to an English estate. 
Clapp, Nicholas. The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands. 1998. True story of an archaelogical investigation to find a lost city under the sands of ancient Arabia. Fascinating. 
Clark, Martin. The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, 2000. Strange adventures of a disillusioned district judge in rural North Carolina, his hard-living buddies, and a beautiful woman who cries alabaster tears. Highly entertaining and original, although more booze and pot than most fiction that I read. 
Clark, Nancy. The Hills at Home, 2003. Beautifully written portrait of an extended family returning to home occupied by an elderly maiden aunt during the economic downsizing of the late 1980s. Each family takes a turn as narrator, revealing their personality quirks and emotional motivations. Funny and true. 
Coburn, Andrew. Widow's Walk, 1984. In a New Hampshire resort community, the police chief must determine who murdered three men and resolve his own attraction to several of the female suspects. 
Collins, Paul. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, 2003. An American family moves to a small Welsh town famous for forty bookstores and eccentric book lovers. Engaging. 
Connell, Evan S. Mrs. Bridges, 1959. Realistic and poignant character study of an affluent 1950s housewife, who is both repressed by country-club society and imposes narrow-minded standards on her family. 
Connelly, Michael. The Concrete Blonde, 1994. Detective Harry Bosch is on trial accused of  excessive force in killing a serial killer, when a new victim is found who fits the same pattern. The police suspect an insider. Trustworthy realism from a journalist on the Los Angeles crime beat. Blood Work, 1998, begins with a retired FBI agent learning that the organ donated for his heart transplant came from a murder victim. The complex plot is a brainteaser of the highest quality. Angel's Flight, 1999, opens with the murder of a civil rights attorney famous for lawsuits against the Los Angeles Police Department and homicide investigators are pushed to suspect a cop as rioting begins. In Trunk Music, Detective Bosch must decide whether a murdered B-movie producer was killed by the mob, his widow, or one of the other potential suspects. In City of Bones, 2002, investigates a cold case of a murdered child, whose multiple broken bones indictes many years of abuse. This writer plays fair, with the evidence carefelly examined and the reader given an equal chance to solve the case first. 
Connolly, John. Every Dead Thing, 1999. The author, an Irish journalist, has a gift for lyrical prose. But the convoluted cast of characters in multiple locations, and layers of subplots becomes difficult to follow. A detective tracks the killer of his wife and daughter, from the East Coast to Louisiana. 
Conniff, Richard. Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World, 1996. Amusing and detailed look at such creatures as tarantulas, flies, dragonflies, and squid. But the best parts are the affectionate portraits of the obsessive scientists who study the invertebrates.
Coughlin, William J. The Court, 1999, Solid legal novel about how the nomination of a Supreme Court judge will impact diverse legislation and policies. Interesting character analysis and a tough ethical decision at the conclusion. In The Presence of Enemies, 1989, is less strong. In inexperienced lawyer defends the widow of a wealthy banker in probate court, while heirs and corporate rivals battle over control of the bank itself. The Judgment, 1997, involves an attorney, recovering from alcoholism, is two cases -- the murder of children who are wrapped in plastic and left in the snow, with accusations of embezzlement against a deputy police chief who has angered the powerful murder. Strong character development.
Craft, Hannah. The Bondwoman's Narrative, written in th 1850s, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., 2002.  The Harvard scholar discovered this autobiographical manuscript about slavery, perhaps the first novel written by a Black woman. The introduction is fascinating, as Professor Gates describes his efforts to track the history of the author and verify the authenticity. The story itself uses melodramatic and gothic literary devices to describe the brutality of slavery. 
Crichton, Michael. State of Fear, 2004. Extreme environmentalist determined to raise alarms about global warning by using advanced technology to stimulate "natural" disasters. An attorney, skeptical academic with government connections, and wealthy philanthropist race to stop the eco-terrorism. Fast-paced action lets the author voice evidence -- complete with footnotes -- about the manipulation of scientific evidence by environmental organizations and the media. 
Crombie, Deborah. Leave The Grave Green, 1995. American author writing a Scotland Yard mystery series featuring Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James. This domestic case involves the Opera and artistic circles after a drowning. But the best part is the romance between the detectives and relationship between the suspects. 

Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Updated January 17, 2007
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