Reading History                                                     M - N - O
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
MacDonald, Ann-Marie. Fall on Your Knees, 1996. Complicated novel about five generations of a Nova Scotia family and the dark secrets that pass from parents to daughters. Well written with unexpected character choices. An Oprah Book Club selection. 
MacDougal, Bonnie. Angle of Impact, 1998. Attorney investigates helicopter accident at amusement park and suspicious corporate manipulations. Good read. 
Malone, Michael. First Lady, 2001. Political intrigue set in a fictional North Carolina town that is clearly a hybrid of Triangle communities. Complex and literate. Just wish that I knew enough about the local scene to decipher which characters represented real-life leaders. 
Mankell, Henning. The Return of the Dancing Master, 1999. Wonderful Swedish author. Complex mystery that juxtaposes a police detective diagnosed with tongue cancer and the murder of a retired cop with Nazi connections in his past. Emotions seem real throughout. The Fifth Woman, 1996, is part of the Kurt Wallender series. In a political atmosphere where citizen vigilante groups are being formed, someone is taking revenge on brutal men who live mild-mannered lives on the surface. The Dogs of Riga, 1992, takes the detective to the Balkan nation of Latvia, during a period of political upheaval and conspiracies. Firewall, 1998, begins with a power outage and leads to a cyberspace international conspiracy. The White Lioness, 1993: complex and powerful political conspiracy to assassinate Nelson Mandel, using Sweden as a training ground. Faceless Killers, 1991, juxtaposes violent anti-foreigner uprising against the death of a farmer. Not as exceptional as the other books in series. Sidetracked, 1995, is more like an American crime drama -- with a violent psychopath and less the intellectual variety of detection. Before the Frost, 2002, is fun because Kurt's daughter has become an officer and takes over as main character in plot involving a dangerous religious cult. One Step Behind, 1997, begins with the murder of a role-playing costumed group on Midsummer's Eve. 
Mapson, Jo-Ann. Hank & Chloe. 1993. Romance between an independent female horse trainer and a more sedate professor. Fresh look at the courage required for love. Vivid, well-developed characters. 
Margolin, Phillip. Gone, but Not Forgotten, 1993. Interesting plot about women taking revenge against a wealthy serial killer who escapes prosecution after his first killing spree, but minimal character development and drab language. The Associate, 2001, involves a young attorney who learns that a pharmaceutical company might be selling a pregnancy drug that causes severe birth defects and is then framed for murder.
Maron, Margaret. Uncommon Clay, 2001. Excellent mystery series about a female judge in North Carolina. In this episode, the judge investigates the suspicious deaths of family members associated with a famous pottery. Bootleggers Daughter, 1992, the first in the series. Excellence sense of rural politics as a female attorney runs for judge while also investigating a murder that happened eighteen years before. Southern Discomfort, 1993, involves arsenic poisoning, the emotions of teenage girls, and a woman-built house for a low-income family. Up Jumps The Devil, 1996, addresses land use issues and the fate of family farmers in a mystery about the murder of two rural landowners. Shooting at Loons, 1994, explores environmental controversies in coastal North Carolina as fishermen struggle to preserve their livelihood in the face of tourist development. Slow Dollar, 2002, provides an inside look at traveling carnivals and new romance for detective-Judge Deborah Kott. Storm Track, 2000, juxtaposes an approaching storm during hurricane season with the murder of a married woman who was indiscriminate in her affairs. Home Fires, 1998, involves the burning of African-American churches. Always feels like cheating when the criminal dies before the legal justice system can act, but a good read from a reliable author. Killer Market, 1997, involves the annual international home furnishings exhibitions in High Point, North Carolina, and the murder of a furniture executive. High Country Fall, 2004, involves real estate deals in an affluent mountain resort community, as well as marriage jitters for the engaged judge. Last Lessons of Summer, 2003, involves childhood secrets resurrected as a woman cleans out the ancestral home. Plot feels too familiar and the clues are stumpled upon accidentally rather than the result of much brainwork. Fugitive Colors, 1995, involves a New York policeman involved first-hand in a murder in the art world. 
Martel, Yann. Life of Pi, 2001. A fantastic parable about an Indian boy from a zookeeping family, his quest for religious meaning, and his shipwreck adventure trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger. Loved the first half and the narrative experimentation, but neutral on the lengthy sea scenes. 
Martin, Steve. The Pleasure of My Company, 2003. The comedian from Saturday Night Live portrays the eccentric, restricted life of an obsessive-compulsive man who wins a Most Average American essay contest and escapes loneliness. 
Martin, Steve. Shopgirl, 2000. Portrait of a sales clerk at the glove counter of Neiman Marcus whose affair with a wealthy businessman leads to new possibilities. Written with tenderness, irony, and some sadness. 
Martini, Steve. Compelling Evidence, 1992. First-rate legal thriller that involves the murder of a law partner just before his nomination to the Supreme Court. The main character defends the widow, a woman that he once had an affair with, and searches for the real killer. Despite a fairly conventional plot framework, the legal action is fascinating and the language better than usually expected from the genre.Undue Influence, 1994, reads like the author rushed to publication, with purple prose, mixed metaphors, and repetition damaging the first half. But the conclusion builds with excitement as defense attorney Paul Madriani defends his sister-in-law against accusations of murder while also tracking two witnesses who are being chased by an assassin. The Judge, 1995, begins when an atagonistic judge is caught in a prostitution sting by a vice force facing corruption charges, followed by the murder of the young woman who entrapped the judge. Attorney Madriani's unethical behavior while defending the judge seems like cheating at plot resolution, but an interesting legal case.
Mason, Daniel. The Piano Tuner, 2002. Brilliant story of a piano tuner sent to Burma in the 1880s to assist a music-loving military surgeon. Explores politics, escapism, values, and loyalty with hypnotic language. Impressive that a young medical student wrote this complex, well-researched first novel after a year studying malaria in Southeast Asia.
Maugham, W. Somerset. The Moon and Sixpence, 1919. The narrator tries to understand the saga of a proper banker who threw aside his family for the life of a painter, moving from England to France and then Tahiti. The first three chapters are dull, but then the characters become fascinating.
Mawer, Simon. Mendel's Dwarf, 1988. Complex novel that combines gorgeous prose, fascinating scientific concepts, and an ethical decision facing a geneticist who happens to be a dwarf. Intellectually challenging but the footnoted technical descriptions are as interesting as the plot. The Gospel of Judas, 2001, involves a priest's research on an ancient scroll that appears to tell an alternate version of the life of Jesus, one that will shake his faith and disrupt the church. Less engrossing, probably because the relationship with female characters feels one-dimensional. 
McBride, James. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother, 1996. Son's memoirs of the interracial marriages of his Jewish mother who raises twelve children in Brooklyn. 
McCammon, Robert. Speaks the Nightbird, 2002. In colonial Carolina during 1699, a magistrate and his clerk investigate accusations of witchcraft against a beautiful Portugese widow. With beautiful language and a vivid sense of history, this dense 700-page novel juxtaposes reason and intellect with superstition and prejudice. Some graphic violence. Definitely worth reading, although the pacing is too slow at points. 
McCorkle, Jill. July 7th. 1984. Darker than expected tale of a small North Carolina town and the stranger who witnesses a murder. Long list of unattractive and unappealing characters. The Cheerleader, 1984, from perfect teen to troubled college girl breakdown. Diary style reflections in first half rings true. 
McCrumb, Sharyn. The Songcatcher, 2001. One of my favorite writers. This novel weaves together generations of a family as a folksong moves from a Scottish island in 1759 to the colonies and is preserved by Appalachian families. A folk singer searches for the lyrics, even while trapped in a downed plane in the mountains. If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him. 1995 mystery based in Virginia with hysterical one-liners, plenty of eccentric characters, and brilliant connections between historic crimes and current legal challenges. Holds up well on a second reading.  Missing Susan, 1991, involves the bumbling attempt of a British true-crime tour guide to commit a crime of his own. Funny portrait of the most annoying breed of American tourists. The PMS Outlaws, 2000, is not McCrumb's strongest work -- too didactic about feminism, despite my agreement with her viewpoint. Recurring character Elizabeth is voluntarily committed to a mental hospital as she faces grief over her husband's disappearance, while a renegade female lawyer and a female prisoner are taking an unusual form of revenge on lecherous men. Highland Laddie Gone, 1986, is a very funny account of the Americans who celebrate their ancestry at Scottish Festivals, with universal claims for a royal lineage. Zombies of the Gene Pool, 1992, is a fun mystery about the obsessive fans of science fiction who gather as a time capsule is unearthed that might contain unpublished works from now-famous authors. Sick of Shadows, 1984, is the first mysery in the Elizabeth MacPherson series, featuring the wedding of the mentally unstable daughter of a most eccentric Southern family. 
McCracken, Elizabeth. The Giant's House: A Romance. 1996. National Book Award finalist. Beautiful and strange romance between an insular librarian and a young man with a growth hormone disorder. Example of love that asks for very little in return. 
McCullers, Carson. The Member of the Wedding, 1946. Southern classic about a 12-year old girl coping with adolescence, the desire for independence, and her brother's marriage. The emotional tone rings true throughout, especially the girl's misinterpretation of a drunken soldier's intentions. 
McDermott, Alice. Child of My Heart, 2002. Lovely tale of a teenage babysitter working for wealthy summer residents on Long Island. Gentle pace, realism, relationship-focused, and compelling characters. Charming Billy, 1998, National Book Award Winner. Brilliant reflection on an alcoholic Irishman's life, told by the guests who gather to remember him. 
McEwan, Ian. Atonement. 2001. When an adolescent girl misinterprets a scene of seduction and a later scene of assault, her accusations tear a family apart. Eye-opening scenes of nursing during World War II provide the background. Beautiful language and emotional nuance. Amsterdam, 1998, winner of the Booker Prize. The death of a prominent woman forces her former lovers to reflect on their lives and make a difficult moral choice. 
McGarrity, Michael. Under The Color of Law, 2001. Mystery series featuring Santa Fe police chief Kevin Kerney. The murder of an ambassador's wife involves an FBI anti-terrorism team, warfare in South America, and the training of assassins. Tularosa, 1996, is the author's first book and begins with the disappearance of a young Native American soldier from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The investigation involves smuggling of prices artifacts, a Mexican casino, and a hunchback imposter. Well-written with a complex plot. Serpent Gate, 1998, begins with the theft of valuable art from the Governor's office and brings Kerney against an old foe from Mexico. Two simultaneous cases involve rape and money laundering. The Big Gamble, 2002, demonstrates the power of collaborative police work to combat a vice network that has high-level political connections. Everyone Dies, 2003, involves revenge attacks against Chief Kerney and his pregnant wife. Seems like the writer is looking for a movie deal, with superficial character development leaving room for gory violence. 
McGown, Jill. A Shred of Evidence, 1995. Excellent British mystery about the murder of a schoolgirl and the handsome athlete who is a prime suspect. Adolescent crushes and the vulnerability of men pursued by admiring teens are spotlighted. The romance between two detectives is charming. Murder at the Old Vicarage, 1988, opens with the Christmas Eve murder of a wife-beater, who is the son-in-law of the vicar. Plots and Errors, 1999, is structured like a play with acts and scenes, and woven through with references to Hamlet. This device seems forced, but the convoluted plot is solid - when a wealthy widow and her son are murdered, the suspects are those with a chance at inheritance. Scene of Crime, 2001, incorporates a local theater group, the murder of a doctor's life, a pornography ring, and a notorious burglar. Verdict Unsafe, 1997, concludes with fuzzy motivations, but momentum is sustained by the familiar police characters and the reader's emotional involvement with the rape victims who have been brutalized. The Murders of Mrs. Austin & Mrs. Beale, 1991, is a classic puzzler involving the murder of two seemingly unconnected women and a couple of suspects who begin confessing to protect each other.
McKean, James. Quattrocento, 2002. Weak first novel that I mostly skimmed to see if the writing would improve. A painting restorer magically time travels to the Italian Renaissance. 
McKillop, A.B. The Spinster and The Prophet: H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the Case of the Plagiarized Text. 2000. True story of the amateur writer who accused of the famous futuristic writer of stealing her text for his book The Outline of History
McPhee, Martha. Gorgeous Lies, 2002. As the family patriarch dies, his blended family reflects on their turbulent emotional history, triggered by his anti-establishment lifestyle and sexually-obsessed behavior. Slow moving in places, but pays off with moment of true emotional complexity. 
Mercer, Judy. Double Take, 1997. Corporate intrigue, memory loss, mistaken identity, and family secrets -- classic elements of mystery handled well. 
Meyers, Dr. Robin R. Morning Sun on a White Piano: Simple Pleasures and the Sacramental Life. 1998. Loaned by a neighbor. Trite reflections; not my cup of tea. 
Michaels, Barbara. The Dancing Floor, 1997. The author's Ph.D. in Egyptology shows in the skillful mix of research, historical facts, stubborn heroines, and contemporary suspense that characterize most of her work -- the references in this novel involve the Renaissance use of garden mazes. Vanish with the Rose, 1992, plays with romantic suspense conventions as a young attorney impersonates a horticulturist to gain access to the old mansion where her brother disappeared months before. Be Buried in the Rain, 1985, focuses on a cruel grandmother, an archaeological dig, and two skeletons found in Deadman's Hollow. The Sea King's Daughter, 1975, connects a World War II betrayal with a marine archaeology discovery on a Greek island. Search the Shadows, 1987, follows a young woman's hunt for her birth father to a Chicago mansion where a dying millionaire hoards rare Egyptian artifacts. Smoke and Mirrors, 1989, centers around behind-the-scenes sabotage during a political campaign, with the expected romance for the young heroine. Someone in the House, 1981, focuses on a castle that was brought stone by stone from England to Pennsylvania and appears to be haunted. In The Grey Beginning, 1984, a young widow travels to Florence to meet her Italian in-laws and discovers a disturbed boy held prisoner. Into the Darkness, 1990, involves a jewelry heiress who receives threatening messages enscribed within rings and must decide whether a relative or a business partner has betrayed her. House of Many Shadows, 1974, is a fun ghost story with a liberated heroine who sees images from a past crime and deciphers clues from an old embroidery sampler. Witch, 1973, is a classic haunted house tale set in a close-minded town dominated by a strict religious sect and involving a teenage boy accused of violent acts. Prince of Darkness, although an earlier book from 1969, is Michaels at her best - with a haunted heiress, suspicious man who arrives to investigate folklore, townsfolk experimenting with black magic, and rumors of a tragic death. 
Miles, Jack. God: A Biography, 1995. Academic work that explores God as a literary character in the Bible. Written by a former Jesuit priest. 
Milford, Nancy. Savage Beauty, 2001. Biography of free-spirited but narcissistic poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Written with scholarly detail from the correspondence and diaries of the poet, supplemented by interviews with family and friends. Interesting but very long and too many passages seem extraneous. 
Milne, A.A. The Red House Mystery, 1922. Written by the creator of Winnie the Pooh, this amateur detective yarn with a classic locked room plot is worth reading as a novelty, but I confess to skimming the middle chapters. 
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance, 1995. Brilliant but tragic novel about India, written by an author originally from Bombay. Follows the intersecting lives of an entrepreneurial widow, two tailors, and a student who cope with political upheaval, caste violence, and severe poverty. The author's immense talent has been compared to Dickens and Tolstoy.
Mitchell, Gladys. Faintley Speaking, 1954. Republished by the Chivers Press Black Dagger Classic Crime Series in 2001. Very British and very vintage. When a biology school teacher is murdered, the crime evidently involves a code based on the latin names of ferns.
Monks of New Skete, How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend, 2002. Reprint of the classic dog training book by New York monks who breed German shepherds. 
Moody, Skye Kathleen. Wildcrafters, 1998. This should have been a mystery set in a Pacific Northwest wilderness preserve and featuring a federal Fish and Wildlife Agent. The kindest adjective would be cluttered -- a mess of undeveloped plot strings, vague characters, and disparate settings. I kept plodding to the end just to see what further narrative mess the author would create. 
Morgan, Robert. Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage, 1999. An Oprah Book Club selection. Gritty novel of a mountain couple in the Appalachian high country. 
Morgan, Speer. The Freshour Cylinders, 1998. Brilliant novel set in Oklahoma and Arkansas during the 1930s. Follows an attorney's attempt to unravel a mystery involving a pre-Columbian temple mound, a lost Native American tribe, a bold female archaelogist, a corrupt sheriff, and a crime boss. Literary, original, and insightful. 
Mosby, Katherine. The Season of Lillian Dawes, 2002. In 1950s Manhattan, a teenage boy becomes infatuated with a mysterious beauty. Full of emotional nuance. 
Moss, Barbara Robinette. Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter: A Memoir, 2000. Reflections of an impoverished Alabama girl growing up with a deformed face. Inconsistent prose with some poignant  moments. The last chapter is worth reading as an essay on physical beauty.
Mountford, B.J. Sea-Born Women, 2002. Mystery involving treasure hunters and National Park Service staff on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Lots of flaws and false notes from this first-time novelist but the overall plot kept me turning pages. 
Nasar, Sylvia. A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash, 1998. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography and made into a film. About the schizophrenic symptoms of a math scholar and the academic community that tries to protect him. Beautifully written, with a fascinating look at mathematical personalities and theories. 
Naumoff, Lawrence. Silk Hope, NC. 1994. Beautiful tale of an eccentric sister trying to save the family farm while working at an underwear packing mill. Off-beat and poignant. 
Naylor, Grant. Better Than Life, 1990. Based on the TV series, this book is a sequel to humorous science fiction paraody "Red Dwarf". This time, the characters are trapped in a computer game that hooks directly into the  imagination, a world where each player can enjoy fabulous success with surprising ramifications. Not my usual genre -- someone gave me the book.
Nelson, Sara. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading, 2003. Bibliophile editor tracks the book-a-week read during a year, with reflections on fiction, family, authors, and favorites. A kindred soul! 
Nicoloson, Adam. God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, 2003. History in Jacobean England as a grand new translation of the Bible is underway. 
Niffenegger, Audrey. The Time Traveler's Wife, 2003. Brilliant! My fears about science fiction plus romance made my ignore the recommendations of friends about this novel for far too long. Surprisingly realistic look at how a life-long love would be challenged by a medical disorder that makes a man involuntarily shift through time. Complicated structure handled with grace, fascinating throughout. 
Nordan, Lewis. Wolf Whistle, 1993. Novel by a Mississippi native that fictionalizes the 1955 racial murder of Emmett Till for whistling at a white woman. In the tradition of comic horror with many surreal elements, the author explores the emotional landscape of characters from both the black and white communities. Chosen as a "community reads" selection by my local public library. Personally, I would have been more impacted by an historically accurate analysis of the tragic event. 
Nunez, Elizabeth. Bruised Hibiscus, 2000. Dark and violent look at relationships based on race, sex, and class in Trinidad. Too dark for me.
O'Connell, Carol. Shell Game, 1999. The most complex, intellectually-challenging mystery that I've read in ages. New York City Homicide Detective Kathleen Mallory was a street child, diagnosed as a sociopath, then taken in as a foster child by a loving police officer. Her decision to follow his career is marked by brilliance, turbulence, shifting ethics, and inner battles.  In this mystery, she connects the deaths of aging magicians to the murder of a young woman during World War II. Mallory's Oracle, 1994, is the first in the series as the female detective tracks the killer of her policeman foster father through a crime circle that includes a psychic medium and a group of stock-trading grandmothers. The writer's cryptic style leaves some unanswered questions if our minds fail to make leaps as fast as the brilliant detective. In The Man Who Cast Two Shadows, 1995, Kathleen Mallory uses her unorthodox techniques to trap a murderer, a wife batterer, a damaged child, and a crooked cop. This novel also reveals some secrets from Mallory's own troubled childhood and provides clues about the magician's circle that will resurface in later books. Killing Critics, 1996, connects the murder of art critics with the brutal dismemberment slaying of an artist and a dancer twelve years earlier. At times, Mallory seems to approach unrealistic superhuman status -- her speed at computer hacking, her victory over an Olympic fencing champion -- but the character's hidden vulnerabilities remain the most fascinating. In Stone Angel, 1997, Mallory returns to her hometown in Louisiana to resolve the mystery of her mother's death and confront an exploitative religious sect. Important to read this novel after the earlier books, when you are craving more information on Mallory's psychological development and personal history. After initial disappointment that my only remaining unread book by this author did not involve wonderful Mallory, I still enjoyed Judas Child, 1998. The mystery involves the disappearance of two girls from an exclusive private school and forces the lead policeman and the consulting forensic psychologist to confront their memories of a similar crime during their own childhood. In Crime School, 2002, Mallory investigates the ritualistic murder of a prostitute who cared for her during a troubled childhood. As always, the psyche of the detective is even more fascinating than deciphering the clues. Dead Famous, 2003, involves the grisly murders of jurors who acquitted a radio shock-jock. The twisted psyche of the lead detective has become almost too cryptic to follow. I found this book the least pleasurable of the series. 
O'Dell, Tawni. Back Roads, 2000. Well-written portrait of a young man trying to raise his three sisters in the Pennsylvania backwoods, while becoming obsessed with an older woman and exploring family secrets with a therapist. 
Orleans, Susan. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession, 1998. Fascinating look at orchid collectors and the eccentric personalities of Florida. Rich with details. 

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