top banner image

Fiction |  Nonfiction |  New Books by Faculty
New From MU Press |  New From Alumni |  Prizewinners

Ex Libris brings holiday reading recommendations from library and campus readers. Our goal is to showcase Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Browsing Collection and to identify a range of contemporary fiction and nonfiction for the general reader. In addition to staff choices, we highlight recent books by alumni and literary award winners. All readers in the Marquette community are invited to suggest books, or better, to write a brief review for Ex Libris. If you missed an alert, earlier issues of Ex Libris are available online.

Clicking on the title or cover image will take you to the book's MARQCAT record; please note locations carefully as items may be in the Browsing Collection or in the Memorial stacks. Books that are checked out may be reserved by clicking on the MARQCAT record's "Request" button.

Still looking for something to read? Check out the most recent additions to the Browsing Collection.


book jacketCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Tom Franklin. New York: HarperCollins, 2010

Award-winning author Franklin's third literary novel is also a mystery. The book is really about relationships and the mystery just comes along for the ride in Constable Silas “32” Jones’ well-worn, thirty-year-old Jeep, which is his official vehicle. Franklin explores Silas’ relationships with people in the town of Chabot, Mississippi, and with the place itself. The main story concerns Silas’ relationship with Larry Ott, a friend from childhood, and how that relationship resumes in the book's present. The book is also a well-done examination of Southern rural life and, while Silas is black and Larry is white, race isn’t a subject of the book, but is a constant undercurrent just as in real life. Franklin, as in Hell at the Breech and Poachers, once again nails the character of both the people and place. He describes, shows us, types of southerners as individuals rather stereotypes. There’s not a word out of place or wasted. This is a book to be enjoyed for its structure and language as well as plot. For instance, when we first come across Alice Jones, Silas’ mother, standing alongside a rural road with Silas on a cold morning we learn that they are from Chicago through the following exchange between her and Larry’s father.

“His father and the woman called Alice were talking about how cold it was.
‘Freeze my dad-blame can off,’ his father said.
‘Mm hmm,’ she said.
‘You ever seen the like?’
‘No, sir.’
‘Not even in Chicago?’”

Franklin just slips that bit of crucial information in sideways. Sort of the way you might learn something important in a conversation with a good-ole-boy sitting at the lunch counter in small-town Mississippi, obliquely. Now we know that Alice and Silas Jones have come to Chabot, Mississippi, population maybe 500, from Chicago. Franklin shows us, doesn’t tell us that little fact. And we’re left to speculate for a while on why and what that means. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a fine addition to the body of Southern literature.

Recommended by Nick Schroeder, Senior Graphic Designer, Office of Marketing and Communication


book jacketHalf Broke Horses; A True-Life Novel

Jeannette Walls. New York: Scribner, 2009

I should come clean from the start: I “read” the audio edition of this work, which was wonderfully read by the author. Half Broke Horses tells the story of the author's maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who realized as a teenager that her future lay off the isolated family ranch where, from a young age, she served as her father’s cowhand. She sets off on her pony at age 15 in a 500-mile trip to her first job—teaching in a one-room frontier school. Lily is an unflappable proto-feminist whose life is an amazing story of survival—tornadoes, Dust Bowl drought, floods, a bad marriage, Depression hardship, and personal tragedy. Most interesting for readers of Walls' 2005 memoir, The Glass Castle, is insight into the early life of Lily's daughter, Rosemary, the author's mother. In fact, Half Broke Horses serves as a prequel to The Glass Castle in which Walls told her story of growing up with poor, nomadic parents in what we would now call a “dysfunctional” family. In an author’s note, she says she had to invent some of the details and thus calls it a “true-life novel,” but telling the story in a first-person voice makes this an engaging, even compelling story.

Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian


book jacketI'm a Fool To Kill You; A Rat Pack Mystery

Robert J. Randisi. Sutton, Severn House, 2010

In this fifth of the Rat Pack series (following You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You), prolific mystery and Western author Robert Randisi again paints a wonderfully vivid portrait of Las Vegas in its early 60s heyday. Our narrator is Eddie Gianelli, a pit boss at the Sands who finds himself doing the occasional off-the-books "favor" for one or another member of the Rat Pack. On loan to Eddie from mob boss Sam Giancana himself is friend and bodyguard Jerry Epstein, a .45-packing thug with a heart of gold and an insatiable appetite for pancakes. Having previously helped Sinatra with a "problem," Eddie now helps Frank by checking on his ex-wife Ava Gardner. Given to all kinds of bad-girl behavior, she fears she may have killed someone during a two-day blackout. Mayhem in the form of beatings and murders follows Eddie and Jerry as they attempt to protect the lovely femme fatale from a mysterious adversary. Recalling the events as an octogenarian, Eddie is an endearingly straightforward narrator, occasionally blinded by the Rat Pack's star quality and glamour, but usually cynical and realistic about how things get done in Vegas and Hollywood. Not above calling on the owner of the Sands to nudge Giancana on behalf of golden boy Sinatra, Eddie often runs afoul of the law, the lawless, and the celebs while remaining true to his own code of honor. Reminiscent of the late Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters mysteries, the Rat Pack novels may be light on plot, but they make up for it with Randisi's research, which yields excellent atmosphere and great cameos by many of the stars who trod Eddie G's sunny Vegas sidewalks in 1962. As Dino would say, "Have fun, pally."

Recommended by Bill Gagliani, Stacks Supervisor


Little BeeLittle Bee

Chris Cleave. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009

Readers who are thinking about reading this book won’t find much about the story, except that reviewers call it “riveting,” “haunting,” and the like. A meaningful review is hard without giving away the plot, but the novel captivates from the get-go. Little Bee is a Nigerian girl we first meet in a British immigration detention center, having adopted her new name as a way of erasing traces of the past. During two years there she has worked hard to perfect the “Queen’s English” as a way to survive. Then we learn what has brought her to England—hopes that a young English couple she met on a Nigerian beach can rescue her. The Brits casually and naively picked Nigeria as a place they might patch up a failing marriage, but encounter a political mess of oil, corruption, and killing. The British wife is merely interesting with a glamorous career in publishing, brilliant husband, cute young son in his Batman phase, a slightly boring, but steady adulterous liaison; however, she plays well as a foil to the captivating Little Bee. Cleave, a political journalist with The Guardian, has a wonderful writing style and unfolds this story like peeling an orange. There’s a lot of politics but it is subtly dressed in an easy-to-read contemporary story.

Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian



Lindsey Davis. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010

Marcus Didius Falco, a private detective (aka informer) in 1st century Rome, is in pursuit of a serial killer in his latest investigation. When his father dies unexpectedly, Falco inherits the considerable estate, including some creditors who don’t seem to want to be paid. When they turn up dead, at least that problem is solved! But in the course of looking for them, Falco also finds a family of freed slaves, the Claudii, who live in the Pontine marsh area south of Rome and terrorize the other local residents. Some of the Claudii brothers are the clear primary murder suspects; the mystery lies in the fact that the family has protectors somewhere within the Roman government. Falco and his partner and brother-in-law Petronius Longus must figure out the connections. As usual, Davis excels at delivering snarky dialogue and commentary along with historical detail. She also sneaks in some brief reflections on the nature of families, and what their influence through generations can be. Less successfully perhaps, she also touches on the evil of torture. This is a much darker novel than some of her others, but still quite a good read. The book can stand alone, but if you’ve read some of the preceding novels, you’ll understand the characters and their history better, and enjoy this one more.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research and Instructional Services Librarian


The Night CounterThe Night Counter

Alia Yunis. New York: Shaye Areheart Books, 2009

The night counter in the title of this unusual novel is an elderly immigrant woman who believes that she will die in nine days’ time. The framework for the novel is this: 992 days ago Fatima (a Lebanese-American) ‘met’ Scheherezade, the character from the 1001 Arabian Nights, and ever since the two have been companions. Since no one else can see or hear Scheherezade, many wonder if Fatima has lost her marbles as Scheherezade keeps pestering the irascible old woman for stories about her life. Once you accept this unusual framework, you’re in for a treat. In the course of conversations between the two, and through the side-trips that Scheherezade makes, the reader learns about Fatima’s life—she married twice, bore 10 children, raised them and also a couple grandchildren. In the course of all that, a tragedy splintered the family. Now Fatima lives in LA with her grandson Amir, an aspiring and gay actor, and prepares for her own death, wondering to which child to bequeath her various worldly goods. Although there is sadness and pain, there is also laughter and comedy: Fatima tries to arrange a marriage for Amir while he is doing a photo shoot dressed as a terrorist; her cheerleader granddaughter follows a boyfriend to Beirut and gets dumped via e-mail; and two somewhat dim CIA agents are convinced they’re onto a major terrorist plot. Sometimes it is difficult to keep track of which of Fatima’s descendants is currently in the limelight, and the denouement involving the CIA agents is a bit contrived. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this novel of vignettes from the lives of a large and troubled, but loving family.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research and Instructional Services Librarian


Tales From Outer SuburbiaTales From Outer Suburbia

Shaun Tan. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009

Books of short stories are usually just words. Often excellent words put together in wonderful combinations, and when we read those words we are allowed, even expected, to produce our own images regarding the appearance of the characters and place them on the stage of our imagination. But occasionally a book comes along where the author has already undertaken that role and has rendered delightful imaginings to accompany his words. Tales from Outer Suburbia is just such a book. It is an illustrated book of 15 sometimes very short stories about children, grandfathers, exchange students, toys, secret spaces, neighborhoods and the unreality of the world. Oh, and water buffalo; did I mention water buffalo? “The Water Buffalo,” my favorite story, concerns a silent but helpful water buffalo who lives down the street. The illustration shows a water buffalo dominating a vacant lot and giving directions to a young girl. Literal, believable fantasy and, perhaps, a coming-of-age story. That story together with the table of contents alone are worth the price of the book. The table of contents is a manila envelope and the stamps on the envelope are illustrations connected to the stories. The denominations of the stamps provide the page number of each story. The spread is a tour de force of imagination. I highly recommend this book to anyone who values wit, whimsy and great illustration. The pictures are funky yet endearing, imaginative and literal. The stories are charming and sometimes thought provoking. Outer Suburbia, while populated with children, and usually shelved in bookstores with the children’s books, is really best visited by kids age 12 and above and adults who retain, or wish to regain, their sense of wonder. Lastly, a big shout-out to the Australian Government, who “through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body” provided assistance for the book. Only in Oz could the government provide support for something as astonishing and subversive! Make plans to visit Outer Suburbia this holiday season where image and imagination reside.

Recommended by Nick Schroeder, Senior Graphic Designer, Office of Marketing and Communication


book jacketZero History

William Gibson. New York, NY: Putnam, 2010

The Bigend trilogy—Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and, most recently, Zero History—by cyberpunk guru William Gibson represents not so much a departure from his previous work as its logical next step. By setting quasi-futuristic technologies in the present day, Gibson leads us to consider whether the barely imaginable might not be, in fact, perfectly feasible. Like its two predecessors, Zero History explores the impact of branding, trending, and insidious marketing on popular culture. Morally-challenged marketing entrepreneur Hubertus Bigend MUST own the Next Big Thing. The grail in Zero History is a clothing manufacturer so obscure that its small collection of iconic garments is sold in random pop-ups by invitation only. Bigend wants—needs—to uncover the identity of the mystery clothier, and manipulates indie rock singer-turned-journalist Hollis Henry and recently rehabilitated druggie-turned-puppet Milgrim into advancing his quest. The team struggles between their revulsion at Bigend’s machinations and their simple curiosity, all the while fighting off surveillance penguins, provocateurs, renegade fashion designers, and thugs. In Zero History, Gibson employs enough of his sophisticated writing style, dry humor, and signature techno-fetishism to satisfy his fans, as well as enough thrills and plot twists to engage readers of more conventional suspense fiction. As to the big reveal—who is the mysterious clothier? Let’s just say I did not see that one coming. Review is based on the audiobook, excellently read by Robertson Dean.

Recommended by Susan Sponberg, Technical Services


The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, 2010

This award-winning book uncovers one of the most unimaginable stories in medical history. In 1951, without knowledge or consent of the patient or family, cervical cancer cells from a 30-year-old African-American woman were collected by Johns Hopkins doctors. The patient, Henrietta Lacks, died soon after, but what is miraculous is that her cells continue to live. Back in 1951, the Hopkins researchers were surprised to find that Lacks’ cells were able to do what no other human cells could previously do—survive and multiply outside of the body. In the decades to come, over 50 million tons of “HeLa" cells would be produced and unbeknownst to the Lacks’ family, millions of dollars worth of these cells have been sold to researchers all over the world. The cells have been used in countless medical studies and have aided in important discoveries such as the polio vaccine and have furthered AIDS and cancer research. In her quest to write about the long-forgotten source of the cells, science journalist Skloot tracks down the Lacks family. Wary at first of further exploitation, they eventually come to accept Skloot’s sincerity in telling Henrietta’s and their own stories. This very readable book is a fascinating look at medicine, medical research and industry, ethics, poverty, and race. It also provides a very human look at a family coming to grips with the tragic loss of a family member and discovering decades later the huge, powerful and profound impact she has made in the world. Skloot donates a portion of her book receipts to her new nonprofit organization, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation.

Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research and Instructional Services Librarian


WaterwalkWaterwalk; A Passage of Ghosts

Steven Faulker. Muskegon, MI: RDR Books, 2008

Visit any good bookstore and you’ll find shelves sagging with adventure travelogues. In Waterwalk, author Steven Faulkner and his teenage son retrace the historic route of Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet, paddling from St. Ignace to the Mississippi. In many respects this arduous 1,200 mile canoe trip makes the scores of accounts by long-distance hikers, climbers, and cyclists seem like a Sunday afternoon in the park. Yet Waterwalk’s real charm is two-fold. First, Faulkner captures an eclectic mix of small-town Midwestern characters, some of whom ultimately make completion of the epic journey possible. Second, Waterwalk is a poignant story about a father and son’s sometimes difficult relationship. This mix makes Waterwalk unique within the genre. Incidentally, Waterwalk will soon be released as a motion picture. Read the book before going to the local theater.

Recommended by Matt Blessing, Head, Department of Special Collections and Archives


Where Good Ideas Come FromWhere Good Ideas Come From; The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2010

This is a popular science book. Well, sort of, since it touches on quite a bit more! Johnson’s ultimate thesis is that human creativity, or innovation, happens most consistently in highly social settings, and that the lonely inventor who relies on inspiration is the exception. But describing this book is hard: it’s written by a popular science-technology writer, and includes science, the history of science, sociology, culture and more. Since it is a "natural history," the book offers mostly description and observation rather than scientific proof. Over quite a few years, Johnson looked at and thought about various patterns in nature and among people, with the result that he found seven characteristics or conditions that he feels allow innovation to occur most reliably. In this book of stories and anecdotes about science, I found the most interesting to be the chapters on liquid networks (too much order and too much chaos both inhibit innovation) and the fourth quadrant (the highly social, non-market settings that best foster innovation). Since Johnson is a gifted writer, whether or not you find all of his arguments convincing, I suspect that you’ll enjoy reading this book, and learning about many new things.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research and Instructional Services Librarian


You Never Give Me Your MoneyYou Never Give Me Your Money; The Beatles After the Breakup

Peter Doggett. New York: HarperCollins, 2009

Perhaps no other rock band has had such a strong influence as the Beatles and when the band broke up in 1970, millions of fans world-wide mourned. Music journalist Doggett goes into detail about the events leading up to, during, and after the break-up. By the late 60s, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were experiencing difficulties in their working and personal relationships: McCartney was perceived to be autocratic; Harrison was resentful that his songs were glossed over; and Lennon was totally absorbed with his girlfriend/later wife Yoko Ono, whose constant presence, especially in the recording studio, did not bode well. Business and legal difficulties further divided them, including the chaotic state of the Beatles’ Apple enterprise and McCartney’s resistance to signing with manager Allen Klein, followed by McCartney’s lawsuit leading to the official dissolution. Disputes continued regarding record royalties and other matters, but now each member was free to embark upon his own career. Doggett does a good job of detailing their solo projects and even though the band never reunited, they did keep in contact and would occasionally collaborate. Lennon’s murder in 1980 ended any hope of reunion and in 2001 Harrison died from cancer. This book helps fans to see that even though the Beatles’ music was indeed magical, the creators themselves were very human.

Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research and Instructional Services Librarian

New Books by Faculty

Norman PodhoretzMad Men and PhilosophyNorman Podhoretz: A Biography by Thomas L. Jeffers (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), professor of English, explores the life of the American neoconservative intellectual and editor of the magazine Commentary.

Mad Men and Philosophy; Nothing is as it Seems, edited by James South (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), associate professor of philosophy, examines the AMC series about a prestigious 1960s ad agency. South's essay collection is his fourth contribution to the pop philosophy series, which includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy, James Bond and Philosophy and The Beatles and Philosophy.

New from MU Press

All The Way to HeavenAll The Way to Heaven; Selected Letters of Dorothy Day

Robert Ellsberg, editor. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2010

This volume draws on personal papers sealed for 25 years after Day's death and presents her letters by decade—from the earliest in 1923 to the last letter, months before her death in 1980. Like her diaries, published by MU Press in 2008 (The Duty of Delight), Day's letters offer a fascinating chronicle of her response to the changes in America, the church and the world, set against the backdrop of the Depression, Cold War, Vatican II, and Vietnam. Copies are available in the Browsing Collection.

New from alumni

The Cailiffs of Baghdad, GeorgiaThe Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

Mary Helen Stefaniak. New York: W. W. Norton, 2010

Stefaniak, alumna of Marquette (’73 Arts & Sciences) and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Creighton University. Among her earlier fiction and essay collections are The Turk and My Mother (2004) and Self Storage and Other Stories (1997). She describes hew new novel, The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia, on her Web site: “Narrator Gladys Cailiff is eleven years old in 1938 when a new schoolteacher turns Threestep, Georgia, upside down. Miss Grace Spivey is a well-traveled young woman who believes in field trips, Arabian costumes, and reading aloud from her ten-volume set of One Thousand Nights and a Night. The real trouble begins when she decides to revive the annual town festival as an exotic Baghdad Bazaar. Miss Spivey and her project transform the lives of everyone around her: Gladys’s older brother Force (with his movie-star looks), their pregnant sister May (a gifted storyteller herself), and especially the Cailiffs’ African American neighbor, young Theo Boykin, whose creative genius becomes the key to a colorful, hidden history of the South.”


Bill Warrington's Last 
	  ChanceParrot and Olivier in 
	  AmericaGreat HouseSo 
	  Much For ThatThe Finkler Question

The National Book Awards were announced in October: 20 awards were given for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature. The fiction awards went to Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf); Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson); Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton); Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (HarperCollins); Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffeehouse Press). See the NBA site for more awards, interviews with awardees, and videos of the presentations.

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature in October. A political activist and acclaimed Spanish-speaking author, Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 novels, plays, and essays. An author search of MARQCAT shows more than 70 books and collections authored by Vargas Llosa. The award committee cited "his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat."

Bill Warrington's Last Chance, a first novel by James P. King, won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, sought by more than 6,500 authors from 22 countries. The novel features an aging veteran with developing Alzheimer's, who sets off on a road trip with his granddaughter.

The 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, Britain's best-known literary award, went to Howard Jacobson for The Finkler Question, described by the panel as "a novel about love, loss, and male friends...explores what it means to be Jewish today."


Ex Libris is published online occasionally

  • Managing Editor: Susan Hopwood
  • Co-Editors: William D. Gagliani, Leslie A. Quade
  • Library Intern: Anna Pauls
  • Webmaster: Keven Riggle

Tell us what you think! Want to contribute your recommendation?

© 2010 Marquette University