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Fiction |  Nonfiction | Literary Prize Winners

Ex Libris welcomes back returning readers with holiday reading and gift-giving recommendations from library and campus colleagues. As always, our goal is to showcase Raynor Memorial Libraries’ Browsing Collection and to identify a range of contemporary fiction and nonfiction for the general reader. 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 a list of recent additions to the Browsing Collection.

Happy Holidays from your Ex Libris team!



Bartender's TaleThe Bartender's Tale
Ivan Doig (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012)

Set in 1960 in a small town in northern Montana, this is the story of the summer that narrator Rusty Harry turned twelve, met his future wife, found a vocation, heroically saved a friend, and learned some family history. Though it is Rusty’s voice and memories, this is also the story of his father, Tom Harry, a bartender and bar owner, and of the love between a father and a motherless son. So what happens? His dad receives an award from the regional beer company for having a really nice saloon. This in turn leads to the arrival of several new people in town. There’s Del Robertson, an oral historian who wants to document the building of the nearby Fort Peck dam, a depression-era WPA project. Then Proxy, an old Fort Peck friend, brings her daughter of uncertain parentage, Francine, to work for Tom. Through these new arrivals and the upheaval they bring, Rusty learns about his father’s past and the Depression. Rusty gets a good start on the transition to adulthood, begins to know his father as a man, and finally learns what happened to his mother. The book is well written, with some wonderful descriptions of small town life and of some great characters. Doig has a real gift for weaving together the stories of very different people and times, creating a rich and colorful tapestry that unfolds bit by bit.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian

The ChaperoneThe Chaperone
Laura Moriarty (New York: Riverhead, 2012)

In the summer of 1922, Cora Carlisle, Wichita housewife and mother of grown sons, volunteers to serve as chaperone for a 15-year-old aspiring dancer, Louise Brooks. The daughter of laissez-faire parents, Louise has been accepted to a prestigious New York City dance academy. Cora has her own motivehaving started life in a New York orphanage, she hopes that she may be able to discover something about her parentage. As early as the train to the city, Cora learns that she will have her hands full with a streetwise and provocative Louise and that protecting her will be like "trying to hold back the wind." The captivating and parallel stories of these two women personify all the changes in societyprohibition, Margaret Sanger, and the onset of women's liberation. Louise is a real historical figuredancer, Follies showgirl, and silent film star with an iconic black bob hairdo, but the summer's events are just a springboard for telling the rest of the story. The Chaperone is Moriarty's fourth novel; she is a professor of creative writing at the University of Kansas.

Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian (retired)


The Kitchen HouseThe Kitchen House
Kathleen Grissom (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010)

The author's website autobiography ( tells of her journey, from a childhood in Saskatchewan to married life in a rural 1830s farm home in Virginia, that inspired her research into the antebellum South. To explain the title of this novel, the kitchen house was a freestanding building on a tobacco plantation where the landowner's family's meals were prepared by the kitchen slaves. Grissom's debut novel focuses on Lavinia, a 7-year-old Irish girl whose family perished during their 1790s ocean crossing. With her passage paid by a Virginia landowner, she becomes indentured and is put to work with the house slaves. Lavinia's story alternates with that of Belle, a kitchen slave who watches over her and becomes her new family. As readers would expect from this outline, plantation life is heartbreakingly difficult and, unexpectedly, filled with loss among the owners as well as the slaves. To the obvious theme of the evils of slavery, Grissom paints a realistic picture of the horrible conditions and hardships for the women of both races. Lavinia's coming-of-age story is a page-turner that will stay with the reader for a long time and I won't be surprised to hear of its translation to film.

Recommended by Susan Hopwood, Outreach Librarian (retired)


The Last Kind WordsThe Last Kind Words: A Novel
Tom Piccirilli (New York: Bantam Books, 2012)

Perhaps the most celebrated writer of dark crime fiction of our time, multiple award winner Tom Piccirilli often delves into the inner darkness of flawed characters who are either criminals or bound in tragedy to commit criminal acts. Often they’re literally haunted by their pasts and The Last Kind Words is no exception. Can you ever go home? Terrier Rand has come home to Long Island because his brother Collie’s time on death row is almost up. Having confessed to a senseless murder spree, Collie wants his brother to investigate one of the murders, which he insists he did not commit. There may be another killer on the loose. The Rands are a colorfully dysfunctional family of thieves and grifters whose first names have been those of dog breeds, though no one remembers why. Terry comes face to face not only with what his family is, and what he was, but also with how his future might turn out when he realizes the Rand men may all share a similar dark fate. The mystery of the other killer is merely the vehicle for Terry to revisit his family’s past, and to reconnect with the dusty remains of their squirreled-away useless loot, a symbol of both their greatest skills and ultimate failure. Bouncing from a slightly crooked cop, to an insecure mob boss, and then his abandoned girlfriend now married to a former best friend, Terry tries to do right by his brother—and by his younger sister, who is flirting with the family business but heading for a fall. Piccirilli (Headstone City, The Coldest Mile, The Midnight Road) turns phrases with an ease even Chandler might envy. His brooding characters are caught in their own tragic flaws, bearing the pain of regret and hopeless yearning for redemption. This dark, engrossing blend of genres should cement the author’s reputation as a modern master of noir literature.

Recommended by Bill Gagliani, Stacks Supervisor


A Month in the CountryA Month in the Country
J.L. Carr (Academy Chicago: 1984)

This is a quiet book about recovering from a time in hell—in this case World War I—and a broken heart. It’s about a remembered summer, which for the narrator, Tom Birkin, was special time, a shining moment in his life. We meet Tom, a WWI veteran, debarking from the train in Oxgodby, Yorkshire, in the summer of 1920. He has come to uncover and restore a mural in the village church. Carr's story is of that summer as Tom remembers it years later. As he uncovers the mural in the church he reveals to us how he savored that time, the place, and the people he met. As he restores the mural he is also restored by the pace of life in the village and the quiet kindness of the people. Carr’s pacing of the narrative matches that of that summer and the reader falls into the same “immense content” that Tom felt. Carr also shows Tom as an observer of people and place, life and land, whose description of a person or a day paints us a complete picture. When we meet Alice Keach, the Vicar’s wife, Tom tells us that, “. . . she was quite enchanting. Her neck was uncovered to her bosom and, immediately, I was reminded of Botticelli—not his Venus—the Primavera.” And later, when Tom describes a day he tells us, “It was Tennyson weather, drowsy, warm, unnaturally still.” A Month in the Country is a little gem, just 135 pages, to be taken out and enjoyed, again and again like Tom’s memory of that summer.

Recommended by Nick Schroeder, Senior Graphic Designer (Office of Marketing & Communication)


The News from SpainThe News from Spain
Joan Wickersham  (New York: Knopf, 2012)

What’s the news? What’s the news from Spain, from New York, from Mexico, from the heartland? From the land of the heart? The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham is a book of seven short stories which, while they are not connected by characters or location, are connected by the heart line. In one story Wickersham investigates the relationship of a paralyzed dancer and her choreographer husband, and the dancer’s relationship to one of her caregivers, a gay man, and his relationship to his lover. In this one story the reader sees several forms of love and how people handle their various relationships. All seven stories can stand alone but each of them informs the reader’s understanding of the others. Each story is both a marvelous invention and wonderfully real. Wickersham shows the reader various and sundry lovers doing things, thinking things, imagining things that makes the reader go, “Oh, yes! That’s happened to....” She makes the reader consider again the age-old question, “How well do we ever know anyone?” And consider the question, what do we want from love? The news from Spain? The news is “A love story—your own or anyone else’s—is interior, hidden. It can never be accurately reported, only imagined.” Wickersham imagines stories that sound like eye witness reportage from the front lines where “It’s still the same old story; A fight for love and glory.” It may be the “same old story,” but it’s freshly told by Wickersham. The News from Spain is a book for lovers of the short story or lovers of the story of love.

Recommended by Nick Schroeder, Senior Graphic Designer (Office of Marketing & Communication)



Naomi Shihab Nye (Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2011) 

In Transfer Naomi Shihab Nye explores her father as an individual and as the man he was to her. As the daughter of a Palestinian refugee relocated from his home near Jerusalem in 1948, Nye writes with a voice and a message that is personal and necessary in our time. In a series of poems called “Just Call me Aziz,” inspired by her late father’s notebooks, Nye writes with clarity and poignancy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Assuming her father’s voice she writes for him and so many others, “Why was someone else’s need for a home/ greater than our own need for our own homes/ we were already living in?” She voices the difficulties of so many peoples who come to the US in search of a new home and find themselves wandering. But she retains the specifics of her own father in the poem “A Kansas Preacher Called Me Muscleman”: “He wanted to change me…I told him, Listen,/ Bethlehem used to be right next door./ It was my suburb. I walked there./” In other poems she responds from her own modern perspective to the continued violence describing her reaction to a TSA official in an airport: “but your pause causes a uniformed man to approach barking, Is there something you don’t understand?/ and you stare at him thinking/ So many things, refugees marching…” Throughout the poems Nye maintains a lyricism and complexity that marks this collection as excellent poetry. It is not the vitriolic critiques of injustice as seen in Forche’s work, nor is it the visceral reactions to her father’s death of Olds’s The Father. Instead Nye simultaneously tackles the plight of displaced peoples and the loss of her father with maturity, deep heartbreak, appreciation, and humility. In the end the poems reach for a place in us all that hopes for love, beauty, peace, and friendship and sometimes asks, as she does, “Where are the better people we hoped/ to be…”

Recommended by Heather James, Research and Instruction Librarian



The Beatles vs. the Rolling StonesThe Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock'n'Roll Rivalry
Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2010)

Co-authors Greg Kot (Marquette University graduate, Journalism, 1978) and Jim DeRogatis host a syndicated public radio program “Sound Opinions” which has been called the “world’s only rock and roll talk show.” Since 1990, Kot has written extensively as the Chicago Tribune’s music critic. Kot has also written numerous articles about rock and roll music and artists for a number of publications including Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. In this volume, DeRogatis and Kot take a jaunty look at the work and music of two ubiquitous iconic bands: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. DeRogatis and Kot compare and contrast a variety of aspects regarding the music and careers of these two “rival” bands: images, songs, songwriting abilities, musical arrangements, creativity, merits of individual albums (for example, how does the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, allegedly written to outdo the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, compare to that critically acclaimed album?), album production, vocals as well as instrument-playing capabilities (who is the better bass player, the Beatles’ McCartney or the Stones’ Wyman and why). The book is presented as a conversation between DeRogatis and Kot—with each of these rock and roll experts giving their “sound opinion.” For those fans who revel in the Beatles’ and the Stones’ earlier work (early 1960s – early 1970s), this book reminds us why these bands together were a strong force in 1960s British Invasion and beyond. Especially notable is the plethora of color and black and white photographs of the two bands and their members from various stages of their careers, which alone make this a book that any Beatles and/or early Rolling Stones fan would love. DeRogatis and Kot’s discourse about these two prodigious rock bands makes it all the more enjoyable.

Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian


Cyndi LauperCyndi Lauper: A Memoir
Cyndi Lauper and Jancee Dunnr  (New York: Atria Books, 2012)

It was 1984 when Cyndi Lauper achieved world-wide success with the upbeat, celebratory anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” However, Lauper’s teenage years were anything but fun. In her memoir she describes her childhood in working-class Queens, New York. The daughter of a waitress, Lauper dropped out of high school and left home at 17 to escape the abuse and violence of her then step-father. After years of odd jobs and stints at art schools, Lauper began singing in cover bands. Musically talented, Lauper sang lead and played a number of instruments (guitar, dulcimer, recorder, etc.). Unfortunately, her dream of a music career seemed to shatter when she damaged her vocal cords to the point where she might not sing again. After surgery, Lauper overcame this adversity with vocal training and soon regained her four-octave range. Lauper recounts how she struggled to pay the bills while trying to establish a music career. Times were bleak, even to the point where she considered suicide. But she persevered and continued to believe in herself. In 1983, she recorded the album She’s So Unusual, which became an international success and garnered four top-five Billboard hits, a first for women in music. Today, Lauper continues to record; her latest album, Memphis Blues, was Billboard’s number one blues album of 2010. Lauper is very active with her True Colors foundation, set up to inspire advancement of LGBT equality and to alleviate homelessness of LGBT youth. Writing frankly about her experiences in the music industry makes Lauper’s memoir entertaining, smart and honest—a true testament to her positive and creative nature. Her story can be inspirational to all.

Recommended by Rose Trupiano, Research & Instructional Services Librarian


The Epigenetics RevolutionThe Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance
Nessa Carey (London: Icon Books, 2011)

If you’re not a scientist (or at least, not in the biological sciences), but you’re curious about what’s been going on in the field of genetics, then this popular science book is for you. The author has written an overview of what has been happening in the field of genetics in the last twenty years or so. Once there was a theory that lots of our DNA had no discernible purpose—it was often called “junk DNA.” Since then, geneticists have learned a lot: for instance, that the DNA we share with most other creatures is involved in the production of proteins, while all that so-called junk DNA is actually regulatory in nature, and tells the basic protein-building genes when to do their work and how much. Carey’s book can help you understand things such as why cloned animals are often less healthy and shorter-lived than their progenitors, how and why identical twins are not really identical, and why gene therapies have proven far more difficult to develop than once thought. Basically it is about how our genes alone are far from the only determinant in how we turn out as individuals. Fairly well-written with visual analogies, descriptions of experiments, and even some history of the science, The Epigenetics Revolution takes a bit of work for a non-science reader, but I found it well worth the effort.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian


Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The HobbitExploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
Corey Olsen (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Corey Olsen is a rising star among Tolkien scholars. He teaches courses on Tolkien at Washington College in Maryland, and he established the online Mythgard Institute to offer interactive classes to the general public. He even advertises himself as “The Tolkien Professor.” At first I blanched at the nickname, thinking it a bit presumptuous; however, after reading this book and listening to his online podcasts, I have no problem with Olsen calling himself The Tolkien Professor. He knows his stuff. In Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Olsen provides us with a chapter by chapter, textual analysis of Tolkien’s first masterpiece, now celebrating its 75th anniversary. Olsen’s close analysis of The Hobbit is delightfully readable and crackles with insights. His dissection of the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum is masterful, showing how each riddle reflects its teller’s character. Olsen demonstrates how the various songs in The Hobbit— sometimes passed over by older readers as silly verse—are carefully constructed pieces that shed valuable light on the natures of the groups singing them. Before reading Olsen’s book, I never appreciated the significance of the “dragon sickness” that afflicts almost all of the characters toward the end of the tale. Finally, Olsen argues convincingly that the true moment of “eucatastrophe” (a word that Professor Tolkien coined to mean the sudden turning from hopelessness to joy in a faerie story) in The Hobbit occurs not when the Eagles intervene in the Battle of Five Armies, but when the Goblins and Wild Wolves first arrive at the Lonely Mountain. Their sudden appearance averts a far more disastrous war among the Dwarves, Elves, and Men, who instead unite against the common foe, and the memory of their alliance will help heal the land in subsequent years. The Hobbit sometimes languishes in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings, dismissed at best as a prequel to Tolkien’s magnum opus or, at worst, as a simple children’s book. Olsen shows us that The Hobbit is a brilliantly crafted tale, deserving appreciation on its own merits. Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is the first of what will undoubtedly be many books about The Hobbit coinciding with the release of Peter Jackson’s multi-film adaptation. If the upcoming books are all as good as Olsen’s, then we can anticipate much happy reading.

Recommended by Bill Fliss, Archivist


The Long WalkThe Long Walk
Brian Castner (New York: Doubleday, 2012)

You are not "crazy" if you read The Long Walk, nor will you become crazy having read it. Presumably. But you should read it. You should read it for two reasons: it is an emotionally searing, personal  account of his experiences as a Bomb Disposal Officer during the Iraq war (yes, similar to The Hurt Locker, but not exactly), and he is a 1999 MU graduate in Electrical Engineering who was also a student employee at the defunct Science Library (where I worked as a supervisor). The long walk of the title directly refers to the walk the lone bomb tech has to take to disarm a bomb when robotic techniques are unavailable, and metaphorically to the author’s journey through his military career. In this disjointed but gripping account of his experiences as a soldier, husband, and father, Brian vividly recounts his struggle with his feelings of “The Crazy,” both overseas while on duty, and at home with his wife and kids. I said you should read this book for two reasons, but here is a third: we all should try to understand the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in the armed forces, and their families. The book as a whole is an elegiac narrative of the author’s battle with his war-induced feelings of craziness and his continual efforts to cope with and overcome his trauma.

Recommended by David Frymark, Circulation Supervisor


What It Is Like to Go to WarWhat It Is Like To Go To War
Karl Marlantes (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011)

Karl Marlantes is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. But this slim book is not a memoir, though it includes stories from his time in combat. Instead it is his reflections on the feelings that soldiers experience while in combat, and how it changes them. For example, he talks about a soldier’s desire to be a hero, the addictive excitement of combat, the camaraderie and trust among fellow soldiers, grief, how atrocities happen, and more. To introduce these topics he includes short, vivid scenes from his experience and homecoming, his own journey from soldier to civilian. Marlantes also writes about how to help current and future veterans integrating into civilian society, but here he has more difficulty: his most heartfelt recommendations seem to boil down to providing more formal venues to returning soldiers for discussion of their experience and their feelings. He laments our culture’s few rites of passage and transition, and how such rites have helped veterans in the past and in other societies. He himself studied Jungian psychology and went through exorcisms, both Catholic and Native American, all in an effort to come to terms with the violence that he saw, endured, and perpetrated. Some of these sections are quite painful, sometimes almost incomprehensible to me, a person in middle-age who has never been in war. But Marlantes is a gifted writer and his book is fascinating.

Recommended by Valerie Beech, Research & Instructional Services Librarian



Bring Up the BodiesThe Booker Prize, Britain's most significant literary award, was announced in September. Not only did Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies win the award, but she is the first woman to achieve a second Booker. Her Wolf Hall won the award in 2009. The two books are part of a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII's powerful minister.






This Is How You Lose HerA Hologram for the King The Round House Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk
The Yellow BirdsIron CurtainBehind the Beautiful ForeversThe Passage of PowerThe Boy Kings of East TexasHouse of Stone


Finalists for the National Book Award were announced in October with the awards to be announced mid-November, near our press time. The fiction nominees included Junot Diaz (who recenty won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation grant) for This is How You Lose Her; Dave Eggers for A Hologram for the King; Louise Erdrich for The Round House; Ben Fountain for Billy's Lynn's Long Half Time Walk; and Kevin Powers' debut novel TheYellow Birds. Nonfiction finalists were Anne Applebaum for Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956; Katherine Boo for Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity; Robert Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson; Domingo Martinez for The Boy Kings of Texas; and Anthony Shadid, the New York Times correspondent who died this year on assignment in Syria, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. See for finalists in the poetry and young people's literature categories and check the National Book Award site for more information on the winners.

In the meantime, we're happy to be able to say: "And the winner is..." In Fiction, the National Book Award winner was The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. In Nonfiction, Katherine Boo won for Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The Poetry prize went to David Ferry's Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, and William Alexander's Goblin Secrets was awarded the Young People's Literature prize.

Once again, the Ex Libris Team wishes you Happy Reading and Happy Holidays!

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