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Adult Books That I Want for Christmas–or if You Prefer, for Kwanzaa or Hanukkah

November 21, 2010 by Reader's Connection



For 2010, I´m backing away from the inclusive gift suggestion lists that we’ve provided in the past, and am listing only items that I´d personally like to receive. And actually read, if I have the time.




The Dead Detective by William Heffernan

The Dead DetectiveMurder victims don’t actually talk to Harry Doyle, but he does intuit things about how they died. That’s one reason why fellow cops call him the Dead Detective. Another is that two decades before, he and his younger brother were murdered by their deranged mother. Harry was resuscitated, but his younger brother died. Raised by a Clearwater, Florida, cop, he’s now a by-the-book but very tightly wound detective with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, and he’s investigating the murder of a young, dazzlingly beautiful local schoolteacher whose seduction of a 14-year-old student became a media frenzy. Departmental brass want a speedy solution to her murder. At the same time, Harry’s still-deranged mother is being considered for parole because of overcrowding in Florida’s jails. The Dead Detective is a meaty story that offers an intriguing and conflicted protagonist, a darkly fascinating victim, solid police-procedural detail, a knowing look at the Tampa Bay area and its politics, an unlikely murderer, and a creepy denouement that hints that Harry will be back. — Booklist


I’m not sure I really want a copy of Chaz McGee’s Angel Interrupted: A Dead Detective Mystery. I’m listing it here as a public service, so you’ll know that two different authors released dead detective books in 2010.

Angel Interrupted: A Dead Detective Mystery


A trauma nurse is found dead with a gun in her hand. Maggie Gunn, the senior officer on the case, suspects murder. Across the street from the crime scene, a child is kidnapped, and Gunn tries to sort out the truth behind both crimes. Following Maggie in the corporal world and her dead partner in the spirit realm is a blast; it is touching to watch Fahey, a mediocre cop in life, find his way. VERDICT This second entry in McGee’s paranormal series (after Desolate Angel) is a bit quirky but spot-on as a police procedural. A perfect gem for readers who like Mary Stanton’s “Beaufort & Company” series and for those who want something different in their mysteries. — Library Journal





Bomber County : The Poetry of a Lost Pilot’s War by Daniel Swift

Bomber County : The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's WarIn this elegant memoir, Swift traces the interstices between the bombers of the Royal Air Force, his grandfather’s service before his death at the age of 30, and selected passages from Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and other writers working during World War II. Meticulously researched, Bomber County chronicles the London Blitz and bombing raids in Germany without elegizing or romanticizing the era . . . Among the more unusual discoveries to be found within is the author’s acceptance of the mythology associated with his tale; psychological warfare often lead to unreliable perceptions of scale, and the author admits that “even as I write this a small doubt still holds” about his grandfather’s fate. With its inherent tension and quiet moments of deliberation, the subject of bombing is well-suited to the literary memoir, and Swift renders a potentially narrow slice of history with warmth and sophistication. — Publishers Weekly


Outside Looking In : Adventures of an Observer by Garry Wills

Outside Looking In : Adventures of an ObserverPulitzer Prize winner Wills offers up a pleasantly revealing grab bag of memories . . . Though he writes that he “was determined to be an outsider looking in, not a participant,” he thoroughly engages with his subjects here, a number of whom were friends. These vest-pocket profiles are a genuine mix, from William F. Buckley, who emerges not as the bombastic right-winger he projected in his public life, but as a generous, risk-taking soul . . . to Wills’s wife, who receives as endearing a love letter as the retiring Wills will likely ever openly tender. The author has canny things to say about public figures, including Richard Nixon (“an emotionally wounded man who rises to power without ever becoming a full human being”) . . . But much of the best stuff concerns people at the edge of the limelight . . . Ultimately, it is Wills himself who shines brightest from these pages—owlish, ethical, skeptical of power, deep of faith and achingly honest. — Kirkus Reviews

Madison and Jefferson by Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg

Madison and JeffersonJames Madison and Thomas Jefferson are both in the pantheon of Founding Fathers, but Madison is frequently relegated to the second tier. He is often described as Jefferson’s protégé and “faithful lieutenant” and credited primarily with his role in the formation and ratification of the Constitution rather than achievements during his presidency. This extensive and well-researched examination of their relationship spanning 50 years paints a more nuanced and often surprising portrait of both men . . . Both Madison and Jefferson were intense political animals in politically turbulent times. In his conflicts with Federalists, Jefferson used surrogates to engage in “dirty tricks,” while seeming to remain above the fray. Madison . . . was an effective and tough legislator at both the state and federal levels . . . This is an important reappraisal of a critical partnership that shaped our early republic. — Booklist


Bright Wings : An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds edited by Billy Collins

Bright Wings : An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About BirdsRare and common, real and metaphorical, from Homer’s omen bearers and Emily Dickinson’s “thing with feathers” to Keats’s nightingale, Shelley’s skylark, and Poe’s ravens, birds have graced works of poetry since poetry began. Poets enamored of their songs and in awe of their ability to fly have used them as powerful images of beauty, escape, and transcendence. Collins has compiled a wonderful birders’ field guide in poetry. While he has passed over some better-known poems, those widely anthologized elsewhere, he surprises and delights us with work, contemporary and classical, from Catullus to Wallace Stevens, from Gerald Stern to Jane Hirshfield, to Carol Muske-Dukes. David Sibley’s paintings are the icing. This collection will please anyone who has heard a birdsong and tried to understand it and seen a bird fly overhead and wondered how that must feel. — Library Journal


Dove of Death : A Mystery of Ancient Ireland by Peter Tremayne

Dove of Death : A Mystery of Ancient IrelandSister Fidelma and her companion-husband Brother Eadulf reappear in an all-new medieval adventure distinguished by the attention paid to both suspense and historical detail. Returning home aboard an Irish merchant ship after the divisive Council of Autun (Council of the Cursed), Fidelma, Eadulf, and their shipmates are beset by marauding pirates, who ruthlessly murder both the captain and Fidelma’s cousin, special envoy to her brother, Colgú, king of Muman. Barely escaping with their lives after jumping overboard, the two are determined to exact justice for the crime. As more atrocities are committed, Fidelma, an advocate of the law courts of seventh-century Ireland, employs her keen intellect and heightened powers of observation in pursuit of some uncomfortable truths. Tremayne, a master of the medieval mystery, continues to shine as he sheds light on the twists and turns of both church history and the remarkably enlightened political and legal position accorded to women in seventh-century Ireland. — Booklist


All the Devils Are Here : The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera

All the Devils Are Here : The Hidden History of the Financial CrisisThe origins of the meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession, write McLean and Nocera, largely lie in the speculator’s dream called the mortgage-backed security, which “allowed Wall Street to scoop up loans made to people who were buying homes, bundle them together by the thousands, and then resell the bundle, in bits and pieces, to investors.” This innovation netted fortunes for the players at the top, undoing the former bond between buyer and seller and leading directly to the rise of the subprime industry and its toxic holdings. Ironically, write the authors, the securitizing of mortgages was not an invention of Wall Street but of government, with the federal agencies Ginnie Mae and then Freddie Mac selling securities 40 years ago. Scrupulously fair, McLean and Nocera look inside the closed doors of agencies, some now extinct, such as Bear Stearns and Countrywide, which took the official rhetoric, shared by George Bush and Bill Clinton alike, that there is something near-sacred about homeownership and ran with it. — Kirkus Reviews


Driven West : Andrew Jackson the Trail of Tears to The Civil War by A. J. Langguth

Driven West : Andrew Jackson the Trail of Tears to The Civil WarIn this history of the four decades preceding the Civil War, Langguth argues that Andrew Jackson’s handling of the Cherokees sowed the seeds of secession . . . The author focuses mostly on the Cherokees, whose expulsion from Georgia has gone down in infamy as the Trail of Tears, one of the greatest blots on American history. The Cherokees were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” many of whom had adopted an agricultural, settled lifestyle in many ways identical to their white neighbors, right down to the use of slaves to work their fields. It was their misfortune to occupy territory coveted by white plantation owners, the prime cotton-growing lands of the Deep South. They believed Jackson, whose allies they had been during his campaigns against the British, to be their protector. But Jackson was playing a more complex game . . . Southerners, suspicious of any limitation on slavery, opposed Jackson’s policies with threats to secede and with the doctrine of nullification, giving states the right to void federal laws they disliked . . .Langguth puts the backroom deals, Washington gossip and tribal politics into the larger context of the expulsion of the Cherokees from their homeland. By giving in to the Georgians, writes the author, Jackson made the Civil War inevitable. — Kirkus Reviews


A Secret Gift : How an Act of Kindness Revealed Hidden Lives of the Great Depression by Ted Gup

A Secret Gift : How an Act of Kindness Revealed Hidden Lives of the Great DepressionIn a book grown out of a New York Times op-ed piece that drew a huge response, Gup explores an unusual act of generosity by his grandfather, Sam Stone, during the Great Depression and other mysteries of Stone’s life. Discovering a trunk full of old letters addressed to “Mr. B. Virdot,” Gup soon learned that the letters were responses to a newspaper ad Stone ran before Christmas 1933, anonymously promising $10 to 75 of Canton, Ohio’s neediest families if they wrote letters describing their hardships. (Some of the heartbreaking letters are reprinted here.) But Gup soon learns that Stone had other secrets: the jovial, wealthy businessman had escaped a horrific childhood as a Romanian Jew, immigrating to America and reinventing himself to fit into all-American Canton, Ohio. Gup also tracked down families who benefited from Stone’s gift to discover the impact it had on their lives. Gup paints sobering pictures of “the Hard Times” and the gift made by a successful man who hadn’t forgotten his own hard times. — Publishers Weekly


The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt. Billy Collins wrote the foreward for this collection. Yes, that means he made it onto the list twice. This doesn’t mean I’m a Billy Collins freak, though I like him. He’s just involved with a couple of appealing anthologies.

The Poets Laureate AnthologyThe United States has a long tradition of choosing a national poet, though the term poet laureate only came to be used here after 1985. Before that, since its inception in 1935, the post was called consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. So far we’ve had 43 of them, including some of America’s most famous and best-loved poets, such as Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and, of course, Billy Collins, perhaps the most popular poet to hold the title (2001-2003), and also the author of the foreword to this enjoyable anthology, which offers a sampling of work from all 43 laureates, plus short introductions about each one . . . There are a few occasional poems, but mostly, it’s a gathering of great poets hanging together because they held an important job. This will be a wonderful holiday gift for poetry lovers. — Publishers Weekly



  1. Mary says:

    You forgot Solstice! 🙂

  2. Glenn Halberstadt says:

    You’re right. And Saturnalia. I will in fact accept gifts from anyone who wants to celebrate Jim Morrison’s birthday (December 8th) or Felicity Huffman’s (December 9th).

  3. Tina says:

    I’ll adopt your list as my own. I’d read every book you profiled, although I’d rather listen to the Dead Detective novels as audio books…they sound like perfect novels to keep me awake on night-time returns from distant places.

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