Each January, the Beaufort County Library system staff members share the best books they read during the previous year. Below is a sampling of the library's staff favorites from 2010. To see the full list, go to www.beaufortcountylibrary.org/staff-picks-2010.
"Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Sheriff Ed McTeer" by Baynard Woods; Recommended by Grace Cordial, Beaufort District Collection: As popular local history titles go, this one is good. It has great topics -- bizarre crimes, gambling, rum running, political and personal scandals and hoodoo. But Woods didn't just rely upon gossip. He spent hours reading newspaper archives, county records and talking to people who knew "The Boy Sheriff" to flesh out his biography of James Edwin McTeer Jr. Chapters read more like fiction short stories than nonfiction short essays -- because "truth is (always) stranger than fiction." It has solid writing, dashes of humor and occasional lyrical descriptive sequences. You can even get a little vocabulary practice. (I had to look up two words that I didn't know: "chthonic" from the Greek word translated as "earth;" and "crepuscular" meaning "of, relating to, or resembling twilight." For the non-Gullahs among us, "dayclean" means "broad daylight.") It's entertaining, yet transports the reader to a time in Beaufort's past that really wasn't all that long ago.
"Mockingjay" by Suzanne Collins; recommended by Francesca Denton, Bluffton branch: Teen fiction is all grown up in this dark, provocative trilogy, Hunger Games. Mockingjay is a fitting end to a series that goes far beyond a futuristic adventure thriller. It has much to say about media manipulation, especially in war and revolution. Who can be trusted? The dark themes of love betrayed, power corrupted, honor bought and sold, and the seeming futility of perseverance resonate in a prophetic cautionary tale about this most dangerous game of life.
"So Much For That" by Lionel Shriver; recommended by Jan Campbell, Hilton Head branch: Shep Knacker has spent years dreaming about what he dubs "The Afterlife." He plans to take his family to a third-world country where his savings will enable him to live the good life. His wife, Glynis, has resisted this dream for years. As the story begins, he has decided to go with or without her. When confronted with this ultimatum, she informs him, "You can't. I need your health insurance; I have cancer."
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With those words, Shriver begins her tale of two families, two marriages and two illnesses. The author's talent for both language and psychological portraits of her characters as well as her grasp of contemporary issues make this a compelling read on all levels.
"The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag" by Alan Bradley; recommended by Halle Eisenman, Hilton Head branch: In the early 1950s, precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce lives in the sleepy English hamlet of Bishop's Lacy, where she spends her time planning elaborate chemistry experiments and devising ways to aggravate her unbearable older sisters. When a travelling puppeteer turns up dead during a performance in front of the entire town, who better to solve the murder than clever and resourceful Flavia?
This is the second book in a series which begins with "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" and will continue with "A Red Herring Without Mustard," due out February. Alan Bradley has created a delightful set of mysteries with an utterly charming main character.
Halle Eisenman is the Reference Manager for the Hilton Head Branch of the Beaufort County Public Library, at 11 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island.