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Please check out this week’s Washington Anytime Library selection at


"A Thread of Grace," by Mary Doria Russell

Busy, noisy and heartfelt, this sprawling novel by Russell—a striking departure from her previous two acclaimed SF thrillers, “The Sparrow” and “Children of God”—chronicles the Italian resistance to the Germans during the last two years of WWII. Three cultures mingle uneasily in Porto Sant'Andrea on the Ligurian coast of northwest Italy—the Italian Jews of the village, headed by the chief rabbi Iacopo Soncini; the Italian Catholics, like Sant'Andrea's priest Don Osvaldo Tomitz, who befriend and shelter the Jews; and the occupying Germans invited by Mussolini's crumbling regime. In the last camp is the drunken, tubercular Nazi deserter, Doktor Schramm, a broken man who confesses to Don Osvaldo that while working in state hospitals and Auschwitz, he was responsible for murdering 91,867 people. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees in southern France, including Albert Blum and his teenage daughter, Claudette, are fleeing across the Alps to Italy, hoping to find sanctuary there. Russell pursues numerous narrative threads, including the Blums' perilous flight over the mountains; Italian Jew Renzo Leoni's personal coming to terms with his participation in the Dolo hospital bombing during the Abyssinian campaign in 1935; the dangerous frenzy of the Italian partisans; and the bloody-mindedness of German officers resolved to carry out Hitler's murderous racial policy despite mounting evidence of its futility. The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga.

— Publishers Weekly

"My Soul to Keep," by Tananarive Due

In this harrowing and moving second novel, Due (“The Between”) enlivens the potentially formulaic genre of supernatural suspense with a sharp eye for realistic detail. An 80-year-old black woman named Rosalie Tillis Banks is asphyxiated in a Chicago nursing home by her strangely youthful father, the legendary jazz clarinetist Seth "Spider" Tillis. This young/old man is known to African American journalist Jessica Jacobs-Wolde as "Mr. Perfect"--her husband David. At first, Jessica thinks she has it all: a beautiful young daughter, a coveted place on the Miami Herald's elite investigative team and her doting husband, a noted linguist and jazz historian who has put his career on hold to raise their daughter. The plot shifts to the paranormal when David turns out to be more perfect than she could ever imagine: born some 450 years earlier in Abyssinia, he is immortal. Jessica tries to shrug off his amazing ability to heal himself from injuries, but the journalist in her can't ignore the puzzling facts for long. Meantime, David's emotional attachments to mortals are a source of deep pain for him and a potential threat to his immortal brothers; once they learn that David has told Jessica their secret, the leader of the immortals sends Mahmoud, a Searcher who is David's closest brother, to retrieve him. As people close to Jessica begin dying violently, David plots to give his wife and daughter the gift of immortality, whether they want it or not. The pull between the mortal and immortal defines the span of this deftly woven tale, a novel populated with vivid, emotional characters that is also a chilling journey to another world.

— Publishers Weekly


"Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer," by Novella Carpenter

In this utterly enchanting book, food writer Carpenter chronicles with grace and generosity her experiences as an “urban farmer.” With her boyfriend Bill’s help, her squatter’s vegetable garden in one of the worst parts of the Bay Area evolved into further adventures in bee and poultry keeping in the desire for such staples as home-harvested honey, eggs and home-raised meat. The built-in difficulties also required dealing with the expected noise and mess as well as interference both human and animal. When one turkey survived to see, so to speak, its way to the Thanksgiving table, the success spurred Carpenter to rabbitry and a monthlong plan to eat from her own garden. Consistently drawing on her Idaho ranch roots and determined even in the face of bodily danger, her ambitions led to ownership and care of a brace of pigs straight out of E.B. White. She chronicles the animals’ slaughter with grace and sensitivity, their cooking and consumption with a gastronome’s passion, and elegantly folds in riches like urban farming history. Her way with narrative and details, like the oddly poetic names of chicken and watermelon breeds, gives her memoir an Annie Dillard lyricism, but it’s the juxtaposition of the farming life with inner-city grit that elevates it to the realm of the magical.

— Publishers Weekly

“Rocket Boys," by Homer Hickam

Great memoirs must balance the universal and the particular. Too much of the former makes it overly familiar; too much of the latter makes readers ask what the story has to do with them. In his debut, Hickam, a retired NASA engineer, walks that line beautifully. On one level, it's the story of a teenage boy who learns about dedication, responsibility, thermodynamics and girls. On the other hand, it's about a dying way of life in a coal town where the days are determined by the rhythms of the mine and the company that controls everything and everybody. Hickam's father is Coalwood, W.Va.'s mine superintendent, whose devotion to the mine is matched only by his wife's loathing for it. When Sputnik inspires "Sonny" with an interest in rockets, she sees it not as a hobby but as a way to escape the mines. After an initial, destructive try involving 12 cherry bombs, Sonny and his cronies set up the Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA). From Auk I (top altitude, six feet), through Auk XXXI (top altitude, 31,000 feet), the boys experiment with nozzles, fins and, most of all, fuel, graduating from a basic black powder to "rocket candy" (melted potassium chlorate and sugar) to "Zincoshine" (zinc, sulfur, moonshine). But Coalwood is the real star, here. Teachers, clergy, machinists, town gossips, union, management, everyone become co-conspirators in the BCMA's explosive three-year project. Hickam admits to taking poetic license in combining characters and with the sequence of events, and if there is any flaw, it's that the people and the narrative seem a little too perfect. But no matter how jaded readers have become by the onslaught of memoirs, none will want to miss the fantastic voyage of BCMA, Auk and Coalwood.

— Publishers Weekly


"True Grit," by Charles Portis (fiction)

"Three Men in a Boat," by Jerome K. Jerome (fiction)

"The Ghost Mountain Boys Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—-the Forgotten War of the South Pacific," by James Campbell (nonfiction)

"Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's," by John Elder Robison (nonfiction)