Reader's Guide: 'In the Garden of Beasts,' 'Faith' and more good reads

Susie Stooksbury

“In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson

In 1933, William E. Dodd was named the U.S. ambassador to Germany. A history professor at the University of Chicago, he was actually Roosevelt's fifth choice for the post. Dodd moved his wife and two children, including his 20-something, free-spirited daughter, Martha, to Berlin where they quickly fell under the spell of the Nazi elite. Dodd soon became disenchanted with them, though, and as the propaganda and violence escalated, Martha, too, began to understand what was happening around them. Historian Erik Larson finely portrays the Dodds' eyewitness view of Hitler's chilling rise to power “In the Garden of Beasts.”

“A Drop of the Hard Stuff” by Lawrence Block

Jack Ellery and Matthew Scudder first met as kids in their Bronx public school. The next time Matthew saw Jack was during a police lineup when Jack was brought in as a robbery suspect. Matthew was a cop with the New York Police Department at the time. They ran into each other again some years later in Alcoholics Anonymous –– Matthew, who had become a private investigator, had been shakily sober for a year; Jack was working his way through the 12 steps and ready to ask forgiveness from those he had wronged. As a career criminal, he had quite a long list of names, and it turned out that one of them hated him enough to kill him. Matthew looks back on a case that hit too close to home in Lawrence Block's outstanding “A Drop of the Hard Stuff.”

“The Fabric of the Cosmos” by Brian Greene

What do we understand about the universe today? Why does time go forward? Is it possible to go back in time? Physicist Brian Greene, author of the critically acclaimed book "The Elegant Universe," takes us on another fascinating ride into "space, time and the texture of reality" in “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” As always, Greene is a master at making tough ideas easy to grasp and artfully demonstrating what these concepts mean to us.

“The Snowman” by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is another top-flight Scandinavian author who has been making his mark with his series featuring Norwegian detective Harry Hole. As November closes in on Oslo, the first snow of the year brings a number of puzzling murders. All of the victims are women, and at each house where the victims lived, a snowman mysteriously appeared in the yard the night they were killed. Harry is convinced this is the work of a serial killer; in fact, he believes it is one he pursued unsuccessfully in the past. And as the murders continue, Harry begins to suspect he is being caught up in a deadly game of cat and mouse. “The Snowman” is Nesbo's electrifying latest.

“Faith” by Jennifer Haigh

In 2002, Boston's Catholic archdiocese was rocked by accusations of priests molesting their young parishioners. Award-winning author Jennifer Haigh has centered her fourth novel, “Faith,” in this time and place, imagining the family of a priest and their reactions to the accusations surrounding him. Our narrator is Sheila McGann, who returns to Boston and her estranged family to defend her beloved step-brother, Father Art Breen. But once home, Sheila is faced with a mother in deep denial, her own brother's certainty of Art's guilt and Art, himself, who refuses to say anything in his own defense.

“The Reading Promise” by Alice Ozma

When Alice Ozma was in fourth grade, she faced some profound changes in her family. Her older sister went off to school and her mother simply left. To help get through this difficult time, Alice and her father, Jim, an elementary school librarian, made a pact to read together every night for 100 nights. When they reached that goal, they decided to continue reading together –– every night, no exceptions –– and stopped eight years later when Alice went off to college. A recent graduate of Rowan University, Alice has written a wonderful look back on "my father and the books we shared" in The Reading Promise.