From a recent trip to the bookstore, several off of the staff recommendation shelves (alphabetical by author):
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant - Sacred Hearts is set in a convent in Renaissance Italy where a defiant sixteen-year-old girl has just been confined against her will--for life. Santa Caterina's new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core.
Serafina, a willful, emotional & furious girl, has just been ripped from her proposed marriage and sent by her noble family to Santa Caterina. During her first night inside, such is her violent, incandescent rage that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is sent to her cell to calm her with a draft of herbs. Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal. And while outside the convent walls the forces of the Counter-Reformation push for ever more repressive changes, Serafina's rebellious spirit challenges not only Zuana but many other nuns who have made peace with the isolated life.
A rich, captivating, multifaceted love story, Sacred Hearts is a novel about power, creativity, passion -- both secular and spiritual -- and the indomitable spirit of women in an age when religious, political, and social forces were all stacked against them.
The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes - When young Joseph Banks stepped onto a Tahitian beach in 1769, he hoped to discover Paradise. Inspired by the scientific ferment sweeping through Britain, the botanist had sailed with Captain Cook on his first Endeavour voyage in search of new worlds. Other voyages of discovery—astronomical, chemical, poetical, philosophical—swiftly follow in Richard Holmes’s original evocation of what truly emerges as an Age of Wonder.
Brilliantly conceived as a relay of scientific stories, The Age of Wonder investigates the earliest ideas of deep time and space, and the explorers of “dynamic science,” of an infinite, mysterious Nature waiting to be discovered. Three lives dominate the book: William Herschel and his sister Caroline, whose dedication to the study of the stars forever changed the public conception of the solar system, the Milky Way, and the meaning of the universe; and Humphry Davy, who, with only a grammar school education stunned the scientific community with his near-suicidal gas experiments that led to the invention of the miners’ lamp and established British chemistry as the leading professional science in Europe. This age of exploration extended to great writers and poets as well as scientists, all creators relishing in moments of high exhilaration, boundary-pushing and discovery.
Holmes’s extraordinary evocation of this age of wonder shows how great ideas and experiments—both successes and failures—were born of singular and often lonely dedication, and how religious faith and scientific truth collide. He has written a book breathtaking in its originality, its storytelling energy, and its intellectual significance.
Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry - In this poignant and striking final chapter in the Duane Moore story, which began in 1966 with The Last Picture Show, Pulitzer Prize- and Oscar-winning author Larry McMurtry takes readers on one last unforgettable journey to Thalia, Texas, a town that continues to change at a breakneck pace even as Duane feels himself slowing down.
Returning home to recover from a near-fatal heart attack, Duane discovers that he has a new neighbor: the statuesque K. K. Slater, a quirky billionairess who's come to Thalia to open the Rhino Ranch, dedicated to the preservation of the endangered black rhinoceros. Despite their obvious differences, Duane can't help but find himself charmed by K.K.'s stubborn toughness and lively spirit, and the two embark on a flirtation that rapidly veers toward the sexual -- but the return of Honor Carmichael complicates Duane's romantic intentions considerably. As Duane reflects on all that he and Thalia have been through, he feels adrift in a world where love and betrayal walk hand in hand and a stalwart Texas oil town can become home to a nature preserve.
Rhino Ranch is a fitting end to this iconic saga, an emotional, whimsical and bittersweet tribute to the lives of a man and a town that have inspired readers across decades.
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard - Seventeen years ago, the brutalized body of an unidentified young woman was discovered in the snow during a blizzard in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Deeply disturbed by this senseless death, the town rallied to give her a decent burial in the local cemetery. Since then, strange miracles have visited those who faithfully tend to her grave -- some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, the legend of the ill-fated girl -- the so-called Virgin of Small Plains -- has spread.
But with the reappearance of prodigal son Mitch Newquist, troubling questions arise. Why did Mich abandon his beloved girlfriend, Abby, and flee on the night of the murder? Can Abby unravel a tangled seventeen-year-old skein of lies? And why do the town's leading citizens, including Mitch and Abby's own families, seem determined to keep the truth buried?