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Contemporary Fiction Reviews

Page history last edited by JanieH 15 years ago

Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

The highly-readable second novel by Elizabeth Strout is not quite as successful as Amy and Isabelle, but I loved it nonetheless. Strout captures the atmosphere of a small Maine town perfectly – her descriptions of weather, houses and small-town social life are quite wonderful, as is her understanding of the complex relationship between natives and summer people. The book is somewhat flawed by a plot that becomes melodramatic and a little sentimental at the end, and some of the many plot strands are more successful than others, but I found her wry humor and sense of place irresistible. Reviewed by: J. Adler

A protestant minister in a small town in Maine in 1959 deals with the loss of his wife and the impact this has had on his two small daughters, while trying to remain the steady shepherd to his congreagation he feels he needs to be. This is a wonderful, quiet, beautifully written novel from the author of Amy and Isabelle which really packs a punch at the end. Reviewed by: Reference Librarian Jane Brown



The Accidental by Ali Smith

A mysterious stranger appears in the dysfunctional household of a family on holiday in a drab English village. She affects each member in a different way and radically changes their lives forever. Superb writing gets into the minds of each of the characters who narrate the story. Reviewed by: Reference Librarian Jane Brown

Quirky story from a young girl's point of view. The focus is a mysterious young woman who simply appears and allows everyone to make assumptions. We watch as she manipulates the family: 12 year old narrator, 17 year old brother as well as the mom and her cheating, professor husband. Quite British and well-written, though strange. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


All Is Vanity by Christina Schwartz

Best friends forever Margaret and Letty have been inseparable since childhood. But now Margaret lives in New York and is struggling to write a novel, struggling to make meaning of her life, indeed struggling to get anything done before her husband comes home from work. Letty lives in Los Angeles, in a whirlwind of children, real estate, and the aspirations of her husband, a former academic. Desperate to write something -- anything -- Margaret greedily reads Letty's e-mails of woe. And suddenly, Margaret has a topic: the tribulations of Lexie, Los Angeles mother, wife, and home buyer. Hmmm.... These characters are not particularly likeable, and sometimes are so dense as to be unbelievable. But the snapshots of coastal consumerism were vivid. Reviewed by: K.J.


All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki

Three stories weave together an older couple struggling to maintain their farm, their wild daughter who returns with three children when her parents' health deteriorated, and the eco-hippies who camp out on the farm. Entertaining characters, some more believable than others, make us care about this story as conflicts and events unfold. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler

This book, set in Baltimore, spans the period from the onset of World War II until the beginning of the 21st century. It depicts the loss of innocence of a generation as both the unexpected and the unacceptable happen. The focus is on one couple, Pauline and Michael, who are ill-equipped to deal with the surprises and challenges they face as they raise a family in a changing world. The story is so well written that the reader will burn the midnight oil in an attempt to finish the book. Reviewed by: Carol Prevost


Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

The prequel to the Da Vinci Code, Angel and Demons also stars Robert Langdon, who this time teams with Vittoria Vetra, a physicist to stop the destruction of the Vatican by someone who claims to be from the ancient and long forgotten organisation - Illuminati. Very exciting and compelling. Reviewed by A.M.

This was very interesting to read. The author knows how to keep your attention. I did not enjoy reading about the murders or the details. However, they were necessary for the plot. Reviewed by: Anonymous


August by Judith Rossner

August is the story of a pychoanalyst and one of her patients and the title refers to the month of the year when most analysts, especially in NYC, are on vacation. This fact plays heavily in the story of the patient who comes to dread this time of year. The author was most famous for her novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar which is also about a woman in NYC. The big appeal of this book for me was that it chronicles the lives of women in a big city at a particular moment in time. It's set in the 1970's and details quite thoroughly the lives of these two women, one younger, one older. The author is very good at capturing the finer details of her characters and their lives, everything from what they wear to where they live and go. The book jacket states that the story of the patient reads almost like a thriller and I agree with this assessment. We learn about the patient, Dawn, from her sessions with her analyst Lulu. Her story and why she is there unfolds for the reader through these sessions. Dawn's story alternates with the life of the analyst outside of her work. I felt both stories were compelling and was interested in what happened to the characters.

My only reservation was that I felt the end of the book was somewhat anti-climatic for both accounts. For Dawn, I thought there was going to be a bigger mystery surrounding her life. For Lulu, her relationship with her daughter could have been a book in itself if developed more but was used largely as a plot device. Otherwise, I thought it was a good read for the final days of summer and would recommend it to readers. Reviewed by: Joanne P.


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, translated from the French by Ina Rilke

Two friends in Mao's China undergoing literally tortuous 're-education' find unlikely inspiration in Western literature and a beautiful local girl. Amazing scenes bring this story vividly to life. The ending hits you abruptly- quite unexpected and quite worldly. A good quick read! Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Book of Salt by Monique Truong

The Book of Salt seemed so tedious and pretentious to me that I quit readily halfway through. The situation is interesting - the Gertrude Stein/Alice B. Toklas menage seen through the eyes of their gay Vietnamese cook. However, the author writes in such a confusing way and goes off on so many tangents that the central story gets lost. There are some rather interesting descriptions of food and cookery, however, which may explain the book's presumed popularity. Reviewed by: J. Adler


By The Lake by John McGahern

This beautiful novel takes the reader through a year in the Irish

countryside, combining wonderful descriptions of the land and lake with a

sharp-eyed look at the interactions among its inhabitants. The main

character, Joe Ruttledge, has returned with his wife Kate from a

sophisticated life in London to the rural area where he grew up, much as

McGahern did in actuality. Ruttledge's days follow the cycle of the year -

planting, reaping, lambing, bringing cattle to market, interacting with the

delightful and eccentric characters of the area. He even takes part in

preparing the body of a recently deceased local man for his wake and

funeral, in a chapter that is both moving and startling in its particulars.

There are so many wonderful details to savor in this book that I plan to

re-read it in the future. Reviewed by: Francesca B.


Child of My Heart by Anne La Mott

Coming of age in a wealthy summer community, we follow Theresa and her cousin Daisy. Wonderful characters people this bittersweet story. Her own parents play a very small rolw as she pet-sits and baby-sits and works long hours while observing the cracks in all the lives around her. More than a simple beach book - images will stay with you. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

I’m not quite sure how to classify this novel, written from the viewpoint of a teenage boy Christopher, who has autism .It relates his story of finding a dog that had been murdered one night, being blamed for the crime, and then setting out on a journey to solve the mystery of who did it and why regardless of his father’s vehement objections. The book is written as though Christopher was recording his own story, with the help of a teacher at his school. Christopher has many quirks (such as not eating things which are yellow or brown), which are important to the feeling of the novel, as is the presentation, with chapters that are numbered using only prime numbers. The author presents the material cleverly, contrasting Christopher’s lack of social skills with his genuine emotions and desire to make sense out of his world. A very unique novel, definitely worth reading. Reviewed by: B. Sullivan

I heard about this book some time ago, and another Book Lover's review prompted me to read it at last. I give it the same rating - it's an impressive, sensitive piece of writing. The author has captured the confusing world of Christopher, a young man with autism, who is mathematically brilliant but who has serious social and emotional difficulties. I've worked with young people with autism, and I felt that I was listening to Christopher's authentic voice and experiencing his painful world as I read. I appreciated the way in which the author not only makes his narrator believable, but also shows the courage and resourcefulness the young man possesses. This is a humorous and delightful book, and it is also a window on the challenges faced by those suffering from autism. Reviewed by: Francesca B.


The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Symbologist Robert Langdon becomes entangled in solving the murder of the curator of the Louvre museum. With the help of the dead curator's niece, Sophie Neveu, he uncovers secrets relating to a secret organization, which was suppressed by the church for the nature of its shocking secrets. A quick fun read. Reviewed by A.M.

This was a great book. I did not want to put it down, in part because I wanted to finish it before I saw the movie, and in part because it was so fascinating. After reading it, I had to find out what happened in Italy; as such, I read Angels and Demons. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg

I finally got around to reading The Da Vinci Code and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite characters that are beyind flat and a writing style that is almost comically bad. What carries the book is its fascinating premise; in fact, I found the didactic sections of the book a lot more lively and compelling than the "thriller" plot. I highly recommend the special illustrated edition that I read - it's fun to see the images that the author writes about.


Digging to America by Anne Tyler

This book reads like a script for a Hallmark or After-School special on Iranian immigrants in the U.S. There is no controversy, nothing to offend in this story of two families, one American, one Iranian-American who adopt Korean girls. The Iranians are likeable people who share Iranian food and customs with their American friends; the Americans are likeable, well-meaning oafs. There is a feel-good ending. Reviewed by: Renee F.

If I had not read Ann Tyler's other books, I probably would have given this one 4*s. This was an engaging story of two families who meet in the airport when they meet their adopted Korean daughters. One family is flaky, WASPy, and earnest. The other, far more interesting family are themselves immigrants (from Iran). The parents decide to celebrate the girls' arrival, and meet each year for a two-family celebration. (The theme song of the party is a weird version of "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain.") The book is sort of a parenting version of Same Time Next Year, but of course the families become entwined in ever more complex relationships. Although the girls' arrival catalyzes the story, the book is about the grownups instead. That focus may have been a mistake. Reviewed by: K.J.


Don't Move by Margaret Mazzantini

This highly readable but often preposterous European bestseller relates the story of a passionate affair between a married Italian surgeon and a poor prostitute. It is told (oddly, I have to say) in flashbacks as a confession to the surgeon’s daughter, who is in intensive care after a devastating motor scooter accident. Although the book does illustrate the point that we often love people less for their qualities than for the qualities they bring out in us, it is still sometimes hard to believe in the central love affair of the novel. The book has a nice sense of atmosphere, and the characters are somewhat clichéd yet vivid; they beg to be embodied by actors (in fact, I think a movie has been made of the book already). The prostitute, the most sympathetic character, is called Italia, which made me wonder if the book is meant as a commentary on the contrast between the affluent North and poverty-stricken South of Italy. It so, the author seems to be suggesting that the soul of the country is in the South and cannot be discounted even though it is harsh, sad and ugly, but again, if that is her point I am not sure that she makes it. The book seems to be essentially a beach novel with very high aspirations – slick, fun to read – but not really memorable. Reviewed by: J. Adler


Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This odd but fascinating comic book/novel certainly illustrates Tolstoy’s statement that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I was completely absorbed by the personalities of Alison Bechdel and her parents and the weird combination of museum/funeral parlor that they lived in. Fun Home has strong homosexual themes and is not for the prudish. However, the way the (sometimes X-rates) pictures and the text relate is marvelous. Like talented actors, the expressive drawings make an interesting story really come to life. The book is slight, but it is also a fine commentary on the mystery of familial and sexual identity. Reviewed by: J. Adler


Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer

The protagonist of this story is an ecologist in South Africa who has recently been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After surgery he is given treatment that leaves him radiactive, so that he must be sequestered from others for several weeks. During this period, he re-questions the directions and values in his life. The experience has a transformative effect on all concerned - his wife, child, mother and father, as well as himself. The trouble is that the transformation is not believable, and the connnections, although explained, are not felt by the reader. Whether it is because the period of isolation is so short, or ecayse the author's usual clipped style, which worked so well in My Son's Story and July's People does not provide the connections, this reader cannot tell, but it remains unconvincing that anyone in this book does 'get a life'. Reviewed by: Carol Prevost


Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner

On the last day of a beach vacation, I ran out of books and went desperately to the local bookstore. The woman behind the counter recommended this, saying it was light but well written. I completely agree.

Heroine Canny is making her way in journalism and recovering from a break-up with her slacker ex-boyfriend, when she reads his new column in a national magazine "Loving a Larger Woman..." She is embarrassed and vengeful. But she is not a mousy Bridget Jones type, and so Canny soldiers on. The cast of characters includes a few clunky caricatures (her mother's new butch softball-playing girlfriend, for example), but it was a heart-warming story. Reviewed by: K.J.


The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

This novel starts in post World War II Japan and we watch 32 year old Aldred Leith fall in love with 17 year old Helen Driscoll. Their love story is set against the post-war recovery timeframe. Beautifully written flashbacks and interesting characters make you care about this story, which won a National Book Award. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg

*Read an exerpt


The Hard Way by Lee Child

Wow! Suspense that keeps you reading as the plot twists and turns. Amazing characters, though brutal at times. Great descriptions of small details. This is the latest in the series to feature hero, Jack Reacher, ex-military cop who has no ties. None. He literally disappears at the end of the story, before you even have time to catch your breath. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

This is a story of a woman whose mother left her when she was five years old and she was raised by her father. Because she never knew why her mother left she doubted that she could be a good mother to her child. She has few memories of her mother. She marries a medical student and supports him until he becomes a heart transplant surgeon. When her baby is three months old she leaves as her mother did and does find her mother. There is much more to this story and it is a page turner. There are graphic descriptions of heart transplant surgery and other medical procedures that may bothersome. I found them interesting. Reviewed by: D.C.


The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

This historical novel, in the form of an imagined secret diary kept by Marie Antoinette, looks lightweight but actually creates quite a compelling portrait of the Queen. She emerges as someone who is brave, frivolous, and quick to make enemies as well as friends. The diary concept worked well, because it reminded us of her youth and made her seem sympathetic, since the reader is in effect seeing Marie Antoinette through the Queen's own eyes. The era and story are both fascinating, and I appreciated the fact that the author, in a note at the end of the book, clarifies the specific liberties that she took with the facts.Reviewed by: J. Adler


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Like the Star Wars movies, Allende's trilogy was written out of chronological order. Although the characters and plot of this novel follow Daughter of Fortune (1999) and Portrait in Sepia (2002), House of Spirits was written in 1982. I read them in narrative order, which I would recommend.

This one follows the life of Clara, a girl with special intuitive powers, but of course diverges into the stories of many others. If you like Latin American mysticism, you will feel comfortable in this book. Reviewed by: K.J.



In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner

I didn't see the movie, starring Toni Colette and Cameron Diaz as sisters who share nothing but a shoe size, and the faded memories of their dead mother. Rose (Colette) is the earnest attorney, trying to be responsible but all too often taking care of her wild sister Maggie (Diaz). When Maggie betrays Rose, they part bitterly. Let's just say that, after scenes in Princeton, south Florida, and Philadelphia, and after many an unusual (and sometimes unbelievable) plot twist, there's a happy ending. Reviewed by: K.J.


I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters  by Rabih Alameddine

This unusual novel was recommended to me by a local expert on immigrant literature. It's composed entirely of first chapters, and conveys the sense of disconnction and unreality that the main character, Sarah Nour El-Din, experiences as she moves from her Druze family in Beirut, Lebanon, to the U.S. It's fascinating to see how, through her many first chapters, Sarah reveals her unsettling experiences and different points of view of how her life has evolved. I was startled by the omnipresence of Druze family life and the ways that Sarah both embraces and struggles against her family's hold on her. I was impressed, too, by the manner in which the male author speaks through Sarah in what seemed to me an authentic female voice. Reviewed by: Francesca B.


In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

Despite certain predictability and a sentimental ending, this book (about a beautiful courtesan and her dwarf in Renaissance Venice) is quite enjoyable to read, thanks to a graceful style and a fair amount of interesting historical information. The main character is based on the model for Titan’s Venus of Urbino, wonderfully pictured on the book’s cover. Reviewed by: J.A.


A Journey to the End of the Millennium by A. B. Yehoshua

I found this book – the story of a Sephardic Jewish merchant traveling to northern Europe in the year 999 – quite difficult: had it been longer I probably wouldn’t have finished it. The problem was the style, which seemed ponderous, awkward, and confusing, even though it did manage to convey an antique feel. I kept wondering what the original Hebrew was like and whether the problem may have been the translation. The book did raise interesting questions about Jewish history, customs, and theology, but a lucid style and more in-depth characters would have made the author’s ideas far more accessible. Reviewed by: J.A.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Shows how USA developed to an upright, honest nation notwithstanding occasional aberrations! Reviewed by: A. Das Gupta


The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This novel tells the story of Amir through three stages of his life. As a child living in Afghanistan, he played with his friend/servent Hassan until running kites leads to him witnessing an awful event that causes the destruction of their relationship. He and his father end up moving to America where he establishes a new life, but then Amir is forced to return to his home country to deal with aspects of his past. Engaging, but tragic at times.Reviewed by: A.M."


I know many people who adore this book, the story of two boys (one rich and one poor) in pre-war Afghanistan. A violent act (and the violent response and aftermath) haunts their friendship, and they part. Years later, the events of their childhood play out in incredible coincidences. Although the picture of the land and culture of Afghanistan was interesting and the plot was a page-turner, I don't recommend the book.

I don't know that I have ever read a book that was so nakedly manipulative, so cynical about human emotional response, and so reliant on visceral reactions. The Kite Runner was emotional, all right -- I felt angry and used. A more gentle narrative voice could have produced a moving story that explored the development of the boys and the development of Afghanistan. This book did not."Reviewed by: K.J."


Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Astoundingly well-written novel about the life of a Norwegian woman, mother of seven boys, in medieval times when Norway was deeply religious (Catholic). Reviewed by: J. Harford"


The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCulough

Genteel poverty in rural Australia is portrayed in the story, which starts slow but builds to a satisfying finish. We watch an in-grown town deal with a stranger who offers an opportunity to the central character. A bit old-fashioned and a ghostly figure that seems contrived detract from the story but there are some wonderful characters. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

Chronicles a poor town and its art inhabitants in the early 1800s. Poverty, despair, racism and one difficulty after another are detailed as one character after another is focused on. Though brutal at times, the details create memorable characters. A sad story with some good moments and a satisfying end. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Last Of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez

This novel is the story of a friendship between Ann and Georgette, who meet as first-year roommates at Barnard College in 1968. Ann is rich and white and wants to be neither, while Georgette is very pleased to have escaped her poor background and to be the first in her family to attend college. Through this friendship and the developments in both young women's lives, the author gradually exposes both the idealism and the failure of countercultural America in the sixties and seventies (with some parallels to Patti Hearst's story). Reviewed by: C. Prevost


The Last Six Million Seconds by John Burdett

Set in the transition time when Hong Kong is being 'given back' to China, this thriller features a Chinese-Irish policeman unraveling a mystery of brutal deaths that feature criminal activities of the People's Liberation Army. Of course there are obstacles - someone doesn't want this cast to be solved - surprise! Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Lost Light by Michael Connelly

Very satisfying. Twists and turns of the plot and a very satisfying ending keep you with this story. Evidently this is one of a series featuring the hero. Worth trying another one to follow the adventures of Hieronymus Bosch - Harry Bosch, retired L.A.P.D. detective. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The March by E. L. Doctorow

Doctorow has created a sweeping and compelling portrait of Sherman's infamous March to the Sea through Georgia and the Carolinas in the last year of the Civil War. We see the struggles and devastation of the march through the eyes of dozens of characters, including Sherman, himself, other generals, regular soldiers, a medical officer, deserters, freed slaves and plantation owners. Both the characters and the time come to vivid and unforgettable life in Doctorow's convincing prose. Reviewed by: Sue Roth


Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Set in the Mid-West, we get to know the immigrants Eva and Fidelis and come to care about their lives in this story of their lives. Great images - the immigrant coming to America with a suitcase full of sausages, a complicated relationship between a performer and a local girl who comes home to unravel a mystery. Very satisfying reading. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Although this is a fictional account of a geisha’s life story, it reads much like a biography, as told to a close friend. Filled with details that make you empathize more deeply with the character, one can feel the pain as events of her life unfold. An intriguing look into the secret world of Geishas in Japan…although it should not be considered an authoritative factual account, still an enlightening read for those with very little knowledge of this culture. Hard to put down, definitely one of my favorites so far this summer.

Reviewed by: B. Sullivan

This book takes the reader away to another place and time. This novel provides an interesting look at the lives of women and girls during the 19th century in Japan. It is also an intriguing story of a girl's transformation into a geisha and the many hardships faced along the way. This book shows how much the roles of women have changed since the 19th century. Reviewed by: C.B.


The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

If I had something better to listen to I would have not finished it. I liked her Secret Life Of Bees but this one is a flop. It is about a married woman who falls in love with a man of the cloth at a monastery, the usual story with a few twists. It takes place on an island and I did enjoy hearing about the life at that locale but that was the only redeeming quality. Reviewed by: D.C.

*Read more about Sue Monk Kidd


Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

I really enjoyed Midnight at the Dragon Café, but it’s a rather odd book. On the one hand it’s an often-charming study of immigrant culture as well as a coming-of-age novel, telling the story of a young Chinese girl’s move to Canada and the gradual adjustment (or lack of adjustment) of her family to North American ways. On the other hand it’s a stunning portrait of a shockingly troubled family situation. I guess all in all the book makes the interesting point that strong supportive families can still be deeply troubled, and that children can often be day-by-day happy even when their parents are miserable. My one complaint about the book was a plot twist involving an accident that marred the ending – I had a feeling the novel was autobiographical and that such an accident really had occurred, but somehow the event seemed melodramatic and extraneous within the structure of the novel. Reviewed by: J. Adler


Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire

Another of Gregory Maguire’s novel takes on traditional fairy tales, Mirror Mirror offers another look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Set in Italy during the Renaissance, Lucrezia Borgia steps in as the evil to a girl named Bianca de Nevada’s Snow White. The tale interweaves historical fiction (for example, the House of Borgia was known for cruelty, murder, corruption, and incest in early 16th century Italy) with the classic fairy tale to offer a must-read novel. His notion of the dwarves as slowly morphing from cognizant stone to humanoids, the poisoned apple as being one from the Tree of Knowledge (which Bianca’s father was sent to gather upon the Borgia’s orders at the beginning of the tale), and the mirror itself are all wonderfully thought out. The tale is full of religious undertones and the self-contradictory nature of mankind – definitely worth reading, as are Maguire’s other novels (Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister). A wonderful way to spend a weekend.

Reviewed by: B. Sullivan


More Like Not Running by Paul Shepherd

The above book by Paul Shepherd is a masterpiece, realistic moving - an experience in itself

Reviewed by: T. Pradhan

  • Winner of the 2004 Mary Mc Carthy Prize in Short Fiction.


My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk; translated from the Turkish by Erda Göknar

What a strange and bewitching tale! "My Name Is Red" interweaves the true-to-life chronology of Islamic miniature painting, a love story and a murder mystery - in fact, the first chapter is narrated by a corpse! This novel, by the acclaimed Turkish author of "Snow", plunges the reader into sixteenth-century Istanbul, an ancient jeweled world full of color and intrigue. The book is replete with Persian stories and parables, as well as irresistible descriptions, such as the recounting of the important attributes of a miniaturist or the unimaginable contents of the wonderfully rich Sultan's treasury. Meanwhile, the reader is drawn into the tempestuous relationship of the lovers Black and Shekure, even as the unknown murderer stalks around them. It's no wonder that the New York Times chose this as a Notable Book!

Reviewed by: Francesca B.


My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Anna Fitzgerald has helped her older sister Kate fight leukemia. She has provided platelets, bone marrow, and stem cells. When the parents asked her to donate a kidney she protested and hired a lawyer. Anna loves her sister very much. She hasn’t friends because she couldn’t go to camp or be away in case she was needed. She was known as the “sick kids sister”. Anna was especially conceived to be a perfect donor for her sister. The illness of the sister affects the whole family. There is a brother who gets into a lot of trouble, trying to get someone to pay attention to him. From the book cover: "Picoult has a masterful understanding of the complex bonds that hold contemporary families together.” It has a surprise ending which I find typical of Picoult books. I rate this book highly and would recommend.

Reviewed by: D. C.


The Namesake  by Jhumpa Lahiri

Ashima Ganguli, one of the main characters in "The Namesake", thinks of the status of a foreigner as "a sort of lifeling pregnancy - a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts". Sadly, Ashima's life in America, which follows a comfortable upbringing in India, seems to be one of estrangement and to have none of the joyous rewards of pregnancy. As her children, Gogol and Sonia, become Americanized, Ashima longs for her childhood home. The book shifts from her perspective to that of her son, Gogol, the namesake of the title, and the reader follows his life into manhood. There is a poignancy about this book and a sense of grief that finds powerful expression especially in a haunting scene of death and its aftermath. Reviewed by: Francesca B.


The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos

I felt that the blurbs on the book jacket of The Night Gardener somewhat exaggerated the virtues of this book. The scene was compelling, the major characters were quite interesting, and the language and particularly the dialogue were vivid (although I felt the author depended a bit too heavily on street directions to give a physical feel for the Washington D.C. area). However, I felt a little let down by the plot (maybe I didn't completely understand it, as an important question seemed to be raised and not answered in the end) and confused by some of the minor characters, who didn't seem well-differentiated to me. However, I do think it could make a superb movie, along the lines of Mystic River - I found myself casting it as I read. A skillful director could highlight the deeper messages of the book and expand on the author's interest in the specifics of time and place. Reviewed by: J. Adler



The Night Watch  by Sarah Waters

Imagine a combination of a very liverly Masterpiece Theatre production and "The L Word"! This extraordinarily readable book describes a number of love affairs, including several lesbiban ones, in London during the Blitz. The characters are fascinating and their inner lives are beautifully delineated. The story, divided into 3 sections, is told backward, starting in 1947, and ending in 1941. Occasionally, I found this format, laden as it was with hints of what had happened before, slightly irritating, but in general, it worked very well and was in the end quite moving. Reviewed by: J. Adler


No Country for Old Men by Cormac Mc Carthy

Gripping thriller! Good summer read. Millions found in desert and the hero becomes the target as the old man of the title reflects on the stark realities of modern crime. Amazing characters and many plot twits and turns but very brutal details. This will make one great movie. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg

*Read more about Cormac McCarthy


No Ordinary Matters by Jenny Mc Phee

The story of two sisters (bound together by family tragedy, dysfunctional parents, a shared lover, and a lot of unhealthy emotional entanglement) who learn about themselves and each other, and forge a new relationship. Blech.

On the other hand, Mc Phee's comedic timing and boundless appetite for remarkable coincidences turn this otherwise-drecky story into an amusing and fanciful romp. (The fact that one of the sisters is a soap opera writer only makes the intricate plotting more enjoyable.) This reminded me of the movie Soapdish -- lots of drama, lots of secrets, and of course the inevitable and delightful moment when it all explodes.Reviewed by: K.J.


Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

"Offshore" won the Booker Prize in 1979. It's the tale, both amusing and sad, of houseboat dwellers on the Battersea Reach of the Thames River in London. The characters themselves give the book its special flavor - they are a delightful and poignant lot, expecially the females of houseboat Grace - Nenna and her daughters Martha and Tilda. "Offshore" is a small book and a good introduction to the highly-regarded novels of Penelope Fitzgerald. Her humor is offbeat and sometimes disturbing, not to everyone's taste, but the clarity of her characterizations lingers after the story ends. Review by Francesca B.


One Shot by Lee Child

One in the series of Jack Reacher, retired military cop, series. This is a loner who's a drifter with no address and no possessions. But quite a history. And a conscience. This story focuses on unraveling an incident with a sniper that has been staged. Interesting charaters but quite violent. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Oryx and Crake  by Margaret Atwood

Whew - a vision of hell to come. Well-written, creepy story set in the future - and it's very bleak. Margaret Atwood tells how the world has changed due to man's need to control. We watch Jimmy grow up in a sterile environment and his relationship with Crake and Oryx and the child-like Crakers. Food for thought. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg.


The Painted Drum  by Louise Erdrich

Interwoven stories of a mother/daughter relationship, American Indian love, and lost children. Glipses of Ojibwa life are portrayed as the story behind the drum unfolds. Meanwhile the modern mother/daughter story continues to develop. Well-written, compelling story. A good summer read. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Pearl Diver  by Jeff Talarigo

Beautifully done story about a Japanese leper who starts her career as a pearl diver but is then confined to an island leper colony . A painful story of coping. This story is set in the 40s and we watch the heroine's life progress in tiny steps as the disease takes its toll on some, while medication is able to help others. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


A Personal History of Thirst by John Burdett

A three way/triangle love affair is at the heart of this thriller that has some funny moments. While solving the central murder, we go back and forth in time as well as across the socio-economic lines which are more rigid in Britain. Lots of shifts to keep the reader hooked 'til the end. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg

*Read more about John Burdett


Portrait in Sepia  by Isabel Allende

This page-turner, which focuses on the descendants of the characters in Allende's Daughter of Fortune, tells the story of Aurora del Valle, born in San Francisco and raised in Chile. The subject of the book is Aurora's search for self-awareness -- she wants to be sure of her family and her talents, and pursues answers in a strikingly anachronistic way. (Were there many single women crossing cultural and class boundaries in 19th century Chile? I wouldn't think so.) That said, Aurora is a relatively flat character -- but the clearly drawn supporting characters and the atmosphere of intensity drive this story along. I read it in two days, which is a testament to the plotting, not to the depth of the story. Reviewed by: K.J.


Prep by Curtis Sittenfield

This wonderful book is one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of adolescence and social class in America. It lingered in my mind long after I was through reading it. The relationship between Lee, the main character, and the unattainable Cross was totally convincing, almost painfully real. My only criticism was that there were a few awkward moments and loose ends in the plot, not surprising in a first novel. Sometimes it seemed more like a collection of short stories than a novel, but it definitely pulled together in the end. I recommend this book highly. Reviewed by: J. Adler

Read more about Curtis Sittenfeld


Rattled by Debra Gallant

This satire of life in the mcmansioned Jersey suburbs was well reviewed, but I found it disappointing. Heather Peters, her husband, and son move to a huge new house in an exclusive development on former farmland. Heather is a social-climbing oblivious wreck, who can't seem to wriggle her way into the upper echelons of the PTO. Things get worse when, preparing for a tea party, she spots a rattlesnake and freaks out. The snake is killed, but turns out to be an endangered animal, radio-tagged by a local environmentalist. Things don't get any better after Heather is exposed as a snake killer. Reviewed by: K.J.


Red Square by Martin Cruz Smith

Renko, the hero, is a recurring character in Martin Cruy Smith’s well-written suspenseful stories. Lots of details, lots of action and quirky characters to pull you into the story as Renko tries to find out what’s really happening. The story behind the story - the Russian Mafia, an old lover, cynicism and romance – all play a part to hold your attention. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


The Ruins by Scott Smith

I found The Ruins to be a very satisfactory horror-suspense novel – it was well-written and certainly kept me absorbed until the very end. I felt the suspense side was probably more successful than the horror – it’s not the sort of story that would keep you awake at night. In fact, it might have been just as successful without a supernatural element at all. What made it compelling was the psychology of the characters, and how they responded under stress (if only The Blair Witch Project had been as well thought-out!) – also the curious and cumulatively sinister emphasis on the inability of characters to communicate. I also liked the Mexican setting a lot. Now I’m eager to read A Simple Plan, Smith’s previous novel. Reviewed by: J. Adler


The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Very moving story of a woman from a small country town in Colorado in the early 20th century. We watch Thea Kronborg develop as an artist who makes choices, studies in Germany, and sings for the Metropolitan Opera. She’s often torn between nurturing her talent and more ordinary paths. Evidently the story is autobiographical – in part based on Willa Cather’s life. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

These two extraordinary novels, about France during the Nazi invasion and occupation, were written just prior to the author's banishment to the death camps; the manuscripts were discovered years later by the author's daughter and recently published under the title "Suite Francaise". In effect they are rough drafts, but they read as completely satisfying novels. The style is lush and sensitive, with the beauty of nature often making an ironic comment on the horrors of war. Despite the author's background, the focus is on the behavior of the French, not on the tragedy of the Jews - in fact the Jews are rarely mentioned, making the author's fate seem even more ominous and disturbing. I found the second novel, "Dolce", about village life during the occupation, particularly absorbing, probably because I had never really given thought to the actuality of living on a day-to-day basis with one's enemy. Reviewed by: J. Adler


This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For the author's first book, it would be considered a good read. There are sections of the book that are still applicable for today's youth. However, I was hopeful that the lead character would make something of himself and he would develop into a responsible adult. The closest to becoming mature was that he felt he knew himself. Reviewed by: Anonymous


Three-Day Road by Joseph Boyden

This riveting book intertwines two different stories: The plight of the Oji-Cree Indians in Canada in the beginning of the 20th century and the trenches of World War I and the use of Indian soldiers as snipers and sharpshooters. Based on the true story of Ojibwa war hero Francis Pegahmagabow, it is a best seller in Canada and is short listed for the Canadian First Novel Award.

Reviewed by: Reference Librarian Jane Brown


Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

Incredibly depressing - stark imagery and a story that goes from bad to worse. Violence, sex and poverty in the rural South, sharecroppers trapped by the Depression. There are some funny scenes but nothing seems to go right and the problems keep developing and leading up to the final tragedy. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


*Read more about Harper Lee


Tripwire by Lee Child

Whew! One taut thriller with amazing characters. Some recur in a series but that only adds to the enjoyment.

This books sucks you in - it's hard to put down - you definitely want to know what happens next. Brutal at times, with a very bad 'bad guy' and, of course, the stock beautiful woman. Good airplane book. Reviewed by: L. Sandburg


Venetian Holiday by David Campbell

For the author's first book, it would be considered a good read. The book kept me interested in Kate. I wanted to know what happened to her. I did not like the unnecessary murders or the way the police were portrayed as incompetent. It would have been better to have them one step behind her or at least capable of capturing/killing one of the other two thieves. Reviewed by: Anonymous


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Jacob Jankowski, a 90 something year old man in a nursing home recounts his days working in a circus. He was taking his final exams at Cornell Veterinary School when he was told that his parents were killed in a car accident. He walked out and found out that he was penniless. His parents had mortgaged everything to send him to college. He hopped a train to get out of there and it turned out to be a circus train---a third rate circus. He has memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain, and anger and passion: a world with its own irrational rules, its own way of life and death. To Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell. This took place during the early part of the great depression.. The chapters of this novel go back and forth from Jacob in the nursing home and his memoirs. His insight into both stages is------insightful. One can feel how it is to be of that age and in a nursing home. The author was attracted to a book of pictures of a photographer who followed circuses and took pictures. She visited the circus winter home in WI and the museum in Sarasaota,FL. She said she took some of the stories most outrageous details from facts or antidote. In the circus history the line between the two is famously blurred. This is a book that I couldn’t put down until I had finished it. This is unusual for me nowadays. I highly recommend it. It is among the best I have ever read.

Reviewed by: D. C.


Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Quirky re-telling of classic Wizard of Oz from the 'Wicked' Witch of the West's point of view. Imaginative bio gives lots of clever details about Oz - all you ever wanted to know - plus more. Very enjoyable reading though quite cynical at times. This childhood tale has grown up!

Reviewed by: L. Sandburg

*Read more about Gregory Maguire


A Woman in Jerusalem by A.B. Yehoshua

It was a pleasure to read this lovely, funny, thought-provoking novel. The woman of the title, Yulia Ragayev, has immigrated to Jerusalem with family members and stayed after the others returned to their homeland. She had worked at a bakery in Jerusalem before becoming a victim of a suicide bombing. A local newspaper accuses the bakery owner of "inhuman neglect" because her body has not been claimed by anyone. The owner appoints his human resources manager to handle this delicate situation, and the human resources manager becomes embroiled in a poignant, comic quest to locate family members in the country of the woman's birth and make sure that she has a decent burial. The manager's mission takes him on a quixotic journey; its conclusion is unexpected yet satisfying. I highly recommend this novel. Reviewed by: Francesca B.

*Read more about A.B. Yehoshua

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