Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday Books 25.95)

This is an instructive, heartbreaking, beautifully written novel that opens our eyes to a part of the world we see mentioned often in the headlines but understand so little about. Chris Bohjalian does for Syria what Khaled Hosseini did for Afghanistan in The Kite Runner, he tells a very personal story against the complicated historical backdrop where war touches everything. – Heidi

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker (Other Press 14.95)

A best-seller in Germany, now beautifully translated into English for the first time. This is a mystical tale of an unlikely love affair that transcends time and distance. Set in Burma (now Myanmar) a daughter goes in search of her missing father and discovers a hidden life of love, loyalty, and sorrow. I was mesmerized by the ways in which suffering led to new levels of adaptation and intimacy. – Heidi

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Sunset Park by Paul Auster (Macmillan $15)

Set first in Florida, then New York this moving story of a young man’s search for belonging and redemption has not a false note in it. Auster has a way of drawing you in seemingly without effort from page one. – David


The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah (Graywolf Press $14)

For fans of Jhumpa Lahiri, and Arundhati Roy, the writing and story are beautifully profound and poetic. An old man’s remembrance of the heartbreaking and life changing events of his early childhood on the remote island of Mauritius. – Heidi


Penguin Publishers: New "Threads Series" (Penguin $16)

Does someone in your life love to embroider? No? Me neither. Fortunately, even the most craft-averse friends and family on your holiday shopping list are bound to fall for the new Penguin Threads series. Designed by imaginative illustrator Jillian Tamaki, these whimsical covers are first sketched, then hand stitched with a needle and thread, and finally sculpt embossed to create a beautifully textured look and feel. Currently, available titles include The Secret Garden, Black Beauty, and, Emma, (my personal favorite and a must for any Austen fan on your list). These lovely special editions are sure to be cherished by craft and literature lovers alike. – Sarah


The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (Random House $15)

This stylish, clever, novel centers around a fledgling small English language newspaper in Rome starting in the nineteen sixties and moving through several decades, owners, and incarnations. Each character is vividly wrought, with his or her own rich story. Rachman entwines them all masterfully to make a cast of neurotic, flawed, quirky and fascinating characters. It’s a nod to a time gone by; almost a period piece. – David


Children and Fire by Ursula Hegi (Scribner $25)

Set in the same German city and including some of the same characters as Stones from the River, it isn’t necessary to have read Hegi’s earlier work to appreciate the compassion and wisdom portrayed in this novel. Hegi again paints a vivid picture of everyday German citizens and a personal emotional response to a society on the brink of war – Heidi


Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith (University of Wisconsin Press $26.95)

I loved this escapist, fun irreverent romp of a read. He actually wrote a gay time travel novel that didn’t make me roll my eyes. What if you could go back and not only change your past, but the fate of the country as well? This isn’t a new idea, but Smith tells his own hilarious, and surprisingly moving story in a wonderfully entertaining way. Not for you if you are Bush/Cheney fans. – David


The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (Penguin $26.95)

As in Anna Quindlen’s Every Last One or Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, the interior life of a family in crisis is dismantled and put back together in a moving and artful way. – Heidi


The Confessions of Edward Day by Valerie Martin (Orion Books $15.94)

A suspenseful tale of rivalry between two young actors in New York in the seventies. At times funny and dark in it’s portrayal of the theatre and the actor’s psyche.
– David


All Our Wordly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky (Random House $14.95)

Published originally in France in 1947, this is Nemirovsky writing powerfully about the human experience in the context of the world events spanning the early to mid twentieth century… the personal stories of her characters are set profoundly against the backdrop of public events. – Heidi


The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon (Pantheon $25.95)

Two lovers reunite in Rome after 30 years apart. This is a novel about how we change and how we don’t. It’s also love letter to Rome. – David


Consequences by Penelope Lively (Penguin $15)

Although I literally have stacks of new and forthcoming books to read, I was drawn recently to the 2007 publication, Consequences, by British author Penelope Lively. The novel spans three generations of women beginning in London in 1935. Lively explores questions of social strata, individuality, and belonging, told against the backdrop of the major world events of the Twentieth century. Her comments on art and life are insightful and genuine. There is a certain grace and elegance to her writing, infused with a strain of melancholy.

One of the protagonists comments, looking back on her life choices:

Years after, she would think that you do not so much make decisions, as stumble in a certain direction because something tells you that that is the way you must go. You are impelled, by some confusion of instinct, will, and blind faith. Reason does not much come into it. If reason ruled, you would not leave home in the morning, lest you stepped under a bus; you would not try, for fear of failure; you would not love, in case it hurt.

And later, the same character reflects on her role as an art administrator:

There is much abuse of the term art...but never mind, the real thing is also around.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and also recommend Penelope Lively's Booker Prize winning novel, Moon Tiger. Heidi

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The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt (Picador $14)

This is a little gem from Picador in a paperback original. Protagonist Mia Fredrickson is taking a "pause" from marriage for a summer but not by her own volition. While her husband explores an infatuation with another woman, she explores a myriad of life's questions--- love, aging, loss, and everything in between. Siri Hustvedt's humor and intelligence shine through Mia as she spends her summer reconnecting with her mother, teaching poetry to a small group of adolescent girls, and offering friendship to other women. In this passage, one of my favorites from the book, she reflects a deep sense of what reading means to her:

A book is a collaboration between the one who reads and what is read and, at its best, that coming together is a love story like any other.

What every true reader and author understands. – Heidi

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A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka (Mariner Books, $13.95)
This wry and touching Pen Hemingway award winning novel weaves the saga of two generations of Polish women, told alternately through the stories of a grandmother and granddaughter caught between the history of World War II and the reemergence of contemporary Poland. Calls to mind Louis de Bernieres’ Corelli’s Mandolin or Sandra Cisneros’ Carmelo with its humor and pathos. A staff favorite! For lots of great information about Brigid and her book go to her website – Heidi

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Selfish & Perverse by Bob Smith (Carrroll & Graf Publishers, $26)
I have been a long time fan of Bob Smith's comedy (he was the first openly gay comedian to appear on the Tonight Show), and I enjoyed both his memoirs, "Openly Bob", and "Way to go Smith". His humor, like that of my favorite comedians, seems effortless. By that I mean genuinely funny people don't try to be "funny", they just take note of life's situations, contradictions, ironies, absurdities, and even normalcies and simply point them out. In "Selfish and Perverse", Smith easily transfers these skills to the novel format, creating a cast of truly funny, believable, likeable , yet flawed characters. He tells a very touching, hilarious, and often times erotic gay love story set back and forth between Los Angeles and Alaska. Protagonist Nelson Kunker is an aspiring writer who is working as a script supervisor for a LA based late night comedy show when he is introduced to Roy, an attractive archeology student/salmon fisherman visiting from Alaska. Their budding romance is complicated by the arrival of Dylan Fabizak, a bad-boy, sexy, and uberfamous film star. Although it isn't immediately clear what his intentions are, Dylan soon vies for both Nelson and Roy's attentions and joins the two in Alaska for research on his upcoming movie. It is there that the comic plot thickens. Smith clearly loves Alaska, and he cleverly expresses this affection by using the landscape, local traditions and history as a backdrop for the romp of a story he tells. While there are are several colorful, quirky and unabashedly politically incorrect supporting characters, Smith avoids the obvious traps of stereotyping. I was relieved when Nelson, for example, who is perhaps the less rugged of the two lovers, nevertheless holds his own and actually succeeds in fitting into the manly world of salmon fishing and wilderness life. Definitely not for the prudish, this is simply a fun read you'll probably finish before you want the story to end.   David
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Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher (Norton, $23.95)
A book like this is the reason why I read, and I can’t wait to put it in the hands of every other thoughtful reader I know. Susan Fletcher, who wrote and won a Whitbread award for her first novel Eve Green, has written a mesmerizing second novel. There is so much beauty and grace in her prose that it strikes the reader as poetic, though the tension of its plot and depth of its characters remain strong and engaging throughout. Set in southwest Wales and along the east coast of England, an older sister sits at the bedside of her sixteen-year-old sister who lies in a coma as a result of a terrible accident. She spends the hours recounting her story and ultimately their shared story as it culminates in their fateful situation. Fletcher allows the reader into the deep interior life of Moira, a protaganist so flawed and real and yet so beautiful and alive to everything. Her dark anger, jealousy and lonliness, but also her love, intelligence, and sympathy. All judgements fall away in appreciation of being allowed to experience her so intimately. One of the finest books I have read in recent memory. – Heidi
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Being Dead by Jim Crace (Picador, 12.00)
Jim Crace's Being Dead begins as a challenge to the queazy. We meet the main characters (a married couple in their fifties) shortly after they have been brutally murdered on a beach and left to the heat, insects, and time before being discovered. All we know about them at first is that they were scientists, so it is fitting that Crace's telling begins as unsentimental, detailed, graphic and purely scientific. But pure poetry follows as a lyric love story evolves, revealing the couple's history. The writing is astonishing and the images unforgettable. This book will be the topic of our November Book Club so please join us if you would like to discuss it.  David

Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler (Scribner, $14.00)
Birds in Fall is a beautifully written, thoughtful novel that brings together characters from different cultures and stations in life as they share in a common loss. One fall night an airplane crashes into the sea off of the coast of a remote island in Nova Scotia. In the aftermath of the accident, families of the missing passengers congregate at a small inn as they wait for information about their loved ones, eventually finding solace in each others company. At the heart of the story is ornithologist Ana Gathreax whose husband has been lost to the tragedy. Through her voice the reader enjoys an insight into the sometimes mythical aspects of bird migration as well as the larger natural world. Through other characters music, myth and literature all comes together in an enchanting, ultimately redemptive manner. This is one of my favorites of the year. – Heidi

Book of Illusions by Paul Auster (Picador, 14.00)
Paul Auster's latest novel is a beautifully woven, engaging story of David Zimmer, a man attempting to reclaim his life after the tragic loss of his wife and two young sons. After months of grief and suicidal depression he stumbles upon a film clip of an all but forgotten silent film genius named Hector Mann, who had mysteriously disappeared from public life in 1929. Zimmer is startled to find himself laughing at the film, a significant turning point for him, an indication that if he is still capable of laughter then there is some part of himself that wants to go on living. From this incident, Zimmer redirects his grief towards pursuing the mysterious figure of Hector Mann, trying to uncover the truth behind his comic genius as well as his disappearance. Zimmer's search culminates in a full length biography of Hector Mann, the only of its kind. Auster creates a wonderful twist in the story when Zimmer receives a letter supposedly written by the wife of Hector Mann, claiming that Hector is still alive, has read the biography, and wants to meet Zimmer so he can set his story straight. When a young woman shows up at Zimmer's doorstep to take him to Mann, Zimmer is led through a maze of truth, illusion, and healing that only an author with the precision of Auster could create. Fans of Auster will recognize his layered storytelling technique and the slightly esoteric vein that often runs through his books and films. For those not acquainted with Auster's work, this provides a wonderful introduction. —Heidi
City of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron (Penguin, $14.00)
I loved Peter Cameron's The Weekend, and was thrilled to find this quite different, later novel of his. A young doctoral student is trying to get authorization from an obscure but important literary figure's estate to write a biography. He must travel to Uruguay to do this, and it is there that the real story and the comedy of manners unfolds. Wonderful dialogue reminiscent of Ocar Wilde, and great characters make this an engaging read.—David

The Dearly Departed by Elinor Lipman (Random House, 13.00)
I've just made that most wonderful of discoveries, an author who I liked so well that I sat and read every book she wrote and enjoyed each one as much as the last. In her latest, Dearly Departed, Lipman's protagonist Sunny returns home to attend her mother's funeral, seeing her home town in a new light, and discovering that she may have a half-brother. Funny, heart-warming, and loaded with irony.

Other great books by Elinor Lipman:

Inn at Lake Devine A favorite of Town House book clubs, the Inn at Lake Devine is a lighthearted satire centered around a Gentile and Jewish family in the 1960's.

Then She Found Me A flamboyant talk show host tracks down her biological daughter, a quiet Latin teacher. There are serious and comedic twists and turns making this a delightful read.

Ladies Man Funny, insightful, sophisticated good-natured look at a cad who returns to the "scene of the crime" 20 years after "missing" his own engagement party.

Isabels Bed A jilted, would-be writer agrees to ghost write a buxom blonde bombshells’ version of her tabloid life. The unlikely partnership yields a unique friendship and good-to-the-last-page read!

Disobedience by Jane Hamilton (Random House, 13.00)
A New York Times Notable Book
Jane Hamilton brings an insightful, sometimes humorous, and ultimately empathetic story of a family at a crossroads in their relationships to one another. Seventeen-year-old Henry Shaw has just discovered that his mom is involved in a passionate e-mail love affair, while his amiable father seems not to notice. The added dimension of a quirky younger sister who is a Civil War reenactment nut brings humor and tenderness to the family scene. Through the experience Henry has the opportunity to learn something about his mother, himself, and the nature of love and family. A great read. —David
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15)
In his latest novel, Richard Powers brings together the elements of a near-fatal truck accident in remote Nebraska, a failing sibling relationship, and a world renown neurologist to explore the mysterious realms of the human brain. In previous novels Powers has broached subjects of commerce, race, artificial intelligence, music, and other ideas that contribute to making our culture interesting, wonderful, terrible, human. It is his willingness to think intellectually and imaginatively about such various issues as well as his deeply conveyed empathy and beautiful writing that make him truly unique. Echo Maker explores the crux of identity and self as 27-year old Mark Schluter, after suffering a head injury, becomes the victim of a rare brain disorder. The disorder leaves him alienated and delusional, believing that the people closest to him are doubles or imposters. His care-taking sister, Karin, and the cognitive neurologist, Gerald Weber, join forces to try to help bring him back to recognition of his own life, discovering deep aspects to their own lives in the process. – Heidi
Eve Green by Susan Fletcher (Norton, $13.95)
Winner of the Whitbread Award for First Novel
Set in the Welsh countryside, this is a beautifully written novel that tells the story of a young girl sent to live with her grandparents after the tragic loss of her mother. As the years pass the questions she has harbored about her father and mother are slowly revealed as she finds her way into the love and healing of her family and community. – Heidi
The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter (Random House, 13.00)
One of the most satisfying reads I can remember. A handful of characters including a coffee shop manager, two of his young employees, and a philosophy professor all provide fascinating takes on love andS its mysteries. Told in vignettes ranging from funny and sexy to poignant and deep, Baxter sums up all the disparate parts into a memorable and mesmerizing whole, the effect of which lasts well after the book ends.  —David
Final Confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough (Atlantic Monthly Press, $13.00)
If you want a wonderful and unusual book for this summer I'd like to introduce you to Mabel Stark: circus performer, tiger trainer, and one of the most courageous, funny, and tragic heroines I've read of in a long time. Enhanced by research into the life of the real Mabel Stark who lived in the early 1900s, this novel grabs hold of you and doesn't let you go even after you've read the last line. —Heidi
Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew (Penguin Putnam, 13.00)
I admit that I did my share of drifting off during history class in school, but one of the great joys of my adult reading life has been to revisit historical events withing the context of human stories. Fire in Beulah provides just such an experience. The setting of this powerful novel is the early 1900's amidst the Oklahoma oil rush. Fortunes were made overnight, but the makeshift towns were fraught with violence, racial tension ,and lynch mobs. Against this backdrop, the story of two women unfolds – Althea Whiteside and her black maid Graceful. Each hiding their own secrets, the story culminates in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. A friend of mine described this as a noble book, and I can't think of a better adjective.  —Heidi
Grief by Andrew Holleran (Hyperion, $12.00)
Andrew Holleran's Grief is a short but powerful book. Its power doesn't come from a complex plot with lots of characters, but from its spare, honest prose. After the death of his mother, a lonely professor comes to live in Washington DC to process his grief and find a new life. There he explores the city, its monuments, history and contemplates both his own and America's notions of truth and loss. In the town house where he is staying he discovers a copy of Mary Todd Lincoln's journals. Through his reading of them we get to piece together the events of Lincoln's assassination and reflect on the way Mary Todd lived her life and saw herself after her husband's death. Most interesting are questions concerning how the death of loved ones affect those who remain living, why people who are ill hold on and what determines when they let go, and why. While this may sound like depressing stuff, it truly isn't. I read the book in one sitting and have returned to passages several times. Amidst the somber reflections, there is a lack of pessimism and a lot of hope. This is a book I will always remember.
– David
The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning (St.Martin’s Press, $24.95)
Hatboxes filled with her grandparents’ letters reveal an interesting past that help fifty-two year old Kate Harding cope with the recent loss of her husband. The Hatbox Letters is a wonderful story especially recommended to anyone dealing with loss. – Anne
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13)
Over the years people have asked Marilou “what is your favorite book?” If she has to narrow her choice to only one book, that book is Housekeeping. Published in 1980 and still in print, the story is about the free spirit of a young girl and her unusual aunt. We are also looking forward to Marilynne’s new novel called Gilead which is being published in November this year.
How She Knows What She Knows about Yo -Yos by Mary Ann Taylor Hall (Sarabande Books, $13.95)
No author has meant more to us than Mary Ann Taylor Hall. She first visited us with her novel (now sadly out of print). She returned in the summer of 2000 with this wonderful collection of short stories. She read from title story to the delight of a full house, and the evening was topped off with a poem by her husband, Kentucky's Poet Laureate, James Baker Hall. Jim and Mary Ann's generosity, talent and dedication embody what makes us proud to be independent booksellers.
The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander (Penguin, $14)
The Kitchen Boy, a novel of the last Tsar, tells the story of the last days of Nicholas and his family, told through the eyes of a young kitchen boy. The family, after having been mysteriously spared by the Bolsheviks during the bloody Russian revolution, is held prisoner in a house in Siberia. There they await their fate with hope of rescue and fear of banishment or death. Alexander, a beautiful writer and scholar of Russian history, imaginatively dramatizes this fascinating family’s (unbeknownst to them) wait of execution while filling the story with rich historical detail. The result is a deftly told mystery, rich with sympathetic characters and exciting drama. Add missing jewels, secret letters being passed back and forth, mistaken identity and other unexpected twists, and you have a great historical mystery. I also recommend Alexander’s Rasputin’s Daughter which similarly explores the last days of Rasputin.
– David
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Books, $14)
An outstanding new novel, set in Afghanistan and the United States, it tells the story of two boys who grow up as brothers but whose bond is tested by personal tragedy and political upheaval.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (Knopf, $14.95)
The Lay of the Land, an October 2006 publication by Richard Ford, continues Frank Bascombe’s life story begun in the Sportswriter and then continued in Independence Day which won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction. The older, wiser and more introspective Frank enters what Ford calls the Permanent Period. He is still a realtor and still seeking insight into his past and present life. I admire Richard Ford. His writing style is unique, smooth and lyrical, and his characters are sharply drawn. He is an author not to be missed. – Marilou
Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin, $14.00)
Jhumpa Lahiri packs more into the first 65 pages of her novel Namesake than many authors cas accomplish in an entire book. I was drawn from the very first sentence into the story of an East Indian couple living in New York, the dramatic circumstances that led them away from India, and the subsequent joys and trials of raising a family caught between two cultures. Lahiri mesmerizes with a deceptively straightforward yet beautiful writing style that won her a Pulitzer Prize for her short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies. This is a nicely crafted and deeply satisfying novel. —Heidi
Nature of Water and Air by Regina McBride (Simon & Schuster, 13.00)
I was transported to the wild coasts of western Ireland in the days of Tinkers and amidst the mysterious stories of Selkies. This beautiful first novel by poet Regina McBride tells the story of a young Irish girl who is struggling to find her life and the mystical yet fully human history of her family. If you liked The Secret of Roan Inish don't miss this!  —Heidi
Never Change by Elizabeth Berg (Simon & Schuster, 13.00)
Best-selling author Elizabeth Berg's latest book provides a brave, bold-faced look into the very heart of our feelings about life and death. Protagonist Myra Lipinsky is a single, middle-aged nurse who finds herself faced with caring for a former highschool "golden-boy" classmate as he begins the lonley journey of terminal illness. The book touches on broader emotional issues associated with how we choose to live our lives, and perhaps how we may choose to end them. An outstanding book... her best yet.—Heidi
Pilgrim by Timothy Findley (Harper, 14.00)
Pilgrim is the man who cannot die. He is being treated in a famous Swiss clinic by Carl Jung. Through his memories & his journals his 4000 year history unfolds. Canadian novelist Timothy Findley gives us a believable story filled with literature, art, history and politics. A rousing good story.   —Marilou
A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George (Bantam, $7.99)
Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, is the setting for the Elizabeth George novel/mystery A Place of Hiding. Forensic scientist Simon St. James and his wife Deborah become involved in solving the murder of the island’s benefactor after Deborah’s friend China is arrested as a suspect. Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis in WWII and many of the inhabitants harbor secrets. Solving the mystery is a study in relationships as well as science. George keeps the plot fast-paced, and even though this isn’t one of her popular Inspector Linley mysteries, it was every bit as engaging as her other novels. If you love mystery be sure to try Elilzabeth George... she has many titles available in paperback as well as a new hard cover on sale October 1st entitled What Came Before He Shot Her (Harper, 26.95). Don’t miss it!

– Anne


The Promise of Happiness Justin Cartwright
(St. Martin’s Press, $23.95)
This beautifully written novel by Whitbread Award winning author Justin Cartwright is a one of the most satisfying novels I have read recently. It appeals to the reader on so many levels – there is the intriguing topic of Tiffany art glass and related art history, there is intellectual inquiry by a sympathetic protagonist who has been imprisoned for two years for the alleged theft of a piece of art and is now free to try to reconnect with her family and friends, there are the voices of her sister, brother, mother and father all in turn who reveal the complexities of family life, and ultimately there is the celebration in what it means to be human in an imperfect world. I recommend it highly.
– Heidi


Pursuit of Alice Thrift by Elinor Lipman (Random House, $12.95)
Elinor Lipman's gift for creating funny, endearing characters continues in The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. Alice is an intelligent medical intern desperately lacking "people skills". In classic Lipman style, quirky characters rule this novel as Alice works at self-improvement and finds love along the way.

Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Scribner, $13.00)
Bonnie Jo Campbell's first novel is a wonderful story that includes a cast of characters who all live on "Queer Road" in rural Michigan. Like most places, Q Road is evolving from rural farm land to new housing developments, and the book explores the relationships between the established residents and the new neighbors - all characters who are charming, funny, tragic, and ultimately loveable. Heidi wrote to Bonnie Jo as soon as she finished the book to invite her for one of our Dinner with the Author events. Don't miss a chance to meet her on November 6th. See our calendar of events for details. —David
Seasons of Sun & Rain by Marjorie Droner (Milk Weed Editions, 14.95)
This is a wonderful novel about women's friendship. Six friends who gather for a summer reunion are coping with the knowledge that one of their group has been diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease. The different emotions and interactions between these women is moving and thought provoking.  —Anne

Speed of Light by Elizabeth Rosner (Random House, $12.95)
There are some books that defy categorization or simple description because of their exquisite beauty and the depth of emotion that they evoke. Elizabeth Rosner's first novel is such a book. It explores the ways in which we are haunted by our past yet can find wholeness through the power of sharing our stories. In this novel three people learn to love and ultimately to save each other through being open to such possibilities. Highest recommendation from all Town House staff.

Ten Big Ones by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin’s Press, $25.95)
Janet Evonovich has become one of our guilty pleasures around here. From One for the Money through this, her latest in the series, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum keeps you laughing at her antics, her wacky friends, family and love life.

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers (Picador, 16.00)
Thanks to Heidi for introducing me to The Time of our Singing, a sweeping epic and deeply personal new novel by Richard Powers. David Strom, a German Jewish emigrant meets soprano Delia Daley, a "young Philadelphia Negro" at the infamous Marian Anderson concert on Washington Mall in 1939. Their mutual love of music and a connection much deeper brings them to marry and have three children, two of them musical prodigies, Jonah and Joseph. Theirs is a family story steeped in music, discovery and love, on the brink of the tumultuous early civil rights movement in America. Music is the star of the book. Whether Powers is giving an artful, detailed play by play description of two pianists improvising or describing Jonah’s sterling tenor voice, he manages to enthrall, delight, and impress me with his musical insights. A great story with a musical backdrop– what more can this music major turned bookseller ask for?

Read an interview with Richard Powers.

Three Junes by Julia Glass (Random House, 14.00)
This is an engaging first novel, strong in plot with characters I looked forward to rejoining each sitting. Spanning two continents over three fateful months of June, the story tells of a complex and intriguing, yet not melo-dramatic Scottish family, the McLeods. Paul, in part one comes to terms with widowhood while adventuring in Greece. Parts two and three feature eldest son Fenno, in Manhattan, and his younger twin brothers both back in Scotland. Like Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, the author skillfully uses the model of family with all its love, betrayal, joy and sadness to inspire each character's personal growth and discovery.
The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories by Valerie Martin
(Vintage, $13.00)
Valerie Martin is not well-known to our community of readers but she should be. Her delightful style of writing is both graceful and precise and she has won the prestigious Orange Prize awarded to women writing in the English language. The stories in The Unfinished Novel are connected in that they are all about writers, actors and painters. Readers will enjoy this continuity as they weave through the characters’ struggles to deal with their creative talents and humanity. Valerie Martin has given us a novel of characters and it is a paperback original. Try it!
– Marilou

The Whole World Over by Julia Glass (Pantheon, $25.95)
Julia Glass descriptively furnishes a room and fills it with believable characters you either feel you know, or want to know. In her first book, Three Junes, she gained worldwide attention and won a National Book Award for her beautifully crafted storytelling. Now in her second novel, "The Whole World Over", she doesn't disappoint her readers who have come to expect the same kind of intimacy and familiarity with her characters. Set in New York and Sante Fe alternately, the story follows Greenie, a successful and basically content pastry chef who leaves New York for a temporary stint as the personal chef of the governor of New Mexico. Taking her young son, she leaves behind her husband Alan who has a medical practice he needs to attend to, at least while the two figure out what is really happening to their marriage. The time apart allows them to confront new realizations and some hidden dark past issues. The other people we get to know are really not peripheral characters, but equal players in a connected, but not predictable story line. Walter, Greenie's thirty something gay friend owns and runs a New York restaurant and is in his own self discovery mode. Fenno, the main character in Three Junes, owns a bookstore nearby and gradually becomes a player in the new novel as well. This really is the only connection between Julia's first and second book, and it is an almost comforting one; not unlike meeting with an old friend. Other characters arrive: Saga, a brain injured young woman who, while highly functional, has limited capabilities, and she knows it. Her Uncle Marsden takes her in and they take care of each other amidst their sometimes unsympathetic and greedy extended family. Somehow, these separate story lines forge seamlessly towards a satisfying ending, while avoiding the too tidy "denouement". While all these people come alive on page, there is another competing character in both Julia's books. That is New York City. Being a sometimes frustrated New Yorker wannabe, I personally am a sucker for Julia's right on, seductive depiction of my favorite city. This is a great book, by an author who's best work most likely lies ahead of us. – David

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris (Picador, $14)
There isn't anyone who can't enjoy this contemporary classic told in three voices each from a different generation within the same family. From fifteen-year-old Rayona, her mother Christine, and finally, grandmother Ida, a story of family love, bitterness, tenderness and haunting secrets is revealed. This is a title we highly recommend for book discussion groups, and is also suitable for mature young adult readers.

For other reviews see our other review pages:

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