"Poetry is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality."
       —Wallace Stevens

Reviews

 

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

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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



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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

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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

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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

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The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso (W. W. Norton $29.95)

This book is, as the title would suggest, a veritable love song to the apple. The 100 recipes cover everything from soup and salad to ice cream, and with a guide to 59 apple varieties including helpful descriptions of flavor and recommendations for uses in cooking and baking, you'll be sure to use the right one every time. The cookbook's sweet recipes, like the Apple Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce and Blue Ribbon Deep Dish Apple Pie, and savory options such as Apple Squash Gratin and Duck Panzanella with Apples and Thyme, are delectable choices for every day, or for upcoming holiday meals. Additionally, throughout the book Amy delves into the histories of different apple varieties, while meeting farmers and apple lovers as she tours orchards and cider farms in Washington, New Mexico and around New England. By itself, or paired with a pretty pie plate, The Apple Lover's Cookbook makes a great gift for bakers and apple enthusiasts, or treat yourself and invite family and friends to share a mulled apple cider and a scrumptious crisp or cobbler. – Sarah

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 www.brigidpasulka.com. – Heidi

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Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco, $16.00)
Those of you who know me through the store recognize me as primarily a reader of fiction, but after seeing Patti Smith interviewed recently I was compelled to pick up her National Book Award winning memoir Just Kids. She captured my heart within the first two pages by ending her brief forward with a quotation from Tosca’s aria “Vissd’ante”: I have lived for love, I have lived for art. And so follows the memoir of her early life with Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City, most notably their time spent at the Chelsea Hotel. This is not a “who’s who” of the art and music world so much as a moving depiction of her relationship with a person she loved deeply, their dedication to live a life committed to art, their support for each other through poverty and illness and struggles with sexual identity, and ultimately finding a way into their separate expressions of creativity. What surprises is not her passion but her tenderness.

I would say it makes me want to visit NYC but I would need a time machine, for what the book makes one long for is the New York of the late 60’s and early 70’s when the city itself seemed to be the Muse for unparalleled artistic energy and talent.

For listening, try Patti Smith’s iTunes Original Album in which she introduces each song in her personal, inimitable way, though you won’t want to miss out on other collections that include her poetry and music. I like “ Ain’t it Strange” and “Ask the Angels”.

Highly Recommended! – Heidi

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Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher (Norton, $14.95)
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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A Death in Vienna by Frank Tallis (Random House, $16)
Set in the early 1900’s when forensic psychology is almost unheard of, a brutal homicide taps the resources of two sleuths of different talents and disciplines. A murder is committed in a locked room, with no apparent means of escape, and adding to the mystery, the victim turns out to have been a spiritual medium. The lead detective, Oscar Rheinhardt enlists the help of his friend Dr. Max Lieberman, a psychologist trained by Sigmund Freud. Fans of Sherlock Holmes will especially enjoy trying to figure this one out. A second in the series of Max Lieberman mysteries is also available, Vienna Blood. I hope these are the first in a long series! – Anne

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The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15)
WINNER OF THE 2006 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
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

 

   
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
   
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Simon & Schuster, $15)
The Thirteenth Tale is an impossible-to-put-down novel! It is a combination of mystery, fantasy and discovery of self. Vida Winter is an aging author with a mysterious past, made more so by the “missing 13th tale,” her last novel that written but then suppressed. Margaret Lea is rare book dealer chosen by Vida to tell her life story before she passes away. This book grabs you in such a way that it is hard not to sneak a premature peak at the ending, which the Miss Winter’s biographer admonishes the reader not to do. With a great twisting conclusion this is a one sure to keep you from your household chores and sleep.
– Anne
   

 

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

   
Grief by Andrew Holleran (Hyperion, $12)
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
   
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 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
   
That Girl Lucy Moon by Amy Timberlake (Hyperion, $5.99)
That Girl Lucy Moon is about a 12-year-old girl, named Lucy Moon, who is fighting a battle against corruption in her community and struggling to find herself. Lucy faces Miss Ilene Viola Wiggins (a woman who controls Turtle Rock, Minnesota through her philanthropic giving) when Miss Wiggins fences the community sledding hill. Lucy also struggles with adolescence, her friends changing, and a mother who leaves on a trip and doesn't seem to be coming back. There's also a good bit about all the goings on in the town of Turtle Rock, Minnesota. You won't want to miss this delightful, irrepressible heroine! Amy visited Town House in September 2006 and has a webpage about her trip. Check it out! – Heidi
   
Home Ground edited by Barry Lopez (Trinity University Press, $29.95)
H
ome Ground: Language for an American Landscape brings together a collection of over 800 words that if you read much nature writing you may have stumbled over and wondered about their origins. Here's just a taste: beheaded stream, browse line, kiss tank, biscuit board, basket-of-eggs relief, and ait. Even if you're familiar with the basic meaning of a featured phrase or word, these definitions will still enrich your understanding. In many cases they are miniature works of art themselves. Almost like the notes that a writer might keep in a private revery. 45 poets and writers have contributed including Charles Frazier, Robert Hass, Linda Hogan, Kim Stafford, and Gretel Ehrlich. Sometimes its nice to have a book that you can read in short interludes. This is just such a book and will probably be a great reference for years to come as well. If you like Barry Lopez, he writes the intro and has a number of entries. For those days when you can't get out to your favorite woods, fen, prairie, or stream—this book provides a little solace. – Mark
   

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