Saturday, August 16, 2008

Grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable....

Here is the list of book suggestions.  Thanks to ALL who contributed!  Read through the list and vote on NO MORE THAN SIX .  I will take the top six and pick out of a hat to determine which month we will read them.  Hurry!  You only have until WEDNESDAY to vote.


Shors's spirited debut novel tells the story of the eldest daughter of the 17th-century emperor who built the Taj Mahal. From her self-imposed exile, Jahanara recalls growing up in the Red Fort; the devotion her parents, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, had for each other; and the events that took place during the construction of the fabulous monument to their love. Although Jahan is the emperor and has many wives, Mumtaz (he calls her Taj) is his soul mate, a constant companion and wise political consultant. She even travels with him into battle, where she eventually dies giving birth to their 14th child. Fortunately, she has the foresight to begin preparing her favorite daughter, Jahanara, by instructing the girl in the arts of influence and political strategy. Thus the young woman is able to pick up where her savvy mother left off. From then on it is Jahanara who advises the emperor, often instead of her dreamy brother, Dara, who is the rightful heir to the throne. It is she who helps with construction of the magnificent mausoleum for Mumtaz's remains and who falls in love with its architect, Isa, a man whom she can never marry. And it is she who leads a failed effort to defend the throne against a coup by her evil brother, Aurangzeb. With infectious enthusiasm and just enough careful attention to detail, Shors give a real sense of the times, bringing the world of imperial Hindustan and its royal inhabitants to vivid life. 


When her mother is diagnosed with cancer, New Yorker Emily Rhode ditches her too-perfect boyfriend and far from perfect legal career to become her mother's primary caregiver. At the same time, she reconciles with her estranged father, who left when she was five. When he offers her a job as a receptionist at his law firm, complete with Friday martini lunch dates and father-daughter cab rides to work, Emily agrees, and jokey family bonding follows as mom skates through treatment and dad proves to be more of a teddy bear than an iceman. Davis, author of Girls' Poker Nightand a former writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, loads the narrative with one-liner asides and funny riffs (there's a particularly good bit about espresso machines), though she's less adept at sizing up Emily's inner turmoil, notably her fear of committing to smart, patient and loving boyfriend Sam. Though soft-focused (taking care of cancer-stricken mom mostly consists of watching TV and playing board games), Davis's book leavens regret and tragedy with a light-handed wit. 



This story flows as smoothly and predictably as maple sap during a New Hampshire spring. Ostensibly, the story is about the arrest of popular Lake Henry, New Hampshire, local Heather Malone for a murder committed fourteen years earlier in California. But the real story is that of the growing relationship between Poppy, who is paraplegic, and her suitor, writer Griffin Hughes. 



Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator.


Stewart peers into the complicated heart of friendship in a moving second novel (after 2000's Body of a Girl). Ever since a cataclysmic falling out with her best friend, Sonia, after college, Cameron's closest companion has been Oliver, the 92-year-old historian she lives with and cares for in Oxford, Miss. Oliver's death leaves Cameron alone and adrift, until she discovers that he has given her one last task: she must track down her estranged best friend (whose letter announcing her engagement Cameron had so recently ignored) and deliver a mysterious present to her. Cameron's journey leads her back to the people, places and memories of their shared past, when they called themselves "Cameronia" and swore to be friends forever. It was a relationship more powerful than romantic love—yet romantic love (or sex, anyway) could still wreck it. Stewart lures the reader forward with two unanswered questions: What was the disaster that ended their friendship, and what will be revealed when Cameron and Sonia are together again and Oliver's package is finally opened? The book is heartfelt and its characters believable jigsaw puzzles of insecurities, talents and secrets, and if Cameron's carefully guarded anger makes her occasionally disagreeable, readers will nevertheless welcome her happy ending.


The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider's look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob's daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah--all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery. Remembering women's earthy stories and passionate history is indeed the theme of this magnificent book. In fact, it's been said that The Red Tent is what the Bible might have been had it been written by God's daughters, instead of her sons.


With home-cooked, Southern literary flair, Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes) returns with Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! "Baby Girl," as she is lovingly referred to by her sweet, country cousins, is Dena Nordstrom, a tall, blonde, corn-fed girl who makes it big in Manhattan. Ms. Nordstrom is now the top TV anchorwoman in the city, beating out veteran journalists and making ungodly amounts of money. Although her life seems charmed, Dena is frazzled and miserable. She drinks uncontrollably, is a borderline compulsive liar, and is forced to undergo therapy because of her stress-induced ulcer. Her psychiatrist, Dr. O'Malley, falls madly in love with her, of course, and sends the blonde bombshell to a close colleague, Dr. Diggers. Living up to her name, Diggers shovels up a mountain of dysfunction and forces Dena to face her mysterious past; all the while the good doctor reports back to brokenhearted O'Malley about her patient's progress. Meanwhile, back at the station, Ms. Nordstrom has made friends and enemies in very high places. Her greatest ally is Howard Kingsley, the Cronkitesque reporter who wields power with more ease than most seasoned politicos. It's a good thing she has friends like that, because her boss, Ira Wallace, makes George Costanza from Seinfeld look like a scrupulous saint. When Wallace hires a nasty but effective mole by the name of Sidney Capello to dig up garbage on celebrities, Nordstrom has a head-on collision with his sense of ethics (or lack thereof) and gets Capello canned. Or so she thinks.


In this elegant and stunning novel, veteran heartstring-puller Hoffman (Here on Earth; Seventh Heaven) examines the lives of three women at different crossroads in their lives, tying their London-centered stories together in devastating retrospect. High powered New York attorney Maddy Heller arrives in 1999 London having had an affair with Paul, her sister Allie's fiancé,; she must now cope with the impending marriage, and with Paul's terminal illness—which echoes the girls' mother's cancer during their childhood. Hoffman then shifts to heady 1966 London and to Frieda Lewis, Paul's future mother, who falls for a doomed up-and-coming songwriter knowing he will break her heart. The narrative then shifts further back, to 1952 and to Maddy and Allie's future mother, Lucy Green. A bookish 12-year-old wise beyond her years, Lucy sails with her father and stepmother from New York to London for a wedding. There, she becomes an innocent catalyst to a devastating event involving a love triangle. Hoffman interweaves the three stories, gazing unerringly into forces that cause some people to self-destruct (There was no such thing as too much for a girl who thought she was second best) and others to find inner strength to last a lifetime.


Brunonia Barry dreamt she saw a prophecy in a piece of lace, a vision so potent she spun it into a novel. The Lace Reader retains the strange magic of a vivid dream, though Barry's portrayal of modern-day Salem, Massachusetts--with its fascinating cast of eccentrics--is reportedly spot-on. Some of its stranger residents include generations of Whitney women, with a gift for seeing the future in the lace they make. Towner Whitney, back to Salem from self-imposed exile on the West Coast, has plans for recuperation that evaporate with her great-aunt Eva's mysterious drowning. Fighting fear from a traumatic adolescence she can barely remember, Towner digs in for answers. But questions compound with the disappearance of a young woman under the thrall of a local fire-and-brimstone preacher, whose history of violence against Whitney women makes the situation personal for Towner. Her role in cop John Rafferty's investigation sparks a tentative romance. And as they scramble to avert disaster, the past that had slipped through the gaps in Towner's memory explodes into the present with a violence that capsizes her concept of truth. Readers will look back at the story in a new light, picking out the clues in this complex, lovely piece of work.


Leigh Fielding was diagnosed with kidney disease and recently received a transplant. Since then, she’s been trying all kinds of new things and comes to believe that she’s channeling the donor, Larry. She decides to leave her central Wisconsin home for a road trip to meet Larry’s family and see if he’s anything like the new personality she has acquired. Things go awry at the Minnesota border when a teenage girl named Denise steals Leigh’s purse and uses it to blackmail Leigh into giving her a ride to L.A. On the way they visit classic tourist traps and try to stay out of trouble, especially since Denise claims that it’s her crazy ex in the black sedan that seems to be following them. Leigh’s road trip continues, embracing both highs and lows, alternately hilarious, humiliating, and heartbreaking, often within the same sentence. Smart and funny without being forced, sentimental without being maudlin, Riley’s funny, picaresque vision of America will make readers wish they could go along with Leigh on her next trip.


 As a young California girl growing up in a blue collar neighborhood, Taylor Young dreamed of being popular, beautiful, and acquiring a wardrobe to die for. Not to mention marrying a handsome, successful man and living happily ever after in a gorgeous house with three wonderful children. Now, at 36, Taylor has reached the pinnacle of her dreams, but is it all about to unravel? As the new school year approaches, Taylor prepares herself for playing the perfect alpha mom: organizing class activities, fund-raising, and chairing the school auction. But the horror! Her archrival, bohemian mom Marta Zinsser, is named Head Room Mom of Taylor's daughter's fifth grade class. As tensions rise at committee meetings and school activities, the two rivals seem to be destined for a final confrontation. But as Taylor plans her next move, she is floored by a more serious blow at home-her husband has been secretly unemployed for the past six months. With her posh lifestyle crumbling, Taylor struggles to maintain her alpha image-but could Marta, who cares little about appearances, be her only true friend?


Annie Fleming's family has always adjusted well to her hard driving career. How could they not? Annie keeps them in line at home with typed, edited, and proofed to-do and not-to-do lists for her husband, her babysitter, and her daughter. (No TV on a school night, please!) But when an obnoxious co-worker conspires to force Annie out of her job, she finds herself out of work and face-to-face with her family, who, it turns out, isn't quite as well-adjusted as Annie thought. Husband Tim doesn't have near the follow-through that Annie does (ordered to downsize his employees, he can't fire anybody!) And daughter Charlotte doesn't even try to make the local soccer team - a cut-throat, take-no-prisoners system run by Winslow West, a man who dreams of the Olympic gold his young charges will someday win for him.  Here Annie is unemployed and Charlotte's the one with the quitting attitude? Annie doesn't think so. She's determined to get Charlotte on the A team, but finds that the soccer sidelines are more cutthroat than a boardroom ever was.


This clever and inventive tale works on three levels: as an intriguing science fiction concept, a realistic character study and a touching love story. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder; at random times, he suddenly disappears without warning and finds himself in the past or future, usually at a time or place of importance in his life. This leads to some wonderful paradoxes. From his point of view, he first met his wife, Clare, when he was 28 and she was 20. She ran up to him exclaiming that she'd known him all her life. He, however, had never seen her before. But when he reaches his 40s, already married to Clare, he suddenly finds himself time travelling to Clare's childhood and meeting her as a 6-year-old. The book alternates between Henry and Clare's points of view, and so does the narration. Reed ably expresses the longing of the one always left behind, the frustrations of their unusual lifestyle, and above all, her overriding love for Henry. Likewise, Burns evokes the fear of a man who never knows where or when he'll turn up, and his gratitude at having Clare, whose love is his anchor. The expressive, evocative performances of both actors convey the protagonists' intense relationship, their personal quirks and their reminiscences, making this a fascinating audio.


Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium.


 On a violent, stormy winter night, a home birth goes disastrously wrong. The phone lines are down, the roads slick with ice. The midwife, unable to get her patient to a hospital, works frantically to save both mother and child while her inexperienced assistant and the woman's terrified husband look on. The mother dies but the baby is saved thanks to an emergency C-section. And then the nightmare begins: the assistant suggests that maybe the woman wasn't really dead when the midwife operated.

In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981. Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath.


In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen, neglected by her father and isolated on their Georgia peach farm, spends hours imagining a blissful infancy when she was loved and nurtured by her mother, Deborah, whom she barely remembers. These consoling fantasies are her heart's answer to the family story that as a child, in unclear circumstances, Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother. All Lily has left of Deborah is a strange image of a Black Madonna, with the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" scrawled on the back. The search for a mother, and the need to mother oneself, are crucial elements in this well-written coming-of-age story set in the early 1960s against a background of racial violence and unrest. When Lily's beloved nanny, Rosaleen, manages to insult a group of angry white men on her way to register to vote and has to skip town, Lily takes the opportunity to go with her, fleeing to the only place she can think of--Tiburon, South Carolina--determined to find out more about her dead mother. Although the plot threads are too neatly trimmed, The Secret Life of Bees is a carefully crafted novel with an inspired depiction of character. The legend of the Black Madonna and the brave, kind, peculiar women who perpetuate Lily's story dominate the second half of the book, placing Kidd's debut novel squarely in the honored tradition of the Southern Gothic.


Two families arrive at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport in August 1997 to claim the Korean infants they have adopted. Strangers until that evening, they are destined to begin a friendship that will span their adoptive daughters' childhoods. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson are the quintessential middle-class, white American couple. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are Iranian Americans. From the beginning, the differences in the ways they will raise their daughters are obvious: Bitsy's well-meaning but overzealous efforts to retain her child's Korean heritage are evident in the chosen name–Jin-Ho–and in the Korean costumes that she dresses the girl in every year as they mark the anniversary of the adoption date. The Yazdans are comfortable with their daughter Susan's assimilation into their own Iranian-American culture. When Bitsy's widowed father begins to show romantic interest in Susan's grandmother, cultural differences are brought to a head. Tyler weaves a story that speaks to how we come to terms with our identity in multicultural America, and how we form friendships that move beyond the unease of differences. She does not dwell on the September 11 attacks, but subtly portrays the distrust that the Yazdans have to endure in the following months. Tyler's gift, as in her other novels, is her ability to infuse the commonplace with meaning and grace, and teens will appreciate her perceptiveness in exploring relationships within and between families across the cultural spectrum.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Secret Life of Bees will be in theaters October 17th!

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Happy Reading!