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Book Reviews
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2003  
  Travelers' Tales-Italy edited by Anne Calcagno
  Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
  The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
  Atonement by Ian McEwan
  Book of the Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis
  The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka
  The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  Great Winter Reads by Great Writers

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Travelers' Tales-Italy edited by Anne Calcagno

Keith and Sue's pick of the month is "Travelers' Tales--Italy," with true short stories of experiences in Italy. Edited by Anne Calcagno, this book is a veritable treasure trove of reckonings and accountings; yarns spun and tales told by visitors to a country rich in art, religion, food, and culture. Some of the storytellers are there for the first time, others just can't stay away. All are in awe.

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Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Our friend Sarah's pick of the month is "Crow Lake," a novel by Mary Lawson. This novel so quietly assured, so emotionally pitch perfect, you know from the opening page that this is the real thing -a literary experience in which to lose yourself. The story, narrated by 26-year old Kate Morrison, is set in Crow Lake, an isolated rural community where time has stood still. The story begins with Kate thinking back on those days that shaped her adult life: when both parents were killed in a car accident. In this beautifully written first novel, the descriptions of the difficulties that the Morison's face are real, painful, humorous, and agonizing, and the characters and the setting are well defined and easily visualized. This is not a fast-paced story, but it is hard to put down.

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The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Sue's pick of the month is "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham. In this novel, we are subjected to the marriage of fiction and historical appreciation at its finest. Cunningham brilliantly paints a picture of one day in the lives of three different women in three different era's. First is Virginia Woolf, famous and eccentric writer, plagued by her past and a mind she can't control. Then there is the present day Clarissa Vaughan, who creeps into the visions created by Virginia's mental weakness and helps shape the famous literary character, Clarissa Dalloway. Caught up in the middle of this weaving tale is Laura Brown, a 1950's housewife battling her own conflicts and reading Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway." Cunningham constructs this story so smoothly that it's hard to put down and in a style that is comforting because it blends together new and abstract ideas with familiar detail and images of everyday objects.

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Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Sue's pick of the month is "Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight," by Alexandra Fuller. A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving, and even delightful journey through a white African girl's childhood during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979). With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents' racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child's watchful eyes. The farm is taken away for "land redistribution," and the family constantly sets up house in hostile, desolate environments as they move from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. This work captures the tone of a very young person caught up in her own small world as she witnesses a far larger historical event. It's a real page-turner.

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Atonement by Ian McEwan

Sue's pick of the month is "Atonement," by Ian McEwan. It's an engaging story and so finely written that the reading is both effortless and seductive. Set during the seemingly idyllic summer of 1935 at the country estate of the Tallis family, a single event moves Briony Tallis, a precocious 13-year-old with an overactive imagination. Briony takes steps that will alter the entire household's lives forever. "Atonement" takes the reader from a manor house in England to the retreat from Dunkirk in 1941; from London's World War II military hospitals to a reunion of the Tallis clan in 1999.

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Book of the Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis

Michele's (a friend of ours who owns a hip and groovy bookstore called Treehouse Books in Holland) pick of the month is "Book of the Dead Birds" by Gayle Brandeis. "This book caught me on the first page and didn't let me go." Interweaving the past and the present, the narrator tells the story of her Korean mothers horrific past while trying to find her own path in life. The unusual title refers to a book her mother keeps about her daughter's uncanny ability to kill every pet bird she attempts to care for. The daughter's quest for independence and identification with her mother leads her to the Salton Sea, where an ecological nightmare has occurred.

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The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka

Mindy, one of our bookworm friends, recommends The Language of Blood by Jane Jeong Trenka. Original and beautifully written reflections fill Trenka's memoir, a brave exploration of her identity as a Korean adoptee and pensive young woman trying to negotiate between two mothers and two lives. She traces her life from young, eager-to-please child to questioning adolescent. Finally, she brings readers with her to Korea, where she is reunited with her birth mother and homeland. Unlike some first-time writers, Trenka is unafraid with her prose and rarely falls into clich�s, which is especially admirable given the subject matter. Her journey, from the conservative roots of rural Minnesota to her cramped homeland of Korea, is winding, but it ends at an important place for both reader and writer: transformation. A truly enjoyable fall season read.

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

This month's book has been picked by Sue and Michele and is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. Though many might view this as yet another sympathetic retelling of Anne Boleyn's rise and fall, one could not be more mistaken. Gregory, a noted historical novelist, tells the story instead through the eyes of Mary Boleyn, Anne's sister. She uses the perspective of this other Boleyn girl to reveal the rivalries and intrigues swirling through England and the court of King Henry VIII. It's a wonderful retelling of the rise and fall of the Boleyn faction through the eyes of an unexpected heroine. This book is another great addition for your winter season.

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Great Winter Reads by Great Writers

We got our voracious readers together (Sue, Michele, and Mindy) and asked them to come up with a list of Great Winter Reads, i.e., books to keep your interest on a snowy winter day or to keep you up past your bedtime!
1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Intrigue and menace mingle in one of the finest mysteries ever written. An amazing tale with enigma piled on secrets stacked on riddles.
2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Rollicking entertainment, Owen Meany is a meditation on literature, history, and God. It's roomy, intelligent, exhilarating, and darkly comic.
3. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. The author paints colorful portraits of his neighbors, the Proven�aux grocers and butchers and farmers who amuse, confuse, and befuddle him at every turn. It's part memoir, part homeowner's manual, part travelogue, and all charming fun.
4. The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It is what a beautifully written, haunting mystery should be and is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl. It's a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence, and evil.
5. Not Fade Away by Laurence Shames. This is a wise, funny, and intensely true book. It's not maudlin and does not dwell on the medical side as much as it focuses on the spiritual side (not religious) of discerning life's meaning.

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