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Book Reviews
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2004  
  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  Departures by Lorna J. Cook
  The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum
  Summer Reading List by Martha the hip and groovy librarian
  Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  The Venetians Wife by Nick Bantock
  Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
  The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Keith's pick of the month is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. The novel is told from the point of view of Johnny Wheelwright, the best friend Owen Meany, who is of diminutive size and has a distinct and high-pitched voice. The scope of the novel is huge, as it essentially encompasses the entire life story of Owen and Johnny. Owen is convinced he is the instrument of God and is on earth to do His duty. Irving does a great job developing the extraordinary character, Owen Meany, and a brilliant job in foreshadowing the ending, while at the same time building more and more layers to each character. I say that this is a MUST read from the John Irving collection.

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Departures by Lorna J. Cook

Michele's pick of the month is Departures by Lorna J. Cook. A local first-time author, Cook gives us a peek into the hearts and the minds of the VanderZee family. Her writing is reminiscent of Anne Tyler, and by the end of the novel you feel you know the main characters so thoroughly that you feel like a part of the family. Cook takes a look at the different roles each member plays, what their hopes and dreams are, and how differently they can perceive one another, often completely misreading each other.

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The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Keith's pick of the month is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. This is a fantastic book. The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is 16, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. If Canadian writer Yann Martel were a preacher, he'd be charismatic, funny, and convert all the non-believers. He baits his readers with serious themes and trawls them through a sea of questions and confusion, but he makes one laugh so much, and at times feel so awed and chilled, that even thrashing around in bewilderment or disagreement one can't help but be captured by his prose.

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The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum

Sue's pick of the month is The Quality of Life Report. This is Meghan Daum's debut novel, and it's hilarious. It brings Daum's sharp wit and courageous social commentary to the story of Lucinda Trout, a New York television reporter in search of greener pastures. Moving to the slower- paced, friendly, and vastly more affordable Midwestern town of Prairie City, Lucinda zealously creates a series of televised reports for her New York audience about her newfound quality of life. But when Lucinda falls for eccentric local Mason Clay, her na´vetÚ about the real world leads her down an unexpected path, where she encounters, among other things, a drafty old farmhouse filled with children, an ever-growing menagerie of farm animals, and the harshest winter the region has seen in 20 years.

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Summer Reading List by Martha the hip and groovy librarian

Our book of the month is actually a list of recommended books that the Saugatuck-Douglas Library put together. We'll call it Martha's Summer Reading List (Martha's our hip and groovy librarian). Here's the line up: Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier; Sleeping Car Murders by Sebastian Japrisot; A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel; Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez; and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

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Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

Mindy, a cool and groovy chick, picked Nickel and Dimed for our monthly selection. Between 1998 and 2000, the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, spent time three cities throughout the nation, attempting to get by on the salary available to low-paid and unskilled workers. Beginning with advantages not enjoyed by many such individuals--she is white, English-speaking, educated, healthy, and unburdened with transportation or child-care worries--she tried to support herself by working as a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart employee. She discovered that her average salary of $7 per hour couldn't even provide the necessities of life (rent, transportation, and food), let alone the luxury of health coverage. With her characteristic wry wit and her unabashedly liberal bent, Ehrenreich brings the invisible poor out of hiding and, in the process, the world they inhabit--where civil liberties are often ignored and hard work fails to live up to its reputation as the ticket out of poverty.

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The Venetians Wife by Nick Bantock

Keith's pick of the month is The Venetians Wife by Nick Bantock. The subtitle of this oversized, lavishly illustrated volume confirms that we are a kind of quasi-mythical kingdom: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis. This is the story of San Francisco art conservator Sara Wolfe, who is fascinated by a drawing of the Indian god Shiva hanging on the walls of the museum where she works. She receives an e-mail message from one N. Conti, who somehow is aware of her obsession and offers her a job traveling around the world assembling Indian art for his collection. The narrative proceeds via these e-mail messages and through the protagonists' entries into their computer journals. The mysteries around which the plot hinge Conti's identity and his ultimate purpose in reassembling his collection are suspenseful, augmented by Bantock's intensely colorful and often sensual illustrations. This is a wonderful book that is a quick and delightful read.

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Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

This month's book is a recommendation from our friend Kate and is titled Bee Season by Myla Goldberg. There is so much pain in this powerful first novel about a family's unraveling that it often seems on the edge of unbearable. And yet, as we watch 9-year-old Eliza Naumann transform herself from underachiever to spelling prodigy, we endure the pain out of respect for one girl's courage and all-consuming love. Eliza's family is gradually breaking down in front of her: father Saul, whose self-absorbed passion for Jewish mysticism blinds him to the suffering of those closest to him; mother Myriam, whose quest for perfection leads her into kleptomania; and brother Aaron, who rebels against his faith and turns to Hare Krishna. Goldberg effectively mixes fascinating detail about spelling bees with metaphorical leaps of imagination, producing a novel that works on many levels.

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The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Sue's book of the month is The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is an extraordinary novel with a unique premise, an exploration of the unknown in this expanding century, where the impossible becomes possible, if not routine. It's a lyrical love story between Henry and Clare, albeit an unusual one suffused with vivid images of the past and the future. Henry has a rare genetic condition: he time-travels within his own lifetime, into his own past and future, yet dwells in the present. Niffenegger has not written a traditional romance; instead, she has grounded her tale in flesh and blood reality. This was by far Sue's favorite book in years.

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