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Book Reviews
Click on a book to read its review.

2006  
  Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman
  Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen
  Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes
  A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  The Space Between Us
  Please Don't Come Back From the Moon
  Garlic and Sapphires
  Glass Castle, A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls
  Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

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Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman

Michele's & Sue's book of the month is Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Pearlman. Australian writer Pearlman sets a high bar for himself, and the result is a relentlessly driven story. This is an epic novel about obsessive love in an age of obsessive materialism. The basic thrust of the story is about a man who has never gotten over a woman who left him 10 years before and kidnaps her son. The book is segmented in seven parts, each narrated by a different player in the unfolding drama, with sections and scenes overlapping. The characters are similar and yet different being incredibly insightful, bright, and in tune with the human condition regardless of age, sex, or social standing. This book has awesome magnitude and scope of what is a phenomenal piece of literature.

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Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen

Mindy's book of the month is Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen. Gorgeous, brilliant, and superbly plotted, this book will sweep you into the world of the circus during the Great Depression. The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including a complex elephant that only responds to Polish commands. He also falls into an equally complex love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers--a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes, and freaks who populate her book and with a showman's expert timing, saves a terrific revelation for the final pages, transforming a glimpse of Americana into an enchanting escapist fairy tale.

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Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes

Alison Swan's book of the month is Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes. Alison, a close friend of ours, is the editor of this book and also has a short story included. This collection of nonfiction works by female writers focuses on the Midwest: living with the five interconnected freshwater seas that we know as the Great Lakes. Contributing to this collection are renowned poets, essayists, and fiction writers, all of who write about their own creative streams of consciousness, the fresh waters of the Great Lakes, and the region's many rivers. This book reminds us of the small transformative moments we experience on and around our Great Lakes, and it adds significantly to the record of the beauty we find there, which will ultimately protect them.

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A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Keith's book of the month is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, published in 1950. My good friend Michele turned me on to a book titled 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, which did cause some angst but also spurred me to start reading at a voracious pace. This classic of literature takes place on three continents. It involves history, geography, travel, adventure, misery, joy, evil, and love. Shute creates marvelous three-dimensional characters. Even the countryside is like another character, because it's so full and important to the story. It could almost be two different books, such is the compelling strength of the section set in World War 2 where our heroine is leading a group of women who are captured and are being marched between towns hundreds of miles by the Japanese who weren't going to kill women and children but barely had enough supplies for their own soldiers so they just kept moving the women on. It's a great book with a beautiful bittersweet ending.

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Michelle's book of the month is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. This magnificent new novel has a similarly extraordinary scope and the same capacity to amaze, entertain, and bewitch the reader. A tour de force of metaphysical reality, it is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom. Their odyssey, as mysterious to them as it is to us, is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. Extravagant in its accomplishment, Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world's truly great storytellers at the height of his powers.

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The Space Between Us

Mindy's book of the month is The Space Between Us by Thirty Umrigar. Umrigar's schematic novel illustrates the intimacy, and the irreconcilable class divide, between two women in contemporary Bombay. Bhima, a 65-year-old slum dweller, has worked for Sera, a younger upper-middle-class Parsi woman, for years: cooking, cleaning and tending Sera after the beatings she endures from her abusive husband. Sera, in turn, nurses Bhima back to health from typhoid fever and sends her granddaughter Maya to college. Sera recognizes their affinity, despite the different trajectories of their lives, circumstances dictated by the accidents of their births. They are also caged by the same strictures despite efforts to throw them off. Class allegiance combined with gender inequality challenges personal connection.

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Please Don't Come Back From the Moon

Michelle's book of the month is Please Don't Come Back From the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos. The summer Michael Smolij turns 16, his father disappears. One by one other men also vanish from the blue-collar neighborhood outside Detroit where their fathers before them had lived, raised families, and, in a more promising era, worked. One man props open the door to his shoe store and leaves a note: I'm going to the moon, I took the cash. The wives drink, brawl, and sleep around, gradually settling down to make new lives and shaking off the belief in an American dream that, like their husbands, has proven to be a thing of the past. Unable to leave the neighborhood their fathers abandoned, Michael and his friends stumble through their 20s until the restlessness of the fathers blooms in them, threatening to carry them away.

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Garlic and Sapphires

This month's book is Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl and was recommended to us by Mindy and Michelle. This delicious new volume of Reichl's memoirs recounts her adventures in deception as she goes undercover in the world's finest restaurants for the New York Times. As Reichl metes out her critical stars, she gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites. This book is as much fun to read as it is to eat.

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Glass Castle, A Memoir

Keith's book of the month is Glass Castle, A Memoir, by Jeannette Walls. A great read about Walls' unbelievable childhood. In the beginning, Walls' family lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns. As the dysfunction of the family escalates, Walls and her brother and sisters have to fend for themselves, supporting one another and finally finding the resources and will to leave home. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life of her own.

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Case Histories

Sue's book of the month is Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. The novel opens with three case histories, crimes that occurred up to 34 years ago. It is such a satisfying novel, one that is aided by the compelling nature of a good mystery, yet all the while Atkinson's language can't fail to delight, being psychologically keen, whippet quick, and utterly joyful. You will never want this book to end, yet, like the best mystery novel, you'll stay up all night to find out exactly how it does. Atkinson connects the lives of her ensemble cast of characters with a blithe, fairytale-like narration that can be, at turns, hilarious, macabre, and suspenseful.

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The month is The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by African-born author Alexander McCall Smith. A pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective manual and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she sheds her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. This is a little gem of a book and a fun mystery read.

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