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Book Reviews
Click on a book to read its review.

2007  
  Jesus Land by Julia Scheeves
  The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
  The Judges by Elie Wiesel
  The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Monesis
  Stolen Lives, Twenty Years in Desert Prison, by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi
  The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
  The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  Until I Find You by John Irving
  The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
  Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
  The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

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Jesus Land by Julia Scheeves

Michele's book of the month is Jesus Land by Julia Scheeves. Julia has written a love story that is as romantic and as sad as any recent memoir you'll read. It's about Julia and David, it's the mid-1980s, and the family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees and trailer parks - and a racism neither of them is prepared for. While Julia is white, her close relationship with David, who is black, makes them both outcasts. At home, a distant mother, more involved with her church's missionaries than with her own children, and a violent father only compound their problems. When the day comes that high-school hormones, bullying, and a deep-seated restlessness prove too much to bear, the parents send Julia and David to the Dominican Republic - to a reform school there. The Escuela Caribe is governed by a disciplinary regime that demands its teens repent for their sins under boot-camp conditions. Julia and David's determination to make it through with heart and soul intact is told here with immediacy, candor, sparkling humor, and not a note of malice. This is one of the most compelling, page-turning memoirs to come along in years.

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The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Ms. Carol's book of the month is The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle. This is one of the most exciting fiction debuts in years, a breathtaking and beautiful novel set on a horse ranch in small-town Colorado. Kyle develops a great story: a young girl approaching womanhood in a man's world. The business of raising horses acts as a novel-length metaphor, and Kyle's illuminating details make it fresh. This is a wise and astonishing novel about the different guises of love and the hard-to-learn lessons on the road to adulthood.

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The Judges by Elie Wiesel

Keith's book of the month is The Judges by Elie Wiesel, a gripping novel of guilt, innocence, and the perilousness of judging both. A plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv is forced down by bad weather. A nearby house provides refuge for five of its passengers. Their host, an enigmatic and disquieting man who calls himself simply the Judge, begins to interrogate them, forcing them to face the truth and meaning of their lives. Soon he announces that one of them--the least worthy--will die. The Judges is a powerful novel that reflects the philosophical, religious, and moral questions that are at the heart of Wiesel's work.

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The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Monesis

Keith's book of the month is The Judges by Elie Wiesel, a gripping novel of guilt, innocence, and the perilousness of judging both. A plane en route from New York to Tel Aviv is forced down by bad weather. A nearby house provides refuge for five of its passengers. Their host, an enigmatic and disquieting man who calls himself simply the Judge, begins to interrogate them, forcing them to face the truth and meaning of their lives. Soon he announces that one of them--the least worthy--will die. The Judges is a powerful novel that reflects the philosophical, religious, and moral questions that are at the heart of Wiesel's work.

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Stolen Lives, Twenty Years in Desert Prison, by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi

Amy's book of the month is Stolen Lives, Twenty Years in Desert Prison, by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi. Oufkir was the eldest daughter of General Oufkir, the King of Morocco's closest aide. She spent most of her childhood and adolescence in the court harem, surrounded by luxury and privilege. In 1972, her father was executed after an attempt to assassinate the king. Oufkir, her five brothers and sisters, and her mother were immediately imprisoned in a desert penal colony. After 20 years, the Oufkir children managed to dig a tunnel with their bare hands and make an audacious escape. Oufkir was finally able to leave Morocco and begin a new life in exile in 1996. Stolen Lives is an unforgettable story of one woman's journey to freedom.

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The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Sue's book of the month is The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. In Afghanistan, just after the fall of the Taliban, a bookseller named Sultan Khan allowed a Western journalist to move into his home and experience firsthand his family's life in the newly liberated capital city of Kabul. In this remarkable portrait, Norwegian journalist Seierstad recounts with brutal honesty the day-to-day lives of one Afghani family persevering through life in a country beset by chaos. Sultan, a man whose love of books has exposed him to great risks over his 30 years in the trade has seen his volumes censored, ripped apart, even burned in the street by the Communists and the Taliban. Each time he rebuilds his business, hiding the most controversial texts, surviving prison, traveling treacherous back roads to Pakistan to order much-needed schoolbooks. He takes joy in selling books of history, science, art, religion, and poetry, and defends his business against competitors and theft with a primal ferocity. With the assent of the Khan family with whom she lives, Seierstad gives us intimate access to a world were women have few privileges, and where an attitude of hope seems uncommonly rare.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Michele's book of the month is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. When a motherless American girl living in Europe finds a medieval book and a package of letters, all addressed ominously to "My dear and unfortunate successor." she unwittingly assumes a quest she will discover is her birthright--a hunt that nearly brought her father to ruin and may have claimed the life of history professor Bartholomew Rossi. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler, the historical Dracula, have to do with the 20th Century?

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Until I Find You by John Irving

Sue's book of the month is Until I Find You by John Irving. Irving's eleventh novel contains multitudes, building and building on the questionable memories of perhaps his most autobiographical character to date. Until I Find You, the story of the actor Jack Burns. His mother, Alice, is a Toronto tattoo artist. When Jack is four, he travels with Alice to several North Sea ports; they are trying to find Jack's missing father, William, a church organist who is addicted to being tattooed. But Alice is a mystery, and William can't be found. The author's tone, indeed, the narrative voice of this novel, is melancholic. Until I Find You is suffused with overwhelming sadness and deception; it is also a robust and comic novel, certain to be compared to Irving's most ambitious and moving works.

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The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Keith's book of the month is The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. This book is original, thought provoking, gorgeously written and, ultimately, very moving. The novel alternates between the adventures of Laura Byrd, a Coca Cola researcher stranded in the Antarctic, and the City of the Dead. There was been a war on earth in which the combatants are virus's. Brockmeier's notion of an afterlife is a way station where people must stay until people whom they have known on earth have also died. Over half of them have known Laura Byrd. The people who live in the City of the Dead are not ghosts. They will remind you of your next-door neighbors. They get up, have breakfast, and go to work, just like normal people. They appear to have corporal bodies. One of the characters, the Blind Man, wonders about this. He has a theory about the difference between the spirit and the soul. He believes the spirit connects the body and the soul, and that when the spirit dies, we move on to the next life. It's a treat to find a truly original young writer and I recommend it highly.

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Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Sue's book of the month is Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. This story is at once a comic tale of struggling to find one's balance in the adult world, and a witty exploration of why - and how - we cook. Gastronomes, as well as those more inclined to order take-out, will enjoy Powell's down-and-dirty journey into French cuisine, but her depiction of America is the secret ingredient that holds the whole recipe together. Julie is 30 years old, living in a rundown apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that's going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother's dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes. In the span of one year. At first she thinks it will be easy. But as she moves from the simple Potage Parmentier (potato soup) into the more complicated realm of aspics and crepes, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. With Julia's stern warble always in her ear, Julie haunts the local butcher, buying kidneys and sweetbreads. She sends her husband on late-night runs for yet more butter and rarely serves dinner before midnight. She discovers how to mold the perfect Orange Bavarian, the trick to extracting marrow from bone, and the intense pleasure of eating liver. And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life's ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance. A nourishing read if you love to cook or would rather stay out of the kitchen altogether.

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The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

Keith's Book of the month is The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks, the first in a projected trilogy called The Fourth Realm. This novel is powerful, mainstream fiction built on a foundation of cutting-edge technology laced with fantasy and the chilling specter of an all-too-possible social and political reality. The time is roughly the present, and the U.S. is part of the Vast Machine, a society overseen by the Tabula, a secret organization bent on establishing a perfectly controlled populace. Allied against the Tabula are the Travelers and their sword-carrying protectors, the Harlequins. The Travelers, now almost extinct, can project their spirit into other worlds where they receive wisdom to bring back to Earth, wisdom that threatens the Tabula's power.

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