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Book Reviews
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2011  
  State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
  In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson
  Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  The Hunger Games
  All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang
  Outside Wonderland by Lorna Jane Cook
  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  Incendiary by Chris Cleave
  Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon


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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Sue's Book of the Month is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. In this expansive page-turner, Marina Singh, a big pharmaceutical researcher, is sent by her boss/lover to the deepest, darkest corner of the Amazon to investigate the death of her colleague, Anders Eckman, who had been dispatched to check on the progress of the incommunicado Dr. Annick Swenson, a rogue scientist on the cusp of developing a fertility drug that could rock the medical profession (and reap enormous profits). After arriving in Manaus, Marina travels into her own heart of darkness, finding Dr. Swenson's camp among the Lakashi, a gentle but enigmatic tribe whose women go on bearing children until the end of their lives. As Marina settles in, she goes native, losing everything she had held on to so dearly in her prescribed Midwestern life, shedding clothing, technology, old loves, and modern medicine in order to find herself. Patchett's fluid prose is superb and makes this book an out-there adventure, a trip to the crossroads of science, ethics, and commerce that readers will hate to see end.

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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

Michelle's Book of the Month is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. The rise of the Third Reich as observed by William Dodd, America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, and his free-spirited daughter is the chilling topic of Larson's impressive new book. The story unfolds for the reader, as well as for the ambassador and his family, as a slow recognition of the approaching threat. Through Dodd's diary; his daughter's scintillating account of her many affairs. Reading first-person testimony from victims. Increasing uneasiness creeps in as it becomes clear that the unthinkable is actually happening. With his gift for narration, Larson has once again created a work of history that reads as compellingly as a great work of fiction.

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Keith's Book of the Month is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I've decided to read a few classics and the first journey into that vein is Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I know I should of read this along time ago, but somehow it missed the list, maybe it was all that sci-fi I dove into during my formative reading years. This is a book of whales and whaling, abundant with facts, legends, and memorabilia that Melville had accumulated from personal experience and scores of connections. There is the larger than life Captain Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick, a monstrous white whale. There is vengeance and the proverbial eye for an eye against the whale. Ahab leads the crew of the Pequod on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps. Moby-Dick is a vivid documentary of life aboard a nineteenth-century whaler. But as the quest for the whale becomes increasingly perilous, the tale works on allegorical levels, likening the whale to human greed, moral consequence, good, evil, and life itself.

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Michelle's book of the month is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Her spellbinding, interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa. A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. This book is sly, startling, and exhilarating.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games. Time-line, the not so distant future. Place, the United States of America. The country has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war. Out of the ashes has risen the new government of Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives. Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic, and engrossing.

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All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang

Mama Carol's book of the month is All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel by Lan Samantha Chang. This book is absolutely well written, engaging me with so many questions I could barely put it down. An exploration of youthful love and ambition and how life rarely turns out the way we envisioned. The story is told in three major sections that eclipse through the years. We first meet Roman, Lucy, and Bernard in the poetry-writing class led by the famous, terrifying, charismatic and mysterious poet and professor poet Miranda Sturgis at the renowned writing school in Bonneville. After graduation, we follow Roman as he begins his own teaching career, marries Lucy, and struggles to complete a long-worked-on volume of poetry. When Bernard becomes homeless for a while, he spends several months with Roman and Lucy, so the friends are together again after many years, and their relationships are renewed and undergo changes. Then, in the third section of the book, we drop back in on the group ten years later for a final look. This book definitely worth reading, if only for Changs gorgeous and elegant prose style.

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Outside Wonderland by Lorna Jane Cook

Sue's book of the month was written by a friend of ours, Lorna Jane Cook, and is titled Outside Wonderland. This book deals with three adults who are living their lives 20 years after their parents died. The eldest, Alice, is an actress who doesn't really care for commitment. The son, Griffin, is a gay man who is in a mundane relationship of 11 years. And the youngest, Dinah, is a woman who is constantly trying to find herself, but knows that she doesn't like to be alone. At the end of each chapter the book changes it's point of view so that we are seeing it from the eyes of the mom, up in heaven. Very light religious touch, and not overdone.

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Sue's book of the month is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. His writing and his empathy for our frail human condition resonates throughout Verghese's novel. By tracing the development of a narrator unlike any other in our literature-from his nearly mythic beginnings in Ethiopia to his immigrant life in contemporary America. Verghese demonstrates that the supreme skill of a physician lies not in his hands but in his heart. A sweeping, emotionally riveting first novel - an enthralling family saga of Africa and America, doctors and patients, exile and home.

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Incendiary by Chris Cleave

Sarah's book of the month is Incendiary by Chris Cleave. An East End of London woman decides to write a letter to Osama bin Laden after a team of his suicide bombers wreck her life by indiscriminately blowing up the crowd at a football match, killing both her husband and her four-and-a-quarter year-old son, along with over a thousand other football fans. The letter is written, mainly in the authentic language of an East End gal, but with snippets of people from other worlds. The grammar and punctuation is appalling, but it is totally in context. She relates, to Osama, all of the events and all of her feelings from immediately before the atrocity to many months afterwards.

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Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Miss Carol's book of the month is Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. The reader is introduced to three main characters--Miles Cheshire, Lucy Lattimore, and Ryan Schuyler. Three seemingly unrelated characters and stories unravel slowly at first, but quickly pick up speed. The concept of identity--who we are and how the world perceives us and the notion that people can reinvent themselves presents itself here in an undefined amalgam of page-turner-thriller. We do it everyday in small measure in our lives, choosing what information we share with others, exaggerating or downplaying past experiences when we tell anecdotes from our lives, or simply by emphasizing different aspects of our personalities in different social settings. We are constantly shaping the way people perceive us. This book is gripping storytelling with a point.

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