Fiction & Literature

Reviews by current & former staffers, listed alphabetically by author.

~ General ~

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”
~Vera Nazarian

Watership Down, by Richard Adams
To say that this is a book about bunnies is to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is about birdies: one completely misses the point. Watership Down is a saga about a society with all of its strengths and weaknesses, a society under siege and forced to move to an unknown place with unknown denizens. You’ll find among these rabbits kin in their trials and joys; indeed, it is a very human story (not to cast aspersions on rabbits.)         
Katherine’s Review 

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Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
Blues legend Robert Johnson mysteriously appears at a crossroads at night in the Spokane Indian Reservation, and bestows his enchanted guitar to unwitting Thomas Builds-the-Fire, and modern native struggling with his own identity as a Spokane alongside with the rest of the western world. Johnson wanders on to the reservation in search of powerful medicine to break his mythic curse (as blues lore would tell you, Johnson supposedly sold his soul to devil in order to become a guitar master), and Thomas forms his own “all-Indian band” named Coyote Springs and embarks on a nationwide journey of fame and eventual downfall. Alexie’s first book is rife with magical realism and Blues-lore and is an absolute blast to read. At the time I read it I cared little about Alexie, but this book made me a fan.           
James’ Review 

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Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende
Allende will whisk you all over the globe with this one! It makes my head hurt to think of all the research she must have had to do, because although the primary parts of the book take place in Chile and California, she manages to includes facts from nearly every corner of the world. Right, the plot: an adopted mestiza girl living with a wealthy English family in Valparaiso, Chile, has some sort of conflict (you must read to find out! Oh how I am a tease!), and sneaks off to the Gold Rush in California. Along the way she befriends a Chinese fellow and they have all sorts of crazy adventures with prostitutes and destitutes, empanadas and fruit in the Wild Wild West! Phew. Not quite as swashbuckling as her Zorro, and not as “wowza!” as The House of the Spirits, Daughter of Fortune really does have a little bit of everything.
Molly’s Review 

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The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
Considered by many to be this Chilean author’s magnum opus, The House of the Spirits is a beautiful, tragic, magical account of one family’s journey through history. Although Allende never mentions Chile by name, it is easily inferred. It begins in colonial times and goes right through to the fall of “the candidate” (Salvador Allende) and the ensuing disappearances, tortures, and massacres of the Pinochet regime. It even describes the funeral of “the poet” (Pablo Neruda). This book is not necessarily “light” reading material, but it is a page-turner and a great introduction to Magical Realism. I have yet to meet a soul who dislikes it.          
Molly’s Review 

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Persuasion, by Jane Austen
I am, at the end of the day, a harpsichord playing, tea-sipping, Mr. Darcy loving, Jane Austen kind of girl. If you have not enjoyed Austen novels, I will not suggest that you read Persuasion. However, if you like your Emma with milk and two sugars, you will find this book to be lovely. Her last completed novel, Persuasion shows a marked maturity from her earlier works. (For a startling comparison read Northanger Abbey immediately followed by Persuasion, the contrast will blow you away!)  As in all of her work, Persuasion showcases Austen’s immaculate skills of social observation, coupled with a light romance in high society settings (Lyme-Regis and Bath). Persuasion is a must-read for the classic English literature fan.
Molly’s Review 

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The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank
The Wonder Spot follows the book’s narrator Sophie Applebaum from the beginning of her adolescence, into adulthood.  This book is a very compelling atypical coming of age story.  Bank writes in a way that gives the reader a glimpse into the defining moments in Sophie’s life which end up shaping the person she becomes in each chapter.  These chapters are like short stories themselves, and every character is unnervingly realistic.  What I loved most about this book is how easy it was to relate to Sophie.  She’s curious about what motivates her family and friends to easily make huge decisions in life that seem so hard for her to make.  Even though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, this is a wonderfully written and engaging pick up-put down book.   
Hillary’s Review 

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Griffin and Sabine, by Nick Bantock
Griffin and Sabine, by Nick Bantock, is not just a book. It is an experience. The book consists of correspondence between two people in different countries, one a designer of cards and another artist who can “see” his work as he produces it–and even as he erases it. The format is enchanting with the deepening dialogue expressed through postcards and envelopes with actual letters inside of them. The entire book, and most especially the correspondence, is profusely and lovingly illustrated by Nick Bantock in the guise of these two characters. This is a book to be shared, and to be slowly savored.          Katherine’s Review 

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Ocean Sea, by Alessandro Baricco
Alessandro Baricco rocks my world. I love his style, and his ideas, and his characters, and his hair…actually, I’ve never seen his hair, though I’m sure I’d love it if I did. But his books are just awesome. This one was a bit of a surprise for me–somehow, not quite what I was expecting, but so, so cool. As usual for a Baricco novel, everyone is crazy…or maybe they’re not crazy…that’s the thing:  you really can’t tell. The plot is incredibly elusive, yet fascinating. Not for the faint of heart or the concrete of mind, perfect for the stream-of-consciousness postmodern art-loving sailor. To coin a phrase.
Kirsten’s Review 

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The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian
When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, she withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that he was telling the truth: before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had indeed worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt. As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life begins to merge into obsession, she becomes convinced that some of his photographs reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret. Her search for the truth will lead her further from her old life– and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her. 

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Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian
Don’t let the fact that this was featured by Oprah either win you over or deter you. It’s a quick, very compelling read about a midwife on trial for negligent homicide: the mur
der of a pregnant woman whose child she successfully delivered by an impromptu c-section. Bohjalian tells this story through court records, the midwife’s journals, and the observations of the midwife’s own daughter. The very last pages are fantastic, so don’t spoil it by reading those first!          Katherine’s Review 

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I first read this book last year because I’m on a “classics” reading kick. It wasn’t one I was excited about as I thought it was a romance novel because the only people I knew who had read it were women and they all referred to it as “a great love story”. But I was determined to read it anyway and I’m glad I did. Wuthering Heights is now one of my three favorite books. This story is more about revenge and obsession than the love between Heathcliff and Catherine. The characters are strong willed, well written and developed, so I spent a lot of time fuming and yelling and shaking my head in disappointment and confusion. They’re selfish, jealous and manipulative. Because of the choices they make they ruin the lives of decent people around them.

Heathcliff is a young orphan in the city when Mr. Earnshaw finds and takes him to Wuthering Heights, his homestead on the moors, and to his own children Hindley and Cathrine. Hindley resents how much his father prefers Heathcliff. Cathy and Heathcliff spend all of their time together, become thick as thieves and fall in love. Until, that is, she meets neighbor Edgar, who is well bred and comes from a decent family. And this is where our “great love story” turns into a dark tale of revenge, and regret. I wasn’t expecting any of the things that happen after that fateful meeting on the moors, and that is what kept me engrossed with this story. Characters are driven to madness, drunkenness and eventually death while servants watch and their opinions fall on deaf ears. In the end, everyone at Wuthering Heights gets what they deserve, both bad and good.  
Hillary’s Review
 

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March by Geraldine Brooks
In the beloved classic Little Women, Louisa May Alcott tells the story of the March family. Marmee and her four daughters shoulder the burdens of poverty and learn the grace of womanhood while their chaplain husband/father is gone to offer his services to Union soldiers during the Civil War. (It’s a beautiful book that I’m reading to my daughter, Isabel, at bedtime. Since I can stay up late, I’ve already finished March, the story of Mr. March.) I was enthralled. This book is compelling enough to stand on its own but the reading experience was especially rich coupled with Little Women. We learn that the innocent-sounding letters Mr. March wrote to his wife in Little Women were purposely crafted to shield his family from the horrors of war and slavery, which Brooks skillfully details. In March, we watch a man struggle with truth and courage and the guilt that comes from feeling he lacked both at key moments. This great work of historical fiction was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 and is a surprisingly fast read. You’ll enjoy it whether or not you’re a Civil War buff. (It also makes me want to read more of the New England Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, who were both characters in this novel.)
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Closing Arguments, by Frederick Busch
If you desperately need linear plot and clarity, then by all means put this book down and slowly back away. If you can handle a smart, legal thriller–in which defending counsel struggles with his own mid-life breakdown that his wife thinks resonates back to his time as a POW in Vietnam–then go for it. A defendant is accused of murdering her lover. The lawyer becomes involved outside the courtroom. There are flashbacks and spirals and violent sex and betrayal…but you should remember that I said this book was smart.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
How I’ve gone so long without recommending a Raymond Carver collection of short stories is beyond me. Carver’s brilliance is his subtlety. His minimalist style crescendos in the great majority of these works to perfection; a writer obviously in love with short stories. He is an author who can pinpoint the normalcy of life and turn it into something amazing. I cannot say enough. Ray inspired a generation of readers, writers and poets. I rank this in the “put-aside-whatever-you-think-you-have-to-read-and-read-this” category.
Matthew’s Review 

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The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
“At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver…”
This is a tiny book–110 pages full of interwoven vignettes about a girl growing up in a Latino part of Chicago. I like it because Cisneros captures her character’s age well–a kaleidoscope of sass and wonder and poignancy. Growing up means entering the world and becoming conscious of the brutality and the beauty and trying to find your place. How does Cisneros get all of that into this tiny book?!

I recommend this book to all kinds of people. It’s a trim, powerful read and you won’t regret the couple hours you spend with it in the least. However, it has the added bonus of being appropriate for those precocious, mid-teens. I look forward to handing it to my daughter when she gets old enough. I think she’ll like reading about Esperanza, a girl who is deciding for herself.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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South of the Pumphouse by Les Claypool
South of the Pumphouse is the first novel by Les Claypool, the bassist of Primus. It starts out as a plan for a simple fishing trip between Ed, the main character, and his brother Earl. Ed hadn’t seen his brother since their father died, and Earl had become a junkie. When
Earl invites his childhood friend (and Ed’s tormentor) along, things get a little strange. In a hallucinogenic mushroom trance Ed and his brother witness something amazing, just before a huge twist that will leave you stunned. 
Chris’s Review 

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The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon
Raymond Shaw, winner of the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the Korean War, is living a lie…but he doesn’t know it. He’s been brainwashed by the Communists to become a perfect killing machine, an assassin, controlled by a deck of cards wielded by his “handler” to influence American politics and the Presidential election. Richard Condon created this character in his 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate, and later on many people thought it prescient of the Kennedy assassinations, as well as epitomizing the 1950’s, focusing on psychological manipulation and the Red Scare.

I set myself the task of reading this book, feeling that I “should,” and enjoyed it quite a lot though I didn’t want to. There is ample evidence that Condon plagiarized Robert Graves in this novel, and his writing style can be generously described as mercurial. In spite of that, I was sucked in to the story and even found myself feeling pity for Shaw, who is as unlikeable a character as one could meet. The pacing is good and the conspiracy is surprisingly compelling. It’s also a great introduction to the temper of the times. Read the book before seeing the movie (either one!)
Katherine’s Review 

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A Home at the End of the World & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
This has happened to everyone: You read a great story, a truly great story. It haunts you. The characters and events are forever embedded in your brain. The title–and the name of the story’s author, however, are forgotten. It becomes one of those *dammit* things. You can’t find the book with the story in it.  You remember it was some kind of anthology. You think it had a yellow cover. You go to bookstores and drive the clerks a little crazy. (Come on, don’t try to tell ME you don’t.) Well, I admit it. I did this too. In 1989. Before the internet. Imagine my delight, that when reading Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, I found that story was a chapter in the novel. *aha!*

I love these Cunningham books for the beautiful way they portray the desperation and struggles of the characters. The man knows his way around the language. But he doesn’t stop there. A “haunting” book is something that scares you a little. It has to let you watch characters do things that you’ll say to yourself you would never do. And it has to draw those characters well enough so that you say that to yourself over and over – in attempt at reassurance. Cunningham comes through. These are not books about destruction and annihilation. They are full of hope and fragility and beauty.

So, WRITE DOWN the titles and the author’s name before you come shopping. There’s really only so much we bookstore clerks can take.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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White Noise, by Don DeLillo
Jack Gladney has a few secrets, so does his wife. Set at a college on a hill, White Noise offers humorous accounts of academics, family life, and looming, man-made environmental threats. My favorite moment in the novel captures Gladney’s family eating fried chicken from buckets in their car. Although fiction, he seems to capture any American family silently devouring greasy, cheap food in the parking lot of a fast-food chain. Spanning every topic from Hitler to pharmaceuticals, this novel winkles out the new American story. Winner of the 1985 National Book Award, White Noise should be on your shelf next to The Canterbury Tales and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for DeLillo’s ability to understand humanity in all of its frivolities. A must read!
Carolyn’s Review 

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Stones for Ibarra, by Harriet Doerr
Richard and Sara Everton, hovering around age 40, decide to leave San Francisco for rural Mexico. The plan is to revive an old copper mine abandoned by Richard’s grandfather a half-century before. They hope to reconnect to family history and each other. It is mid-life idealism. No surprise, the North Americans don’t mesh perfectly into their new community. They are a culture unto themselves and are keenly observed by the locals.  Later, Richard becomes ill. Sara’s imagination grows in proportion as she loses him.

Harriet Doerr wrote this novel, her first, when she was in her seventies. I believe that it was that vantage point that allowed her to write her characters with such wisdom and tenderness. This book is gentle–but never boring. Stones for Ibarra was given the National Book Award in 1985, an honor Doerr richly deserves.          
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Room by Emma Donoghue
Jack is five years old and he has never been outside. His mother was abducted as a teenager and is forced to negotiate with her captor for healthy food and other necessities. After weeks of planning, Jack escapes, finds help, and rescues his mother. A happy ending, right? This is the story Emma Donoghue writes in her astonishing book, Room . The story itself is captivating, but the fact that Donoghue has made Jack the narrator, and a very convincing one, is mesmerizing. What happens to a little boy who has spent his entire short life in captivity and is then exposed to the outside world? What is his world? What is the definition of “normal?” What makes this book incredible is Emma Donoghue’s ability to create five year old Jack’s voice. Cognitively, I knew I was reading a novel – but I would frequently forget this. Instead, I lived in Jack’s world, saw through his eyes, and was convinced I was listening to his thoughts. Do not miss reading Room . It is an unforgettable experience.
Katherine Review 

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The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
When I first started The Three Musketeers, I was completely absorbed. I was expecting to see lots of esoteric language from the era, making it hard to read, but I was pleasantly surprised and found that the story is incredibly accessible. Dumas gave each and every character he created their own personality, and in this way, made them truly come alive. The masterpiece Dumas created has everything. I remember at some points biting all my nails down, while laughing out loud at some scenes, and in addition I felt every emotion each character felt. Combining real people from history, and even real events with a clever and fictive hand, this sweeping novel takes you in from the very start and will not let you go, even after the final sentence.
Chris ‘s Review 

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Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite book is (impossible to answer for a bibliophile!) my knee-jerk reaction is always Rebecca. I first read it when I was eleven, and I have reread it several times since. It is set primarily on the dazzling and craggy coast of Cornwall, in the southwest of England, which is one of my favorite spots in the World. More than just the setting, Rebecca is equal parts murder-mystery, love story, adventure, and courtroom drama. I always tell people that the first thirty pages are a little slow, but after that it picks up and does not stop. The characters are unforgettable; the narrator’s husband shows shades of Rochester from Jane Eyre, and the housekeeper is obsessively frightful. It is a haunting and memorable read.           
Molly’s Review

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Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn
Geek Love is a challenging novel. It challenges our beliefs and assumptions about what a family is or should be, how we define normalcy, and what constitutes love. This is a strangely funny and disturbing book, partly because what is disturbing here is also funny. Be forewarned, but read it. You’ll find lots to think about.         
Katherine’s Review 

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Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn
On a small island off the coast of South Carolina, Nevin Nollop is celebrated as the sovereign country’s founding father as the author of this sentence: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. One day, a letter from this sentence falls from the monument honoring Nollop, and the town council decides it means that Nollop himself has decreed that letter should be banned. As more letters fall, language disintegrates and the country devolves as well – into a police state. Neighbors report on each other, whole families are banished from the island or escape themselves, and the letters exchanged get shorter and increasingly garbled. Language itself will disappear when the last letter falls.

A novel about letters told through letters (appreciate the pun?), this book will delight language lovers. I appreciated the relationship between literacy and freedom that Dunn portrays, and the idea of language being held hostage to both the whims of circumstance and the machinations of government. A great read!
Katherine’s Review 

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
This novel is a composed of interlinked stories, told by characters who surface and recede. We begin with Sasha, a kleptomaniac who works for music producer Bennie Salazar. From there, we peek into the lives of tertiary characters as the book takes us back and forth in time. We see Bennie as a high-schooler, in a struggling band with the charismatic Scotty – and later, we see Scotty as a musing janitor who fishes from the East River for dinner. We go on African safari with a music mogul, his current sweet-young-thing, his seething daughter and the reckless rock star he manages. We go inside the mind of a girl who watches her autistic brother and well-meaning but hapless father wildly misconnecting. (In this section, Egan abandons traditional narrative in favor of flow-charts a la power point – an innovation that works really well.) All in all, though, this is a novel about inclusion/exclusion and power – something we contend with on the playground, in the boardroom…everywhere. The longing to belong is hardwired into all of us. People will go to astonishing lengths to be included. However, no matter what, the goon squad of time visits us all.

Someone described this book to me as painfully dark. It’s true that this isn’t a ‘peaches and cream’ sort of read – but it won’t pull you into a vortex of depression, either. It’s a captivating read – and one of the most interesting novels I’ve had in awhile. A writer of lesser skill probably couldn’t even attempt a book like this, but Egan is a master. A Visit to the Goon Squad was awarded the Pulitzer. It’s a great book for discussion!   
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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The Gathering, by Anne Enright
This  novel won the 2007 Booker Prize, which is what drew me to it.   It’s  about a woman coping with her large, dysfunctional Irish family and the recent suicide of her favorite brother.  The narrative is beautiful and disjointed.  It flows back and forth between watery childhood memories of witnessing a pivotal event and current experience in her disconnected marriage. The style bothers many readers and spurs complaints that “nothing happens in the book.”  If  you’re looking for a rip-roaring read, keep looking through our staff recommendations and come back to this when you’re more in the mood for it.  In this novel, Enright portrays how a death in the family could drive Veronica into the removed world of her own mind, from which she begins to emerge at the end.  Sometimes raw, sometimes tender, it is a quiet, poignant read.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
We could not keep this one in stock for the first year or so after it was published. There was the usual Pulitzer buzz, but this one was different. Tons of younger readers, incredibly taken with the author’s debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, were clamoring for his newest work. Fans of Sofia Coppola’s movie adaptation of The Virgin Suicides also wanted a taste. Anyone with any interest at all in gender issues had to get their hands on it as well. Requests were piling up around the bookstore, and I was running out of patience. So I checked it out from the library. And it almost didn’t make it back in time (oh no! cardinal sin!), as I lent it out to several people during the three weeks that it was in my possession. Middlesex has a lot to offer, and covers an immense amount of ground. Far too much for five people to take in in three weeks, alas… The coming-of-age story of the intersexed Calliope Stephanides provides the centerpiece of the novel, but the family drama behind Cal’s condition is constantly woven in with the action. It’s all about choices, choices, choices: how their repercussions ripple through the generations, how they can ruin everything, how they can save our lives. Good read.
Kirsten’s Review 

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The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Based in the mid 1970’s in Michigan, The Virgin Suicides is a story of five teenage sisters and their attempt at living a semi-normal but isolated life, under the pressure of their over protective parents. Had the circumstances changed, would it have changed the outcome of the girls? The narration by neighborhood boys infatuated with “the Lisbon girls” leaves a bit of mystery to the story. You find out what an impact one’s life, even your own, can have on someone, perhaps for the rest of their life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Captivating from the beginning, I was hooked to the very end. If you’re looking for an uplifting read this probably shouldn’t be next on your list. However, I loved it! Beautifully written, a tear jerker at times; an enthralling read. You will be surprised to learn this is Jeffery Eugenides’s first novel. I highly recommend this book!
DeeAnn’s Review 

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The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
Total Southern Gothic extravaganza! It’s a family drama unlike any that you’ve ever read. Despite the fact that Faulkner combines aspects of just about every literary movement of the last two hundred years within his tangled web of narrative, The Sound and the Fury manages to remain completely unique in its complexity. And the four-part structure of the novel provides something for everyone! Each section has its own narrative voice and extremely particular style, ranging from random stream of consciousness to suicidal depression to linear jerk to what I’m pretty sure is referred to as third person limited omniscient. It gets kinda complicated… and you kinda have to go real slow and repeat the same paragraph over and over at times… but man, is it worth it. I actually read this for the first time when I was just a kid, and had a real thing for Macbeth, and couldn’t resist the title when I found it while digging through the piles of scifi on the closet shelves. I had absolutely no idea what had happened when I’d finished it, but I had a vague feeling that the whole thing was almost unbearably pretty, and I kept reading it again every few years until I finally understood why. These are lousy people in a lousy world, but they’ve got that sick-sweet smell about them, you know? Like the apple you left too long on the windowsill that hasn’t lost its shape and still seems shiny, but you know it’s no good. We’re all afraid of rotting on the inside. It’s easy to connect with the Compson family.
Kirsten’s Review 

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Plum Bun by Jesse Fauset
Plum Bun by Jesse Fauset is a Harlem Renaissance novel about passing. Like Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, the protagonist Angela Murray has a dream to be rich; however, to accomplish her dream, she must marry a white man. The story unfolds like a fairytale with simple, direct, and economic language. It is not a hard read. It is also a novel of development. Masked as a Cinderella story, the novel has fairy-tale elements, but although it blends fairy-tale romance with nursery rhymes, the novel poses powerful questions. The most powerful question is the question of race, which is a central theme in the novel.
This novel just jumped off the shelf one day when I was shelving literature, and I was drawn to its theme. Fauset wrote, like so many women writers, using the expected female genre of her time, and the novel could be read simply as a romance; yet, Plum Bum is no mere romance novel. The romance genre, in a way, keeps the reader safe. This novel is a wonderful but powerful examination of how we view, contribute to, and construct racial, economic, and gender differences. We can all learn something by reading this novel.
Carolyn ‘s Review 

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Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris
If you’ve had the opportunity to talk with me at any length (“opportunity” may not be the word you would use, especially if you have talked with me at any length) you know I can be a tad cynical. So when I see Mr. Ferris has written his first novel in (almost) completely first person plural, I think this is a cheap trick. I read the first few sentences already annoyed realizing, “Oh nice, it’s about an office and all the quirky, white-collared antics that happen there. How cute.”
However, it’s not a cheap trick. It works. And it continues to work for the rest of the novel. And it ‘ s not ” The Office ” or ” Dilbert ” or ” Office Space ” . It is infinitely more genuine. It is rare to read a book ‘ s blurbs and get a feeling that those reviewing the book actually read it, let alone liked it, and beyond that honestly think YOU should read it, too. The trade paperback copy I picked up of Joshua Ferris ‘ s book is littered with blurbs. Surprisingly, after having read the book, they all seem sincere and true.
It takes maybe two pages to sense the subtle humanity unfolding in each paragraph. This author takes out no blunt instruments and I never felt like I was reading through “filler”. Tangents do flare out, however they are delicately circled back into the main storyline and only add, not distract from the narrative. It is a marvelous book packed with humor and tragedy, courting the profane and the miserable, and honorably detailing the dynamic, the dull, and the eclectic 9-to-5 community.
Matthew’s Review 

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The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
Perfect beach reading for the snooty intellectual. Embrace your elitist tendencies, friends, and have a good laugh! Welcome to an alternative 1985 in which the Crimean War still rages, cloning has made resurrected dodos the pot bellied pig of the day, and bizarre Brit Lit allusions run rampant through the pages like dingoes through the nursery on a hot Australian night. (Help! Police! Wackford Squeers stole my baby! Wherever is that damned Lestrade when a person needs him?)

SpecOps agent Thursday Next has a helluva job regulating literary crime now that the Prose Portal allows avid readers and supervillians alike to enter the pages of any book ever written. England’s streets are dangerously full of Baconians and Marlovians debating Shakespearean Authorship gangwar-style, and her masterpieces are suspiciously empty of several pivotal characters. Throw in some eccentric Next family drama, an amusing dash of time travel, and a thorough reworking of Jane Eyre, and you’ve got a series-opener that’ll keep you coming back for more. Fforde has produced four fantastic Thursday Next novels so far, with a fifth (better be fantastic, or else…) coming out this July. Fans of the Brontes, Monty Python, Dickens, Asimov, Romantic poetry, Douglas Adams, Orwell, Monopoly and a good time in general will be delighted. Folks looking for more dingo jokes may be disappointed.           
Kirsten’s Review 

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Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
And speaking of English social comedy… this is a quick read and great fun, whether or not you’ve read Pride and Prejudice and are already familiar with the characters and plot. Bridget has more girlish worries than Jane Austen’s Elizabeth, and the book is satisfying in that “Sex in the City” sort of way. Bridget is 30, single, and would like to lose 7 pounds, stop smoking and develop Inner Poise. Bridget fumbles and makes mistakes and keeps us laughing. Cheerio!         
Cinnamon’s Review

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White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
I avoided this for awhile due to the big “Oprah” stamp on the cover. Don’t let that dissuade you. I was convinced to read it when a friend gushed about the beautiful language in the book. “It’s like going into a flower shop and taking a deep breath,” she said. She’s right. It’s poetic and exciting. It’s not a “chick” book. The guys to whom I’ve recommended it have loved it.          
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Let me start off by saying that Fiction is not my strongest suit in the book world. I find it difficult most times to get sucked into stories of make believe. With that said, I got sucked right into the Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s prose combined with his sharp wit was just what the doctor ordered for this Non-fiction fan. His acclaimed masterpiece was a real delight of a read. Makes me wish I didn’t skim ho-hum through it when it was required reading back in high school. As it takes place over a summer in the “Roaring 20s” it’s sure to be a great summer read for a lazy afternoon.
Kevin’s Review 

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Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran-Foer
I laughed out loud for the first half of this cleverly narrated book. I cried uncontrollably for the second half. In between, I drank heavy amounts of Earl Grey tea whilst re-evaluating my life. This book is just exceptional. Difficult to describe, it is narrated in part by a story the protagonist is writing about his Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, and in part by his Ukrainian translator/tour-guide that learned English from bad hip-hop and an overuse of the thesaurus a la Joey Tribianni. Everything is tied together by letters between the two, which take the reader on a sentimental and outrageous trip through the Ukrainian countryside with a crotchety grandfather and his three-legged dog. Everything is Illuminated is refreshing and heartbreaking at the same time.          
Molly’s Review 

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A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster
I love English social comedy and how the plots of novels like this twist around convention. I like the manners and the fussiness of propriety – and the rebellion of a character like Lucy Honeychurch, whose mother says that playing the piano always makes her “peevish”. And, of course, I love Lucy’s adventures traveling through Europe while chaperoned by her older cousin. She is foolish and passionate – and I “took great delight” in reading about her. I enjoyed the Merchant-Ivory film, too. Helena Bonham Carter is sooooooo young!          Cinnamon’s Review 

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
 Billy Lynn and his fellow Bravo squad soldiers, whose Iraq war heroics were captured on video by an embedded journalist, are home in the US on a two-week “Victory Tour”. The final event of the tour is a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving weekend, where they are to be part of a halftime show featuring Beyonce. Funny and absurd, this well-written novel is reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. It has a lot of heart and there’s a poignancy to Billy’s character that contrasts sharply with the machinations of the Hollywood producer who wants to broker the sale of their story, the owner of the Cowboys who showcases them for entertainment value and the government who puts them on a public relations parade through ‘Merica. This book will make you shake your head and roll your eyes at those who control the gears – but it will also make you laugh out loud. I enjoyed it immensely. As soon as I finished reading it, I gave it to my father-in-law. This compelling novel was the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. A good book club choice.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I have been really enjoying reading Spanish authors recently, such as Perez-Reverte and Coelho. I asked a classmate of mine who was buying a Garcia Marquez book which one I should start with and he recommended this title to me. He was right. I had never really tried reading a love story before, but I think that this was a great book to start off with. The story follows three main characters, from their younger days all the way through to old age. It involves a love triangle, but with the third being distant and close to unacknowledged by the other two. The third, Florentino Ariza, had been madly in love with young Fermina Daza, who realized that their love was nothing but an illusion. She grew up to marry a famous doctor, who could give her everything in the world, Dr. Juvenal Urbino. This never dissuades Ariza from his delusions that he was still meant to be with Daza, and he lives his whole life around a woman who barely realizes of his existence. Garcia Marquez uses a masterful hand to create the pain, anguish, and happiness of all the characters he brings to life and if you like a sad story, but one with hope throughout, I highly recommend this title.   
Chris’s Review 

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Provinces of Night by William Gay
William Gay was not on my radar at all – and then a customer recommended this book. I’m so glad he did. It’s beautifully written – language junkies like me will fall for it right away. This is a great southern novel, set in Tennessee in the 50’s – banjo music, drunken ramblings, knife fights in boxcars, moonshine in jugs hidden in the backyard, five promiscuous sisters rumored to bury their unwanted babies in fruit jars – the sort of life-in-the-shadows we love to read about in William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy novels. Fleming Bloodworth is a 17 year-old bookish guy abandoned by his mother (who ran off with a peddler) and then also abandoned by his father (who took a knife and set out to kill his wife’s suitor). Fleming has two uncles – one a drunken philanderer and the other a voodoo practicing soothsayer. Not much help there. He’s an extremely likeable character and I found myself bracing for his tragic end or bitter disappointment – the stuff we read about in Faulkner or McCarthy. I was delighted to find so much humor in this book. One section in particular had me laughing out loud. Fleming makes some surprising choices and I did not anticipate this novel’s ending. Fans of Southern Gothic will like this a lot. Booksellers desperate to satisfy readers craving more Faulkner and more McCarthy will find William Gay a saving grace.
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
One of the most exciting reads of all time.  Your heart will be pounding toward the end.  It’s a page-turner of an adventure novel but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll be thinking about good/evil, nature/nurture, instinct, intellect, society and government long after you finish the last page.  If you haven’t revisited this book since it was assigned to you in high school, pick it up again. I just re-read it and found that, even knowing what happens, I couldn’t put it down. A fantastic book club selection!
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
When Timothy Schaffert told me he was teaching a weekend seminar called “Hooking Up” and was getting feedback about novels that really hook the reader, I suggested this. It grabs you from the start with a catastrophe – and you’re drawn into the book to find out what events led up to it. Jacob Jankowski is a ninety-something nursing home resident who spent the Depression years working in a second-rate traveling circus. He takes us back and forth in his memory which is filled with trained horses, sequined women, angry men in top hats – and one very special elephant. This was recently named as a finalist for the 2007 One Book, One Lincoln selection. I highly recommend it!         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
The book begins with a “mysterious incident” of our narrator’s neighbor’s dog’s death…though this novel is not your usual whodunit. The story’s protagonist, a 15 year old autistic boy, navigates through his world searching for clues to the canine’s untimely demise. Mark Haddon has been lauded for bringing the inner workings of an autistic child’s mind to light. This a novel you (trying not to sound to cliche here) really do experience. I have a severe aversion to 1st person narratives, though this book is one I latched into and truly felt engaged in. It is quick, it is intelligent, it is raw and empathetic…one of those few books I can hand to almost anyone and know they will enjoy. 
Matthew’s Review 

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley
For my first staff recommendation I decided upon Roots because it is one of my favorite books. I first read it many years ago because I had become a fan of the author after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. If I had been impressed with Haley after Malcolm X it was nothing compared to how I felt after reading Roots. Rarely have I been as moved by a book as I was by this one. There were times when I was literally crying as I was reading. Even though it is a very long book and the subject matter is intense and disturbing (Kunte Kinte’s ocean crossing is harrowing to say the least) I simply could not put it down. And in spite of its serious subject matter, when I finished the book I couldn’t help but feel uplifted. For this is ultimately the story of one family’s triumph over adversity through sheer determination to hang onto what is most important to them: their roots. If you want a challenging but ultimately emotionally gratifying read, this book is for you.   
Liz ‘s Review 

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Tinkers by Paul Harding
In college, I took a class called “Drugs & Society”. I learned that everyone, in all cultures, seeks to alter their reality and experience the world a different way. Children do this by spinning. Adults fast for days, get on rollercoasters, spend time in sweat lodges or take mood/mind-altering substances. This book is a mind-altering substance. Its opening sentence is: “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.” The book visits and revisits the membranes between one world and the next – the thin line of change between living and dying, sleeping and waking, one season and another, the still surface of a pond that separates the known world above from the murky world below. It demands a unique attention from the reader, who won’t be carried through on plot. I didn’t have that kind of attention to offer it at first. I set the book aside for a week. It isn’t a long book – 191 pages – but it’s a lot like reading Faulkner or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Ponderous and rewarding – but you must take time to ponder. In the first few pages, George is in a hospital bed in the living room of the house he built. He imagines that he and the bed fall through the floor and, from the basement where he lands, he looks up to see the gaping hole with its jagged lumber and nails. It becomes a vortex and all of his life is sucked in to fall on top of him until “the vast blue of the sky followed, draining from the heights into that cluttered concrete socket. Next fell the stars, tinkling about him like heaven shaken loose. Finally, the black vastation itself came untacked and draped over the entire heap, covering George’s confused obliteration.” This is Harding’s first novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize and is no less than brilliant.
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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The Distracted Preacher and Other Tales, by Thomas Hardy
Do you like the classically macabre but can’t stomach a whole “drenched in untimely death with constant suffering” Hardy novel? Then take your Tess of the D’Urbervilles trauma in small and practical doses and read The Distracted Preacher. These short stories are all set in Hardy’s traditional Wessex and each offers a rather macabre plot with often startling endings. Though not as grisly as Poe, this collection’s subtlety gives me a different (and oddly enjoyable) kind of creeps. Do yourself a favor and skip the first story, as it is rather bland, and go on to the others. I particularly enjoyed “The Withered Arm”, “A Mere Interlude”, “Barbara of the House of Grebe”, and “The Son’s Veto”. If these stories happen to be a bit too cheerful for you (and they might, if you happen to be the Prince of Darkness or like read The Bell Jar for a giggle), or if you end up craving more of Hardy’s talent, just try Jude the Obscure on for size. Then come to me after you’ve read it and I will reassure that you are not meant for a strange and untimely death, give you a box of tissues, some chocolate and a Family Guy DVD, and send you on your merry way once more.            
Molly’s Review 

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The Sun also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
As a Hemingway fan, I’m among the last of a dying breed. Lots of people take issue with his writing for whatever reason- staccato sentences, male-dominated narratives, his chauvinistic attitudes etc., but frankly I love everything about the guy. The Sun Also Rises is the best of his novels; Hemingway follows Jake Barnes, a wounded veteran from the Great War, around the Pamplona festival in Spain. Extremely lean yet with gorgeously painted images of Spain in the 1920s, the story follows the thread of the ‘damned good-looking’ Brett and her numerous suitors, including Jake despite his inability to lead a sexual life thanks to his never fully explained war wound. It’s got bull-fighting, fishing, expatriates, alcohol, beautiful women and much more squeezed into relatively small novel- is there much more you could ask for?
James’ Review 

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The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
This book is a little tough to get into. The brief, introductory sections leave you with a “What the hell?!” kind of feeling. But hang in there. I found this to be a very rewarding book whose characters are still with me. It’s set in New Zealand where the native Maori and European cultures blend and clash. (Did you see the movie “Whale Rider”?) Kerewin Holmes is a reclusive artist who lives in a strange tower she had custom-built. Simon is the odd, mute little boy who sneaks in one day. Joe is Simon’s foster father, a Maori man with a broad smile and plenty of baggage. The complexity of the characters is what will have you thinking about them off and on for years after you’ve read it. Everyone is wonderful. Everyone is terribly flawed. This novel won the Booker Prize in 1983. It’s innovative and challenging. Read it using the buddy system. Being able to discuss it with someone will add much to your reading experience. It’s a great pick for a dedicated book club.          
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I just finished reading Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, and I can comfortably say that it is unlike any book I’ve read before. Even though it falls into the category of Dystopian novels, the world Huxley presents is actually quite Utopic.

It takes place in London in the year 643 A.F. (Annum Ford), where the global society is eternally peaceful and stable. There are plenty of resources and plenty of space because the population has been permanently limited and everyone is conditioned to be happy. Efficiency, homogeneity and predictability are the virtues everyone strives to live by and promiscuity is thought to be healthy.

For as bleak as I was expecting this book to be, it was actually quite humorous! I found myself simultaneously charmed at Huxley’s wit and terrified by his vision of the future. I can understand why the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best books in the English Language of the 20th Century. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in stepping outside of their favorite genre.
Rebekka’s Review 

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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Alaska is a remote, sometimes harsh, beauty. This book is set there in 1920. Jack & Mabel have lost a child and, in their grief, have come to homestead in the Alaskan wilderness. The hard work of life there uses sadness as a foothold and wedges in between them. One night, in the first snowfall of the season, both of them are captured in a rare moment of silly happiness. They play in the snow and build a snowgirl. Jack carefully sculpts her face and Mabel lends her scarf to the figure. The next morning, the snow child has disappeared – but there are tracks in the snow. They catch a glimpse of a girl with long blonde hair. She travels swiftly over the fallen snow. They are captivated, wondering how this child can survive alone. Over time, they coax her into their home, where she might remain for an evening but she never spends the night.
Ivey gives us a tender portrait of a marriage following great loss – and the struggle for intimacy and contentment afterward. It is full of wilderness adventure and survival. What I loved most, though, was its strong fairy tale aspects. A beautiful read. Although poignant at times, this book won’t depress you. It’s a lovely thing. Read it with a good cup of tea – and then go for a long walk in nature! (This is also a good “cross-over” book for young adult readers. A good choice for mother-daughter reading.)
Cinnamon’s Review

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Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
While not the most light-hearted book out there, this 176 page collection of interweaving stories will keep you enthrall. Its twists and turns startlingly open up the characters of the narrator’s psyche.   Sometimes tragically funny, always cynically serious, it’s never for the faint of heart.  While easy to finish in a night’s sitting, you will find yourself seeking out more of Mr. Johnson’s work to get another taste of his unique style.
Matthew’s Review 

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The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The First Bad Man, the first novel from performance artist, filmmaker and author Miranda July, revolves around what I like to think of as a unifying theme across all of her work: the never-ending search for missing pieces of ourselves in others. Despite the nobility of such a quest, there’s no guarantee that a viable relationship bond will develop even if one does encounter a kindred soul – and it is this ambiguity that drives the story of Cheryl Glickman, the unassuming hero of The First Bad Man. Effortlessly upending norms while reveling in our endearing mundanity, July’s crackly prose forms an unshakable thesis: that despite our tightly wound vulnerability and haunted obsessions – or rather because of them – we are at all times the truest expression of ourselves. Drawing assurance from that understanding is a perilous journey of self discovery, and Cheryl’s path veers between confusion and clarity, heartbreak and joy before its final glide into quiet revelation. The First Bad Man is an unruly triumph.
Michael’s Review 

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No one belongs here more than you by   Miranda July
Sometimes I just don’t have the attention span for an entire book, which is why I have a shelf for short story collections.  A recent favorite of mine to pick up is Miranda July’s No one belongs here more than you.  This little gem has 16 stories, mostly centered on romantic relationships. In The Swim Team,  a woman recounts her time spent teaching elderly people how to swim to an ex-boyfriend; in The Sister, a retired man keeps missing opportunities to meet a co-worker’s sister with whom he has developed a slight obsession; in I Kiss a Door, a woman has a crush on her best friend’s father.
July’s story-telling style is very direct without sparing emotion.  For the most part, the narrators are emotionally damaged. The characters they interact with are usually the opposite.  It’s almost like reality television, but more poetic.  These stories are so engrossing that before you know it, you’ve read most of them and only 30 minutes have passed.  If you saw Miranda July’s movie Me and You and Everyone We Know then you will love No one belongs here more than you.
Hillary ‘s Review

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Satori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
As I sat in my hammock reading Satori in Paris, I found myself practically following Kerouac’s footsteps across France. This is a fast paced story (it is only just over 100 pages) and Kerouac takes you from the bustle of the city of Paris to the dark, foggy coastal area known as Brittany. Kerouac’s stated purpose of the trip is to learn about the history of his name. Satori is a Japanese word meaning “sudden awakening.” My satori came when I realized that I could in essence follow in his footsteps, as my mother’s side of the family is originally from Brittany (although my trip to France would probably be spent slightly more sober than Kerouac ‘s.) Overall, Satori in Paris is a great quick read – especially if you are into the idea of drunken escapades through a foreign country on a quest to find your heritage.   
Chris ‘s Review

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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Like most of you, I first read Flowers for Algernon in middle school. While I enjoyed it at the time, my understanding of it was of course at a middle school level. And like many classics of children’s literature, Flowers for Algernon has emotional and intellectual levels that can only truly be appreciated by an adult. So when I re-read it recently I was struck by how differently I viewed a work that I had thought I so thoroughly knew. The very first thing that I noticed was the craftsmanship and detail of the work. The novel is written entirely as journal entries by Charlie, an adult male in his thirties with an IQ of 68 who undergoes an experimental procedure that ends up giving him an IQ of 185. The reader is able to watch Charlie’s intellect grow as the journal entries change from the understanding and abilities of a child to those of a genius. The second thing that I felt was extreme pain and grief for Charlie as his growing intellect gives him the ability to understand other people’s thoughts and motivations. One of his first realizations is that people whom he had considered friends were in fact cruelly laughing at him. And then comes the cruelest twist of fate, Charlie’s discovery that he will deteriorate just as Algernon has, and with his increased IQ he has the ability to understand just what that loss will mean for him. If you haven’t read this book since your school days I recommended reading it again as soon as you can. You will be surprised at how complex and moving this book for children really is.   
Liz ‘s Review 

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Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
The narration shifts from character to character. It’s set in gorgeous New Mexico. It has a political and an environmental message. These are all good reasons for liking this book. But come on, ladies, admit it. Loyd Peregrina is HOT. You can have your steamy scene in the New Mexican hot springs–and still have all the literary and socially-conscious elements that aren’t present in your typical “take your shirt off, Fabio” novels. It’s a solid deal. You should go for it.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This novel centers around a missionary family in The Congo in the mid-1950’s. The narrative shifts chapter by chapter between the female family members, lending a variety of perspectives. Great fiction entertains while it educates, and this book does just that. Whether you’re in it for a historical perspective on The Congo or the psychology of and relationships between the characters, you’ll enjoy this book. I think Kingsolver could have ended the book when the family leaves The Congo but the writing is so good you won’t mind staying with the characters a little longer.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
In possibly his best-known work, Milan Kundera provides readers with the complicated relationships of four people living in and around Prague, back when it was still Czechoslovakia*. Basically, what appeals to me so much about The Unbearable Lightness of Being is how accurately Kundera describes the imperfect nature of human relationships; he is so very insightful. For fellow Historical Fiction fans, the story unfolds during the Prague Spring and its aftermath, where a prominent womanizing doctor is reduced to a prominent womanizing window-washer, and eventually forced to relocate to a collective farm. Also, there is a delightful dog as well as a bowler hat. How could you not like it?

*The two nations of Czechoslovakia separated very peacefully in 1993, and are now the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic. Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic, Bratislava that of the Slovak Republic. Thank you. Class dismissed.
Molly’s Review   

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To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
This is a must read, a re-read, a re-re-re-re-read even. Cinnamon likes to say Harper Lee knew she had one book in her; one fabulous book and once she got it out that was all she needed to do. She thus gave our American society a spectacular gift. The book is narrated by Scout, a Mississippi born woman reflecting on her childhood during the Great Depression. She focuses on one year in particular, in which her widowed father, Atticus Finch (who is the definition of courage, by the way), agrees to be the attorney of Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for raping a white woman. We all know the chances of a happy ending here are slim, despite mounting evidence that proves Tom’s innocence. Throughout the book Scout and her peers have countless adventure
s; from unwittingly curing a grumpy old woman’s morphine addiction, to discovering that their ghastly neighbor, Boo Radley, is really a hero in disguise. The book climaxes with a very tense courtroom scene at the peak of what has to be the hottest, most miserable summer in the literary history of Mississippi. Oh, how I wish the world was ruled by Atticus Finches.          
Molly’s Review 

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As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem
We had some more Lethem make its way into the shop, and as soon as Kat pointed it out to me, I scooped it up and took it home with me. As She Climbed Across the Table is the one I chose first through an extensive series of tests (read: it was the one my cat sniffed first when I laid them all out for him). The book is set in modern times at a university, where a physicist has accidentally created a wormhole to a new universe that only lets certain things through. The narrator’s girlfriend, another physicist, ends up falling in love with this semi-intelligent wormhole, dubbed Lack, and leaves the narrator. The story moves at a smooth, somewhat relaxed pace, but is nonetheless captivating. I couldn’t put it down. The scenario is incredibly unusual, of course, but the narrator describes the events in such a human fashion that I actually had my own fondness for Lack, the wormhole that would eat up strawberries and slide rulers but not sandwiches. This book has a quirky, lovable cast of characters and a fun, interesting plot with a satisfying ending. Grab it as soon as you can!
Allan’s Review 

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Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
I picked this book up on a whim, as it turns out. I’d seen it a couple of times in the store and finally made the decision to nab it. This book is about the private inquisitor Conrad Metcalf. Let me start by saying that this is no ordinary noir fiction. It might have seemed odd that I called Metcalf an “inquisitor,” and not an in-vestigator – this is because in the world this novel is set in, it is considered taboo to ask questions of some-one, unless you have a license for inquisition. This alone I found fascinating. Add to that the fact that it is against the law to play verbal news in the morning, so musical news is played instead; I was hooked.This book focuses equally on the strange world (not so unlike a possible projection of our own) and the mysterious murder of Metcalf’s most recent client. The two mesh together incredibly well, which pleased me to no end. I loved discovering more about the twisted world these characters lived in, as well as how some of these facets played a direct part in the mystery of the plot. That part, too, was executed wonder-fully. I’ve read some mysteries where clues and insights feel contrived, or something the detective reveals feels too much like deus ex machina. Lethem sets up the pieces, showing you just what he wants, but neither does he purposefully hide anything from the reader. Don’t make me beg: just read it!
Allan’s Review 

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Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem
This book is one of my lil’ darlings — so much my darling, in fact, that Ms. Cinnamon turned over the signed copy we found last year to yours truly, even though she was kinda achin’ for it herself!  So I did the happy dance, and then wiped my drool off of the archival mylar dust jacket cover. I think that Jonathan Lethem would appreciate that. Anyone who could write a book starring a Tourette’s-suffering wise guy-turned-private-eye who is calmed only by the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and compulsive sandwich consumption would appreciate my happy dance. You really have to read this–it’s got bullets, broads, and Buddha…what more could you want?           
Kirsten’s Review 

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Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in the last year. It handles all the big themes — religion, the nature/nurture argument, the truth in fiction — and wraps them in a highly entertaining adventure story. It’s a “love it or hate it” book with long philosophical passages. I loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
In 1974, with America still vibrating from the shock of Watergate and the Vietnam War, Frenchman Philippe Petit performed a tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. (This historical event was the subject of a great documentary film called Man on Wire . Check it out.) Onlookers held their breath and were amazed to see him leap and spin, seemingly suspended in mid-air hundreds of feet above. This (illegal) act of irreverence and beauty provides the cornerstone for this novel. In it, the stories of an Irish street preacher, heroin-addicted hookers, mothers who lost sons in Vietnam, artists, and a judge all intersect, separate and overlap in the city of New York, which surges and churns around them. McCann writes beautifully and the multiple voices we hear are distinct – yet he poignantly reinforces the idea that our human joys, sorrows and needs are universal. I loved this book!   
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy
I have a little crush on John Grady Cole, the main character of this novel. He’s resourceful, smart and strong. And as much as I respect Matt Damon, he just wasn’t right for the part in the movie version. (Neither was Penelope Cruz.) Set in Texas and Mexico, this is a western that breaks the borders of its genre. An adventure full of horses, guns and romance, this book uses language so beautifully that it’s no surprise it won the National Book Award in 1992. Don’t be thrown off track by the movie version. This is an epic journey. The movie tried to cover the bases–but it condensed the time frame and squashed the life out of the story. Pick it up and be patient with it until you get the hang of the dialogue. Once you’re in step with the book, you’ll want to make the trek.         
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy’s The Road is a powerful post-apocalyptic novel about a father and his young son. It is a story of survival and the human will to live. Their goal is the coast, but with few supplies and no knowledge of what is there it seems like an impossible goal. After several run-ins with lawless bands of violent men and cannibals, will they make it to the coast and what awaits them there. I was drawn in to this book after the first chapter, it is incredibly well written and the story is one that will keep you from putting this book down. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something that is a little darker but at the same time something very moving and powerful.   
Chris’s Review 

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The Memory of Running, by Ron McClarty
Meet Smithson “Smithy” Ide, an overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk who works as a quality control inspector at a toy-action-figure factory in Rhode Island. By all accounts, especially Smithy’s own, he’s a loser. Then, within the span of one week, his beloved parents are killed in a car crash, and Smithy learns that his emotionally troubled, long-lost sister, Bethany, has turned up in a morgue in Los Angeles. Unmoored by the loss of his entire family– Smithy had always hoped Bethany might return– he rolls down the driveway of his parents’ house on his old Raleigh bicycle into an epic journey that will take him clear across the country. As Smithy pedals across America– through New York City, St. Louis, Denver, and Phoenix, to name a few– he encounters humanity at its best and worst and begins to remember an early life that too many beers have blotted out. The baseball games, the home-cooked meals, the soothing presence of his salt-of-the-earth parents; none of it could transform the dark truth of his sister’s madness.
One Book, One Lincoln’s Review

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Atonement, by Ian McEwan
This is a very well-written coming of age story. Seen largely from the eyes of the pre-pubescent Briony, the story unfolds in an old English estate just before the Second World War. This book reminds me of a long, warm summer coming to an uncertain end. It is often a tragic comedy of errors (tragedy of errors? Eh… I’m not a lit major), and McEwan’s prose is low-key and very readable. The harsh realities of adulthood and war seem to reach Briony at the same time, and the reader slowly discovers how both shape her life.           
Molly’s Review 

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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
My God, what a book. One of the best books of American fiction – and sadly ignored by people who think of it as just a Western. McMurtry, at his best, can manage to convey such a sense of place that you can feel the hot wind on your face and taste the dust in your mouth – but he also excels at drawing real, complex characters. (An attribute I also enjoyed in his books The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment.) Gus and Woodrow are former Texas rangers – as gritty as they come – and it is their enduring friendship that provides the narrative thread of this novel that takes them on an epic journey from Lonesome Dove, Texas to Montana. There are scores of books celebrating friendship between women; and, although Hollywood has made a feeble attempt to shine light on male friendships with its new “bro-mance” genre, there just isn’t anything like the relationship between these two characters in Lonesome Dove. This book will take the reader through a range of feelings: excitement, laughter, horror, admiration, and tenderness. Ultimately, you’re left with, “Wow…”   
Cinnamon ‘s Review

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Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Why lookie here, if it isn’t *the* Great American Novel. Aside from being a tale of time immemorial (Boy meets Whale, Whale eats Boy’s leg, Boy begins obsessive quest for revenge on said Whale), the scope and breadth of Melville’s defining work is on a level that I personally do not feel any other 19th century writer was able to accomplish. You probably had to read it in high school or college, and there’s a pretty good chance that you hated it, but I’m here to say that it’s really worth another shot. Whaling lore, brutal depiction of life at sea, Christian allegory, criticism on the whole of humanity, beautiful language and deeply rooted pathos all really make the novel for me. The word “novel” hardly does it justice. If you have more than a passing interest in American Literature and its philosophies, this should be your bible.          
James’ Review 

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Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The best and briefest summary of Gone with the Wind I have ever seen is the paragraph at the beginning of the film:
There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South…
Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow…
Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave
Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered
A Civilization gone with the wind.

Reading this masterpiece was a goal I set for myself in high school and I finally got around to finishing it this past Christmas break. Set in Georgia during the time of the American Civil War, this novel centers around Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern Belle who is stubborn and determined to have things her way. We see Scarlett grow from adolescence to adulthood as she struggles to adjust to life in a world that is completely different than the world of her childhood. It deals with many dark themes including rape, war, slavery and survival, but more than that, Gone With the Wind paints a picture for us of the Old South, and shows how it was changed unalterably by the Civil War and Reconstruction. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937and inspired the classic film by the same name. Although it is very dense, it is completely worth the time it takes to read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in American history or who is looking for a novel that is challenging yet rewarding.
Rebekka’s Review 

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Lamb by Christopher Moore
How I beat Katherine to the punch on recommending a Christopher Moore book, I will never know. She is the one who advocates everyone read Mr. Moore. So consider this a double-recommendation. This story follows the little-written about childhood of Jesus (a. k. a. Joshua) from the point of view of his best friend, Biff. I understand right now, some of you are crying blasphemy. Seriously, though, it’s the right kind of blasphemy. The author seems to have an intimate familiarity with even the most minor stories in the Bible and with that knowledge, this parody seems almost respectful. Biff trails Joshua as the messiah-to-be finds his footing. Anyone of us who have dared to following any ‘calling’ knows that in the formative years, hilarity does ensue through trial and tribulation. This is no different for the savior of mankind. And for those of you who believe the man upstairs has a good sense of humor (really, the duck-billed platypus proves it) this book is definitely for you. I usually don’t have a sense of humor or fun (read my previous recommendations), however this is laugh-out-loud funny.  
Matthew’s Review 

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A friend recommended this to me a while back and I filed it away with no real priority. When I found a copy here, I knew that providence had shown its hand. As soon as I was done reading the book I was on at the time, I immediately began this one. I think I honestly loved everything about this book. The sort of style, wherein magic hides behind the scenes of normal life, is always one of my favorites, and such is the basis for the events in The Night Circus. The simplest description of the plot is that two magicians are forced into a challenge against each other, that they don’t know the rules to, and that has higher stakes than either of them imagined.
The descriptions in this book are absolutely enchanting. I often struggle with descriptions, finding them either too droning or too minimal, but Morgenstern illustrates scenes I found not only simple, but actually tempting to just sit back and imagine. Her characters nearly all change and grow through the course of the novel, some for worse, some for better. Romance plays a strong role in the main plot, and if you asked me, I’d say I’m not a romance reader, but I really couldn’t help falling head over heels for this book.
Allan’s Review 

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
Why would you recommend a book about unfathomable evil, you might ask? My answer is that I believe it is important that we know the past to not repeat it in the future. In this remarkable novel, based on a true story, we meet Lale, the man who tattoos the numbers onto the wrists of thousands of concentration camp prisoners during the Holocaust. He falls in love with Gita, a fellow prisoner, and for a period of 2.5 years, we follow their fierce love story inside the camp, as they vow to survive and spend their lives together. What particularly struck me about this book is that the reader is invited to get an insight into the everyday life inside a concentration camp for a long period of time. As we follow unimaginable horrors, we are sustained by a remarkable through-line of hope and resilience. I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of how many previous Holocaust accounts you have read.
Petra’s Review

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Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
Another work of magical realism, and another novel that turned me on to an author entirely. Song of Solomon is the first book by Toni Morrison I read and reading it was a wonderful discovery. Song of Solomon is the story of a family named “Dead” , their sordid past and their troubled present. The main protagonist is Macon “Milkman” Dead the 3rd, who from an early age earned the reputation of a “mummy’s boy” which haunts him to this day. Milkman searches for his own personal identity whilst sifting through and piecing together the mysteries of his family’s previous generations. Take out the “blues lore” and replace it with “christian allegory” and you’ve got something not too dissimilar to Reservation Blues. The best part is the blatantly obvious allegoric names for Solomon’s cast of characters- you’ll run across characters such as First Corinthians, Aunt Pilate, and Magdalene, among others, each one filled with potential for extrapolation and research to find the heart of the character. A great read and quite moving, I’d recommend this to anyone.
James’ Review

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South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
If the fantasy and surreal elements that Murakami usually offers are what you’re looking for, the lack of them in this book will surprise you. There are still some of his trademarks – self-centered men and mysterious women. However, this quieter, more realistic book is no less effecting than his other masterpieces. Hajime, now a married father of two and owner of a successful jazz club, is approaching that wistful, ponderous point of middle age. He has a good life, yet satisfaction is still somewhat elusive. One night, his first real love – from elementary school – comes into his bar. Shimamoto is well-dressed, intriguingly beautiful – but she refuses to talk about her life. Hajime is thrown back into memories, and lives for her unpredictable, late-night visits to his club. Soon, he is certain that he loves her more than anything. Shimamoto carries secrets that weigh on the fragile other-world the two of them have created together. This poignant novel offers a glimpse of the attraction that beautiful tragedy holds for us. I loved this subtle, brooding story. It’s a good introduction to Murakami. Fans of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes will also enjoy this little book.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
The absolute very best, fantastically superior, number one book that I read in all of 2005. It is now in my Top 20 Of All Time (known in some circles as the K T-20 O.A.T.)
Here is a picture of how I felt 20 pages into it:
Here is a picture of how I felt halfway through the book when I realized what was going to happen:
And here is a picture of how I felt while reading the last few paragraphs:
And then I burst into tears, flipped back to the front of the book, and started it all over again. Because it’s just that good.
Kirsten’s Review 

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The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
The Balkans is a region of much conflict and confusion. Home to several ethnicities, national identities have shifted through several wars. In this novel, we watch a young woman sifting through her memories, the stories told to her by her grandfather and her current experiences as a doctor crossing borders to care for orphans. All of it has a dream-like quality. The stories are mythic – a tiger’s wife…a deathless man…an elephant walking through a war-ravaged city…love songs played on the gusla by a man deceived in marriage…a little girl with patent leather shoes standing on a railing outside a tiger’s cage, held securely by her loving grandfather. The tales are beautifully told.

We read about Natalia’s grandfather, also a doctor, and the copy of The Jungle Book he was given as a boy and carried until his death. Like Kipling’s book, this novel’s stories are interrelated and capture the imagination. In The Tiger’s Wife – set in a confusing time, in an uncertain state of mind, in a place with shifting borders – we are left to wonder about what is real and what is not. But in the end, we are left knowing there is meaning and truth to be found in all stories. This is a book to get lost in. It’s a great addition to modern literature and an impressive debut from Obreht, born in Belgrade in 1985. Reading this was a rare pleasure and I look forward to her next book!
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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1984 by George Orwell
Wow! This is one of those eye-opening, life changing, amazing books that one comes across only a handful of times in one’s life. The book offers truth so clearly and so plainly that you can’t ignore it. The message is like a concentrated beam of light shone in your eyes during a migraine…magnified, brilliant, and almost too painful to bear. It’s scary to see the ways that our current culture mirrors 1984…the language we use to text-message, the CCTV’s in London, the torture of prisoners of war…This is one of the classics of literature that you cannot afford to skip. Be warned, Big Brother is watching!
Julie’s Review 

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Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I am Chris’ astonishment.
Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is perhaps the best debut novel I’ve ever read. In it lies the story of Tyler Durden. Durden starts the first underground fight club. It is a place where men can go to fight; not for money, anger, or honor but rather only to fight, to see how far they can push themselves and each other. Fight clubs spring up around town as people violate the first rule of fight club.
“The first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club.”
They are everyone, clerks, waiters, and station attendants. They are accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents. Fight Clubs begin to form across the country as the second rule of fight club is broken.
“The second rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club.”
But what happens when these men no longer get the same rush from fights, where else is there to go?
Oh, and if this is your first night; you have to fight.
Chris’s Review

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Lullaby by Chuck Palahnuik
Our narrator, Mr. Streator is on the hunt for a killer lullaby; that is, a lullaby that kills whomever hears it. But Mr. Streator is not alone. There are three other people who know about this particular lullaby, and the ancient grimoire it comes from, and they all have their own agenda for it; Helen wants the tome for monetary gain, Mona believes the spiritual power found inside can make the world a better place, Oyster wants to use the words inside to take down corporate America, and Mr. Streator just wants to burn the book up. But first, they have to track it down.
Lullaby is fast paced, and the characters are vivid and not entirely likeable. You get to know them as Mr. Streator relates them to you; his observations are your guides. I really enjoyed the details Palahnuik makes important to Mr. Streator, like what the characters are wearing, and the specific colors of Helen’s various suits; it’s not just red, it’s “the red of a strawberry mouse”. They may seem like unnecessary details, but considering his situation they keep him grounded. Palahnuik is known for his self-destructive characters and dark, minimalistic style of writing. If you like Bret Easton Ellis, I highly recommend giving any of Palahnuik’s books a read.   
Hillary’s Review 

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State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Once again, I binged on a book. I took this one with me on a family trip to the Lied Lodge in Nebraska City. In between the pool and dinner in the dining room, I found time to take a seat in the mission oak rocker by the giant stone fireplace and disappear into this novel. I liked Patchett’s book, Bel Canto, which I read when it was selected as the One Book One Lincoln choice in 2003. This one is even better and I finished it within two or three days.

Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher, is tasked with retrieving the remains and effects of a colleague, who died mysteriously while on a project in the Amazon. While she’s there, she has also been instructed to make contact with the elusive Dr. Annick Swenson, another researcher who has been working to unlock the reproductive miracles belonging to a tribe in which women continue to bear children into their 60’s. I was drawn in by the initial mystery and kept by the gorgeous, lyrical writing. After finishing the novel, I was dying to talk to someone else who had read it. This would be a great book club selection and would inspire discussions about whether we are driven to discover the unknown or compelled to fear it; the benefits and detractions of science; the points at which the spiritual and scientific intersect; what motivates us as people – and the relativity of relevance. Brilliant.
Cinnamon’s Review

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The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
This novel will take you to Civil War era Boston, where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell are taking on the controversial task of producing the first American translation of Dante’s Inferno. Soon, people are found murdered in ways that exactly mimic the tortures of hell represented in Inferno and the academics put their minds together in attempt to solve the mystery of what’s happening in their world. It’s a great period novel that reminds me of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist (another great read) but this has more literary interest. Pearl is a Dante scholar. However, if you like a good thriller and aren’t squeamish, you’ll enjoy The Dante Club whether or not you’ve already read Inferno. It’s a well-crafted page-turner that’s genuinely spooky in spots! Pearl’s second novel, The Poe’s Shadow , is on the shelf in my office and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.  Cinnamon’s Review

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The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The book that inspired the movie, The Ninth Gate, Perez-Reverte takes you into a thrilling suspense filled with murder and deceit. The Club Dumas delves into a literary whodunit based off of Dumas’ classic, The Three Musketeers but also includes the addition of the fictional book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, which is reported to have the ability to raise the devil. Set mostly in Europe, Corso, a sort-of book detective leads you on an masterfully designed and intelligent chase filled with twists and turns that will keep you turning page after page. You will love this book if you have a taste for a darker thriller.
Chris’s Review 

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The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
The world is one giant chessboard, and we be but mere pawns in the great game of life. This is what Perez-Reverte’s novel seems to imply. The Flanders Panel is one of those European art/historical fiction books that I am so fond of. Although set in Madrid, one could easily confuse the setting for Sherlock Holmes’ dark and drizzly England were it not for the occasional mention of the Prado and other Spanish cultural references. The book starts when Julia, a talented young art restorer, discovers a mystery within a painting done by the fictitious artist Van Huys. When the mystery soon becomes interwoven with her life and her loved ones start to be curiously killed off, Julia, her flamboyant antiquarian father-figure, and an eccentric chess genius begin to play a real-life game of chess in order to solve the mystery and stop the killer. Fans of The Da Vinci Code, rejoice! Infused by jazz music and plenty of gin and tonics, The Flanders Panel offers you just as good an art-history mystery read, though slightly less controversial.           
Molly’s Review 

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The Rapture of Canaan, by Sheri Reynolds
This is a great choice for book clubs. It was published in 1996 and if you didn’t catch it when it first came out, stop waiting. The narrator, the teenaged granddaughter of the leader of The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind, provides a lyrical story filled with themes that are perfect for discussion with your good friends. You can talk for hours about the concepts of spiritual life, family structure, power and the status of women. It’s a book that will pull you through–and you’ll enjoy every minute. The simple task of writing this paragraph has taken me hours because I got sucked into the pleasure of reading it again.
Cinnamon’s Review 

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This novel is set in the India of the 1960’s when the new ideas of Communism were clashing with the traditions of India’s caste system. It’s a family drama amid a changing political backdrop that fans of books like Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits are bound to enjoy. With rich lyricism infused with the spice and sounds of Indian culture, Roy expertly captures the child-like mindset of the twins, Rahel (girl) and Estha (boy). Their experiences and choices influence events like the drowning death of their cousin, Sophie Mol, and the end of their friend, Velutha. It’s beautiful and tragic…and the beauty makes the tragedy bearable. Friends who have also read this book tend to say, “Oh…it’s SO good…it’s so sad but it’s SOOOO good.” It won the Booker Prize in 1997. I loved it.  
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, translated by Lucia Graves
Simply enchanting! The story takes place in Barcelona, just after the Civil War and WWII, a time of secrets. Daniel, the 10-year-old son of a widowed bookshop owner, is taken to a mysterious place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and told to choose one that has special meaning for him. He is then the keeper and protector of that book. After reading the book he has chosen, The Shadow of the Wind, he wants to know more of it’s author, Julian Carax, but someone has been systematically destroying all copies of his few remaining books. Over the next ten years Daniel discovers the story of Carax’s past, and finds eerie parallels to his own life, and finds he is being followed by a strange character with a burned face. The language in this book is beautiful. My favorite rebuttal in the book, to someone who says he finds books boring is: “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” This book has childhood friendship, first loves, betrayal, espionage, horror, mystery, and so many twists at every turn.  I couldn’t put this down! A wonderful read! 
Julie’s Review 

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The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
This is one of the best books that I’ve read. And I’ve read a ton of books, folks. I just did the math on that: taking into consideration my average number of books read per week (different numbers for childhood and adulthood) and the average weight of a book (also different numbers for childhood and adulthood), I have read approximately 2395 lbs. of books. Which, by the way, is a more than a ton in both the US and the UK, thank you very much. Why is a ton heavier in Britain, anyway? That has never made sense to me… hey – maybe I should read The Sparrow in Gloucester, and see if it’s even better there! Though I’m not sure that that’s even possible, as the only complaint that I have about this book is that there aren’t any explosions. Aside from nothing blowing up, this is just a stunning piece of work. It’s got aliens, and mobsters, and mutilated priests, and biology, and linguistics, and food, and music, and, well, pretty much everything but bombs. If you still ask more from a book, guess what? There’s a sequel! Children of God fully lives up to the quality of The Sparrow, and carries its themes through to a thoroughly satisfying, if desperately sad, conclusion. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things happen to every major character in each of the books, and it is impossible to assign blame for any of them. Nothing is really anybody’s fault. I’ve never talked to anyone who’s read this and not loved it. So if you read The Sparrow and you don’t like it, or you’ve read it and you remember there being explosions, let me know, okay?            
Kirsten’s Review 

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Empire Falls, by Richard Russo
Reading a book is somewhat analogous to riding a bike. If the book/bike is well-made it is SO much more satisfying. This book racks up almost 500 pages but its good writing makes for smooth travel. Miles Roby runs the Empire Grill in a run-down Maine community that has been struggling since the mill closed. The book is about relationships and finding one’s place in the world. It is poignant but often fall-out-of-your-chair funny. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it was made into a movie with Ed Harris–whom I adore. I haven’t seen the movie yet because I’m a chicken. I don’t want to alter my impression of this book–or Ed Harris. Somebody should email me and tell me if I should go out on the limb and rent it.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago
Nobel laureate Saramago’s story appears to be a fanciful – yet stinging – account of life and death in an unnamed country. At midnight of some new year, Death decides to stop taking lives. What would happen, if people were no longer allowed to die? Some live in a state of suspended life (“arrested death”?). Various industries are affected. Even religious entities realize that they have lost their persuasive power, when congregations no longer fear death and cannot even pray for resurrection/eternal afterlife. I have not read Saramago’s other works (Blindness, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis), so I’ll admit, I did not expect such acidic commentary in the first half of the novel. There is humor here, if one has a mind to read it that way. The romance of the second half, starring death (with a small ‘d’) and a bachelor cellist whose breath she has been unable to steal, is somewhat more light-hearted. Does death ever work again – and is her hiatus a blessing? Saramago’s style is entertaining. Dialogue is separated by commas and capital letters, but written in paragraph form. If you’re used to reading other “stream of consciousness” style writings, you will enjoy following this story. Death with Interruptions is the epitome of dark humor, presented with compassion (or so I like to think). I’ve heard that this work is quite different from Saramago’s early work (other reviews hint at the deconstruction of themes presented in his 80s and 90s lit) but I prefer (as a new reader) to see this work as a grandiose contemporary contemplation of death’s place in life. If you’re looking for a quick read to make you think, this may be the perfect fit!
Katie ‘s Review

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The Fur Person, by May Sarton
The Fur Person can be found in either children’s literature or in adult fiction. Sarton was a novelist and poet who also happened to be an avid diarist, and this book echoes all of these genres. Both kids and adults will enjoy this book about a gentleman cat who adopts a family after living on the street and shares his reveries and his songs.
“If you wish to see Tom Jones, I’m he, This Jones victorious
Glossy and glorious, Lordly and lazy And catnip crazy,
Yes, glorious Jones Is me!”            
Katherine’s Review

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The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert
Some of my friends have teased me about being biased for liking the work of one of my favorite professors so much, but the fact still stands that I am always enchanted by Schaffert’s style. To begin, The Coffins of Little Hope is the story of a missing girl and how a small town used that story to keep itself alive. The narrator is an elderly woman, the obituary writer for the local paper. It seems, perhaps, an odd choice, but really, who better to relate the problems of fighting against the tides of modernity? As is the trend for Schaffert’s work, the characters are what I feel drawn to the most. Each one is incredibly real, complete with flaws and quirks.  Schaffert has a great flair for the quirky and the odd – and the people he writes are like gems, beautiful and multifaceted. Aside from heaping praise on the writing style of the novel, I would also like to say that this novel has a particularly interesting psychological question, which is left unanswered at the book’s end. I won’t reveal it, of course, but I will warn readers not to feel upset about this ending. Ultimately, a purse-string ending leaves little room for discussion. With Coffins ending as it does, I’m sure you’ll want to recommend it to a friend so you can talk about it together!
Allan ‘s Review 

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Naked by David Sedaris
I’ve always enjoyed Sedaris’ work, and I’m glad I recently decided to add Naked to my list. This book, as its title implies, strips naked many parts of family life. I never thought I’d laugh at the blatant fun-making of someone with a mental disorder, but as Sedaris teases about his own OCD, from his mother choosing to interpret his head jerks as nods to her requests, to his college roommate confusing his rocking back and forth in bed as a more dubious activity, I couldn’t stop laughing. Hitchhiking is prominent in this book, and as Sedaris catches rides from complete strangers, we see a cavalcade of strange folks, ranging from hilarious to hilariously terrifying. Dynamics between people are explored, always with a good amount of humor; be it Sedaris’ mother and father enjoying the predictability of the things they hate about each other or the one-sided banter between a devout(?) Christian and God. Naked is cleverly written, brutal and bitter at times, but always in a way that you can’t help but find amusing. If I haven’t got you hooked already, the last essay in this book goes furthest of all when Sedaris decides to live in a nudist community for a week. It’s mortifying, of course, but also riotously funny and surprisingly revealing (pun intended–it’s a nudist colony; I had to).
Allan’s Review 

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When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
David Sedaris has done it again: He has embarrassed me in public. I picked up his new collection of short stories, When You Are Engulfed In Flames, for my trip home, and I found myself laughing uncontrollably at the gate in Omaha, at the gate in San Diego, and in my coveted aisle seats there and back again. The ear buds attached to my silent I-Pod did not make me invisible. At one point, on the flight from Denver to San Diego, I laughed so hard I began to choke. Fellow travelers seemed nervous. Was it my behavior of laughing, spitting, trying not to laugh, and eventually choking? Was it the Swine Flu scare? Either way, flight attendants seemed eager to see me go.

Sedaris returns to stories about his friends and family and his linguistic struggles while living in France. My most embarrassing laughing fit occurred when reading his story about a visit to a French hospital. And, while there is much to laugh about, Sedaris continues to tell endearing tales about pet spiders and loving, but fanatic, relationships. He kneads stories that give us just a little more insight into humanity: our obsessiveness, our acerbic responses, and our decency. When You Are Engulfed In Flames is worth picking up; however, take my advice and read it in private– I narrowly escaped one flight attendant with a taser.
Carolyn’s Review 

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Where’d Ya Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Maria Semple wrote for the hit TV series “Mad About You” AND the hilariously funny series “Arrested Development”. I was heading into a busy holiday season and decided some humor was in order – and I found this quirky book very satisfying. Bernadette Fox is an eccentric former architect who lives in Seattle with her husband, Elgin Hunt, a top dog at Microsoft. Their precocious daughter, Bee, is enrolled in a private school, which is trying to up its game with a campaign to attract “Mercedes” parents instead of its current cadre of “Subaru” parents. Much like “Arrested Development”, this funny book delves into the absurdity of a family’s world.
When Bee claims a family trip to Antarctica as her reward for getting straight A’s, Bernadette disappears – and Bee sets out to find her mother by compiling the puzzle pieces of email correspondence from her family – and supporting characters. Highly entertaining, with plenty of humor and a few well-placed poignant moments. I gave this book to my sister when she visited at Christmas.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I was in the mood for something light but not fluffy – and I picked this up. It suited me perfectly. This is a novel written in letters – from author Juliet Ashton to her publisher, to her beau, to her best friend…and eventually to residents of Guernsey. Dawsey Adams, of Guernsey, has purchased a book Juliet previously owned and writes to ask if she happens to have a companion volume. This whimsical act leads Juliet into the world of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, formed during the German occupation during World War II. Captivated, Juliet proposes to her publisher that she write her next book about Guernsey and how members of the community endured the war – and how their literary connection made the hardships bearable. This book is often described as “charming” – and it is. But it isn’t inconsequential. The World War II sacrifices described in the book have the ring of authenticity and the characters, although imperfect, are the kind of people I enjoy. This book was satisfying – not haunting, mesmerizing or luminous – but satisfying , like a good meal. I enjoyed it and feel like I can recommend it to a wide range of people.
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields
The Stone Diaries
 by Carol Shields follows the genesis and death of Daisy Goodwill-Flett. Winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize, Shields explores how one woman fulfills and, in quiet ways, transcends her roles of daughter, wife, widow, and mother, as she looks for connections and purpose. The novel’s use of first and third-person accounts, letters, photographs, and newspaper articles inform us powerfully and poetically about how expectations and roles can define us. I have read and taught this novel several times, each time with a new appreciation for Shields and the story she tells. I consider Stone Diaries an approachable feminist and postmodern novel that can be read layer by layer–simple in its telling, yet boundless.
Carolyn’s Review

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The Fig Eater, by Jody Shields
Yay for period pieces and Freudian theory! This is a great plane/airport read. Set in turn of the (19th) century Vienna. Shields weaves a very gripping tale of murder, “female hysteria”, and the secrecy that surrounds the upper class Viennese. She also includes interesting traditions of Hungarian folklore, as the protagonist is Hungarian. I would imagine that anyone who has been to Vienna would enjoy this book because Shields is constantly place-name dropping, which allows the reader to visualize the city very well. Or maybe I just have a ridiculously good imagination. Either way, this book is beautifully written and quite colorful.          
Molly’s Review 

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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Kevin, the teen-aged son of Eva and Franklin, has gone on a rampage at his school and killed nine people, including a cafeteria worker and a teacher. Now Eva, in a series of letters to her estranged husband, tries to sort out what has happened and why. In often painful detail and brutal honesty, she examines her life with her disturbing son, their shared history leading up to the murders and beyond, and reveals how she has felt about him all along. Eva unflinchingly questions her ability to be a good mother to Kevin as strongly as she questions his ability to be human, a devastating conundrum.

It is difficult for me to recommend a book about which I have such mixed feelings. I’m not sure I even liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, but then again, I’m not sure that this is a book you can just tepidly like or dislike. I do think Shriver’s book is an important one and I’m glad I read it, as uncomfortable as it made me. That discomfort reflects the novel’s intelligence and power, and I believe that it is supposed to make one uncomfortable. It encourages deep introspection and challenges the reader to walk in Eva’s shoes with both judgment and sympathy. This isn’t an easy read, but I will read it again…after a bit of recovery.
Katherine’s Review 

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Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie
This is a beautiful little book set during the harsh time of China’s Cultural Revolution. Two young men are sent to a rural village for re-education. They discover another boy’s stash of banned books, meet a lovely girl and show her the magic of literature. This is a book about our practical purpose and our dreams, the confines of the body and mind, and the kinds of freedom we can choose. It is about love and yearning and the various kinds of danger. Dai Sijie directed a film adaptation of this book, which I also recommend.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Regarding the Pain of Others, by Susan Sontag
I miss Susan Sontag, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that she gave this book to the world before she left it. If you didn’t get a chance to know Sontag’s work while she was alive, now is a great time to do so and this is a great place to start. As with all of her monographs, this ‘un is slim, dense, and incredibly readable. That last is, I think, what I’ve always liked most about her work; it’s not easy, it’s not nice, but it’s surprisingly fast despite its subject matter. Reading this is like sprinting through a minefield, terrified and tired and elated by each successful step, knowing that the horror will catch up with you as soon as you catch your breath. Sontag was insanely in tune to the intricacies of human nature and culture, and her words are impossible to ignore.           
Kirsten’s Review 

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The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
This book should be mandatory reading for everyone in the United States. No joke. It is at the same time humbling and shocking. Steinbeck chronicles the journey of one family as they leave Oklahoma’s Dustbowl and head west to California in search of a better life. The book has useful intercalary chapters that illustrate what the rest of the emigrants are going through, allowing the reader to have an idea of the bigger picture during the Great Depression. This is not a happy book; I was almost unable to believe that such abominable things took place in this country; it seemed too “Third World” to be possible. But it was possible and it is a reality for many people today in all parts of the world. So, yeah… not a happy, book but an imperative one when trying to understand society and human nature, past and present.           
Molly’s Review 

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The Wayward Bus by John Steinbeck
Dawn breaks across the Southern California homestead of Rebel Corners, illuminating the lives of a group of strangers pulled together with shared purpose: getting away from the place. As Juan Chicoy steers Sweetheart the bus through Steinbeck country, each passenger (and Alice, back at the diner) faces crises of identity in near-cosmic proportions. The Wayward Bus is often hailed as either a work of character-driven art in motion, or a tale in which nothing really happens. It’s a short work, a 24-hour story, and a satisfying introduction to a classic American author. Does the ragtag group of people (aged 18-70, of varying socioeconomic and political backgrounds) reach their destination? “‘I’ll keep my word,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll get through if I can.’ He felt the wheels slip in the mud and he grinned at the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Steinbeck handles the emotional states of each character with ease. Each of us could be an Alice, a Kit, an Ernest Horton. We may have not-so-secret crushes on Clark Gable, like Norma. If you’ve ever asked, “How did I get here? Where am I going?” or simply had to answer with, “We’ll see how it goes,” The Wayward Bus is well worth a read.
Katie ‘s Review 

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett
There was such a buzz about this book when it came out that I went to Indigo Bridge Books (a new bookstore in the Haymarket) and bought it. It’s set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960’s and revolves around the lives of women – the White ladies of “society” and the Black women who serve their households as “the help”. The narration changes between characters, so we view the story from a variety of perspectives. I was drawn into this book and enjoyed it. However, it’s important to note that it does not tell the whole story of race relations in Mississippi in the 1960’s. This book glosses over a lot of violence. For instance, the sexual harassment/assault/rape that was known to happen in some households was not addressed in this novel. Roxane Gay has a great essay about this book and the subsequent film in which she talks about who is able to tell what story. Also, the Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche has an eye-opening TED talk about the danger of a single narrative. Taken together, you could have a fantastic book club.
Cinnamon’s Review 

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Again, I’m recommending something that doesn’t necessarily have WIDE appeal – no car chases, no murder, no hot sex scenes. (You’ll have to browse my other recommendations for those books…) However, Olive Kitteridge is really great. It’s a novel of stories that gets to the beating heart of life. Sections of the book are presented from various characters’ points of view, and our early information about Olive Kitteridge herself does not lead us to like her much. The wonder of this book is the kind of tenderness we develop for Olive, despite her flaws. Strout has given us someone very real. Olive Kitteridge is not someone to idealize or idolize…but she is someone to love. Strout is a masterful storyteller and this is a deeply empathetic book. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.   
Cinnamon ‘s Review 

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A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Every time I think of this book, I can’t help but chuckle to myself. A book this deliciously cynical and sarcastic rolled in a sweet intellect and stuffed with hilarity does not last long on our shelves (also, I haven’t had breakfast yet). Slap Dickens, Twain, Bernard Shaw, and Matt Groening together and you have an almost suitable combination for the brilliant, hap-hazard, and naive Ignatius Reilly – 0ur protagonist in this story. His mother is forcing him out of the basement and into the workforce. Ignatius struggles through the world in an attempt to appease her. This novel offers strong narrative, great vocabulary, and characters who sincerely belong in the story. Treat your brain and yourself. Pick this one up immediately! 
Matthew’s Review 

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
First a confession: I don’t just love Mark Twain; I adore him. I think he is one of the most brilliant writers ever to put pen to paper. I feel that a good test of any writer is if, after reading one of their books, you feel you have been profoundly changed. That is exactly how I feel after every Twain book I read, and The Innocents Abroad is no exception. First you come upon the full title of the book: The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims Progress: Being Some Account of the Steamship Quaker City’s Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land; with Descriptions of Countries, Nations, Incidents and Adventures, as They Appeared to the Author. Then you discover the eight pages, and please allow me to repeat that, EIGHT PAGES of contents. There you find that you will be reading about such topics as “Bearding a Moorish Garrison (Without Loss of Life),” “How They Rob the Mail in Africa,” and “The Sailors Burlesque the Imperial Visitors.” Turn another page and you will find the preface. Here Twain writes “This book is a record of a pleasure trip. If it were a record of a solemn scientific expedition, it would have about it that gravity, that profundity, and that impressive incomprehensibility which are so proper to works of that kind, and withal so attractive.” Absolutely classic Twain. And the rest of the book doesn’t disappoint. Twain uses his immense powers of observation, his unique understanding of the human species, and his razor sharp wit to bring us along on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. While the world that he describes has long since vanished (the book was first published in 1869), Twain’s descriptions are so vivid you can almost see the scenes he describes flash before your eyes. And, as always with Mark Twain, somehow in describing what is exterior he makes us turn our gaze inward to discover what is within us. I recommend this book to absolutely anyone who has a love of adventure, humor, and discovery – both of others and of self.
Liz’s Review 

Abel Sanchez by Miguel de Unamuno
I picked up a random book (Abel Sanchez and Other Stories) by an author I’d never heard of (Miguel de Unamuno) at a book sale in Kansas City five years ago. I picked this book up because the description mentioned something about “ethical fables”, and that’s right up my alley. After having read Abel Sanchez, I have to say I’m glad I randomly grabbed that book. This story takes place in Spain and is about two life-long friends, and jealousy, and seems to be a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel. Joaquin Montenegro, our narrator, has known Abel Sanchez for his entire life, often referring to him as his brother. Things become decidedly different after Abel and Helena, the object of Joaquin’s affection, fall in love. Joaquin becomes consumed with envy, seemingly beyond his control. I really loved the way Joaquin would struggle internally over his jealousy of Abel, an artist who seems to get everything in life. Joaquin wants without having to do much for it, even though Joaquin has an equally comparable life. Joaquin is aware of what this powerful envy is doing, ruining his enjoyment of his own life’s accomplishments, his marriage, his success as a doctor. You have to keep reading this story because you know Joaquin is going to do something awful and unforgivable…but does he? What would you do?  
Hillary’s Review

Yes Man by Danny Wallace
Here’s a good one for anyone looking for a good-hearted and humorous read. Its a true story of when the author decided that he would abstain from turning anything down and just reply to every yes or no question that came his way with “yes.” After becoming nearly a shut-in for a period of time he becomes inspired by a man he meets on the subway (or whatever they call it in London) to just say “yes” to anything and everything that comes his way. This takes him on some pretty wacky adventures. I found myself laughing aloud quite often (which is rare for me when it comes to Brit humour) and it even made me shed a tear! So…do I think that you should check this book out? Hmm…”Yes!” (Ok, that was lame but at least I tried…ha, ha…) If you love this book, then check out Join Me.
Kevin ‘s Review 

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
My friend Jen & I share a similar taste in books, so I took note when she said she loved this. I bought it at the famous Prairie Lights bookstore (one of the best new bookstores in the U.S.) when Jon & I were in Iowa City. I started reading it that night at our hotel – and kept reading until 5a.m. At breakfast the next morning, I read a page every time Jon got up to refill his coffee. I did NOT read while he drove the 5 hours back to Lincoln, because that would be rude. But I finished the book the next day.

It’s about a 15 year-old girl in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. She has three brothers. Their mother died giving birth to the third and her absence is felt daily. Their father can feel the hurricane coming in his bones and begins to prepare. Still, no one expects the disaster of Katrina. Most of the book is spent on the ten days before the storm hits: (Brother 1) Randall’s basketball aspirations, (Brother 2) Skeetah’s pit bull training, (Brother 3) Junior’s attempts to peek into the world of his older siblings – and (The Lone Girl in the Family) Esch’s newly discovered pregnancy. Some of the tones in the book are reminiscent of Faulkner – however, these characters leap off the page in a way that is uniquely their own. Winner of the National Book Award, this is a finely constructed novel worthy of much discussion. It’s excellent.
Cinnamon ‘s Review

Montana 1948, by Larry Watson
If you know me well, you’ve already heard me go on and on about this book. I push this book. I think that everybody who teaches upper high-school classes or early college courses should add this to his/her syllabus. It’s 175 smoothly written pages that your students will love AND their brains will start clicking in. It’s about small town life and the fluctuations in moral choice that happen because people know they must get along. The narrative is so intimate you’ll feel you’re having coffee with this guy, listening to him tell you a story about how it was for him when he was twelve in Montana, 1948. Fantastic.
Cinnamon’s Review 

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Trainspotting takes place in 1980’s Scotland, where heroin use in the big cities is rampant. It follows several young friends through different phases of their addictions, including overdoses, withdrawal, HIV, and death. They find a chance to make it big but their greed will tear them apart. I like this story because it is gritty, and at some points downright atrocious but shows the power of addiction and how it tears people apart. One piece of advice for this book though is that it is written as if the characters have Scottish accents, it can be very challenging at first but stick with it through the first few chapters and you’ll get it down.     
Chris’s Review 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I first discovered Oscar Wilde on a quotations site, by accident. On further investigation of his sayings, I found that nearly everything he was listed for was some sort of biting, amusing critique. I was quite surprised when I found out he was responsible for the Picture of Dorian Gray. I knew the story as one of those classic horror tales, like Dracula and Frankenstein, and it didn’t make sense that this hilarious, cynical man could have been the author.

Backstory aside, you simply must read this. The character of Lord Henry is something of a speaker box for Wilde’s cynicism and wit, peppering the story with amusing commentary. The rest of the story, though, is a good deal darker, more horrific, than I may have thought at first. The novel is an exploration of what becomes of us when we are free from moral consequences. Dorian Gray stays ever youthful and handsome while his inside grows dark and decayed.

Whenever I recommend this book, I always recommend a movie to go with it: the 1945 adaptation of the film with George Saunders and Angela Lansbury. The film is probably the best adaptation of the book, despite a few changes. I actually like to think about why certain changes were made, what purpose they might serve in a visual media. It’s a fantastic companion to the book.
Allan’s Review

Crackpot, by Adele Wiseman
Wiseman introduces Hodaleh (Hoda), a new heroine who rivals Jane Austen’s Emma and Henry James’ Isabel Archer. Instead of conforming, Hoda invents and reinvents herself in a sometimes bawdy but always endearing way. This novel based in the Lurianic tradition embodies, through Hoda, the idea of a cracked pot with light shining through it. She is strong, independent, funny, loving, giving (in many ways), and courageous. Her concept of love is one of sacrifice and selflessness, even if, sometimes, she might enjoy it. Crackpot is an intelligent story that plays with words, carries Canadian history, exposes social stereotypes, and quietly provides its readers with a new way of seeing. A story of heartache, poverty, sacrifice, social bullying, and loneliness, Crackpot is not merely about Hoda’s development, but folds and unfolds several times to reveal the town’s, and maybe the reader’s, development as well. I sincerely love this novel’s character Hoda, as she embodies traits of a true, independent heroine. Move over Ms. Archer; make room for Hodaleh .
Carolyn’s Review

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
In this novel set in the back country of the Ozarks, the culture of criminality goes back generations. In the Dolly clan, boys are commonly named from a short list (Jessup, Haslem, Milton), partly with intention to confuse The Law. Ree Dolly is the 16-year-old heroine who, when her father took off, dropped out of high school in order to care for her mentally ill mother and two small brothers. When she learns that her father, Jessup, put up the family home and timber acres as his bond to get out of jail, she takes it upon herself to find him and make sure he appears in court.

This is an absolutely beautifully written book. It is raw, relentless, poetic and mythic. Ree makes what amounts to a hero’s journey into a community that is unwelcoming to strangers and possesses a strict, somewhat sinister, code of thieves’ honor. The Winter landscape is unforgiving and the poverty is crushing. Ree longs for a different life. But when push comes to shove, blood proves thicker than water. This would make an excellent book club selection.

The movie showcases Jennifer Lawrence, who gives a stunning performance in the lead role. I really enjoyed it – however, the language of the book and the depth of the written story is not to be missed. Pick up a copy soon!
Cinnamon’s Review 

~ Poetry & Drama ~

General     Poetry & Drama

Two AND Two: Poems by Denise Duhamel
Clever. Witty. Funny. Two AND Two by Denise Duhamel is a wonderful book of poetry. Covering everything from Noah to Woody Allen to an ABC Americano, Duhamel reminds us that serious poetry and serious ideas can come from jovial sources. Using Mobius strips, word play, and warning labels, her poems laugh out loud and hold a mirror to our world. Her ingenious use of words and style, her inspirations for her poems, and her ability to play on the page are the reasons I pick up this book weekly. I wonder. I miss her poems. I have to open her book again. 
Carolyn’s Review

Different Hours by Stephen Dunn
Stephen Dunn has risen through the ranks as my favorite poet thus far and Different Hours sees him at the top of his game. Witty, sarcastic, and heart-breakingly compassionate, Mr. Dunn has the unique ability to speak from places seemingly autobiographical yet reflect on our shared commonality. This is a collection I have read over and over again. There are a great many collections of poetry out there filled with the “hits and misses” but Stephen is reliable throughout. I would dare anyone to read his opening poem “Before the Sky Darken” and not desire to keep reading. Did I mention he won a Pulitzer Prize for this book? There is a reason. My friend, Heather, has snagged my copy for the time being (and is rereading it), so I can’t lend it out; however, stop in the store and maybe we can get you your very own!   
Matthew’s Review

The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, Edited by Donald Justice
About 6 years ago, A Novel Idea (along with the Sheldon Art Gallery, the UNL libraries and music departments, and the Journal Star) took a week to celebrate one of Nebraska’s lesser known artists. As one looks through Mr. Kees’s life, you find he inspired a generation of successful, well known poets, musicians, authors, and artists. His poetry is described as depressing, sarcastic, satirical, and complex. If you like poetry with lots of layers (even more layers when you learn about the man and his life), you would do yourself a favor to pick up this collection. Each poem begs for another reading. There are many gems like this short poem:

“Small Prayer” By Weldon Kees

Change, move, dead clock, that this fresh day
May break with dazzling light to these sick eyes.
Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen,
That time may find its sound again, and cleanse
Whatever it is that a wound remembers
After the healing ends.

The last 10 years has seen a surge of interest in Weldon Kees and his work; this collection presents you with 180 pages of reasons why.
Matthew’s Review

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favorite work by Shakespeare. I just adore the combination of magic, comedy, and of course, love. Now I know that many people are immediately intimidated by Shakespeare, and believe me, I am definitely among the people that the No Fear Shakespeare series was created for. If you are like me, and the play format and the dated language of Shakespeare sometimes seem to be too much to overcome, give this one a try. The mix of the star-crossed-lovers with the comedy genre is just perfect. Even better is the magic and mischief added by the woodland fairies and sprites. The quick action, the outrageous situations and mix-ups, and the upbeat tone of this play will quickly make you forget that you are reading at all, as Shakespeare weaves this magical tale. If your only memories of Shakespeare are of torturous sessions reading the tragedies in high school English, I highly recommend this book. It will forever change your opinion of Shakespeare for the better!
Liz’s Review

The Poem That Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years Later edited by Jason Shinder
I came across this book at A Novel Idea recently and knew I had to have it. Not only does the book include Photostats of a 1956 mimeographed copy of Howl, it also comes with a CD of the first known recording of Allen Ginsberg reading the poem, at the Town Hall Theater in Berkeley, California. I of course rushed home and listened to the CD, and if reading the poem is amazing, hearing the author read his own words is astounding. Once I calmed down from that, I started to read the essays by distinguished writers such as Frank Bidart, Andrei Codrescu, Vivian Gornick, and Robert Pinsky. The twenty-five plus essays each have a different take on the poem, its inspirations, its effects on its own time, and how it continues to effect America to this day. But I think some of my favorite parts of the book are the three very small sections titled Talking Howl. These sections contain excerpts from letters to Ginsberg, reviews of Howl, introductions to editions of Howl, testimony and judgments from court cases, and even something from the diary of Anais Nin. If you are a fan of Howl, pick this book up; it will give you an enhanced understanding of, and appreciation for, this iconic poem.
Liz’s Review