[Reviews from sources on Amazon.com]



Krakauer, Jon

Into the Wild.

Some Alaskans reacted contemptuously to Krakauer's magazine article about a young man who starved to death one summer in the shadow of Denali. Chris McCandless was an idealistic fool, they said. He didn't equip himself properly,  couldn't tell moose from caribou, didn't know Alaskan rivers become unfordable torrents in the summer melt: hubristic ignorance dictated his fate. Such acid responses won't greet this book-length expansion of the article, a drama constructed deftly enough to earn a place in the canon of American nature writing. First, there is mystery: the emaciated body found in September 1992 in a bus-hut had no identity papers, just a name and a terse diary of final days. Then there is the question of personal identity: What existential longing led the twentysomething McCandless to that bus and at what cost to himself and his family? And finally, there is the majestic stage set of the American Far  West, which Krakauer draws on to create his lyrical, mesmerizing testament to McCandless' odyssey.  Krakauer starts

with the discovery of McCandless' body and works backward, revealing that McCandless graduated from Emory University, severed contact with his family, assumed the alias "Alexander Supertramp," and began two years of vagabondage in search of Truth in living as advocated by Thoreau and Tolstoy, of whose works "Alex" was enamored. His earnestness indelibly impressed the itinerants he easily befriended--whom he, in truth, somewhat callously jettisoned--as Krakauer reveals throughout this sensitive narrative. A moving story that reiterates the bewitching attraction of the Far West. Gilbert Taylor, From Booklist , December 1, 1995.



Simpson, Joe

Touching the Wild

Concise and yet packed with detail, Touching the Void, Joe Simpson's harrowing account of near-death in the Peruvian Andes, is a compact tour de force that wrestles with issues of bravery, friendship, physical endurance, the code of the mountains, and the will to live. Simpson dedicates the book to his climbing partner, Simon Yates, and to "those friends who have gone to the mountains and have not returned." What is it that compels certain individuals to  willingly seek out the most inhospitable climate on earth? To risk their lives in an attempt to leave footprints where few or none have gone before? Simpson's vivid narrative of a dangerous climbing expedition will convince even the most die-hard couch potato that such pursuits fall within the realm of the sane. As the author struggles ever higher, readers  learn of the mountain's awesome power, the beautiful--and sometimes deadly--sheets of blue glacial ice, and the accomplishment of a successful ascent. And then catastrophe: the second half of Touching the Void sees Simpson at his darkest moment. With a smashed, useless leg, he and his partner must struggle down a near-vertical face--and  that's only the beginning of their troubles.  Amazon.com review



Huffaker, Claire

One time I saw morning come home

A memoir desguised as a novel. It's not until you're well into this Classic that you realize he's telling the

story about how his parents met and fell in love. You think you've had it rough, read this one! First read it 15-20 years ago and lost track of my copy. Been looking for it. Ordering a new one right now! Timeless classic of two people head-over-heels in love surviving through the depression. This one'll get ya right where ya live!! If you see it in a used book store(it's out of print) pick it up, run to the check-out, race home and cancel your plans for the rest of the day! Thank God for Amazon.com that I've found it again. If I could find a woman like Orlean, I'd marry her in a minute. Why Clair Huffaker isn't a more well known author, I have no idea. He is a natural. I'd like to meet him.  Amazon.com



Grant, Donald

White Goats and Black Bees

Donald and Mary Grant, two well paid journalists living in New York City, decide to do a career change in their late 50's. They purchase a cottage sitting on three or four acres, later to become 11 acres, and live off the land. They visit the local Irish Pub on Saturday nights, chat about farm animals, and throughout the year entertain friends from their previous life who thought them totally "bunkers". Donald for added income writes a column for an American newspaper describing their new life. At a time when Americans have had to make career changes late in life, I would highly recommend this book. I think they added to the success of their endeavor by choosing Ireland, for it is definitely a country where nature has it's way. Untamed, perhaps, but also unspoiled. I believe in my heart that the troubles in Ireland should not be and Great Britian should give Northern Ireland it's freedom just as Donald Grant felt after living there. The Irish are unique, pleasantly unique, and should remain so.


Morgan, Robert  

Gap Creek

Gap Creek opens with one wrenching death and ends with another. In between, this novel of turn-of-the-century Appalachian life works in fire, flood, swindlers, sickness, and starvation--a truly biblical assortment of plagues, all visited on the sturdy shoulders of 17-year-old Julie Harmon. "Human life

don't mean a thing in this world," she concludes. And who could blame her? "People could be born and they could suffer, and they could die, and it didn't mean a thing.... The world was exactly like it had been and would always be, going on about its business." For Julie, that business is hard physical labor.

Fortunately, she's fully capable of working "like a man"-- splitting and hauling wood, butchering hogs, rendering lard, planting crops, and taking care of the stock. Even when Julie meets and marries handsome young Hank Richards, there's no happily-ever-after in store. Nothing comes easy in Julie Harmon's world, and their first year together is no exception. Throughout the novel, Morgan chronicles Julie's trials in prose

of great dignity and clarity, capturing the rhythms of North Carolina speech by using only the subtlest of inflections. Clearly the author has done his research too--the descriptions of physical labor practically leap off the page. (Suffice to say, you'll learn far more about hog slaughtering than you ever dreamed of knowing.) Yet he resists the temptation to make his long-suffering characters into saints. Julie simmers with resentment at being her family's workhorse, and Hank flies into a helpless rage whenever he feels that his authority is questioned. In novels like {HYPERLINK "/exec/obidos/ASIN/1565122224/103-1758929-1827067"}The Truest Pleasure and {HYPERLINK "/exec/obidos/ASIN/0895871785/103-1758929-1827067"}The Hinterlands, Morgan proved his ability to create memorable heroines. In Gap Creek, he writes with great feeling--but not a touch of sentimentality--about a life Julie aptly calls "both

simple and hard."


Summer 2000

Blackwell, Anne

Seasons of her Life:  The Biography of Madeleine Korbel Albright

The commencement speaker at Madeleine Albright's 1959 graduation from Wellesley College told the women at this prestigious East Coast school that their sterling education would serve them well. They were, said then Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy, "given the ideal preparation to serve at the very heart of the home." But the daughter of Czechoslovakian parents, whose diplomat father moved them to the U.S. when his country fell under Soviet control, was far too intellectually ambitious to be sent into domestic exile.

Seasoned Time political reporter Ann Blackman's biography describes how Albright moved past the expectations of her time--and the challenges of being an immigrant--to become the highest-ranking woman in the history of U.S. politics when Bill Clinton picked her to be his second secretary of state.

Through a peripatetic childhood, marriage and divorce, and the increasing demands of her work as a Ph.D. candidate, professor, and United States ambassador to the United Nations, Albright is revealed to be driven and demanding, a savvy diplomat who has forged relationships with world leaders and with a small, sustaining group of powerful American women. Extensively researched and enlivened by anecdote,

Seasons of Her Life is a fascinating study of a very unusual and dynamic woman's rise to power. --Maria Dolan The New York Times Book Review, Jacob Heilbrunn



Fall 2000

Gerber, Merrill Joan.

Old Mother, Little Cat.

As Merrill Gerber steps outside her kitchen door on a dreary winter morning, her mind on the burdensome prospect of her regular visit to her mother in the nursing home, she hears the small, forlorn cry of a lost baby kitten.  With this scene begins a remarkable, deeply personal narrative by acclaimed fiction writer Merrill Joan Gerber. In a journal covering just less than a year, Gerber weaves together two journeys - one into the joy and renewal of emerging life, the other into the anguished helplessness of again.

Gerber brings unmatched skill, an unerring eye, and unflinching honesty to her first non-fiction book. No one who has ever loved a pet can fail to be moved by Gerber's descriptions of Maxie the kitten - his first days of fear and mistrust, his growing devotion to his owner, his delightful explorations, the profound sense of peace that a purring cat can inspire.  Anyone who has witnessed the gradual decline of a beloved parent will be deeply moved to find the experience reflected in Gerber's words. To her mother's grim refrain - "I wish i were dead" - Gerber registers the full spectrum of human response: sorrow and sympathy, impatience and rage, and - along with enormous love - lacerating guilt.   With the complex realities of an aging population bearing upon us as never before, Old Mother, Little Cat is clearly an e-book for our times.


Fall 2000

Simpson, Mona.

Off Keck Road.

Off Keck Road seems an off-putting title for a book--just try saying it out loud. But that might be the point. Mona Simpson, celebrated author of Anywhere but Here, The Lost Father, and A Regular Guy, has written a novel about life's left-behinds. Her characters are people no one really wants, and Keck Road, in a dingy Wisconsin suburb, is a place where no one wants to live. Simpson's story follows tenderhearted Bea Maxwell, daughter of one of Green Bay's leading families, as she befriends first one, then another of the road's residents. Bea herself hails from a fancier part of town, where as a teenager in the 1950s she is busy and happy and not quite like everyone else: "It was as if adolescence--that new word that everyone all of a sudden knew--was a contagion Bea somehow had not caught. She agreed with her reasonable parents that dieting yourself half to death was dangerous. She found high heels ridiculous. She ate casseroles and desserts with the abandon of a ten-year-old boy." Bea never does pair up with anyone, boy or man, and her virginity, as imagined by Simpson, is a lifelong, defining condition: it "seemed an erectness in her posture, something symmetrical, silver."   Bea compensates for her lack of love by weaving a tight web of equally not-quite-the-thing friends: Bill, the divorced boss at the real estate agency where she works; June, a single mom; Matthew, a priest; and finally, Shelley, uneducated, clever, a polio survivor. A dual portrait emerges: Simpson shows us a gossipy, exclusionary Midwestern town. And she shows us, in full, Bea, a character who teeters between the conventional (golfer, broker of the year, board member at the church) and the off-beat. The author never forces Bea into the unlikely role of heroine, nor does she judge her curious circle of friends. In the end, Simpson's warts-and-all rendering has a real humanity to it. --Claire Dederer


March  2001

Paterson, Katherine.
Bridge to Terebithia (Young adult)

The story starts out simply enough: Jess Aarons wants to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade--he wants it so bad he can taste it. He's been practicing all summer, running in the fields around his farmhouse until he collapses in a sweat. Then a tomboy named Leslie Burke moves into the farmhouse next door and changes his life forever. Not only does Leslie not look or act like any girls Jess knows, but she also turns out to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. After getting over the shock and humiliation of being beaten by a girl, Jess begins to think Leslie might be okay.   Despite their superficial differences, it's clear that Jess and Leslie are soul mates. The two create a secret kingdom in the woods named Terabithia, where the only way to get into the castle is by swinging out over a gully on an enchanted rope. Here they reign as king and queen, fighting off imaginary giants and the walking dead, sharing stories and dreams, and plotting against the schoolmates who tease them. Jess and Leslie find solace in the sanctuary of Terabithia until a tragedy strikes and the two are separated forever. In a style that is both plain and powerful, Katherine Paterson's characters will stir your heart and put a lump in your throat.


Summer 2001

Peck, Richard

A Year Down Yonder (Young Adult, Newbery Winner, 2001)

Grandma Dowdel's back! She's just as feisty and terrifying and goodhearted as she was in Richard Peck's A Long Way from Chicago, and every bit as funny. In the first book, a Newbery Honor winner, Grandma's rampagesere seen through the eyes of her grandson Joey, who, with his sister, Mary Alice, was sent down from Chicago for a week every summer to visit. But now it's 1937 and Joey has gone off to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, while 15-year-old Mary Alice has to go stay with Grandma alone--for a whole year, maybe longer. From the very first moment when she arrives at the depot clutching her Philco portable radio and her cat, Bootsie, Mary Alice knows it won't be easy. And it's not. She has to sleep alone in the attic, attend a hick town school where in spite of her worn-out coat she's "the rich girl from Chicago," and be an accomplice in Grandma's outrageous schemes to run the town her own way--and do good while nobody's looking. But being Grandma's sidekick is always interesting, and by the end of the year, Mary Alice has grown to see the formidable love in the heart of her formidable Grandma.

Peck is at his best with these hilarious stories that rest solidly within the American literary tradition of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Teachers will cherish them as great read-alouds, and older teens will gain historical perspective from this lively picture of the depression years in small-town America. (Ages 12 and older) --Patty Campbell


Summer 2001

Berg, Elizabeth

Never change

Elizabeth Berg has a single great gift as a novelist. She creates heroines who are stuck and unhappy, yet deeply sympathetic. This may seem like an easy trick to pull off, but it's not. Think about it: usually when a character is mired in a problem--especially a problem stemming from her own reluctance to change, or fear of commitment, or lack of identity--the reader is ready within a few dozen pages to shout, "Pull yourself together!" and set the book aside. In contrast, Berg's characters seem like enjoyable challenges: problems with actual solutions.   In Never Change, Berg uses her gift to great advantage. Middle-aged Myra Lipinsky describes herself as "the one who sat on a folding chair out in the hall with a cigar box on my lap selling tickets to the prom, but never going." And despite a flourishing career as a visiting nurse, she feels as much an also-ran as ever. As the novel begins, in fact, high school seems to be rearing its ugly head again: Chip Reardon, the heartthrob of Myra's youth, has returned to town to live with his parents. Chip is dying from a brain tumor, and Myra becomes his nurse. Berg is not the kind of writer to lay bare the unsettling power dynamics of such a situation. Instead, Chip and Myra become friends and, well, learn how to love each other. It's a testament to the author's strong sense of character that we actually believe--and what's more, care about--Myra's emergence from her emotional cocoon. And the book is full of nice details, like this snapshot of children being read to at a library, "rising up on their knees to see the pictures, resting their hands unselfconsciously on those ahead of them so that they would not lose their balance." Such careful observations, recounted in Myra's voice, make us believe that she is a character worth knowing, and worth saving. --Claire Dederer


Summer 2001

Weihenmayer, Erik

Touch the Top of the World : A Blind Man's Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye Can See
From Publishers Weekly
In this moving and adventure-packed memoir, Weihenmayer begins with his gradual loss of sight as a very young child. By the time he became fully blind in high school, he had already developed the traits that would carry him to the summits of some of the world's highest mountains as well as onto the frequently hazardous slopes of daily life: charm, resilience, a sense of humor, a love of danger and a concern for others. His eloquent memoir exhibits all these traits. Weihenmayer--a thrill seeker who skydives, climbs mountains and skis--devotes the first half of the book to his adolescence, punctuated by his loss of sight, his mother's sudden death and his diligent efforts not only to pick up girls, but first to figure out which ones were attractive. With its many tales of pranks, adventures and the talents of his guide dog, this half alone is worth the price of admission. He goes on to chronicle his young adulthood, including his teaching career and his passion for climbing, seeded during a month-long skills camp for blind adolescents and blossoming on his harrowing ascent of Mount McKinley. He describes fearsome ascents of Kilimanjaro--with his fiance, so they can be married near the crater summit--El Capitan and Aconcagua's Polish Glacier. Weihenmayer tells his extraordinary story with humor, honesty and vivid detail, and his fortitude and enthusiasm are deeply inspiring. With the insightful intimacy of Tom Sullivan's classic If You Could See What I Hear and the intensity of the best adventure narratives, Weihenmayer's story will appeal to a broad audience.



Summer 2001

O'Brien, Tim

Things They Carried

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."


A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried marks a subtle but definitive line of demarcation between Tim O'Brien's earlier works about Vietnam, the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional Going After Cacciato, and this sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O'Brien's theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth. The narrator of most of these stories is "Tim"; yet O'Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as "Tim" does in "The Man I Killed," and unlike Tim in "Ambush," he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn't make it any less true. In "On the Rainy River," the character Tim O'Brien responds to his draft notice by driving north, to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy while he wrestles with the choice between dodging the draft or going to war. The real Tim O'Brien never drove north, never found himself in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore with a decision to make. The real Tim O'Brien quietly boarded the bus to Sioux Falls and was inducted into the United States Army. But the truth of "On the Rainy River" lies not in facts but in the genuineness of the experience it depicts: both Tims went to a war they didn't believe in; both considered themselves cowards for doing so. Every story in The Things They Carried speaks another truth that Tim O'Brien learned in Vietnam; it is this blurred line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, that makes his book unforgettable. --Alix Wilber --



Spring 2001

Snicket, Lemony

The Bad Beginning (Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) Young Adult

Make no mistake. The Bad Beginning begins badly for the three Baudelaire children, and then gets worse. Their misfortunes begin one gray day on Briny Beach when Mr. Poe tells them that their parents perished in a fire that destroyed their whole house. "It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed," laments the personable (occasionally pedantic) narrator, who tells the story as if his readers are gathered around an armchair on pillows. But of course what follows is dreadful. The children thought it was bad when the well-meaning Poes bought them grotesque-colored clothing that itched. But when they are ushered to the dilapidated doorstep of the miserable, thin, unshaven, shiny-eyed, money-grubbing Count Olaf, they know that they--and their family fortune--are in real trouble. Still, they could never have anticipated how much trouble. While it's true that the events that unfold in Lemony Snicket's novels are bleak, and things never turn out as you'd hope, these delightful, funny, linguistically playful books are reminiscent of Roald Dahl (remember James and the Giant Peach and his horrid spinster aunts), Charles Dickens (the orphaned Pip in Great Expectations without the mysterious benefactor), and Edward Gorey (The Gashlycrumb Tinies). There is no question that young readers will want to read the continuing unlucky adventures of the Baudelaire children in The Reptile Room and The Wide Window. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson


Summer 2001

Snicket, Lemony

The Reptile Room (Series of Unfortunate Events, 2) (Young Adult)

The Reptile Room begins where Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning ends... on the road with the three orphaned Baudelaire children as they are whisked away from the evil Count Olaf to face "an unknown fate with some unknown relative." But who is this Dr. Montgomery, their late father's cousin's wife's brother? "Would Dr. Montgomery be a kind person? they wondered. Would he at least be better than Count Olaf? Could he possibly be worse?" He certainly is not worse, and in fact when the Baudelaire children discover that he makes coconut cream cakes, circles the globe looking for snakes to study, and even plans to take them with him on his scientific expedition to Peru, the kids can't believe their luck. And, if you have read the first book in this Series of Unfortunate Events, you won't believe their luck either. Despite the misadventures that befall these interesting, intelligent, resourceful orphans, you can trust that the engaging narrator will make their story--suspenseful and alarming as it is--a true delight. The Wide Window is next, and more are on their way. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson


Golden, Arthur

Memoirs of a Geisha

According to Arthur Golden's absorbing first novel, the word "geisha" does not mean "prostitute," as Westerners ignorantly assume--it means "artisan" or "artist." To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties, and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia--and an M.A. in English--he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.

The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen's intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western "trophy wife" than to a prostitute--and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman's alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumor spread by a rival "as cruel as a spider."

Golden's web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha's true romance rings hollow--the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity--the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world, and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors.

Fall 2001

Weathers, Beck

Left for dead: My Journey Home from Everest

Left for Dead is a deeply personal story, told in first person by a variety of people who contributed to the survival of Beck Weathers during the Everest accident of 1996 that left nine climbers dead. It goes past the tragedy to discuss why Weathers got involved in climbing in the first place, his lengthy and painful recovery, and the all-important relationship with his wife, Margaret (commonly referred to as Peach). Without Peach's hope and tenacity, it's likely that rescue efforts would not have been continued, and Weathers may never have recovered from the hypothermic coma and its dreadful results. The story of their relationship--they were estranged at the time of the accident--is told from both perspectives, and his obsession with mountains seems almost like another family member. The overall tone is straightforward and conversational: children, pets, and clothing feature as prominently as reconstructive surgery and heroic rescues. But no matter how plainly they are told, the events of that climb are sure to bring tears. Rob Hall's last conversation with his wife, climbers disappearing into the storm, Anatoli Boukreev's rescuing three people, and Weathers and climbing partner Yasuko being left for dead are just a few from a long list. Still, you'll find yourself laughing just pages later, when Weathers gets his rescue team to sing "Chain of Fools" while hiking back to safety--you can imagine Peach being in full agreement of that song's appropriateness. The Everest deaths affected people around the world, and this chronicle of one survivor and his family is a hopeful reminder of the good that can result from such tragedies


January 2002

Armstrong, Jennifer.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. (YA--read along with Amy Laun)

Amazon.com review

The harrowing survival story of English explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and the ill-fated Endurance has intrigued people since the 1914 expedition--spurring astounding books such as Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage and The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. As Shackleton and 27 sailors attempted to cross the frozen Antarctic continent from one side to the other, they were trapped in an ice pack, lost their ship to the icy depths, survived an Antarctic winter, escaped attacks from sea lions, and traversed 600 treacherous miles to the uninhabited Elephant Island. Leaving 22 men behind, Shackleton and five others sailed 800 miles across the southern Atlantic Ocean in a 20-foot open boat to tiny South George Island, where they hiked across unmapped mountains to a whaling station. In 1916, 19 months after the Endurance became icebound, Shackleton led a rescue party back to retrieve his men. Remarkably, every crew member survived.


DiCamillo, Kate.

Because of Winn-Dixie (Newberry Honor Book, 2001) (YA--Amy read along)


With her newly adopted, goofy pooch at her side, Opal explores her bittersweet world and learns to listen to other people's lives. This warm and winning book hosts an unforgettable cast of characters, including a librarian who fought off a bear with a copy of War and Peace, an ex-con pet-store clerk who plays sweet music to his animal charges, and the neighborhood "witch," a nearly blind woman who sees with her heart. Part Frankie (The Member of the Wedding), part Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), Opal brings her own unique and wonderful voice to a story of friendship, loneliness, and acceptance. Opal's down-home charm and dead-on honesty will earn her friends and fans far beyond the confines of Naomi, Florida. (Ages 9 and older)


Diamant, Anita

Red Tent

The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider's look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob's daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah--all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery.

"Like any sisters who live together and share a husband, my mother and aunties spun a sticky web of loyalties and grudges," Anita Diamant writes in the voice of Dinah. "They traded secrets like bracelets, and these were handed down to me the only surviving girl. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember." Remembering women's earthy stories and passionate history is indeed the theme of this magnificent book. In fact, it's been said that The Red Tent is what the Bible might have been had it been written by God's daughters, instead of her sons. --Gail Hudson



Salzman, Mark

Lying Awake.

In his third novel, Lying Awake, Mark Salzman breaks the primary rule of fiction by creating a protagonist who has virtually no external life. Sister John of the Cross, a middle-aged nun cloistered in a Carmelite monastery in contemporary Los Angeles, languished for years in a spiritual drought--"her prayers empty and her soul dry"--until she suddenly received God's grace in the form of intense mystical visions. So vivid have her visions become that they burn a kind of afterglow into her mind that she transcribes into crystalline (and highly popular) verse. The only downside is that they are accompanied by excruciating headaches that cause her to black out.


The story hinges on Sister John's discovery that her visions are in fact the result of mild epileptic seizures. As she learns from her neurologist, temporal-lobe epilepsy commonly brings about "hypergraphia (voluminous writing), an intensification but also a narrowing of emotional response, and an obsessive interest in religion and philosophy." Dostoyevsky, the classic victim of this condition, wrote of his raptures: "There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of eternal harmony.... If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and would have to disappear." An exact description of Sister John's visions. The question she now faces is whether to go ahead with surgery--and risk obliterating both her spiritual life and her art--or cling to a state of grace that may actually be a delusion ignited by an electrochemical imbalance.


Using a very limited palette, Mark Salzman creates an austere masterpiece. The real miracle of Lying Awake is that it works perfectly on every level: on the realistic surface, it captures the petty squabbles and tiny bursts of radiance of life in a Los Angeles monastery; deeper down it probes the nature of spiritual illumination and the meaning and purpose of prayer in everyday life; and, at bottom, there lurks a profound meditation on the mystery of artistic inspiration. Salzman made a highly auspicious debut in 1986 with Iron and Silk, a memoir of his years in China, and since then he has dramatically changed key in every book--most recently from the absurdist American suburban chronicle of Lost in Place to the artistic-crisis-cum-courtroom-drama novel The Soloist. Lying Awake is quieter and more sober than Salzman's previous narratives, but it is also more accomplished, more thought-provoking, and more highly crafted. --David Laskin --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Anderson, Joan

A Year by the Sea

From Kirkus Reviews
A touchy-feely finding-oneself memoir by a midlife woman who took a year off from her unfulfilling marriage and spent it in reflection by the sea. Anderson, a 50-year-old journalist and author of children's books (Harry's Helicopter,1990; 1787, 1987; etc.), refused to follow her husband when his job transferred him to another state, choosing instead to move alone to their summer cottage on Cape Cod and take stock of her life and marriage. Comparisons with Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea are inevitable: both are by women concerned with the creative life, both express a closeness to nature at the seashore, a kinship with other life forms, a response to the ebb and flow of the tides, and both find metaphors in seashells. However, whereas Lindbergh has only a brief holiday at the beach and finds universal themes, Anderson's sojourn is protracted and her focus narrow. Alone, she is self-reliant and self-conscious, adventurous, resourceful, and open. Not all her time is spent in solitude, however: she works in a fish market for extra money, finds a mentor and companion in the widow of psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, has house guests, including an old friend, a psychoanalyst, and a priest, hires on as short-term cook for a nephew's film crew, and entertains her husband, sons, and daughters-in-law over Memorial Day. At the year's end, she is more certain of who she is and what she wants. She is ready to live once again with her husband, not in the old stale marriage, but in a new and still-to-be-defined one. A less-than-enthralling journey of self-discovery marred by more than a touch of self-congratulation. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Salzman, Mark  (Note:  Pasadena's One City, One book selection)

The Soloist

From Booklist
Salzman just gets better and better. His memoir Iron and Silk (1987) was a hit, and his first novel, The Laughing Sutra (1990), was funny and smart, but this book is a jewel. Reinhart Sundheimer was a child prodigy who could coax the very music of the gods from a cello even before he could touch the floor with his feet while seated. He spent his youth studying with an old master and performing around the world. But then, just as inexplicably as it arrived, the magic evaporated, and Sundheimer was left high and dry with no social life to speak of, no sexual experiences, an unsatisfying university job, and a profound sense of failure. This miasma lasts well into his thirties until Sundheimer agrees, albeit reluctantly, to accept a Korean boy as a student. Shy little Kyung-hee is a genuine prodigy whose pure and intuitive response to music acts as a balm to Sundheimer's bruised and neglected soul. At the same time, Sundheimer is summoned to jury duty. He ends up assigned to a case that involves the murder of a Zen Buddhist master by a novice disciple. Sundheimer is forced to broaden his participation in life. He must interact with his fellow jurors, including an attractive woman who tries to get him to loosen up, and consider weighty questions about the meaning of guilt, sanity, responsibility, and the tricky relationship between teacher and student. Slowly and self-consciously, Sundheimer attains a renewed sense of himself and discovers how to find peace in our jarring world. This is a beautiful novel, a veritable concerto. Salzman's intonation is flawless, his themes infinitely ponderable, his symmetry and resolution captivating and uplifting. Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

5 of 5 starsResonates long after curtain closes, November 23, 2000
Reviewer: David Flood (see more about me) from seattle, wa United States
Few books have touched me like this one. It takes on the hard task of the difficult life shift we must all make at some time or another: when you've gone as far as you can with an art and have to turn to the task of sharing what you know with the next generation. But Salzman never moralizes, he puts you into the mind of a child prodigy -- now as an adult -- who must grow beyond the limited spotlight of the stage. Stalzman has a gift for drawing character, and writing so clearly that it goes into you with the rhythm and life of a well-delivered cello solo. Seems I've rarely been able to stay with a book to its end these days, but this one held me from start to finish. I recommend this to anyone who loves music, loves good literature, and wants to enjoy the beauty and clarity that seems to come straight from the author's heart. Thank you, Mark.

5 of 5 starsquick read; great for music lover or spiritual person, January 5, 2002
Reviewer: ccjello (see more about me) from Kansas City, MO USA
This story, told by a child-prodigy-cellist turned music professor, alternates chapters about the professor's life, professional & personal struggles with chapters about a jury trial, in which a Zen Buddhist is on trial for slaying a Zen master. As a very amateur cellist, I most enjoyed the writer's frequent and highly descriptive references to great cellists (YoYo Ma, Rostopovich, Janos Starker, Pablo Casals) and composers (Bach, Mozart), the comparison of composers & their music to works of art, the details of the protagonist's efforts to inspire and teach his student, a ten-year old Korean boy. None of the music discussion comes across as academic or pedantic; it's woven gracefully into the novel.

The trial aspect of the book was not a typical fast-paced courtroom drama; it focused more on the parameters of the insanity defense as applied to a religious fanatic, and the trial is resolved in a decidedly undecided way (that's all I'll say).

The novel is more about the protagonist's personal experiences with music, relationships, and jury duty than it is about any underlying story. The protagonist is likeable and, for the most part, very real. He is supposedly a virgin, which didn't come off as believable to me. Minor glitch, though. Overall, a good novel, particularly for a music lover, and a quick read.

5 of 5 starsHow many lives does Mark Salzman have?, May 28, 2002
Top 500 ReviewerReviewer: Grady Harp (see more about me) from Altadena, California USA
THE SOLOIST is a fine novel, interweaving three stories that all center on the narrator: the rise and fall of a child prodigy cellist, the sole member of a jury at a murder trial who finds meaning in a defendent's case, and a teacher of a budding, gifted young Korean cellist. Each story has its own cast of characters beautifully realized, but most important - each aspect of this tripartite novel is told with such informed authority that imagining the author in anything but an autobiographical mode is next to impossible. Just as in his previous novel LYING AWAKE which dealt with the inner thoughts of a cloistered nun, Salzman here shows us he has a thorough understanding of music, music making, and the sociology and philosophy of our court system and our education system. Not that he stops at reportage. Hardly! It is simply his depth of knowledge about everything he writes make his novels deeply committed and inspiring. The reason for writing THE SOLOIST is probably one of encouraging his readers to live in the moment. But it is the loving manner of relating his tale that gets us there, almost without knowing we've arrived. A fine book to encourage a whole town (Pasadena) to read and share as is the goal here. Well worth anyone's time.

4 of 5 starsComing to Terms with Life,
April 27, 2002
Reviewer: naia1 (see more about me) from HI,
United States
As a writer, Mark Salzman is always pushing his limits, and The Soloist is no exception. The story revolves around a music professor, Reinhart Sundheimer, who as a child was an acclaimed cellist. He has been unable to play professionally ever since he became overly focused on pitch. Despite his best efforts, he can never produce a note that is absolutely perfect (no one can), and his playing has lost its spontaneity and fluidity. Clearly depressed by his perceived failure, he has led an extraordinarily isolated and lonely life for years, without even a pet to keep him company. Then two things happen to propel him out of his rut - he is chosen to be a juror in a murder trial, and is asked to give cello lessons to a young Korean boy who is clearly exceptionally gifted.

The murder trial exposes him to a whole new group of people whose lives do not revolve around classical music. It also forces him to question and re-question his beliefs about motivation as he struggles to decide whether the defendant in the trial was insane when he committed the crime. Likewise his cello student, whose parents would prefer he acquire a skill that would be useful in the family's laundry business, helps him get beyond his narrow focus and see his own childhood in a fresh light.  


This is a complex story, and Salzman does a good job of weaving the past and present, and amusingly contradictory scenes of Reinhart's life into a comprehensive whole. The one problem I had was with Reinhart's sudden and rather unbelievable catharsis at the top of a mountain (Mt. Wilson in Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains to be exact). While the sudden insights into the nature of his failure as a cellist, his inability to form lasting and intimate relationships with women and the importance of his work are well prepared for, up until this point Salzman's character has shown very little self-insight. He has related the events in his life, and talked about the unhappiness and confusion they have caused him, but he seems clueless when it comes to the cause. Even granted the compelling circumstances that have forced him to see his life in a different light, it's hard to believe that Reinhart would hike to the top of a mountain and put all the pieces of his psychological dilemma together in one evening. Moreover, there were many times in the story when I expected Reinhart to put two and two together, but he doesn't. As a result, there is a clear break in the book between life before the mountain and life after. Life before is all about "showing," and life after is all about "telling." Since the mountain scene occurs near the end, the book seems to fade away as Salzman sums up how Reinhart's life is changed by his revelation. I found this very unsatisfying and couldn't help but suspect that some higher up in the publishing world told Salzman his story was getting a little long and he should wrap things up. As all writer's know, telling is never as satisfying as showing, and it's a shame that Salzman didn't take the time and space to give us an ending that lived up to the promise of the rest of the book.


Summer 2002

Verne, Jules.

Around the World in Eighty Days.

This is Verne's classic story of the trip of Phileas Fogg (who is obsessed with time), Passeportout, Aouda, and Detective Fix around the world on a wager. The book is filled with beautiful time and space imagery throughout (I would bet that one could write an entire thesis on all the time and space references in the novel). Thirty-three years after its publication, the world first learns of the space/time continuum (although I'm certain Verne was not anticipating Einstein). Fogg bets his fellow club members that he can circumnavigate the globe in a mere eighty days. He leaves immediately with his valet Passeportout and is pursued by Detective Fix, who thinks he is a bank robber. Through many adventures, including the rescue of Aouda from immolation, they all return to London. Interestingly, a few years later, after a number of improvements had been made in railways and roads, a U.S. journalist named Nellie Bly (the pseudonym of Elizabeth Cochrane) decided to attempt to break Fogg's "record." Leaving New York on November 14, 1889, she was able to circumnavigate the globe in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds. But, she didn't rescue a Hindu princess! It should be noted, however, that one has to be very careful concerning the translations of this novel. There are some terrible ones being sold. Perhaps that's the reason for the few poor comments by earlier reviewers. There is an excellent translation by William Butcher that appeared in 1995.


Carter, Jimmy

An Hour Before Daylight

Review from Amazon.com
Born on
October 1, 1924, Jimmy Carter grew up on a Georgia farm during the Great Depression. In An Hour Before Daylight, the former president tells the story of his rural boyhood, and paints a sensitive portrait of America before the civil rights movement.

Carter describes--in glorious, if sometimes gory, detail--growing up on a farm where everything was done by either hand or mule: plowing fields, "mopping" cotton to kill pests, cutting sugar cane, shaking peanuts, or processing pork. He also describes the joys of walking barefoot ("this habit alone helped to create a sense of intimacy with the earth"), taking naps with his father on the porch after lunch, and hunting with slingshots and boomerangs with his playmates--all of whom were black. Carter was in constant contact with his black neighbors; he worked alongside them, ate in their homes, and often spent the night in the home of Rachel and Jack Clark, "on a pallet on the floor stuffed with corn shucks," when his parents were away. However, this intimacy was possible only on the farm. When young Jimmy and his best friend, A.D. Davis, went to town to see a movie, they waited for the train together, paid their 15 cents, and then separated into "white" and "colored" compartments. Once in Americus, they walked to the theater together, but separated again, with Jimmy buying a seat on the main floor or first balcony at the front door, and A.D. going around to the back door to buy his seat up in the upper balcony. After the movie, they returned home on another segregated train. "I don't remember ever questioning the mandatory racial separation, which we accepted like breathing or waking up in Archery every morning."

In this warm, almost sepia-toned narrative, Carter describes his relationships with his parents and with the five people--only two of whom were white--who most affected his early life. Best of all, however, Carter presents his sweetly nostalgic recollections of a lost America. --Sunny Delaney --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Packer, Ann
The Dive from Clausen's Pier
From Booklist
*Starred Review* Packer's first novel is a sensitive exploration of the line between selfishness and self-preservation. Carrie Bell is 23 and has lived in Madison, Wisconsin, all her life. She is engaged to her high-school sweetheart, Mike, and all seems well--to everyone but Carrie, who is falling out of love with Mike, with Madison, with everything. On Memorial Day she numbly watches Mike dive off of Clausen's Pier and break his neck in the too-shallow water, leaving him a quadriplegic. She is stricken with grief, guilt, indecision, and fear--she wants to be supportive and faithful, but she cannot make herself love him again. After a painful summer of hospital vigils, she flees to New York City and tries on a new life, a new relationship. She cannot escape what she's left behind, though, and must eventually face those who feel she has betrayed them. There are no easy answers for Carrie, but her struggle to do what's right and her revelations about the life she wants for herself will keep readers turning page after eloquently written page. Give this to the same young female audience that loved Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999). Carrie Bissey
The Dive from Clausen's Pier is one of those small miracles that reinforce our faith in fiction. It does what the best novels so often do, making the largest things visible by its perfect rendering of life on the smaller scale. It is witty, tragic and touching, and beguiling from the first page." --Scott Turow   A riveting novel about loyalty and self-knowledge, and the conflict between who we want to be to others and who we must be for ourselves.   Carrie Bell has lived in Wisconsin all her life. She’s had the same best friend, the same good relationship with her mother, the same boyfriend, Mike, now her fiancé, for as long as anyone can remember. It’s with real surprise she finds that, at age twenty-three, her life has begun to feel suffocating. She longs for a change, an upheaval, for a chance to begin again.  That chance is granted to her, terribly, when Mike is injured in an accident. Now Carrie has to question everything she thought she knew about herself and the meaning of home. She must ask: How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or of weakness to walk away from someone in need?  The Dive from Clausen’s Pier reminds us how precarious our lives are and how quickly they can be divided into before and after, whether by random accident or by the force of our own desires. It begins with a disaster that could happen, out of the blue, in anybody’s life, and it forces us to ask how we would bear up in the face of tragedy and what we know, or think we know, about our deepest allegiances. Elegantly written and ferociously paced, emotionally nuanced and morally complex, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier marks the emergence of a prodigiously gifted new novelist.

Crane, Stephen.
Red Badge of Courage.
It was totally unlike any book I've ever read. Usually in books authors focus on EVENTS, what happens around the central character; but in Red Badge, the author focused more on the soldier's thoughts as war, the "blood swollen god," engulfed him, his friends, and his country. The "youth" soldier, the main character of the book, portrays in a sense what thoughts are at the essence of war: fear of death, fear of defeat, and fear of failure. This perception was highly usual for Crane's time, as authors before him portrayed war as a great and glorious and golden chance for victory. Crane, on the other hand, wrote with sarcasm and bitterness, with fear and vulnerability, shedding light on an entirely new view of war which fascinates the reader. He also wrote in changing "moods" or "tones". One minute he'd be caught up in a whirlwind fury of sarcasm and humor; the next, in the blind blackness of fear; the next, in the desperation of a madman. Crane's changing tones are entirely interesting, as in his complex and beautifully visual metaphors and imagery. All of this shows war, battle, in its entirety, revealing to the reader the "riot of emotions" and the confusion that accompanies war and its dehumanizing factors. It's amazing to believe that Crane wrote this book in a little over a week, and at the time of his writing never experienced war. I recommend this to anyone wanting a deeper, more thoughtful reading experience.

Earle, Steve
Doghouse roses

Steve Earle does everything he does with intelligence, creativity, passion, and integrity. In music, these strengths have earned him comparisons to Bruce Springsteen, the ardent devotion of his fans, and the admiration of the media. And Earle does a lot: he is singer, songwriter, producer, social activist, teacher. . . . He"s not only someone who makes great music; he"s someone to believe in. With the publication of his first collection of short stories, DOGHOUSE ROSES, he gives us yet another reason to believe.

Earle"s stories reflect the many facets of the man and the hard-fought struggles, the defeats, and the eventual triumphs he has experienced during a career spanning three decades. In the title story he offers us a gut-wrenchingly honest portrait of a nearly famous singer whose life and soul have been all but devoured by drugs. "Billy the Kid" is a fable about everything that will never happen in Nashville, and "Wheeler County" tells a romantic, sweet-tempered tale about a hitchhiker stranded for years in a small Texas town. A story about the husband of a murder victim witnessing an execution addresses a subject Earle has passionately taken on as a social activist, and a cycle of stories features "the American," a shady international wanderer, Vietnam vet, and sometime drug smuggler — a character who can be seen as Earle"s alter ego, the person he might have become if he had been drafted.   Earle is a songwriter"s songwriter, and here he takes his writing gift into another medium, along with all the grace, poetry, and deep feeling that has made his music honored around the world.

Summer 2004

Otts, Olga.
Olga Ots was born in Havana, Cuba. She completed her secondary education in Havana and then came to the States to pursue an A.A. in secretarial science at Sacred Heart Junior College in Belmont, North Carolina. After returning to Cuba, she went through very dramatic experiences during Batista’s dictatorship and the first two years of Fidel Castro Ruz’s regime.  Olga wrote this journal some time ago while living in the U.S. She was motivated by seeing the great lack of knowledge that existed in this country about how Fidel Castro Ruz came into power.   It was upon her return to visit Cuba in 2002—after forty-one years of absence—that she decided to publish this journal.  What she found upon her trip to Cuba was a country that had been frozen in 1959 and had deteriorated since. She was amazed to see how her relatives had survived this ordeal. Human rights in Cuba are now nonexistent, and native Cubans are treated as slaves in their own country.  Olga holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from CalState, Los Angeles. She is also a retired instructor from Pasadena City College, where she taught secretarial science. At this time, she and her husband reside in California.

Shah, Saira.  A Storyteller's Daughter
Born in England and raised on her father's fantastic stories of an Afghanistan she had never known, Shah spends her adult life searching for a mythic place of beauty. "Any Western adult might have told me that this was an exile's tale of a lost Eden: the place you dream about, to which you can never return. But even then, I wasn't going to accept that." What she finds is a place ravaged by decades of war, poverty and, later, religious puritanism. Shah first visits Afghanistan in 1986 as a war correspondent at the remarkable age of 21 and later returns as the documentary producer of Beneath the Veil, an expos‚ of life under the Taliban that predated the national interest in the embattled country. Her journey forces her to reconcile the vast disparities between fact and fiction, the world she has pieced together from her father's tales and the reality she glimpses from behind the grille of the Taliban-imposed burqa. Shah weaves legends and traditional sayings into her text, lending a greater context to her expectations and experiences. She also offers a piecemeal history of Afghanistan to accompany the accounts of her travels, but for readers unfamiliar with the many years of political tumult Afghanistan has suffered, the history may not be thorough enough. Most compelling are the characters she encounters and their indomitable spirit, including a woman with 10 children who asks her about a "magic" pill to prevent pregnancy, and her husband, whose intense machismo is not enough to save him from the war. (Publisher's Weekly)

Bender. Sue. Plain and Simple.
From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Marilyn Meyer.  In 1967, Sue Bender found herself mesmerized by the dark muted colors of Amish quilts and the haunting beauty of their faceless stuffed dolls. The quiet simplicity of these crafts eventually led her on a journey of self-discovery to two Amish communities in 1982. Not surprisingly, Sue Bender, an over-achiever with two Masters degrees and two careers, found herself strongly attracted to the predictable rhythm of Amish life she encountered. Like her extended retreat, this simple book, describing both the ways of the Amish and their effect upon the author, is an escape for the reader as well. There are glimpses into Amish life: the wagon built to transport benches to the weekly home prayer groups, teenage girls who wear electric blue Nikes under their long black dresses, the democratic selection of a minister by drawing lots, and a no-holds waterfight among the nine Beiler children. Set against this background is Sue Bender's quest to discover inner wealth, to quiet the ramblings of ego, and to explore the part of her existence which values simplicity. With the Amish women as her mentors, she questions the obvious limits of their domain as well as her own frenzied pace. Walking to town one hot sunny day, Sue Bender calls out to the horse-drawn buggies, "Am I on the right road?" It's a question we should all ask ourselves. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Bender, Sue. Everyday Sacred : A Woman's Journey Home
From Library Journal.  Applying the symbolism of the empty Zen begging bowl, Bender graciously shares another leg of her spiritual journey, the previous being her stay with the Amish recorded in her best seller, Plain and Simple (HarperCollins, 1989). Listening to the author (who also serves as reader), one has to admire her zest for life and determination for self-discovery as she recounts the experiences that filled her bowl daily and revealed the sacred. She learned that miracles can and do occur when we accept whatever happens to us each day, work from the heart, do less, and listen and relax more. She tells of the power in small things, the beauty in imperfection, and the boundless effects of generosity. Bender's findings are pure and simple and not unheard of; however, it is the fresh context in which she places them that makes Everyday Sacred a special and unique program. Recommended for inspirational collections. Barbara J. Vaughan, State Univ. Coll. at Buffalo Lib., N.Y.Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Kallos, Stephanie.  Broken for you
From Booklist 
*Starred Review* Well-crafted plotting and crackling wit make this debut novel by Seattle author Kallos a delight to read and a memory to savor. The compelling story highlights the losses and disjointedness of life and the many paths back to healing for those who seek the way. Margaret Hughes lives alone in a Seattle mansion, divorced from her husband after the death of their son. She talks to her father's priceless antique porcelain collection and spends her days dusting. Wanda Schultz, abandoned as a child by her parents, cannot accept the rejection of her lover, Peter, whose solitary postcard brings her across the country in search of him. When cancer sends Margaret a wake-up call, she opens her home and her heart: first to Wanda and then to a flood of other new "family" members as she learns to interact with people and eventually to atone for a past crime she only gradually understands. But the clever plot and luminous characters are not all that place this novel at the head of the class. Ghostly characters only Margaret sees and heaps of broken porcelain provide powerful metaphors for the sins of the past and the need for personal sacrifice. Book groups will enjoy discussing the layers of meaning, the stylistic nuances, and the powerful message of hope secreted in these pages. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserves.

Hosseini, Khaled.  The Kite Runner .
From Publishers Weekly:  Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium.  Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information