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new books to pick from

From: Hannah
Sent on: Sunday, January 15, 2012 1:22 PM

Hello!  Its time to pick books again!  I have put the list of 18 books in this message as well as posted the document to the file section of the meet up site.

We will pick four book at the next meeting on January 18th at Eternity Coffee downtown.  Remember its a new location!

Take a look at the list, review, do your homework and we'll see you on Wednesday!




The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie 272 pages

It's tough life for Junior, a teenager living with his impoverished family in the Spokane Indian Reservation, and born with a birth defect that makes him a target for the buddies.

One day, after he accidentally threw a book at his teacher, the teacher came to Junior's house. Instead of reprimanding him, the teacher said, "You can't give up. You won't give up. You threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up.... You have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope." 

Thus, Junior decided to transfer to a school outside the rez. He wants to escape before his hopes get suffocated and he becomes another penniless alcoholic trapped in the rez. The Indians felt betrayed by his decision, and labeled him an apple (I've heard of bananas, eggs and oreos, but didn't know about apples). Needless to say, Junior didn't feel like he belongs in the new school either, where he had to walk 22 miles to attend as his father could not afford the gas, and where the only Indian was the school mascot. 

It's a poignant story, partly autobiographical. Its odd-ball commentary reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight, but more brilliant. It's laugh-out-loud funny one moment and heart-breaking the next, as Junior keenly observes the inequalities and harsh life around him, as he tries to rise above the limitations of his surrounding. Its cartoons complement the story beautifully. 

"During one week when I was little, Dad got stopped three times for DWI: Driving While Indian."

"I don't know if hope is white. But I do know that hope for me is like some mythical creature."

"I think the world is a series of broken dam and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats."

"I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists. And the tribe of chronic masturbators..." 

"Sure to resonate and lift spirits of all ages for years to come." (USA Today )

"Few writers are more masterful than Sherman Alexie." (Los Angeles Times )

"This is a gem of a book....may be [Sherman Alexie's] best work yet." (New York Times )


The Blood of Flowers: A Novel by Anita Amirrezvani 4.5 stars on Amazon, 384 pages

In 17th century Iran, a girl and her mother leave their village to live with their half uncle after the death of her father. In the big city of Isfahan, they are treated more like servants than family. However, the girl's talent in carpet making is recognized by her uncle, who teaches her the craft like she were his son. Nonetheless, she is a girl, and without a father and a dowry, her future looks bleak.

This is a beautifully crafted book. The author's description makes everything comes to life: the bustling bazaar, the exquisite carpets; and every character, with flaws and strengths, love and hate, stands out as real, life-like person that develops and changes, not caricature of kindness or evil. Even a beggar has his moments of kindness and cruelty.

In the afternote, the author mentioned that she spent nine years researching and writing the book, and the effort shows: little details of life that makes the story real, folktales that cast a magical air, and trivia about carpet making that entices the reader. 

I also like how the author portrays an array of Persian women. There is woman locked in unhappy marriages arranged by parents, (which Western readers fully come to expect) but there is also woman with loving husband who refused to take a second wife even if his first is barren. Sigheh is a temporary marriage contract that can in some way be viewed as legalized prostitution, for the benefit of men. For many women it is a disgrace, but for one woman, it is thanks to it that she can carry on a relationship with her childhood sweetheart when his parents made other marriage arrangement.

"Anita Amirrezvani has written a sensuous and transporting first novel filled with the colors, tastes, and fragrances of life in seventeenth-century Isfahan. [Amirrezvani] clearly knows and loves the ways of old Iran, and brings them to life with the cadences of a skilled story-spinner." -- Geraldine Brooks 

"Sumptuous imagery and a modern sensibility make this a winning debut." - Publishers Weekly

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman
288 pages 

The inspiration of the story sprung from two sources. Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "He [Peter] said that after the war he'd make sure nobody would know he was Jewish." The other from a tour guide at Anne Frank's house, who claimed that Peter's fate after leaving the annex was unknown. These words kept Feldman's mind spinning: what really happened to Peter? The result of her imagination is this finely crafted novel, in which Peter emigrated to the United States and lived under a new identity. All was fine, until one day he noticed the smiling face of Anne Frank, his first love, on the cover of the book his wife was reading.

The book is thoughtfully written, and thought-provoking. The character Peter feels very authentic, though not necessarily likable. His tormented mind simply grips you as you sympathize and try to understand him, as you wish he'd do things differently but can understand why he acts the way he does. 

"Engaging and morally questioning . . . for those who have read only the diary or seen the play or movie, the novel will prompt them to think about her and a host of larger questions in new ways". (USA Today )

"A powerful testament to the permanence of war’s imprint on the innocent, and how that experience defines a life forever." (Stephen J Lyons -Chicago Tribune )

"A deeply affecting, unsettling look into the soul of a man. . . . A psychologically gripping tale, this will cause readers to think about the price of safety and the complex obligations of memory." (Publishers Weekly )


Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese 

Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations. Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Verghese’s weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson


Half Broke Horses by  Jeannette Walls, paperback, 269 pages 3.93 avg
"Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, Jeannette Walls’s no-nonsense, resourceful, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car and fly a plane. And, with her husband, Jim, she ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette’s memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle.

Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds—against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn’t fit the mold. Rosemary Smith Walls always told Jeannette that she was like her grandmother, and in this true-life novel, Jeannette Walls channels that kindred spirit. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa or Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Destined to become a classic, it will transfix readers everywhere. 


Honolulu by Alan Brennert 4.5 stars, 464 pages

Regret (so named as her father is disappointed that she isn't a boy) is a young girl in Korea at the turn of the 20th century.  One day, she found a torn page of a book, which sparks her desire to learn to read, and her desire to be more than a lifetime of servitude and submission as daughter and then wife.  Her bid to break free comes when she learns of the "picture brides", essentially mail-order brides for Korean men in Hawaii. She overcomes her family's strenuous objections to her desire to become a "picture bride", and embarks upon her greatest adventure, in the company of four other Korean girls. 

Once she lands in Hawaii, she finds that the streets are not paved with gold, and her husband is an abusive drunkard and gambler.  However, her courage and resourcefulness carries on her, as she begins a new life on a strange land.

This book is totally captivating from page one.  It's the type of book that is hard to put down and keeps calling for you after you close the book.  The well-researched details paint a vivid picture of Regret's life and the communities around her.  It is en eye-opener about life in Korea and Hawaii around 1900's, a period I knew little of.

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 4.09 stars goodreads

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2010: From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? --Tom Nissley

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery 3.97  stars

A stunning story of love, sexual obsession, treachery, and tragedy, about an artist and her most famous muse in Paris between the World Wars. 

Paris, 1927. In the heady years before the crash, financiers drape their mistresses in Chanel, while expatriates flock to the avant-garde bookshop Shakespeare and Company. One day in July, a young American named Rafaela Fano gets into the car of a coolly dazzling stranger, the Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka. 

Struggling to halt a downward slide toward prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for the artist, a dispossessed Saint Petersburg aristocrat with a murky past. The two become lovers, and Rafaela inspires Tamara's most iconic Jazz Age images, among them her most accomplished—and coveted—works of art. A season as the painter's muse teaches Rafaela some hard lessons: Tamara is a cocktail of raw hunger and glittering artifice. And all the while, their romantic idyll is threatened by history's darkening tide. 

Inspired by real events in de Lempicka's history, The Last Nude is a tour de force of historical imagination. Avery gives the reader a tantalizing window into a lost Paris, an age already vanishing as the inexorable forces of history close in on two tangled lives. Spellbinding and provocative, The Last Nude is a novel about genius and craft, love and desire, regret, and, most of all, hope that can transcend time and circumstance.(less)

Hardcover, 320 pages


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson   Pages: 384

New York Times Review:

How do you write an English village novel — if you really want to do such a thing? First, you have to create a character who is a retired major. Yes, create. Who will live in a house called Rose Cottage. Oh, all right, let’s make it Rose Lodge. In a village. Of course. Where the local landowner is an earl. We’ll settle for a lord. Who receives American visitors. In loud tweeds. And there’s a golf club. Naturally.


Helen Simonson’s first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” may dutifully tick all those boxes, but it’s not just a simple reworking of a much-loved but faded literary standby. Simonson is having a good time, I suspect, by allowing herself to assemble a cast of utterly stock characters and let them loose in a rural England that is now very different from the one imagined by earlier practitioners of the genre. The village shop is in the hands of a family of Pakistani origin. The local estate might be turned into a housing development. And the false, money-driven values of greedy young financiers are at loggerheads with the concerns and beliefs of an older, less selfish generation.


An attempt to modernize the village novel could well be embarrassing rather than amusing. But Simonson pulls it off, making “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” an entertaining and even rather moving novel of goings-on in a thin, gimcrack England that is, alas, only too recognizable. But if the place is credible, the same isn’t always true of the characters. In England today nobody (not even people who are the right sort of people) talks about the “right sort of people.” And Americans who come to Britain to join shooting parties are rarely possessed of loud tweeds; indeed, such visitors tend to be both subtle and urbane. But these are smallish quibbles. A writer clearly having as much fun as Simonson is perhaps entitled to go over the top and exaggerate a bit — or even quite a lot.


The real pleasure of this book derives not from its village conventions but from its beautiful little love story, which is told with skill and humor. The major of the title is a widower who has just lost his brother. He has an awful, very materialistic son who is a money man in the City of London. The gulf between this son and his father is acutely portrayed, as is the slow growth of love between the major and Mrs. Ali, the widow who runs the ­local shop.


England is not an easily welcoming place for those seen as outsiders, and there are plenty of barriers that might keep the major and Mrs Ali apart. Yet the major not only prevails but also, in the process, reaches out to her grimly religious nephew. The pressures of Pakistani family life are sensitively portrayed, with Mrs. Ali torn between her family, especially her controlling brother-in-law, and the freedom the broader, liberal society of Britain holds on offer.


That love can overcome cultural barriers is no new theme, but it’s presented here with great sensitivity and delicacy. We want this couple to find romance — and they do. We want the major to survive the machinations of his scheming relatives — and he does. “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” is refreshing in its optimism and its faith in the transformative possibilities of courtesy and kindness. Although pitched toward those wanting a gentle read, it also slides a powerful moral message into the interstices of village politics. And as for happy endings, it deserves all available prizes.

Alexander McCall Smith’s most recent book is “The Double Comfort Safari Club.”


 Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, 384 pages, available in both hardback and paperback.

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning. 
With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that "few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel's story
 . Goodreads


The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 
256 Pages , Winner of the Booker Prize 

The novel's narrator, Stevens, is a perfect English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing, almost mystical practice of his profession. In a career that spans the second World War, Stevens is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him -- oblivious, for instance, of the fact that his aristocrat employer is a Nazi sympathizer. Still, there are even larger matters at stake in this heartbreaking, pitch-perfect novel -- namely, Stevens' own ability to allow some bit of life-affirming love into his tightly repressed existence.

A Secret Kept by Tatiana De Rosnay, paperback, 303 pages  3.20 stars good reads

This stunning new novel from Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Sarah’s Key, plumbs the depths of complex family relationships and the power of a past secret to change everything in the present.

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood.  Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach.  It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they’d returned to the island—over thirty years, since their mother died and the family holidays ceased.  But the island’s haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer.  When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Recovering from the accident in a nearby hospital, Mélanie tries to recall what caused her to crash.  Antoine encounters an unexpected ally: sexy, streetwise Angèle, a mortician who will teach him new meanings for the words life, love and death.  Suddenly, however, the past comes swinging back at both siblings, burdened with a dark truth about their mother, Clarisse.  

Trapped in the wake of a shocking family secret shrouded by taboo, Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children.  How well does he really know his mother, his children, even himself?  Suddenly fragile on all fronts as a son, a husband, a brother and a father, Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way. By turns thrilling, seductive and destructive, with a lingering effect that is bittersweet and redeeming, A Secret Kept is the story of a modern family, the invisible ties that hold it together, and the impact it has throughout life. 

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut  3.89 stars out of 5 from

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. 

Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."

Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humor

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison (Goodreads Author) 4.16  ·    stars

Corban Addison leads readers on a chilling, eye-opening journey into Mumbai's seedy underworld--and the nightmare of two orphaned girls swept into the international sex trade. When a tsunami rages through their coastal town in India, 17-year-old Ahalya Ghai and her 15-year-old sister Sita are left orphaned and homeless. With almost everyone they know suddenly erased from the face of the earth, the girls set out for the convent where they attend school. They are abducted almost immediately and sold to a Mumbai brothel owner, beginning a hellish descent into the bowels of the sex trade. Halfway across the world, Washington, D.C., attorney Thomas Clarke faces his own personal and professional crisis-and makes the fateful decision to pursue a pro bono sabbatical working in India for an NGO that prosecutes the subcontinent's human traffickers. There, his conscience awakens as he sees firsthand the horrors of the trade in human flesh, and the corrupt judicial system that fosters it. Learning of the fate of Ahalya and Sita, Clarke makes it his personal mission to rescue them, setting the stage for a riveting showdown with an international network of ruthless criminals.


The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak (Goodreads Author) 3.62  ·   stars

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power. 

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia. 

Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales

PRAISE FOR Honolulu, selected as "One of the Best Books of 2009" by The Washington Post, and winner of Elle’s Lettres 2009 Grand Prix for Fiction

 “A well-researched and deftly written tale….For sheer readability, it's a hit…. Brennert has a good eye for places we can't see anymore: plantation life before the unions gained power; Chinatown when it was all tenements; Waikiki before the high-rises started going up. And it's clear he has real affection for the little people and places he so vividly brings to life. He's not just using historic Honolulu as a place to set a novel; he's bringing it to life for people who haven't had the chance to imagine it before.” –Honolulu Star-Bulletin

“With skill, historic accuracy and sensitivity and a clear passion for the people and places in Hawaii, Brennert weaves a story that will move and inspire readers.” –The Oklahoman

 “Successful historical fiction doesn't just take a story and doll it up with period detail. It plunges readers into a different world and defines the historical and cultural pressures the characters face in that particular time and place. That's what Los Angeles writer Alan Brennert did in his previous novel, Moloka’i, the story of diseased Hawaiians exiled in their own land. He has done it again in "Honolulu," which focuses on the Asian immigrant experience in Hawaii, specifically that of Korean picture brides….This is a moving, multilayered epic by a master of historical fiction, in which one immigrant's journey helps us understand our nation's "becoming." –San Francisco Chronicle


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