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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, November 18, 2007

New Releases Tell Stories of WWI, Office Humor

Inspired by an October visit to the Midwest Literary Festival in suburban Chicago, I have been devouring fiction.

I also asked two close friends and former reviewers for this column, Sandy Schultheis and Becky Browning, to share some recently published favorites.

Mary Modern by Camille DeAngelis.

A genetic researcher successfully clones her grandmother, but instead of a baby, she brings to life a 22-year-old woman confused by the modern world.

I loved this highly imaginative and fresh work.

Having talked with Camille at the festival, I can attest that she is young, vibrant and destined to be a literary sensation.

The Best American Short Stories 2007 edited by Stephen King and Heidi Pitlor.

Esteemed horror great Stephen King was the final selector for this year's compilation, chosen from 4,000 stories.

"These stories will knock your socks off," said Becky.

Songs Without Words by Ann Packer.

This eagerly awaited second novel by the author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier chronicles a longtime friendship between two women.

The friendship is put to the test when both women are forced to re-examine their lives after a devastating crisis.

"I liked the Berkeley setting, but it wasn't as good as 'The Dive,'" said Sandy.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.

This book chronicles the relationship between seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, from their meeting in Oak Park, IL, when each was married to another, to the clandestine affair that shocked Chicago society.

I think this is insightful and addictive, if packed with perhaps a bit too much historical detail.

Away by Amy Bloom.

Arriving in America alone after her family is destroyed in a Russian pogrom, a woman receives word that her daughter might still be alive and embarks on a risky odyssey that takes her from New York's Lower East Side to Siberia.

"A compelling tale of womanly pluck and derring-do, despite a lot of over-the-top .. melodrama," said Sandy.

Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris.

The remaining employees at an office affected by a business downturn enjoy secret romances, elaborate pranks, and frequent coffee breaks while trying to make sense of their only remaining "work," a mysterious pro bono ad campaign.

"This brilliant, fast-paced book is laugh-out-loud funny," said Becky.

"If you enjoy the humor of 'Seinfeld' and 'The Office,' this is for you."

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo.

The author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls returns with another intricate and compassionate story about the lives of average people in a declining manufacturing town in the American Northeast.

I think every sentence is a gem, but the plot lacks the driving impact of Empire Falls.

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss.

In the winter of 1917, with many of his regular hands off fighting in World War I, a rancher hires a young woman to help tame wild horses.

"Short and hard to put down, this is similar in tone to Kent Haruf's books set in Colorado," said Sandy.

Almost Moon by Alice Sebold.

A woman steps over the line into the unthinkable when she smothers her 80-something-year-old mother in this second novel by the author of "The Lovely Bones."

You will either like or hate this book. I personally found it as mesmerizing as the latest issue of People magazine or televised 24-hour news during a political or Hollywood scandal.

The Snake-Stone by Jason Goodwin.

This sequel to the Edgar award-winning The Janissary Tree finds hero Yashim Togalu, a Turkish intelligence agent and eunuch, suspected of the murder of a French archaeologist.

"A series to read at a leisurely pace in order to savor the history and atmosphere of an Istanbul long gone," said Sandy.

Wheel of Darkness by Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston.

Exotic FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast boards luxury liner Britannia on its inaugural Atlantic passage in an attempt to recover a priceless, and dangerous Tibetan artifact.

If you've never read a Pendergast thriller, strap yourself in and start with the first, The Relic.

They're a marvelous blend of history, science and the slightly supernatural.

Pam Locker is manager of Oaklyn Branch Library and alternates writing "Check it Out" with other Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library staff members. Readers may contact Locker at (812) 428-8234, ext. 5403. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.