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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, August 6, 2006

Summer Reading List Has Time for a Few More

The summer may be winding down, but there is still time to squeeze in some recreational reading. Here are eight new novels, some widely known and some more obscure, that I have enjoyed.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2006).

This is a sympathetic, funny, and tender look at two extended families, one of Iranian descent and the other very American, struggling to understand each other after a chance airport encounter while awaiting the arrival of adopted daughters from Korea. Tyler, who herself married into an Iranian family, is a wonder to behold. She just keeps writing remarkable novels.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (Algonquin, 2006).

Looking back on his youthful Depression era stint with the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth, an elderly retired veterinarian reminisces about the performers, workers, and animals he came to know and love (or hate). You will feel as if you've left your humdrum existence behind and actually joined a 1930s circus crew in this beautiful, heartwarming, and romantic novel.

Halfway House by Katharine Noel (Atlantic Monthly, 2006).

When Ivy League-bound high school swimming star Angie Voorster suffers a psychotic break, her brother and parents – as well as Angie – must each find their own way of coping. First novelist Noel is adept at describing the complexities of the heart and mind.

The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006).

A dirt-poor scholarship student and a privileged New Yorker disdainful of her wealth become unlikely Barnard College roommates in the radical 1960s. Their friendship is tested, torn and reaffirmed over the course of the next two decades. A friend says that Nunez's "For Rouenna," about a writer and a retired Vietnam combat nurse who wants her story told, is also very powerful.

The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow (William Morrow, 2006).

Horrified when her "witchfinder" father burns her beloved aunt and mentor at the stake in 1677, Jennet Stearne resolves to use scientific proof to bring down the Parliamentary Witchcraft Act. Interwoven with actual personages and events of late 17th Century-early 18th Century England and America, this is a dazzling novel that enthralls as well as educates, especially considering that 800,000 innocent souls met their deaths in medieval and early modern Europe for witchery.

She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon (Atlantic Monthly, 2006).

When a smart, liberal, and unmarried London couple have a baby, they find that the live-in Polish au pair they've hired has become indispensable, in more ways than one. Immigration problems lead to some interesting twists in this hilarious modern satire by the redoubtable Weldon, a British feminist writer with twenty-four novels under her belt.

The Observations by Jane Harris (Faber and Faber, 2006).

A bright and fearless fifteen-year-old with a questionable past ends up in an isolated and downtrodden country estate as a scullery maid in this fabulously original novel set in nineteenth century Scotland. Bessy finds that pleasing her beautiful mistress will take more than just cooking and cleaning. If you liked Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White and Sarah Water's Fingersmith, also fables of Victorian Britain, be sure to sample this.

Terrorist by John Updike (Knopf, 2006).

Award-winning and prolific Updike is widely known as the astute and witty chronicler of the American middle class. So what's he doing exploring the subject of terrorism? Even though this cautionary tale of a New Jersey teenager who falls under the spell of a jihadist Shaik is somewhat contrived and not always plausible or even accurate, it is a compelling look through the lens by which the "other side" sees a materialistic, Godless American culture.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.