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Staff Book Reviews



A collection of book reviews written by library staff for the Beaver County Times "What's New on The Shelves" feature.


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In her first novel, Loving Frank, Nancy Horan tells the story of the complex relationship of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In this novel, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, based on the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osborne, she continues in this vein. The theme of both novels depicts how these women defied society's conventions to be with the men they loved. The title of the book originates from the poem, Requiem, written by Stevenson.

This second novel is an intimate portrait of the lives of Fanny and Louis, as she calls him. Based on actual facts there is much emphasis on the effect Fanny has on Louis's life, personally, medically, and creatively.

Their life together begins with their meeting at Genz. Louis goes there to meet his bohemian friends. There he meets Fanny, 10 years his senior, and is almost instantly smitten. Fanny, who is there to paint and escape the unimaginable loss of her young son and her marriage to a philandering husband, is much more reticent.

Eventually, she and Louis do fall in love and live together for a time. Fanny decides to give her marriage another chance, although she loves Louis. She returns to America, and much to her dismay she finds her husband has not changed.

Louis, determined to win Fanny back, travels on a tramp steamer despite his chronic illness. He arrives in America, his health broken by the arduous journey, near death. Eventually, he reunites with Fanny who had also been very ill. Fanny is now divorced, and she and Louis are finally married.

So begins their nomadic existence. This marriage of opposites is full of love, inspiration, and eventual loss. Fanny subverts her own creative existence to help her husband's creativity. Often she nurses him back from his many close calls with death. Despite the hardships of Victorian Age travel, they go from place to place searching for where Louis can regain his health, live more comfortably, and continue to write. Their search takes them from America, Switzerland, England, Australia, and finally to Samoa. Through much of their travels they are on a boat, and Fanny, who has terrible bouts of seasickness, is violently ill.

In Samoa Louis seems to be happy and leads a most fulfilling life. He begins a frenzy of creativity often working long hours. Fanny, who herself wanted to be a writer, is often relegated to nursemaid. She is instrumental in his success as she reads and critiques his writing and often gets him to make changes.

Marge D'Eramo
Friend of the Beaver Library

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In the recently published novel, Starter House by Sonja Condit, Lacey and Eric Miszlak are house hunting. The couple has a limited budget and very strict criteria for the woman showing them available homes. After showing them many homes in the specified area, they accidentally end up with their realtor in front of a home that is clearly undergoing renovations. Lacey has fallen in love with the place and is sure that this is where her family will live and grow, but Eric isn't so sure. He has no time, no energy, and no money for a fixer- upper.

The owner of the home happens to live next door. He is a seemingly nice man, but he seems very anxious to sell. Even though their agent tries to discourage them, all she will say is that people died in that home. Lacey rationalizes that people die everywhere, and any house that has been standing for a while probably has had a death. When an offer that they really can't refuse comes from the seller along with a handy excuse regarding why he is willing to let it go so cheaply, the deal is sealed. Before the Miszlaks are even moved in, the house begins to affect the young couple. To be more specific, Drew, a child on a bike, appears. He does actually appear, but only Lacey sees him. It takes her a while to realize that she is the only one who sees him. From her first contact with the boy, things begin to go wrong. This is especially frightening, because Lacey is pregnant with their first child.

She begins to investigate the history of the home and finds that there have indeed been deaths there. Not only have children died, but families have been torn apart. Eric becomes concerned when Lacy continues to insist that she sees a ghost, one that appears to her not just in the home but in other places as well. The tempermental Drew is able to do more than just appear. He causes damage to the home and is threatening toward Lacey. Eric becomes increasingly concerned and irritated with his wife. He calls in his flakey mother-in-law, Ella Dane, to help him watch over his wife. She arrives with her little dog and is prepared to do spiritual cleansing and watch over her daughter. Problems only increase.

This is a good solid read which is not too spooky, but just about right for those who enjoy a light read.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Books have a tendency to follow a person, as if the characters' experiences actually belonged to the reader. This phenomenon trickles into motives, beliefs, and thoughts. Books are how recluses can become public figures, the frightened become knights in shining armor, and anyone can find their way into Andrew's brain.

Renowned author E.L. Doctorow has crafted another masterpiece, though on the scale nearly that of a short story. Known for his historical and political pieces, Doctorow has taken us to the head of the present man in "Andrew's Brain."

With a limited cast of characters, Doctorow explores questions of humanity from the inside out. The entire book is a running inner dialogue from Andrew, occasionally with brief interjections by an apparent psychoanalyst.

Andrew lives the life of one of Rosten's schlemiel – a man plagued by bad luck at the expense of others. At the time of his dialogue, he has caused the death of four individuals, including a wife and two daughters. A cognitive scientist, Andrew tackles the emotions of his mind with the science of his brain.

The danger of this piece is that it can be taken as the superficial drivel of a man with too many college degrees. But in classic Doctorowian style, he invites the reader to explore between the lines to discover, hypothesize, and assume.

In his soliloquy, Andrew leads the uninvited reader through strange experiences that are as tragic as the death of each person he's chosen to love, as odd as working for George W. Bush out of a converted broom closet in the White House basement, and as unexpected as meeting the dwarf family of Andrew's second love.

Doctorow has provided the catalyst for the deep thoughts of the reader, but in a manner that allows enough space between the lines for conversation with the characters. In this way, the reader is able to jump into the head of Andrew, join his query of the difference between mind and brain, and walk away from a story with questions.

Jordan Watson
New Brighton Public Library
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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When a novel is well written, readers and characters build relationships. Each seeks more from the other and neither can truly be known. Novels provide questions and room for the imagination to elucidate. These are the questions that are asked generation after generation and connect today's readers to those in the 19th century.

Charles Dickens, one of the great authors of our times, provided us with beautifully complex characters and an opportunity to get lost in a world today's readers could not otherwise know. Such is the world of Miss Havisham.

A spinoff, "Havisham" by Ronald Frame, is one man's interpretation of what made Miss Havisham into the character that haunts the pages of Dickens. Frame provided a past for who readers only knew to have a present.

Dubbed Catherine, the young Miss Havisham lived a childhood that we now know was full of learning, expectations, and scandals. Sent from her father's brewing company to a well-to-do family to learn to be a lady, Charlotte found herself amidst classic novels, masquerades, and constant lessons.

This is the world into which she was pushed, but was never fully accepted. This is the world where she could escape her sadistic half brother. This is the world where she met the young man who would inspire the infamous Havisham craze.

Worlds collide within "Havisham," but the largest collisions take place without of the book. Though an admittedly creative venture, "Havisham" does not meet the expectations of a "Great Expecations" spinoff.

The scale of the book is far more surmountable than that of "Great Expectations," but is so at great sacrifice. Gaps exist in the narrative where elucidation should occur and finalities are hastily met.

Though enjoyable to meet familiar characters in a different context, Frame's and Dickens' writings are so vastly different that being reintroduced results in meeting characters that aren't true to their original selves.

When approached as a separate entity from "Great Expectations," the reader finds an enjoyable read in "Havisham." Dialogue largely carries a flowing narrative that creates for an opportunity to spend an afternoon in an 1800s world of dances, betrayals, and lost love.

Jordan Watson
New Brighton Public Library
Carnegie Free Library of Beaver Falls

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'Neglected children' is a popular theme in books these days. Perhaps it is a sign of the times, but children whose parents, for one reason or another, ignore or abuse them are characters in many novels and memoirs. Whether the cause is their own bad upbringing, their addictions to any of a variety of substances, or plain narcissism, these parents' behavior evoke disgust, anger, or sometimes, pity. However, the father in The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson deserves gratitude, even admiration. Andy Kincain is a war veteran who served several tours of duty in the Middle East and has a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. He is a single father who wants to do right by his teen-age daughter, but the ugly thoughts in his head get in the way. So PTSD affects not only Andy, but life for Hayley too. Any father can have a tough time raising a teenager. In Andy's case, there are times when it is Hayley who is doing the parenting.

When Andy failed to hold a steady job, he took to life on the road as a truck driver. Hayley went along, with Andy doing the homeschooling. That her education consisted of games and quizzes in the cab of a big rig bothered no one. Then Andy's attacks grew worse. It was as if all he could see, hear, and feel were scenes from the war. So he suggested that he quit driving and they settle into a 'normal life' where Hayley could go to a regular school for her senior year. Hayley agreed, because she thought this would make life better for her dad. But she was secretly and completely terrified by the thought of high school. They moved back to the town where Andy grew up, and Hayley enrolled in the public school.

Because of her unusual lifestyle, Hayley had no real friends or even any prolonged interaction with people her own age. She feels socially clueless. A girl in the neighborhood, Gracie, takes Hayley under her wing before school starts. At least Hayley has one familiar face in the halls and someone to sit with at lunch. She can't seem to stay out of trouble, though.

Hayley dozes in classes, corrects her teachers, and racks up detention time, eleven times in twenty-four days of school. Like most people in a new situation, Hayley doesn't understand all the unwritten rules of life here. When she becomes attracted to Finn, Hayley is even more confused. He seems to like her, so is it okay to call him? Should she stop at his locker? She doesn't know what to do. Gracie's no help since she is submerged in her family's drama. Her father moved out, and Gracie's mom isn't coping. Hayley's father is in no shape to answer questions. He doesn't want to talk, eat, or do anything but sit in front of the television. Gradually he grows even worse, using both alcohol and drugs to get through a day. Hayley becomes afraid to leave him alone and starts missing more and more school. Finn tells Hayley, "You take care of him more than he takes care of you."

A gripping and suspenseful occurrence brings the situation to a satisfying conclusion. Though Laurie Halse Anderson writes for teen readers, she has dealt with such serious problems as date rape and eating disorders. In this book she writes effectively about PTSD, a problem that isn't going to go away. With pages of Andy's thoughts interspersed throughout, the book shows how badly the disease affects the minds of its victims. The Impossible Knife of Memory gives insight and understanding to people who have PTSD and the members of their families who suffer with them.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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"The Lost Girls of Rome" is a thrilling murder mystery that takes place in Rome. A young widow, who works as a forensic photographer, is grieving the loss of her husband. He died just months earlier in a freak accident while on assignment as a photojournalist. A phone call to Sandra, the widow, late one night reveals that maybe David's death had not been an accident at all-it was murder.

Sandra begins a chase that takes her from Milan to Rome. A series of clues left by her dead husband will guide her from historic location to location, revealing the secrets of an age-old sect of priests. These men work under the guise of the Vatican, but in truth were banned from their positions years earlier. It is during this time that we are introduced to Marcus, a penitenziere, a member of the secret group. This group is so exclusive that the members don't even know who the others are, or even if there are any. Marcus is suffering from amnesia as a result of a traumatic injury. The truth behind this injury unravels as the book progresses. Is Marcus really who they say he is? He is on a mission to find out.

During Sandra's travels to Rome, a serial killer is uncovered. He is to blame for the death of at least four women, and another one is missing. Marcus has been charged with finding her. Sandra is in danger, having been shot at in a chapel where a clue was hidden. Sandra meets a handsome Interpol officer, the one who leads her to believe her husband was murdered. He is handsome with a slight German accent. He insists that Sandra give him any information that she may have, and in turn Sandra insists that they work together to solve David's murder. The one problem that Sandra doesn't know is that Schalber, the Interpol officer, had disappeared a year ago. Who really was this man?

In the meantime, you are introduced to someone called "The Hunter." His identity is never revealed and neither is the name of his "prey." He travels around the world looking for something called the "transformist." His travels take him to Mexico, France, Canada, Vienna, and Prypiat (the town next to the ill-fated Chernobyl Nuclear facility). His prey was a serial killer, leaving faceless bodies all over the world.

Donato Carrisi brilliantly works the story lines behind all these characters into one novel. Every twist and turn neatly brings the story into focus. Carrisi will bring you to the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next. You will not be able to set this book down until it is finished and all your questions are answered.

Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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Still Life with Bread Crumbs, a novel by Anna Quindlen, is a beautifully written story about the unwinding of a woman's life. Rebecca was an only child. She married and became the mother of an only child. She made a good living for a fairly long time as a photographer, but that nearly happened by accident. It seemed that not many things happened in Rebecca's life, but the best things and the most important things were accidental.

At a point in her life when Rebecca began to feel that her life as an artist was waning, she decided to take some time for herself. She found and rented, sight unseen, a small cabin outside of a small town in a remote but lovely area. She expected to spend a year alone, secluded with her thoughts and her camera. She never expected this experience to change her life in every possible way.

Rebecca's necessary trips into town for supplies introduced her to the locals, and to her surprise they became friends. There was a special closeness that they offered to each other and extended to Rebecca. She began to enjoy her trips to town more and more. She also began to hike the woods and find opportunities to photograph the sorts of found art that had once made her so renowned. Rebecca began to hope that she might once again make a living for herself with her camera. Little did she know that this found art would help to create a connection for her that she never again expected to have in her life.

During her sojourn she still had the responsibilities of her aging parents, and seeing to their care took her back to the city to visit with them and see to their needs. While she loved them, she was always anxious to return to her small cabin in the woods and the life she was creating there.

This book was so filled with hope and joy and feelings that sometimes, some of us who have reached a certain age, feel will never be part of our lives again. It is a strong reminder that grown children and changes in a way of life can bring us to a time of contentment and pleasure that we thought we had left behind.

I always knew that all good things had to come to an end, but it never occurred to me that an ending would become a good thing and not an ending after all. Perhaps it is true that each ending is nothing but a new beginning in disguise. Anna Quindlan never lets me down. This book draws the reader in and gives pleasure, just as all of Quindlan's books have done for years.

Very Good Read.
Recommended.

Kathleen Wagner
Baden Memorial Library

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Written by J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter series, under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, "The Cuckoo's Calling" suffers being judged by many of its readers not for its content, but for its author.

Readers are shamefully spending more time noting the differences between "The Cuckoo's Calling" and Harry Potter, rather than engrossing themselves in Rowling's first attempt at mystery literature.

With all of the whodunit of Gillian Flynn and all of the gritty realism of Rowling's "Casual Vacancy," "The Cuckoo's Calling" exhibits the Rowling's laudable knack for characterization. She creates personalities that you can sometimes love and sometimes hate, but that you can always believe exist.

These characters function within beautifully parodic pages: a burly has-been PI, accompanied by his smart, beautiful assistant track down the killer of the world's favorite supermodel. Our protagonist faces his past while chasing the present down winding trails of lies, evidence, and intuition. The narrative is given a soundtrack of jackhammers and flashbulbs and screams and the stage is set with all of the damp streets, drawn blinds, and tense conversations of a film noir.

To read "The Cuckoo's Calling" was to be a part of a classic tale of motive, mystery, and murder. It joined the worlds of the celebrity and of the layman in a way that anyone could relate to. It kept the reader guessing, no matter how sure they were of who committed the crime. It made the reader want to read more about characters with "face[s] the colour of corned beef" being chased by "long-snouted cameras." It combined all of Rowling's ability to paint a picture, to create a person, to engage a reader with her desire to discover new genres of her writing.

"The Cuckoo's Calling" was no Harry Potter saga, it was no "Casual Vacancy," and for that, Rowling is to be kudized. It is an entity in and of itself that deserves as much recognition as the exposure of its author. Set Potter aside and give Cormoran Strike the chance to draw you in.

Jordan Watson
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls
New Brighton Public Library

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When the wind is howling and the temperature dips into the single digits, few things are more satisfying than settling in with a good book and a warm beverage. When the book is about a walk through the English countryside in the spring when the flowers are just emerging, the satisfaction level rises accordingly.

Such was the case with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by first-time novelist Rachel Joyce.

Harold has recently retired from a desk job at a brewery and lives with his wife Maureen in Kingsbridge, a village in the south of England. In the first few pages we see that Harold is ill-equipped for retirement and irritates Maureen as his presence interrupts her routine. One day, after he rests from mowing their small yard, he receives a letter from someone he worked closely with many years ago. The someone is a woman, Queenie Hennessey, and she writes that she is in a hospice dying of cancer and wants Harold to know that she has been thinking of him. Harold is nonplussed and sets about penning a note in return. After several false starts he finally is satisfied with his effort and strides off to post the letter to the hospice in Berwick on Tweed in Scotland. As he passes post box after post box, he can't seem to part with the letter. He keeps telling himself he'll just walk to the next one.

At the edge of town he stops for a snack and tells the young girl at the counter about his friend who is dying. The girl replies that her aunt had cancer, but it is important to stay positive. "You have to believe. That's what I think. It's not about medicine and all that stuff. There is so much in the human mind that we don't understand. But..if you have faith, you can do anything."

Thus the seed was planted. Harold ponders her simple statement and decides that he is going to walk to the hospice to deliver his letter. He tells the nun at the hospice to tell Queenie to hold on until he gets there. So this unlikely knight, wearing his light windbreaker and yachting shoes, sets off on the six-hundred-mile quest to bring hope to an old friend. (A comparable feat would be walking from Beaver County to the Poconos and back.) When he phones to tell Maureen what he's going to do, she scoffs and says, "I'd like to see you get past Dartmoor."

Along the way, of course, things do not go smoothly. Harold has a lot of trouble with blisters-he ends up wrapping his feet in blue duct tape-but he meets many interesting people and he also has time to think, to ponder the direction his life has taken and to confront ghosts that have haunted him. At home, Maureen also reevaluates what her life has become.

Ms. Joyce's background spans more than twenty years playing leading roles in the English theater as well as writing plays for the BBC. This experience shows in her creation of Harold and Maureen. Other characters seem as familiar as those on the Saturday evening PBS shows. Ms. Joyce includes a great deal of typical British humor, and she delights in skewering the types of people who leech on to any kind of celebrity. The novel isn't perfect; she has a tendency to repeat a bit much. Perhaps a TV writer must do that to keep an audience focused.

She does a good job, though, of keeping to her Pilgrim's Progress motif and Harold certainly suffers some existential alienation toward the end of his journey. "No one could imagine such loneliness. He shouted once but no sound came back. He felt the cold deep inside him as if even his bones were freezing over. He closed his eyes to sleep, convinced he would not survive, and having no will to fight that."

A word not often used any more to describe people is "pluck" as in "He was a plucky chap" meaning he had the will to persevere when everything seemed to conspire against him. Harold was plucky and you'll want to read about his unlikely pilgrimage to see if he was lucky as well.

Doris Thompson
Beaver Area Memorial Library Board Member

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"Someone" by Alice McDermott is a tale that spans the life of Marie Commeford. It opens to find Marie, then an inquisitive seven year old, waiting for her father on the stoop of their Brooklyn row house. It is from this stoop that we are introduced to quite a few characters from Marie's predominantly Irish neighborhood. What often seems like a chance and flippant encounter always stays with little Marie. As the story progresses with Marie's age, the cast of characters from her stoop and her street continue to entwine in her life.

At the beginning of the story, Marie lives with her parents and her brother Gabe who is preparing for a life in the priesthood. Marie's father has a drinking problem, and her mother often has to go into the city to retrieve him after an afternoon binge. He was a nice and gentle man, however, and Marie loved him. Her best friend Gerty lived just down the street, and she spent a lot of time there as well. Gabe goes into the seminary, but shortly after having his own parish he leaves the priesthood under mysterious circumstances.

As time passes, some of the people in Marie's life leave also. She tries to learn how to cook, but finds she is quite a failure at it. She meets a boy and plans to marry once she finished school. Suddenly one day, her boyfriend tells her is going to marry someone else. So once she finishes her schooling, her only option is to get a job. She looks and looks and finally gets hired at the local funeral parlor, where once again the lives of everyone in the neighborhood meet. Her job there is to be the "consoling angel." She greets mourners, takes their coats, and directs them to the appropriate room. It is here that she meets a string of beaus.

Marie meets a man named Tom at a party. They get married, move into an apartment, and have a child. The birthing process almost kills Marie, but through the course of her life she will have three more children. They age, move to the suburbs, and raise their children in a fairly normal fashion. At one point after the death of Marie's mother, her brother Gabe has a mental breakdown. After treatment he goes to stay with Marie, and it's just like the old days of Brooklyn.

Alice McDermott has woven a tale so thickly intertwined. The characters come and go, but they are so memorable, and they each leave a little something with Marie. The book is so detailed that you can follow the decline of their Brooklyn neighborhood and envision each room in the funeral parlor. You felt the emotions, as had Marie, the feeling of awkwardness at your first kiss, the first night as a married couple, the pride in your child. This is a fantastic novel.

Kate Weidner, Director
New Brighton Public Library

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J. J. Abrams is a creative soul. He has written over a dozen movie scripts, was the producer for five of them, created about a half dozen television series, was the producer for fifteen shows, wrote the scripts for and directed several of those, composed theme music for three programs, and acted in five movies as well as a television show. His work has been nominated for and has won numerous awards, including five Emmy's. Clearly this is a talented man. Now he has conceived a novel entitled S. The writing credit is listed as Doug Dorst, but it is Abrams' name on the spine label. With Abrams involvement, it is not surprising how very inventive the book turns out to be.

When purchased, the book comes in a cardboard slipcover. But once that is removed, it appears to be an entirely different volume entitled "Ship of Thesus" written by V. M. Straka. The cover, the spine, the title page, and all the copyright information indicates that this book is "Ship of Thesus", published in 1949 by Wing Shoe Press. The pages are even yellowed. Included with the book are twenty-one additional items: maps, postcards, photographs, letters that are two or three pages long, and more which supplement the story of the book.

When the book is opened, there is a huge shock for anyone who cares about books. The margins throughout are covered with handwriting. Some of the lines in the book are underlined. There are even doodles in several places. Making for colorful pages, some of the writing is in red ink, some in orange, some in blue, some in black, and some in pencil-lead gray. The handwriting is in two quite distinct styles: one is a flowing script and the other a block print.

So, besides the actual printed text of the book, there is the handwritten story in the margins to read. The written notes consist of a conversation between two college students who are studying the text. Eric was the first to make notes in the book using a pencil. Jen found the book, became absorbed in it, and wrote replies to Eric in blue ink. She challenged him by writing, "you totally missed something important." He continued the dialog in black ink. At first they choose not to meet but instead leave the book in a designated spot in the library and write messages to each other inside it. As their relationship changes, so does the color of their inks. They go through the book at least twice, and their later notes comment on the earlier ones. Confusing? Yes, at first, but it's all very entertaining. Even when the messages are ordinary, like when Jen and Eric complain about professors or tease each other, their conversation is fun to read. The notes grow engrossing as the two students try to discover the true identity of V.M.Straka, a writer who reputedly worked in the resistance during WW II. "Ship of Thesus" is the last of Straka's nineteen novels. Eric and Jen believe it is full of clues to exactly who he was and to his wartime activities.

For readers who like straightforward stories with all questions answered by the end, this book would be a nightmare. Just the layout can be difficult to follow as the plot trickles through the pages in different colors and handwriting. However, it is a book that is as intriguing as it is different. Abram's creativity and originality is on display. The entire story is never told, but there is enough to spark curiosity and to be thought provoking. In S, it is not the destination but the journey through it which makes the book worthwhile reading.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls

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Nineteen year old Matthew Homes received a writing assignment that he is determined to finish. The person who gave him this task was not his teacher or professor, but his doctor. Matthew was a patient in a mental hospital, and even after his release he continued his story. This homework is what makes up Where the Moon Isn't, Nathan Filer's first novel.

Matthew has a distinctive voice, and his story rambles around as different thoughts occur to him. He describes his life from elementary school to the psych ward. Working up to relating what happened the night ten years ago that changed everything, Matthew introduces the reader to his parents, his extended family, and his brother. "His name is Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that."

Not only was Simon not the same, neither was Matthew. The family was on vacation at the Oceanside Holiday Park. The boys went out to play late one night, and only Matthew came back. Though the police called it an accident, the family's reactions make that finding suspect. Matthew talks about the details, but not until the end of the book does he explain exactly what happened to his brother that night. Instead, he talks about his life. Immediately after the family returned home, Matthew's mom decided to take him out of school to teach him at home. That decision not only isolated Matthew but gave him a less than ideal education. Matthew was a clever child at nine years old and passed the curriculum easily. Soon he realized that his perfect test scores made his mother feel useless. He began to make mistakes on purpose, so she would have something to teach him. It became obvious that Mum was using homeschooling Matthew to avoid her own problems.

According to Matthew, he did make a friend immediately once he returned to school. But Jacob came from a troubled family, and there were problems. As his illness grew worse, Matthew could barely function, and he ended up in the hospital. His description of living in a mental health facility is very detailed. He tells his readers exactly what it is like to be kept on an acute psychiatric ward for day after day after day after day. The pills he takes with their common side effects, the injections he has, the tests he takes, the tedium of the everyday schedule, and the meetings where everyone talks about him make Matthew feel everything he does is decided for him. The one thing he thinks he has any control over is the way he chooses to tell his story. He keeps on writing after he is allowed to move into an apartment on his own. Through his relapse and return to the hospital, then back to independent living, Matthew continues with his story.

As his mind moves in and out of madness, Matthew's story gets so dark it is difficult to see any happiness for this character. However, Where the Moon Isn't shows Matthew's resiliency, his strength as he deals with his illness, and most of all, his love for his brother and his family. Moving and memorable, this book is well worth reading.

Kathie Groves
Children's Librarian
Carnegie Library, Beaver Falls

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Jhumpa Lahiri has given us one of the great fiction reads of the year with her book The Lowland that begins with the lives of two brothers born fifteen months apart in India. Although opposites they still have a very close relationship as they are growing up, but their lives take them in radically different directions.

The younger Udayan is charismatic and impulsive. He remains in India and is drawn into the militant Naxalite movement which originated in the 1960s, the period of Udayan's involvement. He is passionate in his beliefs and very willing to take risks. The older Subhash on the other hand is more serious and cautious in life, and he does not share his brother's political passion. Subhash moves to America and pursues an academic life in scientific research while Udayan becomes increasingly involved in the tactics of guerilla warfare against his government.

Character development in The Lowland is impeccable, and the description of life in Calcutta is vivid. The book is both historical and suspenseful and revolves around a tragedy with one brother and the life changing consequences to the other. The title of the book refers to a piece of land between two ponds in the neighborhood where the brothers grew up, and it figures prominently in the story line.

Spanning fifty years, two continents, and two generations Jhumpa Lahiri describes commitment to honorable intentions and endurance to the rejection of those intentions. The Lowland is an engrossing and complex read with revelations that continue right to the end.

The author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her debut collection Interpreter of the Maladies written in 1999. The Lowland is her fourth book and should appeal to many readers.

Diane Wakefield






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