22 September 2009

More mini book recs

Here are four book recommendations that are new (or new-ish) in paperback. Good reads at a good value!

HOME by Marilynne Robinson. Set in the same small Iowa town and peopled with minor characters from her Pulitzer prize-winning Gilead, Home is another powerhouse of a novel. Quiet but intense, she gives us a generous portrait of one family and the ways they deal with loyalty, desertion, and betrayal, set within the particular framework of the patriarch’s faith. Robinson takes a harder look at religion and simultaneously treats it with more generosity and respect than any fiction writer I know. A very fine piece of work. I was very pleased when Robinson was awarded the Orange Prize for this novel.

TWENTY CHICKENS FOR A SADDLE by Robyn Scott. This wonderful memoir tells the story of a girl and her family who move from New Zealand to Botswana so her parents can renew their childhood ties with Africa. Robyn and her siblings are homeschooled by their iconoclastic mother, much to their society grandmother's dismay, with occasional visits with their father to his medical clinics in the bush to round out their education. She chronicles her family's (mis)adventures with warmth and humor, and it's clear to see that the daily frustrations of living in such a remote area (in rather close quarters) are more than balanced by the fierce love the family has for each other and for their adopted country. A fantastic read for armchair (or real) travelers!

GOURMET RHAPSODY by Muriel Barbery. This new novel from the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a foodie's delight. The gruff, pretentious food critic from the previous novel is on his deathbed in this latest offer, and chapters alternate between his own memories of food that changed his life and his family's not-so-charitable memories of him. From reading of his first taste of oysters to his reminiscences of a summer spent on a remote Greek isle, I don't think I've ever drooled over a book so much. Be sure to have something yummy on hand while reading to satisfy the intense food cravings that Barbery's writing evokes!

I couldn't resist sharing part of the oyster passage: "I bless the day my tongue discovered the intoxicating, almost erotic, velvet-smooth caress of an oyster slipping in after a chunk of bread smeared with salted butter...Between these two extremes--the rich warmth of a daube and the clean crystal of shellfish...the divine mouthful has become a religious act for all."

THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh. Haigh's newest effort showcases her special talent of peering deep into familes, dysfunctional or otherwise, to explore their inner workings and complicated bonds. Her clear-eyed perception gives the reader a double portrait of the McKotch family, both in their early days and after the children have become adults themselves, unmasking family secrets along the way. Nobody is better than Haigh at depicting the ties that bind or the myriad ways they can unravel, and she shows with heartbreaking accuracy just how childhood misunderstandings and grudges can harden over time to breed resentments that might be beyond forgiveness.

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