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August 26, 2005 Edition

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See


In old China, where women with bound feet were confined to the women’s quarters and constricted by Confucian conventions, a secondary culture just for women was born. Women’s stories form bonds between the generations of women and girls living upstairs in Lily’s house, and Lily learns the women’s writing that will serve to keep her in touch with her sworn friend Snow Flower at her aunt’s bound feet. This historical novel explores the intricacies of women’s friendships in a culture and time far removed from ours, written by an author whose empathy for all her characters makes this more than just a book about women.

A Long Stay in a Distant Land, by Chieh Chieng


When Louis Lum, whose family has been cursed by a series of untimely and unlikely deaths, hears that his uncle has disappeared in Hong Kong, he knows he’s got to find him. Not for himself (though he’s a little angry that Uncle Bo never responds to his letters), but for his grandmother, who has seemingly escaped the family curse, but who claims her heart will break if her favorite son doesn’t show up soon. So, California born and bred Louis leaves his gangster-rap-obsessed father for the “old country” and finds family legends and family history mixing it up in some strange ways in this comedic first novel.

Quicksilver and Shadow, by Charles de Lint


This collection of de Lint’s early short stories is a fascinating mix of original and reworked legends. His dark fantasies are compelling reads, sometimes verging into horror stories (some complete with evil clowns). Other stories are borrowed from Native American tales, such as the Blackfoot trickster tale about Raven. A solid collection for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

The Manhattan Beach Project, by Peter Lefcourt


Oscar-winner Charlie Berns (hero of Lefcourt’s previous novel “The Deal”) is down-and-out in his nephew’s Hollywood poolhouse, kiting checks and attending Debtor’s Anonymous meetings when he is offered a chance to put himself back at the top. The big sellers of the season are reality shows, and when the one Charlie pitches goes big time, he finds himself mixed up with the CIA, an Uzbeki warlord, and the Taliban in a reality show that threatens to change the balance of power in Central Asia.

Maps for Lost Lovers, by Nadeem Aslam


Another story investigating women’s roles and restrictions in other cultures, this one takes place in a Pakistani-populated English town. Jugnu and Chanda have disappeared after living together in defiance of Muslim tradition. Chanda’s brothers, whose family was shamed by the two lovers, are arrested for their murder, and the murders and arrests reverberate through the community. Kaukab, Jugnu’s sister-in-law, is particularly affected as she considers the differences between English and Pakistani attitudes towards love, sex, and marriage.

Maps for Lost Lovers, by Nadeem Aslam


Another story investigating women’s roles and restrictions in other cultures, this one takes place in a Pakistani-populated English town. Jugnu and Chanda have disappeared after living together in defiance of Muslim tradition. Chanda’s brothers, whose family was shamed by the two lovers, are arrested for their murder, and the murders and arrests reverberate through the community. Kaukab, Jugnu’s sister-in-law, is particularly affected as she considers the differences between English and Pakistani attitudes towards love, sex, and marriage.

Alternative Atlanta, by Marshall Boswell


Gerald Brinkman has had a successful and relatively happy life steering clear of commitments (including a real job or a steady girlfriend), but now his luck is changing. There’s a job offer dangling in New York, his ex-girlfriend seems to be changing her mind, and his father has moved in “for a visit.” Topping all of these dangers to his equilibrium (though Gerald doesn’t yet know it) is Atlanta itself: it is the summer of the 1996 Olympics, and Gerald’s world is about to change.

The Martian War, by Gabriel Mesta


Victorian rationalism blends with a spoof of the quick-paced books written for boys of the time in this remarkably agile sci-fi/alternate history novel. What if H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was based on truth? What if he’s been recruited by leading scientists of his day to write about their scientific discoveries? In a world where Dr. Moreau performs the first alien autopsy, why can’t Wells have been blasted to the moon to meet with the natives? A wonderfully inventive read.

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