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February 11, 2010 Edition
The story of the friendship between working class fossil hunter Mary Anning and middle class spinster Elizabeth Philpot captures the strictures of Victorian-era England. Self-taught Mary has an eye for finding the giant monsters lurking in the chalk of the seashore, but she doesn’t have the finesse needed to negotiate with the men who want to buy what she finds. Elizabeth does, but the clout of her class is weakened by her gender. United by their interest in fossils, their friendship evolves from that of an adult and child to equals in knowledge, and eventually, to rivals in love. At the same time, Chevalier shows us the slow changes in society as common knowledge changes from a religious understanding of the origins of the world to a more scientific view involving evolution and extinction.
Do you see only 4 rolls of toilet paper on the shelf instead of 5? Think you had a package of spaghetti that now you can't find? Misplace a vase you haven't used since last Valentine's Day? Maybe you've been burgled by Martin Railsback. He's the twitchy, voyeuristic hero of this odd and charming story of a career criminal who analyses his target families exhaustively and only takes what he think his “clients” won't notice: a roll of toilet paper here, a can of diced tomatoes there, a pair of never-worn earrings... until one day he accidentally ruins a client's toothbrush and feels compelled to replace it. That's the turning point, when Martin's neurotic rules change to allow him to become a guardian angel of sorts. Funny and creepy, after reading this you'll be checking your refrigerator for missing salad dressing.
When the Boatwright family wins the Georgia state lottery, it’s a dream come true. But when Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko drift through town and hear about all the money, the Boatwright’s dream becomes a nightmare. Charismatic Shaw hatches a scheme to get a piece of the winnings, taking the family hostage with the threat of killing their loved ones if they resist him in this psychological thriller. His buddy Romeo is the brawn, tasked with driving around town, checking in with Shaw and staying ready with the gun. Stockholm Syndrome takes its toll and the Boatwrights’ reactions to Shaw’s increasingly odd behavior seem irrationally calm even as the tension ratchets up. A terrifying and yet fascinating portrait of a family focused on making the right choices in order to survive.
85-year old Fatima has been counting down the days of her life: she knows she's only got nine days left because for the past 991 days, Scheherazade has been visiting her to learn her stories. With so little time, will Fatima be able to tie up the loose ends of her life? She wants to find a wife for her gay grandson, teach her great-granddaughter to read the Koran in Arabic, and decide which of her 10 children should inherit her (probably non-existent) house in Lebanon. Readers learn about Fatima's life through her stories to Scheherazade, from her childhood in Lebanon to her immigration to America as a young bride, the death of her first husband, her marriage to his best friend, the birth of their children and grandchildren, and finally, her arrival in L.A., where she lives with her out-of-work grandson Amir. Charming and funny and poignant, this is a fairy tale for our time.
Paul Miller lives in an unnamed country, a survivor of an unnamed war. He escaped a labor camp, married the woman who hid him, and settled down to become a father and bread-earner. But he cannot forget or entirely forgive the townspeople for their indifference to the plight of his fellow prisoners during the war, nor can he forgive himself for not interfering with the sadistic camp commandant when Hans tortured Paul’s fellow inmates. When he is elected mayor of the town, he has many plans to modernize and erase his tormented memories, but the return of the commandant puts a stop to that. Both allegorical and personal, this is an affecting story of resilience and perseverance, and will have readers wondering what choices they would have made.