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March 4, 2010 Edition

The World in Half, by Cristina Henriquez

Miraflores has been raised by her mother knowing that her Panamanian father abandoned them Ė but now, home from college to take care of her mother who has early-onset Alzheimerís, she finds letters from her father that shake her world. She is stunned to find that her father loved her mother, and would have loved her, too, but her mother left Panama for her hometown of Chicago. Making a snap decision, Mira finds a caretaker for her mother and a ticket to Panama and flies off to find her father. Befriended by her hotelís doorman and his grandson, she searches for her father until her three weeks are up, returning home much changed. This is a lovely story, whose strengths are in its characters and their relationships with each other.

Hell, by Robert Olen Butler

Butlerís Hell is far from Boschian Ė his souls are tormented by an extremely conscientious Satan who is concerned that his denizens get a torture tailored just for them, but who throws in cell phones with lousy reception, hard drives that crash just before saving, unavoidable knee-bumping coffee tables, and other constant annoyances as bonuses. Hellís journalist, Hatcher McCord (who suffers an unrequited love of Anne Boleyn, who is still infatuated with her darling Henry), is interviewing Hellís denizens in the hopes of piecing together clues to the escape route that he believes exists. But if Hell isnít quite what he expected, what will Heaven be like?

The Unit,by Ninni Holmqvist

When Dorrit was in her late teens, she had an abortion. But had she known that was her last chance at being a mother, might she have chosen otherwise? Because that was the time that a law was voted into being in Sweden that weighed the usefulness of a life, and now that Dorrit is 50, childless, parentless, poor, and unloved, she is also deemed un-useful and destined for the Unit. This dystopian novel posits a future where those who reach a certain age without dependents are taken in by the State, to be cared for until the end, and who in return, offer themselves up for medical experiments and organ donations. Dorrit, at first afraid and angry, is surprised to find that in an odd way, the Unit is a community, and though their freedom is limited, a comraderie exists that she didnít have in the outside world as she got closer to becoming of a dispensable age. And there is, surprisingly, love.

Starvation Lake, by Bryan Gruley

Years ago, Gus Carpenter was the star goalie on Starvation Lakeís hockey team, the guy who lost the state championship for the team and started the small townís downward slide. Now heís back in town after another failure, this time in his chosen field of journalism. While heís finding his footing among residents who still think of him as the kid who lost the championship, pieces of his old coachís snowmobile wash up on the shores of the lake and his coachís drowning accident becomes a decade-old murder investigation. Gusís reputations as a hockey player and as a journalist are both at stake as he tries to find out what really happened to Coach Blackburn in this suspenseful first mystery.

The Palace of Strange Girls, by Sallie Day

Itís July 1959 and the Singleton family has arrived at Blackpool to enjoy a week at the beach. Ruth and Jackís marriage is under strain from several directions. Jack is keeping secrets from his wife: one is that heís been offered a promotion at the fabric mill in exchange for doing the ownerís dirty work. He doesnít like the offer and plans to refuse it, yet knows that a refusal might be the final nail in the coffin of his cooling marriage. Ruth lives with a constant thrumming of agitation over her status in the world, her youngest daughterís disfiguring scars, and her oldest daughterís worldliness. 16 year-old Helen canít wait to leave school, find a job, and make her own decisions. And seven-year old Beth is fighting her motherís shame to find out who she might grow up to be.

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