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May 13, 2010 Edition

The Thirteenth Hour, by Richard Doetsch

Held for questioning for the murder of his wife, Nick Quinn is given a glimmer of hope in the form of an antique pocket watch that acts as a time machine. With it, he can go back an hour at a time for a total of 12 hours. If he keeps his wits about him, he should be able to learn what needs to be changed to save his wife’s life, but if he has not succeeded by the 13th hour, all will be lost. As Nick creeps further back in time, he learns the family secrets and police corruption that have contributed to Julia’s death, but also finds that changes he makes can have deadly ramifications. Though filled with overwrought prose, the plot of this clever sci-fi thriller will pull readers through to the climactic ending.

Pearl of China, by Anchee Min

Willow and her family are living in dire poverty in the Chinese village of Chin-kiang when a new family comes to town: the tall white man who looks ridiculous in his fake queue and modified Chinese robe is Absalom, a zealous Christian missionary, and he’s brought his wife, Carie, and two daughters, Grace and Pearl, to help convert the heathens. Willow’s father sees Absalom as a source of income and ingratiates himself, while Willow and Pearl become best friends. As the years pass, their friendship is tested by changes in governmental policies during Mao’s regime, a love triangle, and many periods of separation when Pearl lives in the States. Though this is a fictionalized biography of the writer Pearl Buck, this is as much about her (fictional, but no less fascinating) friend, Willow.

Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott

Divorced, 40-something Clara is living a quiet and ordered life when she accidentally sideswipes the homeless Gage’s car with mom, dad, grandma, and three little Gages inside. No one is seriously injured, but in the process of discovering that, doctors find that mom Lorraine has cancer. Out of guilt and a feeling that here at last is something she can do to make a difference in the world, Clara takes them in to stay in her nearly-empty home and finds her life invigorated by the influx of problematic humanity. With Lorraine in the hospital indefinitely, her husband Clayton takes off, leaving the kids and their difficult grandmother with Clara. As difficult as it is to fill everyone’s needs, Clara works hard at it and soon finds her own being filled as well.

The Man with Two Arms, by Billy Lombardo

Henry dreams that his unborn son will love baseball the way he himself does. His wish is granted, and then some: by the time he is a year old, Danny can catch and throw. He loves the game and is willing – eager, even – to spend his free time practicing batting, catching, running bases, and even strategizing with his father. But most importantly, Henry encourages his son’s natural ambidexterity, because a pitcher who can use either arm is a prize indeed. Scooped up by the major leagues as soon as he’s on the market, Danny’s life is perfect, his hard work paying off in spades. But an ambitious reporter looking for an exclusive story stumbles on a noxious combination of Henry’s theories of symmetry, Danny’s childhood regimen, and Danny’s lover’s sketches to produce a biting expose that proclaims Danny to be a freak. Beautifully written, with strong characterizations, this is a book to be savored.

A Year of Cats and Dogs, by Margaret Hawkins

After a decade of living with her too-perfect partner crumbles around her, Maryanne decides to let go of everything - she brings previously banished fish sticks and canned tomato soups into the house, uses Phillip’s left-behind cashmere scarf to dry the dog, and quits her job at the Keepsake Collectibles company. And suddenly, because she has the time and the quiet, when she asks her dog what he needs, she “hears” a reply: toast! A delightful mixture of humor, I ching, recipes, and humanity will draw readers in to witness the changes in Maryanne’s life as she follows her father through his last illness, and learns to date again.

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