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Bestselling Books

Notable Books | Four bestselling hardback novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Stalin's Ghost

Plot: Inspector Arkady Renko, while investigating mysterious spottings of Stalin on the Moscow subway, shadows the investigations of several veterans of the Chechen war, now policemen in Moscow whose cases seem too tidily resolved.

Gist: Smith's wonderfully atmospheric novel is set in Moscow in winter, where snow gives an illusion of purity but cynicism and corruption are palpable. Dead bodies, long-hidden secrets, drunkenness, and despair run through the well-crafted book, but Renko, the book's optimist, plugs along despite the threats to his life and livelihood.

On Chesil Beach

Plot: Britain, 1962: The food is bad and the sexual revolution hasn't yet happened. Two well-educated newlyweds have a disastrous wedding night that affects the course of their lives.

Gist: Two people who have courted for a year are so emotionally isolated from each other they can't talk at all about their anxieties and fears about sex. Two supposed soul mates do not try to reconcile. McEwan does not make these unlikely premises believable, but he does show the painful insecurities of his protagonists. Caution: graphic sex scene.

The Maytrees

Plot: On a sliver of Cape Cod, Toby and Lou Maytree meet, marry, and have a child. He's a poet, she paints a bit and thinks a lot. After 14 years he leaves and makes a new life in Maine with their friend, Deary. Twenty years pass: Deary's heart begins to fail, Toby breaks his arms, and they return to Cape Cod, where Lou and son Pete nurse them.

Gist: Dillard is a miniaturist, taking note of details and using them to evoke creation's beauty and the meaning of life, forgiveness, and contentment.

The Last Summer (of You & Me)

Plot: Two sisters and a male friend grow up spending summers at the beach. The younger sister and the friend gradually realize they're in love, but don't know how to navigate a new relationship apart from the older sister.

Gist: Ann Brashares wrote the bestselling "Traveling Pants" series in which she explored friendship, first love, and first sex. Here, in her first novel for "adults," she seems to be assuring her fans that it's OK to grow up, that love (with sex) and commitment are possible even if parents haven't done it well, and that pain is part of life.


The new Harry Potter book was in the spotlight around the world, but in Israel some Orthodox Jewish lawmakers were unhappy that the book release occurred on the Jewish Sabbath. When Steimatzky, the country's largest bookstore, held a gala event and announced, "We're part of a huge party that's taking place all around the world," Israel Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai threatened legal action. (Most Israelis are secular, but the country's shops generally close over the Sabbath out of convenience, a sense of tradition, or to avoid paying mandatory fines and overtime to staff.)

Some Orthodox Jewish leaders in the United States told WORLD they did not want to stop purchases of the book on the holy day. "It's obviously a point of Jewish law; one should not be working on Shabbat, or shopping on Saturday," said Dovid Zaklikowski, a Hasidic Rabbi. "However, there's no reason that we need to go condemn those who do." Susan Perlman of Jews for Jesus opposed Israel's legal penalties: "That Israeli bookstores can choose to be open at all is a statement of the freedom in a region of the world where individual freedoms are often curtailed."


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