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Notable books

Notable Books | Four books for summer reading reviewed by Susan Olasky

The God of Animals

Twelve-year-old Alice Winston lives on a horse farm with her father and clinically depressed mother, who only comes out of her room during a rare visit from grandparents.

Alice is nearly invisible. She relates events in a matter-of-fact tone that's heartbreaking when you imagine how lonely she is. Only as the characters interact with the horses do you see long-buried emotions come to the surface.

This is not a cheerful book and it doesn't have a big redemptive conclusion-so maybe it isn't great beach reading. The language is rough in places, but those who begin the story will be thinking about it long after finishing.

Belong to Me

At the beginning of this novel, I had a sinking feeling: Here comes another send-up of the suburbs, where Stepford wives rule. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the problem isn't suburban conformity. The main characters all have a public face that hides hurts and sorrow. Once they get past caring what their neighbors think, they are able to deal with hard realities (cancer and death, infidelity, and failure to be perfect).

Although this is chick lit-I can't imagine men enjoying it-the poet de los Santos writes well, and her characters are flawed but appealing. She even has a message, although it's delivered with some bad language, about the importance of living authentic lives.

The Gentle Axe

Morris read the classics at Cambridge, so his appropriation of Dostoevsky's Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in Crime and Punishment, as a protagonist isn't surprising. What is surprising is how good the novel is. Morris evocatively portrays 19th-century St. Petersburg in bleak mid-winter. An old woman finds a body hanging in a park, and in a small suitcase nearby the bashed-in body of a dwarf.

Porfiry, a former seminarian, rejects his supervisor's conclusion of murder/suicide and pursues an investigation that uncovers more bodies, many troubled souls, and a murderer acting to preserve his reputation. Like Dostoevsky, Morris is interested in questions of good and evil, belief and unbelief.

Wit's End

Fowler's previous novel, The Jane Austen Book Club, was both a bestseller and a big movie. Readers looking for an encore will probably be disappointed with Wit's End. Here she's revisiting the topic of writers and their fans, only this time the writer, Addison Early, pens mysteries that borrow a lot from her own life. Her fans write blogs and devote themselves to endless speculation about the novels and characters, even writing letters to her fictional detective as though he's a real person.

Addison's goddaughter, Rima, has recently moved in with her after Rima's father (who was also a character in one of the mysteries) dies. Sifting through relations and sorting fantasy from reality requires effort-and the characters aren't worth it.

Spotlight

Ever since Zondervan and the International Bible Society published the TNIV (Today's New International Version, with gender-inclusive language), observers have been waiting for a verdict. Would evangelical readers and churches go for the neutered version or not? According to Christian Retailing, the TNIV's biggest success has been a "celebrity-driven audio Bible."

Sales have been slow in Christian bookstores that cater to the evangelical base. "We . . . are not content with the current level of awareness and adoption," Zondervan's Paul Caminetti told Christian Retailing. Booksellers interviewed by the magazine characterized TNIV sales as "very little" and "pretty unimpressive." One retailer told the magazine, "We hardly even stock that version any longer, having sent most of them back and declining to bring in most of the newer ones presented simply based on past sales history of the translation."

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