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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

The Price of Butcher's Meat

This latest entry in the long-running Dalziel and Pascoe series combines the police procedural genre with an update of Jane Austen's Sanditon. In this version Sanditon becomes Sandytown, a planned village that advertises itself as "Home of the Healthy Holiday." Three main voices tell the story: the breathless, gossipy, sex-on-the-brain emails of psychology student Charley Heywood to her sister; Dalziel's rambling, bawdy recordings (peppered with biblical allusions) of his observations as he convalesces at Sandytown's Avalon Clinic; and a third-person narrative that recounts the police investigation into several murders that occur under Dalziel's nose.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa

Mr. Malik is a nondescript widower secretly in love with widow Rose Mbikwa, who leads his weekly bird walk in Nairobi, Kenya. He's been laying careful plans to ask her to the annual Hunt Club Ball-
but then smooth-talking playboy/businessman Harry Kahn swoops into town from Canada, spots the attractive widow, and determines to take her to the Hunt Club Ball. Friends at the Asadi Club, where Nairobi's South Asians congregate, set up a wager to determine who gets to ask her: The winner will be the one who spots the most species of birds in a week's time. A tortoise-and-hare-like competition ensues, told with gentle humor and lots of birds.

Red Knife

Red Knife, the ninth in a mystery series featuring former sheriff Cork O'Connor, takes place in Minnesota's north country in the town of Aurora, which borders an Ojibwa Indian reservation. In this installment a white teenager dies of a meth overdose and her father believes the Indian who sold it to her is hiding on the reservation, protected by an Indian gang, the Red Boyz. O'Connor's mixed heritage allows him to operate-although sometimes uneasily-on both sides of the racial divide. Krueger's books stand out for their sense of place, but also for their nuanced exploration of sin, family relationships, injustice, alienation, and the positive role the Catholic Church plays in this particular community.

Still Alice

In this compelling, empathetic work, Alice Howland is a Harvard psychology professor married to another Harvard professor. Their lives have been intellectually rich, but in her early 50s she starts to have momentary disorientation in Harvard Square and odd moments of forgetfulness. As the incidents accumulate she heads off to a memory clinic and eventually hears a dreaded diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's. First-time novelist Genova, a brain researcher with a Harvard Ph.D., captures the cruel course the disease cuts through lives and the healing effects of love and understanding among patients, spouses, and children who come to grips with it.

Spotlight

Two books that deal with depression or melancholia may help some people look anew at their own blues as winter deepens. Caroline Coleman O'Neill's Loving Søren (Broadman & Holman, 2005) is a novel based on the romance between Søren Kierkegaard and Regine Olsen. Kierkegaard, depicted here as brilliant, melancholy, and controlling, successfully woos the much younger Regina, who is captivated by his intelligence and charmed by the sense that she alone can soothe his tortured soul. The novel depicts her journey to faith in God and freedom from Søren's hold.

Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival by Christopher Lukas (Doubleday, 2008) is an exploration of his family's history of mental illness that led to the suicides of his mother, grandmother, uncle, and Pulitzer Prize-winning brother Tony Lukas. The book sags in the middle but shows clearly what happens to those who place their hope in achievement: "Just as Tony's prizes and the thousands of plaudits for his work didn't fill up the hole in his soul, the applause faded away into the night, and I was still left wanting. For I, too, have blue genes. I, too, have a voracious wish for more.

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