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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new and recent works of fiction reviewed by Susan Olasky

The School of Essential Ingredients

Fans of slow food and warm fiction will enjoy this literary bauble. A restaurant owner, who learned as a child that food has a magical ability to cure people of their heartaches, teaches a Monday evening cooking class in her restaurant. Her students learn to savor the sensual delights of cooking-aromas, taste, color-and to treasure each other. The food awakens memories in some, renews in others their zest for living, and lubricates romantic attachments. Bauermeister clearly loves food and has written a novel that celebrates it as a crucial part in the flourishing of human relationships.

Nemesis

Nesbø is one of the new crop of Scandinavian mystery writers whose work is now translated into English. In Nemesis, Oslo cop Harry Hole, an alcoholic who still occasionally finds refuge in a bottle, must solve a series of bank robberies and a murder-for which he becomes the prime suspect. Nesbø's complex plot unfolds in jarring fashion (and with some crude language) as he cuts back and forth in time and points of view to establish the psychology of his characters. Since some of the plot lines continue from Redbreast, an earlier novel, it would make sense to read that book first. Harry Hole is a flawed Western hero with personal demons that threaten but don't overcome his integrity.

Unaccustomed Earth

This book of short stories deserves all the praise it has received. Lahiri, author of The Namesake, writes about the children of immigrants from India to America, many of them either born here or with only faint memories of their homeland. Most of the fathers in the stories came here to study and stayed to teach at Harvard. Their wives raised children and cooked, existing almost entirely within the Bengali community. The children are between cultures, alienated from their parents' lives and not entirely comfortable in their own. Although the stories all resonate around the same themes, Lahiri populates them with distinctive characters and unique circumstances.

Darker Domain

A woman with a very sick child contacts the Fife, Scotland, cold case review team to urge an investigation into her father's disappearance nearly 23 years earlier. She hopes he'll be a suitable bone marrow donor if found. At the same time a wealthy businessman receives new information about the unsolved kidnapping/murder of his daughter and grandson-which also happened the same year. It takes the dogged skills of an investigative reporter and a female detective to figure out how the pieces fit together. McDermid roots her tale in the politics and sociology of a ruinous 1984 miner's strike, and her gritty realism (including foul language) captures the grinding poverty of 1980s Scotland.

Spotlight

Writer Susan Cooper wrote about "that wonderful feeling of going into a library when you're young and have much yet to read. It's like entering Aladdin's cave: all those books, all that delight, waiting." Every reader knows that feeling of anticipation. But most of us also want suggestions about what to read next, and several websites offer them.

Writers Read (whatarewritersreading.blogspot.com) helps broaden your book search in two ways: The website introduces writers with whom you might not be familiar and asks them what they are reading. Their answers provide clues to their worldviews, which may help you decide whether to follow their leads or not.

Flashlight Worthy (flashlightworthybooks.com) recommends "books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime." It has lists of favorite reading club books and favorite locked room mysteries, favorite books of the "famous & accomplished," and various children's book lists. You might not agree with all the suggestions, but they provide good starting points. The website allows readers to suggest books that should be added to various lists and to provide lists of their own.

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