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Notable books

Notable Books | Four new novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

The help

This fine novel revolves around the daily lives of a handful of women in Jackson, Miss., circa 1964. It's told from three perspectives: Aibileen and Minny are both black maids, and Miss Skeeter is a young white writer. Their stories intersect when Miss Skeeter decides to write a book about the lives of maids working for white families. The three narrators each see a different bit of Jackson and view the project-both its hopes and dangers-differently. Stockett shows wonderfully how the stories people grow up with work to form identity. Her perspective is not white-people-bad, black-people-good, but about how we live by narratives that keep us from seeing each other as human beings.

Life Sentences

The career of a best-selling memoirist flounders when she tries writing fiction, so she returns to her home city of Baltimore in order to write another memoir. She wants to tell the story of a childhood friend who spent seven years in prison after being accused of killing her infant son-although no body was ever found. As the memoirist tries to piece together the puzzle, she hits roadblocks: People won't talk, and they dispute the memories recorded in her previous books. Lippman deals with big themes-the reliability of memory, family, friendship, and race-but this novel is less compelling than her fine earlier efforts.

The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu

Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books were a hit, so here comes another mystery series set in Botswana. It features Detective Kubu, known for his intelligence, appetite, knowledge of the natural world, and love for his wife and parents. Both in this book, and in the series opener, A Carrion Death, Kubu must solve several murders that cross borders into neighboring South Africa and Zimbabwe. Although the books have some charm, the plots are overcomplicated and overexplained. Carrion has one very graphic sex scene completely out of keeping with the tone and style of either book, and Second Death includes some completely extraneous obscenities.

Face of Betrayal

This page-turning thriller introduces three friends-a prosecutor, a TV reporter, and an FBI agent-who all have an interest in a case involving a missing Senate page. The reporter knows the case is her big chance, and if she blows it another reporter will come and take her place. Meanwhile, all three deal with complications in their personal lives. Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor who now works as a Fox News analyst, shows her expertise in both law and media. Her novel displays the new face of Christian publishing, where characters wrestle with faith but don't have to undergo an overt conversion within the pages of the book.

Spotlight

One touching scene in The Help takes place after the maid, Aibileen, hears that civil-rights activist Medgar Evers has been killed. She's rocking Mae Mobley, the little white girl she cares for, and tells her a story of two girls, one black, one white: "Little -colored girl say to the little white girl, 'How come your skin be so pale?' White girl say, 'I don't know. How come your skin be so black?'" The two girls realize they both have hair, noses, and toes: "'So we's the same. Just a different color,' say that little colored girl. The little white girl she agreed and they was friends. The End." Through these "secret -stories" Aibileen hopes to inoculate Mae Mobley from other narratives she'll learn growing up in the segregated South.

Obama fans who understand the power of narrative will enjoy Devil's Due Publishing's launch of a series of Barack Obama comic books. In the first, BARACK THE BARBARIAN: QUEST FOR THE TREASURE OF STIMULI, due out in June, Obama is "the one destined to save the great republic of America and dethrone the overpaid despots of the time." Other characters: "Sorceress Hilaria, her demi-god trickster husband Biil, Overlord Boosh and Chainknee of the Elephant Kingdom."

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