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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four recent novels reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

Left Neglected

It's hard to imagine that a novel whose main character sustains brain damage from a car accident could be laugh-out-loud funny in places, but this one is. It shows the craziness involved when two Type-A Harvard Business School grads marry and have three children while trying to maintain their high-flying jobs. Sarah's accident results in "Left Neglect"-a type of damage that leaves her brain unaware that she still has a left hand, left foot, or left side. As she learns to cope with her injury, she also learns what is important, including some spiritual values-forgiveness, dependence, and thankfulness-that she'd ignored in the pursuit of ambition.

A Red Herring Without Mustard

Alan Bradley's 11-year-old heroine Flavia de Luce is so appealing that I willingly forgave a ho-hum plot. In Bradley's capable hands, Flavia is funny, brave, and terribly sad. Her father exists in a bubble brought on by the death of his wife when Flavia was an infant. The family's finances continue to crumble, with the dad selling off the family silver and unable to add to his precious stamp collection. Flavia's sisters continue to torment her, and she continues to long for evidence that her mother loved her. None of that family drama keeps Flavia from helping the local police solve two related crimes: the assault on a gypsy woman and the murder of a local thief found hanging from a statue of Poseidon on the de Luce grounds.

Looking for the King

When our children were young, we borrowed from A.A. Milne the phrase "tiddly pom" to refer to pleasant, somewhat-roundabout stories that didn't have much in the way of plot. That describes Looking for the King, "an Inklings novel" interesting not for its plot but for how it portrays the friendship and faith of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. The particular plot involves two Americans, Tom and Laura, who meet the famous writers when in England prior to the beginning of World War II. They are researching Arthurian sites and exploring the significance of Laura's recurring dreams, which the Inklings seem to understand. Their quest becomes more personal as Tom moves from an interest in mythology to faith.

Her Daughter's Dream

This is the second of two novels that tell the stories of four generations of women. The novel rockets through time-­especially at the beginning of the book, which begins after World War II in California. The mother and daughters in the story need each other and resent their dependence and the way it alters relationships. Hidden secrets, distorted memories, and gospel understanding that seems to come too late continue to pull them apart. Strong and understanding husbands do their best to hold things together. It takes tragedy, love, and a deep trust in Christ to finally uncover and expose all the old hurts and misunderstandings. This generational saga rewards patience as Rivers weaves together a story in which the importance of certain strands becomes apparent only at the end.

Spotlight

Before Carolyn and Sean Savage married, they talked about having a big Catholic family like the one in which Sean grew up. But after the birth of their first son, conception and birth became difficult. They spent the next decade pursuing the dream, undergoing fertility treatments, suffering miscarriages, and finally giving birth to another son. They turned to in vitro fertilization and gave birth to a daughter. When they tried for a second in vitro pregnancy, the doctors blundered and transferred the wrong embryos, leaving Carolyn pregnant with someone else's baby.

Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift (HarperOne, 2011) explains why they chose to go ahead with the pregnancy, and describes their anguish at having to give up the baby. It's also a cautionary tale about the mixed blessing of birth technologies. The genetic parents, Paul and Shannon Morrel, also have a book that tells their side of the story: Misconception: One Couple's Journey from Embryo Mix-Up to Miracle Baby (Howard Books, 2011). The poor child might wish that both sets of parents had decided not to cash in on his traumatic beginnings.

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