Position:Recommended readings



The Calligrapher's Daughter

By Eugenia Kim

Eugenia Kim is the author of various short stories and anthologies, including Echoes Upon Echoes: New Korean American Writings. The Calligrapher's Daughter is her first novel.


THE STORY: Najin Han, a head-strong young woman born in 1910 to an aristocratic Korean family, feels stifled within her father's strict, traditional household. Her father, Han, a renowned artist and scholar, is also stifled, but his repression comes from the occupying Japanese forces that are systematically obliterating Korea's centuries-old customs and traditions. When Han announces that 14-year-old Najin is to be married, her mother, in a rare act of defiance, whisks her away to Seoul to be a companion in the royal household. Spanning 30 years, the novel follows Najin as she struggles with duty, honor, and life under violent occupation.

Henry Holt. 386 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780805089127

Christian Science Monitor ****

"Fans of Lisa See's or Amy Tan's novels should eagerly embrace Najin, and The Calligrapher's Daughter bids fair to become a staple of book clubs. ... Najin herself wins the sympathy of modern readers without feeling like an anachronism plunked down among historical wallpaper--a tricky balance for any writer." YVONNE ZIP

Dallas Morning News ****

"It's gripping and often unpredictable. ... Kim creates a strong, sweet bond between mother and daughter that is maintained throughout the novel." ANNE MORRIS

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel ****

"Kim's prose is elegant, her eye compassionate, and her ability to effortlessly compress events over 30 years into a moving novel is admirable. But her greatest triumphs are her carefully calibrated and brave characters, who haunt you long after the novel is done." GEETA SHARMA JENSEN

Washington Post ****

"[T]he sweep of fate that destroys Najin's hopes injects tragic intensity into the story. ... The ending of the book is somewhat rushed, as Kim tries to encapsulate events in the immediate postwar period, but overall this is a satisfying excursion into empathetically rendered lives." SYBIL STEINBERG


Inspired by the life of Kim's mother, The Calligrapher's Daughter covers a relatively unknown chapter (to Western eyes) in world history. Critics found Japanese-occupied Korea an intriguing setting that serves to distinguish Kim's work from an abundance of Asian mother-daughter novels, and Najin's conflict with her traditional father skillfully mirrors Korea's bitter struggle with occupying forces. Although several reviewers noted an abrupt ending and occasional slow passages, they also lauded Kim's novel as elegant and assured. Overall, The Calligrapher's Daughter is a lovely work from a talented new voice in historical fiction.


The Confessions of Edward Day

By Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin is the author of three short story collections and eight novels, including Mary Reilly, The Great Divorce, the Orange Prize--winning Property, and Trespass (**** SELECTION Jan/Feb 2008).


THE STORY: Set in the New York theater world of the 1970s, Martin's novel explores the disturbing friendship between two struggling young actors. While on holiday at the Jersey Shore, 22-year-old Edward Day leans on a faulty pier railing and tumbles into the sea. He is saved from drowning by Guy Margate, a fellow thespian who bears an uncanny resemblance to the handsome Edward. Over the years, the brooding, mysterious Guy becomes Edward's main rival for acting roles and the affections of the lovely Madeleine Delavergne. And through it all, Guy never lets Edward forget that he owes him his life.

Nan A. Talese. 286 Pages. $25. ISBN: 9780385525848

Los Angeles Times ****

"The intimacy of Edward's narrative voice is one of the novel's most startling achievements. ... Martin's symbolic substructure--layers of repetition and mirroring--is so skillfully embedded in her story that we feel its effects without realizing it, like an understated but persuasive musical score." REGINA MARLER

NY Times Book Review ****

"Martin builds an ominous tension almost Hitchcockian in its trenchant and perverse knowledge about the human animal. ... Edward Day has its deep pleasures, particularly in the ingenious way Martin probes the sensibility of an artist while using it as a prism through which to tell a tale." LAURIE WINER

Telegraph (UK) ****

"Martin draws us skilfully and boldly into a world in which near drownings, lost loves, stalkers, and the loaded gun which must finally go off, are not nearly as terrifying as the unknowability of the human psyche." KAMILA SHAMSIE

Times (UK) ****

"The best thing about Martin's novel is its portrait of the life of an actor. ... It is a testament to the author's skill that Edward's shortcomings only serve to make the book more enjoyable." STEPHEN AMIDON

Newsday **

"Unfortunately, the most formative and dramatic things about Edward are recalled in the first 30 pages. ... Martin can't keep edward from sounding like a Method-acting parody." LINDA WINER


Like Martin's novel Mary Reilly, which is narrated by Dr. Jekyll's faithful servant, The Confessions of Edward Day manages to be both subtle and forceful. Critics praised Martin's ability to slowly build tension and keep readers on the very edge of their seats. They also enjoyed her depiction of the struggling actor's world, with its endless waiter jobs, auditions, insecurity, and cutthroat competition. One notable exception, the critic from Newsday, felt that Edward's character bordered on caricature, particularly when he admires himself in the mirror and makes wry observations about life and love. Still, most critics found Edward to be a flawed, intriguing, protagonist, and definitely one worth getting to know.


Rhino Ranch

By Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry is the Pulitzer Prize--winning author of Lonesome Dove (1985) and an Oscar-winning screenwriter for Brokeback Mountain. Rhino Ranch is the fifth, and final, book in his long-running Duane Moore series, which includes The Last Picture Show (1966), Texasville (1987), Duane's Depressed (1999), and When the Light Goes (2007).


THE STORY: In the sleepy little town of Thalia, Texas, retired oilman Duane Moore struggles with loneliness, sickness, and aging. His flighty young wife, Annie Cameron, has abandoned him. A near-fatal heart attack has left him weaker than he could have ever imagined, and old friends are dying off at an alarming rate, leaving Duane to ponder his own mortality at various funeral gatherings. But the arrival of K. K. Slater, an eccentric billionairess who moves into the neighborhood with a herd of endangered black African rhinos, gives Duane and Thalia just the shake-up they need.

Simon & Schuster. 288 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781439156391

Christian Science Monitor ****

"Rhino Ranch moves at a deceptively contemplative mosey, but by novel's end, McMurtry has wrapped up a substantial number of characters' story lines. ... the novel will also come as a welcome relief for fans who felt that his fourth novel about Duane, 2006's When the Light Goes, wasn't the send-off for which they were hoping." YVONNE ZIPP

Minneapolis Star Tribune ****

"McMurtry gives us a parade of new characters who show how much Thalia has changed since the 1950s, when the movie theater showed its last picture show and closed: meth heads, satanists selling T-shirts on a country road, a refugee from the killing fields of Cambodia and a 'billionairess'. ... Rhino Ranch is funny. It's sad." CHUCK HAGA

San Antonio Exp-News ****

"McMurtry's sharp sense of humor resurfaces throughout this dialogue-driven novel. ... It was a long saga ... and a worthwhile one." DAVID HENDRICKS

Seattle Times ****

"This remarkable series has been, by turns, funny, affectionate, poignant, and elegiac--or a supple blend thereof. McMurtry's skill with bemused and amusing characters (especially the women) is as strong as ever; so are his gifts for comic timing, dialogue and emotional insight." ADAM WOOG

Washington Post ****

"McMurtry is good at elegy, whether for the ways of western life or a petered-out oilman. But Duane's diminishing world would be more affecting if McMurtry didn't write about him as if everybody's read the other novels in which he appears." TIM GAUTREAUX


Forty-three years have passed since McMurtry, the quintessential Western writer, first introduced readers to Duane Moore, then a young, virile Texan coming of age in the fictional town of Thalia. Fast forward to Rhino Ranch, which critics described as a melancholy, wistful, and occasionally hilarious final entry in the popular series. Critics, several of whom grew up alongside Duane, were extremely grateful the series didn't end with When the Light Goes, characterized by the San Antonio Express-News as "trashy, single-minded, and X-rated." Although the Washington Post cautioned new readers not to view this title as a stand-alone (yes, you should start at the beginning), the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response confirmed that all's well that ends well.


Best Friends Forever

By Jennifer Weiner

Best-selling chick lit novelist Jennifer Weiner has written six novels, including Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, and Goodnight Nobody (*** Jan/Feb 2006).


THE STORY: When Valerie Adler, a beautiful weathergirl at the local Chicago TV station, attends her high school reunion, she wreaks revenge on Dan, a former beau who had once treated her badly. But things go awry, and Val turns up bloodstained on the doorstep of Addie Downs, who had been her best friend until Val joined the popular crowd and betrayed her mousy, overweight pal. Addie, now a lonely greeting card illustrator searching for love, can't resist her former friend's plea for help. Soon, the women are on the run in a Thelma and Louise-like adventure--and a journey of personal discovery as well.

Atria. 362 pages. $26.99. ISBN: 9780743294294


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