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The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe (2007)
The story is told by Rosamund, who believes she will soon pass away. She is recording her family history on tape for the mysterious Imogene. We learn Imogene is blind and adopted out of her family at the age of three and that is why Rosamund feels the need to recount her family history for the girl.

Rosamund was evacuated from London to her aunt and uncle’s farm in Shropshire during the war. It was there she met her older cousin Beatrix. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent Aunt Ivy abuses Beatrix, mentally, emotionally and physically. The cycle begins and we learn that it has extended over three generations. Ivy toward Beatrix, then Beatrix toward her daughter Thea and finally Thea toward her daughter Imogene.

Rosamund’s narration touches on family love and tragedy. Chance happenings that have an influence on people’s lives and a family saga that is complex makes for a brilliant read.

For local reviews, check out the Daily Herald or TimeOut Chicago. Find an excerpt, reader's guide, and more about the book and the author at the publisher's website.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (1994)
A courtroom drama provides the framework for this tale of the legacy of racism following WWII in the northwestern United States.

The reading group guide for the winner of the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award contains historical background for the  novel, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading. You can also compare the novel to the 1999 movie starring Ethan Hawke.

Run by Ann Patchett

Run by Ann Patchett (2007)
A beautifully written story that proves several themes tied around relationships. A prominent man has raised his son and two adopted African-American sons since his wife’s death years ago. His relationship with his oldest son is lacking and his plans for his adopted sons are at odds with what they want for their lives. The tangle of feelings within the family, including the hole left in their lives when the mother died, are brought into focus when an accident brings new people into their world. In fact, their world is turned upside down. The characterizations are wonderful. I didn’t want the book to end.

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates (2004)
This coming of age novel is a wonderfully written, unique and imaginative, first novel. Set in the 1960s, this is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town’s solitary Chinese family, over the course of a summer.

Told through Su-Jen’s eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. Su-Jen’s elderly father and beautiful young mother are unhappy in their marriage. Su-Jen’s mother is miserable in this new small town.

Su-Jen is rapidly adapting to life in Canada and goes through all the ups and downs of a typical 1960s childhood. She develops a friendship with Charlotte, a spirited girl who behaves in a way that is older than her years. There is also tragedy, foreshadowed, yet still a shock when it finally occurs.

The first and last paragraphs of Midnight at the Dragon Café are poignant and are Su-Jen’s reflections on a fate she thinks should have been hers.

Run by Ann Patchett

Run by Ann PatchettThis is the story of two families who first come together during an accident in which a woman intentionally throws herself in front of a car to save the life of a “stranger.” It shows the power and commitment of parental love, whether by birth or adoption. Great character development.

There are several places to find more reviews on this novel: check out the New York Times, listen to NPR, or read the Washington Post. For more information on the novel or the author, listen to an interview with NPR or visit Ann Patchett's website.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Sijie Dai

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Sijie Dai (2001)
During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, two teenage boys are sent to the countryside for re-education. There they find the pretty little daughter of the local tailor and a forbidden, hidden cache of western novels, which prove very educational to the little seamstress.

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Bridge of SighsBridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (2007)
Louis Lynch lives in the same small upstate New York town he has always lived in. He loves the town, his wife, his business, and the memory of his father, a big, simple bear of a man, dead many years from the cancer that haunts the polluted town. A possible visit to to see childhood friend and famous artist Bobby Marconi brings out all of Louis’s long held insecurities. A dense story of character.

Listen to Russo's October 1 interview on NPR or read an excerpt of his latest work.