Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
In 1965, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of Martha's Vineyard graduated from Harvard, whose 1650 charter describes its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youth of this country." That much is fact. That Caleb befriended Bethia Mayfield, the free-spirited daughter of the island's preacher, is of course fiction—but it's luscious fiction in the capable hands of Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March). As one might expect from Brooks, Bethia is a keen and rebellious lass, indignant that she should be kept from book learning when her slower brother gets the benefit of an education. She first encounters Caleb in the woods, learning his language and ways while stoutly arguing her Christian beliefs; later, Bethia's zealous father brings Caleb into the household to convert him. And so begins Caleb's crossing, first from Native to English Colonial culture and then from the island to Cambridge, where he studies at a preparatory school before entering Harvard. Bethia ends up at the school, too—but as an indentured servant. VERDICT Writing in Bethia's voice, Brooks offers a lyric and elevated narrative that effectively replicates the language of the era; she takes on the obvious issues of white arrogance, cultural difference, and the debased role of women without settling into jeremiad. The result is sweet and aching. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson
In Davidson's enjoyable if overplotted 16th culinary novel of suspense (after Fatally Flaky), Colorado caterer Goldy Schulz hires longtime friend and chef Yolanda Garcia as her catering assistant, after a string of bad luck forced Yolanda and Yolanda's irascible great-aunt, Ferdinanda, out of their rental home. Yolanda has been making extra money cooking meals for Ernest McLeod, an ex-cop turned PI, who also let the pair live in his guest quarters. But when McLeod is murdered, Yolanda's connections to his various investigations—from a cheating spouse to an illegal puppy mill—create suspicion. Goldy insists that Yolanda, who's also afraid of an abusive ex-boyfriend, and Ferdinanda stay at the Schulzes' house so she and her sheriff's investigator husband, Tom, can keep an eye on them. Goldy must once again sift through Aspen Meadow's unending supply of dirty secrets and suspects while whipping up delicious meals.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Journalist Lemmon (deputy director, Women & Foreign Policy Prog., Council on Foreign Relations) tells the moving story of Kamila Sidiqi, a young woman in Kabul, Afghanistan, who, out of desperation, started a successful dressmaking business to support her family and other destitute women during the repressive Taliban regime. Lemmon encountered Kamila in 2005 when Lemmon was on assignment for the Financial Times. Through Kamila's story, Lemmon captures the lives of women after the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996. She rejects characterizing Afghan women as victims of war and instead demonstrates how women, particularly entrepreneurial women, actively resisted gender oppression. Kamila's story ends on a positive note with the fall of the Taliban regime after the American presence in Afghanistan; her impressive yet furtive enterprise later received recognition from such figures as Condoleezza Rice. Given the continued conflict in Afghanistan under foreign occupation, curious readers may want to know more about the current struggles of Afghan women. VERDICT A revealing work that contributes to the literature on women under Afghanistan's Taliban regime.—Karen Okamoto, John Jay Coll. Lib., New York
44 Charles Street by Danielle Steel
After her boyfriend and business partner leaves her, Manhattan art dealer Francesca Thayer is forced to take in boarders in order to save her beloved home. In short order, she rents out rooms to Eileen, a young teacher; Marya, a famous chef; and Chris, an attractive single father. They all become close friends, but their lives remain chaotic. Eileen falls in love with tattooed men, Marya has a persistent, married suitor, and Chris gains full custody of his son as his ex-wife becomes increasingly erratic. Along the way, Francesca stops worrying about what might have been, and becomes more involved in the world around her—romances, plumbing problems, and all. While addressing the recession, the lethal danger of Internet dating, and the evils of drug abuse, Steel keeps the tone gentle and soothing in this warm, cozy tale about the triumph of love, friendship, and second chances.