The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake |

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REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN

NOVEL

Here's an ambitious novel that turns on the ironies of war and the cost of meddling with fate. Blake brings together the lives of three women during World War II: Frankie Bard, a gal reporter in blitzed-out London; Emma Fitch, a naive bride fretting about her husband overseas; and Iris James, 40, a virgin who works as the postmaster in Emma's New England town. Frankie's adventures in Europe are the book's strongest element: Through Frankie (who makes a trip into occupied France), Blake explores questions including why the West abandoned Jewish refugees. Unlike most reporters, the leggy blonde admits to being an idealist: In a scene where she chats up a handsome stranger in a bomb shelter, he confesses to wondering "what a girl like you is doing in a hole like this." Replies Frankie, "I came over here to save the world, brother." Back on the home front, the action wanes; Blake works hard to set up situations involving moral questions, and the effort shows. Kathryn Stockett, author of last year's megaselling The Help, has a blurb on this novel's cover; Postmistress should appeal to her fans. Despite its flaws, it's a slam-dunk for book groups and readers who savor sifting through what-ifs.

Making Toast

by Roger Rosenblatt |

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REVIEWED BY ANNE LESLIE

MEMOIR

This is a story about family devotion and children growing strong in the light of love, despite tragedy. "It's impossible," Rosenblatt's son-in-law says simply when his wife, Amy, a pediatrician and mother of three, dies suddenly at 38. The Rosenblatts drop everything and drive straight to their daughter's house. "How long are you staying?" asks Jessica, 7. "Forever," Rosenblatt replies. He and his wife throw themselves into grandparenting; in the quiet moments between making toast and chatting with children, their pain is searing. Rosenblatt has written a transparent memoir that makes us feel like family.

The Last Train from Hiroshima

by Charles Pellegrino |

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REVIEWED BY ANDREW ABRAHAMS

NON-FICTION

"It was as if blue morning glories had bloomed in the sky," a military weather forecaster stationed above Hiroshima said of the pika—the flash of light from the nuclear bomb detonated by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. Such beautiful imagery followed by devastating horror is the essence of Pellegrino's richly detailed account. Devoted mostly to 30 people who—unbelievably—survived both Hiroshima and, three days later, the Nagasaki bombing 200 miles away, the book is a tragic cautionary tale as well as a celebration of human resilience. (Avatar director James Cameron has already bought the film rights.) Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a ship designer working in Hiroshima who left after the first blast to join his family in Nagasaki, was among the survivors closest to both bombs. How did anyone live to tell their stories? "'Sometimes, by God's will,' Yamaguchi liked to believe," writes Pellegrino, "and maybe sometimes, just because."

Winter Garden

by Kristin Hannah |

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REVIEWED BY CLARISSA CRUZ

NOVEL

Forty-year-old Meredith is struggling with empty-nest syndrome; her sister Nina is a successful photojournalist. They have nothing in common but love for their father—and ambivalence toward their cold Russian-born mother, Anya. The mystery behind Anya's detachment drives this tale, which is filled with vivid descriptions of Leningrad and the Pacific Northwest. It's a tearjerker, but the journey is as lovely—and haunting—as a snow-filled forest at night.

>THE WOMAN BEHIND THE NEW DEAL

by Kirstin Downey

We have Frances Perkins to thank for Social Security and more. A fascinating bio of a forgotten figure.

LARK & TERMITE

by Jayne Anne Phillips

A disabled boy and the fiercely protective sister who cares for him are at the center of this lovely, ruminative novel.

LITTLE BEE

by Chris Cleave

One Nigerian orphan's disorienting sojourn in Britain, where "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Odd and enchanting.

>"I'm reading a play called Saint Joan [by George Bernard Shaw]. It's very, very good"

—CAREY MULLIGAN

"Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. We all want to improve our situation in life."

—MATTHEW SETTLE

"I have a Kindle, so I'm reading about seven books at once. SuperFreakonomics, which is fun. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. And I just read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest again, which was fantastic."

—DAVID DUCHOVNY

"A book about how to write a screenplay and a book called Starting Strength, which is about Olympic weight lifting. So slightly odd reading at the moment."

—KEVIN MCKIDD

>• Author Kevin Salwen explains how he and his family chose to live—well!—with half as much.

WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?

One day my daughter Hannah saw a homeless man near a Mercedes. She said, "If that man didn't have such a nice car, that other man could have a meal." We decided to sell our house in Atlanta and buy one worth half as much.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE PROFIT?

We contributed $800,000 to The Hunger Project, which helps rural communities in Africa help themselves.

ARE YOU ADVISING PEOPLE TO DO THE SAME?

No, we're saying give half of something—even the time you watch TV. You can impact the world.

>THE WOMAN BEHIND THE NEW DEAL

by Kirstin Downey

We have Frances Perkins to thank for Social Security and more. A fascinating bio of a forgotten figure.

LARK & TERMITE

by Jayne Anne Phillips

A disabled boy and the fiercely protective sister who cares for him are at the center of this lovely, ruminative novel.

LITTLE BEE

by Chris Cleave

One Nigerian orphan's disorienting sojourn in Britain, where "no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2." Odd and enchanting.

>"I'm reading a play called Saint Joan [by George Bernard Shaw]. It's very, very good"

—CAREY MULLIGAN

"Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. We all want to improve our situation in life."

—MATTHEW SETTLE

"I have a Kindle, so I'm reading about seven books at once. SuperFreakonomics, which is fun. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. And I just read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest again, which was fantastic."

—DAVID DUCHOVNY

"A book about how to write a screenplay and a book called Starting Strength, which is about Olympic weight lifting. So slightly odd reading at the moment."

—KEVIN MCKIDD

>• Author Kevin Salwen explains how he and his family chose to live—well!—with half as much.

WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS?

One day my daughter Hannah saw a homeless man near a Mercedes. She said, "If that man didn't have such a nice car, that other man could have a meal." We decided to sell our house in Atlanta and buy one worth half as much.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THE PROFIT?

We contributed $800,000 to The Hunger Project, which helps rural communities in Africa help themselves.

ARE YOU ADVISING PEOPLE TO DO THE SAME?

No, we're saying give half of something—even the time you watch TV. You can impact the world.