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The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama

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Set in southern India, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People — a story about Mr. Ali, a retired Muslim man who enterprisingly sets up a marriage bureau for matchmaking an assistant — brings to mind Alexander McCall Smith‘s The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, set in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone. There, the sensible, self-taught private investigator Precious Ramotswe resolves other people’s problems, commenting frequently on the clash of modern and traditional ways. Here, Mr. Ali — along with his wife and assistant — gets involved in the lives and loves of city folk and villagers of all castes, religions, and political persuasions through his prospering marriage bureau.
Although his writing doesn’t yet flow as naturally as Alexander McCall Smith’s about his beloved Botswana, Farahad Zama, has a similar light touch with the complex, intractable social problems of his own home country. Like The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, it’s the first book in a potentially long-running series, so characters will likely be more developed in The Many Conditions of Love, already released in the U.K.
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People was recommended to me by a reader at the library as a “really nice story,” emphasis on nice (i.e. no sex, violence, or swearwords). I recommend it to anyone who enjoys experiencing another country’s culture through reading about the everyday lives of people there. As with The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (again), The Marriage Bureau for Rich People has been made into an excellent Recorded Books audio edition. (Read the AudioFile review here.)
Interestingly, according to the author’s Web site, his own marriage was arranged for him in India before he and his wife moved to London, where their two children were born and where they still live.
Sample the first chapter of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People on the author’s Web site here.

Check availability of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People in the Old Colony Library Network online catalog here.

The Freedom to Read What You Want: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

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I just stumbled on a recent Wall Street Journal article about alikewise.com, an free online dating site that uses reading preferences to determine compatibility. This electronic equivalent of checking out a person’s bookshelves sounds like as good a way as any for singles to meet up with each other, as long as subscribers are more honest about their reading habits than they are about their age, weight, and height, and remember the cardinal rule of readers’ advisory: “Never apologize for your reading tastes.”
By now, most everyone has probably heard that Oprah Winfrey picked Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, as her latest (and last?) book club pick, even though he was ambivalent, to say the least, about the honor when she also picked his last book, The Corrections, nine years ago. The brouhaha over Oprah’s choice (Freedom was already getting a lot of buzz, so many of Oprah’s choices are written by men, etc.) perpetuates the book world controversy underway before Freedom was published to great fanfare (women pointing out that most books reviewed in The New York Times are written by men, Time Magazine’s anointing of Franzen as the great American novelist, etc.)
Reading Freedom has suddenly become a cultural touchstone. Have you read it? Will you read it? Why or why not? (My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Freedom is a very good novel, but A Gate in the Stairs by Lorrie Moore and So Much for That by Lionel Shriver — a woman — are equally good, and so are many other novels. If you want to try a book by a woman to compare to Freedom, check out this article in the U.K. Guardian about underappreciated American novelists.)

Click here to check availability of Freedom in the Old Colony Library Network catalog.

8 in the Box by Raffi Yessayan

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Author Raffi Yessayan’s name isn’t as easy to remember as “Robert B. Parker”, but he was named in a Boston Globe article as one of the up-and-coming authors likely to win a place in the hearts of readers who miss Parker’s mystery series starring Spenser, Boston’s favorite private investigator. (Robert B. Parker died on January 18, 2010.)
8 in the Box introduces homicide detective Angel Alves, a family man. He is newly promoted and confronting the case of the Blood Bath Killer, a serial murderer who leaves his female victims’ bathtubs full of their own blood. If you enjoy reading John Sandford’s Prey series or Harlan Coben’s thrillers, this fast-paced story should be a good match for you.
A Massachusetts author, Raffi Yessayan spent 11 years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, and has set 8 in the Box — his first mystery novel — in a fictional South Bay district courthouse where the DAs work closely with police in cracking down on crime on the streets of Boston. (For the sake of the story, Mr. Yessayan has some of the lawyers ignore proper legal procedures. Let’s hope those parts aren’t drawn from his own experience.)
The second book in the series, 2 in the Hat, is already out, and the author will have a chance to develop the character of Angel. Be careful! Don’t read them out of order.
Keep up with local bestsellers and author visits on The Boston Globe‘s book blog, Off the Shelf.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

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Yes, The Passage by Justin Cronin is about vampires, but they’re the scary kind, not the sexy ones that have been popping up all over the place. The vampires in The Passage don’t talk, wear capes, or have six-pack abs.
Because book reviews so often give away too much of a book’s plot, I avoid reading them before I’ve read the book. I usually skim the reviews just enough to get a sense of whether I want to read the book or not. That’s how I came to the end of the 766-page blockbuster summer read of 2010, The Passage, and found out that the story doesn’t end at the end. The Passage is the first book in a planned trilogy. A favorite blogger, the reader’s advisory librarian at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library tried to warn me. Most other reviews — including The Washington Post’s and The Boston Globe’s — mention it too.
Should you devote such a large chunk of your own reading time to The Passage? Yes, if you’re in the mood to race through a engrossing science fiction/horror story, stemming from the apocalyptic idea that we humans are on the verge of destroying ourselves with our own scientific advances. Definitely yes, if you liked Stephen King’s The Stand. No, if you can’t abide scary books or science fiction, or are just too impatient with the whole idea of yet another vampire novel, no matter what kind of literary pedigree the author may have.
Check availability in the Old Colony Library Network catalog here.

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