“Down the Nile” by Rosemary Mahoney. Mahoney was determined to take a solo trip down the Egyptian Nile in a small boat, even though civil unrest and vexing local traditions conspired to create obstacles every step of the way. Starting off in the south, she gained the unlikely sympathy and respect of a Muslim sailor, who provided her with a 7-foot skiff and a window into the culturally and materially impoverished lives of rural Egyptians. Egyptian women don’t row on the Nile, and tourists aren’t allowed to for safety’s sake. Mahoney endured extreme heat during the day and a terror of crocodiles while alone in her boat at night. Whether confronting deeply held beliefs about non-Muslim women, finding connections to past chroniclers of the Nile or coming to the dramatic realization that fear can engender unwarranted violence, Rosemary Mahoney’s informed curiosity about the world, her glorious prose and her wit never fail to captivate.
“Channeling Mark Twain” by Carol Muske-Dukes. Fresh out of graduate school, Holly Mattox is a young, newly married and spirited poet who moves to New York City from Minnesota in the early 1970s. Hoping to share her passion for words and social justice, Holly is also determined to contribute to the politically charged atmosphere around her. Her mission is to successfully teach a poetry workshop at the Women’s House of Detention on Rikers Island, only minutes from Manhattan. Fiction with a political conscience often sacrifices craft in favor of driving home a message, but Muske-Dukes pulls it off.
“The Keep” by Jennifer Egan. In Jennifer Egan’s deliciously creepy new novel, two cousins reunite 20 years after a childhood prank gone wrong changed their lives and sent them on their separate ways. Cousin Howie, the formerly uncool, strange and pasty (“he looked like a guy the sun wouldn’t touch”) cousin, has become a blond, tan, and married millionaire with a generous spirit. He invites his cousin Danny (who as an insecure teenager left him hurt and helpless in a cave for three days) to help him renovate an old castle in Germany. To reveal too much would ruin the story, just know that “The Keep” is a wonderfully weird read, with a hefty dose of mystery.
“A Second Opinion: Rescuing America’s Health Care” by Arnold S. Relman, M.D. Relman, a renowned physician, offers a plan that would benefit all patients and could be put in motion at a much lower overall cost than that of maintaining our current privatized system. The provocative and sensible arguments within this book offer a glimpse of the components necessary for a major, long-overdue change in our national health care.
“The Blood of Flowers” by Anita Amirrezvani. In Iranian-American Amirrezvani’s lushly orchestrated debut, a comet signals misfortune to a remote 17th-century Persian village where the nameless narrator lives modestly but happily with her parents, both of whom expect to see the 14-year-old married within the year. Her fascination with rug making is a pastime they indulge only for the interim, but her father’s untimely death prompts the girl to travel with her mother to the city of Isfahan, where the two live as servants in the opulent home of an uncle – a wealthy rug maker to the Shah. The only marriage proposal now in the offing is a three-month renewable contract with the son of a horse trader. Teetering on poverty and shame, the girl weaves fantasies for her temporary husband’s pleasure and exchanges tales with her beleaguered mother until, having mastered the art of making and selling carpets under her uncle’s tutelage, she undertakes to free her mother and herself.
Compiled by Stacey Colin at Harmony Books, 231 Broad St., Nevada City, 265-9564. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
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