NO BIKING IN THE HOUSE WITHOUT A HELMET
By Melissa Fay Greene
(Sarah Crichton Books, 354 pages, $26)
I opened this book about Green's nine children in the thick of news about Casey Anthony, a dismembered kid in New York and the massacre in Norway. The book would have been a treat to read anytime, but it was balm to the soul those weeks. Greene is a gifted writer and researcher, and she does a beautiful job telling the story of adopting five older children, one from Bulgaria and four from Ethiopia, with skill and tremendous humor. The tales of former African goatherd kids adapting to life in Atlanta kept me giggling (and sometimes weeping) as I turned the pages. She doesn't shy away from the hardships (and chaos, depression, panic and occasional regret) that can come with building such a large, multinational family, but her spirited writing and infectious joy make this a book worth recommending, and not just to adoptive families.
HOLLY COLLIER WILLMARTH
My Name is Mary Sutter
By Robin Oliveira (Penguin, 364 pages, $15)
"Mary Sutter" is neither fish nor fowl, occupying the no-man's land between romance and historical fiction set in the Civil War. But romance readers are likely to find young Mary's lack of desire (at least physical desire) frustrating. And readers of historical fiction are apt to realize that no matter how gruesomely it's depicted, the war is merely a backdrop for the main character's quest.
Mary, an accomplished midwife, is meant to be plucky, brave and ahead of her time. Unfortunately, she manages to be little more than ridiculously stubborn and downright whiny in her attempt to get what she really wants: to be a surgeon. (Insert gasp here.) "I want to be a surgeon!" she proclaims at least half a dozen times to half a dozen cardboard-thin characters (including Abraham Lincoln, who seems to brood a lot). Despite its descriptions of troop movements, battles and warfront operating theaters, the book is all about our gal Mare. And its conclusion is predictable, if tame by romance standards. Mary gets her wish -- and her man. (You know because she finally lets the poor, long-suffering fellow kiss her hand.)