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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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The Postmistress

by Sarah Blake |



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 |



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 |



“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 |



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.