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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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Untold Story

by Monica Ali |



What if Princess Diana didn’t really die? In this astonishing novel, acclaimed British author Ali (Brick Lane) imagines that the beleaguered princess, threatened with assassination, has staged her own death. We meet “Lydia,” nee Diana-rendered unrecognizable by plastic surgery, hair dye, and brown contact lenses-in her new, desperate-housewife life. She lives in an American suburb, and she works at a kennel, “humping thirty-pound bags of Nature’s Variety dried dog food” while her pinot grigio-quaffing girlfriends-“who accepted her for who she was. For who she wasn’t. For who she was now”-muse about mysterious aspects of her past. What makes Lydia ache is not the loss of her fairy-tale existence but missing her sons, left behind and believing their mother is dead. Yet what makes her lose sleep is the fear that she will be discovered. Tightly structured and lyrically told, Ali’s book explores not only Princess Di’s “untold story” but deeper issues of human identity. The truth about each of us, she concludes, is most evident in the secrets we keep.

Alice Bliss

by Laura Harrington |



Fifteen-year-old Alice is at odds with her mother, annoyed by her whip-smart sister and close to her father, Matt, who plants a garden with her each spring. Then Matt’s Army Reserve unit is activated for duty in Iraq. Bereft, Alice wears an unwashed shirt of her dad’s for weeks, trying to keep his memory close. Though the specter of sorrow that falls over the story from the beginning never recedes, the predominant emotion is love. Every child should have a father she adores this much; readers may feel inadequate in comparison to Matt, who promises to come home but, just in case, leaves Alice a cache of letters with labels like “the moment you realize you want this boy to kiss you” and “the moment you realize you’re more like your mother than you want to be.” Harrington’s first novel makes a powerful statement against war without pointing fingers. There are thousands of American kids like Alice, facing down their teen years with a parent gone to war. Her story is harrowing and heartbreaking, but it reads like truth.