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Zara's Favourite Reads

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I chose these books according to their lyrical narrative, the depth of the stories, or the breadth of their imagination and how each novel moved me. These books range from literary fiction, memoirs, short stories, poetry, to fantasy. Each of them are perfect in their craft. I hope you enjoy them.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it's just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja's world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate. "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is simply spectacular". (Ann Patchett).

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Small Change

An award-winning collection of linked stories about women and friendship by the acclaimed author of A Student of Weather.. Small Change is a superbly crafted collection of linked stories that navigate the difficult realm of friendship, charting its beginnings and endings, its intimacies and betrayals, its joys and humiliations. A mother learns something of the nature of love from watching her young daughter as she falls in and out of favor with a neighborhood girl. An intricate story of two women reveals a friendship held together by the steely bonds of passivity.With trenchant insight, uncommon honesty, and dark humor, Elizabeth Hay probes the precarious bonds that exist between friends. The result is an emotionally raw and provocative collection of stories that will resonate with readers long after the final page. Small Change was a finalist for the Governor General's Award, the Trillium Award, and the Rogers Communication Writer's Trust Fiction Prize.

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Interpreter of Maladies

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of cultures and generations. In "A Temporary Matter," published in "The New Yorker," a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth, while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love—a stunning accomplishment.

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The Orenda

1640s, The New World In the remote winter landscape a brutal massacre and the kidnapping of a young Iroquois girl violently re-ignites a deep rift between two tribes. The girl's captor, Bird, is one of the Huron Nation's great warriors and statesmen. Years have passed since the murder of his family, and yet they are never far from his mind. In the girl, Snow Falls, he recognizes the ghost of his lost daughter, but as he fights for her heart and allegiance, small battles erupt into bigger wars as both tribes face a new, more dangerous threat from afar. Travelling with the Huron is Christophe, a charismatic missionary who has found his calling among the tribe and devotes himself to learning and understanding their customs and language. An emissary from distant lands, he brings much more than his faith to this new world, with its natural beauty and riches. As these three souls dance with each other through intricately woven acts of duplicity, their social, political and spiritual worlds collide - and a new nation rises from a world in flux.

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The Cellist of Sarajevo

Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits - of body and soul, fear and humanity. Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, The Cellist of Sarajevo shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude - and frailty.

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Americanah

From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a powerful new novel-her first in seven years: a story of love and race centred around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home. As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face? Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, 'Americanah' is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today's globalized world.

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Ruby

THE NEWEST OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB 2.0 SELECTION A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BESTSELLER The epic, unforgettable story of a man determined to protect the woman he loves from the town desperate to destroy her, this beautiful and devastating debut heralds the arrival of a major new voice in fiction. Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby Bell, "the kind of pretty it hurt to look at," has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city-the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village-all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town's dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy. Full of life, exquisitely written, and suffused with the pastoral beauty of the rural South, Ruby is a transcendent novel of passion and courage. This wondrous page-turner rushes through the red dust and gossip of Main Street, to the pit fire where men swill bootleg outside Bloom's Juke, to Celia Jennings's kitchen, where a cake is being made, yolk by yolk, that Ephram will use to try to begin again with Ruby. Utterly transfixing, with unforgettable characters, riveting suspense, and breathtaking, luminous prose, Ruby offers an unflinching portrait of man's dark acts and the promise of the redemptive power of love.

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Elizabeth Is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey's stunning debut novel, introduces a mystery, an unsolved crime and one of the most unforgettable characters since Mark Haddon's Christopher. Meet Maud ... 'Elizabeth is missing', reads the note in Maud's pocket in her own handwriting. Lately, Maud's been getting forgetful. She keeps buying peach slices when she has a cupboard full, forgets to drink the cups of tea she's made and writes notes to remind herself of things. But Maud is determined to discover what has happened to her friend, Elizabeth, and what it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of her sister Sukey, years back, just after the war. A fast-paced mystery with a wonderful leading character: Maud will make you laugh and cry, but she certainly won't be forgotten. Emma Healey is 28 years old and grew up in London. She has spent most of her working life in libraries, bookshops and galleries. She completed the MA in Creative Writing: Prose at UEA in 2011. Elizabeth is Missing is her first novel.

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The Dovekeepers

Over five years in the writing, Alice Hoffman's most ambitious and mesmerizing work ever, a triumph of imagination and research set in ancient Israel. The author of such iconic bestsellers as Illumination Night, Practical Magic, Fortune's Daughter, and Oprah's Book Club selection Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman is one of the most popular and memorable writers of her generation. Now, in The Dovekeepers, Hoffman delivers her most masterful work yet--one that draws on her passion for mythology, magic, and archaeology and her inimitable understanding of women. In 70 C.D., nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom comes to Masada by a different path. Yael's mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker's wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior's daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets--about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love. This novel is Alice Hoffman's masterpiece.

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I Am Forbidden

"I Am Forbidden" is a powerful portrayal of family, faith and history which sweeps the reader across continents and generations, from pre-war Transylvania to present-day New York, via Paris and England. Immersive, beautiful, moving, it explores in devastating detail what happens when unwavering love, unyielding law and centuries of tradition collide.

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The Butterfly Mosque

The extraordinary story of an all-American girl s conversion to Islam and her ensuing romance with a young Egyptian man, "The Butterfly Mosque" is a stunning articulation of a Westerner embracing the Muslim world. When G. Willow Wilsonalready an accomplished writer on modern religion and the Middle East at just twenty-sevenleaves her atheist parents in Denver to study at Boston University, she enrolls in an Islamic Studies course that leads to her shocking conversion to Islam and sends her on a fated journey across continents and into an uncertain future. She settles in Cairo where she teaches English and submerges herself in a culture based on her adopted religion. And then she meets Omar, a passionate young man with a mild resentment of the Western influences in his homeland. They fall in love, entering into a daring relationship that calls into question the very nature of family, belief, and tradition. Torn between the secular West and Muslim East, Willow records her intensely personal struggle to forge a third culture that might accommodate her own values without compromising the friends and family on both sides of the divide."

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Mischling

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood. As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks - a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin - travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

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The Language of Flowers

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying. [Herrick] "The Language of Flowers" - the biggest book of the year. The most talked-about debut acquisition of 2010 will be the publishing event of 2011. The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what's been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she's forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it's worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. "The Language of Flowers" is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love.

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Blizzard of One

Strand's poems occupy a place that exists between abstraction and the sensuous particulars of experience. It is a place created by a voice that moves with unerring ease between the commonplace and the sublime. The poems are filled with "the weather of leavetaking," but they are also unexpectedly funny. The erasure of self and the depredations of time are seen as sources of sorrow, but also as grounds for celebration. This is one of the difficult truths these poems dramatize with stoicism and wit. The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, Blizzard of One is an extraordinary book--the summation of the work of a lifetime by one of our very few true masters of the art of poetry.

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Oryx and Crake

Pigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bedsheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility. 'In Jimmy, Atwood has created a great character: a tragic-comic artist of the future, part buffoon, part Orpheus. An adman who's a sad man; a jealous lover who's in perpetual mourning; a fantasist who can only remember the past' - Independent 'Gripping and remarkably imagined' - London Review of Books

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Disasters in the First World

Olivia Clare's delightfully strange and tender debut collection traces the impact of larger-than-life forces on everyday people. From siblings whose relationship is as fragile as glass, to a woman grappling with both an emotional and physical drought, to a superstitious spouse fearful of misfortune,Disasters in the First World explores the real and the imagined, environmental and man-made calamities, and the human need to comprehend the unknown. In Pittsburgh in Copenhagen," a man and a woman confront infidelity and estrangement as they share one last night together. "Petur" tells the tale of a son who takes his mother on an Icelandic vacation only to be stranded there by a volcanic eruption. "Rusalka's Long Legs" follows a young girl's treacherously long walk through the woods with her unpredictable mother. And in "The Visigoths," an older sister finally breaks through to her idiosyncratic brother. With precision and grace, the thirteen stories in this collection capture the fragility of troubled lives caught in disrupted turbulence, moments of connection - no matter how fleeting. Through these intimate, profoundly moving worlds, Clare's voice rises as a distinctive new American storyteller. "

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The Night Circus

This is a novel of magic and love that is enchanting readers far and wide with the spectacular power of its imagination. In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs - the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love...

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Writer. Bibliotaphe. Stationery Addict. Penpaller. Planner Freak. Fashionista. Lipstick Junkie. Starbucks Mascot. Runner. Wife. Mother. Warrior.

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