Good reads for different tastes

Reviews of "Away," "Song Without Words," and "The Scandal of the Season."

Book club members, take note: If your group has a taste for novels by and about women, the latter months of 2007 offer some interesting new choices. But be sure to weigh the tastes of your fellow readers before you recommend, as what works for one on this list may not work for all.

Away by Amy Bloom is the story of young Lillian Leyb, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who, in 1924, makes her solitary way to America after her family is killed in a pogrom. She finds first a job – and then a lover – in New York's Yiddish theater.

But just as life grows comfortable, Lillian gets word that her young daughter is – perhaps – alive and hiding in Siberia. So, alone again, Lillian sets out to travel – by train, boat, and finally foot – to Siberia.

Bloom (award-winning author of "Come to Me") is a wonderfully good writer. Lillian's story teems with incident and offers a rich mix of warmth, humor, and grit. But grit there is – including murder, jail, unattractive corpses, and a fair amount of loveless sex – so book groups who go here should prepare for a bracing journey.

Those who favor less exotic settings for their drama may incline toward Song Without Words by Ann Packer. Packer (author of "Dive from Clausen's Pier") is a skilled micro-observer of contemporary American life and the wives, husbands, children, and friends who populate it.

"Song Without Words" is the story of Liz and Sarabeth, lifelong best friends whose relationship is upended when Liz's daughter attempts suicide. The plot holds few surprises and the pace is less than zippy, but Packer's readers will be rewarded by the subtle skill with which she locates the underlying drama in a trip to the mall or on the sidelines of a soccer game.

Then, for the wistful Austenites who prefer their period drawing-room pieces spiked with intelligence, The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee should prove a happy fit. Gee, a professor of English at Princeton University, has spun a lively romp around Alexander Pope's famed satiric poem, "The Rape of the Lock." Pope himself is a character in the novel, along with several lovely husband-hunting young women adorned in feathers and silk. For English majors, this kind of fun doesn't come along often enough.

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