Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ideas for Book Groups

'What book do you recommend for our book group to read?' is one of our most common questions here at  Berkeley Heights Public Library Reference Department. Here is the list we provided to our two library book groups to select their 2017 reading choices. The annotations are taken from Amazon, our library catalog (marked OPAC), or my own notes (marked 'Anne'). Our book groups will meet in January to brainstorm this list and other titles for consideration for our 2017 reading season.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams (2015) 'Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters.' –OPAC content

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson (2016) 'It’s 1963, and Calvin Sidey, one of the last of the old cowboys, has long ago left his family to live a life of self-reliance out on the prairie. He’s been a mostly absentee father and grandfather until his estranged son asks him to stay with his grandchildren, Ann and Will, for a week while he and his wife are away. So Calvin agrees to return to the small town where he once was a mythic figure, to the very home he once abandoned.' - Amazon

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (2016) 'Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.' – Amazon. If your group has not yet read the lyrical classic, Out of Africa, that would make a good pairing with this title. - Anne

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave (2016) “Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents.” – Amazon. The author's earlier book Little Bee (2009) is a good choice for groups that have not yet read it. - Anne

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2015) Many a therapist will tell you that honesty and transparency is the glue that keeps a relationship together. Lauren Groff cleverly turns this concept on its head in Fates and Furies, demonstrating that sometimes it’s what you don’t say—to protect your partner’s vanity, their reputation, their heart—that makes a marriage hum. –Erin Kodicek, Amazon

Glory Over Everything: beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisson (2016) From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.-Amazon. Our group liked Grisson's earlier work, a fictional account of plantations and slavery, The Kitchen House. - Anne

Grunt, the curious science of humans at war
by Mary Roach (2016) “Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries –-- panic, exhaustion, heat, noise --- and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them. Mary Roach dodges hostile fire with the U.S. Marine Corps Paintball Team as part of a study on hearing loss and survivability in combat.” – I love wacky and intrepid science reporter Mary Roach. The Tuesday group read Packing for Mars which is a great pairing with The Martian by Andy Weir, which the group read. Generally the groups prefer fiction to non-fiction, but read one or two memoirs or other non-fiction titles per year. - Anne

Guests on Earth
by Lee Smith (2013) “It's 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, a mental institution known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses the cascading events leading up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Author Lee Smith has created, through her artful blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart a time and a place where creativity and passion, theory and medicine, tragedy and transformation, are luminously intertwined.”- OPAC notes. Lee Smith and her publishing house, Algonquin Books, are favorites of mine and we recommend both to reading groups often. - Anne

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016) 'Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.'-Amazon

LaRose, a novel by Louise Erdrich (2016) “North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.” –Amazon. Louise Erdrich's books are usually a sure bet with our book groups. She does not disappoint. - Anne

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub (2016) 'From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Vacationers, a smart, highly entertaining novel about a tight-knit group of friends from college— and what it means to finally grow up, well after adulthood has set in. Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.' - Amazon. I loved The Vacationers and would recommend it to book groups looking for a fun summer read; I think Modern Lovers would appeal mostly to an under fifty crowd. - Anne

Mothering Sunday, a romance by Graham Swift (2016) “A luminous, intensely moving tale that begins with a secret lovers’ assignation in the spring of 1924, then unfolds to reveal the whole of a remarkable life. Twenty-two-year-old Jane Fairchild has worked as a maid at an English country house since she was sixteen. For almost all of those years she has been the clandestine lover to Paul Sheringham, young heir of a neighboring house. The two now meet on an unseasonably warm March day—Mothering Sunday—a day that will change Jane’s life forever.” – The book groups have read other titles by Graham Swift which are short, well-written, very understated and discussable. Now I just have to remember which title. hmm - Anne

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid (2014)( an Austen  Project boo - retelling by modern authors) “Internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own, witty, updated take on Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.” - Amazon

Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (2015) “When Orhan’s brilliant and eccentric grandfather, Kemal Türkoglu, who built a dynasty out of making kilim rugs, is found dead, submerged in a vat of dye, Orhan inherits the decades-old business. But Kemal has left the family estate to a stranger thousands of miles away, an aging woman in a retirement home in Los Angeles. Intent on righting this injustice, Orhan unearths a story that, if told, has the power to undo the legacy upon which Orhan’s family is built, a story that could unravel his own future. - Amazon

Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015) Based on the story of King David, traces his journey from an obscure shepherd to a hero and king before his fall. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage. – OPAC content

Siracusa by Delia Ephron (2016) “New Yorkers Michael, a famous writer, and Lizzie, a journalist, travel to Italy with their friends from Maine—Finn; his wife, Taylor; and their daughter, Snow. “From the beginning,” says Taylor, “it was a conspiracy for Lizzie and Finn to be together.” Told Rashomon-style in alternating points of view, the characters expose and stumble upon lies and infidelities past and present. Snow, ten years old and precociously drawn into a far more adult drama, becomes the catalyst for catastrophe as the novel explores collusion and betrayal in marriage.” –

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (2015) “Abby and Red Whitshank worry about Denny, their ever-mysterious son. Their other, more accountable grown offspring live nearby with their children, and Jeannie and the son nicknamed “Stem” work for Red, who carried forward his father Junior’s construction company. Retired social worker Abby and Red still live in the handsome, obsessively well-constructed house Junior built for a wealthy client, then slyly managed to make his own. During chaotic family gatherings, disorienting crises, and abrupt domestic reconfigurations (all subtly laced with motifs of blue and Wizard of Oz allusions), simmering resentments and secrets bubble up.” –Booklist

Station Eleven by Emily Mandel St. John (2014) A movie star who's decided to pound the boards as King Lear collapses and dies mid-performance, and shortly thereafter civilization collapses and starts dying as well. The narrative then moves between the actor's early career and a journey through the blasted landscape 15 years after the book's opening events. Indie Next darling Mandel breaks out with a major publisher.- OPAC content

The Ghost Map, The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson (2007) (non-fiction) “It's the summer of 1854, and London is just emerging as one of the first modern cities in the world. But lacking the infrastructure-garbage removal, clean water, sewers-necessary to support its rapidly expanding population, the city has become the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease no one knows how to cure. As the cholera outbreak takes hold, a physician and a local curate are spurred to action-and ultimately solve the most pressing medical riddle of their time.” - Amazon

The Girls by Emma Cline (2016) Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence. - Amazon

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (2016) “For the last 20 years, Jean Perdu has been the captain of a floating bookshop in Paris, a so-called literary apothecary where the proprietor can readily diagnose any psychological ills of the hapless readers who board the book barge and efficiently prescribe just the right book or books to address the ailment. If a reader is in search of levity after the loss of a friend or consolation in the wake of a bad breakup, Monsieur Perdu has just the thing.” –

The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper (2016) A touching and intimate correspondence between Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, offering timeless wisdom and a revealing glimpse into their lives. - Amazon

The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion (2013) The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. –Chicago Tribune (Note: I loved this very funny book, a light read and very well done. Especially for fans of the tv show 'The Big Bang Theory'– Anne)

The Sound of Glass by Karen White (mystery) (2016) “Two years after the death of her husband, Merritt Heyward receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by his reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.” - Amazon

The Summer Before the War, a novel by Helen Simonson (2016)  “A novel to cure your Downton Abbey withdrawal . . . a delightful story about nontraditional romantic relationships, class snobbery and the everybody-knows-everybody complications of living in a small community.”—The Washington Post. “The bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand returns with a breathtaking novel of love on the eve of World War I that reaches far beyond the small English town in which it is set.” - Amazon

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathon Evison (2015) “With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years, now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what she hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease on life becomes a surprising and revelatory journey into Harriet’s past.” - Amazon

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (2014) An epic tale about an Irish American couple and the constraints of the American dream, this first novel is benefiting from tremendous in-house enthusiasm. Eileen Tumulty, raised by her immigrant parents in Woodside, NY, in the 1940s and 1950s, is determined not to settle for some boisterous, glad-handing type. Serious-minded scientist Ed Leary seems exactly the right sort to carry her to the larger world, but their marriage founders as she realizes that he really doesn't care about increasingly bigger, better homes, cars, and jobs. The portrait of a marriage and of a crucial time in American history; great for book clubs. – OPAC content

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