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Recommendations by Karen
HOPE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE SEA, by Melissa Flemming
Author Melissa Flemming, an advocate for refugees, tells this true incredible story of 19-year-old Doaa al Zamel’s escape from war-torn Syria. Her story represents millions of refugees who risk everything in their desperate search for a safe haven. With the refugee crises so much in the news, Doaa’s story is timely.
CROOKED HEART, by Lisa Evans
I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with the two main “unlovable” characters in this wonderfully engaging novel. Noel, an orphan good at hiding his intelligence, is evacuated from London during the WWII Blitz and lands in a suburb NW of the city. Vee, his new caretaker, is an unscrupulous, bitter woman.
CATHERINE THE GREAT: PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN, by Robert K. Massie
Just out in paperback, Massie returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography. I also enjoyed his biographies of Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great.
This intense novel follow Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about–until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, but when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world. A great read and a good candidate for book club discussion.
Recommendations by Sheila
HOMEGOING, by Yaa Gyasi
Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the North to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Gyasi has written a modern masterpiece that is unforgettable. This is one of my favorite novels of the year.
I loved Ian McEwan’s ATONEMENT and I highly recommend his new novel, SWEET TOOTH, which features a female M15 secret agent. It’s a great, and unlikely, combination of espionage, love and the art of writing.
We really did have a scuffle in the store over who would first read the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, FLIGHT BEHAVIOR. I loved it, and thought it to be a much better book than her previous, LACUNA. Set in Appalachia, great plot, beautiful nature writing and a protagonist who will charm you.
THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz, is splendid. He is young, dazzling and totally unique. This collection of his short stories is one of my favorite new books.
DOG STARS, by Peter Heller, is the story of a pilot surviving in a post- apocalypse world. The premise has been used a lot lately, but I found this one very moving, mainly because of the main character’s valiant struggle to maintain his own humanity and capacity for love.
PARIS: A LOVE STORY, by Kati Marton. Can there possibly be too many stories set in Paris? This lovely, candid memoir is about love, loss and life after loss – with Paris at its heart. I finished it in a day.
CITY OF WOMEN, by David R. Gilham, is particularly for those, like myself, who were mesmerized by World War II Berlin in IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS. This novel is so atmospheric that I felt I could hear the Gestapo rapping on the attic door. Berlin, during the war, is mostly a city of frightened women, and this story of a Nazi soldier’s wife and her clandestine life is scary, steamy and excellent historical fiction.
Gen-Xers cannot get enough of Jonathan Tropper (BOOK OF JOE). ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO is touching and outrageously funny. This was the requested title from both of my thirty-something offspring.
THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, by Rachel Joyce, is what you should read now if you loved MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND and GUERNSEY WOMEN’S LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY.
Michael Kardo’s debut novel, THE THREE DAY AFFAIR, is about three friends who went to Princeton together and reunite for a road trip that takes an unexpected turn when one of them kidnaps a young woman.
BLACK FRIDAYS, by Michael Sears, who spent twenty years on Wall Street is exciting, appalling and you’ll learn a lot about hedge funds (not much of it good).
Ariel Walker’s, THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH, which consists of three interrelated sections, is written in the styles and periods of Georges Simenon, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson. It is, to use an over-used phrase, a tour de force.
More Staff Recommendations
ARCADIA, by Lauren Groff
Set on a commune in New York State during the 1970s, Groff’s prose simultaneously romanticizes and illuminate the realities of rural community life, finding a balance between the hilarity and tragedy of living off the land in a mostly commercial and industrialized world. Wide in scope, full of heart and quirky humor, the rise and fall of the Arcadia House community is narrated by the ever lovable Bit, the first child of Arcadia, who stole my heart from the first page. If you like Brady Udall, Tom Perrotta or loved, The Monsters of Templeton, read this original coming-of-age tale next!
–review by Becky
THE ROUND HOUSE, by Louise Erdrich
Returning to the Ojibwe reservation (rez) in North Dakota for the first time since The Plague of Doves, Erdrich’s newest book is a luminous tale of familial love with a terrible accident at the heart. Part mystery, part Native American history and part coming of age tale, Erdrich’s story captures the complexity of human relationships, our frailty and resilience and the place where the two meet. This book brings up morality and mortality without preaching, and beautifully evokes the traditions of Native American culture. I love this book and cannot recommend this highly enough.
–review by Becky
RULES OF CIVILITY, by Amor Towles
Towles has written a good old-fashioned novel of manners with overtones of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is set in New York City, 1938, with a bright, first-generation heroine who rises from secretary to a power in the publishing world. The Gatsbyesque hero, Tinker Grey, is an investment banker with “a smile on his face that could have lit every lamp on the North Pole.” One of the charms of the novel is the re-creation of the period, still mired in the depression, on the verge of a bloody war, with a class structure struggling to preserve its elegance and boundaries–and is just about to collapse.
–review by Sheila
TURN OF MIND, by Alice LaPlante
Turn of Mind is the best literary thriller since Presumed Innocent. The narrator is a hand surgeon who has dementia, though she experiences lucid moments. She is also the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend, who was found with her fingers surgically removed. She doesn’t know whether she did it or not. This is a page-turning thriller and a moving and fascinating glimpse into the deteriorating mind of a tightly controlled, intelligent woman who is slowly succumbing to her disease. Alzheimer’s works brilliantly as a literary device, revealing family secrets, tragedies and an ending you won’t expect. It will be one of the most read and talked-about books of 2011.
–review by Sheila
WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL? by Jeanette Winterson
A soul-searching and vivid memoir by one of the more intriguing contemporary British Writers of our time. Adopted into a family in a north England industrial town, Winterson confronts the ravages of an extreme religious upbringing and her own burgeoning homosexuality within that context. Winterson explores her adopted mother’s erratic, brutal and manic behavior with searing honesty. She courageously attempts to understand herself and her childhood beyond the pain, stigma and her evident genius. With Winterson, one feels you are with her on a quest and that you are part of the incandescence of a brilliant mind struggling to illuminate even the darkest recesses.