I’m in the middle of so many books that I haven’t reviewed any for a while. Spring is usually peak time for new books to be published, but there are several winter gems here, along with some older titles. Enjoy!
What I’m Reading Now:
Clement, Blaize & John. The Cat Sitter and the Canary.
A cozy mystery set on Siesta Key, on Florida’s gulf coast.
Hambly, Barbara. Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers.
Kline, Cristina Baker. A Piece of the World.
I was familiar with some of American artist Andrew Wyeth’s work, but not Christina’s World, which is the inspiration for this historical novel set in Maine. Kline is the author of The Orphan Train.
Mack, Doug. The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA. From the U.S. Virgin Islands to American Samoa, the author explores our territories. Fans of Ken Jennings’ Maphead or Bill Bryson’s humorous travelogues may enjoy.
Norton, Andre. Lord of Thunder, sequel to The Beast Master. A classic science fiction writer I’m reading for another 50th anniversary post. A Navajo who can communicate with animals is caught up in adventure and intrigue on another planet.
Ryan, Jennifer. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.
Historical novel set in WWII England, on the home front. Narrated by several characters, including a young teenager, a mother who’s just sent her only son off to war, a conniving midwife, a seductive young woman, a choir director, and others.
Stewart, Mary. The Ivy Tree.
Another book I’m reading for a 50th anniversary post; currently getting neglected because of all these other excellent books.
Flanders, Judith. A Cast of Vultures. The third mystery novel featuring a book editor as amateur sleuth.
Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. The award-winning dark fantasy author has fun retelling Norse myths.
Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo. A grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln visits his son’s grave; ghosts are present.
Remnants of Trust, by Elizabeth Bonesteel
I really enjoyed the first Central Corps book, The Cold Between, so I was eager to read the sequel. This is quite good, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much, as much of the plot centers around sabotage and possible betrayal, and there’s no romance, just military science fiction. Elena Shaw and Captain Greg Foster return, but their friendship is still strained. When starship Exeter is attacked and her crew are transferred to other ships, tensions rise. I really liked the scenes on the PSI ship, Orunmila, which is full of families and a very pregnant captain. There will definitely be a sequel, and I’m interested to see where the author takes the storyline and the complex characters.
I was looking at my lists of upcoming releases, and thought I’d share the science fiction books on my to-be-read list, including two books published in 2016. I may not read all of them this year, but I’m looking forward to some very enjoyable reading. Brenda
Anders, Charlie. All the Birds in the Sky. 2016
Chambers, Becky. A Closed and Common Orbit. March
Cherryh, C.J. Convergence. April
Corey, James S.A. Babylon’s Ashes. 2016
Huff, Tanya. A Peace Divided. June
Moon, Elizabeth. Cold Welcome. April
Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. March
Scalzi, John. The Collapsing Empire. March
Stephenson, Neal and Nicole Galland. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. June
Microhistories: History on a Small Scale
These are a few of the recent books with a narrow focus on a single subject, event, or place. I’m reading Paper, enjoyed Consider the Fork, The End of Night, and have Butter on my list of books to read. These titles and many more are on display this month at the Woodridge Public Library. Enjoy!
Bogard, Paul. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013.
Brox, Jane. Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, 2010.
Donovan, Tristan. Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World, 2014. Eckstut, Joann. The Secret Language of Color, 2013.
Foy, Simon. Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence, 2010.
Garfield, Simon. Just My Type: A Book about Fonts, 2011.
Hucklebridge, Dane. The United States Of Beer : A Freewheeling History Of The All-American Drink, 2016.
Kawash, Samira. Candy: A Century of Panic, 2013.
Kosrova, Elaine. Butter: A Rich History, 2016.
Kurlansky, Mark. Paper: Paging Through History, 2016.
Lukacs, Paul. Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Ancient Pleasures, 2012.
Metcalf, Allan. OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word, 2011.
Roach, Mary. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, 2013.
Shaffer, Marjorie. Pepper: A History of the World’s Most Influential Spice, 2013.
Wilson, Bee. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, 2012.
Unreliable Narrators in Fiction
If you’re looking for more fast-paced suspense novels that are readalikes for The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl, then check out these books:
Barton, Fiona. The Widow
Carter, Ally. All Fall Down
Chapman, Emma. How to Be a Good Wife
Crawford, Susan. The Pocket Wife
Donoghue, Emma. Room
Ellison, J. T. No One Knows
Hannah, Sophie. A Game for All the Family
Harrison, A.S.A. The Silent Wife
Healey, Emma. Elizabeth is Missing
Hogan, Phil. A Pleasure and a Calling
Kubica, Mary. Good Girl
Lapena, Shari. The Couple Next Door
LaPlante, Alice. Turn of Mind
Larbalestier, Justine. Liar
Little, Elizabeth. Dear Daughter
Lockhart, E. We Were Liars
Lutz, Lisa. The Passenger
Mackintosh, Clare. I Let You Go
Marwood, Alex. Wicked Girls
Moriarty, Liane. Big Little Lies
Morrow, Bradford. The Forgers
Oliva, Alexandra. The Last One
Paris, B.A. Behind Closed Doors
Rindell, Suzanne. The Other Typist
Walker, Wendy. All is Not Forgotten
Ware, Ruth. The Woman in Cabin 10
Waters, M. D. Archetype
Watson. S. J. Before I Go to Sleep
New and Forthcoming Books from Authors We’ve Discussed
We’re not having book discussions in August. If you’re looking for some reading ideas, try one of these, or reserve a not-yet-published title.
Chevalier, Tracy. At the Edge of the Orchard. 3/16
Diffenbaugh, Vanessa. We Never Asked for Wings. 2015
Doig, Ivan. Last Bus to Wisdom. 2015
Erdrich, Louise. LaRose. 5/16
Hashimi, Nadia. A House Without Windows. 8/16
Hill, Lawrence. The Illegal. 1/16
Hood, Ann. The Book That Matters Most. 8/16
Ivey, Eowyn. To The Bright Edge of the World. 8/16
McLain, Paula. Circling the Sun. 2015
Semple, Maria. Today Will Be Different. 10/16
Shapiro, B.A. The Muralist. 2015
Smiley, Jane. Early Warning, Golden Age. 2015
Stewart, Amy. Lady Cop Makes Trouble. 9/16
Weisgarber, Ann. The Promise. 2014
Winters, Ben. Underground Airlines. 7/16
Duhigg, Charles. Smarter, Faster, Better. 3/16
Krist, Gary. Empire of Sin. 2014
Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship. 2015
Lahiri, Jhumpa. In Other Words. 2/16
Millard, Candice. Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. 9/16
Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. 5/16
Streever, Bill. And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind. 7/16
Happy Reading! Fall book discussion titles will be announced soon.
Connected with our adult summer reading program, Exercise Your Mind, Read! we have some suggestions for what to read this summer. In the library this month, you will find a book display full of Real Life Adventure books, and a booklist to take. Several of the books on the list have been reviewed on this blog, as I enjoy reading them from time to time. What is real life adventure? Typically, these books are memoirs of an individual or group on an adventure, usually traveling somewhere exotic, where hardships are likely, such as mountain climbing, rowing across the ocean, or volunteering around the globe, or where survival is uncertain, such as a plane crash in the 1940s in New Guinea. If you’re looking for something refreshingly different, my lengthy booklist follows.
551.21 Dvo Dvorak, John. The Last Volcano: A Man, a Romance, and the Quest to Understand Nature’s Most Magnificent Fury, 2015.
551.566 Bog Bogard, Paul. The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013.
597.33 Cas Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival among America’s Great White Sharks, 2005.
623.88 Gre Greenlaw, Linda. Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea, 2010.
629.45 Jon Jones, Chris. Too Far from Home: A Story of Life and Death in Space, 2007.
629.45 Nel Nelson, Craig. Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, 2009.
636.7 Rya Ryan, Tom. Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship, 2011.
796.522 Sim. Simpson, Joe. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival, 2004.
796.522 Vie Viesturs, Ed. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks, 2006.
796.525 Tab Tabor, James. Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth, 2010.
796.64 Ben Benson, Brian. Going Somewhere: A Bicycle Journey across America, 2014.
797.123 Bro Brown, Daniel. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, 2013.
797.123 Rac Rackley, Adam. Salt, Sweat, Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Ocean, 2014.
797.32 Dix Dixon, Chris. Ghost Wave: The Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth, 2011.
910.4 Fer Fermor, Patrick Leigh. The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, 2014.
910.4 Fri Friedman, Rachel. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure, 2011.
910.4 Mal Malusa, Jim. Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents, 2008.
910.4 Mar Marquis, Sarah. Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot, 2016.
910.4 Mar Marshall, John. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever, 2015.
910.4 Pod Podell, Albert. Around the World in 50 Years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth, 2015.
910.41 Goo Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, 2013.
910.41 Wig Wigge, Michael. How to Travel the World for Free: One Man, 150 Days, Eleven Countries, No Money! 2013.
910.452 Sid Sides, Hampton. In the Kingdom of the Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, 2014.
910.45 Kur Kurson, Robert. Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship, 2015.
910.9 Eva Evans, James. Tudor Adventurers: An Arctic Voyage of Discovery: The Hunt for the Northeast Passage, 2014.
916.2 Mah Mahoney, Rosemary. Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman’s Skiff, 2007.
916.3 Sha Shah, Tahir. In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, 2003.
916.48 Kin King, Dean. Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival, 2004.
916.751 Tay Tayler, Jeffery. Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness, 2000.
917.3 Web Weber, Bruce. Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, 2014.
917.4 Mil Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, 2011.
917.4 Sil Silva Cruzatt, Judith. The Voyage of Yankee Lady: Circumnavigating New England on a Sailboat, 2013.
917.4 Stu Stutzman, Paul. Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Feedom on the Appalachian Trail, 2012.
917.79 Sto Storey, Gail Donohue. I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.9 Tow Townsend, Chris. Rattlesnakes and Bald Eages: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, 2014.
917.94 Alt Alt, Jeff. Four Boots, One Journey: A Story of Survival, Awareness, and Rejuvenation on the John Muir Trail, 2014.
917.94 Rob Roberts, Suzanne. Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, 2012.
918.11 Mil Millard, Candice. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, 2005.
919.4 Hil Hill, Geoff. Oz: Around Australia on a Triumph, 2010.
919.89 Ast Aston, Felicity. Alone in Antarctica: The First Woman to Ski Solo Across the Southern Ice, 2014.
919.89 Fra Francis, Gavin. Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence, and Emperor Penguins, 2013.
919.89 Rob Roberts, David. Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, 2013.
932 Rya Ryan, Donald. Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist, 2010.
940.544 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II, 2013.
940.54497 Mur Murphy, Brian. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness, 2015.
940.5451 Kur Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, 2004.
940.54725 Hil Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, 2010.
940.548 Zuc Zuckoff, Mitchell. Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II, 2011.
972.81 Car Carlsen, William. Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya, 2016.
973.93 Cap Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean, 2013.
978 Buc Buck, Rinker. The Oregon Trail: A New Journey, 2015.
978.02 Sta Stark, Peter. Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: a Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, 2014.
979.82 Sch Schooler, Lynn. Walking Home: A Traveler in the Alaskan Wilderness, a Journey into the Human Heart, 2010.
985 37 Ada Adams, Mark. Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time, 2011.
BIO Grylls Grylls, Bear. Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography, 2012.
BIO Strayed Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, 2012.
Selecting Book Discussion Titles
I’m frequently asked how I select titles for book discussions. I’ve been leading two book discussion groups at the Woodridge Public Library for over 8 years, with occasional discussions led by my library director, Susan McNeil-Marshall. Leading book discussions has turned out to be very rewarding, but selecting titles continues to be challenging. There are so many books published each year, and even if I limit selections to historical fiction and narrative non-fiction, it’s still a daunting amount of books. Just to make it more fun, I like to challenge the book groups with a variety of titles that don’t fit neatly in those two categories. Sometimes the book group participants have suggestions, and sometimes I get ideas from other librarians. When asked, my book groups tell me that they’re interested in reading books they wouldn’t have found on their own, and that they like to read about other times, other places, and other cultures. When I have a long list of discussible books, I booktalk a variety of titles to each book group and have them vote, but usually I make the selections. Here are some of the places I look for ideas, as well as my own reading log:
Book Discussion Suggestions:
Summer ’15 Reading Group Indie Next List from Indiebound.org, recommendations from independent booksellers. A long, annotated list; very helpful.
Great Group Reads Selections from the Women’s National Book Association.
Websites like ReadingGroupGuides.com
Best Books of the the Year lists:
Notable Books List from American Library Association Reference and User Services Division
New York Times Notable Books
Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Publishers Weekly lists of best books: these are trade publications full of professional book reviews.
EarlyWord.com is a good source of links to best book lists, books being made into movies, and lists of award-winning books. Book awards are a logical place to look for great books, although our groups do not always enjoy reading Pulitzer, Nobel, National Book Award, or Man Booker Prize winners. They often make for lively discussions though, even if we don’t all like the books.
What are other public libraries discussing? I look at their websites, and occasionally talk with other book discussion leaders. Popular selections may be discussed by many libraries in the area, including these recent titles:
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
We haven’t discussed Me Before You although I’ve read it and other titles by Moyes, and our discussion of Henriquez’s book is upcoming. The other titles we’ve already discussed here. Ideas I got recently from looking at other libraries’ selections include these books I haven’t looked at yet:
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, also suggested by two patrons
Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, about Chilean miners trapped in an accident in 2010.
Every book discussion group is different, with some focusing on mysteries, non-fiction, science fiction, and “edgy” books, often for discussion in a bar.
Not very helpful lists: Lists that are heavy on classics, older titles, and titles most libraries have already discussed. Here’s one that disappointed me: Sure Bets for Book Discussions from Booklist, December 15, 2015. Eight of the eighteen titles mentioned are more than fifty years old, and only two were published in the last three years.
When I have compiled a list of discussible books, I read book reviews, I look at reader reviews and rankings on Good Reads.com, and I read part of many, many books. Most of them I just read a chapter or two, and quickly decide that they probably won’t work for my book groups. Some books are too long. I will occasionally pick a book of over 400 pages, but attendance tends to be lower. Four years ago, I led a discussion of the historical novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, 532 pages. It won two awards, and I loved it, but only 3 patrons came to the discussion. Non-fiction books can take longer to read, so I try to be especially mindful about the length of those.
I also need to take a look at popularity and availability. I was all set to schedule a discussion of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, when it won the Pulitzer Prize last year and publication of the paperback reprint was postponed a whole year. By the time the hold queues are gone and I can buy several paperback copies, most of the readers who are interested will have had 2 years to read it. And yes, at 531 pages, it’s quite long. And will my book groups be ready for another World War II novel set partly in France? We recently discussed Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland, and many readers love The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, both World War II novels set in France.
What did I pick for this spring, and how?
The Bees by Laline Paull I had read and liked, but didn’t really consider until I looked at the IndieNext list of reading group suggestions. A year in the life of a fictional bee hive, this is a non-traditional selection to discuss.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez has been on my list of discussible books for several months. Recently another librarian shared that it was well-received at her library’s book discussion. Westmont and Elmhurst are also discussing it this spring.
The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo was well-reviewed and the modern Cuban setting was intriguing. I read it, and it’s on the IndieNext List of reading group suggestions.
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber was a hit at another library, and I’ve never seen another novel about African American homesteaders in the Badlands.
A Simple Murder by Eleanor Kuhns I read a few years ago, and realized that the setting of late 18th Century New England, with an itinerant weaver/detective visiting a Shaker community, would be something new and different.
The Wright Brothers, at 320 pages, is a shorter book by the noted historian/biographer David McCullough. Published in 2015, a paperback will be out in early May. I read it pre-publication, knowing it was a strong possibility for discussion.
I started leading book discussions on a regular basis in September, 2007, as the previous leader was retiring. That fall we discussed:
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, a witty, clever novel told in letters.
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, a historical novel set in Montana that was so well-liked that many of us found a new favorite writer. We’ve since discussed his book The Bartender’s Tale.
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson, a successful discussion of a popular real-life adventure led by librarian Susan.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a very dark and depressing post-apocalyptic novel. Beautiful writing, memorable characters, and deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Somehow I led two discussions of this title. After the first quarter of 2008, I discontinued the previous discussion leader’s practice of discussing the same title with both groups a couple of months apart. One title, one discussion. Of course, that meant I needed to find more discussible books.
A Year in the World by Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. I listened to this memoir before selecting it; it didn’t hold up as well on re-reading; not popular with the book group.
For other suggestions, here is a list of discussible books. To search this blog for books we’ve discussed, search under the category Book Discussions.
If you’re in a book group or thinking of starting one, I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful. If you need ideas for your book group, or have suggestions for ours, please leave a comment or stop by the library to chat with me.