New Book Clubs to Go - April 2012

Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out a large number of new Book Clubs to Go. It is a mix of classics (you asked for them), literary and popular fiction, among them a couple of award winners. We did not forget our nonfiction readers either.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
Traces the fortunes of four generations of one family as they attempt to build a life for themselves in the American West. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize when it was first published in 1971, Angle of Repose has also been selected by the editorial board of the Modern Library as one of the hundred best novels of the twentieth century.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Forging a deep friendship with a Wampanoag chieftain's son on the Great Harbor settlement where her minister father is working to convert the tribe, Bethia follows his subsequent ivy league education and efforts to bridge cultures among the colonial elite. New York Times bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the Pulitzer Prize winning author.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Chronicles the author's year spent testing the edicts of conventional wisdom to assess their potential for improving life, describing various activities ranging from getting more sleep and singing to her children to starting a blog and imitating a spiritual master.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Harrison William Shepherd, a highly observant writer, is caught between two worlds--in Mexico, working for communists Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky, and later in America, where he is caught up in the patriotism of World War II.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
In 1974 Manhattan, a radical young Irish monk struggles with personal demons while making his home among Bronx prostitutes, a group of mothers shares grief over their lost Vietnam soldier sons, and a young grandmother attempts to prove her worth. The 2009 National Book Award for Fiction, and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
Descending on a family beach house won in a bet years earlier, three generations of women gradually impart difficult respective secrets including a pregnancy, a terrible crush and a deeply held resentment for past misdeeds.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Discovering in childhood a supernatural ability to taste the emotions of others in their cooking, Rose Edelstein grows up to regard food as a curse when it reveals everyone's secret realities.

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Ten years of infertility issues culminate in the destruction of music therapist Zoe Baxter's marriage, after which she falls in love with another woman and wants to start a family, but her ex-husband, Max, stands in the way.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh must step out of her comfort zone when she is sent into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years--a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
A novel that circles the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. It is about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. The 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and The National Book Critics Circle 2010 prize for fiction.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #318

Debut novelist Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country * * is praised by reviewers as "superb", "elegantly written, stunningly powerful, simply masterful", "darkly luminous"; endorsed and favorably compared to works by Amy Tan, Eugenia Kim, Lisa See, and Chang-Rae Lee. And I was not disappointed.

Janie (Jeehyun), bookish, dutify and the older of two girls from an immigrant Korean family must set aside her academic pursuits (University of Chicago) to returm home to Michigan to care for her father who has just been diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer. More pressing still is her parents' insistance that she finds her younger sister Hannah (Haejin), who disappeared over a year ago. Janie is resentful because of their prickly relationship and the rivalry, but also fearful because of her knowledge of the family's legacy that for three generations they have lost a daughter, circumstances often shrouded in mystery.

When her father decides to seek experimental treatment, the family returns to Korea, a homecoming that is both bittersweet and illuminating, making clear the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier. Like invisible threads, the fragile and implacable bonds of shared history could hold a family together even across the seemingly impassable chasm of different cultures and changing generations.

The jacket cover mentioned that the author lived in Michigan and the character Janie attended the University of Michigan. I was curious and contacted Catherine Chung (author website). Here is what she wrote:

"My family moved to Okemos, Michigan when I was eight years old, and I grew up and went to school there. My father was a professor at Michigan State--I don't have any official connection to Ann Arbor: I just had a lot of friends who went to school there and visited often!"

For further reading on the Asian immigrant experience, try Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and Bich Minh Nguyen's Short Girls (also set in Michigan and Ann Arbor).

* * =Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #312

Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel - The Underside of Joy quietly and immediately draws the reader in with : “For three years, I did back flips in the deep end of happiness. The joy was palpable and often loud. Other times it softened..... I also know now, years later, something else: The most genuine happiness cannot be so pure, so deep, and so blind."

Ella Beene's back flips in happiness are named Joe, Annie and Zach. She met Joe as she stopped at Elbow, a small, funky town along the Redwoods River in North California and never left, becoming stepmother to Joe's children when they married. When Joe died, Ella's grief was compounded with Paige, the children's biological mother showing up at the funeral.

As a bitter custody battle raged between the two women, long-buried secrets which Joe took great pains to hide from Ella came to light. Joe's once close-knit Italian-American family initially supportive, took sides, leaving Ella feeling abandoned.

"Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy."

'A poignant debut about mothers, secrets and sacrifices. "

Readers who enjoyed Jacquelyn Mitchard's A Theory of Relativity (2001); Marisa De Los Santo's Love Walked In (2006) and Belong to Me (2008); and Caroline Leavitt's Pictures of You (2011) will find much to like with this debut novel.

Winners in Genre Fiction - RUSA’s 2012 Reading List

The American Library Association's Reading List Council have selected their top picks for 2012 in eight popular genres. Among the winners (and the shortlists) are some of the best by first-time novelists.

ADRENALINE
Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. (See FFF blog)
Each morning, Christine wakes with no memory. From the clues she left herself, she tries to piece together her identity and sort lies from the truth. The unrelenting pace thrusts the reader into the confusion of a waking nightmare in which revelations of her past lead to a frantic crescendo.

FANTASY
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (See FFF blog)
Le Cirque des Rêves is utterly unique, disappearing at dawn in one town only to mysteriously reappear in another. At the heart of the circus are two young magicians, involved in a competition neither completely understands. The dreamlike atmosphere and vivid imagery make this fantasy unforgettable.

HISTORICAL FICTION
Doc by Mary Doria Russell
In the early days of Dodge City, a genteel, tubercular Southern dentist forges a friendship with the infamous Earp brothers. Combining historical details and lyrical language, this gritty psychological portrait of gunslinger Doc Holliday reveals how the man became the legend.

HORROR
The Ridge by Michael Koryta
The unexplained death of an eccentric lighthouse keeper in the isolated Kentucky woods, followed by a mysterious threat to a nearby large cat sanctuary prompt an investigation by a journalist and the local sheriff. Palpable evil and a sense of dread drive this chilling tale.

MYSTERY
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino (See FFF blog)
An introverted mathematician matches wits with a brilliant former colleague to protect the neighbor he secretly adores from a murder charge. Although the reader knows the murderer’s identity from the beginning, this unconventional Japanese mystery remains a taut psychological puzzle.

ROMANCE
Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
Ambitious dressmaker Marcelline Noirot will do almost anything to secure the patronage of the Duke of Clevendon’s intended bride. Neither her calculated business plan nor his campaign of seduction can withstand the force of their mutual attraction. Witty banter and strong-willed characters make this a memorable tale.

SCIENCE FICTION
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
The missions of a jaded cop and a dedicated ice hauler officer collide as the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. A mystery adds a noir touch to this space opera featuring deeply flawed yet heroic characters, non-stop action and Earth versus Mars politics.

WOMEN'S FICTION
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (See FFF blog)
A former foster child struggles to overcome a past filled with abuse, neglect and anger. Communication through the Victorian language of fflowers allows her to discover hope, redemption and a capacity for love. Damaged, authentic characters create an emotional tension in this profoundly moving story.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #307: Spotlight on Korea

Please Look After Mom a novel by Kyung-sook S(h)in (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim) is the stunning, deeply moving story of a family’s search for their mother, who goes missing one afternoon amid the crowds of the Seoul Station subway.
Currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York City and one of South Korea’s most widely read and acclaimed novelists, Sin has been honored with many literary prizes including France’s Prix de l’Inaperçu. Please Look After Mom is her first book to appear in English.

Chosen as one of the 9 Kirkus Reviews' New and Notable Fiction Debuts for 2011, Chicago author Samuel Park's This Burns My Heart is narrated by Soo-Ja, a woman struggling to provide a good life for her daughter in spite of her own unhappy marriage and a culture that grants no rights to women, the situation made even more difficult when her long-lost true love Dr. Yul returns.

Considered by critics and reviewers to be his break-out work, The Orphan Master's Son * * * by Adam Johnson (Stanford, Creative Writing) is not to be missed. I am sure some of you would not hesitate to point out that this is NOT his first novel. But how many of you had read Parasites Like Us (2003)? I thought so.

Pak Jun Do's father runs Long Tomorrows, a North Korean work camp for orphans where he is given his first taste of power. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, he rises through the ranks to become a valuable instrument of the state as a professional kidnapper. To stay alive, he must navigate and endure the shifting rules, arbitrary violence, and baffling demands from those in command, until he boldly takes on a treacherous role in order to save the woman he loves.

"Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master's Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love."

Adam Johnson will be in Ann Arbor Tuesday, January 24th, 7pm at Nicola's Books. Get there early.

* * * = Starred Reviews

New Book Clubs to Go (January 2012)

The following new Book Clubs to Go kits have been added to our collection:

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Ralph Truitt, a wealthy businessman with a troubled past has advertised for a reliable wife; and his ad is answered by Catherine Land, a woman who makes every effort to hide her own dark secrets.

City of Thieves by David Benioff
A captivating novel about war, courage, survival-and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
When artifacts from Japanese families sent to internment camps during World War II are uncovered in Seattle, Henry Lee embarks on a quest that leads to memories of growing up Chinese in a city rife with anti-Japanese sentiment.

Room by Emma Donoghue
A 5-year-old narrates a riveting story about his life growing up in a single room where his mother aims to protect him from the man who has held her prisoner for seven years since she was a teenager.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Dagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's Disease, Harvard psychologist Alice Howland struggles to find meaning and purpose in her everyday life as her concept of self gradually slips away.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Abandoned on a 1913 voyage to Australia, Nell is raised by a dock master and his wife who do not tell her until she is an adult that she is not their child, leading Nell to return to England and eventually hand down her quest for answers to her granddaughter.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks, a poor Southern tobacco farmer, was buried in an unmarked grave sixty years ago. Yet her cells -- taken without her knowledge, grown in culture and bought and sold by the billions -- became one of the most important tools in medical research.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
The stories of a small Cape Cod postmistress and an American radio reporter stationed in London collide on the eve of the United States's entrance into World War II, a meeting that is shaped by a broken promise to deliver a letter.

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
When their seven-year-old daughter goes missing, Antonia evaluates her decision to stay in a loveless marriage that caused her child to withdraw into silence, while Martin confronts an uncomfortable aspect of his own personality.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Unwillingly brought together to care for their ailing mother, three sisters who were named after famous Shakespearean characters discover that everything they have been avoiding may prove more worthwhile than expected.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
An alternate historical work based on a premise that Alaska became the Jewish homeland after World War II finds detective Meyer Landsman investigating a heroin-addicted chess prodigy's murder, a case with ties to an extremist Orthodox sect.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #305

Picked by Library Journal as one of the 8 best Women's Fiction of 2011, debut novelist Sarah Jio's The Violets of March is a rich blend of history, mystery, and romance.

After a heartbreaking divorce, author Emily Wilson returns to Bainbridge Island, WA, to put some distance between her tattered life in New York, and to reconnect with her elderly and secretive great-aunt Bee. When she comes across the diary of a woman named Esther from the 1940s, she is totally drawn into the mystery of lives on the Island, and begins to see the parallels to her own situation and connections to her family history. A charming old beau and the handsome neighbor down the beach provide romantic tension and love interest as Emily tries to ferret out the story behind the diary while attempting to make a fresh start.

Not brain surgery, but a pleasant, charming story in a lovely setting. For fans of the Sarah Blake, Julie Buxbaum, Juliette Fay, Sarah Pekkanan, and Allison Winn Scotch.

Jio's second novel Bungalow has just been released. Can't wait.

For other novels with Pacific Northwest setting, check out Owl Island by Randy Sue Coburn, Summer Island by Kristin Hannah or the inspirational Cedar Cove Series (imaginary place) by Debbie Macomber.

Comfort & Joy

British journalist India Knight's semi-biographical novel Comfort and Joy (2011) is "clearly warm-hearted holiday fun".

Christmas is the most important holiday for Clara Dunphy (a follow-up to My Life on a Plate, 2000). She demands nothing short of "perfect" for her family and friends, never mind family these days means 2 ex-husbands, 3 children, sisters, parents, in-laws, out-laws and sundry hangers-on. So on a frantic and rainy Dec. 23, after fighting the crowds on Oxford Street, a giant cocktail in the swanky hotel bar sounds like just the reward she deserves before heading home to a houseful of guests. But then a handsome stranger asks her to stay for another drink. Oh well, all good intentions...

As we follows Clara, "a witty, blackly funny everywoman" through three successive Christmases, we witness changing roles and shifting family dynamics. Well-paced dialogue and amusing and insightful anecdotes captures the spirit of the season while giving us a glimpse into one modern family's struggle with children, marital turmoil, and materialism.

In Kristin Hannah's Comfort & Joy (2005), recently divorced and having no family of her own, Joy Candellaro is beginning to dream of a new life with widower Daniel O'Shea and his son, Bobby, until a fateful Christmas Eve forces her to make a painful choice. A modern-day fairy tale of a woman who gets a miraculous chance at happiness.

I first read Jim Grimsley's memorable and moving Comfort & Joy in 1999. It is still one my favorite to revisit at Christmas time.

Ford McKinney is a devastatingly handsome, successful doctor, raised in an old Savannah family among good breeding and money. His longtime boyfriend, Dan Crell, is a shy hospital administrator with a painful childhood past. When the holidays arrive, they decide it's time to go home together. But the depth of their commitment is tested when Ford's parents cannot reconcile themselves to their son's choices. "Grimsley triumphs in (this) novel in which two unlikely lovers must reconcile what is expected of them with what they know in their hearts is right."

Wishing you comfort and joy this holiday season...

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #302

Just about now - as the days get shorter and the temperature dips below freezing, my reading drifts toward the upbeat and heartwarming, and I am glad to have found Angelina's Bachelors : a novel, with food *.

Angelina D'Angelo's Frangelico Chocolate Dream Cake (recipe included) is to die for and unfortunately her husband Frank did just that. Grieving and listless, she turns to her one passion - cooking. To make ends meet, she gathers the hungry bachelors in the neighborhood and offers to feed them. Apart from the out-of-this-world meals she painstakingly prepared daily, each of them comes to find community and riches far beyond his/her expectations.

Angelina marks the fiction debut for cookbook author and TV cooking-show producer Brian O'Reilly whose "keen ear for the neighborhood (South Philly) swells lends a charming, timeless quality to the tale."

And the recipes by Virginia O'Reilly... they are fabulous. The O'Reillys are no strangers when it comes to food and cooking. Between them, they have published two cookbooks (Mission: Cook!: My Life, My Recipes, and Making the Impossible Easy, and Impossible to Easy: 111 Delicious Recipes to Help You Put Great Meals on the Table Every Day), with Robert Irvine, the star of the Foodnetwork television program they produced, called Dinner Impossible.

Unlike recipes in other novels, these are neither cute nor cheeky. They are gourmand-serious and kitchen-tested. I have ordered my own copy of the book so I could try out the Stracotto (Italian Pot Roast) this holiday season.

* = starred review

Of Dragons and Singing Ships...

Anne McCaffrey, author of nearly 100 books, and best known for the Dragonriders of Pern series, died of a stroke on Monday at her home in Ireland. She was 85. She will be remembered as the writer who created magical worlds full of daring female characters whether riding dragons or navigating ships. The way women were portrayed in scifi/fantasy was transformed by her. Some of her books were written as a response to how women were unrealistically portrayed in the mostly male-dominated genre of scifi/fantasy at the time. McCaffrey was the first woman to win a Hugo Award, for her first Pern novella "Weyr Search"(in 1968) published in the magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and the first woman to win a Nebula for her 2nd Pern story, Dragonrider (in 1969). These two stories plus a third ultimately became her first Pern novel, Dragonflight. Her other book, White Dragon was the first hard cover science fiction book to make the New York Times bestseller list. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2006. Other series she will be remembered for include the Crystal Singer series, the Petaybee series, and the Acorna series, to name a few.

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