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.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #297

Michigan author Caitlin Horrocks will be at Nicola's on Friday, November 11 @ 7pm to read from her debut collection of short stories This Is Not Your City *.

In these darkly comic stories, 11 women confront dramas both everyday and outlandish. Isolated by geography, emotion, or circumstance they find no simple escapes. Their acts of faith and acts of imagination in making do are as shrewd as they are surprising.

The first story "Zolaria" in particular hits close to home. Though the title of the collection cautions one that it is not your city, Ann Arborites will recognize landmarks such as Little Sister Lake, Dolph Park, Wagner & Newport roads, Forsythe Junior High,and the gas station at Miller and Maple that stood empty for years. In this story a young mother looks back on the enduring yet troubled bond with a childhood friend and its chilling effect on her relationship with her young daughters.

In "Going to Estonia," Ursula's desire for a relationship leads her into an unusual involvement with her Helsinki neighbor.

In the titular story, Daria, a mail-order bride struggles with the barricades of culture and family after her teenage daughter goes missing.

"Many of the stories are bleak, painfully and realistically detailing lives gone awry, to sometimes disturbing effect" but they never fail to offer earnest and compelling perspectives.

A note about the author... (Visit her website)

Caitlin Horrocks lives in Michigan by way of Ohio, Arizona, England, Finland, and the Czech Republic. Her stories and essays appear in The Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, The Pushcart Prize , The Paris Review, among others. Her work has won awards including the Plimpton Prize, and a Bread Loaf Writers Conference Fellowship. Currently, she is an assistant professor of writing at Grand Valley State University. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the writer W. Todd Kaneko.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #295

Now for something fun... try The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a novel in pictures * by novelist Caroline Preston. It is the first of its kind - a scrapbook novel.

Former archivist at Harvard's Houghton Library, Preston pulls together her personal collection of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus and other prized ephemera to create an engaging Frankie Pratt as she makes her way in the dazzling world of the1920s. Preston chronicles Frankie's growing up a small New England town, the grief of losing her father, crossing paths with the likes of “Vincent” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) at Vassar, meeting exiled Russian princes, living free and wild in Paris as she searches for success and love.

"Lighter than lightweight but undeniably fun, largely because Preston is having so much fun herself." A total pleasure and visual feast. Definitely for scrapbookers and vintage hobbyist.

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #284

Once in awhile, a book comes along and moves you so unexpectedly that you keep thinking about it long after you'd turned the last page. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut The Language of Flowers * (being released today) is as memorable as anything I have read of late.

32 foster homes, 18 years of abuse, neglect and disappointment fail to prepare Victoria Jones for life on her own after being emancipated from the California foster-care system. Squatting in the local park is dangerous but it allows her to care for the personal garden she secretly (and illegally) cultivates. Flowers and their language she understands. People she avoids.

When a local florist discovers Victoria's gift with flowers, she offers her a job and soon her talent is in demand as word gets around that her bouquets have the ability to transform and affect change. All the while, Victoria guards her solitude - until a mysterious vendor at the flower market marks her with his own unique offerings, the meaning of which sends Victoria to the San Francisco Public Library, and forces her to come to terms with a secret that haunts her.

Readers wanting to learn more about the symbolic language of flowers would be pleased to find a glossary included at the back of the book. Or check out The Language Of Flowers : Symbols And Myths by Marina Heilmeyer and Kate Greenaway's definitive The Illuminated Language Of Flowers.

Readers might try She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb for another moving, character-driven, bittersweet, coming-of-age story of grief and self-acceptance. In Julie Orringer's debut collection How to Breathe Underwater: stories we meet young protagonists trapped in awkward, painful situations who discover surprising reserves and wisdom in themselves.

* = Starred review (and one on NPR)

The Kitchen Daughter and the SIMMER Blog

Back in June, we were contacted by Jael McHenry, author of The Kitchen Daughter. She liked our blog and agreed to come visit. On Thursday, August 18th, Ms. McHenry will be at the Downtown Library at 7 pm. She will talk about her debut novel and sign copies (Don't worry if you don't have yours yet. Copies will be available for purchase).

Jael is also an enthusiastic amateur cook. Her food blog SIMMER is very popular with foodies. Bring questions about food, cooking and writing for an evening of great discussion and fun.

AND she is bringing us FOOD! We were sure that the TSA won't let her bring them on the plane but her mom is going to step in and BAKE! So come and taste one of the fabulous recipes in The Kitchen Daughter. Are we in for a treat!

BTW, if you don't already know... since our blog was published in April, The Kitchen Daughter was named "Pick of the Week" in the Boston Globe's Word on the Street, and in June Oprah picked it as one of this summer's "Tantalizing Beach Reads."

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #281

Jennifer Close's debut novel Girls in White Dresses * is a perfect way to wrap up a lovely summer, like putting on your favorite frock just one more time.

"Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers." You get the picture.

Sunday after Sunday, Isabella, Mary, and Lauren in their pastel dresses, attend bridal shower after bridal shower, drink champagne, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes, all the while thinking when-it-would-be-their-turn.

"Close's novel in a series of linked stories, expresses the perfect blend of mid twenties angst, collegiate nostalgia, and plentiful laughter."

For fans of Melissa Bank's The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing and J. Courtney Sullivan's Commencement (in audio)

* = Starred review

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