Bagels & Books

Join us for Bagels and Books once a month to share your thoughts on what you’ve been reading!

After each meeting we post a summary of the reviewer’s comments, along with a link that will provide a description of the plot or contents.

You might find your next good book from this great mix of fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, thrillers and more!


Books Reviewed at our November Meeting

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry – especially interesting for how it reveals the extent of the playwright’s activism and other accomplishments. 

A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival at the Iowa Writers Workshop by David Oakley Dowling – details the competition and no-holds-barred criticism that fueled this incubator of many of our most distinguished writers.

Storm Sister: Ally’s Story by Lucinda Riley – #2 in the ‘Seven Sisters’ series – a long book but a good read–found through a serendipitous mistake!

The Guardians by John Grisham – Grisham lives up to his reputation with this believable treatment of complex ethical issues

Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership by Steven Levingston – a very moving testimony to how the relationship between these two very different people developed over time as they learned to work together.

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff – this WWII female spy novel (a popular category this year!) was a quick read, but the ending was a bit of a let-down.

Missing You by Harlan Coben – great character development and a welcome lack of gore; and while long, the threads are cleverly and satisfyingly drawn together, with a bit of a twist.  The NJ references add to the enjoyability.

A Better Man by Louise Penny – the latest of the popular Inspector Gamache novels starts out a bit slow, but lives up to the high standard of the series in the end.

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk – great character development makes this classic a worthwhile read. 

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover – the author’s story is inspiring, despite a lack of clarity on some aspects of her background.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – the ending is definitely a surprise! 

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel – an important book at this time when many in our society live with this condition.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier – highly recommended; especially resonant if you enjoy embroidery!

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – such a page-turner that it could be enjoyed by anyone!

The Dollmaker by Nina Allan – features a gutsy and memorable heroine.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht – a demanding read; complex but engrossing and ultimately moving.

The Little Book of Bees: An Illustrated Guide to the Extraordinary Lives of Bees by Hilary Kearney – this beautifully illustrated compendium is an easy but informative read.

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni – reminiscent of ‘Crawdads’ in that the environment is central; an enjoyable read for nature-lovers especially.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk – manages to be both literary and highly readable; by the 2018 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.   

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell – the characters in this chronicle of ordinary lives in a small 19th century English town seem entirely recognizable today, and are portrayed with a gentle and timeless humor.

Books Reviewed at our October Meeting

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – a horrific story with a surprise ending – you will want to read it if you liked Whitehead’s Pulitzer-winning The Underground Railroad.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – the plot is not what you might expect; it’s an OK read if you’re not put off by Gilbert’s somewhat repetitive style.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald –  both witty and sad- it’s not a sentimental tale. The film is true to the book.

A Cook’s Tour: In Search of a Perfect Meal by Anthony Bourdain – it’s a bittersweet experience to read his funny and sarcastic accounts- his writing style conveys his excitement-seeking temperament..

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith – another phenomenal memoir from Smith.  You learn from her obscure references to artists from the avant-garde to the metaphysical, but her essentially  conventional lifestyle also allows you to relate to her tributes to solitude and the value of friendships. And she pays homage to the importance of libraries in her life! 

Nothing Ventured by Jeffrey Archer – the first of a series, this nice thriller offers the best final sentence ever!

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer – it reads like fiction as Zimmer explores the science–and the social science–of the topic that fascinates all of us.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – a truly thrilling page-turner.  Now to see the classic film!

Nazi Titanic: The Incredible Untold Story of Doomed Ship in World War II by Robert P. Watson –  a horrific, true story newly brought to light.

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl – richly written and humorous, with fully-realized characters from her work and family life; great for fans of the late Gourmet magazine. 

A Gentleman in Moscow – a quick read with an appealing premise and a thumbs-up this time (like most, but not all of our reviewers!) 

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris – a fascinating and engaging exploration of ethical dilemmas with many twists and turns; it’s an emotional story but not a tear-jerker.

The King of Torts by John Grisham – a mind-boggling and too-true-to-life account of what happens behind closed corporate doors.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton – another Reese pick, and so far it seems we’ve liked them all!

News of the World by Paulette Jiles – this historical novel set in post-Civil War Texas is unlike any other book! 

Books Reviewed at our September Meeting

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn – it starts out slow,  but eventually builds to real drama and suspense, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  (The movie is coming out next spring!)

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson – an enjoyable read, if a little  too pat for some tastes.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – another positive review for the latest from the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Henry Himself by Stewart O’Nan – a straightforward story where good triumphs, making it a satisfying read.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell- a fascinating read that upends what you think you know about the keys to success

Idaho by Emily Ruskovicih – an award-winning novel; but while well-written, it becomes very dark and disturbing and is only for those up for a strong dose of the morbid.

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane – a good saga of parallel lives.

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger – a well-written, accurate and relevant tale.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin – a thriller from the first page, with an ending that will blow you away!

The Girl from Blind River by Gale Massey – a great story, well-written.

The River by Peter Heller – a beautifully-written story that will teach you a lot about canoeing!

Dry by Neal Shusterman – for a change of pace, this is a story on a timely topic that sparked a hot debate in (another) book club.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman – an enjoyable mystery where the main character isn’t very likeable, but you still root for her; the period detail of 60s Baltimore is also appealing

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – not impressed by this historical fiction: found it superficial and lacking in exploration of the main character’s motives

Maus by Art Spiegelman – highly recommend this pioneer work of graphic storytelling; a more recent example is  Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home.

Goody Two Shoes by Janet Elizabeth Henderson (correct me if it’s the wrong author!) and Between Two Worlds by Kathryn Shea are both enjoyable romances.

Straight Man by Richard Russo – not Russo’s best, but identifying with the setting (a small college town in central Pennsylvania) can carry you through it.

Just Kids by Patti Smith – many have read and recommend this award-winning memoir!

Chances Are by Richard Russo – also not quite up to Russo’s usual standards, but it’s been well-reviewed and the academic setting is appealing.

The Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty – while reluctant to pick this one up, it proved to be a delightful, easy read with a fun and funny mix of drama and mayhem.

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem – sometimes you pick out a book just for entertainment, but you just can’t care enough about the characters to persist!

Let’s Hope for the Best by Carolina Setterwall – an absorbing fictionalized memoir presenting an honest, relatable account of the author/narrator’s emotions.

We had a great (if brief) discussion of genre authors whose writing is so exceptional that their books can appeal to those not usually attracted to mysteries, crime/spy novels, etc.  Recommended examples include Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mysteries (in order, please!); Donna Leon’s crime novels set in Venice;  the seafaring ‘Aubrey/Maturin’ novels of Patrick O’Brian, which trace the course of a friendship through the Napoleonic Wars (also best read in order); and John LeCarre’s spy novels. 

Books reviewed at the July meeting:

Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – a juicy summer read.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake – fascinating, raises questions about what our associations with others say about us; very deep but fast-moving.

Normal People by Sally Rooney – loved her first book (Conversations with Friends), but this seems to repeat the very same plot, themes, characters, etc. (The NYT Book Review agreed!) 

All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin – another one for the “good summer read” list.

Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman – a treat to read, and you learn a lot about the world of the real-life characters.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – a good story, and the setting in Iceland adds interest.

Life is Just What You Make It: My Story so Far by Donny Osmond – shows how a celebrity bio takes on added meaning when you identify with aspects of their life.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – very imaginative, beautifully written story.

Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler – well written.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri – beautifully written, touching and worthwhile; also raises questions about who can tell the story of a group’s experience.

The Huntress – a compelling thriller, even better than The Alice Network; clever writing and witty banter makes it a fast read despite the 500+ pages!

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – critics tout this as a must-read; but while a compelling story, the narrator is essentially an unlikable character.

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky – not predicted to stand the test of time, but a good mindless beach read!


Books reviewed at our June meeting:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – despite some gore it’s a very good read.

Good Riddance by Elinor Lippman – a book club choice that’s “not even worth discussing!”  Lifetime movie material.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – an enjoyable read with a good ending, enlightening on the history between Korea and Japan.

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes – another fun read from the Downton Abbey creator.

How to Set-Up for a Mah-Jongg Game and Other Lost Arts by Carol Eisen Rinzler -a look back and homage to what our mothers knew!

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce – a beautifully written, poignant story of connections.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney – wonderfully written, surprised by the ending!  Deeper than the ‘chick-lit’ cover might suggest.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – who doesn’t love EO? (Nobody, so far!)

Henry Himself by Stewart O’Nan – it will not disappoint O’Nan fans – a wonderful read.

Nanaville by Anna Quindlen – rated “meh” by a Quindlen fan.

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – loved this sad, intense story.

The Huntress by Kate Quinn – great mystery featuring a female spy, 600+ pages go fast!

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum – very sad but compelling story of inter-generational dysfunction.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantin – a wonderful, compelling read with an unexpected twist!

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni – a good, fast-reading thriller.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – a good mystery from the creator of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders.

Educated by Tara Westover – the story strained credulity, but still recommended.

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff – thoroughly enjoyable.


Books reviewed at our May meeting:

Our House by Louise Candlish—agreement with a previous recommendation that you can’t put this one down!

A couple of mysteries: another recommendation for Runaway by Peter May, and two endorsements  for No Exit by Taylor Adams—one from a reader doesn’t usually read mysteries, who noted that it’s tough to get into, but really pays off.

Another endorsement for Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney—liking its quirky and whimsical charm.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante—found this bestseller to be repetitive and wordy.

Cemetery Road by Greg Iles—more high marks for this one—confirming the previous endorsements as a page-turner that keeps you involved.

Two historical novels by Kate Quinn: The Alice Network  by Kate Quinn—not crazy about this one, but  The Huntress was better, mixing  locations and time periods in a way that’s challenging and intriguing.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari—fascinating and well-written, offering a sense of the frightening pace of change compared to the early development of our earth, as well as dispelling the long-persistent theory of the ‘missing link.’ For historical fiction with a similar sweeping timespan, try Michener’s The Source.

Classic works remain popular, and you can enjoy them in modern formats! The ebook of  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle is recommended.

The Quiet Game by Greg Iles is first in a series of “Penn Cage” crime books—this one is good if a bit dated in some aspects.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes offers enjoyable, snarky British humor.

So Much Longing in So Little Space by Karl Ove Knausgaard – this short work about the art of Edvard Munch appears less intimidating than his Proustian, My Struggle- but was found to be  harder to get through!  Led to speculation about the difference a particular translator can make for how a book is received outside its native language.   

And another good review for The Library Book  by Susan Orlean—appreciation for the insight  that it offers into the inner workings and social role of the modern library.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid—this is a fast read and a “hoot.” Its status as a ‘Reese Pick’ prompted some discussion of the mixed feelings we can have about celebrity endorsements.  (The Library Book and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and The Alice Network also ‘Reese’ picks…)

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt—found to be fascinating, informed by the psychology and legal backgrounds of the authors. Raises plenty of material for discussion!

Two psychological thrillers were recommended: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn—(there was a dissenting voice on this one!), and the very popular  The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy.

It wouldn’t be a meeting of Bagels and Books without another endorsement for Where the Crawdads Sing!

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne—no love for this romantic comedy recommended by a friend—we don’t always like what someone thinks we will!

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Mystery in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe—a gripping account of ‘The Troubles,’ centered on the intertwined lives of key IRA members and of one of their most heartbreaking victims. The author’s 2015 New Yorker article (“Where the Bodies are Buried”) offers an introduction that is fully developed in the book.


Books reviwed at our April meeting:

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve – a good, easy read; based on real-life events.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – a good book that deals with our feelings – sometimes deceptive – about ourselves and others.

Women in Sunlight – another good review for the latest from the Under the Tuscan Sun author.

The Last Mrs. Parrish – our reader – not generally a fan of psychological thrillers – was up at dawn and ignoring phone calls to find out what happens. There are advantages to this genre as we get older and sometimes want something that holds our attention without too much effort!

Where the Crawdads Sing – the praises just keep coming for this one!

The Last Mrs. Parrish – our reader – not generally a fan of psychological thrillers – was up at dawn and ignoring phone calls to find out what happens. There are advantages to this genre as we get older and sometimes want something that holds our attention without too much effort!

Where the Crawdads Sing – the praises just keep coming for this one!

Nine Perfect Strangers  by Liane Moriarty – a verdict of “ok but not her best” for the latest from this very popular author.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko – a dark and sad book that was hard to read for too long at one time, but a worthwhile look at a timely issue and a very realistic presentation of a child’s point of view.

A World Away by Stewart O’Nan – praise for the elegiac, beautiful prose style; if you write the author, he’ll reply! Collective enthusiasm expressed for this author, who was compared to another favorite, Pat Conroy. Try Wish You Were Here and Last Night at the Lobster.

The Last Policeman – a thought-provoking hybrid of detective and science fiction – while it’s the first of a trilogy, the sequels might not live up to this one!

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – a funny, sad and tense book with some similarities to The Nightingale, but less intense.

Murder in Matera: a true story of passion, family, and forgiveness in Southern Italy by Helene Stapinski – a compelling true story of a strong woman and the immigrant experience.  Let’s try to get the author to speak here!

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-Up by John Carreyrou – the incredible tale of a young woman with “the right heart but not the right skills” and an instructive page turner that reminds us that something that sounds too good to be true…

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – a good review with many in agreement.

Elsewhere by Richard Russo – a memoir that offers insight into his cherished novels.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – a dystopian setting with a gripping narrative.

Night by Elie Wiesel – hard to find words for this iconic holocaust memoir.

Birding is my Favorite Video Game: Cartoons about the Natural World from Bird and Moon by Rosemary Mosco – entertaining commentary on nature and the environment.

All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski – translated from German, a literate but very readable story set in post-war East Prussia as the Red Army approaches. 

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin – a well-written and very personal family saga.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – nautical jargon is a challenge, but the nuanced and empathetic portrayal of the main characters, Jack Aubrey and Steven Maturin, make it worthwhile.