Bagels & Books

Join us on Zoom for an informal book chat once a month to share your thoughts on what you’ve been reading! (For now, it’s Bring Your Own Bagel!)

Register for our next meeting on Monday, September 14 at 10am.


After each meeting we post a summary of the shared comments (anonymous), along with a link that will provide a description of the plot or contents, and show any availability at the Scotch Plains and Fanwood libraries.

Availability on RBdigital may be restricted to Scotch Plains resident cardholders. Visit our ebooks page for instructions on using our digital reading resources.

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


Books Reviewed at our July and August Meetings

In the Name of Truth by Viveca Sten – translated from Swedish.  Set on an island off the coast of Sweden, you learn a lot about the setting’s culture.  This is a good example of a mystery that delivers more than a who-dunit; Ann Perry is another mystery writer whose work is similarly informative and enriching.  

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos – this work of historical fiction set in WWII Bucharest may be a sad story, but it is easy to read and ultimately heartwarming.

Baltimore Blues by Laura Lippman – the first in a mystery series featuring a very likeable detective, Tess Monaghan. Packed with literary references and laughs. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump by Kate Anderson Brower – a well-written, thoroughly researched look at the relationships among the five living former presidents.  The author offers may insights– some surprising, including a different side to Jimmy Carter than we typically encounter.  Ebook on eLibraryNJ.

Brain on Fire by: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalon – this journalist’s account of the psychological effects of an autoimmune disorder offers fascinating insights and raises important questions. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

Middlemarch by George Eliot – a long work that deserves its status as a classic.  Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

The Sacrament by Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson – while the frequent time-shifts and absence of quotation marks can make the story hard to follow, it’s ultimately an interesting and good read.  Set in a Catholic school in Iceland.

Abigail by Magda Szabó – this story of a teenager in WWII Hungary is the best-known – but maybe not the best – of this author’s work. Younger persons might enjoy it more.  

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner – this chronicle of two sisters’ lives over many decades examines perennial questions of how families and people are judged,  while remaining a highly-readable, enjoyable story.  Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know – by Malcolm Gladwell – this compelling non-fiction work looks at how our mis-reading of others’ signals can have powerful, sometimes devestating, consequences. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – this thriller is a quick and easy read for the concentration-challenged, and delivers a totally unexpected ending. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes – another fast but rewarding read of historical fiction, centered on strong female characters. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout – the author has an exceptional ability to capture the essence of human experience in simple scenes, bringing a reader to both tears and laughter. Ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels – this series of four novels following two girls’ friendship takes some perseverance at the outset, but ultimately delivers an engrossing and rewarding journey. The fresh perspective and different sensibility of this translated work is welcome.  Ebooks and e-audiobooks on eLibraryNJ.

The Bear by Andrew Krivak – it reads like a beautifully written fable in the midst of nature where only a father and his daughter remain.  

The Black Book edited by M.A. Harris (first edition co-edited by Toni Morrison – the archival information – in the form of posters, sheet music, photographs and more – is both informative and disturbing.

Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home by Nora Krug – in this graphic “novel”, the writer delves her family’s activity in WWII Germany and the concept of home.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner – a semi-autobiographical saga that includes a section which takes place during the 1918 flu pandemic, where the characters’ responses mimic the current variety of responses to Covid-19. Some uncomfortable, dated stereotypes portray the views strongly held by many people at the time. A good read, overall, written in a very straightforward, no frills style. A reminder that history repeats itself.

Books Reviewed at our June Online Meeting

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin – (RBDigital e-audiobook ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ) – a fascinating story addressing themes of destiny versus choice. Seconded as a very good read!

Weather by Jenny Offill – (ebook and e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ) – a dark and intense read, not the right book at this time.

This Time Next Year We’ll be Laughing: A Memoir by Jacqueline Winspear (forthcoming in November!) – the author of the popular Maisie Dobbs series is like an aunt telling your family stories–while skillfully revealing the universal in the personal.

The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton (RBDigital audiobooks) – part of the Scottish Bookshop Mystery series – like all good cozy mysteries, this turns crime into a comforting read!

Tehran Children: A Holocaust Refugee Odyssey by Mikhal Dekel (RBDigital e-audiobook)  – this is ambitious, covering a lot of ground.  The densely packed paragraphs can be a little hard to follow, but ultimately it’s a fascinating and very moving, worthwhile read, written with graceful style. 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub (RBDigital ebook) – the mother in this multigenerational story mother is a memorable character.  Mixing serious  subjects with light moments, this worthwhile read is a bit reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld’s work.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (Goodreads) – with narration switching between the present, the past, and the spirit world, this novel addressing issues of deprivation and struggle in a First Nation community can be a little confusing, but is ultimately worthwhile.

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski (RBDigital ebook) – set in communist Poland and reminiscent of Call Me by Your Name, this effectively portrays a young gay man’s personal story in the context of a time of historic protest against an authoritarian regime. 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (RBDigital e-audiobook and ebook) – while not loved by some of our readers, this time we had a vote in favor for this highly anticipated book!

In These Five Breaths by Paul R. Lipton (Goodreads) – the meditations of a dying man looking back and realizing what’s important.  It’s a short read that effectively expresses the need to not take life for granted.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – re-reading this after 50 years, and finding it has less to offer one at a later stage of life. 

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney – a timely look at a woman choosing to remain in the challenging environment of the city, despite being warned of its dangers.

The Library Book (Audio version) by Susan Orlean (e-audiobook on eLibraryNJ) – a reverential discussion of the role of libraries in our society, with a bit of a who-dunit. The author does a great job of reading her work!

Camino Island (RBDigital ebook, eLibraryNJ ebook and audiobook) and Camino Winds (RBDigital ebook, eLibraryNJ ebook and audiobook) by John Grisham – these are a bit different from the author’s usual themes, and offer good escapist reads!

A Long Way Home (also published as Lion) by Saroo Brierley (RBDigital ebook, eLibraryNJ ebook) – this story of what Brierley lost and found in his life is a truly compelling read.  

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan (RBDigital ebookthere are some memorable characters, but overall this doesn’t live up to the standard set for this plot line by Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Books Reviewed at our May Online Meeting


The Storyteller’s Secret (Goodreads link) by Sejal Badani – a great story, and easy to read even if your concentration is challenged right now!

The Great Believers  (print only) by Rebecca Makkai – very good, but the virus-oriented subject puts this one on the ‘future list’ of books that aren’t quite right for now. Ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ.

The Summer Wives (ebook on RBDigital) by Beatriz Williams – if you’re expecting an Elin Hildebrand read-alike, you will be disappointed in this one!  Ebook on eLibraryNJ.

The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (ebook on RBDigital) by Stuart Tuton – this mystery with a fantasy dimension seemed endless and ultimately not worth finishing!  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

The Racketeer (print only) by John Grisham – Grisham’s writing and page-turning plots are always reliable for a good read at any time.  ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ

The Devil in the White City (print only) by Erik Larsen – taken a little at a time, this non-fiction story of a very successful psychopath is a fascinating and informative read–maybe Larsen’s best.  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

The Boys in the Boat (print only)by Daniel Brown – a non-fiction book with an amazing story to tell–try it even if it doesn’t initially seem like something you would choose to read! (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

Normal People (ebook on RBDigital) by Sally Rooney – praised by many reviewers, but not appreciated by any B&B readers so far!  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

Winter’s Tale (print only, ebook on eLibraryNJ) and A Soldier of the Great War (Goodreads link) by Mark Helprin – both compelling page-turners, set in vividly rendered landscapes.

The Light of Paris (ebook on RBDigital) by Eleanor Mcmillen Brown – too silly to recommend, but the setting is appealing.  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

Next Year in Havana (print only) by Chanel Cleeton – another recommendation for this historical fiction that brings you close to the culture and politics of the setting. (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (print only) by Ronan Farrow -a fascinating journey into the complex plots devised to preserve powerful abusers.  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca (audiobook on RBDigital) -these quirky and informative stories of people and things that have passed will make you laugh out loud!  (ebook on eLibraryNJ)

A Long Petal of the Sea (ebook on RBDigital) by Isabel Allende – a wonderful  combination of historical fiction and magical realism.  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

The Guest List (Goodreads link) by Lucy Foley – this mystery is highly recommended!

The Girls with No Names (ebook on RBDigital) by Serena Burdick – another recommendation for this story with an unexpected ending.

Where the Crawdads Sing (ebook and audiobook on RBDigital) by Delia Owens – a reminder that not *everybody* loves this one – too many implausible elements for a literal-minded reader!

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall (ebook on RBDigital) – more enthusiastic praise for this fascinating story and its soul-searching characters. 

Empire of Gold (Goodreads link) by S. A. Chakraborty – the long but fast-paced conclusion to a trilogy of Islamic fantasy.  (The first two volumes are available as ebooks on RBDigital.)

84 Charing Cross Road (Goodreads link) by Helene Hanff – a tribute to the love of literature and the connections it can inspire, told through a years-long correspondence between an American writer and a British bookseller.  If you enjoy it, seek out her follow-up, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.(Goodreads link)

Weather (print only) by Jenny Ofill – a short book in a that’s well-worth the initial challenge of an unusual format and structure.  (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – if you’ve read the first two books of this trilogy, you will have formed an attachment to Thomas Cromwell that will keep you going through this long conclusion to his journey. The final pages will be as intense an experience as anything you’ve ever read. (ebook and audiobook on eLibraryNJ)


Books Reviewed at our April Online Meeting

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh – while it starts out well with a nuanced portrayal of colonial-occupied Kenya, it then devolves into unfortunate melodrama.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline – this came across as too schmaltzy, with a plot that’s overly complex, and and a writing style that’s too simplistic.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (audio and ebook) – the actor’s memoir of a painful childhood is highly recommended, displaying his characteristic humor.

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane – despite its serious subject matter (alcoholism), this manages to be an uplifting and very readable testament to the power of love and family. 

Still Life by Louise Penny (ebook and e-audiobook) – not won over by this first installment in the very popular mystery series.  (Encouraged to try the audio version–sometimes one format works for us where another does not!)

A Column of Fire by Ken Follet (ebook and audiobook)- if you’ve enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy  Pillars of the Earth and World without End), this final installment is also very readable, and populated with engaging characters.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson – (ebook and audiobook) – written in Larsen’s characteristic novelistic style, this is a highly engaging work of history.  

Gray Mountain by John Grisham – (ebook and audiobook) – maybe not Grisham’s best, but the story set in the coal mining industry is still very readable, and notable for featuring his first female protagonist.  

Fresh Complaint: Stories by Jeffrey Eugenides – this collection of stories is well-written, although it has a bit of a dated feel already.

The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore – appealing for the familiarity of the Block Island setting and the effective character development– a great candidate for a beach book.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (ebook and audiobook) – a very interesting non-fiction work set in the 1936 Olympics; it was read on the recommendation of a friend and enjoyed much more than expected!

The Secret Chapter by Genevieve Cogman – the latest installment of this historical fantasy Invisible Library series was eagerly awaited and much enjoyed.

The Last Passengerby Charles Finch – another good addition, this from the Charles Lenox mystery series.  This one was also enjoyed by another reader this month!

A Conspiracy of Bones (ebook and audio and ) by Kathy Reichs – an enjoyable installment in this series about a forensic anthropologist.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen (ebook and audiobook) – Larsen’s newest history meets his usual high standards, and was recently referenced by NJ’s governor.

The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer – this true account of a woman’s personal evolution was read in two sittings!

We Ride Upon Sticks and Are There Presentlyby Quan Barry – another instance of being drawn to a book for the familiarity of the time and place (Massachusetts in the 80s), but here it was enough to sustain engagement.  

Grown-up Pose by Sonya Lalli – a nice and easy read about a woman reviewing her life choices.  

NPR Kitchen Moments: Celebrating Food – Radio Stories that Cook edited by Linda Holmes and Stephen Thompson – these are fun and interesting vignettes that can be easily listened to one at a time.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan – the first in a series, and a fun, light read that’s relatable if you’re turning to baking as a distraction from troubles!  

Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe – a charming account of life with a quirky London family told in letters; an easy and very funny read.


Books Reviewed at our March Meeting


Gray Mountain by John Grisham – this follows Grisham’s trademark successful formula, and provides some useful legal education as well. Read or listen to the book on ELibraryNJ.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – re-reading this great book may invoke nostalgia for youth but also relief to be past this stage of life. Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

The Giant’s House: A Romance by Elizabeth McCracken – beautifully written, this manages to be both repulsive and compelling, and features a shocking ending.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – this is a worthwhile sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, written in her eerie, dark and evocative style.  Read or listen on ELibraryNJ or RBdigital.

You Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld – while one story is a stand-out, the rest are over-populated by forty-somethings haunted by regrets from their high school years. Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – this should be read, and even re-read – by everyone. Read on ELibraryNJ or listen on RBdigital.

The Dry by Jane  Harper – essentially a mystery, this is a good story with an interesting setting (Australia) and an unusual narrative structure. Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

In the Country of Like-Minded Women by Elaine Russell – a very enjoyable work of historical fiction. Listen on RBdigital.

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson – honored by the “Library Reads Hall of Fame”, this will appeal to fans of classic murder mysteries.  Read on RBdigital.

The Holdout by Graham Moore – this is a very interesting read, with a most unexpected ending! Read on ELibraryNJ.

Spy by Danielle Steel – another good read in the classic D.S. style! Read on ELibraryNJ.

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson – an interesting, unusual tale of revenge that will keep you on your seat up to the end.

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley – the unmistakably British tone of this novel may not be for everyone.

Time after Time by Lisa Grunwald – a second enthusiastic recommendation for this romantic, whimsical story with an unexpected but satisfying conclusion. Read on RBdigital.

A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America by Philip Rucker – your reaction will most likely depend on your political persuasion! Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry – this unusual book is funny, literate, and a wonderful read. Listen on ELibraryNJ.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson – this presents history portrayed so thrillingly that it reads like fiction! Read on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ, listen on ELibraryNJ.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney – just say no to even listening to these shallow characters’ conversations!  Read on ELibraryNJ.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – the first positive response to this highly anticipated release!  Read or listen on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall – “20 out of 10” for this–the best book in years! Read on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ, listen on ELibraryNJ.

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens – this failed to appeal to a die-hard baseball fan.

Abigail by Magda Szabó – this is a great read featuring intrigue, fun, and a surprise ending. Read on RBdigital.

The House of Endless Waters by Emuna Elon – the beautiful depiction of Amsterdam deepens the impact of this affecting story with an unexpected ending.

The Rise of the Ultra Runners: A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance by Adharanand Finn – the author immerses himself in this subculture to produce an entertaining and insightful look at those who run really, really long distances.

Books Reviewed at our February 2020 Meeting

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani – exploring themes of loyalty, this is a wonderful blend of the past and present, enriched by the backdrop of cultural history. 

Summer of 69 by Elin Hilderbrand – the setting itself is a character in this book; dealing with issues of class and race, this remains very readable. Read or listen on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ.

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks – this psychological thriller makes for uncomfortable but compulsive reading. Listen on RBdigital or ElibraryNJ, read on ELibraryNJ.

Family Life by Akil Sharma – this fictionalized memoir, written in spare, Hemingway-esque style, deals movingly with the universal theme of how a family copes with tragedy.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – using an interesting narrative structure, this well-written mystery (of sorts) comes together nicely at the end.   Read on ELibraryNJ.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – this is an easy, fun read, enlivened by lots of pop-culture references. Listen on RBdigital, read on ELibrary NJ.

Bug on a Bike by Chris Monroe – this picture book is Dr. Seuss-like in its fun details.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – this was chosen after good reviews from the group–it did not disappoint and was the best book read in a long time! Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

Call of the Wild by Jack London – if you didn’t like this one in high school, read it now when you can appreciate London’s genius. Read or listen on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ.

Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis – this is a fascinating novel about survival after a plane crash; try it even if you’re not typically drawn to such a subject.

The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries – this was a very good read–and a tear-jerker.

The Space between Us by Thrity Umrigar – gripping and well-written, this novel is neither uplifting nor depressing. Listen on RBdigital.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – while not exactly a page-turner, the wealth of fascinating facts and interesting characters make this very worthwhile. Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

World without End by Ken Follett – follows his much-loved  Pillars of the Earth;  and while not quite as compulsively readable, this is still worthwhile. Read or listen on ELibraryNJ.

Chesnut Man by Søren Sveistrup – this one is violent and gory, yet enjoyable!

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger – this is a beautiful story with spiritual overtones.  Listen on RBdigital or read on ELibraryNJ.

Let me Call You Sweetheart by Mary Higgins Clark – this is a very enjoyable read that makes you want more of this author. Listen on RBdigital.

Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie – this classic British mystery is convincingly written by an American author! While part of a series, it works as a stand-alone.

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves – this mystery dealing with social issues is the first of a new detective series–and it lives up to her previous works. 

This Is Happiness by Niall Williams – while not plot driven, this novel offers an escape to a different world with poetic and beautiful writing.  

The Guardians by John Grisham – this offers serious content–and is one of his best. Read on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ, listen on ELibraryNJ.

The One by John Marrs – a modern take on matchmaking, this is a good read with unexpected psychological twists occuring in short chapters.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride – this is highly recommended as a wonderful book–and it may well make you cry. Listen on ELibraryNJ. Coming soon: Deacon King Kong, McBride’s newest, much-anticipated novel!

Failures of the Presidents : From the Whiskey Rebellion and War of 1812 to the Bay of Pigs and War in Iraq by Thomas J. Craughwell – this series of vignettes offers fascinating insights into the unintended consequences that can derail presidential undertakings.  

Long Bright River by Liz Moore – this is a good portrayal of family bonds, with plenty of plot twists and turns.  Read on RBdigital or ELibraryNJ, listen on ELibraryNJ.

North and  South by Elizabeth Gaskell – set in the newly industrialized north of England, this novel portrays the human stories of workers and owners, all still recognizable today. Listen on RBdigital, read on ELibraryNJ.


Books Reviewed at our January 2020 Meeting


The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff – it starts off slowly, and while it builds up to some excitement, it was ultimately disappointing. Read on RBdigital

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – the second and third reports on this book also found it a bit of a let-down. The writing is not as good as expected, but rather only just engaging enough to encourage you to stick with it. Read or listen on RBdigital.

A Woman is No Man by  Etaf Rum – another report agreeing that this book, while disturbing, is very much worth reading.

The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, the King and Queen of England, and the Friendship That Changed History by Will Swift – a fascinating account offering new details that help you get to know these historical figures, and form your own opinions about their actions.

Time after Time by Lisa Grunwald – the time-travel premise may seem a little silly, but if offers great historical detail that will have you looking at Grand Central Terminal in a new way. Read on RBdigital.

Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa by Mark Seal – a beautifully written account that offers insights into African history, as well as the beginnings of conservation filmmaking. 

The Summons by John Grisham – a back-catalog Grisham that offers the typical setting and the usual excellent writing.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – as a rereading in preparation for Olive, Again, it presents a reminder of how unlikeable Olive can be. 

Henry Himself by Stewart O’Nan – a very easy read–as is often the case when you find much to identify with in the main character.

Chances Are by Richard Russo – readable, but after loving his other books, this was found disappointing–in part because it presents some repetition from an older short story collection.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – it’s immediately involving; the writing is beautiful, but so intense it’s almost fatiguing to read. Read on RBdigital.

A Time to Kill by John Grisham – his well-written debut.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline – a well-written book based on the famous Wyeth painting; it won’t disappoint if you liked the author’s Orphan Train.

Catch and Kill : Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow – a very intense–if a bit self-congratulatory–account of behind-the-scenes machinations at NBC. 

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam – a dense but very worthwhile account of the decline of civic engagement.,

The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy by Jay Bonansinga – a fascinating telling of this tragic and tragically ironic event.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – the author is a witty and humane observer of human nature, whose 19th century voice remains fresh in the 21st century.


Books Reviewed at our December Meeting

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – A wonderful story told by an unreliable narrator, and another instance where the book is better than the movie! 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – the direct style and short, clipped chapters hit you in the gut, making for a heartbreaking but wonderful read.

Fly Already by Etgar Keret – these translated short stories from the Israeli author are clever and heartwarming.

The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100 by Dan Buettner – these recipes from parts of the world distinguished by longevity make this cookbook an enjoyable read.

Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout – in the ‘Seinfeld’ style of a story about ‘nothing,’ this wonderful, compelling book actually offers something for everyone to identify with.

Chances Are by Richard Russo – presents exemplary writing from the very first page, with a surprising but logically satisfying ending.

Long Time No See by Susan Isaacs – this mystery combines good humor and good characters for a fun read.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman – each chapter of this dark mystery presents a different point of view.

The Reckoning by John Grisham – much darker than a typical Grisham; very much worth reading despite the graphic content that can be difficult to get through.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – great character development with much to relate to, making this an all-time favorite of our reader.

The Old Man by Thomas Perry – a fast-paced, entertaining thriller.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – not the author’s best; somewhat redeemed by the ending.

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West – a fascinating glimpse of the vastly different lifestyles of each of these First Ladies, offering insight into their lives as people rather than historical figures.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – the first report on this highly-anticipated read is that it’s a fast-moving and good, if not great, read.

Still Life by Louise Penny – you will be hooked by this mystery, which launches a much-loved series.

The Guardians by John Grisham – another excellent read from this consistent author.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton – a story of difficult circumstances that manages not to be a depressing read.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Presott – a complex but engrossing and moving work of historical fiction.


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.