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!)
After each meeting we post a summary of the shared comments (anonymously), along with a link that will provide a summary and reviews, and show any availability at the Scotch Plains and Fanwood libraries.
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!
October Meeting Reads
The President’s Daughter by Bill Clinton and James Patterson — this thriller is long, but a very easy read. Clinton’s insider knowledge of the presidency enhances the story. It follows their previous collaboration The President is Missing, but each book can stand alone
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig — while this is proving to be an inspirational favorite for many, others find the delivery of its message (we can change our own lives) to be drawn-out and heavy-handed.
The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People by Rick Bragg — a charming read that can make a cat owner yearn for a dog! Bragg’s writing is engaging and his voice remains true to his roots. A heartwarming story that would make a great TV movie.
Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell – while this has been a popular book, it shows how historical fiction can disappoint when the depiction of a real-life character seems to lack plausibility. In this case, it can be hard to accept Shakespeare as a weak-minded and shallow person.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – Holden Caulfield remains an all-time favorite literary character, standing the test of time.
The Man Who Died Twice: A Thursday Murder Club Mystery by Richard Osman – this delightful, off-beat mystery offers genuine laughs. Osman was well-known in the U.K. as a comedian and TV host before finding writing success with his first effort, The Thursday Murder Club Mystery.
A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins – this more conventionally formulated mystery is also a good read.
The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey – the beginning seems interesting, focusing on three children after they come across a seriously injured boy. It loses its appeal when the story departs along other tangents, though.
The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson – two women–previously strangers and both at crossroads in their lives–agree to take on the task of piloting a canal houseboat for a few months. When focusing on their personal stories and the challenges of adapting to life on the canal, it’s enjoyable–but the story veers off course too often. (The TV show All Aboard! The Canal Trip is an example of the oddly compelling ‘Slow TV’ phenomenon that started in Norway!
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova — the author, a psychologist and journalist, learns to play poker and advances to world-class tournaments. Offering a mix of psychological insights (how much of life is due to luck or chance, and how much is under our control) and glimpses into that competitive world, the book is slow at first but ultimately quite interesting.
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali — this story of a young girl who falls in love with a young man she meets in a stationery shop begins in Iran during the upheavals of the early 1950’s, and continues for over 60 years. It is beautifully written and enjoyable from beginning to end.
September Meeting Reads
While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams – this is a well-plotted thriller set amidst controversy in the U.S. Supreme Court. (The author is also well-known as a politician, lawyer, and voting rights activist). While it loses a little momentum midway, overall it’s an interesting, excellent read.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguru – with elements of science fiction, this very unusual novel is a moving exploration of the potential for relations between humans and the artificial intelligence they create. The ending is especially touching.
Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell – this historical novel about Shakespeare’s family life is a very affecting and powerful read.
Circe by Madeline Miller – this retelling of the story of the daughter of Helios, the god of the sun, will especially appeal if you were ever drawn to the world of Greek mythology.
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny – another positive reaction to the latest in this series focused on Inspector Armand Gamache. (Kirkus Reviews states that “If you’re new to Penny’s world, this would be a great place to jump in. Then go back and start the series from the beginning.”)
Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw – this is a true story of the Jackson family, Americans who found themselves the heart of the resistance movement from their home on Avenue Foch; it is well-researched and movingly written.
Not a Happy Family by Sheri Lapeña – this story of domestic suspense involving a truly unhappy family is well-paced–and offers a shocking conclusion.
Transatlantic by Colm McCann – this telling of three momentous crossings between Ireland and the U.S. brings history alive through a blending of real and fictitious characters; the author’s tendency to personify objects can be distracting, but the story is otherwise very absorbing.
The Likeness by Tana French – a follow up to her In the Woods, in which a detective goes undercover to investigate the murder of a woman who could be her double; it’s a good addition to the currently popular category of psychological thriller.
Lifeguard by James Patterson – all of Paterson’s talents are on display in this thriller set in Florida.
Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Changed My Life by Christie Tate – this memoir of the author’s experience in an unconventional form of group therapy is both sad and funny. While the author finds a happy resolution of her issues, some–especially clinicians–might question the therapist’s methods.
Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand – while the topic may appear sad for “the queen of beach reads”, as with all her novels it’s a truly enjoyable, positive read.
Profiles in Folly: History’s Worst Decisions and How They Went Wrong by Alan Axelrod – history offers plenty of cautionary tales, and Axelrod offers an engaging and very readable account of a selection spanning from ancient times to our own. A very readable book that could make a great gift for history fans or curious readers!
Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – this historical novel set in the Dust Bowl tells the story of a woman who comes to realize her own strength; it’s another outstanding read from Hannah.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – a timely and very well-written story told from the perspectives of a Mexican woman and her 8-year old son. Forced to flee by threats of violence, you experience their journey as they join equally desperate to reach the U.S. border.
The Answer Is: Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek – the one-of-a-kind Trebek tells his own story, from his beginnings in show business to his cancer diagnosis; characteristically each chapter starts with a question.
The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication – while this is a serious work of political history that requires concentration to follow, the details reveal the true drama behind this tale of a king who renounced his throne for love: his actions could well have have provoked a crisis that would have been utterly disastrous for the nation.
August Meeting Reads
Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry – this work of historical fiction, based on the life of ‘Calamity Jane’, is an incredibly moving story. McMurtry’s later book, The Last Kind Words Saloon is also a great read that shows how his writing improved even more over the years.
In the Woods by Tana French – French is another writer whose work has improved over time: while all her mysteries are good, this more current work relies less on violence and complicated plots, while maintaining the tone set by lyrical descriptions of Ireland.
Transatlantic by Colum McCann – this telling of three momentous crossings between Ireland and the U.S. is another example of fiction bringing history alive through amazing writing talent. McCann’s Let the Great World Spin received great acclaim, and could merit a read or re-read as we approach a major anniversary of September 11.
Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer – this well-written and compelling historical fiction traces womens’ lives and secrets from Nazi-occupied Europe through to many decades later.
Royal by Danielle Steel – another spectacularly enjoyable read from this prolific author, whose storytelling and descriptive skills have only seemed to grow over her long career. The setting and plot will especially appeal to fans of The Crown series.
Sooley by John Grisham – the author continues to diversify his themes in this story of a basketball prodigy brought to the US from South Sudan, leaving his family behind in a war zone. While Grisham always produces a good read, the ending here was found to be uncharacteristically disappointing.
There’s No Such Thing as An Easy Job by Kikuko Sumora – the first English translation of this acclaimed Japanese author, this follows the story of a woman who asks an employment agency to find her the perfect stress-free, mindless job. The five jobs she tries lead to unpredictable, sometimes mystical encounters. This somewhat humorous and always thought-provoking look at the search for meaning in the modern workplace has parallels with another good contemporary Japanese novel, Convenience Store Woman.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier – the title of this historical fiction set in early 19th century England could refer to the main characters–two women fossil hunters–or to the mysterious finds they uncover, provoking profound intellectual and theological questions. A fascinating read, with unforgettable characters who confront the constraints of gender and social class in their own unique ways.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anaparra -the narrators are children living in urban poverty in India, who take it upon themselves to solve the mystery of why growing numbers of their friends and classmates are disappearing. Speaking matter-of-factly, even humorously about their circumstances, you watch the growing reality of the awful truth unfold through their eyes. The author, a journalist who covered real-life versions of this story, tells it here in the most effective way possible.
July Meeting Reads
The Searcher by Tana French – this American writer sets her mysteries in her adopted country of Ireland, which she depicts in distinctively lyrical and atmospheric writing. Centered on a missing person, this is an easy, flowing read with just enough of a plot twist to sustain interest.
French’s book Broken Harbor is even better: a multiple murder set in a half-built luxury housing development abandoned after the financial crash. It features a surprise ending and her trademark evocative descriptions.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean is recommended–it’s a much admired book!
Two excellent reads by James McBride: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride is historical fiction featuring the abolitionist John Brown and involving a range of powerful themes; Deacon King Kong, set in 1969 Brooklyn, is written with wit and humor. McBride’s earlier memoir, The Color of Water, has had a deep impact on many readers.
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Kane is a poignant story featuring a university gardener; it’s a sweet and perfect summer read.
Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt is a non-fiction work that offers a look at transgender issues that is both scientific and still deeply human. An illuminating and compelling story.
Friend and Strangers by Courtney Sullivan tells the story of a complicated friendship between a young mother and a college student; touchin on many issues, it’s a very interesting read.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia portrays the lives of multiple generations of women , both living in Cuba and later as immigrants in Miami. Among other aspects of their lives, you learn a lot about the nature of work in the cigar factories in this informative yet easy read. Be prepared for a very startling ending.
Summer on the Bluffs by Sunny Hostin is a fun read taking place in an exclusive African American community in Martha’s Vineyard.
Find You First by Linwood Barclay – a dying tech millionaire seeks his offspring from sperm bank donations, discovering a disturbing plot in the process. This is an enjoyable thriller.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – a writing professor finds success after he steals a deceased student’s story idea–but the deed won’t go unpunished in this compelling and distinctive thriller.
Gambling Man by David Baldacci is reminiscent of classic 1940s detective fiction.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris – both a a thriller and a commentary on workplace harassment, this didn’t seem believable enough.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – this story of the intersecting lives of a nurse accused of murder, her public defender, and her white supremecist patients is truly compelling. My Sister’s Keeper is another great one by this author, who constructs very readable stories around controversial issues.
Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – this explores secrets and betrayals occurring between couples and friends. The different perspectives are thought-provoking.
Win by Harlen Coban – this author’s excellent character development is on display here, as you come to understand, if not like, “Win”–Windsor Horne Lockwood III– in this well-constructed crime novel.
Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner – friends reunite and find their relationship remains complicated. Exploring serious issues like body image with sensitivity, this is a fun read.
Snowblind by by Ragnar Jónasson – this is the first in a mystery series set in Iceland, with a closely observed community that recalls the settings of Louise Penny’s work. The violence is modest and the vivid depictions of snow and cold could cool you off on a summer day.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Weiner – a sensitive, even poetic account of the author’s time spent working in Silicon Valley start-ups. While she enjoys some aspects of the distinctive culture, as a non-tech person and a woman she continues to question its values, eventually feeling the need to leave. It’s beautifully written, if a bit meandering in construction.
June 2021 Reads
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – an easy read that defies initial expectations, revealing itself to be a refreshing story for our times and a sincere plea for kindness.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger – another deceptively simple story, which starts slowly but draws you in with timeless, universal themes of prejudice, guilt, and love–all conveyed with a lovely humanistic quality.
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn – And intense, compelling story of friendship among three women with vastly different personalities, stationed at the WWII code-breaking headquarters Bletchely Park. Vivid details of their code-breaking work add extra historical interest.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama – Obama’s commitment to detail means that this book requires a lot of concentration, but the reader is rewarded with many fascinating insights into pivotal episodes of his presidency, such as the mission to assassinate Osama bin Laden.
Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton – the last in the alphabetical series chronicling the career of detective Kinsey Milhone, this well-written mystery involving a newly-surfaced evidence tape is an easy read.
Monogamy by Sue Miller – this story of the dynamics among a married couple and an ex-wife invites empathy for the well-developed characters. Highly recommended.
The Stars We Share by Rafe Posey – this moving work of historical fiction chronicles the lives of Alec and June, a couple separated by WWII; their experiences, including June’s code breaking work at Bletchley Park, leave them with the burden of secrets that cannot be shared.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – a woman dissatisfied with her life finds herself in a magic library where she enters alternative life paths through books. Her experiences prompt her to decide what kind of life she really wants.
Ring the Hill by Tom Cox – a collection of idiosyncratic, funny, and touching essays inspired by the author’s travels among English hills. The audiobook, read by the author, is recommended–especially for his impressions of his LOUD DAD.
Valcour: The 1776 Campaign that Saved the Cause of Liberty by Jack Kelly – a dramatic telling of the little-known naval battle of Valcour Island, which saved the revolutionary cause and established Benedict Arnold as a valiant, if egotistical, hero of the early stages of the war.
May 2021 Reads
The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Pauline Bren – a wonderfully readable history of this iconic establishment for modern women. The decade-by-decade account brings to life the dramatic changes that occurred in women’s lifestyles since the opening in 1928.
Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes by Ira Rosen — the author offers a fascinating look at the complex task of producing a news show, as well as a revealing account of a culture where harassment was allowed to thrive. Shares perhaps a few too many stories from his long career.
The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin — this account of a life almost too dramatic to be believed is highly readable and worthwhile.
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington — worth reading although the main plot twist comes long after it’s been foreseen.
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins — this reimagining of Jane Eyre offers a fast-paced narrative, while not to the original’s literary standard.
Girl A by Abigail Dean — a horrifying novel of child abuse that offers no redemption or rationale for its horrific depictions of child abuse.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu — a fascinating, funny and timely story that acquaints the reader with the realities of life for Chinese immigrants.
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker — nothing works in this thriller, which features a disjointed, ungrammatical, simile-heavy, stereotype-laden narrative. (And yet the reviews are good!) The author has been compared to Tana French; her novel The Searcher does feature some similar themes, but is written in a much more agreeable style.
According to Queeney by Beryl Bainbridge — a young girl wryly observes the eccentric characters at the heart of 18th century London’s cultural elite, including Samuel Johnson.. “Curiously, Queeney also appears as a character in Patrick O’Brian’s series of Aubrey-Maturin novels. Something about her clearly attracts novelists. Who knows where she will pop up next?”
Who We’ve Invited to our Fantasy Literary Dinner Parties:
Who will tell the best stories?
Ladies’ night – they’ll have a lot to share about writing in a man’s world!
Masters of detail come together:
Examining the living — and investigating the dead:
Read so often their voices are in my head!
Trading psychological insights:
April 2021 Reads
A Promised Land by Barack Obama – you will recognize Obama’s thoughtful, deliberative voice in his writing style, which makes for a rather dense but very enjoyable reading experience. Fans of history and political books will appreciate this memoir.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz by Erik Larson – worthwhile reading, but the author’s In the Garden of the Beasts: Lover, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is a more interesting work.
Girls on the Line by Amie K. Runyan — a good, easy read of WWI historical fiction, combining family saga with romance.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton — did you know that Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, for this 1920 novel? (We didn’t!) An enjoyable read that reminds us that New York was once regarded as a provincial backwater compared to more sophisticated European cities. If you’re discovering or revisiting Wharton, make sure to include The House of Mirth or Ethan Frome.
The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington – the author has been compared to Pat Conroy, and while not quite reaching the heights of Conroy’s narrative genius, he tells a leisurely, enjoyable story of Southern family dynamics. Only Love Can Break Your Heart is another good one from Tarkington, offering a mix of intrigue, murder and more that’s all tied up very satisfyingly in the end.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger – a tragic but beautiful story that ultimately uplifts the spirit. Highly recommended.
Sweetland by Michael Crummey – serious themes are conveyed by the quirky personalities that populate this beautifully written story of a small island community.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore – this suspenseful story didn’t have quite enough to sustain engagement to the end, although it seemed worth jumping ahead to find out what ultimately happened!
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden – an interesting story, but the mystery element was way too obvious, making for a frustrating reading experience.
I Came as a Shadow by John Thompson — this memoir from the groundbreaking Georgetown basketball coach is a compelling testament to his commitment to create players who could not only win on the court, but thrive in a world where the odds were stacked against them. An entertaining and compelling read even for a non-basketball fan.
Some books we’ve had second thoughts about not finishing:
Middlemarch by George Eliot — when you find the main character of a book a bore, why bother? But this book has many fans who will swear to the rewards of sticking with it!
Even for a committed Knausgård fan who loved every word of his multi-volume masterpiece My Struggle, his seasonally-themed works Autumn and Spring suggest that maybe there’s finally such a thing as too much Karl Ove! But his literary genius is undeniable, so they may be given another chance one day.
The Spire by William Golding – the idea of a novel about the building of an aspirational cathedral spire seems appealing, but maybe it should be expected that the author of Lord of the Flies would focus on dark themes of insanity and the costs of human obsession. The powerful writing lingers, though, and it undoubtedly would be worth revisiting.
March 2021 Reads
This month we were pleased to have a virtual visit from Annie Mazes from Workman Publishing. Annie shared her picks for some great new and upcoming books–both fiction and non-fiction!
The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs – a fascinating look at the surprising relationships formed between presidents and their predecessors — would you have imagined Bill Clinton seeking advice from Richard Nixon? Tales of hidden history that keep you going for over 500 pages!
Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton – if you’ve read the previous letters of the alphabet that chronicle the adventures of private investigator Kinsey Milhone, you’ll be happy to see recurring characters–but this easy, enjoyable read can also stand alone.
Gentlehands by M.E. Kerr – one of our ‘little known favorite’ recommendations , this story transcends the Young Adult label. The voice of the narrator is compelling and believable.
Across the Winding River by Aimee K. Runyan – this historical novel switches between 1970s California and WW2 Germany, telling a story of secrets, family, courage under fire, love, and loss.
This is Happiness by Niall Williams – this young man’s coming-of-age story, set in a rain-plagued Irish town, offers easy laughs and colorful characters. The first 75 pages are a little challenging and the story takes frequent tangents, but overall this is a very enjoyable read.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – further testimony that this debut novel is a truly great read, examining questions of whether identity is chosen, predetermined or imposed. While symbolism and other signs of literary fiction may appear, they’re gracefully employed in this entertaining and easy read.
Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist by Judith Heumann and Kristen Joiner – a fascinating story of a true story woman who suffered the effects of polio in childhood and went on to become a major influence in forming disability policy. You can watch her being interviewed by Trevor Noah.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslian Charles – a heartwarming story of a library and its community during wartime and the decades beyond. A natural fit for book (and library) lovers!
February 2021 Reads
Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani – a pleasant, trauma-free story of a woman stuck in a rut; a perfect escape read.
The Guardians by John Grisham – an engaging, feel-good story of a southern lawyer for the wrongly accused.
Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal by Eric K. Washington – the well-researched and compelling story of the first black porter at Grand Central Terminal, who rose to supervise hundreds and create a movement that contributed to the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. (on order for SPPL)
How Zoologists Organize Things: The Art of Classification by David Bainbridge – an interesting illustrated history of how humans have tried to organize and explain animal diversity over time.
The Early Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote – the earliest works of this acclaimed writer are worth reading.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – an imaginative work that follows Lincoln’s son after his death; not a perfect read but compelling enough.
Tombland by C.J.Sansom – don’t be put off–this 1,000 page tale, a historical murder mystery set in the time of the Tudors, is compelling enough to revive your powers of concentration!
Monogamy by Sue Miller – not an easy read, but worthwhile.
Leave the World Behind by Rumann Alan – a nightmarish thriller that examines issues of class and race.
Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke – another interesting and enjoyable story of family secrets rooted in an historical background from this author.
The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali — this love story set in Tehran was too saccharine to enjoy.
The Good Father by Noah Hawley – beautifully written story of parenting’s potential for heartbreak.
Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie – the story of a young Japanese royal offers many cultural insights.
Question of the Month: What’s a book that you love that other’s may not have heard of?
Gentlehands by M.E. Kerr – a beautiful, powerful story, not just for YA readers.
My Brother’s Keeper by Marcia Davenport – based on the true story of the Collyer brothers who became reclusive hoarders.
5 Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn – this story of one man’s life and his participation in the Civil Rights Movement was published to much acclaim in the 1960s and can be seen as ahead of its time. (Picked twice!)
4-3-2-1 by Paul Auster – this ambitious saga of one man’s potential life paths rewards concentration.
Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor – first published in 1938, the Guardian recently called this the “great, forgotten anti-Nazi book that everyone must read.” (New edition on order for 4/21.)
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – loved for the beautiful descriptions of France, and a special character you might want to be!
The Harpole Report by J.L. Carr – a quirky, very funny story of a British school principal who finds the courage to stand up for progress. Full of unforgettable characters.
January 2021 Reads
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – This story of identical twins who share an obsession with words has added meaning for a twin reader. Not quite as funny as it’s billed; the isolation of the twins is rather sad. A celebration of the interplay of language and life, this is recommended if you like language, words, and observations of how people communicate. Each chapter features a particular word, a nice bonus for word-lovers.
Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke – this story of an Irish family and two sisters who emigrate to America is a powerful read that brings light to the little-known issue of sex trafficking of immigrants.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Hamel – a very interesting read with details on the forging of documents by members of the French Resistance — but too much crying! A nice ending, but overall not enjoyed as much as other works by the author.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – the best psychological thriller since Gone Girl! While the ending wasn’t totally surprising, this is definitely a page turner, and makes interesting reference to the Greek drama Alcestis.
The Queen’s Gambit by Walter S. Tevis – a compelling read that offers details omitted from the Netflix series.
Question of the Month: What book or books have helped you bond or identify with a different generation?
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss – a “children’s” book that rewards adult readers who bring their own insight to its message.
- Many YA books, with their realistic treatment of controversial issues can offer something unique for adult readers. Some authors to try include Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson.
- Series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games can also appeal to adults and offer a way to share reading experiences with a younger generation.
- Sharing a book of hilarious short stories like Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters can provide a family with a wealth of unforgettable characters and scenes that can serve for years as references for instant laughter.
Favorite Reads of 2020 (New and Old)!
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – a time-shifting story of an expedition by a group of Jesuits to establish the first contact between humans and an alien race. With elements of science fiction and spirituality, it is ultimately a unique and entrancing work. (Ebook also available.)
Wives and Daughters (ebook and e-audiobook) by Elizabeth Gaskell – families have always been complicated! The author’s humor and social observations remain fresh today.
Time after Time by Lisa Grunwald (print and ebook) –a romantic, whimsical story with an unexpected but satisfying conclusion that will especially appeal to lovers of NYC and Grand Central Station. (E-audiobook also available.)
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel Brown (print, ebook, e-audiobook, book on CD) – a surprisingly gripping story thnight at seems to have universal appeal.
Empire Falls by Richard Russo (print) – reminiscent of the storytelling of Pat Conroy, the skillful weaving of plots and subplots is dazzling and the epilogue presents a shocking and satisfying conclusion.
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny (print, ebook, e-audiobook, book on CD) – the latest in this popular mystery series featuring Inspector Armand Gamache (so beloved that he inspired a tribute cookie recipe!)
Convenience Store Woman (print and e-audiobook) by Sayaka Murata – a woman who has never fit in finds a safe place in her job; told in her own simple and straightforward voice. A good story somewhat reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
An Unorthodox Match by Naomi Ragen – an interesting story of a woman who joins an Orthodox community and finds both meaning and resistance.
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke (e-audiobook) – a good blend of history and fiction in this story of Nazi experimentation on special needs children.
The Smallest Lights in the Universe (print and ebook) by Sara Seager – the author, who won a MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant for her pioneering work in the search for exoplanets, tells the story of how she endured the death of her first husband with the support of other widows, and of her astonishment at finding new love. Beautifully written, with accessible descriptions of her research and frank accounts of the challenges faced by women in the sciences.
Twenty-Eight Summers (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by Elin Hilderbrand – vivid descriptions make Cape Cod like another character in this enjoyable comfort read with a satisfying ending. The contemporary references that appear for each year offer a fun source of reminiscence.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (print, ebook and book on CD) – a good, escapist story of a boy who survives a plane crash.
A Time for Mercy by John Grisham (print, ebook, and e-audiobook) – the prolific author does not disappoint, with the reappearance of Jake Brigance (from A Time to Kill) in a well-developed plot with great atmospherics.
The Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey N. Cep (print) – non-fiction in the style of Erik Larson, fascinating and a phenomenal read.
Books Reviewed at our November Meeting
The Good Father (print) by Noah Hawley – a very disturbing read in many ways, but the compelling story of a son accused of killing a presidential candidate keeps you hanging on until the last page. Ebook and e-audiobook on Libby.
The Evening and the Morning (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by Ken Follett. As previous reviewers have testified, this massive work of historical fiction can not be put down once it’s started!
The Grammarians (print and ebook) by Cathleen Schine – an insightful and funny story of identical twins obsessed with language.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (print) by Robert Dugoni – the inspirational coming-of-age story of a boy with ocular albinism is hard to put down.
The Warmth of Other Suns (print and ebook) by Isabel Wilkerson – this award-winning story of African Americans’ migration from the rural south to the urban north intersperses personal stories with the broader historical context, providing essential insights not taught in our history classes.
Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots (ebook) by Deborah Feldman – the author tells the story of how she knew what was best for herself from a young age and had the courage and tenacity to achieve it. Well-expressed and very worthwhile.
Twenty-Eight Summers (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by Elin Hilderbrand – very entertaining and a fun, light read inspired by the 1978 film Same Time Next Year.
Camino Island (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by John Grisham – everyone has enjoyed this fun read!
The Dearly Beloved (print and ebook) by Cara Wall – this is another B&B favorite!
Time for Mercy (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by John Grisham – his newest is an easy-to-read and interesting treatment of contemporary legal and social issues.
The Dutch House (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by Ann Patchett – further agreement that this is not her best work, with a real disconnect between the dispassionate style and the emotional issues of the content.
One by One (print, ebook and e-audiobook) by Ruth Ware – not a fan of this psychological thriller, with an obvious culprit and distracting details.
The House on Endless Waters (print) by Emunah Elon – a wonderful story; the unusual style is a key part of this wonderful story. An unusual depiction of a Holocaust story, with a beautiful visual portrait of Amsterdam.
Longbourne by Jo Baker (print) – an eye-opening depiction of life in the Pride and Prejudice household from the servants’ point of view. The storyline ultimately seems a little contrived, but the writing is strong and insightful. (Ebook and e-audiobook available on Libby.)
The Other Bennett Sister (print) – another instance where the set-up offers a fascinating shift in perspective, with the ‘dull’ sister Mary portrayed as an intelligent and sensitive character who endures years of emotional abuse by her mother. The plot takes rather a long time to reach its very happy conclusion. (Ebook on Libby).
Books Reviewed at our October Meeting
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – the audiobook is well-narrated by Noah, making it easier to absorb. He describes his childhood in S. Africa, with a compelling portrait of his mother.
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny – The 16th book in the Inspector Gamache series. This time, the book takes place in Paris instead of Three Pines, and we learn more about Gamache’s relationships with his family, especially his son. Some scenes take place in the Musee Rodin, suggesting congruence between The Burghers of Calais sculpture that symbolizes heroic self-sacrifice and Gamache’s humble leadership.
Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom – This memoir takes place in New Orleans, as the author chronicles her family history through the lens of the family home, which was particularly affected by Hurricane Katrina. Recommended for book clubs.
Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – An aging Hollywood icon shares her story with a reporter, spanning her career from the 1950s to the 1980s. Her account may or may not be a reliable one, which adds to the enjoyment.
Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman – memoir of a young woman escaping the patriarchal Orthodox sect in which she was raised. Reader not sure she’ll finish, as it’s difficult to read about the author’s hardships.(Available as an ebook in Libby)
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy – set in a future where humans have made animals nearly extinct, a young woman just out of prison is obsessed with following the last migration of arctic birds that she tagged. She convinces the captain of a fishing boat that the birds will lead his crew to fish, and along the way, her dark side comes out. A fatalistic story.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – Story of a woman who was married young to an abusive husband. After leaving him (a disgrace to her family) she had to scrabble to make her way, and she built a business doing henna for wealthy women. Once she is starting to see success, a sister she does not know shows up and puts her life in turmoil. Good portrayal of the restrictive caste system, but The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar offers a better, more literary choice.
Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan – Collection of stories about the relationships between humans and animals. Each story is just a few pages long, followed by Tan’s artwork. One story in particular highlights the differences between people who wear masks to keep themselves safe (non-COVID related) and those who laugh at them.
Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis Sharma – about a woman who was raised in Trinidad and later came to live with the Crow Nation. Highlights themes of family, belonging, otherness, and race relations in the midst of colonialism and Western expansion.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict – will not be published until January, this is a fictionalized account of what might be behind Agatha Christie’s actual 11 day disappearance in 1926. The suspense comes from a focus on how her husband handles the police investigation.
Books Reviewed at our September Meeting
With some additional recommendations!
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall – while religion is a presence in this story of the intertwined lives of two pastors, the issues that affect their lives are presented through a spiritual perspective. Highly recommended. Ebook
Try: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – These sweeping sagas take place in mid 20th-century New York and center on married couples, and share a moving and lyrical style. “Thomas’s emotional truthfulness combines with the novel’s texture and scope to create an unforgettable narrative” (Publishers Weekly).
Try: The Guest List by Lucy Foley – “Only a handful of thriller writers can accomplish what Foley does here: weave a complex plot from the perspectives of eight characters plus an omniscient narrator without causing confusion or reader exhaustion when the plot bounces from one person to the next” (Library Journal).
Try: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf – A sweet love story about the twilight years, this also features characters that are flawed, complex, and authentic.
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry – recommended for English majors who enjoy a good literary inside joke! The fun and entertaining plot presents literary characters in a fantasy setting.
Try: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – “This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. …An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page” (Kirkus).
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – a time-shifting story of an expedition by a group of Jesuits to make the first contact between humans and an alien race. It is ultimately neither a sci-fi nor a religious novel, but explores universal topics in a unique and very interesting way.
Try: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – “…both novels are based on scientific concepts and exploration. Complex in plot structure, with lavish setting descriptions, they also feature fascinating characters who grow and change.”
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny – the big changes that occur for the characters of this beloved series are a little unsettling, and the ending is surprisingly pat for this author. But overall this is still recommended for Penny fans who are drawn to the overall quality of her writing. Ebook.
Try: Haunted Ground by Erin Hart: The thrilling debut from Erin Hart tells the story of one girl’s untimely death centuries ago, and her connection to a very recent disappearance. “Hart’s novel is rich in local color: evenings at the pub, the petty feuds and jealousies of the townspeople and the traditional music and folk culture of Ireland are evocatively rendered” (PW).
Miss Austen by Gill Hornby – the sorrows and joys of the Austen sisters’ lives are revisited late in life by Jane’s sister Cassandra. Told in a time-shifting narrative, this is compelling historical fiction that highlights how women of this era sought to find meaning despite the limitations placed on them. A great read, and not just for ‘Janeites’!
Try: The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown – “This beautiful and unusual book about familial love, duty, and sacrifice is based on real-life individuals, and though the story of the Herschel siblings might not be well known, it’s one worth discovering” (LJ).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan (RBDigital ebook – there 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 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 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)
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)
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.
The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall (ebook on RBDigital) – more enthusiastic praise for this fascinating story and its soul-searching characters.
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)
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.
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!
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 not 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson – an enjoyable read, if a little too pat for some tastes.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.