‘Bring Your Own Book’ (BYOB) Club (formerly Bagels & Books)

Join us for an informal book chat once a month to share your thoughts on what you’ve been reading!

Register for our next meeting, on Monday, August 5 at 10am.

After most meetings we post a summary of the shared comments (anonymous).

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!

July 2024 Meeting Reads

Shelterwood by Lisa Wingate – in this highly recommended novel about missing Native American children, the chapters alternate between centuries as their story is revealed and investigated.

An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin – this great writer’s memoir offers unique insights into our recent history.

Girls with Bright Futures by Tracy Dobmeier – this timely novel of elite college admissions explores themes of class, privilege and obsession.

More Than We Expected: Five Years with a Remarkable Child by James G. Robinson – the father of a twin child born with a heart defect captures the love and humor as well as the anguish that surrounded his son’s brief life.

The Friday Afternoon Club: A Family Memoir by Griffin Dunne – this readable memoir conveys the humor and tragedy the author experienced growing up in a notable family. Highly recommended.

The Shadow of War: A Novel of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Jeff Shaara – this well-written historical fiction offers a new perspective on this familiar episode of recent history.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano – the lone survivor of a plane crash discovers letters written to him by the crash victims’ survivors in this moving and redemptive story.

Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl by Renée Rosen – this historical fiction telling the story of a close friend of the rising Estée Lauder lacked appeal.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich – a Native American woman who works in a bookstore is haunted by the ghost of a former customer in this novel that tackles numerous heavy themes.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff – an American reader exchanges increasingly personal letters with a British bookseller in this charming celebration of literature and friendship.  (A sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, is less well-known but equally endearing.)

The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered by Michele Raffin – the author reveals unique insights derived from living with birds who are facing many challenges.

The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax by Dorothy Gillman – the first in a very charming series featuring a woman from New Brunswick, NJ, who becomes an unlikely spy.   

The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo – this detective story set in 1908 Manchuria is infused with mystical beliefs about the influence of fox gods on human lives.

1177 B.C.:  A Graphic History of the Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline and Glynnis Fawkes – the graphic adaptation of Cline’s 1177 B.C is an approachable account to history, although it introduces a somewhat trivializing approach in the narrative.

After 1177 B.C.: The Survival of Civilizations by Eric H. Cline – the readable historian’s follow-up to the story of Bronze-age collapse documents the emergence of smaller kingdoms.

From Eden to Exile: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Bible by Eric H. Cline – while not completely up-to-date, the archeological approach to these biblical stories is persuasive.

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson – while a compelling account of the South’s reaction to Lincoln’s election, this popular history lacks context.

The Judge’s List by John Grisham – compulsive reading with a wild ending!

Get the Picture: A Mind-Bending Journey Among the Inspired Artists and Obsessive Art Fiends Who Taught Me How to See by Bianca Bosker – the author’s immersion in the worlds of artists, gallerists, and collectors of contemporary art is a fascinating look at what art means to different people, and a convincing argument for all of us to simply spend more time in the presence of art. 

June 2024 Meeting Reads

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – there continues to be much love for this touching story that reveals the human potential to rise to the challenges of a new situation.

44 Scotland Street by Alexander Macall Smith – the first of a 17-book series features a cast of neighborhood characters—some are likable, others less so, but all are interesting.

Before We Say Goodbye by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – this is the fourth volume of the author’s Before the Coffee Get Cold series; these time travel stories can be sad yet remain heartwarming and hopeful.

1177: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline – this is a well-researched account of the complex reasons for the rapid decline of multiple Bronze Age kingdoms, highlighting how the interdependence that helped them grow also hastened their demise. It will appeal to history enthusiasts.  A graphic (comic) version is also available, and a follow-up, After 1177 B.C. : The Survival Of Civilizations, has just been released. 

City in Ruins by Don Winslow – this is the conclusion of a trilogy about New England crime families by the highly-regarded criminal mystery writer.  It’s a masterfully written page-turner offering intrigue and tragedy.

An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin – the bestselling historian here recounts memories of her 42-year marriage to Dick Goodwin, an aide and speechwriter to LBJ and JFK, prompted by the examination of his extensive archive of documents. It’s an immensely enjoyable read.

The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War by Erik Larson – the author maintains his streak of brilliant and compelling nonfiction with this account of the  pivotal five months between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War.

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (translated from Spanish) –  a young woman is smuggled across the Mexican border into the US in order to deliver a message to her brother in this unusual story that features a creative use of language. 

The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley – when a White man offers a financially struggling Black a large sum of money to rent out his basement, things get weird in this brief exploration of power dynamics by the multiple award-winning author.

Saints at the River by Ron Rash – a girl’s drowning spurs a clash between environmentalists and the local community over the fate of her body. While the main female character is a bit cartoonish, the author explores some interesting ideas and conveys compelling details about the river itself. 

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane – this honest and raw story depicting the ’70s busing crisis in Boston offers a tough but unique reading experience.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese – this  beautifully written story chronicling three generations of a family in south India is long, but utterly compelling— and presents a sudden and unexpected ending.

Think Twice by Harlen Coban – the well-loved mystery author continues to follow the exploits of crime-solver Myron and his sidekick Win in this enjoyable read with an unpredictable ending.

Bird Hotel by Joyce Maynard – the author of the much-praised Count the Ways further demonstrates her ability to tell gritty yet humanistic stories.

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch – a famous theater producer who has retired to an isolated seaside home narrates his experiences with past and present loves; initially an enjoyable read, this ultimately confuses with a increasing descent into obsession, tragedy, and bizarre (paranormal?) occurrences.  

Links displayed below point to our previous catalog and are out of date–sorry!

May 2024 Meeting Reads

The Shortest History of Israel and Palestine: From Zioninsm to Intifada and the Struggle for Peace  by Michael Scott-Bauman – this is a readable and up-to-date history covering the origins of the conflict and its development over the past century.  Many chapters include interviews with Palestinians and Israelis whose lives have been impacted by the dispute.

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell – a fictional imagining of the lives of Shakespeare and his young family in 1580. While some sections on the tragic consequences of the plague are challenging to read, overall this is a well-written and recommended read.

The Armor of Light by Ken Follett – the fourth title in the Kingsbridge series chronicles English families during the years 1792-1824, the time of industrialization and the Napoleonic wars.  Follet’s writing is fast-paced and like most of his books, this is hard to put down.  

Erasure by Percival Everett – when a Black author of academic books produces a parody of popular books under a pseudonym, he has to face the impact of its spectacular success. A bit disjointed in parts but overall a good read; the adapted screenplay for the movie American Fiction is especially effective, and won an Oscar.  

Ascension by Nicholas Binge – this epistolary story of exploring a mysterious mountain that arisen in the Pacific mixes adventure, science fiction, and philosophical exploration.  

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain – the late author’s third book (2010) is characteristically sweary in its chronicles of the underside of the restaurant world, and unsparing to those he disdains.  Informative, entertaining and overall a great read.

10% Happier : How I Tamed The Voice In My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, And Found Self-Help That Actually Works : A True Story by Dan Harris – an anchorman who experienced a panic attack on-air tells his story of getting better through explorations in Buddhism and insights from neuroscience research. An interesting and well-written chronicle of a mental health journey.

Table for Two: Fictions by Amor Towles – the first half is comprised of very engaging short stories; this is followed by a novella telling the story of a character from Rules of Civility, Evelyn Ross, and her life amidst Hollywood’s golden age.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride knew his mother as a remarkable figure who successfully raised twelve children in challenging circumstances, but only later in life did he explore her own painful personal history, told here in a deeply moving testament.

A Child Without a Shadow: A Story of Resilience by Shaul Harel – this is the remarkable story of Prof. Shaul Harel, rescued at the age of 5 from the Nazis by the Belgian Resistance, but separated from his family.  He chronicles his experiences in orphanages where only his basic material needs were met, and the impact this had on his path through life.  His empathy for children with similar backgrounds informed his development as a renowned pediatric neurologist.  This is an inspiring story of someone who not only overcame obstacles and trauma to achieve success, but drew on these experiences to understand and heal others.

The Memory Library by Kate Storey – in this beautiful book, a mother adds a book each year to the collection intended for her estranged daughter — who returns home when disaster strikes her life. Highly recommended.  

The Backyard Bird Chronicles by Amy Tan – the beloved author of The Joy Luck Club and many other works here shares an inspiring diary of her mindful observations of birds and her deepening connections with nature. The entries are beautifully illustrated with her own drawings.  

The Trading Game: A Confession by Gary Stevenson – growing up impoverished in the shadow of London’s financial district motivated the author to apply his mathematical talents to the high-stakes world of currency trading. Upon reaching the pinnacle of success, however, he found himself unable to remain part of a system predicated on the unequal distribution of wealth. The author’s honesty, insight, and vivid characterizations make this a compelling and entertaining read.  

April 2024 Meeting Reads

A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi – this is a compelling story of a PI who takes on the case of an immigrant accused of assassinating a right-wing politician. As he unexpectedly reveals the unsettled consequences of Danish collaboration with the Nazis, the story effectively combines the elements of mystery, thriller, and historical fiction genres.

The Women by Kristin Hannah – this story of a nursing student who joins up to serve in Vietnam is an outstanding example of historical fiction at its most powerful.  With vivid descriptions of the nightmarish settings, and characters who are not sugar-coated, this is beautifully written and offers a satisfying ending.  

The Rent Collector by Camron Steve Wright – this is a gem of a story, portraying a family that survives by picking garbage at Cambodia’s large city dump. As they find ways to establish a supportive connection with the embittered rent collector, the story takes you down different paths and is well worth reading.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto – an older woman finds a body in her tea shop one morning and is eager to take her own route to solving the case. Written with humor, this is the kind of story that makes a good follow-up to heavy reads.

Suspect by Scot Turow – this is a fast-paced story of a PI who failed out of the police academy but believes she has the skills to take on the case of a female police chief caught up in a scandal. Turow delivers all the elements of an effective thriller, including a great ending.

To Cast a Freeman’s Vote: Thomas Mundy Peterson And The Intersection Of Suffrage And Citizenship by Gordon Bond – this account of the first African American to vote following the passage of the 15th Amendment effectively reveals the life and person behind the history-making event.  

The Fury by Alex Michaelides – this murder mystery is Agatha Christie-like in presenting multiple motives and a surprise ending, and is an even better read than the author’s best-selling The Silent Patient.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen – this is a decent addition to the popular Nordic Noir genre, in which the obligatory gruff investigator makes some surprising discoveries after being relegated to low-priority cold cases.

The Book of Goose by Li YiYun -this award-winning novel offers a compelling exploration of the relationship dynamics between two girls whose friendship was formed in rural post-war France.

The Exchange by John Grisham – revisiting the protagonists of The Firm, Grisham delivers a well-plotted and satisfying read that can also stand alone.

Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan by Ruby Lal – this is a fascinating account of how a woman attained an unprecedented level of power in the 17th-century Mughal Empire.  

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?: How 18th Century Science Disrupted the Natural Order by Susannah Gibson – this is an informative and engaging account of how a flood of scientific discoveries up-ended established views not just of nature but also society. 

March 2024 Meeting Reads

Prequel by Rachel Maddow – an exploration of the disinformation campaign launched in the U.S. by members of and sympathizers to the Nazi party. Similar to Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts.

The Faint of Heart by Kerilynn Wilson – a YA science fiction graphic novel about a world where people have their hearts removed to avoid heartache. The young protagonist, June, resists having her heart removed and tries to find the scientist behind the procedure.

Bloom by Kevin Panetta – a YA graphic novel about Ari and Hector, two gay teens who work in a bakery. 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin – published in 1899 and considered among the first feminist novels, a wife rebels against the norms of the time, leaving her family for a lover, but ultimately becoming depressed by the realization that men only want to possess her.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler – published in 1993, this takes place in 2024 as a teenage girl describes her hyperempathy – the ability to feel the feelings of others. In a world overrun by danger and chaos, she develops an Earthseed philosophy, that God is change and change is God.

Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley – 9th in the Easy Rawlins mystery series, during the 1965 riots in LA. A black woman is murdered, and with tensions running high, the police turn to Easy to investigate. 

The Exchange by John Grisham – 15 years after The Firm, Mitch McDeere is a partner in a NYC law firm. He travels to Turkey to settle a conflict regarding a bridge in Libya, which later turns into a deadly hostage incident. 

Outlive: the Science & Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, MD – this explores the notion that modern medicine is designed to treat people once they’re sick, particularly with heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes. In great detail, he addresses what people can do to prevent illness instead.

Good Material by Dolly Alderton – after Jen and Andy break up, Andy has a hard time adjusting to live without her. What follows is Andy’s light retrospective about what went wrong.

The Women by Kristin Hannah – Frankie, a young woman whose brother is serving in the Navy in Vietnam, joins the Army Nurse Corps, hoping to be near him. She gains experience on the job amidst the chaos of war, but coming home is even more difficult, as even her own family won’t discuss or acknowledge the role women played in serving their country. This shines a light on the sacrifices these women made.

The Dead are Arising by Les and Tamara Payne – this updates Malcolm X’s autobiography, filling in the blanks through interviews with anyone still living who knew him. Decades of  thoroughly documented research went into this well-written biography.

Oath and Honor by Liz Cheney – this is a first-account memoir of the end of Donald Trump’s time as president and the January 6 attack on the Capitol, highlighting those who failed to stand up for the rule of law.

The Housemaid by Freida McFadden – this suspenseful thriller about a family and the housemaid they’ve hired engendered sympathy for some characters, was increasingly frightening, and had a surprise ending. 

Mark of the Assassin by Daniel Silva – published before Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, this features CIA investigator Michael Osbourne on the trail of a mysterious killer. Just as good as the popular Allon books.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff – After a young Indian woman’s husband leaves her, rumors spread through her small village that she killed him. She doesn’t mind the distance people give her because of the rumor – until some of her neighbors ask for her help in getting rid of their own husbands. The audiobook narrator did an excellent job distinguishing each character’s voice, balancing dark themes with wry humor.
Every Time I Go on Vacation, Someone Dies by Catherine Mack – a mystery writer is on an Italian book tour to celebrate her 10th book, but she’d really like to kill off her main character. Also on the tour is the con-man who inspired her popular series, and someone’s trying to kill him off as well. Light, funny, similar to the Finlay Donovan series or Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone. (to be published in April)

February 2024 Meeting Reads

Holly by Stephen King – overly long and heavy on the cannibalism, this was not a favorite King read.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa – a gentle, beautiful story enriched by accessible mathematical insights and puzzles.

The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva – if you’ve finished the brilliant Gabriel Allon series of spy novels, don’t overlook this earlier novel set in pre-WWII Britain – the writing is just as good if not better.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – brutal but worthwhile, with an ending that startles.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks – a beautiful, moving story featuring amazing writing and fascinating historical detail.

Series: The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey (some later volumes written or co-written by Todd McCaffrey)  is an iconic and beloved ‘science fantasy’ series;  The Harper Hall Trilogy by McCaffrey provides reliable comfort reading.

Fangirl tells a fanfiction writer’s coming of age story;  Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is the realization of her fictional world.  Both are “Young Adult” novels by Rainbow Rowell that are enjoyable reads for adults.  

The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds is another YA title examining the universal theme of family secrets.  

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are a humorous and insightful fantasy fiction series set on a flat planet balanced on the backs of four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle.  BBC News listed The Discworld Series on its list of the 100 most influential novels.

Mary Russell Doria’s Children of God does not live up to the high standard of its predecessor, the transcendant  Sparrow.

Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothschild – a thriller that starts to drag after a good beginning.

The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn – a book to read and reread for inspiration and guidance; another is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.  

Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia – a doctor’s thoroughly researched manifesto for rethinking modern medicine by focusing on the prevention of chronic diseases.  (Listed as a Best Book of 2023 by The Economist magazine- which SPPL cardholders now have digital access to!)

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by Peter Grann – this dramatic true story is well-researched and engagingly written – highly recommended!

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart – this historical fiction based on the story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs (in Hackensack, NJ) is an entertaining read.

Wicked Woodbridge, Crazy Carteret: Vice in New Jersey’s Oldest Township by Gordon Bond offers a local historian’s perspective on how cultural and historic trends were reflected in  activities like bootlegging, riots, swindles, counterfeiting, and even witchcraft. 

Sycamore Row by John Grisham – the drama of a disputed will and race relations narrated in the author’s page-turning style. 

Prequel: An American Fight Against Facism by Rachel Maddow – a very well-documented look at a time in US history that offers insight into our present.  

The Last Rose of Shanghai by Weina Dai Randel – this engaging love story is rich with details of life in pre-WWII Shanghai.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – a heavy read dealing with themes of  foster care, child labor, and addiction that comes with a redemptive ending.

Unruly: The Ridiculous History of England’s Kings and Queens by David Mitchell – a comedian highlights the absurdities and randomness in the rise of the ruling class in this irreverent and entertaining history. 

Hunting the Falcon: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and the Marriage That Shook Europe by John Guy and Julia Fox – the authors cite new research offering insights into how geopolitics interacted with individual personalities to drive Anne Boleyn’s fate. A dense but fascinating read.

Bournville by Jonathan Coe – a moving, funny, fictional look at how historical events and trends impact the personal lives of several English families through the 20th and 21st centuries.  Coe is a prolific chronicler of contemporary British life – a favorite work is  The Rotter’s Club.  

January 2024 Meeting Reads

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl – This 2001 memoir by renowned food critic and editor Reichl details her shift from Berkeley commune chef to food writer, with stories of her travels, relationships, and encounters with celebrity chefs. Well written and interesting to read, this memoir also includes recipes.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick – When every adult around the world receives a box containing a string that appears to measure the length of their life, the impact is on both personal relationships and society at large. While the concept is good, the author may have been heavy-handed in making the point.

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro – This novel opens in the 1980s with three teens involved in a tragic car accident, then time shifts back and forth among multiple narrators detailing the impact of that crash on a close neighborhood. The characters are beautifully drawn and relatable, and while the story is not always a happy one, the ending is meaningful, deep, and satisfying.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks – The true story of champion racehorse Lexington, is told in three different time periods. In 1850s Kentucky, Jarret is an enslaved groom who bonds with and trains the thoroughbred, hoping to buy his freedom. Jarret and Lexington are the subjects of a painting that receives attention from a gallery owner in 1950s New York. Finally, in 2019, the painting and Lexington’s skeleton are both studied at the Smithsonian. Themes of prejudice and animal cruelty explored throughout.

A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti – In 1942, Jaryk is a young boy in a Warsaw Ghetto orphanage who performs in a resistance play by Tagore. He is later one of the few survivors of a Nazi death camp. Thirty years later in New York, struggling with survivor’s guilt, he learns that his mentor, Misha, from the orphanage has died in India, and he travels to retrieve Misha’s ashes, leaving behind his new girlfriend. Once there, he gets drawn into a local political uprising. 

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding – E. Forbes Smiley was a renowned antiquarian map dealer who also spent years stealing and reselling maps out of library books. This book not only covers Smiley’s crime, it also delves into mapmaking throughout history and the research and information bias involved.

North Woods by Daniel Mason – This novel focuses on a small plot of land in Massachusetts, starting in colonial times, with stories about the people who inhabited that land – and how the land itself changes – across time. It highlights natural succession, as one group of plants or animals replace another group.

The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons by Karin Smirnoff – This is the next installment in the Millennium series, the first written by Smirnoff. After a lengthy introduction, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist reunite in northern Sweden, each there for their own familial reasons. When a boy is kidnapped by a mob group, they join forces to save his life.

City on Fire by Don Winslow – In 1980s Providence, RI, the Irish mob and the Italian mob try to stay out of each other’s way. When a woman comes between the two groups, an all-out war starts. Danny Ryan, a peacemaker who wants more out of life, takes his son to CA in an attempt to leave that life behind. First in a series.
City of Dreams by Don Winslow – The Danny Ryan trilogy continues in Hollywood, where Danny finds he cannot outrun his troubles. He’s now a movie producer and falls in love with an actress. However, the FBI is looking for him to do them a dangerous favor. This series is well-written and compelling, with authentic, flawed characters.

November Meeting Reads

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – While the relationship between the mother and adult daughter trying to reconnect was hard to connect with, this is a beautifully written story about themes of family and resilience.

Seconds Away by Harlan Coben – The second in the Mickey Bolitar series, teen Mickey is still trying to figure out what happened to his father, while solving a murder close to home. This YA book is still a great read for adults, especially those who enjoy Coben’s NJ references.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – While the story itself can be sad – a young Appalachian boy who endures the foster care system and is let down by the adults in his life – the book also shows how he survives by sheer guts and inner fortitude.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – An inspiring story about the crew team that overcame tremendous odds to excel at the 1936 Olympics, especially a teen who was abandoned by his parents and learned to survive on his own.

Shark Heart by Emily Habeck – In the first year of Lewis and Wren’s marriage, Lewis receives a stunning diagnosis – he’s turning into a great white shark. In this magical realism debut, this is not unheard of, but it also cannot be cured. The story of his transformation and its impact on their marriage reflects the very relatable journey of aging and caregiving, and his eventual relocation to the ocean is suggestive of what the afterlife might be like.

It Ends With Us and It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover – both of these books are entertaining reads, but they tend to treat the theme of domestic violence less seriously than warranted.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett – This prequel to The Pillars of the Earth and Kingsbridge series is a long but quick read; the families and threads are easy to follow. After Edgar’s family and livelihood are wiped out by a Viking raid, he learns to become a skilled builder, although still a commoner. Ragna is a noblewoman trapped in an unhappy marriage who falls in love with Edgar, but the power struggles among the elite threaten to ruin any chance at happiness.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson – Larson explores the rise of the Nazi party in 1933-34, through the memoirs and correspondence of the scholarly American ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his daughter Martha. While Martha engaged in scandalous relationships with many powerful men during that time, Dodd was slow to realize the danger Hitler presented. 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi – This is the first in a Japanese series of short books about a cafe at which people can travel back or forward in time. Though there are strict rules, particularly that these visits cannot change the present, customers still find value in visiting with loved ones and seeing relationships in a new light. This series is highly recommended, but may require tissues.

Last Word to the Wise by Ann Claire – This is the second in a cozy mystery series based around a Colorado bookshop and the Agatha-Christie-loving sisters who own it. Naturally, someone they’ve met is found dead, and they can’t resist emulating their favorite Golden Age detectives to find the culprit. 

The Librarian of Burned Books by Brianna Labuskes – The story of three women before and during WWII: one who is trying to save the popular but threatened Armed Services Editions book program for soldiers, and two who were in Germany before the war and witnessed book burnings and other horrors firsthand. (Maribeth gave this a starred review for Booklist)

October Meeting Reads

The End of Her by Sheri Lapena – An otherwise happy marriage is disrupted by a villainous woman from the husband’s past. Despite a contrived ending, this is a page turner

Everyone Here is Lying by Sheri Lapena – The disappearance of a 9-year old girl starts a chain reaction that threatens all the secrets her neighbors would like to keep hidden. The reader knows what really happened, but it’s still an engaging read.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride – the well-written story about the overlapping lives of immigrant Jews and Black families that live in a Pennsylvania neighborhood.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett – Set in Michigan during the COVID lockdown, three daughters return to their parents’ cherry farm and beg their mother to recount her past as an actress and the relationship she had with an actor who went on to great fame. Lots of twists in this book about family dynamics, which explores how much parents should share with their children about their pasts.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocum – Highly recommended story of a young Black man’s journey into classical music. While the story opens with a mystery, the real draw of the novel is its themes of racism, encouragement, and family dynamics.

The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind – In the style of Kafka or Poe, a Paris bank guard who is committed to meticulous routine finds a pigeon in his hallway, which throws off his whole day. 

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash – Well-written with a strong sense of place, a Vietnam veteran returns to his Appalachian South Carolina home and goes missing after starting a bar fight. In each of the five sections that follow, a different character shares their perspective of what happened to him.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – The story of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire and the likable suspect who may or may not have started it, interspersed with vignettes of how libraries evolved over time to become centers of their communities. 

The Woman at the Wheel by Penny Haw – historical novel about Bertha Benz, who worked with her husband Carl to develop the first automobile – she completed the first ever long-distance drive. In addition to managing their home and marriage, and raising their family, she was a true partner in making the automobile a reality.

Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon – When an LA businesswoman is forced to convalesce at the sleepy coastal home of her estranged daughter and granddaughter, tensions run high. But when granddaughter Jack finds a dead body during her shift as a kayak tour guide and then becomes a suspect, the three women put their issues aside to solve the crime. Funny and sweet, as if the Gilmore Girls became amateur detectives.

September Meeting Reads

Baggage by Alan Cummings – As wonderful an actor as Cummings is, the way he writes about coming to terms with his struggles may be even more impressive. Recommended follow up to his earlier memoir, Not My Father’s Son.

Shelter by Harlan Coben – The first in Coben’s NJ-set young adult series about Mickey, the nephew of Myron Bolitar, who is forced to live with his uncle after his father’s suspicious death. This is typical Coben, right up to the surprise at the end. 

The Measure by Nicki Erlick – In agreement with another reader’s assessment at an earlier discussion, this book about what would happen if we all knew the relative length of our lives was thoroughly enjoyed, right up through the tear-inducing conclusion.

The Collector by Daniel Silva – Also in agreement with another reader’s assessment, this entry in an otherwise enjoyable series did not meet expectations, but both readers are optimistic about the next installment.

For Love of Politics by Sally Bedell Smith – A well-researched but unflattering account of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s time in the White House. While the information was not new, it was a hard book to put down.

The Bourne Sacrifice by Brian Freeman – This continuation of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series takes a less complicated approach, with fewer twists than previous installments. 

Testimony by Scott Turow – A successful lawyer gives up his career and his marriage to take a job with the International Criminal Court, where he investigates the deaths of Roma refugees in Bosnia. This was well-written with interesting side characters.

The Book Woman’s Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson – In this follow-up to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, 16-year old Honey, who has inherited the same blood disease that turned her mother’s skin blue, is left to fend for herself when her parents are arrested. While fighting to maintain her independence, she takes her mother’s place delivering books by packhorse to rural Appalachian homes.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson – This book follows Churchill, his family, and his advisers from May 1940 to May 1941, as they contend with Hitler’s bombing campaigns. It also includes insight about members of Nazi leadership in that same timeframe.

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson – A well researched account of the hurricane that devastated Galveston, TX in 1900. Isaac Cline, the head meteorologist for the local Weather Bureau, had the data but failed to recognize that it pointed toward what would be the most deadly natural disaster in US history. The story is rounded out by Cline’s letters and reports and the testimony of other survivors.

Out of Nowhere by Sandra Brown – After a mass shooting at a county fair, two survivors – a children’s book author and a corporate consultant – start a relationship while also processing their trauma. While the shooting itself is glossed over, the love scenes make this a page turner.

The House of Lincoln by Nancy Horan – The story of Lincoln as told through the eyes of residents of Springfield, Illinois, and the bonds they form as the town grapples with slavery and racism.

Born Round by Frank Bruni – NY Times restaurant critic Bruni recounts the lifelong love-hate relationship he’s had with food, balancing tales of struggles that nearly destroyed his life with humor.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt – this highly recommended book is a beautiful uplifting story about a widow and her relationship with an intelligent octopus. 

The Damage by Caitlin Wahrer – This page turner explores the aftermath of a young man’s sexual assault, and how his family and the family of his attacker process and view the event.

Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West – A WWI officer’s wife and cousin are awaiting his return from the war when a woman they don’t know comes to their door to tell them he is alive but injured. They discover that shellshock has left him with no memory of the past 15 years. Published in 1918, this book becomes more impactful toward the end.

11/22/1963 by Stephen King – Jake, a high school teacher in Maine, learns that his friend’s diner houses a portal back to 1958. The diner owner asks Jake to go back and try to stop the JFK assassination. He spends years getting to know Lee Harvey Oswald (a large portion of the book details this), expecting that stopping Oswald should do it, but what if he’s wrong? Sometimes history doesn’t want to change.

Taste by Stanley Tucci – This audiobook, narrated by the author, is a memoir about food and family, although the reader will be seeking out the print version to revisit the recipes that are sprinkled throughout. 

Better Life Through Birding by Christian Cooper – This audiobook, narrated by the author, only briefly touches on Cooper’s infamous Central Park interaction. Its focus is on the positive impact birding had on him growing up as a gay, Black nerd, and it includes his best tips for prospective birders.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto – Vera is a lonely elderly woman who runs a failing tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. After she discovers a dead body in her shop one morning and realizes the police don’t want her help, she is determined to investigate on her own. As she inserts herself into the lives of her suspects, she and they start to develop strong bonds. A funny and heartwarming story (audiobook, narrated by Eunice Wong).

August Meeting Reads

The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt – an enjoyable story of a retired librarian who performs an act of kindness for an elderly woman, then finds his quietly lived life taking an unexpected turn.

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons – an engaging story of an elderly woman who decides to organize an assisted death, but then meets some people who lead her to change her mind.  A testament to opening the heart to change.

Last Remains by Elly Griffiths – a good mystery, centered on the discovery during the renovation of a café of the body of an archeology student who went missing in 2002.

The Collector by Daniel Silva – our reader found Silva’s latest to be a letdown, and not up to his usual high standards.

The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found by Frank Bruni – Bruni’s compelling memoir of partially losing is a moving combination of optimism and realism.

Good Night Irene by Louis Urrea – this story of a woman who left an abusive relationship to become one of WWII’s Donut Dollies offers a unique perspective on the war.  A favorite read of the summer!

Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait – a young man returns to the remote island many years after his father had killed the rest of his family. Wait offers an interesting exploration of the community’s attitudes to the crime in this worthwhile read, if the ending over-explains.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – this iconic social criticism seems ahead of its time (1932), and while the writing is lacking, the concept is compelling.

Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting -this literary novel tells the story of a young man who attempts to unravel the mystery of his parents’ death. Clues lead from Norway to the battlefields of France and sixteen ancient walnut trees colored by poison gas in World War I. A well-written story, if the depictions of women are lacking.  

Villager by Tom Cox – the story of an English village and the intersecting lives of a reclusive American musician and the residents whose lives he impacts. Each chapter is told by different narrators and shifts among the past, present, and future; while the structure can confuse, the humorous, humane writing makes it worthwhile. 

The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team  by Kara Goucher – the title sums up what Olympian Goucher experienced under the sway of now-disgraced coach Alberto Salazaar; Nike has much to be ashamed of.  

July Meeting Reads

The Bourne Ascendancy by Eric Van Lustbader – a later title in the long Bourne series featuring fictional spy Jason Bourne. There is some reliance on formulaic plot devices, but contemporary geopolitical details are creatively integrated.

The Republic for Which it Stands:The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 by Richard White – part of the The Oxford History of the United States series, this is engagingly written and offers a corrective to East coast-centric histories.

George VI and Elizabeth: The Marriage that Saved the Monarchy by Sally Bedell-Smith – an excellent contribution to the history of the house of Windsor, chronicling how a man who was never expected to be king rose to the occasion with the steadfast support of his wife.  

White House by the Sea: A Century of the Kennedys at Hyannis Port by Kate Storey – a uniquely personal account of the storied family’s history, very worthwhile reading.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – an in-demand book that explores some serious themes but suffers from repetitive writing (“four husbands would have been enough”).

An Atlas of Countries That Don’t Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States by Nick Middleton – an intriguing look at real places–like Catalonia and the Isle of Man– that have the qualities but not the political status of a country.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – historical fiction that prioritizes emotional manipulation over good writing.

Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait – set on a remote Scottish island, this deals with heavy topics, but while tragic, the excellent writing highlights the humanity of the characters.

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard – this family story is so well-written that you won’t be able to put it down and will be sorry when it ends!

The Best of Us: A Memoir by Joyce Maynard – the author explores her experience of finding love only to lose her new husband to cancer, writing honestly about the realities of caregiving.

Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine – in this well-written novel an elderly woman who fled a glamorous life in Austria during WWII recounts her story to her grandson during the Covid lockdown, offering him a new perspective on the relationship between past and present.

The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hildenbrand – reprising the Nantucket setting of her other novels, this story of a food blogger incorporates appealing descriptions of regional cuisine. A good beach read.

The Girl from the Island by Lorna Cook – two sisters look back to the time of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, in this engaging read that features history, tragedy, love, and family secrets.

Gone But Not Forgotten by C. Michele Dorsey – after growing up in hiding with her mother in Vermont; a daughter starts to ask questions about her upbringing in this compelling myster.

The Last Telegram by Liz Trenow – great historical fiction telling the story of an English family working in the silk industry experiencing the profound impact of WWII.

The Postcard by Ann Berest – a high-profile work of “autofiction” that doesn’t quite live up to its hype, but does offer insight into a history of French anti-Semitism.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow -a young homeless girl cuts herself to deflect emotional pain in this shattering work that reminds us that everyone has secrets.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by KimMichele Richardson – well-written and researched historical fiction telling the story of a woman who encountered prejudice while helping to spread literacy in a remote area of Kentucky.  

There Will be Fire: Margaret Thatcher, the IRA, and Two Minutes that Changed History by Rory Carroll – a gripping true account of the IRA’s nearly successful attempt on the British prime minister’s life, with insightful portraits of IRA members and those who tracked them down.

June Meeting Reads

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson – a funny, satirical novel about a wealthy family in Brooklyn Heights. While you can definitely feel the tension, you can also feel the love between these characters.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – a readalike for Pineapple Street, this novel also follows siblings who are dependent on a trust fund that is nearly depleted when one of them makes a reckless mistake. 

Found by Harlan Coben – this is the third in Coben’s Mickey Bolitar series (Myron’s nephew). As he still tries to uncover the truth about the death of his father, Mickey gets more involved with a group that rescues missing teens.

The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham – Keith and Hugh were childhood friends in 1960s Biloxi who each followed in the path their fathers: one as a prosecutor, the other as part of the local criminal underground. As adults, they cross paths in the courtroom. 

Ruth Galloway series (start with The Crossing Places) by Elly Griffiths – this mystery series features Ruth, a forensic anthropologist who teaches at a British university, but is often brought in by local detective Harry Nelson to help on cases. Each book in the series delves into a bit of British history.

Maisie Dobbs series (start with Maisie Dobbs) by Jacqueline Winspear – this mystery series starts in post-WWI England, where the family young, working-class, Maisie recognizes her intellect and pays for her education, leading to her career as a psychologist and investigator. 

Inspector Lynley series (start with A Great Deliverance) by Elizabeth George – similar to the Ruth Galloway mystery series, this series features Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, backed up by his unlikely partner Barbara Havers, and two friends who are a forensic scientist and a photographer. 

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen – Bella is a servant in Queen Victoria’s kitchen, who has made enough of an impression to be invited to accompany the Queen on a trip abroad. When a member of the royal retinue dies, though Bella falls under suspicion and she fears other secrets will come out as well.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad – when a ship carrying refugees sinks off the coast of a Greek island, the only survivor is a young Syrian boy. The first person he meets is a teenage girl who feels like an outsider even though she lives on the island. Despite their language barrier, the two embark on a search for a safe place.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – the story of a young man in Appalachia who navigates the foster system and the opioid crisis, showing resilience despite bad treatment. (The recommender read the audio version of this book)

Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo – Anna was raised by her white mother, while her African father was not in the picture. After her mother’s death, and separating from her cheating husband, she finds notebooks that belonged to her father, learns that he had been the leader (dictator) of a West African nation, and decides to track him down and seek closure.

Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons – it’s 2038 and cloning has become a reality, a way to live on after death, and Constance has received the gift of a clone from her late aunt. After a routine appointment to upload her consciousness (which will be implanted in her clone when she dies), she wakes up to the news that 18 months have passed, and that her original is in fact dead. She retraces the most recent memories she has in order to find out the truth.

Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard – This book follows a family over the course of decades through divorce and other transitions that bring them together and more often tear them apart. 

City of Dreams by Don Winslow – In the second book in the Danny Ryan series, Danny has left behind the war between the Italian and Irish mobs in Rhode Island to move to Hollywood, but it doesn’t turn out to be the sanctuary he had been hoping for.

The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas – Rose is unsure whether she wants to have children, but suddenly her husband very much wants one. Over the course of this book, her story is told 9 different ways, each based on a different, never perfect, choice. 

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave – Hannah’s new husband has gone missing, and she soon learns he’s not the man she thought he was. All he’s left her with is a bag of money, a cryptic note, and the teenage stepdaughter who hates her but desperately needs to be protected.

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan – Olivia has moved back to her NH hometown with her teenage son Asher, looking for a fresh start after her husband’s darker side came out. Teenager Lily has also recently moved to the same town with her mother, and ends up falling for Asher. When Lily dies and Asher is the suspect, Olivia has to wonder if he’s more like his father than she realized.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick – Adults around the world wake up to a box on their doorsteps that contain a string purported to measure the length of their life. Told through the perspectives of several characters, the impact of the strings is explored through very personal decisions, such as marriage, and in wider ones, such as politics, the military, and more. 

May Meeting Reads

The Bourne Dominion by Eric Lustbader – this thriller focused on the global competition for rare-earth minerals offers plots within plots and plenty of spies. The author is a master of his craft who knows how to keep the reader guessing–and turning pages into the small hours of the night.  

Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland – the inexorable forces of history and the pull lost love steered this New York Times reporter’s family destiny.  Driven by anti-semitism from the disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine and Vichy France, they depart for Cuba and finally the U.S.  Told through vignettes, this is a readable and interesting account that offers a sympathetic portrayal of the author’s mother. 

The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn by Nathan Philbrick – the noted historian’s latest book is a well-researched, nuanced and very readable account of circumstances and characters involved in the much-mythologized battle.  Other good reads by Philbrick include In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex and Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War.

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky – written by brothers and a well-known title in the Soviet sci-fi canon, this tells the story of an earth marked by ‘Zones’, areas that were once visited by incognito aliens who left items scattered about as if they had enjoyed a brief ‘roadside picnic’ on Earth. A black market tempts those who are bold enough to enter these forbidden spots. It’s a good read; there is also a film, Stalker, that is loosely based on the book.

Dinner with the President: Food, Politics, and a History of Breaking Bread at the White House by Alex Prud’homme – twenty-six presidents are profiled in the context of how they deployed the connections between food and politics in this fascinating and unusual history. Stories include Teddy Roosevelt’s barrier-breaking dinner invitation to Booker T. Washington, and Carter’s pivotal ‘diplomacy by pie’ at Camp David.  Thoroughly researched, this is a great read.  

Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House by Joseph Esposito – an engaging account of an epic and elegant meeting of minds, where relationships were forged that would influence American life long after the party ended.  

April Meeting Reads

The Lindbergh Nanny by Mariah Fredericks – this historical fiction about the nanny of the, who became a suspect in her charge’s the kidnapping, is well-researched and worthwhile reading; you can also view the author’s  talk for the Library about her experience of writing a book on this infamous crime from new different angle.

Houseboat by Dane Bahr – this short but intense novel features a vile and unhinged main character living in squalor on a houseboat on the Mississippi River. It’s disturbing, but the great writing will keep you going.

Rober Ludlum’s The Bourne Objective by Eric Van Lustbader – this thriller featuring Jason Bourne and his archival Leonid Arkadin has it all: secret societies, a hunt for King Solomon’s gold, and lots of double-crossing taking place around the globe.

Ghost Stories of New Jersey by A.S. Mott – these spooky tales set in our own state make for fun reading. (Check out the Uncanny podcast for more accounts of the paranormal!)

The Revolutionary Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff – this biography reveals the overlooked role that Adams played in inspiring the American Revolution.  Well-written and very readable, it offers a valuable perspective on how even  key players in historic events can fade from prominence.

Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius – a nine-year-old girl witnesses the killing of her reindeer calf, an act of hatred against Sweden’s indigenous Sámi people. As she grows up, she rebels against an apathetic police force and a patriarchal society.  The story and its exploration of Sámi culture are well worth reading.  

March Meeting Reads

A Gracious Plenty (1997) by Sheri Reynolds – a beautifully written story in the Southern Gothic style centers on a disfigured girl who can hear the voices of the dead.

The Bourne Betrayal (2007) and The Bourne Deception (2009) by Eric Van Lustbader continue the series begun by Robert Ludlum, maintaining the page-turning qualities of these adventures, and adding some contemporary historical details on Russian society.

“Years that Changed History:1215”, an offering from The Great Courses, is a ‘big history’ of a landmark year, looking at events and culture in Europe, Asia, and Africa. These video courses are available on Kanopy and Hoopla

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – another example of Larson’s outstanding ‘narrative non-fiction,’ telling what happened when the lives of wireless inventor Marconi and notorious British murderer Crippen intersected on a trans-Atlantic voyage.

Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (1925) – in this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the characters are as complex and  well-developed as the social commentary.

The God Equation: A Quest for the Theory of Everything (2021) by Michio Kaku – the prominent theoretical physicist and author of several popular science books describes the search for a single theory that will explain how all forces operate.  This promises to unlock grand mysteries such as what happened before the Big Bang.

Existential Physics: A Scientist’s Guide to Life’s Essential Questions (2022) by Sabine Hossenfelder – a ‘contrarian’ physicist seeks to clarify which questions science can and cannot answer, essentially throwing water on some theories as being ultimately impossible to test and thus prove.  

Unscripted: The Epic Battle for a Media Empire and the Redstone Family Legacy (2023) by James B. Stewart – the intrigue and back fighting that fueled the struggle for control of the Paramount organization read like fiction in this compelling page-turner.  

The Boys from Biloxi (2022) by John Grisham – Grisham can still create fresh, suspenseful mysteries with familiar settings; here two families representing the different sides of Biloxi are set to clash.

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney (2021) – this psychological thriller centered on a married couple and their secrets is creepy and unsettling, but well-written and ultimately a compelling read.  

The Dutch House by Anne Patchett (2019) – the family mansion is like a character itself in this psychologically astute story of two siblings. It’s a very readable story dealing with themes of love and forgiveness, written with rich, warm and witty style.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (2011) – this brief collection of fictional stories of Japanese ‘mail-order brides’ dealing with the realities of their new lives is beautifully written and poignant – highly recommended.  
Spare by Prince Harry (2023) – parts are worth reading. Harry’s descriptions of his feelings (even delusions) following the death of his mother, and his depiction of how press and paparazzi intrusion have deeply affected his life, are truly moving and offer insights that couldn’t be provided by other sources.  However, the unrelentingly one-sided account of his ongoing family feud becomes tedious.

December Meeting Reads

And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham – Meacham’s  thoroughly documented, up-to-date research is well-integrated into this moving account of Lincoln’s life and the evolution of his thought on slavery.  An easily-read book that offers valuable insights applicable to our own time. 

Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis of Lafayette in the Age of Revolution by Mike Duncan – Duncan skillfully tells the story of how Lafayette emerged toward the end of his long life as a genuine hero of democracy on two continents. This is a fascinating and easy-to-read historical biography.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – this powerful retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear features  a successful Iowa farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. Brilliantly written, this is a most worthwhile read.

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro – a young physics genius connects two families who harbor secrets in this compelling story that is full of insights into both the night sky and human lives.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver – this modern-day version of David Copperfield set in Appalachia is a wonderful and powerful story.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis – Lewis depicts in his clipped style how good people can be led astray in hard times; though set in the troubled ‘thirties, its message is just as relevant to today’s world.

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison – a young Mexican-American man matures as he works through challenges in his landscaping job and his personal life in this humorous coming-of-age story.

The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman – the Oglala Lakota chef and founder of The Sioux Chef restaurant presents modern recipes using indigenous American fruits and vegetables, wild and foraged grains, game, and fish. All are free of wheat, dairy, and sugar.

How Y’all Doing? Misadventures and Mischiefs from a Life Well-Lived by Leslie Jordan – the late actor recounts stories from his life in his trademark irreverent style, spanning the decades from , spanning his ‘50s childhood through his attainment of social media fame.

Age of Death by Julia Chapman – set in the Yorkshire Dales, this mixing of light humor and romance with murder and death might appeal to fans of ‘cozy’ mysteries, but otherwise it’s an insubstantial and tedious read.  
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine – Albertine was a pioneer of the U.K. punk movement; in this movingly written memoir she recounts how she overcame many challenges to her need to express her opinions and feelings creatively.

November Meeting Reads

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher – one of our most popular reads right now, this historical fiction tells the story of Belle da Costa Greene, who hid a deep personal secret while advancing her career as the personal librarian to the wealthy collector J.P. Morgan. It’s a compellingly told story, although the integration of historical detail can be a bit awkward.

The Winners by Fredrik Backman – the conclusion of the brilliant Beartown trilogy (Beartown, Us Against You), while somewhat less satisfying than the first volumes, wraps up the series and offers us much to identify with in its depiction of universal human themes.

The It Girl by Ruth Ware – this is a page-turner about the lives of a group of friends who met at Oxford University, presenting many false pathways and concluding with a big surprise.

The Martian by Andy Weir – this account of an astronaut stranded on Mars who displays incredible ingenuity in his struggle to survive is truly compelling.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp – this historical fiction is a very well-written account of how marriage affected Georgia O’Keefe as a person and an artist; speculation and fact are graceful integrated.

Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone – this is a great thriller that concludes with a big surprise; it also raises thought-provoking questions about whether women can expect to be believed. 

The House on Endless Waters by Emunah Elon – this is an excellent work of WWII historical fiction that involves a painful family mystery.  

The Trees by Percival Everett – you might have to push through the first chapter, but this literary murder mystery addressing the legacy of lynching  is highly recommended.  

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott – this account of a quest for a mythical heron with the ability to control the weather is a rewarding eco fable. With elements of magical realism, it’s well-written and very enjoyable.

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen – Like many of Quindlen’s novels, this story of a community dealing with loss and upheaval manages to be both sad and uplifting.  

Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy by Ian W. Toll – beginning with the heated debate on the wisdom of establishing a permanent military, this highly readable history traces the U.S. Navy from its birth to its role in the War of 1812.  

Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph by Lucasta Miller – a well-integrated blend of biography and straightforward literary analysis, this illuminates the complexities of Keats’ personality and the originality of his work. 

October Meeting Reads

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner – This is a light, easy, beach read about a writer for bought her dream summer home in Cape Cod, envisioning the memories her family would make there. Forty years later, she realizes that it’s not being used and prepares to sell it, but first, she’ll host her granddaughter’s wedding there. As the family gathers, long-held secrets start to come out.

I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf by Grant Snider – A graphic novel about books that’s sure to charm any book lover. This collection of one- and two-page comics includes relatable, sweet, and often funny panels about reading and writing, such as Ode to an Unfinished Book, Pig Latin, and Some Potential Bookmarks.

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt – Tova is a volunteer at the Sowell Bay aquarium who still has unanswered questions about how her teenaged son died decades earlier. Cameron is a young man whose mother walked out on him, who arrives in Sowell Bay looking for a windfall from the man he thinks is his absent father. Marcellus is an intelligent octopus who hates being cooped up in the aquarium but might just be able to bring both Tova and Cameron closure and hope.

The Measure by Nikki Erlick – It all starts when boxes mysteriously appear to adults around the world. It turns out that the strings inside represent the recipient’s lifespan, which leads to enormous controversy. Told through the perspective of several intertwined characters, this book explores the impact of the strings from personal issues (should long-stringers date short-stringers?) to larger questions of politics and faith. Book clubs may want this on their radar for the future.

September Meeting Reads

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus – a female scientist becomes a surprise TV star who gives a voice to unappreciated women like herself. This is a funny and charming book with an emotional ending.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman – in this sequel to Beartown, Backman conveys the nuances of human life, with its sorrows and pleasures. This is an easy-to-read book with a meaningful message and a redemptive ending.

Songbirds by Christy Lefteri –  set in Cyprus, this is a well-written exploration of migrants’ lives and what happens when a person who is largely invisible to society goes missing.

Trust by Hernán Diaz – this is a well-written, complex but readable work of literary fiction composed of four parts, each representing different narrators who present the story of a 1920s financier and his wife. 

Breakthrough by Michael Grumley – this opens with some plausible marine science about dolphins, then morphs into a thriller involving the military, AI, the Bermuda Triangle, aliens, and some romance. Sci-fi thriller fans might enjoy it. 

Nevada by Imogen Binnie – a cult classic worth reading, this is considered to be the first novel in which a transgender person is represented as an individual with their own point of view.

Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer – this historical fiction/mystery pulls you right in as it explores two possible parallel lives for a fugitive from the KGB.  It features a very surprising and satisfying final twist.   

Two books by John Grisham: The Judge’s List – a Florida lawyer is asked to investigate a past murder in which a judge is suspected; (it’s a sequel to The Whistler, but can be read alone); and The Litigators – a burned-out stuffed-shirt Chicago lawyer finds more meaningful work with a team of downmarket ambulance-chasers.  As with all Grishams, both are compulsively readable.

Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella – a young woman believes she has found love in a retreat where no personal  information may be revealed, while a friend takes a dating app to its granular conclusion and ends up with just one eligible match. Will these relationships work? This is light reading that’s intelligent and funny, although some characters veer towards caricature.

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor, the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown – for readers of books like this, it’s worthwhile for some of journalist Brown’s insider insights/gossip. But by the end of this lengthy dossier you might just be tired of the whole lot. (Except the Queen!)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – Inspector Hercule Poirot comes out of retirement to solve a murder in an English village in this cleverly constructed mystery with a genuinely surprising ending.

August Meeting Reads

The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland – a painting’s history is traced back through the centuries; mildly cliched but overall a good read.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave – this thriller about a woman searching for the truth about her husband’s disappearance is a propulsive read, if not earth-shatteringly original.

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer – this novel told as an exchange of emails is a cute and very readable update of The Parent Trap.

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocum – this novel powerfully communicates the lack of opportunities given to Black classical musicians. While the ending is a little pat, it effectively arouses anger over continued injustices.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – Towles’ story of the wealthy classes in the 1930s and 40s is told with unparalleled style, and conveys the fascinating history of this society on every page.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy – an outstanding read, this murder mystery covers themes of family dynamics, wildlife conservation, and love.

Sparring Partners by John Grisham – Grisham continues to be an excellent observer of the human condition in these touching stories.

The Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan – a creepy tale set on a future Long Island is populated with unlikeable characters, but remains compulsively readable and is ultimately provokes some deep thinking about human nature and the mob mentality.

Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner – a graduate student disappears in this excellent mystery by the recently deceased author.

The It Girl by Ruth Ware – this consistently good author here tells the suspenseful story of a murder case revisited ten years later.

Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman – set in the 1920s, the story of a Black seamstress who escapes to a glamorous speakeasy at night is a fun read that leaves you hoping for a sequel.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley – an eerie tale of nefarious doings in the title apartment, this picks up in the second half.

Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency by Mark K. Updegrove – a brilliantly succinct narrative of Kennedy’s historic term of office.

The Premonitions Bureau: A True Account of Death Foretold by Sam Knight – horrified by the Aberfan disaster, psychiatrist John Barker undertook to set up an official national early warning system based on premonitions reported by the public. This is an intriguing and moving look at humans’ relationship with the future, and a poignant look at a man squarely facing the predictions of his own death.

July Meeting Reads

Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life by Delia Ephron – a wonderful story by the beloved screenwriter, documenting her later-in-life experiences of love, illness and death, and family. 

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams – a charming story of historical fiction set during the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. Exploring which words get included and which left out reveals themes of societal classism and sexism.

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura – while this was a readable story about an interpreter at The Hague, the point was difficult to discern amidst the meandering plot.

The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo – translated from South Korean, the old woman is a professional assassin, who near the end of her career is challenged by a younger colleague.  A stirring read.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben – Coben’s first novel features a few too many plot twists, but the writing is strong (and teaches you basketball terminology!)

Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki -set in the court of mid-19th century Vienna, this historical fiction telling the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary is very well-written.

Beartown by Frederick Backman – the characterization is brilliant, and the reader is completely engrossed in the small town caught up in the fortune of its junior ice hockey team. It’s gripping–and not sentimental. Fans of Richard Russo will especially enjoy this.

Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel – a great biography offering the German leader’s personal and political history, with a moving section on her decision to stand by a notably liberal refugee policy.

The Fiancee by Kate White – a mediocre mystery about a wealthy family who gathers together. The main character is not likeable and the ending is weak.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill – the device of featuring a novel within the novel makes this just too complex and demanding to enjoy. 

Shackleton: Arctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi – told in graphic novel form, the true story of how the polar explorer and his team survived their Antarctic expedition is almost too wild to be believed!

June Meeting Reads

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (audiobook) – both a mystery with an unexpected twist and a heartwarming story about family, about how a newly married woman tries to connect with her stepdaughter after her husband goes missing.

The Power Couple by Alex Berenson – the head of an FBI counter-terrorism division gets her stay-at-home husband a job in security, after which he develops and sells a high profile app. While on a trip to Europe with their grown children, their daughter is kidnapped, followed by a few twists the reader did not expect.

Wonder Test by Michelle Richmond – a recently widowed FBI agent moves to the house she’s inherited in her former hometown to find a community obsessed with an annual exam. When students start going missing before the exam, she can’t help but investigate.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman – a novel about the relationships that evolve at an open house that has been infiltrated by a fugitive bank robber. 

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce – a woman leaves her job and hires a companion to help her find a rare beetle in another country. While written to be funny, it’s more about the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between these two women.

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn – Three women from different backgrounds form a friendship while working at Bletchley Park during WWII. 

Thirst by Scott Harrison – a nightclub owner leaves behind his life of drugs and alcohol and spends 16 months on a hospital shift in West Africa. His experience there leads him to found charity: water, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing clean drinking water to those who need it.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – a baby is abandoned in a bookstore and raised by the curmudgeonly owner. It’s a simple, sweet story that seemed more like a YA novel for this reader. A different book is highlighted in each chapter, adding to one’s reading list.

Daylight by David Baldacci – In Book 3 of the Atlee Pine series, an FBI agent continues to search for her long-missing twin sister, but ends up tangling with corrupt politicians and law enforcement.

Friends for Life by Meg Wolitzer – story of the friendship of three women – great dialogue and laugh-out-loud funny.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – A Russian aristocrat spends decades under house arrest, watching history unfold around him; reader could not put this book down

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – a very different, lighter, book than the previous title. An 18-year old, released from a juvenile work farm, brings his younger brother on a road trip to start over, but his plans go unexpectedly awry.

Left on Tenth: a Second Chance at Life by Delia Ephron – a memoir by the romantic comedy writer, detailing the ups and downs of her life after the deaths of her sister, Nora, and her husband.

Playing with Myself by Randy Rainbow – a funny, touching memoir by the now famous satirist who was bullied as a child until he discovered himself in musical theater. His humor is sharp without being mean.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci – written in a smart, self-deprecating tone, Tucci writes about his early life in Italy, not just about food, adding commentary on other topics as well, such as refugees in Sicily.

Last Call at the Nightingale by Katherine Schellman – In this Jazz Age mystery, Vivian finds refuge at an illegal dance club, where everyone is welcome regardless of race, class, or orientation. After she discovers a dead body in the alley outside, she is drawn into the investigation, putting herself and her sister at risk. Vivian is an endearing and clever amateur sleuth, with more to uncover as this new series continues.

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook) – Loosely connected to some of Reid’s other books, this novel centers on the 4 Riva siblings’ annual A-list party, at which something big is foreshadowed, but also goes back in time to their parents’ rocky relationship, and the impact their famous – and famously absent – father had on them.

May Meeting Reads

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout – shows how past relationships still impact your life long after they end; probably more enjoyable for those who have read the previous books about Lucy Barton. 

Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci – the first in the Atlee Pine series; Atlee, haunted by the memory of her twin sister’s kidnapping when they were young, is an FBI agent investigating a bomb threat to the Grand Canyon. Fun read with a realistic plot

The Fallen by David Baldacci – part of the Amos Decker series; another fun read with a realistic plot, this time involving the opioid crisis.

The Cellist by Daniel Silva – this latest in the Gabriel Allon series does not disappoint, relevant to current situations. The next installment is eagerly anticipated this summer.

French Braid by Anne Tyler – a sweet book that follows a family over decades, almost like paging through a family photo album. 

Never Simple by Liz Scheier – memoir of a woman whose mother had a serious personality disorder; a story of survival and the indomitable human spirit.

Honor by Thrity Umriger – this novel takes place in India, focusing on a Hindu woman who married a Muslim man and the trial that followed after her family set them on fire because of their religious differences.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umriger – captures the struggles of an Indian woman and her servant as the strict caste system impacts their lives, together and separate.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride – a story of crime, drug addiction, and family in 1960s New York City.

The Match by Harlan Coben – sequel to The Boy From the Woods, although could be read on its own; Wilde was found in the Ramapo Mountains as a child, with no memory of his past. In The Match, he uses a genealogy website to find his family, finding more questions than answers. A fun read with surprising twists.

Friends for Life by Meg Wolitzer – a light, funny read about female friendship, centering on three women in their 30s who have been friends since childhood.

The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk – in 1980s Instanbul, a young man is apprenticed to a well-digger and falls for a red-haired woman in the nearby town. After his daydreams lead to a terrible accident, he runs away, only to return 20 years later as an engineer. (This title is available in Libby as an ebook)

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson – Nine people, unknown to each other, receive a list with their names on it, after which they are killed, one by one. This mystery was hard to put down.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn – a satisfying British legal drama about a rape case with two major twists. The Netflix series based on the book was also recommended.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan – Four women compete to be a co-presenter on a BBC radio show that teaches women ways to feed their family within the ration limits of WWII. As the competition progresses, the four women find their lives intertwining in unexpected ways.

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear – the latest in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series takes place during WWII, centering on the women who ferry British aircraft. While not shying away from the realities of war, this series is grounded by supportive characters.

April Meeting Reads

Ocean State by Stewart O’Nan – reminiscent of Endless Love by Scott Spencer, this thriller truly captures the feeling of teenage obsessive love.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson – this earlier book by Larson (2006) weaves together the true stories of Guglielmo Marconi (inventor of the wireless telegraph) and a serial killer.

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand – A woman and her sons travel from Iowa to the island of St. John, where her husband has died, only to find that instead of being on a business trip, he had been living a secret life.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty – The Delaney family, whose lives revolved around tennis, is upended when Joy, the mother, disappears.

Mosquito by Gayl Jones – one of Jones’ later works, centers on an African-American woman in Texas who is an indie truck driver who becomes involved with assisting Mexican immigrants. The story of this strong woman is told in a purposeful, stream-of-consciousness style.

Run Towards the Danger by Sarah Polley – a series of essays by a Canadian actor-director, inspired by the doctor who treated her traumatic brain injury by telling her to “run towards the danger” and push through her pain to retrain her brain. She then applies this advice to the other difficulties she’s faced.

Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta – an easy-to-read book by a smart and charming neurosurgeon that shares fascinating information about how to prevent brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh – a story about Claudia, the social director of a women’s wellness clinic in Boston, and the people she encounters inside and outside of the clinic. Told from the third-person perspective with a fascinating cast of characters.

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie – quick read of the classic (and longest running) play, with all the red herrings you’d expect from Christie.

Watching Darkness Fall by David McKean – the history of FDR’s ambassadors in Europe and how all but one of them underestimated Hitler’s threat. The story ends with the attack on Pearl Harbor, leaving the question of whether Roosevelt would have entered the war without that attack. For fans of Erik Larson.

Love and Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay – a story told in the letters between a young woman in California and a middle-aged woman in the Pacific Northwest. Their friendship started with a shared love of food, but their bonds strengthened over the years. For those who enjoyed 84, Charing Cross Road.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – suspense thriller narrated partly by a woman in a coma and partly through the diary of an 11-year-old girl. Her first book –  it had unexpected twists, but the ending was a bit confusing.

How to Be Perfect by Michael Schur – the creator of the TV show The Good Place applies all his new knowledge of philosopy to modern moral questions for a very entertaining and thought provoking audiobook.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray – based on the true story of Belle da Costa Greene, the curator of the Morgan Library, who spent her life passing as a white woman in an effort to protect her family and her legacy.

Several titles by Daniel Silva were mentioned: The Kill Artist is the first in his Gabriel Allon series, but readers could also get a good introduction in The Order (Book 20). The next book in the series, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, comes out in July 2022.

March Meeting Reads

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito – a woman tries to decode her husband’s secrets in this atmospheric novel. The creepy story and great writing make it a very worthwhile read. 

A.L.T. by Andre Leon Talley – this is a moving testament to the two women who inspired and supported Talley’s ambition to work in fashion: his grandmother Bennie Francis Davis, and the legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.  

Rise: My Story by Lindsey Vonn – the ski champion has packed a lot of triumph and disappointment into her relatively short life, and she tells her story here with appealing insight, honesty, and humor.

Maid by Nita Prose – this ‘cozy mystery’ is almost cartoonish in its flat characters and clumsy plot. 

Unthinkable by Jamie Raskin – Congressman Raskin tells the heartbreaking story of the weeks when his son’s suicide was quickly followed by the assault on the U.S. capitol – it’s a painful read but well-written and certainly worthwhile.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter: A Memoir by Sonia Taitz – this is charming and honest account of a child’s feelings and attitudes growing up with her Holocaust-survivor parents in New York. It’s delightful and easy to read.

The Whistler by John Grisham – this story of judicial corruption has classic Grisham appeal, and is a compelling and easy read.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich – while the presentation of Native American issues is fascinating, this is otherwise a predictable, disappointing coming-of-age story.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming -Cumming honestly recounts growing up with an abusive father, but also shares a compelling genealogical mystery and some celebrity gossip. Fans of the actor won’t be disappointed.

Smalltime: A Story of My Family and the Mob by Russell Shorto – the author combines family history while documenting how the mob was deeply integrated into his Pennsylvania town’s life. Well worth reading. 

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi – the short, eliptic chapters of this novel come across as an ineffective way to tell the story of a wife and mother who commits suicide.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – a true page-turner, finished in one day!

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson – a man saves a life, then insinuates himself into the world of the art dealer he rescued. The story is intense and keeps you involved until the end.

February Meeting Reads

The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thomson – whether you like this story of a Connecticut financier’s crumbling suburban marriage may depend on how interested you are in a new version (slightly more sympathetic) of John Updike’s take on male angst. 

Taste: My Life through Food by  Stanley Tucci – this is a charming, humorous story of Tucci’s obsession with food, set against the backdrop of his experience of oral cancer. It’s an easy and fast read that provides rewarding insights into the role of food in Italy – and some great-sounding recipes.

The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis – a short novel translated from French, this offers affecting portraits of an intellectually precocious, effiminate boy growing up in a small-minded industrial town.

Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether – a young Black girl growing up in Harlem in the 1930s narrates her life with honesty, recounting the harassment and many other challenges she must negotiate as she comes of age. Some editions include an introduction by James Baldwin.

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession – a gently funny and wise book about two quiet men who support each other as the world challenges their introspective ways. 

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer – a child goes missing, and you won’t be able to put this page-turner down until the story is resolved. The writing beautifully conveys both suspense and genuine emotion.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – set in the Dust Bowl era, the similarities of this work to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath seem glaringly obvious; yet the author’s writing style falls short of the model. 

January 2022 Meeting Reads

Normal People by Sally Rooney – the characters were not likeable or interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention – not worth persisting with this read. 

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen – another emphatically positive review for this gripping story that treats a tragic experience with humanity and insight.

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama – a gentle story set in a small village in pre-WWII  coastal Japan, where a young artist recovers from tuberculosis and gains wisdom and spiritual insight.

The All of It by Jeanette Haien – set in Ireland; an older couple is found to be harboring secrets; a short, affecting story told with quiet humor.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr – a set of stories set in three separate but interconnected worlds. This is not the easiest read, but it’s written with a rich complexity that rewards patience and even re-reading. Past, present and future are brilliantly brought together in a tribute to the power of the written word.

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead – set in the sixties, a man navigates the struggles of operating in different worlds–as a father and businessman, and a criminal.  This is well-crafted and beautifully written; the subject is not quite as heavy as some of Colson’s other works.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi – it’s a bit fluffy and formulaic, lacking much substance for discussion.

The Judge’s List by John Grisham – Set in Florida, this tale of a serial killer is a bit more complex than some of Grisham’s work. A sequel is merited.

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell – the characters seem unlikeable in this well-reviewed short story collection–its appeal may be generational.

Out of Thin Air: Running Wisdom from Above the Clouds in Ethiopia by Michael Crawley – Crawley, an elite runner for Scotland and an anthropology Ph.D. student, immersed himself in the culture of world-class Ethiopian marathon runners. He effectively conveys their unique training approach that blends traditional and modern attitudes, and lets us get to know the runners as individuals.

December Meeting Reads

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen – this story of a family whose lives are upended by tragedy is beautifully portrayed by Quindlen, whose depiction of the way people handle loss and trauma is  painfully true to life, but not without hope.

Going There by Katie Couric – Couric’s in-demand memoir spares no details, revealing everything (too much)? about her own life and the cut-throat world of television news shows.  

21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox – Cox brings humor, wit, respect and affection to these essays. They center on particular geographic locations (in England), but expand to explore themes of family and local history, folklore, nature–and cats

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym – two sisters lead seemingly quiet lives in a post-WWII English village, but their sharp, affectionate observations of their small society make this a funny and delightful read. 

Best Reads of 2021:

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – it took a second attempt for this book to start to seem worthwhile–but then its power continued to grow until reaching the emotional ending. 

The Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee – by Casey N. Cep – in this true crime story and courtroom drama, Harper Lee is seen as a three-dimensional person, revealing her contradictions as well as a complicated friendship with Truman Capote. 

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell – a moving, inevitably tragic story of how an unwed mother found the redemption that Victorian society sought to deny her. 

November Meeting Reads

Tell No One by Harlan Coben – this thriller features Coban’s trademark last-second plot twist, and is an easy read.

Modern Lovers by Emma Strout – well-developed characters navigating mid-life crises and long-held secrets populate this story of  college friends living in gentrified Brooklyn.

State of Terror by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton – the departure from Penny’s characteristically restrained style is jarring, and the ideological message seems out of place.  The plot isn’t great either! 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – this is long, but beautifully written and compelling enough to keep you reading until you’ve finished.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie – Christie’s enduring appeal is in the charm of her plots and dialog, all evident here. 

Beautiful Country: A Memoir by Qian Julie Wang – a compelling, sensitively told story of the author’s childhood in undocumented immigrant family in NYC.

Something Wild by Hanna Halperin – a very powerful and well-written story of a family touched by domestic violence.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout – a writer and her former husband look back on their marriage in this latest well-written book from the author.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan – fascinating historical fiction about four very different women in WWII Britain who come together for a cooking competition; recipes from this ration-restricted era are included!

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin – the well-written and touching story of a cemetery caretaker, whose life over many decades encompasses love and tragedy.  Translated from the French.

Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer – a fascinating look at the wealthy, self-centered women who were drawn to the writer Truman Capote; he found himself shunned after betraying their confidences.

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz – Horowitz is a very talented and versatile writer; while this entry fall a little short of his usual standard, fans will still enjoy it.  

The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny – this has a heavier, less cozy tone than previous Gamache mysteries, but it keeps you guessing to the end and is still a worthwhile read.

Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen – this murder mystery is a broad satire of Trump-era society life in Florida; it’s both funny and cleverly plotted.

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell – this Victorian-era novel was a radical portrayal of an unwed mother; while some of the characterization was exaggerated in order to be acceptable to its readers, there are still plenty of flashes of Gaskell’s characteristic humor and insight that seem fresh today. 

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. 

The Kill Artist (& others in this series) by Daniel Silva – these spy thrillers featuring Gabriel Allon, the legendary chief of Israeli intelligence, are page-turning reads.

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.

Finding Ashley and Nine Lives by Danielle Steel – these powerful stories are told in Steel’s uniquely compelling style that wholly absorbs you into the characters’ worlds. 

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.  

The Color of Water by James McBride – this memoir is a powerful and moving testament to the struggles and strengths of the author’s mother; McBride’s fiction is also highly acclaimed. 

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. 

In this New York Times interview, Tana French talks about how she was inspired by reading Larry McMurtry’s underrated Lonesome Dove and other westerns. 

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 Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse and  Shiver by Allie Reynolds – two thrillers set in the Alps! But while Sanatorium falls apart towards the end, Shiver concludes with a rewarding twist.  

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.  

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – an exquisite coming of age story.  (Vox published a rave review last year!)

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.

Favorite Reads of 2020 (New and Old)!

Middlemarch by George Eliot – a beautifully written story of an idealistic woman.  (Ebook and e-audiobook also available.)

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.)

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall (print and ebook)  (E-audiobook also available.)  great character development, very uplifting.

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!)

The Devil in the White City (print and ebook) by Erik Larsen – this non-fiction story of a very successful psychopath may be Larsen’s best.   (Audiobook also available.)

December Reads:

The Housekeeper and the Professor (print and ebook) by Yōko Ogawa – a gently humorous depiction of a different kind of family.  (E-audiobook also available.)

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. 

The Night Tiger by Choo Yangsze (print) – set in 1930s Malaysia, this work of magical realism that ultimately offers a drawn-out, bland plot.  (Ebook and e-audiobook also available.)

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.

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten – a collection of short stories perfectly described by the title. Dark, Scandanavian humor. A quick read. (Also available as an audiobook in Libby.)

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)

Camino Winds by John Grisham – this is a compelling story that manages to also be an easy, comforting read.  While it can stand alone, it’s better read as the sequel to Camino Island. Ebook.

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). 

Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout – a very worthy sequel to Olive Kitteridge, with the same great writing and characterization.  

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.

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 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 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 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.

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.