19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

WHAT WE'RE READING

Jan’s Picks

First inspired by her father who took her weekly to the library, Jan has been an avid reader all her life. She loves historical fiction because it brings the past to life. She also enjoys memoirs and other nonfiction, especially audio books read by the author. When she was a small child, she used to play library and check out little Golden Books to all her stuffed animals.

The Beckoning World: A Novel

Douglas Bauer
Hardcover/November 1, 2022
University of Iowa Press

The Beckoning World: A Novel

By Douglas Bauer

University of Iowa Press

November 1, 2022

Jan says, I don’t typically read “baseball books,” but this is so much more than a baseball book.  I have long admired Bauer’s writing and his lovely novel doesn’t disappoint.  With its connections to small-town Iowa, the celebrity of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the tragedy of the Spanish flu, and the touching daily interactions of family life, the story unfolds and embraces you.  As the blurb by author Dennis Lehane states, “The characters and the world stayed with me long after I closed the cover.” 

The Beckoning World is set in the first quarter of the twentieth century and follows Earl Dunham. His weeks are comprised of six days mining coal, followed by Sundays playing baseball. Then one day a major-league scout happens on a game, signs Earl, and he begins a life he had no idea he could even dream.

But dreams sometimes suffer from a lovely abundance, and in Earl’s case her name is Emily Marchand. They fall quickly and deeply in love, but with that love comes heartbreaking complications.

The Beckoning World gathers a cast of characters that include Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; a huge-hearted Pullman steward offering aphoristic wisdom; and countless others, not least of which is the 1918 Spanish flu taking vivid spectral form. At the center is a relentless love that Earl and Emily are defenseless against, allied as they are “in this business of their hearts.

The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times

Michelle Obama
Hardcover/November 15, 2022
Crown Publishing

Jan says,She hooked me (literally) on page 33! Who would ever have thought Michelle Obama would use knitting as a coping strategy for anxiety? When I learned that she found comfort in knitting during the pandemic, I could relate whole-heartedly. That need to keep your hands busy, to focus your mind, to feel a sense of accomplishment. Like Michelle, I have found solace in knitting and crocheting during these trying times. Reading her book was like sitting with a friend who understood. Best of all, she shares her optimism and her resolve to “keep going high” even though others are going low. An inspiring read indeed!

Mrs. Obama offers readers a series of fresh stories and insightful reflections on change, challenge, and power, including her belief that when we light up for others, we can illuminate the richness and potential of the world around us, discovering deeper truths and new pathways for progress. Drawing from her experiences as a mother, daughter, spouse, friend, and First Lady, she shares the habits and principles she has developed to successfully adapt to change and overcome various obstacles–the earned wisdom that helps her continue to “become.” She details her most valuable practices, like “starting kind,” “going high,” and assembling a “kitchen table” of trusted friends and mentors. With trademark humor, candor, and compassion, she also explores issues connected to race, gender, and visibility, encouraging readers to work through fear, find strength in community, and live with boldness”–Publisher’s description

Once We Were Home

Jennifer Rosner
Hardcover/March 14, 2023
Flatiron Books

Jan says, This lovely new book by Jennifer Rosner, National Jewish Book Award Finalist and author of The Yellow Bird Sings, is based on the true stories of children stolen in the wake of World War II. Heartbreaking and haunting, she captures the children’s stories beautifully and documents the harsh realities of families torn apart.

Ana will never forget her mother’s face when she and her baby brother, Oskar, were sent out of their Polish ghetto and into the arms of a Christian friend. For Oskar, though, their new family is the only one he remembers. When a woman from a Jewish reclamation organization seizes them, believing she has their best interest at heart, Ana sees an opportunity to reconnect with her roots, while Oskar sees only the loss of the home he loves.

Roger grows up in a monastery in France, inventing stories and trading riddles with his best friend in a life of quiet concealment. When a relative seeks to retrieve him, the Church steals him across the Pyrenees before relinquishing him to family in Jerusalem.

Renata, a post-graduate student in archaeology, has spent her life unearthing secrets from the past–except for her own. After her mother’s death, Renata’s grief is entwined with all the questions her mother left unanswered, including why they fled Germany so quickly when Renata was a little girl.

Two decades later, they are each building lives for themselves, trying to move on from the trauma and loss that haunts them. But as their stories converge in Israel, in unexpected ways, they must each ask where and to whom they truly belong.

Beautifully evocative and tender, filled with both luminosity and anguish, Once We Were Home reveals a little-known history. Based on the true stories of children stolen during wartime, this heart-wrenching novel raises questions of complicity and responsibility, belonging and identity, good intentions and unforeseen consequences, as it confronts what it really means to find home.

Demon Copperhead

Barbara Kingsolver
Hardcover/October 18, 2022
HarperCollins

Jan says, A long-time fan of Kingsolver’s writing, I was certainly not disappointed with her newest novel.  She uses the Appalachian voice of a young boy to tell the sad story of being born in poverty, while shining a light on the oxycontin tragedy.  Charles Dickens would approve.

Anyone will tell you the born of this world are marked from the get-out, win or lose.”

Demon Copperhead is set in the mountains of southern Appalachia. It’s the story of a boy born to a teenaged single mother in a single-wide trailer, with no assets beyond his dead father’s good looks and copper-colored hair, a caustic wit, and a fierce talent for survival. In a plot that never pauses for breath, relayed in his own unsparing voice, he braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses. Through all of it, he reckons with his own invisibility in a popular culture where even the superheroes have abandoned rural people in favor of cities.

Many generations ago, Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield from his experience as a survivor of institutional poverty and its damages to children in his society. Those problems have yet to be solved in ours. Dickens is not a prerequisite for readers of this novel, but he provided its inspiration. In transposing a Victorian epic novel to her own place and time, Barbara Kingsolver enlists Dickens’ anger and compassion, and above all, his faith in the transformative powers of a good story. Demon Copperhead speaks for a new generation of lost boys, and all those born into beautiful, cursed places they can’t imagine leaving behind.

Ohio

Stephen Markley
Paperback/June 4, 2019
Simon & Schuster

Jan says, Inspired by reading an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Markley’s new novel which comes out in January, I found this book equally intriguing.  Markley has a talent for bringing to life the many characters he weaves together so masterfully. Set in the Midwest, the tale of Ohio has great relevancy to life here in Iowa.

The debut of a major talent; a lyrical and emotional novel set in an archetypal small town in northeastern Ohio—a region ravaged by the great recession, an opioid crisis, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—depicting one feverish, fateful summer night in 2013 when four former classmates converge on their hometown, each with a mission, all haunted by the ghosts of their shared histories.

Since the turn of the century, a generation has come of age knowing only war, recession, political gridlock, racial hostility, and a simmering fear of environmental calamity. In the country’s forgotten pockets, where industry long ago fled, where foreclosures, Walmarts, and opiates riddle the land, death rates for rural whites have skyrocketed, fueled by suicide, addiction and a rampant sense of marginalization and disillusionment. This is the world the characters in Stephen Markley’s brilliant debut novel, Ohio, inherit. This is New Canaan.

The Thing in the Snow

Sean Adams
Paperback/January 3, 2023
William Morrow

Jan says, Having grown up in rural Iowa, I’ve certainly experienced heavy snowstorms where mundane, familiar items are transformed and hidden under drifts.  This book captures the loneliness and boredom of looking out through snow covered windows.  I loved the nebulous quality of the environment, the droll humor, and the enticing mystery of that “thing in the snow.”  A delightful read!

From the critically acclaimed author of The Heap, a thought-provoking and wryly funny novel—equal parts satire and psychological thriller—that holds a funhouse mirror to the isolated workplace and an age of endless distraction.

At the far reaches of the world, the Northern Institute sits in a vast expanse of ice and snow. Once a thriving research facility, its operations were abruptly shut down after an unspecified incident, and its research teams promptly evacuated. Now it’s home to a team of three caretakers—Gibbs, Cline, and their supervisor, Hart—and a single remaining researcher named Gilroy, who is feverishly studying the sensation of coldness.

Their objective is simple: occupy the space, complete their weekly tasks, and keep the building in working order in case research ever resumes. (Also: never touch the thermostat. Also: never, ever go outside.) The work isn’t thrilling—test every door for excessive creaking, sit on every chair to ensure its structural integrity—but for Hart, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to hone his leadership skills and become the beacon of efficiency he always knew he could be.

There’s just one obstacle standing in his way: a mysterious object that has appeared out in the snow. Gibbs and Cline are mesmerized. They can’t discern its exact shape and color, nor if it’s moving or fixed in place. But it is there. Isn’t it?

Whatever it might be, Hart thinks the thing in the snow is an unwelcome distraction, and probably a huge waste of time. Though, come to think of it, time itself has been a bit wonky lately. Weekends pass in a blur, and he can hardly tell day from night. Gravity seems less-than-reliable. The lights have been flickering weirdly, and he feels an odd thrumming sensation in his beard. Gibbs might be plotting to unseat him as supervisor, and Gilroy—well, what is he really doing anyway?

Perplexed and isolated—but most certainly not alone—Hart wrestles for control of his own psyche as the thing in the snow beguiles his team, upends their work, and challenges their every notion of what is normal.

The Attic Child

Lola Joye
Hardcover/September 6, 2022
William Morrow & Company

Jan says, A unique way of interweaving the lives of two children trapped in the same attic, almost a century apart and bound by a shared secret. Readers may find this book reminiscent of Horse, by Geraldine Brooks.

Early 1900s London: Taken from his homeland, twelve-year-old Celestine spends most of the time locked away in the attic of a large house by the sea. The only time Celestine isn’t bound by confines of the small space is when he is acting as an unpaid servant to English explorer Sir Richard Babbington, As the years pass, he desperately clings on to memories of his family in Africa, even as he struggles to remember his mother’s face, and sometimes his real name…

1974: Lowra, a young orphan girl born into wealth and privilege whose fortunes have now changed, finds herself trapped in the same attic. Searching for a ray of light in the darkness of the attic, Lowra finds under the floorboards an old-fashioned pen, a porcelain doll, a beaded necklace, and a message carved on the wall, written in an unidentifiable language. Providing comfort for her when all hope is lost, these clues will lead her to uncover the secrets of the attic.

What Happened to Paula: On the Death of an American Girl

Katherine Dykstra
Hardcover/June 15, 2021
W. W. Norton & Company

Jan says, Although it’s not my usual genre, I appreciated the author’s clear writing and thorough investigative work on a case that happened in the 70’s—a time period to which I could certainly relate.

A riveting investigation into a cold case asks how much control women have over their bodies and the direction of their lives.
July 1970. Eighteen-year-old Paula Oberbroeckling left her house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Four months later, her remains were discovered just beyond the mouth of a culvert overlooking the Cedar River. Her homicide has never been solved.

Fifty years cold, Paula’s case had been mostly forgotten when journalist Katherine Dykstra began looking for answers. A woman was dead. Why had no one been held responsible? How could the powers that be, how could a community, have given up? Tracing Paula’s final days, Dykstra uncovers a girl whose exultant personality was at odds with the Midwest norms of the late 1960s. A girl who was caught between independence and youthful naivete, between a love that defied racially segregated Cedar Rapids and her complicated but enduring love for her mother, and between a possible pregnancy and the freedoms that had been promised by the women’s liberation movement but that still had little practical bearing on actual lives. The more Dykstra learned about the circumstances of Paula’s life, the more parallels she saw in the lives of the women who knew Paula and the women in Paula’s family, in the lives of the women in Dykstra’s own family, and even in her own life.

Captivating and expertly crafted from interviews with Paula’s family and friends, police reports, and on-the-scene investigation, What Happened to Paula is part true crime story, part memoir, a timely and powerful look at gender, autonomy, and the cost of being a woman.

The Call of the Wrens

Jenni Walsh
Paperback/November 15, 2022
Harper Muse

Jan says, Wonderful to learn this little-known story of the daring women who rode through war-torn Europe, carrying secrets on their shoulders.

Based on real history, The Call of the Wrens explores the bonds of sisterhood and love even when all hope seems lost.

An orphan who spent her youth without a true home, Marion Hoxton found in the Great War something other than destruction. She found a chance to belong. As a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—the Wrens—Marion gained sisters. She found purpose in her work as a motorcycle dispatch rider, assigned to train and deliver carrier pigeons to the front line. And, despite the constant threat of danger, she and her childhood friend Eddie began to dream of a future together. Until the battle that changed everything.

Now, twenty years later, another war has broken out across Europe, calling Marion to return to the fight. Meanwhile, others, like twenty-year-old society girl Evelyn Fairchild, hear the call for the first time. For Evelyn, it’s a way to prove herself after a childhood fraught with surgeries and limitations from a disability. And with the re-formation of the Wrens as World War II rages, it’s the perfect opportunity to make a difference in the world at seventy miles per hour.

Told in alternating narratives that converge in a single life-changing moment, The Call of the Wrens is a vivid, emotional saga of love, secrets, resilience—and the knowledge that the future will always belong to the brave souls who fight for it.

 

Snapper

Brian Kimberling
Paperback/March 11, 2014
Vintage Publishing

Jan says, I loved the humor and wit! Who knew a bird guy could be so funny?

A great, hilarious new voice in fiction: the poignant, all-too-human recollections of an affable bird researcher in the Indiana backwater as he goes through a disastrous yet heartening love affair with the place and its people.
Nathan Lochmueller studies birds, earning just enough money to live on. He drives a glitter-festooned truck, the Gypsy Moth, and he is in love with Lola, a woman so free-spirited and mysterious she can break a man’s heart with a sigh or a shrug. Around them swirls a remarkable cast of characters: the proprietor of Fast Eddie’s Burgers & Beer, the genius behind “Thong Thursdays”; Uncle Dart, a Texan who brings his swagger to Indiana with profound and nearly devastating results; a snapping turtle with a taste for thumbs; a German shepherd who howls backup vocals; and the very charismatic state of Indiana itself. And at the center of it all is Nathan, creeping through the forest to observe the birds he loves and coming to terms with the accidental turns his life has taken.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

 Yuval Noah Harari
Paperback/May 15, 2022
Harper Perennial

Jan says, I started this book when it first came out and then life happened so it sat on my TBR shelf for several years.  This month, I had plenty of time to read and fortunately, I rediscovered Sapiens—a most fascinating account of our relatives.  Harari has a unique ability to make history captivating.

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.” One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us? Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas. Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become? Featuring 27 photographs, 6 maps, and 25 illustrations/diagrams, this provocative and insightful work is sure to spark debate and is essential reading for aficionados of Jared Diamond, James Gleick, Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Sharon Moalem.

The Deluge

Stephen Markley
Hardcover/January 10, 2022
Penguin Random House

Jan says, Be prepared to get hooked on page one and travel through 880 pages of incredible writing and very plausible terror!  Markley teaches as he entertains his readers, bringing climate change, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and challenges to our future democracy to the forefront.  Anyone that loved Steven King’s, The Stand, should get ready to be blown away by this epic that begins in 2013 and traverses past 2039.

From the bestselling author of Ohio, a masterful American epic charting a near future approaching collapse and a nascent but strengthening solidarity.

In the first decades of the 21st century, the world is convulsing, its governments mired in gridlock while a patient but unrelenting ecological crisis looms. America is in upheaval, battered by violent weather and extreme politics. In California in 2013, Tony Pietrus, a scientist studying deposits of undersea methane, receives a death threat. His fate will become bound to a stunning cast of characters—a broken drug addict, a star advertising strategist, a neurodivergent mathematician, a cunning eco-terrorist, an actor turned religious zealot, and a brazen young activist named Kate Morris, who, in the mountains of Wyoming, begins a project that will alter the course of the decades to come.

From the Gulf Coast to Los Angeles, the Midwest to Washington, DC, their intertwined odysseys unfold against a stark backdrop of accelerating chaos as they summon courage, galvanize a nation, fall to their own fear, and find wild hope in the face of staggering odds. As their stories hurtle toward a spectacular climax, each faces a reckoning: what will they sacrifice to salvage humanity’s last chance at a future? A singular achievement, The Deluge is a once-in-a-generation novel that meets the moment as few works of art ever have.

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven

Nathaniel Ian Miller
Hardcover/October 1, 2021
Little, Brown

The “ceaselessly brilliant” story of one man who banishes himself to a solitary life in the Arctic Circle, and is saved by good friends, a loyal dog, and a surprise visit that changes everything (Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Orphan Master’s Son)Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.

In 1916, Sven Ormson leaves a restless life in Stockholm to seek adventure in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago where darkness reigns four months of the year and he might witness the splendor of the Northern Lights one night and be attacked by a polar bear the next. But his time as a miner ends when an avalanche nearly kills him, leaving him disfigured, and Sven flees even further, to an uninhabited fjord. There, with the company of a loyal dog, he builds a hut and lives alone, testing himself against the elements. The teachings of a Finnish fur trapper, along with encouraging letters from his family and a Scottish geologist who befriended him in the mining camp, get him through his first winter.

Years into his routine isolation, the arrival of an unlikely visitor salves his loneliness, sparking a chain of surprising events that will bring Sven into a family of fellow castoffs and determine the course of the rest of his life.

Written with wry humor and in prose as breathtaking as the stark landscape it evokes, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a testament to the strength of our human bonds, reminding us that even in the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, we are not beyond the reach of love.

Horse

Geraldine Brooks
Hardcover/June 14, 2022
Penguin Random House

Jan says, for anyone who loves historical fiction, this is a gem!  Brooks shares her gifts for research, storytelling, and her intense love of horses throughout the book, carefully blended with current events and social issues that have, unfotunately, lasted for centuries.  

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history.

KENTUCKY, 1850

An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union.

On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.

NEW YORK CITY, 1954

Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.

WASHINGTON, DC, 2019

Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse—one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success. Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred, Lexington, who became America’s greatest stud sire, Horse is a gripping, multi-layered reckoning with the legacy of enslavement and racism in America.

Wayward

Chuck Wendig
Hardcover/November 15, 2022
Del Rey Books,

Jan says, NPR sums it up perfectly below.  Although it is over 800 pages long, I could hardly put it down.  Filled with fascinating protagonists that keep you reading (much too) late into the night.  Now I need to read his first one.

“The sequel to the national bestseller Wanderers, the instant classic that “takes science, politics, horror, and science fiction and blends them into an outstanding story about the human spirit in times of turmoil, claiming a spot on the list of must-read apocalyptic novels” (NPR)

Five years ago, ordinary Americans fell under the grip of a strange new malady that caused them to sleepwalk across the country to a destination only they knew. They were followed on their quest by the shepherds: friends and family who gave up everything to protect them.

Their secret destination: Ouray, a small town in Colorado that would become one of the last outposts of civilization. Because the sleepwalking epidemic was only the first in a chain of events that led to the end of the world–and the birth of a new one.

The survivors, sleepwalkers and shepherds alike, have a dream of rebuilding human society. Among them are Benji, the scientist struggling through grief to lead the town; Marcy, the former police officer who wants only to look after the people she loves; and Shana, the teenage girl who became the first shepherd–and an unlikely hero whose courage will be needed again.

Because the people of Ouray are not the only survivors, and the world they are building is fragile. The forces of cruelty and brutality are amassing under the leadership of self-proclaimed president Ed Creel. And in the very heart of Ouray, the most powerful survivor of all is plotting its own vision for the new world: Black Swan, the A.I. who imagined the apocalypse.

Against these threats, Benji, Marcy, Shana, and the rest have only one hope: one another. Because the only way to survive the end of the world is together.

Lawn Boy

Johnathan Evison
Paperback/March 19, 2022
Algonquin Books

Jan says, Not my usual genre, I read this for a book club where members selected a Banned Book to read and share a report.   Understandable that parents of small children might have concerns, but the author does a good job of exploring the mind of his main character while sharing the challenges faced by so many young men of limited opportunities. 

Recipient of the 2019 Alex Award​​

“Mike Muñoz Is a Holden Caulfield for a New Millennium–a ’10th-generation peasant with a Mexican last name, raised by a single mom on an Indian reservation’ . . . Evison, as in his previous four novels, has a light touch and humorously guides the reader, this time through the minefield that is working-class America.” –The New York Times Book Review

For Mike Muñoz, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work–and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew–he’s smart enough to know that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? He’s not qualified for much of anything. He has no particular talents, although he is stellar at handling a lawn mower and wielding clipping shears. But now that career seems to be behind him. So what’s next for Mike Muñoz?

In this funny, biting, touching, and ultimately inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man determined to achieve the American dream of happiness and prosperity–who just so happens to find himself along the way.

Razzmatazz

Christopher Moore
Hard Cover/May 17, 2022
William Morrow and Company

Jan says, Detective Noir extreme!   A zany comedy in typical Christopher Moore style that has you laughing from page one.  The characters come to life quickly and stay with you long after you close the book. 

Repeat New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore returns to the mean streets of San Francisco in this outrageous follow-up to his madcap novel Noir.

San Francisco, 1947. Bartender Sammy “Two Toes” Tiffin and the rest of the Cookie’s Coffee Irregulars—a ragtag bunch of working mugs last seen in Noir—are on the hustle: they’re trying to open a driving school; shanghai an abusive Swedish stevedore; get Mable, the local madam, and her girls to a Christmas party at the State Hospital without alerting the overzealous head of the S.F.P.D. vice squad; all while Sammy’s girlfriend, Stilton (a.k.a. the Cheese), and her “Wendy the Welder” gal pals are using their wartime shipbuilding skills on a secret project that might be attracting the attention of some government Men in Black. And, oh yeah, someone is murdering the city’s drag kings and club owner Jimmy Vasco is sure she’s next on the list and wants Sammy to find the killer.

Meanwhile, Eddie “Moo Shoes” Shu has been summoned by his Uncle Ho to help save his opium den from Squid Kid Tang, a vicious gangster who is determined to retrieve a priceless relic: an ancient statue of the powerful Rain Dragon that Ho stole from one of the fighting tongs forty years earlier. And if Eddie blows it, he just might call down the wrath of that powerful magical creature on all of Fog City.

Strap yourselves in for a bit of the old razzmatazz, ladies and gentlemen. It’s Christopher Moore time.

A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence

Mary Pipher
Hard Cover/June 28, 2022
Bloomsbury Publishing

Jan says, I’ve long been a fan of Mary Pipher’s writing and reading this book feels like spending a couple of evenings with a wonderful friend.  Timely, inspirational, and highly relatable. 

From the bestselling author of Women Rowing North and Reviving Ophelia-a memoir in essays reflecting on radiance, resilience, and the constantly changing nature of reality.

In her luminous new memoir in essays, Mary Pipher-as she did in her New York Times bestseller Women Rowing North-taps into a cultural moment, to offer wisdom, hope, and insight into loss and change. Drawing from her own experiences and expertise as a psychologist specializing in women, trauma, and the effect of our culture on our mental health, she looks inward in A Life in Light to what shaped her as a woman, one who has experienced darkness throughout her life but was always drawn to the light.

Her plainspoken depictions of her hard childhood and life’s difficulties are dappled with moments of joy and revelation, tragedies and ordinary miseries, glimmers, and shadow. As a child, she was separated from her parents for long periods. Those separations affected her deeply, but in A Life in Light she explores what she’s learned about how to balance despair with joy, utilizing and sharing with readers every coping skill she has honed during her lifetime to remind us that there is a silver thread of resilience that flows through all of life, and that despite our despair, the light will return.

In this book, she points us toward that light.

Shadows of Berlin

David R. Gilham
Hardcover/April 5, 2022
Sourcebooks Landmark

Jan says, A powerful story about the challenges survivors face after living through the horror of staying alive by outing others. 

Trauma and survivor’s guilt haunt a young woman in Gillham’s stunning latest novel. Berlin-born Rachel Perlman, 29, lives in New York City in 1955 with her American husband, Aaron, having fled Europe after WWII. Gillham flashes back to the years before the war, with Rachel (born Rashka Morgenstern) living comfortably in Berlin with her widowed artist mother until the anti-Jewish laws strip them of their possessions and her mother’s livelihood. Rachel and her mother go underground and live as what are known colloquially as “U-boats,” or Jews hiding in plain sight. They’re caught in 1944, and to save themselves from being sent to a concentration camp, Rachel is pushed into helping her mother’s former muse Angelika identify other U-boats.

Now, in New York, Rachel struggles to be a conventional wife, while being terrorized by nightmares and visions of her deceased mother and others. After her uncle discovers her mother’s shocking portrait of Angelika, Rachel’s painful memories of Berlin peak into overdrive. Gillham’s use of Berlin’s cafés and New York’s walk-ups, restaurants, and parks is superb, and the generous sprinkling of Yiddish in the text adds a layer of richness. While the story is a tribute to resilience and starting over, it doesn’t shy away from the hurt that adults can bring to children. This is heart-wrenching and memorable.

Vindicated

Kathleen Williams Renk
Paperback/November 10, 2020
Cuidono Press

Jan says, Before I read this book, all I knew about Mary Shelley was that she wrote Frankenstein.   It was fascinating to step into her life as depicted by Kathleen Williams Renk. 

Mary Godwin is a teenager with a formidable pedigree. Both of her parents are philosophers, but it is Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother she never met, who haunts her waking and dreaming worlds. Reading about her mother’s life and death inspires Mary to keep a journal. Just as the tumult of her parents’ relationship comes alive in her imagination, she meets emerging poet Percy Shelley. Even though he is married, and his wife is pregnant, Shelley threatens to kill himself if Mary will not elope with him. It’s possible that Shelley is mad, but their intellectual and creative affinities convince her that she is his Child of Light.

Passionate and intellectual, Mary Godwin struggles with the demands of her volatile husband Percy Shelley and their circle of friends.  But as she writes Frankenstein, she also muses about her encounters with her creature and the philosophical questions of life, death, and creation that undergird her novel. Justifying their unconventional life and enduring personal tragedies, Mary follows in her mother’s footsteps, as she contemplates a woman’s place in literature and the world.

 

Hell of a Book

Jason Mott
Hardcover/June 29, 2021
Dutton

A powerful book—well deserving of its National Book Award–and it’s title!  

In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

As these characters’ stories build and build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America.

Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?  Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years. And in its final twists it truly becomes its title.

With audacity and invention, Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book weaves together three narrative strands—an unnamed author, a boy named Soot, and a figure known as The Kid—into a masterful novel. In a structurally and conceptually daring examination of art, fame, family and being Black in America, Mott somehow manages the impossible trick of being playful, insightful and deeply moving, all at the same time. A highly original, inspired work that breaks new ground.

Her Dying Day

Mindy Carlson
Hardcover/June 7, 2022
Crooked Lane Books

Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena and Hannah Mary McKinnon, Her Dying Day leads a budding filmmaker down a dark road to treachery, murder, and long-buried sins.

“An intriguing, fast-paced, voice-driven mystery”—Hannah Mary McKinnon, bestselling author of You Will Remember Me

“Irresistible new book . . . Slick, sophisticated, and fun, this one absolutely sparkles.”—Emily Carpenter, author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls and The Weight of Lies

Aspiring filmmaker June Masterson has high hopes for her first documentary, the true story of the disappearance of famed mystery author Greer Larkin. June learned about the vanishing at age fourteen, locked down on her family’s isolated commune. Now, the deeper she digs into the project, the darker the story gets.

Everyone has a theory. Greer’s mother, Blanche, and her best friend, Rachel, believe that Greer’s fiancé, Jonathan, is the culprit. Greer’s agent is convinced that Greer committed suicide after a debilitating bout of writer’s block. And Jonathan claims it was either Greer’s controlling mother or Rachel, whose attachment to Greer went way beyond friendship.

In desperation, Rachel gives June a suitcase full of Greer’s most personal writings in hopes of finding proof against Jonathan. Then Rachel turns up dead. As June pores over Greer’s writings, she makes a devastating discovery that could finally reveal the truth about the author’s fate. But now, June finds herself in the sights of a killer who’ll stop at nothing to keep their darkest secret.

Birds in the Morning, Frogs at Night

Maureen McCue
Paperback/June 21, 2021
Ice Cube Press

I grew up on a gravel road and, like Maureen McCue, spent much of my childhood as a “free-range kid.”  Her “memoir, and a little bit travel log,” was informed by over 30 years of life encountered along her rural Iowa road, as well as what she encountered on roads all around the world as part of her global health initiative.  Her descriptions of the beauty that can be found on those roads is counter-balanced by the undeniable signs that there is much work needed to protect our surroundings.   

McCue makes the persuasive and poetic case that rural life might be one answer to the environmental ills brought by our consumptive, thoughtless and relentlessly destructive society. While Iowa is not known for its nature writing, McCue’s lovely book might change that!”—Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network

“Birds in the Morning speaks to their experiences and the incredible connectivity they are finding throughout the world in their daily encounters with flying or climbing creatures, and experiences of nature, which provide them a deep taste for and appreciation of all life. I am grateful that Maureen McCue has shared this recipe with us.”—Bradley Randles MD MPH, Family Medicine and Global Health

“Experience the real beauty, rootedness, struggles, and tensions of that journey by visiting Maureen’s road, her garlic chives and raccoons, her headless chickens done in by various small mammals. Through this one road she magically shows us so many others, in Bangladesh, in Nicaragua, but yet always still in Iowa.”—Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D, President, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, author Ecology and Genetics

“By interweaving her children, neighbors, the road, along with the flora and fauna she tells a story that unfolds a thousand times all over the world and her dream for respect and care for Mother Earth.”
—Denise O’Brien, Organic Farmer, Politician, Leader Food Movement, Agriculture Adviser USDA

“To see so much in one place is both engaging and inspiring. Highly recommended if you care about our shared future.”—Paul Deaton, Blogger, writer, gardener, human

The Winning Ticket

Rob Sand & Reid Forgrave
Hardcover/May 1, 2022
Potomac Books

You wouldn’t expect this book to be a page-turner, but indeed it is!  I was thrilled to read this story of how a tenacious and dedicated public servant set out to solve such a complex and mysterious puzzle.  Plus, the Bigfoot component is the perfect teaser that should inspire every Iowan to read this book!

The Winning Ticket is an inside look at one of the most complicated yet seat-of-your-pants financial investigations and prosecutions in recent history. Rob Sand, the youngest attorney in his office, was assigned a new case by his boss, who was days away from retirement. Inside the thin accordion binder Sand received was meager evidence that had been gathered over the course of two years by Iowa authorities regarding a suspicious lottery ticket. No one expected the case to go anywhere. No dead body, no shots fired, and no money paid out. Why should they care? There was no certainty that a crime had even been committed. But a mysterious Belizean trust had attempted to claim the $16 million ticket, then decided to forgo the money and maintain anonymity when the State of Iowa demanded to know who had purchased the ticket. Who values anonymity over that much money?

Both a story of small-town America and a true-crime saga about the largest lottery-rigging scheme in American history, The Winning Ticket follows the investigation all the way down the rabbit hole to uncover how Eddie Tipton was able to cheat the system to win jackpots over $16 million and go more than a decade without being caught—until Sand inherited the case.

Just as remarkable as the crime are the real-life characters met along the way: an honest fireworks salesman, a hoodwinked FBI agent, a crooked Texas lawman, a shady attorney representing a Belizean trust, and, yes, Bigfoot hunters. While some of the characters are nearly unbelievable, the everyday themes of integrity and hard work resonate throughout the saga. As the case builds toward a reckoning, The Winning Ticket demonstrates how a new day has dawned in prosecuting complex technological crimes.

Apples Never Fall

Liane Moriarty
Hardcover/September 14, 2021
Henry Holt & Company

Jan says, “Although this is not my usual read, I found it mesmerizing and binged my way through it in one weekend.  Loved the distinctive personalities of the four siblings.” 

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children―Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke―were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure―but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times

Jane Goodall with Douglas Abrams
Hardcover/October 19, 2021
Celadon Books

Jan says, “A wonderfully hopeful book that is just what we need during these trying times.”

Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams explore one of the most sought after and least understood elements of human nature: hope. Drawing on decades of work that has helped expand our understanding of what it means to be human and what we all need to do to help build a better world, the book touches on vital questions, including: How do we stay hopeful when everything seems hopeless? How do we cultivate hope in our children? What is the relationship between hope and action? While discussing the experiences that shaped her discoveries and beliefs, Jane tells the story of how she became a messenger of hope, from living through World War II to her years in Gombe to realizing she had to leave the forest to travel the world in her role as an advocate for environmental justice.

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

Michael Pollan
Paperback/May 28, 2002
Random House

Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: the bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes. In “The Botany of Desire, ” Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship.

Breath

James Nestor
Hardcover/May 26, 2021
Riverhead Books

No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how resilient your genes are, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly. There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. Science journalist James Nestor travels the world to figure out what went wrong with our breathing and how to fix it”–

Acne

Acne

Laura Chinn
Hardcover/July 19, 2022
Hatchette

From the creator and star of Florida Girls comes a hilarious and profound memoir about family, happiness, and really bad, chronic acne.
Despite having dirty-blonde hair and fair skin, Laura Chinn is mixed-race: the daughter of a Black father and a white mother, which on its own makes for some funny and insightful looks at identity. Laura’s parents–both Scientologists and nonconformists in myriad ways–divorced early in Laura’s childhood, and she spent her teen years ping-ponging back and forth between Clearwater, Florida, and Los Angeles (with an extended stint in Tijuana for good measure).

Laura lived alone and raised herself for long periods of time, but don’t worry! Her mom’s alcoholic boyfriend was always nearby to supervise. She also lost family members to horrific tragedies, started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes when she was eleven years old, and dropped out of school when she was fifteen, all the while completely obsessed with and scarred by her severe acne condition.
This is not a sad story. There is Jell-O wrestling. There is an abnormal amount of dancing. There is information about whether you can drink gallons of sangria while taking unregulated Accutane acquired in Mexico. But mostly there is love, and ultimately there is redemption. Laura shows how with grit, determination, and an openness to the good in the world, we can overcome almost anything to find love, happiness, and acceptance of ourselves, zits and all.

Laura Chinn has been writing television for a decade on several shows including The Mick and Children’s Hospital. As an actor, she has appeared in a wide range of movies and TV shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, My Name is Earl, Happy Endings and Warrior. She also created and starred in Florida Girls on Pop TV. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she performs improv and tries to learn how to surf every summer.

The Plot

Jean Hanff Korelitz
Hardcover/May 11, 2021
Celadon Book

Jan says, When Stephen King blurbs a book as one of the best novels he’s ever read about writers and writing, that’s good enough to convince me to read it. Wonderful twists and turns and descriptions of writers and their lives behind the books.

Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a psychologically suspenseful novel about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it.

THE PLOT is one of the best novels I’ve ever read about writers and writing. It’s also insanely readable and terrifying. The suspense quotient is through the roof.” — Stephen King

From its first pages, The Plot ensnares you in a rich tangle of literary vanities, treachery and fraud. Psychologically acute and breathtakingly suspenseful, you’ll find yourself rushing towards a finale both astonishing and utterly earned. — Megan Abbott

Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written―let alone published―anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot.

Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that―a story that absolutely needs to be told.

In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says.

As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier

April White
Hardcover/June 14, 2022
Hatchette

Jan says, Who knew that South Dakota was once a popular destination for women seeking a divorce in the late nineteenth century? Historian April White has blended history and personal stories of the brave women who dared to begin new lives of their own choosing.

From a historian and senior editor at Atlas Obscura, a fascinating account of the daring nineteenth-century women who moved to South Dakota to divorce their husbands and start living on their own terms

For a woman traveling without her husband in the late nineteenth century, there was only one reason to take the train all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one sure to garner disapproval from fellow passengers. On the American frontier, the new state offered a tempting freedom often difficult to obtain elsewhere: divorce.

With the laxest divorce laws in the country, five railroad lines, and the finest hotel for hundreds of miles, the small city became the unexpected headquarters for unhappy spouses—infamous around the world as THE DIVORCE COLONY. These society divorcees put Sioux Falls at the center of a heated national debate over the future of American marriage. As clashes mounted in the country’s gossip columns, church halls, courtrooms and even the White House, the women caught in the crosshairs in Sioux Falls geared up for a fight they didn’t go looking for, a fight that was the only path to their freedom.

In The Divorce Colony, writer and historian April White unveils the incredible social, political, and personal dramas that unfolded in Sioux Falls and reverberated around the country through the stories of four very different women: Maggie De Stuers, a descendent of the influential New York Astors whose divorce captivated the world; Mary Nevins Blaine, a daughter-in-law to a presidential hopeful with a vendetta against her meddling mother-in-law; Blanche Molineux, an aspiring actress escaping a husband she believed to be a murderer; and Flora Bigelow Dodge, a vivacious woman determined, against all odds, to obtain a “dignified” divorce.

Entertaining, enlightening, and utterly feminist, The Divorce Colony is a rich, deeply researched tapestry of social history and human drama that reads like a novel. Amidst salacious newspaper headlines, juicy court documents, and high-profile cameos from the era’s most well-known players, this story lays bare the journey of the turn-of-the-century socialites who took their lives into their own hands and reshaped the country’s attitudes about marriage and divorce.

The Beauty of Dusk

Frank Bruni
Hardcover/March 1, 2022
Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster

Jan says, I’ve always feared to think of becoming blind. How could I live without reading, without seeing flowers, without seeing smiles? But this beautifully written book, offers a fascinating take on things that may be found as one faces the loss of others. No one would wish to become blind, but Bruni lets his readers know that new possibilities and and will accompany loss.

From New York Times columnist and bestselling author Frank Bruni comes a wise and moving memoir about aging, affliction, and optimism after partially losing his eyesight.

One morning in late 2017, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni woke up with strangely blurred vision. He wondered at first if some goo or gunk had worked its way into his right eye. But this was no fleeting annoyance, no fixable inconvenience. Overnight, a rare stroke had cut off blood to one of his optic nerves, rendering him functionally blind in that eye—forever. And he soon learned from doctors that the same disorder could ravage his left eye, too. He could lose his sight altogether.

In The Beauty of Dusk, Bruni hauntingly recounts his adjustment to this daunting reality, a medical and spiritual odyssey that involved not only reappraising his own priorities but also reaching out to, and gathering wisdom from, longtime friends and new acquaintances who had navigated their own traumas and afflictions.

The result is a poignant, probing, and ultimately uplifting examination of the limits that all of us inevitably encounter, the lenses through which we choose to evaluate them and the tools we have for perseverance. Bruni’s world blurred in one sense, as he experienced his first real inklings that the day isn’t forever and that light inexorably fades, but sharpened in another. Confronting unexpected hardship, he felt more blessed than ever before. There was vision lost. There was also vision found.

How To Be Perfect

Michael Schur
Hardcover/January 25, 2022
Simon & Schuster

Jan says, Comedy and screen writer Michael Schur has created a gem of a book that combines serious thoughts on morals, philosophy through the ages, with side-splitting footnotes and observations. When I finished this book, I felt like I had learned a great deal about philosophy accompanied by a whole lotta laughs.

From the creator of The Good Place and the cocreator of Parks and Recreation, a hilarious, thought-provoking guide to living an ethical life, drawing on 2,400 years of deep thinking from around the world.

Most people think of themselves as “good,” but it’s not always easy to determine what’s “good” or “bad”—especially in a world filled with complicated choices and pitfalls and booby traps and bad advice. Fortunately, many smart philosophers have been pondering this conundrum for millennia and they have guidance for us. With bright wit and deep insight, How to Be Perfect explains concepts like deontology, utilitarianism, existentialism, ubuntu, and more so we can sound cool at parties and become better people.

Schur starts off with easy ethical questions like “Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?” (No.) and works his way up to the most complex moral issues we all face. Such as: Can I still enjoy great art if it was created by terrible people? How much money should I give to charity? Why bother being good at all when there are no consequences for being bad? And much more. By the time the book is done, we’ll know exactly how to act in every conceivable situation, so as to produce a verifiably maximal amount of moral good. We will be perfect, and all our friends will be jealous. OK, not quite. Instead, we’ll gain fresh, funny, inspiring wisdom on the toughest issues we face every day

State of Terror

Louise Penny & Hillary Clinton
Hardcover/October 12, 2020
Simon & Schuster

Jan says,     A book club I recently joined is reading this book so I am looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts.  I found it to be a chilling look “behind the scenes” of the White House and all the intrigue that occurs.  Louise and Hillary make a good writing team.                                                                                

AN INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER​
Named one of the most anticipated novels of the season by People, Associated Press, Time, Los Angeles Times, Parade, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, and more.

From the #1 bestselling authors Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny comes a novel of unsurpassed thrills and incomparable insider expertise—State of Terror.

After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state.

There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate.

As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source.

Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning.

What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena.

As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most.

To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new secretary of state.

State of Terror is a unique and utterly compelling international thriller cowritten by Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 67th secretary of state, and Louise Penny, a multiple award-winning #1 New York Times bestselling novelist.

The White Man Who Stayed

James A. Autry
Paperback/May 1, 2020
Ice Cube Press

Jan says,  Autry brings his wonderful storytelling  to this personal story of his cousin, Douglas Autry, who was a hero to Jim but also to an entire community.  An inspiring and important story of quiet bravery.  

Following perilous duty on a destroyer in World War II, then becoming the first person in his family to earn a college degree, Douglas Autry returned to his native Mississippi and was elected county superintendent of education. Thus began a heroic journey to bring change to a place and to people who had proved over and over again they did not want any change that threatened their way of life. He braved the condemnation of relatives and friends. He survived imprisonment at Parchman Farm. Once pardoned he went back to his home county and worked harder than ever on behalf of both white and black people. Douglas Autry’s story is not only of one white man but also of an epic struggle that still plagues the South.

James A. Autry is the author of fifteen books, the most recent of which was On Paying Attention; New And Selected Poems. A former Fortune 500 executive and magazine editor, he took early retirement in 1991 and since then has been writing, lecturing and conducting workshops on Servant Leadership in this country and internationally.

Bill Moyers is an American journalist and political commentator. He served as White House Press Secretary under the Johnson administration from 1965 to 1967. He also worked as a network TV news commentator for ten years.

Praise for The White Man Who Stayed

“Having been involved in politics most of my adult life I appreciated the political ‘pearls of wisdom’ contained in this book. It is the day-to-day actions that often impact people more than the big projects. Autry’s book is a reminder of the many unsung heroes making a real difference in people’s daily lives, as well as the value of second chances.”—Hon. Thomas Vilsack, Former Governor of Iowa, and US Secretary of Agriculture

“In James Autry’s most recent book, The White Man Who Stayed, each chapter, each page and every word spoken takes us inside the homes and conversations of southern whites whose birth world of white dominance was disintegrating before them.  James masterfully and honestly opens up the archives of his own mind where stored were private sightings and conversations remembered. In this biography, Autry brings to life, the personal journey of his own cousin who struggled to find his pathway in the only world he knew—the changing South. Unlike young Autry who left the South, his cousin took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and stayed behind.”—Clifton L. Taulbert, Pulitzer-nominated author, The Last Train North, The Invitation, Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored

No Land To Light On

Yara Zgheib
Hardcover/January 4, 2022
Simon and Schuster

On Jan. 27, 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Against that background, author Zgheib has created a tense, moving novel about the meaning of home, the risks of exile, the power of nations, and the power of love. Hadi Deeb, who has legal refugee status, is caught in the political maelstrom when, on Jan. 28, he lands in Boston after a brief visit to Syria for his father’s funeral. Hadi’s pregnant wife, Sama, waiting for him at Logan airport, is nearly trampled in the melee of protestors. In 2010, at the age of 17, Sama came to the U.S. to study anthropology at Harvard; in 2015, Hadi arrived, one among thousands of refugees escaping a devastating war in Syria. Sponsored by a Boston lawyer, Hadi was amazed at the sight of Harvard students walking, without fear, “on a campus in a parallel universe.” Although sometimes disoriented and homesick, Hadi shared Sama’s optimism about their future in the “Land of the Brave and Free!” Zgheib tracks back and forth in place and time as she recounts the circumstances that impel Sama and Hadi to leave Syria, the radiant days of their meeting and marriage, and their desperate efforts to be reunited after Hadi is refused entry. Punctuating the narrative are lyrical passages about bird migration—Sama’s dissertation topic—that serve as obvious, yet still effective, metaphors for human experience. Most birds do not migrate, it seems, raising the question “of why some birds go at all.” Of those that do, “it has been observed that birds feel a sort of pain before taking off, almost like fear, and that nothing alleviates that feeling except the rapid motion of wings.” Many never reach their destination: Some, Zgheib sadly reveals, are poached by starving refugees.

A graceful tale of imperiled lovers.

Late City

Robert Olen Butler
Hardcover/September 7, 2021
Simon and Schuster

Jan says, A tender story about a dying man who is coming to terms with challenging events in his past.  Beautifully written prose with traces of humor that would cause any reader to consider their own past.  

A visionary and poignant novel centered around former newspaperman Sam Cunningham as he prepares to die, Late City covers much of the early twentieth century, unfurling as a conversation between the dying man and a surprising God. As the two review Sam’s life, from his childhood in the American South and his time in the French trenches during World War I to his fledgling newspaper career in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties and the decades that follow, snippets of history are brought sharply into focus.
Sam grows up in Louisiana, with a harsh father, who he comes to resent both for his physical abuse and for what Sam eventually perceives as his flawed morality. Eager to escape and prove himself, Sam enlists in the army as a sniper while still underage. The hardness his father instilled in him helps him make it out of World War I alive, but, as he recounts these tales on his deathbed, we come to realize that it also prevents him from contending with the emotional wounds of war. Back in the U.S., Sam moves to Chicago to begin a career as a newspaperman that will bring him close to all the major historical turns of the twentieth century. There he meets his wife and has a son, whose fate counters Sam’s at almost every turn.
As he contemplates his relationships–with his parents, his brothers in arms, his wife, his editor, and most importantly, his son–Sam is amazed at what he still has left to learn about himself after all these years in this heart-rending novel from the Pulitzer Prize winner.

 

Peril

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
Hardcover/January 19, 2021
Simon & Schuster

Jan says, seeing people rush into the store the day this book was released encouraged me to suggest it to fellow book club members.  Although most of the revelations had already been highlighted by press coverage, I was still impressed with how the story unfolded.  I think this book will be definitive for future generations to read when trying to understand how our country felt leading up to and including the events on January 6. 

Peril is the extraordinary story of the end of one presidency and the beginning of another, and represents the culmination of Bob Woodward’s news-making trilogy on the Trump presidency, along with Fear and Rage. And it is the beginning of a collaboration with fellow Washington Post reporter Robert Costa that will remind readers of Woodward’s coverage, with Carl Bernstein, of President Richard M. Nixon’s final days.

The transition from President Donald J. Trump to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stands as one of the most dangerous periods in American history.  But as # 1 internationally bestselling author Bob Woodward and acclaimed reporter Robert Costa reveal for the first time, it was far more than just a domestic political crisis.

Woodward and Costa interviewed more than 200 people at the center of the turmoil, resulting in more than 6,000 pages of transcripts—and a spellbinding and definitive portrait of a nation on the brink.  This classic study of Washington takes readers deep inside the Trump White House, the Biden White House, the 2020 campaign, and the Pentagon and Congress, with vivid, eyewitness accounts of what really happened.

Peril is supplemented throughout with never-before-seen material from secret orders, transcripts of confidential calls, diaries, emails, meeting notes and other personal and government records, making for an unparalleled history.  It is also the first inside look at Biden’s presidency as he faces the challenges of a lifetime: the continuing deadly pandemic and millions of Americans facing soul-crushing economic pain, all the while navigating a bitter and disabling partisan divide, a world rife with threats, and the hovering, dark shadow of the former president.

Heard It in a Love Song

Tracey Garvis Graves
Harcover/November 9, 2021
St. Martin's Press

Jan says, A fun “escape” read from some of the heavier books I’ve read this month.  A feel-good story that encourages hope of better days to come. 

From Tracey Garvis Graves, the bestselling author of The Girl He Used to Know comes a love song of a story about starting over and second chances in Heard It in a Love Song.

Love doesn’t always wait until you’re ready.

Layla Hilding is thirty-five and recently divorced. Struggling to break free from the past—her glory days as the lead singer in a band and a ten-year marriage to a man who never put her first—Layla’s newly found independence feels a lot like loneliness.

Then there’s Josh, the single dad whose daughter attends the elementary school where Layla teaches music. Recently separated, he’s still processing the end of his twenty-year marriage to his high school sweetheart. He chats with Layla every morning at school and finds himself thinking about her more and more.

Equally cautious and confused about dating in a world that favors apps over meeting organically, Layla and Josh decide to be friends with the potential for something more. Sounds sensible and way too simple—but when two people are on the rebound, is it heartbreak or happiness that’s a love song away?

The Stranger in the Lifeboat

Mitch Albom
Hardcover/November 2, 2021
HarperCollins

Jan says, This is classic Albom that will provide reading clubs with plenty of questions to unravel.   A nice twist that may catch some readers by surprise.  

Albom has written of heaven in the celebrated number one bestsellers The Five People You Meet in Heaven and The First Phone Call from Heaven. Now, for the first time in his fiction, he ponders what we would do if, after crying out for divine help, God actually appeared before us? What might the Lord look, sound and act like?

In The Stranger in the Lifeboat, Albom keeps us guessing until the end: Is this strange and quiet man really who he claims to be? What actually happened to cause the explosion? Are the survivors already in heaven, or are they in hell?

The story is narrated by Benji, one of the passengers, who recounts the events in a notebook that is later discovered—a year later—when the empty life raft washes up on the island of Montserrat.

Wyman and the Florida Knights

Larry Baker
Paperback/November 12, 2021
Ice Cube Press

Jan says, A fascinating look at life in small town America.  Baker’s writing sets the reader in the midst of a Florida where you feel the heat and humidity and despair of its residents, and feel the painful sting of local gossip. 

Peter Wyman was the most famous portrait painter in America, but his fame had come with a high price–his mind and soul. Nearing the end of his life he wants to erase himself, but how? He decides to go into hiding. But where? He’s clueless until an aging blond cashier in St. Augustine points him in the right direction… ‘There’s one place you might go look for, north of Orlando, if it still exists. I’ve heard stories about it for years but now it seems to have disappeared. Hasn’t been in the news for decades. Ex-boyfriend of mine came from there and told me it was full of crazies, which I thought was funny, since he turned out to be an as@# hole meth dealer,’ ‘Place doesn’t exist?’ ‘All I know is what I’ve heard. You want to disappear, you go to Knightville.’

The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive

Lucy Adlington
Paperback/September 14, 2021
Harper Paperbacks

Jan’s Thoughts: This is a fascinating story of how concentration camp women –Jewish women and girls–worked to survive by sewing fashionable clothing for Nazi officer’s wives. The juxtaposition of privilege/prison is remarkable and makes this book a great one to consider for book clubs to read and discuss.

At the height of the Holocaust twenty-five young inmates of the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp—mainly Jewish women and girls—were selected to design, cut, and sew beautiful fashions for elite Nazi women in a dedicated salon. It was work that they hoped would spare them from the gas chambers.

This fashion workshop—called the Upper Tailoring Studio—was established by Hedwig Höss, the camp commandant’s wife, and patronized by the wives of SS guards and officers. Here, the dressmakers produced high-quality garments for SS social functions in Auschwitz, and for ladies from Nazi Berlin’s upper crust.

Drawing on diverse sources—including interviews with the last surviving seamstress—The Dressmakers of Auschwitz follows the fates of these brave women. Their bonds of family and friendship not only helped them endure persecution, but also to play their part in camp resistance. Weaving the dressmakers’ remarkable experiences within the context of Nazi policies for plunder and exploitation, historian Lucy Adlington exposes the greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy of the Third Reich and offers a fresh look at a little-known chapter of World War II and the Holocaust.

The Book of Magic

Alice Hoffman
Hardcover/October 12, 2021
Simon & Schuster

Jan’s Thoughts: I began this book not realizing it was the last of a series, but it still reads well as a stand alone. Plus it begins in a library, which always attracts me to read a book.

The Owens family has been cursed in matters of love for over three-hundred years but all of that is about to change. The novel begins in a library, the best place for a story to be conjured, when beloved aunt Jet Owens hears the deathwatch beetle and knows she has only seven days to live. Jet is not the only one in danger—the curse is already at work.

A frantic attempt to save a young man’s life spurs three generations of the Owens women, and one long-lost brother, to use their unusual gifts to break the curse as they travel from Paris to London to the English countryside where their ancestor Maria Owens first practiced the Unnamed Art. The younger generation discovers secrets that have been hidden from them in matters of both magic and love by Sally, their fiercely protective mother. As Kylie Owens uncovers the truth about who she is and what her own dark powers are, her aunt Franny comes to understand that she is ready to sacrifice everything for her family, and Sally Owens realizes that she is willing to give up everything for love.

The Book of Magic is a breathtaking conclusion that celebrates mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, and anyone who has ever been in love.

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven

Nathaniel Ian Miller
Hardcover/October 26, 2021
Little Brown & Company

Jan’s Thoughts: Hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. Filled with surprises, incredible descriptions of the Arctic, and stoic Swedish humor that reminds me of my own relatives, I relished this book and have shared it with many others. This is a perfect book discussion read.

In 1916, Sven Ormson leaves a restless life in Stockholm to seek adventure in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago where darkness reigns four months of the year and he might witness the splendor of the Northern Lights one night and be attacked by a polar bear the next. But his time as a miner ends when an avalanche nearly kills him, leaving him disfigured, and Sven flees even further, to an uninhabited fjord. There, with the company of a loyal dog, he builds a hut and lives alone, testing himself against the elements.

The teachings of a Finnish fur trapper, along with encouraging letters from his family and a Scottish geologist who befriended him in the mining camp, get him through his first winter. Years into his routine isolation, the arrival of an unlikely visitor salves his loneliness, sparking a chain of surprising events that will bring Sven into a family of fellow castoffs and determine the course of the rest of his life.

Written with wry humor and in prose as breathtaking as the stark landscape it evokes, The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven is a testament to the strength of our human bonds, reminding us that even in the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, we are not beyond the reach of love.

The Lincoln Highway

Amor Towles
Hardcover/October 5, 2021
Viking

Sally Says: When I finished A Gentleman in Moscow, I immediately went back to read the author’s earlier novel, Rules of Civility. Then I began to wait patiently for his third book and this one was worth the wait. Plenty of unpredictable plot twists keep the story moving and the end left me not expecting a sequel but imagining different ways the story might continue.

Jan says: Once again, Amor Towles has written a mesmerizing story. The way he is able to tell the story through the lives of so many characters is genius. I wish he wrote faster because it’s hard to wait for his next one!

In June, 1954, eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the work farm where he has just served a year for involuntary manslaughter. His mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed upon by the bank, Emmett’s intention is to pick up his eight-year-old brother and head west where they can start their lives anew. But when the warden drives away, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have hidden themselves in the trunk of the warden’s car. Together, they have hatched an altogether different plan for Emmett’s future.

Spanning just ten days and told from multiple points of view, Towles’s third novel will satisfy fans of his multi-layered literary styling while providing them an array of new and richly imagined settings, characters, and themes.

The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit

Lori Erickson
Paperback/September 1, 2021
Westminster John Knox Press

Growing up in a passionately Norwegian-American Iowa town, Lori
Erickson rolled her eyes at traditions like Nordic Fest and steaming
pots of rømmegrøt. But like many Americans, she eventually felt drawn
to genealogy, not only as a tool to discover more about her ancestors,
but more importantly, as a means for spiritual self-reflection. Her
quest to know more about the Vikings and immigrants who perch in
her family tree led her to visit Norse settlements and reenactments,
medieval villages and modern museums, her picturesque hometown
and her ancestor’s farm on the fjords.

Along the way, Erickson discovers how her soul has been shaped
by her ancestors and finds unexpected spiritual guides among
the seafaring Vikings and her hardscrabble immigrant forebears. Erickson’s far-ranging journeys and spiritual musings show us how researching family history can be a powerful tool for inner growth.

Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She is the author of Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper (which won a Silver INDIES Award for 2019 Religion Book of the Year from Foreword Reviews) and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic Traveler, and Better Homes & Gardens, among others. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband.

Jan says, Since I love genealogy and am half Scandinavian, this book instantly intrigued me.  Fascinating information about how traits, even trauma, are passed through multiple generations. 

The Reading List

Sara Nisha Adams
Hardcover/August 3, 2021
William Morrow

An unforgettable and heartwarming debut about how a chance encounter with a list of library books helps forge an unlikely friendship between two very different people in a London suburb.

Widower Mukesh lives a quiet life in the London Borough of Ealing after losing his beloved wife. He shops every Wednesday, goes to Temple, and worries about his granddaughter, Priya, who hides in her room reading while he spends his evenings watching nature documentaries.

Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager working at the local library for the summer when she discovers a crumpled-up piece of paper in the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a list of novels that she’s never heard of before. Intrigued, and a little bored with her slow job at the checkout desk, she impulsively decides to read every book on the list, one after the other. As each story gives up its magic, the books transport Aleisha from the painful realities she’s facing at home.

When Mukesh arrives at the library, desperate to forge a connection with his bookworm granddaughter, Aleisha passes along the reading list…hoping that it will be a lifeline for him too. Slowly, the shared books create a connection between two lonely souls, as fiction helps them escape their grief and everyday troubles and find joy again.

Jan says, Book clubs will love this book as it gives readers the chance to remember the joy of sharing favorite books with people we love.   Anyone who has spent much time in a library (or a book store)  will relate to the delight of discovering the treasures that can be found, including the people who gather there.  Crack open the book and see how many of the books on the list you have read.