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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.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Woman

Lisa See
Hardcover/June 6, 2023
Scribner

Jan says, Always a fan of Lisa See.  Her latest historical novel was inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China. This allows an intimate look at the private lives of women who lived their entire lives in the shadows of men.

According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.

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The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology

Nita A. Farahany
Hardcover/March 14, 2023
St. Martin's Press

Jan says, this is a scary read–filled with important information that has already impacted our lives and will continue to make great impacts to our futures.  

Imagine a world where your brain can be interrogated to learn your political beliefs, your thoughts can be used as evidence of a crime, and your own feelings can be held against you. A world where people who suffer from epilepsy receive alerts moments before a seizure, and the average person can peer into their own mind to eliminate painful memories or cure addictions.
Neuroscience has already made all of this possible today, and neurotechnology will soon become the “universal controller” for all of our interactions with technology. This can benefit humanity immensely, but without safeguards, it can seriously threaten our fundamental human rights to privacy, freedom of thought, and self-determination.
From one of the world’s foremost experts on the ethics of neuroscience, The Battle for Your Brain offers a path forward to navigate the complex legal and ethical dilemmas that will fundamentally impact our freedom to understand, shape, and define ourselves.

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Foster Dade Explores the Cosmos

Nash Jenkins
Hardcover/May 16, 2023
Harry N. Abrams

Jan says, An interesting read – I was attracted to the ARC because of its cover and the fact that it is a very big novel about millennials—so definitely not in my usual wheelhouse. Although I didn’t recognize most of the music on his playlists, I did enjoy the short trip back in time with all the books that were mentioned. It’s lengthy (544 pages), but I was inspired to keep on reading simply to figure out how it would all end!

When Foster Dade arrives at Kennedy, an elite boarding school in New Jersey, the year is 2008. Barack Obama begins his first term as president; Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit bump from the newly debuted iPhone; teenagers share confidences and rumors over BlackBerry Messenger and iChat; and the internet as we know it is slowly emerging from its cocoon. So, too, is Foster emerging—a transfer student and anxious young man, Foster is stumbling through adolescence in the wake of his parents’ scandalous divorce. But Foster soon finds himself in the company of Annabeth Whittaker and Jack Albright, the twin centers of Kennedy’s social gravity, who take him under their wing to navigate the cliques and politics of the carelessly entitled.

Eighteen months later, Foster will be expelled, following a tragic scandal that leaves Kennedy and its students irreparably changed. When our nameless narrator inherits Foster’s old dorm room, he begins an epic yearslong investigation into what exactly happened. Through interviews with former classmates, Foster’s blog posts, playlists, and text archives, and the narrator’s own obsessive imagination, a story unfurls—Foster’s, yes, but also one that asks us who owns our personal narratives, and how we shape ourselves to be the heroes or villains of our own stories.
Foster Dade Explores the Cosmos is about privilege and power, the pitfalls of masculinity and its expectations, and, most distinctly, how we create the mythologies that give meaning to our lives. With his debut novel, Nash Jenkins brilliantly captures the emotional intensities of adolescence in the dizzying early years of the twenty-first century.

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Say Anarcha: A Young Woman, a Devious Surgeon, and the Harrowing Birth of Modern Women's Health

J.C. Hallman
Hardcover/June 6, 2023
Henry Holt and Company

Jan says, This is an important story that informs the reader of how a young black slave suffered unspeakable pain at the mercy of a white doctor who went on to become the president of the AMA.  Like Rebecca Skloot with her amazing story of Henrietta Lacks, Hallman shares his extensive research while presenting the two biographies.  A hard subject to read about, but well worth the time. 

For more than a century, Dr. J. Marion Sims was hailed as the “father of modern gynecology.” He founded a hospital in New York City and had a profitable career treating gentry and royalty in Europe, becoming one of the world’s first celebrity surgeons. Statues were built in his honor, but he wasn’t the hero he had made himself appear to be.  Sims’s greatest medical claim was the result of several years of experimental surgeries―without anesthesia―on a young, enslaved woman known as Anarcha; his so-called cure for obstetric fistula forever altered the path of women’s health.

One medical text after another hailed Anarcha as the embodiment of the pivotal role that Sims played in the history of surgery. Decades later, a groundswell of women objecting to Sims’s legacy celebrated Anarcha as the “mother of gynecology.” Little was known about the woman herself. The written record would have us believe Anarcha disappeared; she did not.

Through tenacious research, J. C. Hallman has unearthed the first evidence of Anarcha’s life that did not come from Sims’s suspect reports. Hallman reveals that after helping to spark a patient-centered model of care that continues to improve women’s lives today, Anarcha lived on as a midwife, nurse, and “doctor woman. Say Anarcha excavates history, deconstructing the biographical smoke screen of a surgeon who has falsely been enshrined as a medical pioneer and bringing forth a heroic Black woman to her rightful place at the center of the creation story of modern women’s health care.

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The Einstein Effect

Benymin Cohen
Hardcover/July 18, 2023
Sourcebooks

Jan says, Who knew that there is an official Einstein Facebook page and that Benyamin Cohen is the manager of it? As the cover says, if you use GPS, remote controls, weather forecasts, even toothpaste, you need to thank Einstein for making them possible.  And I loved Cohen’s quirky sense of humor—he and his wife have a flock of chickens that they refer to at the co-hens!

“A fascinating and funny guide to history’s favorite genius—and why he still matters.” —A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author

A fascinating look into how Einstein’s genius and science continues to show up in so many facets of our everyday lives and his enduring legacy as an unlikely pop culture icon. Albert Einstein was the first modern-day celebrity and, decades after his death, still has the world’s most recognizable face. His influence is seen in much of the technology we use every day. But it’s not just Einstein’s scientific discoveries that continue to shape our world. His legacy underpins the search for aliens, the rescue of refugees, the invention of time machines, and the debunking of fake news. He appears in new books, TV shows, and movies all the time—and fans are paying millions for Einstein relics at auction. Award-winning author and journalist Benyamin Cohen has a bizarre side hustle as the manager of Einstein’s official social media accounts, which have 20 million followers—more than most living celebrities. In The Einstein Effect, Cohen embarks on a global quest to unearth Einstein’s ongoing relevance today. Along the way, he meets scientists and celebrities, speaks to dozens with the last name Einstein (including two rabbis), and even tracks down the brain of Einstein, stolen from his body during the autopsy. Cohen shows us the myriad ways the Nobel Prize winner’s influence is still with us, giving an in-depth—and often hilarious—look at the world’s favorite genius like you’ve never seen him before.

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The War Begins in Paris

Theodore Wheeler
Hardcover/November 14, 2023
Little, Brown and Company

Jan says, I was intrigued by the Iowa connections (the main character was from Kalona) as well as the various journalists portrayed (including Edward Murrow and William Shirer).  It’s a good inside look at war coverage and the people tasked to report from behind the lines. 

“Propulsive, immersive, and beautifully rendered, Theodore Wheeler…deftly illuminates themes of friendship, love, sacrifice, and heroism, and shows us how loyalty and conviction can move in unpredictable patterns under wartime duress. This is a major gut-punch of a novel, and I, for one, am thankful it exists.” —James Han Mattson, author of Reprieve

From the author of Kings of Broken Things and In Our Other Lives comes a provocative and stylish literary noir about two female war correspondents whose fates intertwine in Europe.

Paris, 1938. Two women Mielle, a shy pacifist and shunned Mennonite who struggles to fit in with the elite cohort of foreign correspondents stationed around the city; the other, Jane, a brash, legendary American journalist, who is soon to become a fascist propagandist.

When World War II makes landfall in the City of Lights, Mielle falls under Jane’s spell, growing ever more intoxicated by her glamour, self-possession, and reckless confidence. But as this recklessness devolves into militarism and an utter lack of humanity, Mielle is seized by a series of visions that show her an inescapable Jane Anderson must die, and Mielle must be the one to kill her.

Structured as a series of dispatches filed from around Europe and based on the misadventures of a real journalist-turned-Nazi mouthpiece, The War Begins in Paris is a cat-and-mouse suspense that examines the relentlessness of propaganda, the allure of power, and how far one woman will go for the sake of her morality.

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Sword Catcher

Cassandra Clare
Hardcover/October 10, 2023
Del Rey Books

Jan says, Okay, this is not my usual genre, but my daughter loves this author’s work, so I had to give it a try.  I was transported to a different world filled with lots of foreign words and plenty of fantasy.  Fun read that is just the first in a series that has so many possible plots yet to come. 

Two outcasts find themselves at the center of world-altering change in the start of a riveting epic fantasy series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Shadowhunter Chronicles.

In the vibrant city-state of Castellane, the richest of nobles and the most debauched of criminals have one thing in common: the constant search for wealth, power, and the next hedonistic thrill.

Kel is an orphan, stolen from the life he knew to become the Sword-Catcher—the body-double of a royal heir, Prince Conor Aurelian. He has been raised alongside the prince, trained in every aspect of combat and statecraft. He and Conor are close as brothers, but Kel knows he has one destiny: to die for Conor. No other future is possible.

Lin Caster is one of the Ashkar, a small community who still possess magical abilities. By law, they must live behind walls in the city, but Lin, a physician, ventures out to tend to the sick and dying of Castellane. Despite her skills, she cannot heal her best friend Mariam without access to forbidden knowledge.

After a failed assassination attempt brings Lin and Kel together, they are drawn into the web of the mysterious Ragpicker King, the criminal ruler of Castellane’s underworld. He offers them each what they want most; but as they descend into his world of intrigue and shadow, they discover a conspiracy of corruption that reaches from the darkest gutters of Castellane to the highest tower of its palaces. As long-kept secrets begin to unravel, they must ask themselves: Is knowledge worth the price of betrayal? Can forbidden love bring down a kingdom? And will Lin and Kel’s discoveries plunge their nation into war—and the world into chaos?

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Sea of Tranquility

Emily St. John Mandel
Hardcover/May 5, 2022
Knopf

Jan says, In anticipation of the author’s AViD appearance, I definitely wanted to read this award-winning novel. Time travel, an author on book tour, and a pandemic—a wonderful combination!

A novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.’

Lily and the Octopus

Steven Rowley
Hardcover/June 7, 2016
Simon & Schuster

Jan says, pet-owners beware—this heartwarming tale elicits laughs and tears.  A fun book to listen to as the characters’ voices are so delightful.  Definitely recommend this as an audio book!

Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one.

The Long Way Back

Nicole Baart
Hardcover/June 13, 2023
Atria Books

Jan says, I love how Baart was able to blend social media into this story while conveying the complicated mother-daughter relationship.  Definitely a page-turner.

When an Instagram-famous teenager mysteriously disappears, her mother grapples with the revelation of dark secrets in this twisty, atmospheric thriller—from the author of Everything We Didn’t Say.

Mother and daughter Charlie and Eva never sought social media fame, but when a stunning photo of Eva went viral, fame found them. Now, after more than two years documenting life on the road in their vintage Airstream trailer, the duo has temporarily settled in a tiny Minnesota town. Eva is happily finishing her senior year of high school and applying to college, but Charlie longs for the adventures they left behind.

When Eva goes missing less than a week before her graduation, it’s Charlie who is immediately suspected of foul play—not just by their fans, but also by the police and the FBI. As a fight about one more road trip comes to light, and the truth about their relationship is questioned, Charlie realizes the rosy facade they portrayed online hid a complicated and potentially dangerous reality. Now, to clear her name and find out what has happened to her daughter, she’ll have to confront her own role in Eva’s disappearance—and whether she knew her daughter at all.

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Lucy by the Sea

Elizabeth Strout
Hardcover/September 20, 2022
Random House

Jan says, I’m fascinated with the many ways that the pandemic has impacted writers, and how they have dealt with Covid in their books.  Strout has achieved a wonderful story that captures so many of the feelings generated. 

Sally’s thoughts: Lucy, William, and their family find their way through the fog of 2020. I could so relate to the emotions Lucy and those around her felt during that strange time.

As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea.

Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart–the pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.

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The Facemaker

Lindsey Fitzharris
Hardcover/June 7, 2022
Allen Lane

Jan says, With such a difficult subject, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to read this book, but the author has done an outstanding job recognizing the extreme talent and dedication of a truly visionary surgeon who helped so many soldiers that had been horribly deformed.

Lindsey Fitzharris, the award-winning author of The Butchering Art, presents the compelling, true story of a visionary surgeon who rebuilt the faces of the First World War’s injured heroes, and in the process ushered in the modern era of plastic surgery.

From the moment the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front, one thing was clear: humankind’s military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. Bodies were battered, gouged, hacked, and gassed. The First World War claimed millions of lives and left millions more wounded and disfigured. In the midst of this brutality, however, there were also those who strove to alleviate suffering. The Facemaker tells the extraordinary story of such an individual: the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies, who dedicated himself to reconstructing the burned and broken faces of the injured soldiers under his care.

Gillies, a Cambridge-educated New Zealander, became interested in the nascent field of plastic surgery after encountering the human wreckage on the front. Returning to Britain, he established one of the world’s first hospitals dedicated entirely to facial reconstruction. There, Gillies assembled a unique group of practitioners whose task was to rebuild what had been torn apart, to re-create what had been destroyed. At a time when losing a limb made a soldier a hero, but losing a face made him a monster to a society largely intolerant of disfigurement, Gillies restored not just the faces of the wounded but also their spirits.

The Facemaker places Gillies’s ingenious surgical innovations alongside the dramatic stories of soldiers whose lives were wrecked and repaired. The result is a vivid account of how medicine can be an art, and of what courage and imagination can accomplish in the presence of relentless horror.

The House of Lincoln

Nancy Horan
Hardcover/June 6, 2023
Sourcebooks

Jan says, I picked up this book because I had enjoyed Horan’s bestselling novel, Loving Frank, and never dreamed I would gain such empathy for Mary Todd Lincoln.  What a hard life she had, and this book brings it home with such compassion.

The House of Lincoln tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s ascendance from rumpled lawyer to U.S. President to Great Emancipator and presents Lincoln’s Midwestern home as a complex third home front of the Civil War.

Rich with historical detail, The House of Lincoln is an insightful account of Lincoln’s transformative vision for democracy as observed through the eyes of a young immigrant who arrives in Lincoln’s home of Springfield, Illinois from Madeira, Portugal.

Showing intelligence beyond society’s expectations, fourteen-year-old Ana Ferreira is offered a job in the Lincoln household assisting Mary Lincoln with their boys and with the hosting duties borne by the wife of a rising political star. Ana bears witness to the evolution of Lincoln’s views on equality and the Union and observes in full complexity the psyche and pain of his bold, polarizing wife, Mary. Yet, alongside her dearest friend in the Black community, Ana confronts the racial prejudice her friend encounters daily as she watches the inner workings of the Underground Railroad, and directly experiences how slavery contradicts the promise of freedom in her adopted country.

Culminating in an account of the little-known Springfield race riot of 1908, The House of Lincoln takes readers on a journey through the historic changes that reshaped America and continue to reverberate today.

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These Precious Days

Ann Patchett November 23, 2021 Harper
Hardcover/November 23, 2021
Harper

Jan says, this book had been recommended to me by so many people and it didn’t disappoint.  It’s an especially good audio book as you can listen to short essays while exercising or driving. 

The beloved New York Times bestselling author reflects on home, family, friendships and writing in this deeply personal collection of essays.

“Any story that starts will also end.” As a writer, Ann Patchett knows what the outcome of her fiction will be. Life, however, often takes turns we do not see coming. Patchett ponders this truth in these wise essays that afford a fresh and intimate look into her mind and heart.

At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a surprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks’ short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman—Tom’s brilliant assistant Sooki—with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both.

A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be.

From the enchantments of Kate DiCamillo’s children’s books to youthful memories of Paris; the cherished life gifts given by her three fathers to the unexpected influence of Charles Schultz’s Snoopy; the expansive vision of Eudora Welty to the importance of knitting, Patchett connects life and art as she illuminates what matters most. Infused with the author’s grace, wit, and warmth, the pieces in These Precious Days resonate deep in the soul, leaving an indelible mark—and demonstrate why Ann Patchett is one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

 

The Lost English Girl

Julia Kelley
Hardcover/March 7, 2023
Gallery Books

Jan says, If you love historical fiction set during WW II, this book has everything you are looking for. 

The acclaimed author of The Light Over London weaves an epic saga of love, motherhood, and betrayal set against World War II.

Liverpool, 1935: Raised in a strict Catholic family, Viv Byrne knows what’s expected of her: marry a Catholic man from her working-class neighborhood and have his children. However, when she finds herself pregnant after a fling with Joshua Levinson, a Jewish man with dreams of becoming a famous Jazz musician, Viv knows that a swift wedding is the only answer. Her only solace is that marrying Joshua will mean escaping her strict mother’s scrutiny. But when Joshua makes a life-changing choice on their wedding day, Viv is forced once again into the arms of her disapproving family.

Five years later and on the eve of World War II, Viv is faced with the impossible choice to evacuate her young daughter, Maggie, to the countryside estate of the affluent Thompson family. In New York City, Joshua gives up his failing musical career to serve in the Royal Air Force, fight for his country, and try to piece together his feelings about the family, wife, and daughter he left behind at nineteen. However, tragedy strikes when Viv learns that the countryside safe haven she sent her daughter to wasn’t immune from the horrors of war. It is only years later, with Joshua’s help, that Viv learns the secrets of their shared past and what it will take to put a family back together again.

Telling the harrowing story of England’s many evacuated children, bestselling author Julia Kelly’s The Lost English Girl explores how one simple choice can change the course of a life, and what we are willing to forgive to find a way back to the ones we love and thought lost. Illustrated with maps and “before and after” photos, The Second Long March chronicles changes that had occurred in her life, the lives of her former students, and the country itself in its rise as a global economic power. She presents events for those seeking to understand them through the eyes of ordinary people.

 

When Women Were Dragons

Kelly Barnhill
Hardcover/May 3, 2022
Doubleday

Jan says, what a fun read this is!  As the description reads, it is indeed a rollicking feminist tale set in 1950s America where thousands of women have spontaneously transformed into dragons, exploding notions of a woman’s place in the world and expanding minds about accepting others for who they really are.

Alex Green is a young girl in a world much like ours, except for its most seminal event: the Mass Dragoning of 1955, when hundreds of thousands of ordinary wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons; left a trail of fiery destruction in their path; and took to the skies. Was it their choice? What will become of those left behind? Why did Alex’s beloved aunt Marla transform but her mother did not? Alex doesn’t know. It’s taboo to speak of.

Forced into silence, Alex nevertheless must face the consequences of this astonishing event: a mother more protective than ever; an absentee father; the upsetting insistence that her aunt never even existed; and watching her beloved cousin Bea become dangerously obsessed with the forbidden.

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, award-winning author Kelly Barnhill boldly explores rage, memory, and the tyranny of forced limitations. When Women Were Dragons exposes a world that wants to keep women small—their lives and their prospects—and examines what happens when they rise en masse and take up the space they deserve.

Once Upon a Tome

Oliver Darkshire
Hardcover/March 14, 2023
W. Norton & Company

Jan says, Another great story about a bookseller that will appeal to booklovers!  Darkshire brings to life the love and life of a valued bookstore and the people who work there. 

Some years ago, Oliver Darkshire stepped into the hushed interior of Henry Sotheran Ltd on Sackville Street (est. 1761) to interview for their bookselling apprenticeship, a decision which has bedeviled him ever since.

He’d intended to stay for a year before launching into some less dusty, better remunerated career. Unfortunately for him, the alluring smell of old books and the temptation of a management-approved afternoon nap proved irresistible. Soon he was balancing teetering stacks of first editions, fending off nonagenarian widows with a ten-foot pole and trying not to upset the store’s resident ghost (the late Mr Sotheran had unfinished business when he was hit by that tram).

For while Sotheran’s might be a treasure trove of literary delights, it sings a siren song to eccentrics. There are not only colleagues whose tastes in rare items range from the inspired to the mildly dangerous, but also zealous collectors seeking knowledge, curios, or simply someone with whom to hold a four-hour conversation about books bound in human skin.

By turns unhinged and earnestly dog-eared, Once Upon a Tome is the rather colourful story of life in one of the country’s most ancient bookshops and a love letter to the benign, unruly world of antiquarian bookselling, where to be uncommon or strange is the best possible compliment.

 

This Other Eden

Paul Harding
Hardcover/January 24, 2023
W. Norton & Company

Jan says, this is a fascinating novel inspired by the true story of the once racially integrated Malaga Island off the coast of Maine.

In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discovered an island where they could make a life together. More than a century later, the Honeys’ descendants remain there, with an eccentric, diverse band of neighbors: a pair of sisters raising three Penobscot orphans; Theophilus and Candace Larks and their nocturnal brood; the prophetic Zachary Hand to God Proverbs, a Civil War veteran who carves Biblical images in a hollow tree. Then comes the intrusion of “civilization”: eugenics-minded state officials determine to cleanse” the island, and a missionary schoolteacher selects one light-skinned boy to save. The rest will succumb to the authorities’ institutions or cast themselves on the waters in a new Noah’s Ark.

Full of lyricism and power, This Other Eden explores the hopes and dreams and resilience of those seen not to fit a world brutally intolerant of difference.

The Door-to-Door Bookstore

Carsten Henn
Hardcover/August 1, 2023
Hanover Square Press

Jan says, this is such a delightful book for anyone who relishes stories about selling books.  I’m so glad it was translated so we English speakers could also enjoy it.

The charming international bestseller about an elderly bookseller who delivers his recommendations door-to-door and an unlikely friendship with a nine-year-old girl that changes his life, for fans of The Midnight Library and A Man Called Ove.

The bookseller Carl Christian Kollhoff delivers books to special customers in the evening hours after closing time, walking through the picturesque alleys of the city. These people are almost like friends to him, and he is their most important connection to the world.

When Kollhoff unexpectedly loses his job, it takes the power of books and a nine-year-old girl to make them all find the courage to rebuild their bonds with each other.

A bestselling phenomenon internationally, Carsten Henn’s The Door-to-Door Bookstore is a feel-good novel about books and friendship.

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The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kinsolver
Paperback/September 24, 1998
Harper

Jan says, I’m a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver, but had never read Poisonwood Bible.  After recently reading and loving Demon Copperhead, I finally took the time and I’m so glad I did.  Fascinating book with amazing characters that are more relevant than ever. 

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

 

I Have Some Questions for You

Rebecca Makkai
Hardcover/February 21, 2023
Viking

Jan says, Although I don’t read a lot of mysteries, this one captured my attention from page one.  An interesting blend of past and present, through the eyes of former and current students. 

A successful film professor and podcaster, Bodie Kane is content to forget her past—the family tragedy that marred her adolescence, her four largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school, and the murder of her former roommate, Thalia Keith, in the spring of their senior year. Though the circumstances surrounding Thalia’s death and the conviction of the school’s athletic trainer, Omar Evans, are hotly debated online, Bodie prefers—needs—to let sleeping dogs lie.

But when the Granby School invites her back to teach a course, Bodie is inexorably drawn to the case and its increasingly apparent flaws. In their rush to convict Omar, did the school and the police overlook other suspects? Is the real killer still out there? As she falls down the very rabbit hole she was so determined to avoid, Bodie begins to wonder if she wasn’t as much of an outsider at Granby as she’d thought—if, perhaps, back in 1995, she knew something that might have held the key to solving the case.

Dinners with Ruth

Nina Totenberg
Hardcover/September 13, 2022
Simon & Schuster

Jan says, A great book to listen to because Nina reads it herself. It was lovely to hear about the warm friendships Nina has had with so many legendary women and to learn about the supportive marriages they had.

Celebrated NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg delivers an extraordinary memoir of her personal successes, struggles, and life-affirming relationships, including her beautiful friendship of nearly fifty years with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship.
Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace.

Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house. Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family–her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club

J. Ryan Stradal
Hardcover /April 18, 2023
Pamela Dorman Books

Jan says, Another great story from one of my favorite writers.  He has such a knack for encapsulating life in a small town. During these times of divided communities, it is fun to step back and see the joys and challenges of living in rural America. As always, J. Ryan Stradal brings his characters to life and lets the reader become a part of the story. Having grown up in a Scandinavian household in Iowa, relish trays filled with pickled herring, radishes, and sweet pickles were the norm. Stradal’s descriptions of the town and people helped me conjure so many warm and wonderful memories. 

Sally’s thoughts: I loved J. Ryan Stradal’s first two novels and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. It’s as fun (with some some truly sad parts) and Midwestern as the others. He creates characters I can
almost hear talking – and they sound like Minnesotans.

A story of a couple from two very different restaurant families in rustic Minnesota, and the legacy of love and tragedy, of hardship and hope, that unites and divides them.

Mariel Prager needs a break. Her husband Ned is having an identity crisis, her spunky, beloved restaurant is bleeding money by the day, and her mother Florence is stubbornly refusing to leave the church where she’s been holed up for more than a week. The Lakeside Supper Club has been in her family for decades, and while Mariel’s grandmother embraced the business, seeing it as a saving grace, Florence never took to it. When Mariel inherited the restaurant, skipping Florence, it created a rift between mother and daughter that never quite healed.

Ned is also an heir—to a chain of home-style diners—and while he doesn’t have a head for business, he knows his family’s chain could provide a better future than his wife’s fading restaurant. In the aftermath of a devastating tragedy, Ned and Mariel lose almost everything they hold dear, and the hard-won victories of each family hang in the balance. With their dreams dashed, can one fractured family find a way to rebuild despite their losses, and will the Lakeside Supper Club be their salvation?

In this colorful, vanishing world of relish trays and brandy Old Fashioneds, J. Ryan Stradal has once again given us a story full of his signature honest, lovable yet fallible Midwestern characters as they grapple with love, loss, and marriage; what we hold onto and what we leave behind; and what our legacy will be when we are gone.

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Jews in the Garden

Judy Rakowsky
Paperback/July 11, 2023
Sourcebooks

Jan says, This nonfiction book uncovers the lost secrets of World War II, long-hidden by villages in Poland.  The author and her Holocaust surviving cousin, Sam, spend years searching for the truth about what happened to their relatives, finding heart-breaking truths about the county’s desire to cover up its actual history.

1944: Heavy footfalls thud on the road on a rainy May night. A band of gunmen scour a hilltop farm, acting on rumors that it harbors a Jewish family. For 18 months, the Rozeneks have been hiding safely, but their luck is about to run out. Only one from the family of six will live to see the sunrise. Sixteen-year-old Hena Rozenek shelters in the woods until morning… and then she runs.

Forty years Holocaust survivor Sam Rakowski Ron has lived in the United States for decades, never thinking he could return to the Polish village he fled as a teenager. But now he’s ready to talk about what he heard, what he saw, and what he knows about two separate families of cousins who were his neighbors, and presumably were killed during the war. The story Poland presents to the world is that Poles saved more Jews than citizens of any other nation, that any murders in Poland were committed by Nazis and Nazis alone. But Sam, while defending his countrymen, suspects a painful truth. The stories he shares with his younger cousin, Judy, an investigative journalist, send them off on a decades-long journey unlike any other to find out what happened to the Rozenek family and ultimately reveal the secrets the Polish government is still desperate to keep.

Jews in the Garden is a globe-trotting detective story that turns investigative eyes and ears toward the hidden events in Poland during the Holocaust. Judy and Sam, the unlikeliest of sleuthing duos, knock on doors, petition court documents, seek clandestine meetings, and ultimately discover what really happened to the “Jews in the garden next door.”

 

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The Second Long March

Patti Isaacs
Paperback/September 6, 2022
Atmosphere Press

Jan says, Today’s China is nothing like the China where Patti Isaacs and her husband lived in 1981.  The book is memorable for its ability to take the reader into the stark environment that they experienced while offering a profound look at the lives of the Chinese students and people, and impact of the Chinese government’s control of their daily lives. 

In 1981 newlyweds Patti Isaacs and her Italian husband Federico Gauss Rescigno traveled to China, a place she’d grown up fearing, to work for a year in the ancient capital of Xi’an. Returning 24 years later, Patti reunited with old friends, worked with China’s younger generation, and found a city transformed. Her stories are snapshots of a span of years when a city under communism—slow, agrarian, and egalitarian—became a fast-paced metropolis of 8 million.

Illustrated with maps and “before and after” photos, The Second Long March chronicles changes that had occurred in her life, the lives of her former students, and the country itself in its rise as a global economic power. She presents events for those seeking to understand them through the eyes of ordinary people.

Blue Skies

T.C. Boyle
Harcover/May 16, 2023
Liveright

Jan says, Snakes!  From the first page, you know that there can’t be anything good from keeping a pet snake, especially when one is dealing with climate change, social media, and family drama.  Boyle doesn’t disappoint with this wacky and wonderful take on where we are today and where we may be headed in the future. 

From best-selling novelist T. C. Boyle, a satirical yet ultimately moving send-up of contemporary American life in the glare of climate change.

“Boyle has long been one of the most exciting and intelligent storytellers in the United States.” ―Ron Charles, Washington Post

Denied a dog, a baby, and even a faithful fiancé, Cat suddenly craves a snake: a glistening, writhing creature that can be worn like “jewelry, living jewelry” to match her black jeans. But when the budding social media star promptly loses the young “Burmie” she buys from a local pet store, she inadvertently sets in motion a chain of increasingly dire and outrageous events that comes to threaten her very survival.

“Brilliantly imaginative . . . in a terrifying way” (Annie Proulx), Blue Skies follows in the tradition of T. C. Boyle’s finest novels, combining high-octane plotting with mordant wit and shrewd social commentary. Here Boyle, one of the most inventive voices in contemporary fiction, transports us to water-logged and heat-ravaged coastal America, where Cat and her hapless, nature-loving family―including her eco-warrior parents, Ottilie and Frank; her brother, Cooper, an entomologist; and her frat-boy-turned-husband, Todd―are struggling to adapt to the “new normal,” in which once-in-a-lifetime natural disasters happen once a week and drinking seems to be the only way to cope.

But there’s more than meets the eye to this compulsive family drama. Lurking beneath the banal façade of twenty-first-century Californians and Floridians attempting to preserve normalcy in the face of violent weather perturbations is a caricature of materialist American society that doubles as a prophetic warning about our planet’s future. From pet bees and cricket-dependent diets to massive species die-off and pummeling hurricanes, Blue Skies deftly explores the often volatile relationships between humans and their habitats, in which “the only truism seems to be that things always get worse.”

An eco-thriller with teeth, Boyle’s Blue Skies is at once a tragicomic satire and a prescient novel that captures the absurdity and “inexpressible sadness at the heart of everything.”

 

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Cold People

Tom Rob Smith
Hardcover/February 7, 2023
Scribner

Jan says,  After reading so many great cli fi books recently, like The Deluge and Even If Everything Ends, I was drawn to this one because of its wonderful cover and its science fiction take on how humanity would respond to being sent to live without technology in an uninhabitable environment.  A fascinating take on human behavior and creativity. 

The world has fallen. Without warning, a mysterious and omnipotent force has claimed the planet for their own. There are no negotiations, no demands, no reasons given for their actions. All they have is a message: humanity has thirty days to reach the one place on Earth where they will be allowed to exist… Antarctica.

Cold People follows the perilous journeys of a handful of those who endure the frantic exodus to the most extreme environment on the planet. But their goal is not merely to survive the present. Because as they cling to life on the ice, the remnants of their past swept away, they must also confront the urgent challenge: can they change and evolve rapidly enough to ensure humanity’s future?

Can they build a new society in the sub-zero cold?  Original and imaginative, as profoundly intimate as it is grand in scope, is a masterful and unforgettable epic.

Alchemy of a Blackbird

Claire McMillan
Hardcover/July 11, 2023
Atria

Jan says, This book opened up the world of Tarot for me.  Always a fan of historical fiction, I found this to be a most interesting read, especially since the book includes wonderful illustrations of the various tarot cards as they relate to the characters in the book.  References to talented artists bring the past to life and makes one consider the impact of the war on so many of those artists’ lives. 

For fans of The Age of Light and Z, a mystical, historical novel based on the true story of the twentieth century painters and occultists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, each beginning as the muse of a famous lover and then breaking away to become an icon in her own right through a powerful friendship that springs from their connection to the tarot.

Desperate to escape the Nazis, painter Remedios Varo and her lover, poet Benjamin Peret, flee Paris for Villa Air Bel, a safe house for artists on the Riviera. Along with Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, and others, the two anxiously wait for exit papers. As the months pass, Remedios begins to sense that the others don’t see her as a fellow artist; they have cast her in the stifling role of a surrealist ideal: the beautiful innocent. She finds a refuge in a mysterious bookshop, where she stumbles into a world of occult learning and intensifies an esoteric practice in the tarot that helps her light the bright fire of her creative genius.

When travel documents come through, Remedios and Benjamin flee to Mexico where she is reunited with friend and fellow painter Leonora Carrington. Together, the women tap their creativity, stake their independence, and each find their true loves. But it is the tarot that enables them to access the transcendent that lies on the other side of consciousness, to become the truest Surrealists of all.

From an author with “an enchanting, intoxicating voice” (Cristina Alger, author of The Darlings), Alchemy of a Blackbird is about a dynamic female friendship that became a historic artistic collaboration between two giants of the art world.

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The Invisible Hour

Alice Hoffman
Hardcover /August 15, 2023
Atria Books

Jan says, Intrigued by the connection to The Scarlet Letter and a long-time fan of Alice Hoffman, I immediately delved into this fascinating story.  Plus, at the center of the tale, a library plays a major role!  A wonderful read that sticks around with you for a while.  

From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Marriage of Opposites and the Practical Magic series comes an enchanting novel about love, heartbreak, self-discovery, and the enduring magic of books.

One brilliant June day when Mia Jacob can no longer see a way to survive, the power of words saves her. The Scarlet Letter was written almost two hundred years earlier, but it seems to tell the story of Mia’s mother, Ivy, and their life inside the Community—an oppressive cult in western Massachusetts where contact with the outside world is forbidden, and books are considered evil. But how could this be? How could Nathaniel Hawthorne have so perfectly captured the pain and loss that Mia carries inside her?

Through a journey of heartbreak, love, and time, Mia must abandon the rules she was raised with at the Community. As she does, she realizes that reading can transport you to other worlds or bring them to you, and that readers and writers affect one another in mysterious ways. She learns that time is more fluid than she can imagine, and that love is stronger than any chains that bind you.

As a girl Mia fell in love with a book. Now as a young woman she falls in love with a brilliant writer as she makes her way back in time. But what if Nathaniel Hawthorne never wrote The Scarlet Letter? And what if Mia Jacob never found it on the day she planned to die?

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”

This is the story of one woman’s dream. For a little while it came true.

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The Lost English Girl

Julia Kelly
Hardcover/March 7, 2023
Gallery Books - Simon & Schuster

Jan says, This is a heartbreaking story about evacuated children and the ripple effects and long-lasting consequences of the choices that were made by parents and family members.

The acclaimed author of The Light Over London weaves an epic saga of love, motherhood, and betrayal set against World War II.

Liverpool, 1935: Raised in a strict Catholic family, Viv Byrne knows what’s expected of her: marry a Catholic man from her working-class neighborhood and have his children. However, when she finds herself pregnant after a fling with Joshua Levinson, a Jewish man with dreams of becoming a famous jazz musician, Viv knows that a swift wedding is the only answer. Her only solace is that marrying Joshua will mean escaping her strict mother’s scrutiny. But when Joshua makes a life-changing choice on their wedding day, Viv is forced once again into the arms of her disapproving family.

Five years later and on the eve of World War II, Viv is faced with the impossible choice to evacuate her young daughter, Maggie, to the countryside estate of the affluent Thompson family. In New York City, Joshua gives up his failing musical career to serve in the Royal Air Force, fight for his country, and try to piece together his feelings about the family, wife, and daughter he left behind at nineteen. However, tragedy strikes when Viv learns that the countryside safe haven she sent her daughter to wasn’t immune from the horrors of war. It is only years later, with Joshua’s help, that Viv learns the secrets of their shared past and what it will take to put a family back together again.

Telling the harrowing story of England’s many evacuated children, bestselling author Julia Kelly’s The Lost English Girl explores how one simple choice can change the course of a life, and what we are willing to forgive to find a way back to the ones we love and thought lost.

Even If Everything Ends

Jens Liljestrand
Hardcover/May 9, 2023
Scout Press (Simon & Schuster)

 Jan says,  Why am I devouring so many nerve-wracking dystopian books?  Because they are fascinating reads and this one definitely fits the definition of Cli Fi (climate fiction) which seems to be my favorite new genre.  Family drama plays out against a backdrop of climate disasters that are real enough to keep you up at night.  Another great book by a Swedish writer.

Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this astonishing and unforgettable debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world.  Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenaged love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out.

Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of masculine incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenaged daughter who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.

 

Acne

Laura Chinn
Paperback/July 19, 2022
Hachette

Jan says,  Although this book has many dark elements, it is really a story about the power of love and how grit, determination, and a willingness to remain open to the good in the world, can help us overcome overwhelming challenges. 

From the creator and star of Florida Girls comes a hilarious and profound memoir about family, happiness, and really aggressive 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 were both Scientologists and nonconformists in myriad ways. They 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 explores her trauma through anecdotes riddled with grit and humor, proving that in the face of unspeakable tragedy, it is possible to find success, love, and self-acceptance, zits and all.

Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York’s Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist

Jennifer Wright
Hardcover /February 28, 2023
Hachette Books

Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York’s Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist

Jan says, This book that begins in 1850 about an industrious immigrant is chilling in how relevant the story is today.  I agree with one reviewer who calls it, “thought provoking, character-driven, boldly written, and feminist as hell,” it “should be required reading for anyone and everyone who believes that when it comes to women’s rights, women’s bodies, and women’s history, women should have the last word.”  The author’s comments throughout the book leave no doubt in the reader’s mind of the author’s feelings on the subject. 

In Madame Restell, readers are instantly transported to the glamorous mansions and bejeweled carriages of pre-Gilded Age New York, where they meet our eponymous heroine: the city’s premiere abortionist. An industrious woman who built her business from the ground up, Restell was a self-taught surgeon on the cutting edge of healthcare, and her bustling “boarding house” provided birth control, abortions, and medical assistance to thousands of women—rich and poor alike. As her practice expanded, her notoriety swelled, and Restell established herself as a prime target for tabloids, threats, and lawsuits galore. But far from fading into the background, she flaunted her wealth defiantly, parading across the city in designer duds and expensive jewelry, rubbing her success in the faces of the many politicians, publishers, religious zealots, and male competitors determined to bring her down.

Unfortunately for Madame Restell, her rise to the top of her field coincided with “the greatest scam you’ve never heard about”: the campaign to curtail women’s power by restricting their access to healthcare. For centuries, midwives and female practitioners, like Restell, had tended to public healthcare needs of both men and women. But after the birth of the medical clinic, newly-minted male MDs were eager to edge out their feminine competition—by forcing women back into the home and turning medicine into a standardized, male-only practice. At the same time, a group of powerful, secular men—threatened by women’s burgeoning independence in other fields—persuaded the Christian leadership to declare abortion a sin, rewriting the meaning of “Christian morality” to protect their own interests. By unraveling the misogynistic and misleading lies that put women’s health in jeopardy, Wright simultaneously restores Restell to her rightful place in history and obliterates the faulty, fractured reasoning underlying the very foundation of what has since been dubbed the “pro-life” movement.

I Swear: Politics is Messier Than My Minivan

Katie Porter
Hardcover /April 11, 2023
Crown Publishing

Jan says,  True to her Iowa upbringing, Katie Porter lays it all out in this delightful memoir. From her early adventures in 4-H to her successful political race, she shares her humor, her experiences, and her fights to improve lives for everyday Americans.  This is a must-read for anyone who cares about today’s political landscape.

An honest, inspiring, and laugh-out-loud funny memoir about re-energizing our politics and standing up to corporate America–while carting three kids around in a minivan.

Never having run for office before, Katie Porter charted a new path in 2018 when she was elected to Congress as a Democrat in historically conservative Orange County, California. Underestimated as a single mom and chided for her progressive values, Katie defied expectations. Then, using her signature whiteboard, she began to take CEOs and corrupt government officials to task in Congressional hearings. The videos went viral, introducing Americans to her no-bullshit style, and making her a coveted guest on cable news and late-night television.

I SWEAR: Politics Is a Bigger Mess Than My Minivan is a witty, down-to-earth exploration of what it’s really like to serve in Congress, particularly as a single mom. Katie offers Americans a clear picture of what their elected leaders are doing–and how they’re doing it–exposing the gaps between politicians’ press conferences and real people’s lives.

Katie reveals how her challenges as an Iowa farmgirl diverted her to the Ivy League and how she came to see herself as a Californian, teaching law and raising three kids in Orange County. She shares why she made the jump from academia to politics and how she quickly mastered the art of making CEOs and cabinet members squirm when they bluff and bloviate instead of doing the job for America.

With the same clarity she demonstrates in Congressional hearings, Katie makes the case for consumer protection, corporate accountability, and anti-corruption reforms. She pulls back the curtain on the political messaging machine, campaign fundraising, and Congress’ traditions, showing that the way things have always worked, in fact, does not work for a Congressperson without someone at home to do the shopping and take care of the kids. Along the way, she provides whiteboard lessons on where your campaign donations go, how to fight the corporations that cheat you, and how to conduct her trademark robust oversight.

Full of candid and inspiring stories–from how Katie lent Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a pair of sneakers during the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021, to her kids’ lightly illegal campaign hijinks–this is a book by an exhausted, committed parent who just doesn’t have the time for nonsense in her house or in the House of Representatives

The Devil's Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance

Dan Egan
Hardcover/March 7, 2023
W. W. Norton Company

Jan says, Okay, so a book about phosphorus wouldn’t strike one as a page-turner, but it’s a book that every Iowan needs to read!  Author Dan Egan has a remarkable ability to take a mundane and complex topic, then entices you to keep reading.  As a land-owner of a farm that has been in my family for more than 150 years, I take the health of our soil and water very seriously, as do many others I know.  Unfortunately, the powerful corporations that control the messages sent to both farmers and other members of the public often drown out our voices.   Fortunately, Dan Egan speaks for us loud and clear.

Phosphorus has played a critical role in some of the most lethal substances on earth: firebombs, rat poison, nerve gas. But it’s also the key component of one of the most vital: fertilizer, which has sustained life for billions of people. In this major work of explanatory science and environmental journalism, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan investigates the past, present, and future of what has been called “the oil of our time.”

The story of phosphorus spans the globe and vast tracts of human history. First discovered in a seventeenth-century alchemy lab in Hamburg, it soon became a highly sought-after resource. The race to mine phosphorus took people from the battlefields of Waterloo, which were looted for the bones of fallen soldiers, to the fabled guano islands off Peru, the Bone Valley of Florida, and the sand dunes of the Western Sahara. Over the past century, phosphorus has made farming vastly more productive, feeding the enormous increase in the human population. Yet, as Egan harrowingly reports, our overreliance on this vital crop nutrient is today causing toxic algae blooms and “dead zones” in waterways from the coasts of Florida to the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes and beyond. Egan also explores the alarming reality that diminishing access to phosphorus poses a threat to the food system worldwide—which risks rising conflict and even war.

With The Devil’s Element, Egan has written an essential and eye-opening account that urges us to pay attention to one of the most perilous but little-known environmental issues of our time.

The Librarian of Burned Books

Brianna Labuskes
Paperback/February 21, 2023
William Morrow and Company

Jan says, If, like me, you enjoyed The Paris Library, you are sure to enjoy this story of the intertwined fates of three women who believe in the power of books to triumph over the very darkest moments of war. Although the book takes place during WWII, this story has great relevancy for today. I was especially fascinated to learn about the Armed Service Editions of books that were shipped to millions of soldiers overseas.

Berlin 1933. Following the success of her debut novel, American writer Althea James receives an invitation from Joseph Goebbels himself to participate in a culture exchange program in Germany. For a girl from a small town in Maine, 1933 Berlin seems to be sparklingly cosmopolitan, blossoming in the midst of a great change with the charismatic new chancellor at the helm. Then Althea meets a beautiful woman who promises to show her the real Berlin, and soon she’s drawn into a group of resisters who make her question everything she knows about her hosts–and herself.

Paris 1936. She may have escaped Berlin for Paris, but Hannah Brecht discovers the City of Light is no refuge from the anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathizers she thought she left behind. Heartbroken and tormented by the role she played in the betrayal that destroyed her family, Hannah throws herself into her work at the German Library of Burned Books. Through the quiet power of books, she believes she can help counter the tide of fascism she sees rising across Europe and atone for her mistakes. But when a dear friend decides actions will speak louder than words, Hannah must decide what stories she is willing to live–or die–for.

New York 1944. Since her husband Edward was killed fighting the Nazis, Vivian Childs has been waging her own war: preventing a powerful senator’s attempts to censor the Armed Service Editions, portable paperbacks that are shipped by the millions to soldiers overseas. Viv knows just how much they mean to the men through the letters she receives–including the last one she got from Edward. She also knows the only way to win this battle is to counter the senator’s propaganda with a story of her own–at the heart of which lies the reclusive and mysterious woman tending the American Library of Nazi-Banned Books in Brooklyn.

As Viv unknowingly brings her censorship fight crashing into the secrets of the recent past, the fates of these three women will converge, changing all of them forever.

Inspired by the true story of the Council of Books in Wartime–the WWII organization founded by booksellers, publishers, librarians, and authors to use books as “weapons in the war of ideas”–The Librarian of Burned Books is an unforgettable historical novel, a haunting love story, and a testament to the beauty, power, and goodness of the written word.

Lessons in Chemistry

Bonnie Garmus
Hardcover/April 5, 2022
Doubleday Books

Jan says, The cover of this book does not do it justice.  Even though it’s been on the bestseller lists for months, I assumed it was a silly rom-com and passed it by.  But after hearing a bit more about it, I decided to give it a try and I am so glad I did.  It’s clever, smart, and funny.   Having grown up in the 1960’s, I could certainly relate to the main character’s experiences with misogyny in the workplace and in society.  And her precocious daughter reminded me of my own daughters’ quick wits and independence.

Sally’s thoughts: I wasn’t sure this could live up to the hype but it did. It makes a strong feminist statement in the most entertaining way. I can’t wait for her next book.

Goodreads Choice Award

Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2022)Winner for Best Debut Novel (2022)

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

 

 

 

 

Even If Everything Ends

Jens Liljestrand
Hardcover/May 9, 2023
Scout Press

Jan says, Hailed as the International Literary Event of the Year, this book is the epitome of the relatively new genre of CLI-FI (climate fiction).  As a fan of Swedish fiction, I found the descriptions of the Swedish countryside interesting, but the book is rather chilling in its blunt forecast of climate crises and the events that will affect daily lives of some but not others.  The four main characters are memorable, but I didn’t find them especially likeable.  However, I definitely recommend the book as a great read.  The editor described the book as, “if Jonathan Franzen and Greta Thunberg wrote a novel together.”  Put this on your “to be read” list when it comes out in May.  (Note: cover photo is not yet available.)

Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this astonishing and unforgettable debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world.

Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenaged love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out.

Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of masculine incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenaged daughter who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.

“Simultaneously nerve-wracking, astute, and consumedly entertaining” (Sydsvenskan, Sweden) and through these four related stories, Even If Everything Ends eloquently illustrates a picture of a very near future that is at once extraordinary and entirely realistic.

The Age of AI and Our Human Future

Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher
Paperback/November 2, 2021
 Little, Brown and Company

Jan says, This is a fascinating subject that we should all take the time to learn and understand.  The book contains wonderful descriptions of current artificial intelligence triumphs.  This is not a quick or easy read and I confess I got bogged down in some of the technical jargon, but it’s well worth taking the time to learn more about what is currently in use and the ever-increasing role that AI will play in our future. 

Three of the world’s most accomplished and deep thinkers come together to explore Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the way it is transforming human society—and what this technology means for us all.

An AI learned to win chess by making moves human grand masters had never conceived. Another AI discovered a new antibiotic by analyzing molecular properties human scientists did not understand. Now, AI-powered jets are defeating experienced human pilots in simulated dogfights. AI is coming online in searching, streaming, medicine, education, and many other fields and, in so doing, transforming how humans are experiencing reality.

In The Age of AI, three leading thinkers have come together to consider how AI will change our relationships with knowledge, politics, and the societies in which we live. The Age of AI is an essential roadmap to our present and our future, an era unlike any that has come before.

Trackers

Charles Frazier
Hardcover/April 11, 2023
Ecco Press

Jan says, I enjoyed Charles Frazier’s story of Cold Mountain many years ago, so when we received the advanced reader copy of Trackers, I was intrigued to see his recent work.  Set during the Great Depression, this book is an interesting blend of history told from the perspective of a WPA painter who travels westward to paint a mural in a small post office in Wyoming.  Readers of historical fiction are sure to enjoy the story, the scenic descriptions, plus the mystery that follows the female character from a ranch in Wyoming to San Francisco nightclubs. 

Hurtling past the downtrodden communities of Depression-era America, painter Val Welch travels westward to the rural town of Dawes, Wyoming. Through a stroke of luck, he’s landed a New Deal assignment to create a mural representing the region for their new Post Office.

A wealthy art lover named John Long and his wife Eve have agreed to host Val at their sprawling ranch. Rumors and intrigue surround the couple: Eve left behind an itinerant life riding the rails and singing in a western swing band. Long holds shady political aspirations, but was once a WWI sniper–and his right hand is a mysterious elder cowboy, a vestige of the violent old west. Val quickly finds himself entranced by their lives.

One day, Eve flees home with a valuable painting in tow, and Long recruits Val to hit the road with a mission of tracking her down. Journeying from ramshackle Hoovervilles to San Francisco nightclubs to the swamps of Florida, Val’s search for Eve narrows, and he soon turns up secrets that could spark formidable changes for all of them.

In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own.  With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.

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

Sally says: So many social problems tied together in one story, at times it was so painful I had to stop and catch my breath. The voice of young Demon was so convincing I felt like he was talking to me in real time.

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.

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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”–

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.