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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.

Vindicated

Kathleen Williams Renk
Paperback/November 10, 2020
Cuidono Press

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

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

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

 

Hell of a Book

Jason Mott
Hardcover/June 29, 2021
Dutton

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

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

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

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

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

Her Dying Day

Mindy Carlson
Hardcover/June 7, 2022
Crooked Lane Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds in the Morning, Frogs at Night

Maureen McCue
Paperback/June 21, 2021
Ice Cube Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winning Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

Apples Never Fall

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

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

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

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

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

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

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

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

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

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times

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

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

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

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

Michael Pollan
Paperback/May 28, 2002
Random House

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

Breath

James Nestor
Hardcover/May 26, 2021
Riverhead Books

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

Acne

Acne

Laura Chinn
Hardcover/July 19, 2022
Hatchette

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

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

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

The Plot

Jean Hanff Korelitz
Hardcover/May 11, 2021
Celadon Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April White
Hardcover/June 14, 2022
Hatchette

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beauty of Dusk

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Be Perfect

Michael Schur
Hardcover/January 25, 2022
Simon & Schuster

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

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

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

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

State of Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Man Who Stayed

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

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

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

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

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

Praise for The White Man Who Stayed

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

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

No Land To Light On

Yara Zgheib
Hardcover/January 4, 2022
Simon and Schuster

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

A graceful tale of imperiled lovers.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Hardcover/August 24, 2021
HarperCollins

Jan says,  this is a fascinating story tracing one family’s journey from the early days of slavery to the  tumultuous present.  In reading it, one can becomes a part of this resilient family and its experiences.  Oprah sums it up well.

“Epic…. I was just enraptured by the lineage and the story of this modern African-American family…. A combination of historical and modern story—I’ve never read anything quite like it. It just consumed me.” —Oprah Winfrey, Oprah Book Club Pick

An Indie Next Pick • A New York Times Book Everyone Will Be Talking About • A People 5 Best Books of the Summer • A Good Morning America 15 Summer Book Club Picks • An Essence Best Book of the Summer • A Washington Post 10 Books of the Month • A CNN Best Book of the Month • A Time 11 Best Books of the Month • A Ms. Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A Goodreads Most Anticipated Book of the Year • A BookPage Writer to Watch • A USA Today Book Not to Miss • A Chicago Tribune Summer Must-Read • An Observer Best Summer Book • A Millions Most Anticipated Book • A Ms. Book of the Month • A Well-Read Black Girl Book Club Pick • A BiblioLifestyle Most Anticipated Literary Book of the Summer • A Deep South Best Book of the Summer • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award

The 2020 NAACP Image Award-winning poet makes her fiction debut with this National Book Award-longlisted, magisterial epic—an intimate yet sweeping novel with all the luminescence and force of HomegoingSing, Unburied, Sing; and The Water Dancer—that chronicles the journey of one American family, from the centuries of the colonial slave trade through the Civil War to our own tumultuous era.

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.  

Nice Racism

Robin DiAngelo
Hardcover/June 29, 2021
Penguin Random House

Building on the groundwork laid in the New York Times bestseller White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo explores how a culture of niceness inadvertently promotes racism.

In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo explained how racism is a system into which all white people are socialized and challenged the belief that racism is a simple matter of good people versus bad. DiAngelo also made a provocative claim: white progressives cause the most daily harm to people of color. In Nice Racism, her follow-up work, she explains how they do so. Drawing on her background as a sociologist and over 25 years working as an anti-racist educator, she picks up where White Fragility left off and moves the conversation forward.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed

Glennon Doyle
Hardcover/March 10, 2021
Dial Press

This is how you find yourself.

There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves.

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.

Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers

The Overstory: A Novel

Richard Powers
Paperback/April 2, 2019
W.W. Norton & Company

The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’s twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

The Paris Library

Janet Skeslien Charles
Hardcover/February 9, 2021
Atria Books

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah
Hardcover/February 22, 2021
St. Martin's Press

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.

By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.

In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.

The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Erik Larson
Hardcover/February 25, 2020
Crown Publishing Group

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.