Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan (2011)
The thing I enjoy about O’Nan’s writing is that he captures contemporary American life in its solitary nature. Emily Maxwell is the 80-ish widow rattling around her Pittsburgh house, watching her neighbor’s homes being sold, checking the paper for obituaries of familiar names, cleaning her house before the cleaning lady arrives but mostly hoping and waiting for the annual visits of her children. When Emily’s sister-in-law (who is her sole companion) faints at breakfast, her days change. Taking control of your future doesn’t always mean you have control and she forges onward with grace, hope, and an inner strength that is honest and touching. O’Nan’s writing permits the reader to feel like they inhabit the very heart and soul of his characters.
For more about Emily Alone and to read an excerpt check out this article on NPR.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011)
On New Year’s Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz club waiting for 1938 to begin, Katey Kontent and Eve Ross meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker. Swept into the “smart set,” Katey rises from the secretarial pool to working at a new flashy magazine. The novel paints an inviting portrait of New York in those heydays of pre-WWII, limos at 21 Club, screwball comedies, smoky jazz clubs, cocktails at the St. Regis, and nothing and no one is as they seem. It is a great story showing how spur of the moment decisions can affect your entire life.
Find out more about the book in this Q & A with the author.
A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (2005)
From history, Russell has taken this story and turned it into a compelling novel. Italian citizens saved more that 43,000 Jews during WWII. The story opens in 1943 and Claudette and her father flee across the Alps to Italy with other Jews seeking refuge. Only to find an open battle among the Nazis allied forces, resistance fighters and ordinary Italians struggling to survive.
Read this article about Russel’s book.
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz (2003)
His name is really Odd. He sees dead people and he does something about it. Odd works as a fry cook in a small town in California. He gets visited by borachs (spiritual entities) that swarm over people and places where future violence will occur. This story is suspenseful, the characters are compelling, and the humor is dark. Check out more book from the Odd Thomas series.
Watch Odd star in a another new adventure.
A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff (2010)
Isabel Wolff has written a delightful story to entertain and captivate. A Vintage Affair tells the story of Phoebe Swift, who leaves Sotheby’s to open her own vintage clothing shop. Each garment has a history and each garment has a future as far as Phoebe is concerned. Throughout the story we are treated to brief descriptions of designer named clothing and they do sound wonderful!
Phoebe goes to purchase clothing from an elderly Frenchwoman and finds a child’s blue coat among her things. They gradually become friends and share a connection because of the coat, which helps Phoebe heal her pain of a past heartbreak. Wolff’s writing is so lovely that the stories become vivid, endearing and special. The story includes two men competing for Phoebe’s affection, her mother who leans on Phoebe for life-advice, her father coping with a new family, and an amusing cast of customers.
Don’t miss A Vintage Affair. It’s a well put together, brilliantly amusing book.
Watch the clip below to hear the author discuss her book.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (2004)
In post-WWII Barcelona, young Daniel is taken by his bookseller father to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is told to choose a book to protect. He selects one. He reads it, loves it and searches for the rest of the author’s works only to discover that someone is trying to destroy every book the author has ever written. This book is part detective story, part boy’s adventure, part romance, fantasy and gothic horror.
Discover reviews, discuss questions, info about the author and more at BookBrowse.com. Visit the author’s website to learn more about Ruiz Zafon and his books.
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran (2005)
The three Aminpour sisters flee the turmoil of the Islamic Revolution in their native country of Iran. They finally make their way to a small Irish village where they open a café. The quirky characters that make up the town align with either the sisters or the town bully, Thomas McGuire, who would like to put them out of business. The author has included recipes for some Iranian specialties after describing them in detail. The contrast between the sisters’ lives in Iran and their new home in Ireland and the difference of cultures enrich this story.
Come to the library to discuss the book on Wednesday, April 14 at 7:30. Go to BookBrowse for a summary and reviews and visit the author’s website.
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (2008)
The novel tells the story of a present day 19th wife, Becky Lyn, who is accused of murdering her husband. Her son, Jordan Scott, comes to her rescue even though he was banished from the polygamous sect at fourteen. He perseveres to find the true killer and save his mother from a disastrous fate.
The author also tells the parallel story of the real Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young. She was known as the “rebel wife” because she divorced her husband, wrote two autobiographies (the first of which help put pressure on the Mormon community to outlaw polygamy) and gave lectures on the evil ways of a polygamous life.
Histories intertwine, stories are told, and the deep psychological complexities of polygamy are examined in a very entertaining work of fiction. Visit the author’s website to get links to interviews and podcasts with the author, background information, discussion questions, and an excerpt.
For a lighter take on the subject, watch HBO’s television series Big Love, which follows a Salt Lake City man and his three wives. For a true account, check out Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife by Irene Spencer.
The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella (2008)
To learn about the coffee trade in the 19th century world was interesting, plus having a very randy main character gives Anthony Capella’s newest novel two reasons why it shouldn’t be missed. Robert Wallis, an impoverished poet, is offered a job by coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to compose a “vocabulary of coffee.”
Wallis falls in love with the owner’s daughter while writing and is sent to Africa for five years to establish a coffee plantation with the understanding he then can return and marry Emily, the daughter. His lustful urges change his life in Africa and his future as well. Robert returns to an England of women suffragettes and coffee barons and once again his fate has been altered. This is delicious, sensual work of fiction. Don’t miss it.
Visit the author’s website, read a review and the reading group guide at Bookreporter.com.
The Companion by Ann Granger (2006)
Set in Victorian London, we meet Lizzie Martin, an impoverished young woman who takes a job as companion to Mrs. Parry, her godfather’s widow. Lizzie is 30, outspoken and curious enough to get involved in the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Parry’s previous companion. Crossing her path in this investigation is a childhood friend of Lizzie’s who just happens to be the police inspector from the Scotland Yard, Ben Ross.The pair encounters the dead girl’s body, runs afoul of an unsavory pastor, a foreign service worker, a hen-pecked son and some hard nose laborers. But they manage, with the aid of a cabdriver and a downstairs maid, to solve the mysterious death and disappearance of the girl. If you enjoy reading about Victorian London, this novel will please you.
Read an excerpt from the book and look at reviews at Amazon.com.