Books in a Bag
at the Longmont Public Library
you belong to a book discussion group or would like to start one, you're invited
to check out our selection of book discussion
kit titles provided by the Friends of the Longmont
To find information about library groups go to Book Discussion Groups.
along with a notebook with discussion questions and information
about the author.
Each book bag contains ten copies of a title selected specifically for book discussions by our librarians,
in a Bag Basics (Adobe .pdf file,
Books in a Bag Brochure (.pdf file, 95kb)
In addition to our own collections, the Longmont Library is now partnering with the Colorado State Library to provide Colorado Library Connection Book Bags, which can be borrowed through inter-library loan. There are more than 115 titles to choose from. One difference is that the Colorado Library Connection Book Bags don't have study guides. For more information about this new program, see the brochure on the link below. Descriptions of the titles that are available are available on the link below.
Colorado State Library brochure (.pdf file, 74kb)
Colorado State Library book descriptions (.pdf file, 215kb)
All Over But The Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg
A celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter turns his investigative attention to his own past: growing up poor and making his way from rural Alabama to the top of his profession. Bragg, who was born in 1959, is poetic and convincing on his family's poverty and how it chipped away at their dreams. His father, violent and an alcoholic, figures here, as do his siblings, but this is above all a son's story of love and respect for a mother who picked cotton, cleaned houses, and took in washing and ironing, determined to secure for her children the chance at a successful life that poverty had denied her.
back to top
The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
A heart-wrenching but funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a look at the wonders and absurdities of human life as only a dog could tell it. Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
by Ian McEwan
On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives brings about a crime that will change all their lives. As it follows that crime’s repercussions through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century, Atonement engages the reader on every level.
back to top
by Jonathan Raban
Jonathan Raban has written a vivid social history of the homesteading movement in eastern Montana that went boom and bust during the first three decades of this century. It is the story of a dream turned sour that still echoes in the western American consciousness. Lured by free land from the government and a deceptive publicity campaign mounted by the local railroad, thousands from all over the eastern United States and northern Europe went to Montana to make their fortune as farmers. Raban follows the stories of several families, many of which end in heartbreak.
Beautiful Boy: a father’s journey through his son’s addiction
by David Sheff
From as early as grade school, the world seemed to be on Nic Sheff's string. Bright and athletic, he excelled in any setting and appeared destined for greatness. Yet as childhood exuberance faded into teenage angst, the precocious boy found himself going down a much different path. Seduced by the illicit world of drugs and alcohol, he quickly found himself caught in the clutches of addiction. Beautiful Boy is Nic's story, but from the perspective of his father, David. It chronicles the betrayal, pain, and terrifying questions that haunt the loved ones of an addict. His journey provides those in similar situations with a commodity that they can never lose: hope.
back to top
The Blind Side
by Michael Lewis
This is the inspirational story of Michael Oher, a homeless black teen taken under the wing of the Touhys, a wealthy white Memphis family. Oher’s size and speed on the football field bring him accolades. But learning the game’s strategy and making it as a student take the help of his new family, coaches, and tutor.
Blink: The power of thinking without thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
How do we think without thinking, seem to make choices in an instant — in the blink of an eye — that actually aren’t as simple as they seem? Gladwell's conclusion, after studying how people make instant decisions in a wide range of fields from psychology to police work, is that we can make better instant judgments by training our mind and senses to focus on the most relevant facts, and that less input (as long as it's the right input) is better than more.
by Joan Didion
From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old. As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept. Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profound.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao*
by Junot Diaz
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao tells the story of Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and ill-starred romance. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.
* Please note that this book has some explicit content.
Buddha in the Attic
by Julie Otsuka
A novel by the author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat to their arrival in San Francisco; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.
by Lalita Tademy
Lalita Tademy was a corporate vice president at a Fortune500 company when she decided to give notice and embark upon an odyssey to uncover her family's past. Through her exhaustive research, she would find herself transported back to the early 1800s, to an isolated, close-knit rural community on Louisiana's Cane River. Here, Tademy takes historical fact and mingles it with fiction to weave a vivid account of what life was like for the four remarkable women who came before her. The result is a family saga that sweeps from the early days of slavery into a pre-Civil Rights South-a unique and moving slice of America's past that will resonate with readers for generations to come.
Chief Left Hand
by Margaret Coel This is the first biography of Chief Left Hand, diplomat, linguist, and legendary of the Plains Indians. Working from government reports, manuscripts, and the diaries and letters of those persons—both white and Indian—who knew him, Margaret Coel has developed a closely documented account of his life and the life of his tribe during the fateful years of the mid-1800s. It was in these years that thousands of gold-seekers on their way to California and Oregon burst across the plains, the first to traverse territory consigned to the Indians and then, with the discovery of gold in 1858 on Little Dry Creek (site of the Southern Arapaho winter campground and now Denver), to settle. Chief Left Hand was one of the first of his people to acknowledge the inevitability of the white man’s presence on the plains, and to espouse a policy of adamant peacefulness—if not friendship—toward the newcomers.
back to top
Cleo : the Cat Who Mended a Family
by Helen Brown
Grace can come in deceptively small packages. For Brown, it arrived in the form of a runt-of-the-litter kitten who her two young sons, Sam and Rob, adored on sight. Promised as an upcoming present for Sam’s tenth birthday, it was a gift the boy never received. While the kitten was being weaned from its mother, Sam was taken from his. Just weeks after his birthday, Sam was killed in an auto accident, and Brown’s world changed forever. Yet when the kitten was delivered to her new home right on schedule, Brown’s heart first broke with the unfairness of it all, then gradually began to mend as little Cleo did what all kittens do: mounted a charm offensive like no other. Heartfelt and open, Brown’s buoyant tale of loss and recovery celebrates the resilient patience and restorative powers of animal compassion.
Cutting for Stone
by Abraham Verghese
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopiahovers on the brink of revolution. Moving from Addis Ababato New York Cityand back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined.
Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert pens an irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life. Driven to despair by a punishing divorce and an anguished love affair, Gilbert flees New York for sojourns in the three Is. She goes to Italy to learn the language and revel in the cuisine, India to meditate in an ashram, and Indonesia to reconnect with a healer in Bali. As Gilbert switches from gelato to kundalini Shakti to herbal cures Balinese-style, she ponders the many paths to divinity, the true nature of happiness, and the boon of good-hearted, sexy love.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Renee is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, home to members of the great and the good. Over the years she has maintained her carefully constructed persona as someone reliable but totally uncultivated, in keeping, she feels, with society's expectations of what a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Renee: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Renee lives resigned to her lonely lot with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbors will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turn moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007.
back to top
The Faith Club
by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner
Ranya Idliby is a Palestinian Muslim; Suzanne Oliver, an ex--Catholic now in the Episcopal Church; and Priscilla Warner, Jewish. Initially, the idea behind establishing a faith club was simple--the three women would collaborate on an interfaith children's book emphasizing the connections among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that would reinforce the common heritage the three religions share. Almost from the start, differences that culminated in conflict emerged. All three agreed that to work together they had to be brutally candid, "no matter how rude or politically incorrect." Eventually--and as they make abundantly clear, not easily--conflict and anger gave way to a special kind of understanding and respect.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichl
Reichl focuses on her life as a food critic, dishing up a feast of fabulous meals enjoyed during her tenure at The New York Times. As a critic, Reichl was determined to review the "true" nature of each restaurant she visited, so she often dined incognito--each chapter of her book highlights a new disguise, a different restaurant, and a fresh culinary adventure. As Reichl metes out her critical stars, she gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites.
The Ginseng Hunter
by Jeff Talarigo
Set on China's fraught, ruggedly beautiful border with North Korea, Talarigo's tense, atmospheric novel dramatizes the human faces behind political oppression. A middle-aged Chinese man—whose mother was Chinese and father was Korean—maintains a quiet life gathering the valuable ginseng root. In strict adherence to family traditions, he takes only a single root a day. Once a month he stays overnight in the city of Yanji, at Miss Wong's bordello. On one such trip, he spends the night with a young North Korean refugee who tells a harrowing story of oppression. Alternating with her story is the tale of a North Korean mother and young daughter who are forcibly separated during famine; the daughter washes up tragically at the gatherer's door, while the mother might or might not be the refugee prostitute.
back to top
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
by Heidi W. Durrow
This novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white. It is the winner of the Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript addressing issues of social justice.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson
An international publishing sensation, Stieg Larsson's novel combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel. Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden's wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption.
The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls
In The Glass Castle, Walls chronicles her upbringing at the hands of eccentric, nomadic parents. To call the elder Walls's childrearing style laissez faire would be putting it mildly. As Rose Mary and Rex uprooted their kids time and again, the children were left largely to their own devices. Walls describes in fascinating detail what it was to be a child in this family, from the embarrassing to the horrific. Though the author has earned the right to complain, at no point does she play the victim. On the contrary, Walls respects her parents' knack for making hardships feel like adventures, and her love for them resonates from cover to cover.
back to top
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer
Winding up her book tour promoting her collection of lighthearted wartime newspaper columns, Juliet Ashton casts about for a more serious project. Opportunity comes in the form of a letter she receives from Mr. Dawsey Adams. Adams is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—no ordinary book club. Rather, it was formed as a ruse and became a way for people to get together without raising the suspicions of Guernsey’s Nazi occupiers. Written in the form of letters, this novel has loads of charm, especially as long as Juliet is still in London corresponding with the society members. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life.
The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon: "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project. In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.
by Kathryn Stockett
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town.
back to top
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers
by Harry Bernstein
When Bernstein, who is in his 90s, was a boy, his older sister Lily was in love with Arthur. This would not have been a problem except that Arthur was Christian and Lily was Jewish, and in their pre-Great War mill town in northern England, an invisible wall ran down their street, separating them. Barriers were finally broken as Lily refused to give up either Arthur or her mother. A groundbreaking story of family secrets and forbidden love told in plain, beautiful prose through the eyes of a young Jewish boy.
back to top
Just Like Us: the True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America
by Helen Thorpe
Just Like Us tells the story of four high school students whose parents entered this country illegally from Mexico. The book is a coming-of-age story about girlhood and friendship, as well as the resilience required to transcend poverty. It is also a book about identity – what it means to steal an identity, what it means to have a public identity, what it means to inherit an identity from parents. The perspective of the author gives the reader insight into both the most powerful and the most vulnerable members of American society as they grapple with the same dilemma: Who gets to live in America? And what happens when we don’t agree?
Kabul Beauty School
by Deborah Rodriguez
In 2002, just months after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan, Rodriguez, a hairdresser from Michigan, joined a small aid organization on a mission to the war-torn nation. That visit changed her life. In Kabul, she chronicles her efforts to help establish the country's first modern beauty school and training salon; along with music and kite-flying, hairdressing had been banned under the previous regime. Rodriguez was entranced with the delightful personalities that emerged when her students removed their burqas behind closed doors, but her book is also a tale of empowerment, both for her and the women.
King of the Chicanos
by Manuel Ramos
Both heroic and tragic, this novel captures the spirit, energy, and imagination of the Chicano movement of the 1960’s—a massive and intense struggle across a broad spectrum of political and cultural issues—through the passionate story of the King of the Chicanos, Ramón Hidalgo. From his very humble beginnings through the tumultuous decades of being a migrant farm worker, door-to-door salesman, prison inmate, political hack, and radical activist, the novel relates Hidalgo’s personal failures and self-destructive personality amid the political turmoil of the times. With a gradual acceptance of his destiny as a leader and hero of the people, this novel relates the maturation of one man while encapsulating the fever of the Chicano movement.
by Joyce Maynard
In a manner evoking Ian McEwan's Atonement and Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Joyce Maynard tells a story of love, sexual passion, painful adolescence, and devastating betrayal as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy --- and the man he later becomes --- looking back on the events of one long, hot, and life-altering weekend
back to top
The Ladies Auxiliary
by Tova Mirvis
When free-spirited Batsheva moves into the close-knit Orthodox community of Memphis, Tennessee, the already precarious relationship between the Ladies Auxiliary and their teenage daughters is shaken to the core. Tova Mirvis takes us into the fascinating and insular world of the Memphis Orthodox Jews, one ripe with tradition and contradiction. Warm and wise, enchanting and funny, The Ladies Auxiliary brilliantly illuminates the timeless struggle between mothers and daughters, family and self, religious freedom and personal revelation, honoring the past and facing the future.
The Language of Flowers
by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
The Last American Man
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Eustace Conway discovered nature's wonders as a boy growing up in South Carolina during the 1960s. Miserable at home, a born perfectionist and fanatic, he took to the woods and developed wilderness skills unknown to most modern Americans. By the time he finished high school and moved into a teepee (his abode for 17 years), he was convinced that only encounters with "the high art and godliness of nature" could help save American society from its wasteful habits and trivial pursuits.
by Chris Cleave
Little Bee, a young Nigerian refugee, has just been released from the British immigration detention center where she has been held under horrific conditions for the past two years, after narrowly escaping a traumatic fate in her homeland of Nigeria. Alone in a foreign country, without a family member, friend, or pound to call her own, she seeks out the only English person she knows. Sarah is a posh young mother and magazine editor with whom Little Bee shares a dark and tumultuous past.
They first met on a beach in Nigeria, where Sarah was vacationing with her husband, Andrew, and their brief encounter has haunted each woman for two years. Now together, they face a disturbing past and an uncertain future with the help of Sarah's four-year-old son, Charlie, who refuses to take off his Batman costume. A sense of humor and an unflinching moral compass allow each woman, and the reader, to believe that even in the face of unspeakable odds, humanity can prevail.
back to top
The Long Walk: The true story of a trek to freedom
by Slavomir Rawicz
In 1941, the author and six other fellow prisoners escaped a Soviet labor camp in Yakutsk--a camp where enduring hunger, cold, untended wounds, untreated illnesses, and avoiding daily executions were everyday feats. Their march--over thousands of miles by foot--out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India is a remarkable statement about man's desire to be free.
by Lisa Scottoline
Ellen Gleeson was balancing life as a single mother and a reporter as well as could be expected. She had taken on single parenthood voluntarily, having fallen in love with her adopted son, Will, now three, when he was a sick infant. A have-you-seen-this-child postcard featuring a child who could be Will’s twin catches Ellen’s attention, and she becomes obsessed with the missing child and with pursuing more details about Will’s background. Her questions multiply when she learns that, just after she adopted Will, the attorney who handled the proceedings killed herself. Where is the birth mother, and why doesn’t her family know that she was pregnant? The answer only leads to danger, but Ellen, is hell-bent on finding the truth, no matter the cost.
The Lost City of Z
by David Grann
In 1925 British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions, he embarked with his 21-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization--which he dubbed "Z"--existed. Then he and his expedition vanished. After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann sets out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": what happened to Percy Fawcett.
back to top
The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken
by Laura Schenone
The author undertakes a quest to retrieve her great grandmother's ravioli recipe, reuniting with relatives as she goes. In lyrical prose and delicious recipes, Schenone takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from the grit of New Jersey's industrial wastelands to the dramatically beautiful coast of Liguria—the family's homeland—with its pesto, smoked chestnuts, torte, and, most beloved of all, ravioli, the food of celebration and happiness.
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold
Sebold's novel is a small but far from minor miracle. Sebold has taken a grim, media-exploited subject and fashioned from it a story that is both tragic and full of light and grace. The novel begins swiftly. In the second sentence, Sebold's narrator, Susie Salmon, announces, "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." Susie is taking a shortcut through a cornfield when a neighbor lures her to his hideaway. The description of the crime is chilling, but never vulgar, and the author maintains this delicate balance as she depicts the progress of grief for Susie's family and friends. Sebold's most dazzling stroke is to narrate the story from Susie's heaven, providing the warmth of a first-person narration and the freedom of an omniscient one. In Susie's every observation and memory is the reminder that life is sweet, funny and surprising.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s debut novel. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?
by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks’s novel imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. An idealistic cleric, March becomes a Union chaplain and later finds himself assigned to be a teacher on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves. His narrative begins with cheerful letters home, but March gradually reveals to the reader what he does not to his family: the cruelty and racism of Northern and Southern soldiers, the violence and suffering he is powerless to prevent and his reunion with Grace, a beautiful, educated slave whom he met years earlier. The author's beautifully written novel drives home the horrors and ironies of the Civil War and the difficulty of living honestly with the knowledge of human suffering.
back to top
The Memory Keeper's Daughter
by Kim Edwards
David Henry's life was turning out as he hoped. He was a doctor, married to a beautiful woman, Norah, with a baby on the way. But everything changed overnight because of one fateful decision. On a winter evening in 1961, a blizzard brewing, Norah goes into labor. Due to the weather, they could only make it to the clinic, not the hospital, and only Caroline, the nurse, arrived to help deliver the baby. David delivers his own child, a perfectly healthy son. But when Norah continues her labor, David realizes she is carrying twins; and the second child, a girl, is born with Down syndrome. Wanting to protect his wife from the devastating news, David gives the child to Caroline to take to an institution, asking her never to reveal the secret. Caroline takes the baby and disappears. The Memory Keeper's Daughter explores deception, family secrets, the influence of the past on the present, and the tenuous nature of human connections.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
by Rhoda Janzen
Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on Gay.com, but that same week a car accident left her injured. Needing a place to rest and pick up the pieces of her life, Rhoda packed her bags, crossed the country, and returned to her quirky Mennonite family's home, where she was welcomed back with open arms and offbeat advice.
Marley & Me
by John Grogan
John and Jenny were young and in love, with a perfect little house and not a care in the world. Then they brought home Marley, a wiggly yellow furball of a puppy—and their life would never be the same. Marley quickly grew into a barreling, ninety-seven-pound steamroller of a Labrador retriever who crashed through screen doors, flung drool on guests, stole women's undergarments, devoured couches and fine jewelry, and was expelled from obedience school. Yet Marley's heart was pure, and he remained a steadfast model of love and devotion for a growing family through pregnancy, birth, heartbreak, and joy, right to the inevitable goodbye.
back to top
The Milagro Beanfield War
by John Nichols
Joe Mondragon, a feisty hustler with a talent for trouble, slammed his battered pickup to a stop, tugged on his gumboots, and marched into the arid patch of ground. Carefully (and also illegally), he tapped into the main irrigation channel. And so began the Milagro beanfield war. Gradually, the small farmers and sheepmen begin to rally to Joe's beanfield as the symbol of their lost rights and their lost lands. In the capital, the Anglo water barons and power brokers huddle in urgent conference, intent on destroying that symbol before it destroys their multimillion-dollar land-development schemes. The tale of Milagro's rising is wildly comic and lovingly told, a vivid portrayal of a town that, half-stumbling and partly prodded, gropes its way toward its own stubborn salvation.
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
by Charles Shields
The twentieth-century's most widely read American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has sold more than thirty million copies. Yet despite the book's popularity, its creator, Harper Lee has become a mysterious figure. Now, after years of research, Charles Shields has brought to life the warmhearted, high-spirited, and occasionally hardheaded woman who gave us two of American literature's most unforgettable characters —Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout. Mockingbird is the first book ever written about Harper Lee. This is an evocative portrait of a writer, her dream, and the place and people whom she made immortal.
back to top
by Alan Brennert
This richly imagined novel, set in Hawaii more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning. With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka'i is the true-to-life chronicle of people embracing life in the face of death.
A Mountain of Crumbs
by Elena Gorokhova
The moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by. Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive. Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the stories of Russian family life in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose curiosity and determination finally transport her to a new world. It is an elegy to the lost country of childhood, where those who leave can never return.
My Own Country
by Abraham Verghese
Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City saw its first AIDS patient in August 1985. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases who became, by necessity, the local AIDS expert. Out of his experience comes a startling, ultimately uplifting portrait of the American heartland.
back to top
Note by Note
by Tricia Tunstall
Tricia Tunstall explores the enduring fascination of the piano lesson. Even as everything else about the world of music changes, the piano lesson retains its appeal. Drawing on her own lifelong experience as a student and teacher, Tunstall writes about the mysteries and delights of piano teaching and learning. What is it that happens in a piano lesson to make it such a durable ritual? In a world where music is heard more often on the telephone and in the elevator than in the concert hall, why does the piano lesson still have meaning in the lives of children?
Obsessive Genius: the inner world of Marie Curie
by Barbara Goldsmith
Through family interviews, diaries, letters, and workbooks that had been sealed for over sixty years, Barbara Goldsmith reveals the Marie Curie behind the myth—an all-too-human woman struggling to balance a spectacular scientific career, a demanding family, the prejudice of society, and her own passionate nature. Obsessive Genius is a dazzling portrait of Curie, her amazing scientific success, and the price she paid for fame.
back to top
Out Stealing Horses
by Per Peterson
In this quiet, compelling novel, Trond Sander, a widower nearing seventy, moves to a bare house in remote eastern Norway, seeking a life of quiet contemplation. A chance encounter with a neighbor—the brother, as it happens, of his childhood friend Jon—causes him to ruminate on the summer of 1948, the last he spent with his adored father. Trond’s recollections center on a single afternoon, when he and Jon set out to take some horses from a nearby farm; what began as an exhilarating adventure ended abruptly and traumatically. Loss is conveyed with all the intensity of a boy’s perception, but acquires new resonance in the brooding consciousness of the older man.
The Paris Wife: a Novel
by Paula McLain
Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group— the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for life in Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
Pearl Buck in China
by Hilary Spurling
Pearl Buck recreated the lives of ordinary Chinese people in The Good Earth, an overnight worldwide bestseller in 1932, later a blockbuster movie. She went on to become the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Long before anyone else, she foresaw China’s future as a superpower and recognized the importance of the United States building a relationship with China. As a teenager she had witnessed the first stirrings of Chinese revolution and as a young woman she narrowly escaped being killed in the deadly struggle between Chinese Nationalists and the newly formed Communist Party. As a successful writer and civil-rights campaigner, Buck did more than anyone else in her lifetime to change Western perceptions of China. In a world with its eyes trained on China today, she has much to tell us about what lies behind its astonishing reawakening.
The Pilot’s Wife
by Anita Shreve
A pilot's wife is taught to be prepared for the late-night knock at the door. But when Kathryn Lyons receives word that a plane flown by her husband, Jack, has exploded near the coast of Ireland, she confronts the unfathomable—one startling revelation at a time. Soon drawn into a maelstrom of publicity fueled by rumors that Jack led a secret life, Kathryn sets out to learn who her husband really was, whatever that knowledge might cost. Her search propels this taut, impassioned novel as it movingly explores the question: “How well can we ever really know another person?”
back to top
by Kent Haruf
In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother leaves. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant and alone with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known. From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together— their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant.
A Reliable Wife
by Robert Goolrick
He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved. What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love. Filled with unforgettable characters, A Reliable Wife is an enthralling tale of love, madness, of longing and murder.
back to top
The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider's look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob's daughter Dinah, we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah--all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery.
by Tracy Chevalier
On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: "the eye" to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslides, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man. Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.
by Richard Yates
April and Frank Wheeler are a young, ostensibly thriving couple living with their two children in a prosperous suburb in the mid-1950s. However, the self-assured exterior masks a creeping frustration at their inability to feel fulfilled in their relationships or careers. Determined to identify themselves as superior to the mediocre sprawl of suburbanites who surround them, they decide to move to France where they will be better able to develop their true artistic sensibilities, free of the consumerist demands of capitalist America.
by Homer Hickam
In 1957, 14-year-old Homer Hickam decided to build his own rockets. They were his ticket out of Coalwood, West Virginia, a mining town that everyone knew was dying -everyone except Sonny's father, the mine superintendent and a company man so dedicated that his family rarely saw him. Hickam's mother wanted her son to become something more than a miner and, along with a female science teacher, encouraged the efforts of his grandiosely named Big Creek Missile Agency.
back to top
by Emma Donoghue
Jack and his mother, who was kidnapped seven years earlier when she was a 19-year-old college student, celebrate his fifth birthday. They live in a tiny, 11-foot-square soundproofed cell in a converted shed in the kidnapper's yard. The sociopath, whom Jack has dubbed Old Nick, visits at night, grudgingly doling out food and supplies. But Ma, as Jack calls her, proves to be resilient and resourceful--and attempts a nail-biting escape.
by Daphne Kalotay
A mysterious jewel holds the key to a life-changing secret, in this breathtaking tale of love and art, betrayal and redemption. When she decides to auction her remarkable jewelry collection, Nina Revskaya, once a great star of the Bolshoi Ballet, believes she has finally drawn a curtain on her past. Nina has kept her secrets for half a lifetime, but two people will not let the past rest. Drew Brooks is an inquisitive young associate at a Boston auction house, and professor Grigori Solodin believes that a unique set of jewels may hold the key to his own ambiguous past. Together these unlikely partners begin to unravel a mystery surrounding a love letter, a poem, and a necklace of unknown provenance, setting into motion a series of revelations that will have life-altering consequences for them all.
by Tatiana de Rosnay
In the Paris of 1942, Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours. In the Paris of 2002, on Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life. The author offers us a brilliantly subtle portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode in France’s history.
The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
Set in the American South in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act and intensifying racial unrest, Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees is a powerful story of coming-of-age, of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the often unacknowledged longing for the universal feminine divine. Addressing the wounds of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, Kidd demonstrates the power of women coming together to heal those wounds, to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of true family and home.
back to top
The Sense of an Ending
by Julian Barnes
Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize — This novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and his daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.
by Irene Spencer
Irene Spencer did as she felt God commanded in becoming the second wife to her brother-in-law Verlan LeBaron. When the government raided their community-the Mormon village of Short Creek, Arizona-seeking to enforce the penalties for practicing polygamy, Irene and her family fled to Verlan's family ranch in Mexico. Here they lived in desolate conditions with Verlan's six brothers, one sister, and numerous wives and children. This astonishing autobiography has captured the attention of readers around the world.
The Shipping News
by Annie Proulx
In this touching and atmospheric novel set among the fishermen of Newfoundland, Proulx tells the story of Quoyle. From all outward appearances, Quoyle has gone through his first 36 years on earth as a big schlump of a loser. He's not attractive, he's not brilliant or witty or talented, and he's not the kind of person who typically assumes the central position in a novel. But Proulx creates a simple and compelling tale of Quoyle's psychological and spiritual growth. Along the way, we get to look in on the maritime beauty of what is probably a disappearing way of life.
Snow Falling on Cedars
by David Guterson
San Piedro Island is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched.
back to top
by Stephen Greenblatt
Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. Nearly six hundred years ago, a man took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius – a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas. The copying and translation of this ancient book – the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age – fueled the Renaissance; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.
by Sandra Dallas
Soon after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up Japanese residents of the West Coast and shipped them off to "internment camps" for the duration of the war. One of the camps is Tallgrass, based on an actual Colorado camp. The discomforts and indignities these (mostly) American citizens had to endure are viewed through the clear eyes of a young girl who lives on a nearby farm, Rennie Stroud. Rennie's love of family slowly extends itself to the Japanese house and field helpers the Strouds receive permission to hire. An ugly murder is central to this compelling historical novel, but the focus is on the appealing Stroud family.
Tattoos on the Heart
by Gregory Boyle
For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom. These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair.
Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston
An enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published.
back to top
The Things They Carried
by Tim O’Brien
They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated Bibles, each other. And, if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since it was first published, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.
The Tiger's Wife
by Téa Obreht
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story that her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.
The Tin Ticket:the Heroic Journey of Australia's Convict Women
by Deborah J. Swiss
The Tin Ticket takes readers to the dawn of the nineteenth century and into the lives of three women arrested and sent into suffering and slavery in Australia and Tasmania. There they overcame their fates unlike any women in the world. The book also tells the tale of Elizabeth Gurney Fry, a Quaker reformer who touched all their lives. Ultimately, this is a story of women who, by sheer force of will, became the heart and soul of a new nation.
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of the early childhood of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, chronicling the humorous trials and tribulations of growing up in Maycomb, Alabama, from 1933 to 1935. Maycomb's small-town Southern atmosphere contributes to the security of Scout's world, just as pervasive forces of racism threaten to unsettle it. Scout's devotion to her older brother, and her hero-worship of her father, the defense attorney Atticus Finch, infuse this story with an uncommon intimacy and affection. When Atticus is assigned a case defending a local black man who has been unjustly accused of rape by a poor white woman from a family of ill-repute, Scout explores her beliefs, her father's moral obligations, and the dynamics of her community. As the untroubled realm of her childhood collides with the adult world of the courthouse, Scout discovers that redemption -- salvation, even -- can come from unexpected sources.
back to top
by Carol Shields
Reta Winters lives with her physician husband and three daughters in a farmhouse outside Ontario. Well, all three of Reta's daughters used to live there; Norah, now 19, currently spends her time in silent contemplation, holding a begging bowl on a Toronto street corner. During the course of her anguish over her daughter's renunciation of her middle-class upbringing, Reta, a writer, tries to put life back into reasonable order in the pages of her new novel. Her need to bring her daughter back within the family fold arises from the very wellspring of motherhood, and the reader witnesses her attempted retrieval of happiness with open-hearted understanding.
Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun
by Peter Godwin
When journalist Peter Godwin learns that his father is gravely ill, he flies home to Zimbabwe. Godwin seizes this opportunity to get to know both his father and his country better. He finds Zimbabwe in a sad state in the late 1990s. Disgruntled veterans of the Rhodesian war and mobs of young men are terrorizing and sometimes killing white farmers and seizing their land with the tacit approval of Robert Mugabe's government. On the personal front, Godwin's mother reveals a surprising secret: his father's real name is Jerzy Goldfarb, and he is actually a Jew born in Poland before World War II.
back to top
The Worst Hard Time
by Timothy Egan
Egan tells an extraordinary tale in this account of how America's great, grassy plains turned to dust, and how the ferocious plains winds stirred up an endless series of "black blizzards" that were like a biblical plague. "Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or more in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains" in what became known as the Dust Bowl. But the plague was man-made, as Egan shows: the plains weren't suited to farming, and plowing up the grass to plant wheat, along with a confluence of economic disaster—the Depression—and natural disaster—eight years of drought—resulted in an ecological and human catastrophe that Egan details with stunning specificity.
The Zookeeper’s Wife
by Diane Ackerman
Diane Ackerman tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his empathetic wife, Antonina. With courage and coolheaded ingenuity, these individuals sheltered 300 Jews and Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, the author takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944.
last revised 11/30/12
back to top