Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Graveyard Book

I just finished this book the other day whilest travelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the story in more ways than one. I found the novel transported my mind to a place full of imagination. The actual reading part didn't take that long as I was very curious to see what would happen next therefore the novel was close at all times - ready to soak in a few minutes here and there when I could. I would gladly recommend this, but to be honest unless your child is a good reader I might suggest waiting until he or she is older - the novel can be confusing at times and therefore requires your full attention.


Friday, July 24, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I found this novel very confusing initially since so many characters were introduced and names and places were unfamiliar to me, being Swedish. I"m sure those of you who also read this book found the story line moved at a very slow pace. The novel is long and the real plot doesn't actually start for quite some time. Even so, the book intriqued me right from the beginning. I liked the writing style and I just wanted to keep right on treking through. In the end I found the story enjoyable and thrilling to finish, but had I known from the beginning that there were gruesome acts of violence and murder detailed I probably would have chosen not to read it. I guess that show that sometimes you can enjoy a book that really isn't your cup of tea regularly. I will probably search and find the second book and continue to finish the series off.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath

I first read The Grapes of Wrath in AP English during my senior year of high school. I was immediately drawn to the book because of the similarity in stories I'd heard from my grandmother about the coal companies coming into West Virginia and other states in the sounth and taking the land away from families who'd lived on it for years. Many of these families either became workers in the dangerous mines or moved to Ohio, Michigan, and other areas to find work. Many who did move were forced into work in unsafe factories and live destitute lives. I highly recommend Denise Giardina's Storming Heaven for a beautifully written and powerful story of the impact of coal mines on one community in West Virginia OR Harriet Arnow's The Dollmaker, an equally powerful book, for a look at the lives of one family who was uprooted from their KY home (not because of a coal company) and struggled to survive in Detroit during post-WWII.

Something about family survival and courage through hardship is a compelling subject to me, and no book has been more compelling than The Grapes of Wrath, a book that I've read multiple times since AP English class so many years ago. The Joads are not your typical perfect family, but they love each other in their own ways, and each time I read it, my heart breaks knowing what is going to happen to them and knowing that their lives are going to be filled with false hopes, pain, and sadness.

I remember the first time I read the book when I was 17, the ending with Rose-of-Sharon nursing the dying man made me a bit uncomfortable, and I've heard that it was quite controversial when published in the 30's.

Steinbeck is one of my favorite American authors, and his eloquent, beautiful, and heart-wrenching writing makes this one of my favorite books of all time. Many assert that this is his masterpiece, and I tend to agree.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My thoughts on the Bones of Faerie

I liked the novel. I liked being thrown into it. Yes, I could see how it might be confusing. And yes, the same thing can annoy me in other fantasy novels at times. (Sometimes I'm patient enough to go with the flow. Other times I give up.) When the book relies on world-building it can be tricky. But for some reason, I didn't mind in this case. True, not all questions were answered. And a bit more back story could have helped things along. But I like to piece some things together myself. And having the author explain each and every thing all at once, all at the beginning, wouldn't make for great storytelling either. I thought not-knowing added to the mystery of it.

With fantasy--especially in series and I don't know if this will be a series or not--but if an author is all action, little explanation we as readers complain because there are unanswered questions and it can be confusing. But if we get a book that is all explanation--all set up--and little action, then we complain that nothing happens and that there is no plot. I've read dozens (and dozens) of first-books-in-the-series where we spend 200 out of 300 pages just waiting for the action to start. And they're not all that fun to read. You hope that the second book improves and the action can finally start rolling along.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rules. Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians, The Lightning Thief, etc. Books where you're drawn in immediately and stay hooked. But most fantasy is somewhere between the two extremes of too much and too little.

I'm curious if a reread would make a difference? I read this one in April--late April. And so my memory is a bit fuzzy now. Some books are great the first time through when you're caught up in the 'and then what happens' of it and then the second reading, you begin to pick out all the little 'flaws' and 'quirks' that didn't quite work for you. I've had it work the opposite way too. Where a second reading un-confused me and left me loving it.

It could be a mood thing as well. For me, the timing of this one was perfect. I'd just finished a really sludge-worthy book that had kept me bogged down and frustrated. I was looking for a quick read. An entertaining read. Something short and satisfying. For me, this book did that well. It got me out of the funk I was in. I loved the opening chapter. And it held my interest from that point on.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bones of Faerie

I first heard of this book during the Read-A-Thon. I can't remember who read it, but I remember that they liked it. I then happened to stumble upon this book group and y'all were reading it. So I jumped in.

Well, I hate to say it, because I hate it when books disappoint me, but this book just didn't do it for me. I didn't hate it with a passion, because I did finish it. But, I had some real problems with it.

In the wake of fantasy YA and middle grade books like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Fablehaven (among so many others) books in this genre really have to step up their game. They need to have everything that makes an adult novel great. They can't just be "simplistic" because they are for younger people. And, essentially, that's how this book came off for me. Nothing seemed developed enough, not the language, the backstory, the plot, the characters, or the relationships.

I spent most of the book in a state of confusion. (Michelle seemed to share some my general confusion.) Why was there a war between Faerie and our world? When was this war? Are there still faeries? What's the deal with the mother? What's the deal with the abusive father? What really happened with Cam? How do people get powers--is it from birth or not? Why is Matthew randomly a werewolf? (I didn't realize werewolves were faeries. So, are there vampires too?) What is the scope of the Faerie world and our world? Why are the plants so mean? Who are these people in the other town? (I can't keep them straight or how they relate to each other.) Why does one of them stare so much? Why does Liza have such a strong power? Why doesn't the author develop any backstory when she plops us into the middle of the story? What the hell is going on in general?

These questions were answered in the book, but the answers just weren't satisfactory, for me.

Urgh. So you see my frustration. It started off as such a great idea too. The first chapter really had me wondering. But it just didn't develop into a full-bodied story.

Did I just really miss something here? Am I expecting too much from my YA and setting myself up for disapointment?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Thoughts on Bones of Faerie

I enjoyed reading Bones of Faerie. It was a book that once you picked it up, you couldn't put it down. The friendship between Matthew and Liza was interesting and entertaining. The imagery of the plants and tree attacking was great to read.

That said, this book had a lot of problems. Readers never find out what the war between faerie and humans were about. We know they didn't get along but had it always been that way? For a book that is set in the aftermath of such a horrible war, that could have been done much better.

The writing was good but readers were not able to get attached to most of the characters. I also wanted to know more background information on the other characters such as Matthew's grandmother. Though the idea for this story was great, I just wanted more.

Am I the only one who thinks there will be a second book?

The Bones of faerie

No one has posted yet, so I thought I would go ahead. I finished this book weeks ago, so have forgotten quite alot already with regards to small details. I found the story very confusing, especially in the beginning. I had to reread some parts a few times. At the same time I was intrigued to want to know more - and so therefore kept reading. I had wished the story didn't end, as I was eager to know what was next for the many characters I had gotten to know.

As an adult I enjoyed the book well enough, but I don't know how many young teens would. I actually gave the book to a 13 yr old girl who reads constantly. She started the novel, never finished it and then returned it to me within a week.

I'm curious to know what you thought.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Reading List: May-September

May: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner
June: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
July: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
August: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
September: Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband and a Bus with a Will of its Own by Doreen Orion

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Polls: June through September

Please vote for the books you'd like to read from June to September.

June 2009: Classic Literature

July 2009: Mystery/Crime

August 2009: Middle Grade Fiction

Setpember 2009: Travel Writing

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Young Adult Fiction Tiebreaker Poll

We have a four-way tie for our YA selection. Please vote for your top two. We'll discuss the 3rd Friday in May instead of the 2nd to give everyone time to find and read the winning book before we discuss.

Monday, April 13, 2009

May Young Adult Fiction Poll

Here are our choices for the May 2009 Young Adult fiction selection. Click on the link to read more about the books at Amazon, and come back and select your top two choices in the poll at the bottom of this post.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - my take

I enjoyed this book immensely! While the stories of their quaint homes and cottages were very interesting, what truly got to me was the warmness of Jane's friends and family. I thought it very sweet when her brother, Henry, tried to get her published and how tight her friendship with the Bigg-Wither girls was. I found it heartening to read Jane's conversations with Cassandra as well. It was evident to me that the relationship that the two eldest sisters in Pride and Prejudice shared is inspired from Jane's and Cassandra's. 

While I enjoy happy endings too, I found comfort in Jane's sensible rejection of Ashford's advances. I cannot imagine a Jane Austen heroine throwing away sense and reason for romantic happiness and this is one of the reasons I enjoy Jane Austen so much. Her women are strong, smart, realistic and independent. She makes light of 'coquettes' (Isabella Churchill in this case) in almost every one of her books!

I found it really interesting that Jane Austen got so much support from her family regarding her novel writing, especially in a time when novels weren't considered fit for more than base entertainment. She published her books anonymously but I am sure that her family's encouragement was critical to her writing. 

My favorite part of the book was also the part that I found the hardest to read. I really wanted to get inside the book and shake Jane off and read Ashford's letters t her. Jane Austen had immense personal strength and pride to not be tempted to read his notes. I don't think that I'd have had the same amount of resolve. I was very impressed by her firmness. 

I had to remind myself that the book was fictitious from time. I thought that Syrie James was very clever to have written it in the first person. Her research, her interest in the subject and of course her imagination really threw me off. It made for a much more enjoyable read. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Being a longtime fan of Jane Austen's work, I found The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen to be a pleasant and satisfying read. Because not a lot is really known about Jane Austen and because I love stories about lost treasures and documents, the premise of finding Austen's secret memoirs in a trunk immediately drew me in.

I loved how the author created the parallels between Sense and Sensibility and the events in Jane's own life, and the customs and limitations on women during that time infuriated me as I was reading. Jane, her sister, and her mother were left virtually penniless and homeless when Jane's father died, and they had to rely on the goodwill of her brothers.

And of course, the love story between Jane and Mr. Ashford was heartbreaking, which is my one quibble with the book. I like happy endings, and you knew from the very beginning that things were not going to work out. Every time Jane expressed happiness, you knew something was ultimately going to happen to keep them apart. Just when you thought they were finally going to be together forever, Jane sacrificed her own chance at happiness to give Mr. Ashford what she thought was the life he deserved.

Did anyone else feel this way about the doomed love story? How did you feel about women's rights or the lack thereof?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Hemingses of Monticello

Wow. This book was very challenging for me. I love to read, and I love to learn new things, but this was a struggle. I still have not gotten through this book. Even taking breaks in it is not helping. I find the author a challenge simply because of the point mentioned already about there being no real story flow. Also, I felt like there was a lot of conjecture, not factual, but just like other books on the topic, due to lack of information, the author just put her feelings in.
It was interesting to me to have the opposing viewpoints of Jefferson and his (as mentioned in an earlier review) "all men should be created equal" while he owned and "bred" slaves. He didn't "have love children" or outwardly care for Sally, in fact he never lets her free/have her freedom from being a slave. He breeds with her for his own pleasure and keeps her tied to him.
I am really looking forward to the next book, as this was/is a book that leaves me feeling negative and sad. I don't always need a happy ending, but it feels like the feeling of this book is very weighted... I'm glad we read (I tried to read) it, as it is always good to broaden horizons, but I'm happy to move on.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reactions to the Hemingses of Monticello

First, I need to start by saying that I haven't quite finished The Hemingses of Monticello. When you take out the acknowledgments and endnotes, I'm just about half-way through. Last night, I caught up with Thomas, James, and Sally in Paris ...

There were two things that made this a very intriguing selection for me ....
  • I live in the shadow of Monticello mountain (I see it from the Giant parking lot whenever I go grocery shopping), and
  • I love history.
The Hemingses of Monticello is most definitely filled with history. Lots of well-cited history. Annette Gordon-Reed has done her homework and then some. This is a book filled with facts and a well-crafted chronology . The author has put the details together so meticulously that we see less about the individuals and more about their placement in time. She seems so intent on getting it "right" that feelings are described as a set of possibilities or explanations.

What the book lacks, as Jill so eloquently pointed out, is a story. Reading this post over at I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) this morning also clarified that. Last week I jumped ahead and read the Epilogue. It is not because I don't want to finish the book - I do (and I will). I jumped ahead because I was looking for some affirmation that after all of the detail, Gordon-Reed would tell us "the rest of the story."

Yes, she lets us know how the family evolved. But she never strays from her original style. Unfortunately, this isn't a book where you talk about the characters as we did with The Thirteenth Tale. I really thought the book would draw out those types of discussions: why was James so willing to take risks traveling from Richmond to Charlottesville alone? did the Hemingses suffer because of Jefferson's waivering philosophy toward slavery? did he behave differently in front of Wayles and others than he did when it was just "the family"? etc.

In putting together this book, Gordon-Reed relied heavily (as historians do) on primary sources. Her sources included lots of correspondence (largely the landowners) and oral history (family stories passed down by the Hemingses). She admits throughout that there are gaps in the documentation, such as John Wayles' family tree and who attended to Martha Jefferson in her final days. Frankly, I was disappointed in how she presented the information she did find. The discussion of emotional issues (at least to this point) are recitations of fact, and the language doesn't convey the feelings themselves. Sometimes, the explanation is "given the culture of the 18th century, So-and-so might have felt X ..."

Gordon-Reed does an exceptional job in presenting a balanced look at Thomas Jefferson. He is at times a very likeable person who seems to be a truly Renaissance man. But there are aspects to his personality (beyond just ego) and events where he shows himself to be a self-righteous, condescending landowner, no different than his neighbors. I have always thought that he was enlightened, purposeful, and a curious learner. I never really saw him in the context of his married life. Now, because of Gordon-Reed's presentation, I would like to find other broad histories of Jefferson and learn more.

This is a book that is better read in small pieces, not only because the author packs each chapter with so much information, but because there is a lot to absorb. Each night, I close the book wondering about the story. I have the facts, I can set the scene, but I still have questions. I need time to process what the book doesn't.

The Hemingses of Monticello is a book for Jeffersonian historians, not the casual reader. That's unfortunate, because I think there is a lot to be gained in learning more about the stories of our ancestors. This is a compelling story still waiting to be told.

Reactions to The Hemingses of Monticello

Wow. I don't quite know how to neatly wrap up my thoughts and feelings about this book into a short blog post, but I'll try.

First off, The Hemingses of Monticello was a difficult read, both literally and emotionally. I normally read books rather quickly, but I found myself having to slow down considerably to wade through all of the details.

I think Annette Gordon-Reed is an exceptional historian, and it's clear that she's passionate about the subject matter of book. However, I think she is a rather weak storyteller. I do believe that the best nonfiction is able to tell a compelling, structured story, and there places in the book that were repetitive and disorganized.

I admit that I had to put the book down a few times and read other books, but I kept coming back to it because I wanted to learn more about The Hemingses and their story. Gordon-Reed certainly demonstrated how The Hemingses were unique in the fact that most of the family stayed together for life. But they were required to move wherever and whenever Jefferson and his family required it. Hence the five year stay in Paris that ultimately changed Sally's and her brother James's life forever.

I honestly didn't know what to think about Thomas Jefferson. At times, he seemed as kind and generous as he could be as a slave owner. On the other hand, he was a slave owner and started an affair with a very young Sally Hemings. I guess I can never get over the irony that the same man who wrote The Declaration of Independence stating that "All men are created equal," not only owned slaves but fathered children with a slave whom he never freed.

Finally, there is so little information about the Hemings family and about Sally's relationship with Jefferson that most of the time, the author really used her best guess based on other facts to write about what happened. We'll never know how the two really felt about each other. We'll never know why James Hemings committed suicide. The author did what historians do and created a story based on research, but there are crucial pieces missing.

Overall, I'm glad the book has received such national attention because the story of the Hemings family needs to be told. I just wish the author was a better storyteller or that her editors could have helped her revise it to make it more accessible and approachable.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Historical Fiction Selection

And the winner of our April Historical Fiction selection is The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James!

I confess that I checked this book out already and couldn't put it down. If you're a Jane Austen fan, you will especially love this, and I do recommend reading or re-reading Sense and Sensibility first. Why? Because the book follows Jane as she's polishing her draft of Sense and Sensibility, and you will recognize how the events of her life (as they're fictionally told in the memoirs) mirror some characters and situations in Sense and Sensibility. There are also a lot of references to Pride and Prejudice.

Okay, so I hope everyone has a chance to read the book and we'll start discussions on April 10th.

Also, a reminder that discussions for our nonfiction selection, The Hemingses of Monticello, will begin on Friday. I may post on Wednesday or Thursday because my daughter is turning two next week, and family and friends will be in town for the celebration.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Is anyone else finding this book a bit difficult?
I love to read and I love to learn, but I'm struggling my way through this book. Just wondering if I was the only one in this boat, or if there's a part where it gets to be smoother sailing?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Historical Fiction Poll

Historical Fiction Choices

In April, we'll be reading and discussing historical fiction. Please read the descriptions below and vote for your top two choices in the poll in the next post. All book descriptions are taken directly from publishers' sites.

The Whiskey Rebels: A Novel by David Liss
"Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, now lives in disgrace, haunting the taverns of Philadelphia. An accusation of treason has long since cost him his reputation and his beloved fiancée, Cynthia Pearson, but at his most desperate moment he is recruited for an unlikely task–finding Cynthia’s missing husband. To help her, Saunders must serve his old enemy, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival Thomas Jefferson over the fragile young nation’s first real financial institution: the Bank of the United States." (read more...)

The King's Daughter. A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth

"Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth of York trusts that her beloved father’s dying wish has left England in the hands of a just and deserving ruler. But upon the rise of Richard of Gloucester, Elizabeth’s family experiences one devastation after another: her late father is exposed as a bigamist, she and her siblings are branded bastards, and her brothers are taken into the new king’s custody, then reportedly killed. But one fateful night leads Elizabeth to question her prejudices. Through the eyes of Richard’s ailing queen she sees a man worthy of respect and undying adoration. His dedication to his people inspires a forbidden love and ultimately gives her the courage to accept her destiny, marry Henry Tudor, and become Queen. While her soul may secretly belong to another, her heart belongs to England…"

Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant

"Based on the true story of Matt Bondurant's grandfather and two granduncles, The Wettest County in the World is a gripping tale of brotherhood, greed, and murder. The Bondurant Boys were a notorious gang of roughnecks and moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, during Prohibition and in the years after. Forrest, the eldest brother, is fierce, mythically indestructible, and the consummate businessman; Howard, the middle brother, is an ox of a man besieged by the horrors he witnessed in the Great War; and Jack, the youngest, has a taste for luxury and a dream to get out of Franklin. Driven and haunted, these men forge a business, fall in love, and struggle to stay afloat as they watch their family die, their father's business fail, and the world they know crumble beneath the Depression and drought." (read more...)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

"January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all."
(read more...)

Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan
"I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.

So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.

In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright." (read more...)

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

"What if, hidden in an old attic chest, Jane Austen's memoirs were discovered after hundreds of years? What if those pages revealed the untold story of a life-changing love affair? That's the premise behind this spellbinding novel, which delves into the secrets of Jane Austen's life, giving us untold insights into her mind and heart.

Jane Austen has given up her writing when, on a fateful trip to Lyme, she meets the well-read and charming Mr. Ashford, a man who is her equal in intellect and temperament. Inspired by the people and places around her, and encouraged by his faith in her, Jane begins revising Sense and Sensibility, a book she began years earlier, hoping to be published at last." (read more...)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
"In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart."

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

"Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind."

A Mercy by Toni Morrison
"In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class divisions, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing the fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were planted and took root. Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a small holding in the harsh north. Despite his distaste for dealing in “flesh,” he takes a small slave girl in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, “with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady.” Florens looks for love, first from Lina, an older servant woman at her new master’s house, but later from a handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved. "(read more...)

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

"Paris, July 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.

Paris, May 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. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Interesting Read

I didn't vote for The Thirteenth Tale either but found it interesting enough. I am a quick reader in general but this book took me a while. The details about the weather and the way Margaret felt at all times were pretty engrossing. My gut opinion about the book: 'It was interesting enough'. I didn't take to Margaret's character and Vida Winter fascinated me. Perhaps if I could have gone beyond Margaret's character, I'd have enjoyed it better. The following are sections of the book that I found particularly interesting:
  • I liked how Margaret explained her love of books and felt very sorry for her when she found friendships and solace in her father's shop when it should have come from her mother. I found myself getting angry at her mother's melancholy and absent treatment of her daughter. It must have been heartbreaking to hide a birthday and for Mr Lea to still try and give his surviving daughter a chance at normality. Her mother's disregard for her living child was a little too cruel for me to fathom.
  • Margaret's toughness with herself reminded me of Jane Eyre. Perhaps the comparisons were meant to drive this through? Her sister's memory surrounded her with the same comfort that Jane Eyre derived from Helen Burns. Margaret also didn't make any excuses for her life or her situation and seemed to just accept it all and make the best of it.
  • I was impressed with Judith's loyalty when it came to hiding all the ghosts in the home. Maurice was a modern version of John-the-dig to me. He did his work without seeking anything else beyond that. It was fascinating how Judith became so much more welcoming to Margaret when the truth about Emeline came out.
  • Vida Winter was my favorite character. I gravitate towards tough women characters and she was one tough cookie. She was the only one of the three girls who understood the darkness that had given life to them. She was always a survivor. I was particularly impressed with the fact that she remained hidden from everyone and still remained such an active force within the story. I'd love to know how she managed to educate herself and how she came up to become a writer and how she managed to keep Emeline the whole time too.

Based on the questions prompted by Jill about the twin who survived and Terry's guess at the era the book was framed in, this is my take, I think that Emeline survived the fire.

When Via Winter used the analogy of a conveyor belt where someone you know was burning all the known books in the world, she was living through her own experience of seeing Adeline burn the library through. Vida Winter was extremely bold in saying that she'd gladly destroy the person burning the book and Margaret acknowledges her own cowardice in not being able to give voice to her own similar thought. It was obvious that Vida didn't care for Adeline and while her death was tragic, I can see how she wasn't all that sad about it. She made it very clear that she didn't understand how Ameline would let Adeline abuse her and still love her. I cannot imagine Vida Winter being as tender to a dying matron if she wasn't someone she loved so much?

I think that the story about March twins' parents happened in the early nineties and Ameline and Adeline during the twenties. As Jill said in one of the comments, Margaret depended on snail mail a lot and while she took trains to libraries, there was no mention of electronic catalogs of newspapers. Or am I mistaken? I think that she went through stacks of old papers for news of the fire, right? I imagine that she interviewed Vida Winter in the sixties. That would explain the camera with the film and also the fact that Emeline's son has a kitchen that is almost state of the art for a chef.

I balked at the violence of the siblings at first and the way that the girls were completely ignored and their living conditions etc. How do people get to such squalid situations! I found it difficult to move beyond those descriptions at times.

The book was interesting for me but I am not sure I'd like to read it again.

Thirteenth Tale

I did vote for the book, as I really liked the excerpt on the back of the book. It started out slower than I expected and I didn't care for the beginning, but about a third of the way through I liked it very much and couldn't read it fast enough! I wanted to gather many details, to talk about in the book club, to connect to, so the first third of the book is filled with sticky notes, however, I was so into reading and enjoying the story that there aren't any sticky notes in the latter chapters.
I agreed with others in that Margaret was plain and uninteresting, but Vida was full of eccentricities that kept her interesting. I felt they were both important to the story for those purposes, to be the opposite of the other character.
Some things I "sticky-noted" because I thought were interesting or I related to:
  • Although I didn't like Margaret as a main character, I related to her love of reading (which led me to wonder if I'd like myself as a main character in a book!) On pg. 4 she describes being so into a book that she falls ("Reading can be dangerous." Which later links to the furnace story, and the books in the fire Adeline least in my mind...) I often lose myself, my concept of time and space when reading, also.
  • Again, on page 10, I can relate to reading and not even coming out of the book for food or drink, or distraction outside of the book's realm. I also liked her description of the autumn day with mist and rain. I always appreciate descriptions like that of weather, or surroundings that you can almost feel as you read. On pg 36 the sky is described as gauzy and white, getting darker, with thicker clouds-which really describes a winter sky perfectly, and gave me the same feeling.
  • As a reader who didn't care for Margret's bland-ness, I wondered, too, "why Vida would pick" her to be the biographer-pg 11
  • Page 17 made me consider (for the upteenth time) writing a journal myself, because she states that our flesh, our lives die, but our words live on for people after us... and I thought of my family who may someday wonder about our lives (no matter how bland they may be.)
  • On pg 23 I got a shiver when Margret talked about the blackness, the cold and pressing her cheek to the glass to have her cheek pressed against her sister's. I found her link to her sister almost as odd, hard for me to understand I should say, as her mother's disregard for her due to her sister's death. They were parallel in their grief for the loss of the sister, but displayed it, held that loss close, in different ways.
  • I also related to Margret when she talked about the books she read and liked to read. I find myself getting into similar patterns. And then I am surprised when someone gives me a book, or I choose to branch out and I like a book of a different genre or topic. Then I want to devour all books by that author, like Margret did with Vida's books.
  • I liked Vida's description of our life's experiences being like organic mulch, they make us who we are as they are meshed together... I really liked that.
  • Margret's writing technique after hearing the story was very interesting...
  • I liked the chapter named The Eye in the Ewe.. it made me think the I in the You several times in my mind, wondering if there was a connection.
  • I knew there must be another sister, but I thought she was a triplet separated from the twins, from the time Hester saw them in the field, but Adeline had been at the doctor's home the whole time.
  • I was intrigued by the "supporting characters" such as Judith and the Dr at Vida's home. They were integral in the Winters twins' lives in the end, but they are rarely seen. Their presence is felt, but not often seen.
  • I appreciated another reviewer's take on the relationship between Adeline and Emiline being just like their parents'.
Over all I really liked the book. There were some hard-to-swallow situations, but I did end up liking the books and character development.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Although I didnt' vote for this particular book I did enjoy it very much. As said previously in another entry, I too was not drawn to Margaret and I really just wanted to get on with Vida Winter's story, which enthralled me from the beginning.

I would love to read this book again in the future and try to piece together things I may have missed. I thought I knew the answer as to who Vida was, and in the end was pleasantly surprised.

The Thirteenth Tale the Audio Edition

Margaret Lea is right. "There is no time for anything but research, but I have managed to do one additional useful thing." (page 339) She is talking about her conversation with a school teacher. I am talking about a serendipitous event!

As soon as we selected Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale for our book club selection, I reserved it at our library. In my haste to make sure I had a copy, I didn't read the online record and inadvertently reserved an audio book. Now, thirteen disks later, I'm mostly glad I did. Listening to the book is harder and slower than reading, but the richness of the narrators' voices really added to my enjoyment. [It also meant I needed to use a Google Books preview to get the spellings correct.]

All in all, I found this a very enjoyable read. This is a book I could easily see myself reserving again, although this time in hardcover form. Even though I know the answers, I still have some questions. Maybe new clues would emerge that I missed before. Had I originally had a paper version, it would likely have been filled with highlighted passages, as there were so many wonderful nuggets, like this.
There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic. (page 10)

Vida Winter's story is complex, tightly woven, and filled with turns that are both distinct and dependent upon each other. I found her a compelling character ... she was the person who kept bringing me back to the book. Although I had expected that Emeline and Adeline were children of incest early on, it took me much longer to understand why, if she were one of the twins, that Vida Winter described herself in third person. During the time the twins were separated, Hester noted that she was making progress with Emeline. At that juncture, I made a note that maybe Vida Winter was Emeline, given that she had become a succussful author. Still, I was confused as to how she knew so much about the events at Dr. Maudsley's house.

There were times when I wanted to tell Margaret to stop talking. Although her story offers something of a parallel (being a twin, growing up not knowing who her mother is), for me it was tangential. It gave her a connection as Vida Winter's biographer, but nothing more. I guess she needed her own back story to fit into the book, but I could have done with less of it. Ironically, she was like her mother and even Hester: she looked at the world in a detached way. As a scientist. I will confess that there were a few times when she started going into great detail about a setting that I hit pushed ahead with a fast-forward button. I also wish that Vida would have skipped some of the gruesome details of Charlie and Isabelle's self-inflicted and mutually inflicted violence. One or two examples would have been enough.

One of the intriguing things to me are the personalities of the three sisters. Vida Winter is a child of rape, and Emeline and Adeline are the twin daughters of two masochistic, violent parents. In some ways, Emeline -- and particularly Adeline -- mirrored the relationship of their parents. Adeline clearly had Charlie's violent tendencies; Emeline was passive, but she could connect with people. Isabelle was manipulative, not passive. Vida Winter, the product of the most violent rage, was the "fairest of them all," so to speak.

Does anyone have a sense of the true time frame of the story? Given the Bronte-esque style, I kept envisioning characters in long petticoats and top hats. Yet, Margaret rode in cars and had a camera with film. She sent and received correspondence and photographs rather quickly.

This is a story that will stay with me. Not for the violent and sad moments, but for the strength of the story itself. These are characters who walked from the pages and left questions that can never be answered. As Margaret says at the beginning of the book ...

Reading is dangerous. (page 6)

The Thirteenth Tale Initial Reactions

I finished The Thirteenth Tale a week ago, and the characters and stories from the book keep coming back to me, which I believe makes for a great book. I liked The Thirteenth Tale. I thought it got off to a bit of a slow start, and up until Margaret first interviewed Vida Winter, I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to like it.

Looking back, I realize why. I didn't care for Margaret and her story. To me, even though she was the narrator of the story, the main characters and the central story was that of Vida Winter and the twins, Adeline and Emeline. It was Margaret's retelling of her interviews with Vida that drew me in and made me keep turning the page. Why didn't I like Margaret? She certainly had her own ghosts and had been deeply affected by the death of her twin sister and a lifetime with a mother who was physically there but void of affection. However, call me insensitive, but I just wanted to shake her at times and tell her to get over it and move on with her life. Granted, by the end of the book, she is able to do just that, but something just didn't allow me to connect with her or really care about her. Did anyone else feel this way?

Vida Winter, on the other hand, was a different story. From her first encounter with Margaret, I liked her and wanted to know more about this mysterious woman's life. I immediately wanted to know: Why did she always make up stories about her past during interviews? What is she hiding? Why is she now finally telling her story? Is she telling the truth?

I admit that I was surprised to learn who she really was and didn't even suspect it, but once Margaret figured out the truth, all of the clues that were weaved throughout the story made it evident. Before her true identity was revealed, I found it particularly odd that Adeline would just suddenly start being normal one day, especially since I suspected who the twins' true father was from the very beginning. And things just didn't add up. Who killed John-the-dig? Who hit the doctor's wife on the head? Who was the boy Hester kept seeing and John kept denying having ever seen? All of it came together after Margaret read Hester's diary, and I was glad to have been surprised by the revelation. I definitely thought this was a plus because there have been a number of instances lately when I've figured out the plot and the mystery near the beginning of some books I've read, and the experiences have been a bit anti-climatic and disappointing.

The only remaining unresolved question for me is: which twin escaped the fire? I would love to believe it was Emmeline, but I just don't know.

I think Diane Setterfield is a great storyteller and beautiful writer. It's not often that a character or story line stays with me and has me waking up at night trying to guess the true identity of a character, but this one did. I understand why she felt it was important for the book to be about Margaret's healing just as much as it was about Vida Winter's desire to tell the truth, but the main character and the one I personally cared more about was Vida Winter. I wish I could have connected more with her, but she was difficult for me to like.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale Discussion Questions

I pulled these questions from a few internet sources, listed at the bottom of this post. They're only meant to give us discussion ideas and don't all have to be addressed.

  1. Margaret and her mother are bound by a singular loss -- the death of Margaret's twin sister. How has each woman dealt with this loss, and how has it affected her life? If her parents had told her the truth about her twin, would Margaret still be haunted?

  2. Miss Winter frequently changes points of view from third to first person, from "they" to "we" to "I," in telling Margaret her story. The first time she uses "I" is in the recounting of Isabelle's death and Charlie's disappearance. What did you make of this shifting when Margaret points it out on page 204?

  3. Why do you think Margaret obeyed Miss Winter's summons?

  4. The story shifts significantly after the death of Mrs. Dunne and John Digence. Adeline steps forward as intelligent, well-spoken, and confident -- the "girl in the mists" emerges. Did you believe this miraculous transformation? If not, what did you suspect was really going on?

  5. When did you first suspect Miss Winter's true identity? Whether you knew or not, looking back, what clues did she give to Margaret (and what clues did the author give to you)?

  6. The title of this novel is taken from the title of Miss Winter's first book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, a collection of twelve stories with a mysterious thirteenth left out at the last minute before publication. How is this symbolic of the novel? What is the thirteenth tale?

  7. Do you think Adeline or Emmeline was saved from the fire?

  8. What is the significance of Jane Eyre to the story?

  9. Margaret tells Aurelius that her mother preferred telling “weightless” stories in place of heavy ones, and that sometimes it’s better “not to know.” Do you agree or disagree?

  10. Who is Miss Winter? What is significant about her in the beginning of the story? Why does Miss Winter want to tell her story now? Why has Miss Winter lied about her life for so long and why does she change her mind now? Why does Miss Winter choose Margaret to tell her story to?

  11. Early in the novel, Margaret explains, “I read old novels. The reason is simple: I prefer proper endings. Marriages and deaths, noble sacrifices and miraculous restorations, tragic separations and unhoped-for reunions, great falls and dreams fulfilled; these, in my view, constitute an ending worth the wait.” At their first meeting, Vida Winter makes Margaret promise not to ask any questions or jump ahead through her story. The Thirteenth Tale itself is structured into three parts — “Beginnings,” “Middles,” and “Endings”–plus one. Why do you think the author included another “Beginning” at the conclusion? Did the story end for you there?


Saturday, January 17, 2009

February's Fiction Selection

Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale will be our February reading selection.

We'll start discussions on February 13, 2009.

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Survey Results and Tiebreaker poll

Thanks to everyone who voted for the February and March selections.

Our nonfiction reading selection for March will be The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed.

It edged out Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup by just one vote.

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed is the 2008 National Book Award Winner in nonfiction and may be in high demand at your library, so you may want to get on the hold list right away.

For the February fiction poll, there was a tie between The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks.

Please vote in the tiebreaker poll below for your top choice by Saturday evening. I'll announce the winner on Sunday.

Here are descriptions of the books again:

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
In his 14th book, bestselling author Nicholas Sparks tells the unforgettable story of a man whose brushes with death lead him to the love of his life.

Is there really such thing as a lucky charm? The hero of Nicholas Sparks's new novel believes he's found one in the form of a photograph of a smiling woman he's never met, but who he comes to believe holds the key to his destiny. The chain of events that leads to him possessing the photograph and finding the woman pictured in it is the stuff of love stories only a master such as Sparks can write.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

Friday, January 9, 2009

March Nonfiction Choices

Here are the nonfiction selections for our March discussion. Book descriptions taken directly from the publisher sites are included with each title. In addition, You can find more information about the book by clicking the link to Please use the poll in the next post to select your top two choices.

Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
Ten years ago, Kate Braestrup and her husband Drew were enjoying the life they shared together. They had four young children, and Drew, a Maine state trooper, would soon begin training to become a minister as well. Then early one morning Drew left for work and everything changed. On the very roads that he protected every day, an oncoming driver lost control, and Kate lost her husband.

Stunned and grieving, Kate decided to continue her husband's dream and became a minister herself. And in that capacity she found a most unusual mission: serving as the minister on search and rescue missions in the Maine woods, giving comfort to people whose loved ones are missing, and to the wardens who sometimes have to deal with awful outcomes. Whether she is with the parents of a 6-year-old girl who had wandered into the woods, with wardens as they search for a snowmobile rider trapped under the ice, or assisting a man whose sister left an infant seat and a suicide note in her car by the side of the road, Braestrup provides solace, understanding, and spiritual guidance when it's needed most.

A Journal for Jordan: A Story of Love and Honor by Dana Canedy
In 2005, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King began to write what would become a two-hundred-page journal for his son in case he did not make it home from the war in Iraq. Charles King, forty-eight, was killed on October 14, 2006, when an improvised explosive device detonated under his Humvee on an isolated road near Baghdad. His son, Jordan, was seven months old.

A Journal for Jordan is a mother’s letter to her son–fierce in its honesty–about the father he lost before he could even speak. It is also a father’s advice and prayers for the son he will never know.

Things I've Been Silent About: Memories by Azar Nafisi
Azar Nafisi, author of the beloved international bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran, now gives us a stunning personal story of growing up in Iran, memories of her life lived in thrall to a powerful and complex mother, against the background of a country’s political revolution. A girl’s pain over family secrets; a young woman’s discovery of the power of sensuality in literature; the price a family pays for freedom in a country beset by political upheaval–these and other threads are woven together in this beautiful memoir, as a gifted storyteller once again transforms the way we see the world and “reminds us of why we read in the first place” (Newsday).

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed
This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
Outrageously funny, Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . . has been a breakout bestseller ever since authors—and born vaudevillians—Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein did their schtick on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Lively, original, and powerfully informative, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar . . . is a not-so-reverent crash course through the great philosophical thinkers and traditions, from Existentialism (What do Hegel and Bette Midler have in common?) to Logic (Sherlock Holmes never deduced anything). Philosophy 101 for those who like to take the heavy stuff lightly, this is a joy to read—and finally, it all makes sense!

In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing by Lee & Bob Woodruff
In January 2006, Lee and Bob Woodruff seemed to have it all–a happy marriage, four beautiful children, and marvelous careers. Bob had just been named co-anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, but then, while he was embedded with the military in Iraq, an improvised explosive device went off near the tank he was riding in. He and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were hit, and Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.

In an Instant is the frank and compelling account of how Bob and Lee Woodruff’s lives came together, were blown apart, and then were miraculously put together again–and how they persevered, with grit but also with humor, through intense trauma and fear. More than a dual memoir of love and courage, In an Instant is an important, wise, and inspiring guide to coping with tragedy–and an extraordinary drama of marriage, family, war, and nation.

700 Sundays by Billy Crystal
in 700 Sundays, a memoir based on his one-man Broadway play of the same name, Crystal tells his own story, dissecting an often complex relationship with his father and how that relationship resonated in other aspects of his life. His father, Jack Crystal was an influential jazz concert promoter and operated an influential jazz record label, affording his son an opportunity to tell stories of being taken to his first movie by Billie Holliday and seeing his grandmother suggest that Louis Armstrong simply "try coughing it up." But Jack died when his son was fifteen years old, soon after a forever-unresolved argument between the two, leaving Billy to cope with crushing grief while simultaneously and perhaps ironically trying to launch a career in comedy. This lends 700 Sundays much needed gravity in a volume that is packed with zingy one-liners and whimsical observations that serve to illustrate the comedy career Crystal forged, while also providing some decent laughs.

February Fiction Poll

Please select your top two books by January 15, 2008. Read descriptions in the post below.

February Fiction Choices

Our first book discussion will take place in February. Below are the books you've nominated for our February selection, along with a description. In the next post, please use the poll to select your top two choices. The poll will close on Friday, 1/16/08, so please make your choices before then.

O Little Town by Don Reid
In a small town at Christmas, three families find themselves muddling their way through the challenges of life: marriage, illness, bad decisions, friendship, faith, forgiveness . and a fifty-year-old mystery.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness -- featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess,a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson

Given less than a month to live, Ambrose Zephyr, alphabet-obsessed since childhood, decides to spend out his last days traveling around the globe from A to Z. As he and his wife, Zipper, travel to Italian piazzas, Turkish baths, and other romantic destinations, all beautifully evoked by the author, Zipper struggles to deal with the grand unfairness of their circumstances as she buoys Ambrose with her gentle affection and humor. Meanwhile, Ambrose reflects on his life, one well lived, and comes to understand that death, like life, will be made bearable by the strength and grace of their devotion.

Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson

With extraordinary emotional power, Linda Olsson’s stunningly well-crafted debut novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two women. Veronika, a young writer from New Zealand, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who slowly becomes a presence in Veronika’s life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Set against a haunting Swedish landscape, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters’ secrets are revealed.

The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay

Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little other than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city. Taking a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books called the Arcade, she knows she has found a home. But when Rosemary reads a letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville, the bookstore erupts with simmering ambitions and rivalries. Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure and evocative portrait of a young woman making a life for herself in the city.

A Partisan's Daughter by Louis De Bernieres
He’s Chris: bored, lonely, trapped in a loveless, sexless marriage. In his forties, he’s a stranger inside the youth culture of London in the late 1970s, a stranger to himself on the night he invites a hooker into his car.

She’s Roza: Yugoslavian, recently moved to London, the daughter of one of Tito’s partisans. She’s in her twenties but has already lived a life filled with danger, misadventure, romance, and tragedy. And although she’s not a hooker, when she’s propositioned by Chris, she gets into his car anyway.

Over the next months Roza tells Chris the stories of her past. She’s a fast-talking, wily Scheherazade, saving her own life by telling it to Chris. And he takes in her tales as if they were oxygen in an otherwise airless world. But is Roza telling the truth? Does Chris hear the stories through the filter of his own need? Does it even matter?

This deeply moving novel of their unlikely love—narrated both in the moment and in recollection, each of their voices deftly realized—is also a brilliantly subtle commentary on storytelling: its seductions and powers, and its ultimately unavoidable dangers.

Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn by Alice Mattison

One quiet spring day in 1989, Constance Tepper arrives from Philadelphia to watch over her mother's Brooklyn apartment and her orange cat. Con's mother, Gert, has left town to visit her old friend Marlene Silverman in Rochester. Marlene has always seemed alluring and powerful to Con, and ever since Con was a little girl, the long-standing bond between Gert and Marlene has piqued her curiosity. Now she finds herself wondering again what keeps them together.

Con's week in Brooklyn will take a surprising turn when she wakes to find that someone has entered her mother's apartment and her own purse is missing. Stranded, with no money, she begins to phone family and friends. By the end of that week, she will experience a series of troubling discoveries about her marriage, her job, and her family's history, and much of her life will be changed forever.

In the fall of 2003, now living in Brooklyn and working as a lawyer, Con has almost forgotten that strange and shattering week. But a series of unsettling reminders and surprising discoveries—including traces of a lost elevated train line through Brooklyn—will lead to grief, love, and more questions. At last, a confrontation between Marlene and Con's daughter will unravel some of the mysteries of the past.

The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt

Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five generations interweaves Colt's final visit with memories of a lifetime of summers. Run-down yet romantic, the Big House stands not only as a cherished reminder of summer's ephemeral pleasures but also as a powerful symbol of a vanishing way of life.

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
Rick Dockery was the third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. In the AFC Championship game, to the surprise and dismay of virtually everyone, Rick actually got into the game. With a 17-point lead and just minutes to go, Rick provided what was arguably the worst single performance in the history of the NFL. Overnight, he became a national laughingstock—and was immediately cut by the Browns and shunned by all other teams. But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent find a team that needs him. Against enormous odds, Rick finally gets a job—as the starting quarterback for the Mighty Panthers . . . of Parma, Italy. The Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player—any former NFL player—at their helm. And now they’ve got Rick, who knows nothing about Parma (not even where it is) and doesn’t speak a word of Italian. To say that Italy—the land of fine wines, extremely small cars, and football americano—holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement. . . .

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks
In his 14th book, bestselling author Nicholas Sparks tells the unforgettable story of a man whose brushes with death lead him to the love of his life.

Is there really such thing as a lucky charm? The hero of Nicholas Sparks's new novel believes he's found one in the form of a photograph of a smiling woman he's never met, but who he comes to believe holds the key to his destiny. The chain of events that leads to him possessing the photograph and finding the woman pictured in it is the stuff of love stories only a master such as Sparks can write.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos
When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the café, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

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 extensively, 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.

On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoë, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoë at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.