“We all appreciated the writing talent of this author, although we agreed that it was difficult to keep up with all of the characters and several of us took notes while we read.
“The member who facilitated our discussion has had a love affair with Alice Hoffman’s writing for
years. She particularly enjoys the color themes that flow throughout each book.
“Our members had their favorite stories within this collection of linked stories: One highlighted ‘The Bear’s House’ as a breathtaking, courageous tale and described it as one of the best stories she’s ever read; another talked about ‘The Monster of Blackwell’ and likened it to a Twilight Zone episode; still another talked about ‘Eight Nights of Love’ and the surprising amount of love and lust that winds throughout the book.
“In general, our group believed that the book offered up opportunities for redemption and second chances for its characters along with a bit of magic and mystery. There were so many admirable characters, often with strong principles of devotion interwoven with sadness. We agreed that each story within this collection was powerful in itself.”
“This is the fictional account of the life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s
wife. Lidian is a strong, independent woman who falls in love with and marries Emerson. She also befriends Henry David Thoreau and her life becomes entwined with them both. It is a beautifully written work that examines the spiritual, intellectual and emotional life of the characters.
“We enjoyed the fact that this book was historical fiction. Reading historical fiction is enjoyable
as it is not only a great escape but provides insight into the time period as well. As our club is all women,
we particularly enjoy a discussion around the evolution of the role of women in the United States.”
Paired with: “As Lidian lived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, we served traditional New England dishes featuring cranberries and apples: a hearty apple crisp with oatmeal topping, and Wensleydale cheese with cranberries! The book mentioned mutton which we declined to serve.”
“This is a fascinating and moving history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is made human
through the parallel, personal stories of Arab Bashir and Israeli Dalia, who are both connected
to the same small piece of land. It is compelling nonfiction that reads like a novel, and lends itself
to thoughtful, rich discussion. Interesting topics of discussion included whether the book made us re-examine previous ideas of the Arab/Israeli conflict and how would it feel to be forced from our homes.”
Paired with: Recipes from Ottolenghi’s Plenty: A “Very Full” Mediterranean tart, full to the brim with roasted vegetables, and caramelized fennel with goat’s curd.
“The Chaperone opens in 1922, in Wichita, Kansas. The fictional Cora Carlisle learns that a
woman in town is looking for a chaperone to accompany her fifteen-year-old daughter to New York for the summer, so that the daughter, Louise Brooks, can participate in an exclusive dance program. Cora, a childless housewife, has her own reasons for wanting to go to New York, and eagerly applies for the position.
“Moriarty offers a wonderful blend of fiction and historical fact, incorporating the history and atmosphere of the period, prohibition, integration, changing values/mores, and fashions into the novel seamlessly. Through Cora and Louise are about as opposite as two people can be, we see in their situation the traditions and challenges facing many in the United States at the time.
“Book groups enjoy talking about the period, comparing the changing roles and opportunities afforded women at that time to the changes and challenges we’ve seen in our own lifetimes. The novel tackles several discussable ethical issues, and contemplates what we choose to show as our public persona and which personal truths we hold to ourselves. Your group might also enjoy viewing clips of Louise Brooks, the silent film star who inspired the novel, on YouTube.”
See recipes from author Laura Moriarty paired with The Chaperone on bookclubcookbook.com:
Joshua Henkin (author of The World Without You, Matrimony and Swimming Across the Hudson) recommends:
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal (Little, Brown, 2011), Fiction, 448 pages
“McNeal’s second novel chronicles the love affair between Judith Whitman and Willy Blunt,
begun when the two of them were in high school in Nebraska and still shadowing them
twenty years later when Judith, living in California and in a troubled marriage, tracks Willy down.
The prose is spot-on, the characterization devastating, and the book portrays one of the most
convincing and affecting father-daughter relationships I’ve ever read. I recommend it strongly.”
“It can be intimidating to read a book by someone you feel like you know (even if ‘know’
means you’re ‘friends’ on Twitter) — what if you don’t like their book — how will you keep
up the façade if you hate their writing? Luckily, in the case of reading Emma Straub’s
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, the stress of ‘maybe I’ll hate this novel’ melted away very
“There were so many facets of this novel that my book club had a fabulous time discussing, all while in a speakeasy-esque bar (very Laura Lamont of us). From the family dynamics in the beginning – specifically the relationships between the sisters – to the evolution of Elsa Emerson into Laura Lamont and what she lost, or was it gained, along the way, this book was an igniter to great conversation. Though set in the past, the themes are timeless. What group of women can’t sit around for hours chatting about their family, lovers, and friends? Not to mention the fashion of the era! Emma Straub wove a story that is as timeless as Hollywood.”
Pair with: Any delicious mixed cocktail! Emma Straub has proven herself to be quite the talented baker, so pastries are always a plus.
“This is the story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most powerful women in history. The author thoroughly researched Catherine’s life and presented the information in a way that was easy to follow and understand.
“We discussed the rather bizarre way in which the Russian royal family raised its children: for example, Catherine’s children were taken away from her as soon as they were born. A possible reason could be that at that time, many children never made it to adulthood due to disease and other causes. We also discussed Catherine’s string of lovers — her favorites, and how open the culture was to adultery, and how Catherine was even pushed to take a lover when she and her husband, Peter, weren’t ‘producing’ an heir.”
Paired With: Russian Tea Cakes, Ukrainian Poppy Seed Cake, and Caviar Deviled Eggs.
“Dr. Marina Singh, a medical researcher working for a pharmaceutical company, travels to the Amazon jungle to find out how her friend and co-worker died there. What makes the book so discussable are the many ethical problems it raises and the depth of the characters. During her trip, Dr. Singh faces ghosts from her past and explores the ethics of her impact on the Amazon tribal peoples, Big Pharma medicine and her personal relationships. One character is particularly unlikeable through most of the book, but as the story is winding up, you begin to understand the reasons for her decisions. There was controversy in our group about whether this character was a good person or not. It made for a lively discussion!”
“The Fall Back Plan is a quirky coming-of-age story about how we flounder, fail, and eventually find our way to a better self. The novel is narrated by Esther Kohler, a recent college grad who is recovering from a breakdown and moves back to her parents’ house. Esther is lost, but she finds unexpected solace in the company of the four-year-old girl she is nannying. This is a slim novel and a speedy read, but it is also very funny and emotionally resonant in the most unexpected ways. If you are looking for a fresh voice, I highly recommend Leigh’s — and her truly original heroine, Esther.”
Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado, recommends:
“As the beguiling Miss Frost puts it in this modern masterpiece of gender politics, ‘My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me–don’t make me a category before you get to know me!’ There is no writer, living or dead, who better humanizes the quirky, the misunderstood, the ‘different’ than John Irving, and here, through his bisexual protagonist Billy, he tenderly explores the way American attitudes toward sexuality have (and have not) evolved in the past half-century. A heartbreaking, hopeful, complicated and gorgeous story, In One Person is a must-read.”
“Remarkably, as in Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist, the unconventional, morally troubling relationships at the core of Jones’ Silver Sparrow illustrate nothing if not the universality of the human quest for acknowledgment, legitimacy, love and loyalty. As Chaurisse and her secret half-sister Dana move toward adulthood, they, like all of us, must shed idealistic notions of romantic and familial love to face difficult truths. A complex family drama, a richly crafted coming-of-age story and a meditation on the nature of love and forgiveness, Jones’s novel is a gripping, highly readable, literary story with fleshy, likable, heartbreaking characters at its center.”
“In Say Her Name, Francisco Goldman mines the unbearable loss of his pixie-ish, vibrant, brilliant young wife Aura through the painstaking excavation of their love and marriage, all the while questioning his complicity in her death. This is a rumination on grief, but, more fully and accurately, is it a tenderly drawn, devoted celebration of the ways in which passionate, adult, intellectual and artistic love emboldens and enriches life. This book is, simply put, stunning.”
Hillary Tisman, Marketing Manager of Atria Books, recommends:
“Ten Girls to Watchtells the story of Dawn West. She’s a year out of college and finally has her first real-life-adult job. That she got because of her on-again-off-again-but-really-off-for-good-this-time ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend (who is, thankfully, not as thin as Dawn). She’s tracking down past winners of Charm Magazine’s ‘Ten Girls to Watch’ award in order commemorate the 50th anniversary of the contest. As Dawn speaks to each of the women and learns their stories, she learns about herself and what success means—and doesn’t mean—in work and in love. This book manages to be quirky and authentic; hopeful without being hokey. Charity Shumway brilliantly captures what it feels like to be at that awkward post-college age when the world should be your oyster but instead of giving you pearls gives you mouthfuls of sand.”
“Jodi Picoult is the master – presenting all sides of an issue and all too human characters, forcing us to question what we would do if we found ourselves in a similar situation. In Lone Wolf, she looks at the intersection between medical science and moral choices. As the life of a father hangs in the balance, his children must decide whether or not to terminate his life and donate his organs. What follows is a dazzling meditation on the very notion of family, and the love, protection and strength it’s meant to offer.”
Food for Thought Book Club of Annville, Pennsylvania, recommends:
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House, 2010), Nonfiction, 496 pages
“Unbroken is the biography of Louis Zamperini, a U.S. Air Force bombardier who was shot
down over the Pacific Ocean during World War II. Louis also happened to be an aspiring Olympic long-distance runner as well as the ultimate survivor. The book follows Louis from his early childhood to his Air Force days, including the more than forty days he survived in a life raft in the open ocean and his extended period as a P.O.W. in multiple Japanese camps, and culminates in an account of his post-war life and damaged psyche. It’s as much a story of forgiveness and redemption as it is a survivor’s tale, and Hillenbrand’s writing style had us hooked from the opening words of her prologue.
“Our discussion began in an obvious place: discussing Louis’s incredible survival instinct through a seemingly endless line of setbacks and struggles. We were also struck with how easy it was to read Hillenbrand’s work. Although it is a piece of nonfiction, her writing made us feel as if we were reading a classic novel.
“The response of one of our book club members, a former Army helicopter pilot who served in the Vietnam War, to the book was interesting. He told us that it was very difficult to read the chapters detailing the combat Zamperini and his crew faced over the Pacific Ocean, especially with bullet holes in the plane’s fuselage. In fact, this member almost stopped reading at that point because of the memories it stirred up, but he eventually finished and was so glad that he did, since Zamperini’s story is an incredible one.”
Paired with: Tropical selections to represent Zamperini’s days in Hawaii as well as foods that paid tribute to his Italian heritage. The menu included biscotti, an apricot tart, a fresh fruit platter and fruit dip, bread and butter, spiced nuts, mini Italian sausage and pineapple kebobs, chips and salsa, and nuts.
“Set in Mexico and the United States beginning in the 1930s, The Lacuna is the story of a young man, Harrison Shepherd, who is coming of age. Much of his life is spent living with two famous artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City, where he meets revolutionary Lev Trotsky who is fleeing from Joseph Stalin’s regime. Harrison also lives in the United States where he comes under the scrutiny of the FBI. The characters are beautifully portrayed and the settings create a real world of beauty, but also of fear of what is different.
“Our club loved the book and our discussion was quite in depth as we discovered layers of meaning through sharing our varied perspectives. History came alive for all of us as we read about Harrison Shepherd’s friendship with Kahlo, Rivera, and Trotsky.
“We are all fans of Barbara Kingsolver and have read two of her other books, Animal Dreams and Prodigal Summer in past years. We were not disappointed in The Lacuna.”
“This is an intriguing story about Siberian Tigers in an outback area of Russia, the Primorye province, along the Pacific Ocean, Northeast of China.
“This book was full of surprises that include the politics of this impoverished community, the acceptance of hunting tigers as a way of life, the black market involved in hunting these beautiful animals and the intelligence and cunning of tigers. The man at the center of the book was one of only a few described who had a true sense of right and wrong and the value of preserving the animals.
“The book shed light on a culture we didn’t even know existed — the hunting community, a landscape that defies definition (brutally cold in the winter, practically tropical in the short summer) and, of course, the nature of the tiger as a terrifying adversary. We all felt educated after reading this book. It truly drew us into this world that was so foreign to us, and prompted great conversation.”
“Wild Seed is fantasy, though the author is best known for her science fiction. She also called her novels speculative fiction, as her novels and short stories are not very concerned with the actual magic or science, but the people who come into contact with those forces.
“The book is about Doro and Anyanwu, two seeming Immortals who meet in Africa at the beginning of the slave trade, who are very long- lived, and who are also very hard to kill. Though they are both Immortals, in other ways Doro and Anyanwu couldn’t be more different. He’s a murderer, and she’s a healer. He’s motivated by creating a line of people with abilities. She’s motivated by protecting her children, grandchildren and her other offspring.
“The book wasn’t uniformly liked by our club because Doro is such an awful, unlikeable, inhuman character. Doro has been a slave and been a slave owner and sees nothing wrong with being a slave owner. He’s been alive so long that he is no longer anything like human. We discussed how slavery and abuse are intertwined. We discussed how Doro didn’t need to own Anyanwu to control her.”
Paired with: “Lemon Pudding Cake from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. The authors, the Beekman Boys, are neighbors of ours, and have a home like the one that Butler describes Anyanwu settling in, when she first comes to the New World.”
“Pride and Prejudice leads as the favorite Jane Austen novel our group has read. At its heart
Pride and Prejudice is about the witty and lively Elizabeth Bennet’s surprise romance with a man she first hates based on misunderstandings and faulty first impressions.
“The various forms of love and romance in the book make for a wonderful discussion.
Lizzy will accept nothing less than a perfect romance. Her friend Charlotte Lucas, being ‘too old’ for the marriage ‘market’ at the time, will accept any male who can provide a clean, safe warm home (and she accepts the odious Bennet cousin Mr. Collins, who Lizzy turned down, despite very good financial reasons for accepting him). Elizabeth’s lovely and sweet sister Jane is wildly in love with Charles Bingley, but it’s not her nature to show her love outwardly. Lizzy’s parents are an example of a mismatched couple.
“Discussion points centered around Lizzy and her father. I think we were a little more critical of Lizzy’s jumping to conclusions. She is still wonderful in our eyesbut to accept everything Mr. Wickham said without question was disappointing. The story wouldn’t be as interesting if she didn’t accept Mr. Wickham’s comments without question!”
Paired with: “For Jane Austen’s birthday, December 16th, we have a party. Recipes have included buche de Noel, Anne’s baked Brie, English cucumber sandwiches, Mr. Elton’s Beets, and Catherine Morland’s Asparagus.”
“The Sarajevo Hagaddah survived wars, pogroms and was an invaluable artifact which
Hanna Heath, the main character in this novel became obsessed with. This intriguing mystery and story concerns the journey that took place in tracing the background of the haggadah (prayer book). Hannah takes this job seriously when she travels to Sarajevo and realizes the significance of this historical artifact. This compelling novel was memorable for the fascinating history as well as the character portrayal. There was much to discuss: relationships, Jewish background, European History and contemporary events.”
“We discussed the history of Rwanda, found it on a map, and explored our knowledge of Africa in general as a background to Baking Cakes in Kigali. The political and ethnic divisions of the population of Rwanda were of interest, too. We liked the humor of the mistaken ‘condoms,’ the measurements for Angel’s dresses, and some of the local characters and their fears of Ebola and germs. The cakes, which became symbols for the stories of the different peoples of the culture, were basic to our discussion, of course. AIDS was such a part of the backdrop of the stories that that was also part of our discussion, as was the ‘never again’ slogan with
reference to the 1994 Genocide and the Holocaust. Would they truly be ‘never again’? Since one occasion dealt with female circumcision, we were drawn to discuss that topic also.We were interested in how women can do that to other women or young girls.”
Paired with: “Our hostess decided that since Angel had served cupcakes to her guests when they ordered a cake, she would treat us to some cupcakes, too…and the tea flavored with cardamom. It helped set the whole mood!”
“What better month than March to read the Booker-nominated Irish novelist Sebastian Barry. In his fourth novel, he intertwines the narratives of 100-year-old Roseanne McNulty, a resident of theRoscommon Regional Mental Hospital for most of her life, and Dr. Grene, assigned to her case. While the therapist interviews Roseanne and researches her de facto imprisonment, she very lucidly writes her memoirs – which she hides beneath the floorboards of her room. An epic story of an Ireland torn by conflict, a culture dictated by the Church, and hidden love and tragedy, The Secret Scripture is a poetic novel, rich in language, characters, and history.”
Pairing suggestions: A round of Irish soda bread, a block of Irish cheddar, and shortbread cookies, washed down with Guinness, hot Irish whiskeys, or Barry’s Irish tea.
Short plot description:
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through thefive boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.
“I chose this title for book clubs because Foer tackles issues of family and loss, he incorporates a classic journey narrative using inventive storytelling techniques, a coming-of-age story, and – with humor, tenderness, and awe – he confronts the traumas of our recent history, specifically the tragedy of 9/11. Plenty of fodder for discussion!”
“During our conversation about Rules of Civility we all answered some of the questions that thecharacters Tinker, Evelyn, and Katie asked each other upon first meeting. We discussed the lush prose of the book – Amor Towles’ beautiful descriptions such as the one of the asparagus dish at La Belle Epoque. We liked how the book was ‘bookended’ with the gallery show at the beginning and ending, and how it all took place over the course of 1938. We were surprised how well Towles wrote from the perspective of a woman. We couldn’t believe this was his first novel (and we can’t wait to read him again). Although this book has been compared to The Great Gatsby, we also found similarities to Brideshead Revisited and The Talented Mr. Ripley. We loved the quote ‘Slurring is the cursive of speech.’”
Maine is a story of a strong, Irish Catholic family living in New England whose members have gone theirseparate ways. The matriarch is living in a family summer home and is planning to will it to the church when she dies. When the family gathers for their summer break and discovers this, quite by accident, there is an uprising.How will the family deal with this reality, and the issues of sibling rivalry? This story relates how a mother who has trouble bonding with her children is forced into revealing something in her past that has filled her with guilt for her entire adult life. This is a great read, and we had lots of discussion about dysfunctional families.”
Paired with: “Our menu centered around Maine: lobster bisque, Irish soda bread (because the family was Irish Catholic) and for dessert, rice pudding with Maine blueberries!”
“Our book club is made up of members in a wide range of ages (23-69), and never did we think we would all enjoy a work of fiction geared towards the young adult audience. But, wow, this book (and series) is truly a thrill a minute! Do not let the Young Adult fiction genre dissuade the more mature reader.
“The book is set in a not too distant future in America where the entire Country as we know it has collapsed. There have been droughts, fires, famine and war. The Country has been divided into 12 districts, with a new name, Panem, and a new Capitol. Each year, two young citizens from each district, a boy and a girl, are selected by a lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. However, this is not any lottery you would ever wish to win, as each contestant is pitted against the others and forced to literally eliminate their fellow competitors. It is a fight for survival until only one contestant is left standing. As if the games themselves were not cruel enough, the Capitol leaders require that every citizen of Panem watch this display — part entertainment, part brutal intimidation — unfold live on televised broadcasts to each District. When the lead character, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who doesn’t seem to have any practical fighting skills whatsoever, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.
“The first and foremost topic our group discussed was the alarming degree of intrusiveness the Capitol (government) had in the lives of ordinary citizens. We related that to how in American society today it seems the government tries to be more involved in our daily lives, almost to the point of being intrusive. We also discussed how with today’s reality-type television shows, we have grown accustomed to watching real-life drama unfold before our eyes, but how horrific it would be to be forced to watch young people actually battle one another until only one remains. We concluded that even though The Hunger Games is a futuristic fantasy of a country gone beyond the brink, maybe we’re not that far away from knowing such a world. Scary!
“This exciting book is set to open as a major motion picture in March, 2012. We recommend that you read this book (series) and then get to the movie theatre in March!”
Paired with: “Our hostess served dishes that were either mentioned in the book or were a play on names of a few of the characters, such as Capitol Lamb Stew, Peeta Chips (pita chips) with Prim’s goat cheese spread, and Poison Berry Crumble for dessert.”
“Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who went to the only hospital available to her at the time,Johns Hopkins. Cells from her cervix were harvested without her knowledge. The cells proved to be so rare and scientifically significant that they were shared, at first freely by the hospital researchers and later for a fee to a company that profits greatly from supplying researchers with the cells.
“We discussed the changes in medical records consent and privacy, ethics and social justiceissues, as they were then and how they have evolved. We also talked about the range of emotions of the family when they discovered that their mother unknowingly contributed to the development of a long list of cures and treatments such as the first polio vaccine, techniques for in vitro fertilization and testing chemotherapy drugs, to name just a few.”
Also recommended by Bookenders of Lee’s Summit, Missouri:
“There is so much to discuss in this book. After lab work, surgeries, etc., we walk away and leave our cells behind without an afterthought. How many of us would care if our tissues were used for research? What if breakthroughs were made from our cells? Would we want compensation if we found later how much money was made from our cells? What type of compensation, if any, should Henrietta’s family have been given or receive now? We also discussed relationships between Henrietta’s family members, especially after she died.
“We heard Oprah is making this into a movie. Our questions: Is Oprah going to share her profit with the family? Did the author?”
“The book is about a woman’s affair with one of her husband’s patients at the local mental hospital. Her imagination of the affair drives her to her demise. Our group liked the book because it not only deals with a basic mystery — Where did they go? Will they be caught? etc. – but an additional mystery: the mystery of the mind. Within the book you enter each character’s state of mind, and where their mind leads the reader is quite thought provoking! We discussed extramarital affairs, mental disorders, and the effects of mental and physical abuse. For some, the book spoke to them about betrayal, for others, abuse, and still others found it to be a beautiful love story. We loved how the author invited the reader’s imagination to play an active part in the storytelling.”
“Night Road is about the many facets of childhood, about the many different ways of parenting andabout how one decision makes children grow up fast. No matter how hard parents try, can they really keep their children safe? In this book, the mother, Jude, has spent her life doing everything for her kids and putting them first while her husband thought she should let them off the leash to explore the world at times. Along comes a new friend who has very little adult supervision in her life and in one night everything Jude held dear is shattered and all of the characters’ lives are changed. The subject matter of this book is current and has affected so many families that everyone in our book club loved it. It seemed to really resonate with the parents in the group. We talked a lot about how we would react if someone were to blame for a tragedy happening to one of our children. And was the punishment too harsh for the person at fault?”
Also recommended by Cozy Corner of Elegance Book Club of Huntsville, Alabama:
“As parents, we found this read to be believable and realistic. The characters’ feelings and situations were excellently portrayed. We could relate to wanting to hold onto your child’s innocence and dependence on you…but also needing and wanting them to grow into independence and aduthood. Also, we could relate to having estranged relationships and mending broken hearts. We’ve been recommending this book to every reader we know!”