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Reader Review: "Southernmost"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 06:00
by Beth Wheeler Dean (Guntersville, Alabama): I like this book. It is full of imperfect characters whose flaws hold them back from relationships, acceptance, and joy, but, somehow, they learn, grown, and manage to stand up to all that life sends them. I cheered for them all and thoroughly enjoyed their strengths and weaknesses, their prayers and their failings. Imperfection blessed by healing wins the day in this one.

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Books in Translation: Bring the World to Your Book Club!

Editor's blog - Sun, 08/12/2018 - 18:25
Translating books from one language to another is an art and the translators of these six books are exceptionally talented artists. Of course, the original authors are incredible writers and storytellers too, so these novels deliver a one-two punch to invigorate your book club. [More]
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Creative Writing & Storytelling for the Family

Editor's blog - Sun, 08/12/2018 - 10:36
There is a lot of debate as to whether creative writing can be taught or not. Clearly a lot of people think it can be given the growth in creative writing courses. As with most interesting arguments, the truth is probably to be found somewhere in the middle, in that gray area between a polarizing 'yes' or 'no'. Certain elements like voice probably can't be 'taught' as such but they can be refined, given enough time, and the same goes for other aspects of storytelling. In which case, it would seem to make sense to give aspiring writers the fundamental tools they need so that they can learn to use them effectively to improve their writing craft.
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Reader Review: "Girl in the Blue Coat"

Top Reader Reviews - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 06:00
by Becky H (Chicago): A young woman living in Holland during the Nazi Occupation is forced into smuggling and utilizing the Black Market in order to feed her family and friends. One of her "regulars" asks her to find "the girl in the blue coat" and that is where the mystery begins. Secrets, betrayals, lost friendships, disappearances, dead lovers and danger on all sides makes this a compelling and tense read. Everyday life in an occupied city is made real and horrific. Although billed as Young Adult, this novel will appeal to anyone interested in WWII and the resistance, especially in Holland. 5 of 5 stars

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Reader Review: "The One-in-a-Million Boy"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 08/02/2018 - 06:00
by J watson (Austin): This book was such a surprise! Outside my usual genres of mystery or historical fiction, I was totally captivated, I did not want it to end! I plan to have my book club read it when it is my turn to pick! The warmth of the story and characters are deeply felt.

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What's the Difference Between a Romance Novel and a Love Story?

Editor's blog - Sun, 07/29/2018 - 14:02
In literary terms, the distinction between a romance and a love story is arguably subjective and open for interpretation--perhaps rooted in literary snobbery--but as someone who appreciates both genres, this is how I discern the two. Characters As in many types of stories, characters are central to both love stories and romances. We need to be intrigued by and invested in them in order to fully appreciate their relationship. Characters in a romance may feel idealized in some way. They might have some type of flaw--but even this flaw is likely to be a strength in disguise. Love stories tend to have more deeply and authentically flawed characters. Regardless of the setting and time period they're placed in, they're un...
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Reader Review: "An American Marriage"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 07/26/2018 - 06:00
by Dorothy L: I read this book for a book club discussion. I found it a little difficult to get into at first but then was caught up in the story. Our lives often seem to be following a plan, but one action, one moment, can change everything not only for the victim of injustice, but also for those around him. I thought the characters were well drawn, even the minor ones, but there were situations in the book that did not seem realistic to me (I am not being specific because of spoilers). I did, however, like the ending. That did seem realistic to me. I already know that some people in my book group did not like the book and others did so I expect an interesting discussion. And that is what book clubs are all about right?

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Reader Review: "Sometimes I Lie"

Top Reader Reviews - Sun, 07/22/2018 - 06:00
by mary challis: Awesome, captivating book - don't pass it by !! I don't know where to start or what to say except maybe.... it is mind blowing! compelling and exciting! It keeps you going until the end. You are gasping for breath, dizzy, and in so deep you feel like you can't put this book down. This book was twisted, raw and at some points scary, it went back and forth between present day, (Amber in a coma) to a week prior, the build up to Amber being in a coma, and 1992, a series of diaries. The twists and turns this book takes was so entertaining and spooky, I found myself speeding up the reading just to see what happened next! Pages were flying I was dead to the world, It kept me guessing, and thinking and guessing the entire time: gasp! Breathe..... I loved every second! Wow! This has got to be a movie...

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Reader Review: "The Radium Girls"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 06:00
by RebeccaR: I knew I wanted to read this book because I was curious about a part of history which I had not heard about previously, but what I did not expect was to find the book so interesting. I hesitate to call it entertaining because it deals with such sorrow and pain, but the author is able to pull the reader into the lives of the young women. One feels as if the story is unfolding for the first time before their eyes. Sometimes people have a tendency to romanticize so-called "Good ol' Days;" this book makes it clear that there are some dark and very disturbing parts of relatively modern American history. Author Kate Moore conveys her genuine concern for the subject matter, and every chapter contains well researched and documented facts. I have already recommended the book to several friends.

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Reader Review: "America for Beginners"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 07/18/2018 - 06:00
by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): If you enjoyed Fatima Farheen Mirza's A PLACE FOR US, I highly recommend AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS.

Three misfits set out on a journey across America, a journey of evolution, and are changed forever.

Pival Sengupta, a newly widowed Indian woman, has booked a trip to America. Her servants are outraged! A woman just does not do this alone. But Pival is not going to see the sights of America. Instead, she is hoping to find her son whom her husband has told her is dead. After moving to America, Rahi revealed to his father Ram that he was gay and was immediately disowned. Then one night Ram took a call and told Pival it was from their son's lover in America and that Rahi had died. On her trip to America she wants to see what Rahi had possibly seen in America, perhaps walk where he walked before he died. But did he die? She wonders if her husband lied to her. She has had her doubts since the death was so sudden and there was no body returned to India. She is determined to find out the truth.

The characters in this story are each unique and all are engaging. From Mrs. Sengupta who is naïve about so much but determined in her mission, to Mr. Munshi, the hard-working Bangladeshi tour company owner who tries to pass himself off as Indian. The description of him that quickly comes to mind is a "snake oil salesman". One has to wonder how his business remains open given his naivety. Pival's guide is Satya who has only been in the US for a year and never outside New York City. He is sweet, extremely naïve, and always ravenously hungry. For reasons of modesty, Pival needs a female companion so Mr. Munshi hires Rebecca, an aspiring actress. This two-week tour being a companion sounds like a working vacation to her so she is thrilled to get the job.

As Pival, Rebecca, and Satya make their way across the country they are challenged by their cultural and generational differences. But they begin to evolve in their own self-growth and learn to see the world through someone else's eyes. They learn to appreciate the qualities the others have to offer. Barriers come down, animosities are forgotten, and true bonds are formed. There is humor, heartbreak, forgiveness, and acceptance. This story isn't about where they travel but rather the voyage itself.

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Reader Review: "A Place for Us"

Top Reader Reviews - Sun, 07/15/2018 - 06:00
by Erica (Chicago): If you, your parents, your grandparents or people you know are immigrants to this country, this book will touch you on so many levels. The first generation to the country, holding on to the beliefs that make them the people they are, even if they are the "old ways"; their children, being raised on their parents values, while struggling to find their own identity in the country of their birth. There are also the family dynamics of birth order, male child vs. female child, and how culture controls and plays into that. The look into this immigrant's family life is eye-opening and educational. Written with great sensitivity. I can't say enough good things about this book.

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Reader Review: "Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 07/13/2018 - 06:00
by Bookwormatheart (West midlands): While I have to Admit I chose this book out of sheer luck, I am so glad that I did, i can honestly say that it was humorous, desperately sad at times and wonderfully thought provoking. I am ashamed to say that like most people I fall prey to judging others before giving them a chance, whether it be by how they dress, speak or even simply that they are different and not as society sees "normal". To me the story bought to the forefront that I should not be so quick to judge, and that something that I may class as insignificant could be important to others. I have never had a book impact me in quite away before (I have read thousands) and maybe it won't effect the next person to read it, but what I will take away personally is this, I won't be so quick to judge, I will try to give an act of kindness to somebody everyday whether that is just a smile when they need it or an ear if they just need to talk. Never again will I take for granted the loving family and network of support. Before anybody says I am well aware this is fiction and maybe you think that I am being a tad over zealous with my ramblings and that is probably true but either way it bought home a few home truths about the way we treat each other and maybe just maybe it will encourage us to treat each other a little kinder and a little more accepting. Sorry for the essay but thanks for the lesson x

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Reader Review: "Salt Houses"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 07/12/2018 - 06:00
by Iris F: This was a meaningful and well written book. My heart went out to this family and I was moved by the women who took their food and customs with them wherever they went to make every new residence a home.

As a Jew it was difficult to see the animosity and the radicalization against them even though their problems were imposed by Arab nations. This resulted in somewhat of a mental block for me.

On the other hand it humanized these people. We live in the thought that Palestinians are brought up on the hatred of Jews. Other than the radicalization of two characters these people were portrayed as normal people who just want to live their lives like everyone else. From that point in the book on, I didn't concentrate on individual characters. I just read the book looking at the whole picture. I see this book as an important read and also a great book for book clubs to discuss. I will definitely read this book again and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it.

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Reader Review: "The Twelve-Mile Straight"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 07/11/2018 - 06:00
by RebeccaR (Western USA): There are a lot of emotionally flawed human beings in this tale of Great-Depression-Era Georgia, and author Emily Henderson uses them to keep the reader on edge; one is never sure where the actions are leading, and this stays true to the very end. I can't really think of any good comparisons as many novels have these days, those "for fans of..." comparisons. There's a sprinkling of the more intense moments from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. and a sprinkling of the evil moments from Girsham's A Time To Kill and yet there is a lot more: well researched facts about that era, knowledge of 1930's life in rural, small Southern towns where prejudice, false pride, lack of education or opportunity in general, and a distinct line between have's and have-not's seems to be permanent for generations. Author Henderson captures the dialect perfectly as some morally reprehensible characters stomp their way through some forced and tragic miscegnation. If you're a reader that likes fairy tale romances, then this book may not be for you, but if you like a good story, an amazingly complex plot, and historical accuracy, then buy this book A.S.A.P. I think it would be good for book clubs as well.

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Six Debut Novels About Families for Book Clubs

Editor's blog - Mon, 07/09/2018 - 13:03
From ancient Rome to 20th century Middle East to contemporary USA, these debut novels will inspire lively conversation about family from vastly different angles. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, The Confusion of Languages and George and Lizzie take a close look at marriage and parenthood; Salt Houses takes us into a Palestinian family caught between present and past, displacement and home; Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine focuses on how to open your heart to create family; and Feast of Sorrow shows how disregarding family can ultimately destroy you. While all six books are quite different from one another, they are all reminders that the foundations of life are relationships--and family, whether the one you're born into or the one ... [More]
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Six Books for Adults that Spark Empathy

Editor's blog - Thu, 07/05/2018 - 20:14

Empathy seems to have taken a bit of a hit recently. There's rarely a week when blatant hate or some form of intolerance isn't at the forefront of the news; and there can be few of us who haven't felt the need to disconnect from the media at times unable to take anymore. It would seem we could do with more empathy in our lives. With this in mind, here are six books for adults that have helped me see empathy – and its importance. Books can't solve everything but perhaps reading can be one kind of spark to creating more kindness in our world.
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Reader Review: "The Great Alone"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 06/22/2018 - 06:00
by B. Stalzer: Reading this novel I felt I was watching a story unfold page by page, character by character. It showed the beauty and allure of Alaska along with the reality of life in Alaska which was as difficult as it was wonderful. The people in town became their own family as much from necessity as from needing to connect with others who sought out the adventure of living "off the grid" in one of the most beautifully natural areas still considered a frontier. The people knowing that each has come for their own reasons, are careful in not overstepping their boundaries allowing everyone to find their own way but knowing no one can survive if they aren't able to take help when it's needed. Although the story centers on Leni and her first best friend, Matthew, there are so many intertwined stories throughout that enrich the reading and enjoyment of this book. Hannah has made all the pieces of this story work together to make it richer and true to life in a town so far removed from the rest of us. I cared about these people and came to understand them and know them. They became more than just characters in a book because Hannah's character development was so well done. From the beginning to the end, this novel kept my interest. Even as I was anxious to know what the final chapter would reveal, I was aware that I would miss the people, their town, and life in Alaska. I also listened to the audio of this book and it was one of the best books on audio I've heard.

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Reader Review: "Warlight"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 06/22/2018 - 06:00
by Davida Chazan: "It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and both grow more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn't know or understand in that time, and it is this journey – through reality, recollection, and imagination – that is told in this magnificent novel."

Ondaatje is my favorite author, so a new novel by him is always something I'm on the lookout for. What makes Ondaatje my favorite isn't always the stories he tells, but how he tells them. In fact, sometimes Ondaatje can be confusing in his story telling, but even when things don't make perfect sense, his prose is always so exquisite that it doesn't matter. Goodreads also said about this book "In a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – Warlight is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire." Yeah… 'luminous' is a very good word for what Ondaatje gives us, and he does succeed in giving it to us every time.

Rather than continue to be effusive about how Ondaatje writes (and you know I could go on endlessly), I think I should concentrate on the story, which is told mostly from the narrator's point of view, that being Nathaniel. I should note that in this book, Ondaatje moves between first and third person, where you get the feeling that Nathaniel is also narrating the third person sections, while at the same time, taking an omnipresent viewpoint. I know that doesn't sound like it makes any sense, but if you think of it as the 'imagination' part noted above from the Goodreads blurb, I think you'll understand what I mean here. My thinking is that Ondaatje needed the first-person parts to draw the reader in, and make them sympathetic to Nathaniel, but that viewpoint doesn't allow for the wider picture of things that happened beyond Nathaniel's own experiences; to include those events, he allows Nathaniel to imagine them from a distance, in both time and through piecing together clues he finds.

What this does is give us a very layered story, wherein Ondaatje starts with Nathaniel as a young teenager, and builds on this time in a mostly chronological order. Ondaatje then moves to Nathaniel as a young man, and this is where he introduces the third person/imagination sections of the story. These passages help Nathaniel fill in the blanks of his own life, but more importantly, he also learns more about his mother's life, and what really happened to her when she disappeared from his life. All the other characters seem to dance on the sidelines of Nathaniel's life, until their presence is necessary to add something to the story, and only then they can take center stage for a time. I found this fascinating in how it seemed to say that although you might sometimes feel that certain people have no significant impact on your life, in fact, there are no real minor characters, you just don't always understand their importance at the time. However, I don't think that was the main point of this book, although for me it was a substantial part. If I had to pinpoint what I think Ondaatje is saying here, I'd say that we must look at the title of the book and attempt to understand its significance. For those who read this book the word "warlight" only appears near the end of the novel when Ondaatje talks about how the British helped barges find their way on the Thames when they transported munitions during the war. What this says to me is that this story is more about Nathanial finding his way, than who or what was helping or hindering him along his path. If that means it is a "coming of age" story, then so be it, and I can't think of one more beautifully written than this. On the other hand, there was one phrase that Ondaatje used which I think may be even more significant in understanding what this book is about, and that's the one I used as the title of this review – the consequences of peace. That simple combination of words is so powerful and evocative for me, that I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a very long time, if only because it is an impeccable example of how amazing a writer Ondaatje proves to be, time and again.

That only leaves the question if this book has overtaken "The English Patient" and "The Cat's Table" as my favorite of Ondaatje's works, and I must be honest and say no – those two are still my favorites. However, if until now I ranked "Anil's Ghost" as just below those two, I believe that this book has edged that novel out, but only by a just a whisper.

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Reader Review: "The Twelve-Mile Straight"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 06/18/2018 - 06:00
by Anl (Park city ut): When I read the premise on the first few pages, I was underwowed. As I read on, I changed my mind as the author wove this through the plot in a believable and clever way. The characters were limited and well defined, so as to make the book a pleasant read. As heavy as most of it is, there is enough upbeat and hope that I fell good at the end. It is also easy to read. Stays out of injected opinions about social issues or politics which seems so present in many books today. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a slightly heavier than normal read with a different premise and plot twists.

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Reader Review: "Salt Houses"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 06:00
by Becky H (Chicago): The meaning of the title is noted three fourth of the way through the book when the family patriarch, Atef, reminisces, "the houses glitter whitely…like structures made of salt before a tidal wave sweeps them away." His family – 4 generations – leave behind houses as war follows them from Palestine, to Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Boston, Manhattan and back to Lebanon. One of the daughters in trying to identify her heritage is at a loss. Is she Palestinian – she has never lived there. Is she Lebanese or Arab or Kuwaiti or…

And that is the essence of this tale. What is our heritage? Is it the place of our birth, where we live NOW, where we lived before, how do we define ourselves? Alyan describes loss and heartache in beautiful prose. Her characters live and breathe. The sense of place is palpable. Although this tale is specifically Palestinian, the rootlessness of the refugee is timeless and placeless.

You will need the family tree at the beginning of the book to keep the generations straight. The time and place notations at the beginning of each chapter help the reader keep track of the family's migrations and the time frame of the various wars and tragedies from just before the 6 Day War through the current Middle East uprisings.

Lots for book groups to discuss here.

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