Friday, December 03, 2010

Book Club Suggestions

Everyone here knows how much I love to talk about books.  I had a great time yesterday when I had the opportunity to talk to a book club of faculty and staff at a graduate school.  This is a well-traveled group, who likes "good stories that allow you to learn something about a specific culture."  I even had the chance to see their book choices for the last five years.  They asked me to discuss titles for next year for them, recent and forthcoming titles.  I want to thank Talia Sherer at Macmillan, Bobby Brinson at HarperCollins, and Dominique Jenkins at Penguin for suggesting recent and forthcoming books.  And, all of these reps included titles not published by their companies in their suggestions. 

So, here are my suggested titles, keeping this group's interests in mind.

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Darrow – Drawn from Darrow’s upbringing, the story of Rachel, daughter of an African American father & a Danish mother, who survives a family tragedy, but has to learn to navigate the complexities of racism.

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway – The story of a Japanese war bride, her American daughter, and their challenging relationship.

One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – Nine people waiting for visas for travel to India are trapped in a passport office in the U.S. when an earthquake hits. As they await rescue, each group member tells a story about their lives.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova – A compelling novel of a celebrated Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and struggles to tell her own story.

Saying CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman – Set in the Deep South during the ‘60s as the racial tensions are unfolding, the story of a young girl with a tragic past, taken to Savannah to start a life surrounded by strong women.

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay – A ballerina’s decision to auction her jewelry leads to a mystery that interweaves past and present, Moscow under  Stalin, and contemporary New England, the backstage tumult of the dance world, and the transformative power of art.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim – In early twentieth century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, is sent to serve as a companion to the princess, only to see the monarchy crumble after the king’s assassination.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok – Emigrating with her mother from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, Kimberly Chang begins a secret double life as an exceptional schoolgirl during the day, and sweatshop worker at night.

Pearl of China by Anchee Min – In a small Chinese town in the last days of the nineteenth century, young Willow and young Pearl S. Buck, the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries, bump heads and embark on a friendship that will sustain them through one of the most tumultuous periods in Chinese history.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Four slave women, their masters’ mistresses, meet when the masters vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio, where they see free slaves for the first time, and hear rumors of abolition. In their final summer in Ohio, they all have a decision to make. Will they run?

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – A set-in-his-ways retired British officer tentatively courts a charming widow of Pakistani descent, leading to tension between the generations and cultures.

Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji – Set in Tehran in 1973, two boys while way their summer hours on the roof, during a summer when the city is explosive. One night, one look from Pasha turns their world upside down, and the fallout changes everyone’s lives.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjani Soli – An American combat photographer during the Vietnam War captures the wrenching chaos of battle, and finds herself torn between the love of two men, one an American war correspondent, and the other his Vietnamese underling.

Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu – Injured by a gas explosion that renders him incapable of speaking Chinese, a Shanghai businessman struggles to communicate using faltering English learned during childhood, and finds his marriage strained.

Forthcoming Books


The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna – A determined young surgeon of Freetown, Sierra Leone, forges a relationship with a dying patient who’s seen it all. What better setting than a hospital to capture the tragedy of a country rent by civil war?

Little Princes by Conor Grennan – The nonfiction account of Grennan’s volunteer work at a children’s orphanage in Nepal where children had been rescued from a child trafficker, and his attempt to find missing children and their parents.

A Cup of Friendship by Deborah Rodriguez – The bestselling author of Kabul Beauty School turns to fiction to tell the story of a group of women who come together in a Kabul coffee shop run by an American.


We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen – A bestseller in Scandinavia and Germany, this debut was voted the best Danish novel of the last 25 years. The bold seafaring epic spans 100 years in the lives of the men and women from a small town on an island off the Danish coast, starting with the war between Germany and Denmark in 1848, and continuing through World War II.

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas – A historical novel set in 1877 in an Ottoman outpost recently overrun by the tsar’s troops. A girl who stows away with her father, who sells carpets, enters the rich, overflowing world of the imperial capital, observing a grand empire heading toward its end.

The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya – Each year, the storyteller, Hassan, gathers listeners to the city square to share their recollections of a young foreign couple who disappeared years earlier. Are they trying to discover the truth, or weave a myth about a crime?


The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb – A young woman travels to Vietnam trying to find out anything about her father’s disappearance there years ago, in a novel that takes a journey into the past for answers, giving us a fictional account of real political upheaval.

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda – In a remote Indian village, a woman gives birth to a baby girl, but in a culture that favors sons, she must give her daughter away to save her life, a decision that will haunt her forever. In America, a doctor adopts a little girl from a Mumbai orphanage. The story interweaves the stories of the two mothers, and the child that binds their destinies.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Nonfiction. As the Taliban took over Kabul, and women could no longer work or attend school, the economy shuddered to a halt. To support her family, Kamila Sidiqi began making clothes at home – and soon built up a business that now sustains 100 neighborhood women.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht – In the war-shattered Balkans, a young doctor searches for her grandfather, who abandoned the entire family at a field hospital.    

And, one for arm-chair travelling – Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl – Recommended reading for more than 120 destinations around the world, fiction and nonfiction.

Now, if you read my blog regularly, you also know I seldom read literary fiction.  Since they have read a few mysteries, I added a short list of mysteries I had read.  (And, I told them this is my preferred reading.)

Worldwide Mysteries

Australia – Blood Moon by Garry Disher – The police department in Waterloo, on the Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, have to deal with Schoolies Week, when students who finished their twelfth year exams party in the coastal communities, along with cases of a missing woman, and a beaten chaplain. Disher has won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Australian Crime Novel.

Brazil – Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage – Introducing Mario Silva, Chief Inspector for Criminal Matters in the Brazilian Federal Police, in a novel involving landowners and the landless, the state police, the media, street kids, the Catholic Church, and “Brazilian justice.” In other words, a complex, violent novel of Brazilian life. 

Canada – Still Life by Louise Penny – The award-winning traditional mystery that introduced Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Súreté du Quebec, and the charming town of Three Pines, a town that harbors secrets.

England – Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet – The award-winning traditional mystery, featuring Det. Chief Inspector Arthur St. Just, and his assistant Sergeant Fear, is set in an isolated manor, in a snowstorm, with a murder.

South Africa – Random Violence by Jassy Mackenzie – After ten years, a private investigator returns home to Johannesburg, South Africa, finding a dangerous city, “the crime capital of the world,” where carjackings are common, and it’s only safe to live behind barriers.

United States – The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson – The first mystery by the award-winning author who excels in character development, beginning with Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming. This case involves the murders of young men who received suspended sentences for raping a Cheyenne girl with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Definitely my favorite work day for December!


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Lots of fantastic-sounding books here, Lesa! Where to start?! I'm going to be taking your list to my library. :) Thanks for the reading ideas!

Lesa said...

Here's the funny part, Elizabeth. I added the mysteries because that's where my passion is, and the man sitting next to me was making notes on them, and one of the women said, I think we need to do all mysteries next year! I hope you find some books you enjoy here. As I said, many of these are based on recommendations. I haven't read them.

Jen Forbus said...

That's so fun, Lesa. I hope they do do all mysteries. I know I've discovered a lot more international mysteries in the last year or so, one of the newest being Zoe Ferraris who writes about the Middle East. Having the culture be an element of the plot is so fascinating!

Lesa said...

Well, Jen, the man I was sitting beside was so funny. They had to evaluate last year's books, and he said to me, they'll no my list with so many Did Not Reads on it. I think he only read 3 of the books. But, when it came to the mystery list, he was checking them all off. Even if they don't read them, I have the feeling he might.

bermudaonion said...

Great list of books! My book club is meeting Tuesday to select new books, so I'm going to jot these titles down.

Leighton Gage said...

Hi Lesa,
Thanks for suggesting "Blood of the Wicked" to book clubs.
Let me add that I'm always delighted to chat with book club members and that I can do it very easily, from Brazil, by Skype.
All we have to do is to set up a date and time and I'll call them.
Hopefully, there will be a speakerphone at the other end.
No speakerphone?
We can also do a back-and-forth in writing.

Beth Hoffman said...

Good morning, Lesa. I'm tickled that Saving CeeCee Honeycuttt is on your list! It's an real honor -- thanks so much. Oletta is so thrilled that she's dancing in the kitchen!

Lesa said...

My pleasure, Leighton, particularly to this book club. I'll pass this information on to the organization. I'm sure they can handle Skype and speakerphone better than most book clubs. This is at an international school of business, and the book club is for the faculty and staff. I'll definitely pass this information on to Amy.

Lesa said...

And, you'll be pleased to know it was on your publisher's list, Beth, when I asked the library rep for suggestions. She suggested it right away. Oletta should be dancing in the kitchen today, between this list and BethFishReads. It's been a good day!

Beth Hoffman said...

It's been a lovely day, Lesa! Thanks again.

Bev Stephans said...

What a great list of books! Even if you haven't read all of them, you have given us a chance to look further into them.

Thank you Lesa.

P.S. I still have "Saving CC Honeycutt" on my TBR pile. I think I should move it toward the top.

Tina said...

What fantastic lists -both this year and next. I belong to two different book clubs and there's something on each for both of them. Now if I could just go hide on a deserted island til I finish this batch!

Lesa said...


You might want to move Saving CeeCee Honeycutt up a little. Two of us bloggers consider it one of the best books of 2010, and it's been nominated for Best Debut on Goodreads as well.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Tina! It's nice to know this list might help a little. Can't wait to hear what the group thinks as they read them.

Kay said...

Lesa, if it's OK with you, I'm going to reprint your post and share it with my afternoon book group. It will be my last meeting with them as leader and I think it will be perfect to give them some ideas for future reads and book group choices. Trust you to have perfect timing on this! :-)

Bonnie said...

I can understand why this would be your favorite work day in December! What a fun and gratifying job that you have. What a great list of book titles. I've read several on your list and totally agree with your recommendations for: How to be an American Housewife, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (LOVE Beth and Oletta too), Girl in Translation and Wench. I have several others on my TBR bookshelves and look forward to reading them. Plus, I have more to add to my wish list:) Thanks Lesa.

Lesa said...

My pleasure, Kay! Please do. I hope they get some ideas for the future. Thank you.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Bonnie! As I said, I haven't read most of them, but I have good connections (smile), including a staff member who is in two book discussion groups. She really helped!

Inside A Book said...

What great fun!! A super opportunity to do some more 'book commercials'! I will definitely add some to my long TBR list from your varied selections. I LOVED One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

My book group made our year's list this week and it was so easy to convince them to read Saving CeeCee Honeycut as well. They were enchanted with the story line and the preview I gave. Gosh, it was fun to go back to my book-selling days!

Now my third graders are enjoying a lunch-time book group as well. Of course the books are a tad different but it's fun to see them with their noses in books and chatting and talking about books without my help. We are reading, Shoebag, by Mary James, about a cockroach who wakes up and has turned into a little boy!! It's perfect for even those reluctant readers and the discussions are a blast!

Don't ya just love spreading the great news of losing yourself in a book?!?! Thanks for sharing today!

kathy d. said...

This list is very interesting.

I, too, gravitate toward the crime fiction.

Can say that "Blood Moon," is good and I've got Leighton Gage's book on my TBR list for early in 2011.

Zoe Ferraris' "Finding Nouf," is good; the second one, "City of Veils," is a good, but brutal read which left me in quite a state, needing to read some light, witty books.

Another suggestion: Malla Nunn's books which take place in the early 1950s in South Africa are excellent: "A Beautiful Way to Die," and "Let the Dead Lie."

Again, we all need T-shirts which say, "So many good books, so little time."

Lesa said...

Inside a Book,

I'm so glad you picked Saving CeeCee Honeycutt! I'm sure your group is going to like it.

But, you're right. When you can get those kids reading, and discussing books, it's fantastic. One of the best book discussions I ever led was for the first Harry Potter book, long before most people were discussing it. The kids were brilliant in their discussions of it!

I had so much fun sharing these books!

Lesa said...


We do need those shirts. And, I really need one this time of year. Tonight I went out and played Bunco instead of finishing the last 50 pages of my book. But, I won 3rd place at Bunco, so it was worth it! But, it also meant I didn't get any reading done today, and that's tough.

kathy d. said...

Well, I don't know what Bunco is, but yes, sometimes readers even need a break from reading. (Glad you won third place.)

There are people, places and things (and cats) out there to see and experience.

Although my instinct is often to stay home and read, and listen to music, when I heed the call to see friends, eat out or even visit the local stores and say hi, it usually is a good thing.

Book clubs are great. I would love to hear children discuss Harry Potter or other books. When I see a program on tv with videoclips of children discussing books, I am amazed at their insights and questions.

Wish I could see more of that.

Lesa said...

Bunco is just a chance for a bunch of friends to get together, play a dice game, eat good food, talk, and have time together, kathy. I only started playing a few months ago, but I enjoy it.

My Youth Services Dept. had two terrific series of programs that they're hoping to start up again. Boys Build It allowed boys to come in and do crafts involving rockets, or catapults, and exposed them to nonfiction books that boys love. Glitterati Girls was a book club for girls 8-12 in which they talked about books, and did craft projects relating to their books. (It wouldn't have been my thing as a kid. I was a reader, but hated crafts.) But, for some of these kids, it's perfect. And, it is terrific to see the kids enthused about books.

Katherine Van Leeuwen, Assistant Library Director said...

Lesa...great choices. I was just agonizing on my next picks for book discussions at the library for the upcoming months, and you gave me some terrific ideas--both for a regular discussion and for a mystery discussion.


Lesa said...

Thank you, Katherine. This was a fun project to work on. I enjoyed discussing the books ahead of time with a fellow librarian and the publishers' rep, and I love talking about the books. I'm glad you found some books you want to use for discussions. Come back later, and let me know how they worked, please. I'm always curious.

Kris said...

A lot of those books sounds really interesting..some are already on my wish list, others just jumped on board.

Lesa said...

Great, Kris! I'm glad I could add a few titles to that TBR pile. Enjoy!

Book Club Suggestions said...

Thanks for this list. I'll check them out.


Lesa said...

Thank you, Andrew. This list was geared to a particular book group, but I'm sure there are titles there that will be appropriate for many of them.