Reading Group Selections
by Kathryn Stockett
prepared to meet three unforgettable women:
Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss.
She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her
mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger.
Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine,
the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared
and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.
is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth
white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss
of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other
way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though
she knows both their hearts may be broken.
Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest
woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business,
but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job.
Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new
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by Charlotte Bronte
in 1847, this novel remains a favorite, especially among
younger readers and listeners who continue to be entranced
by the young Jane and her mysterious Mr. Rochester. The
story of an unhappy orphan and her life as a governess at
Thornfield is filled with difficulty, including a shocking
revelation on her wedding day. The happy ending finally
arrives, though, and Jane and Rochester are united forever.
Long criticized as being melodramatic and contrived, Jane
Eyre has nonetheless become a romantic classic and is often
the book that introduces students to serious literature.
Bronte's suspense-filled plot adapts well to the audio format.
This version, although abridged, omits nothing of importance.
Juliet Stevenson, a Royal Shakespeare Company associate,
reads with the drama the story demands and makes each character
emerge with life and energy. Recommended for general audiences.
Copyright © Michael Neubert, Library of Congress, Washington,
D.C.. All rights reserved.
Speaker Thomas Mullen
March 8, 2011
Mullen is the author of The Last Town on Earth, which was
named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today, was a Chicago
Tribune Best Book of the Year, and was awarded the James
Fenimore Cooper Prize; and the critically acclaimed The
Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers.
Last Town on Earth
by Thomas Mullen
against the backdrop of one of the most virulent epidemics
that America ever experiencedthe 1918 flu epidemicThomas
Mullens powerful, sweeping first novel is a tale of
morality in a time of upheaval.
in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is
a small mill town called Commonwealth, conceived as a haven
for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, the
adopted son of the towns founder, it is a haven in
another senseas the first place in his life hes
had a loving family to call his own.
yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened
from all sides. A world war is raging, and with the fear
of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is coming
under scrutiny. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across
the region in the form of a deadly illness striking down
vast swaths of surrounding communities.
Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion,
guards are posted at the single road leading in and out
of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky
enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tiredand
apparently illsoldier presents himself at the towns
doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues,
and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations
throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every human valuelove,
patriotism, community, family, friendshipnot to mention
the towns very survival, is imperiled.
by a little-known historical footnote regarding towns that
quarantined themselves during the 1918 epidemic, The Last
Town on Earth is a remarkably moving and accomplished debut.
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Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
by Charles Dickens, published both serially and in book form
in 1859. The story is set in the late 18th century against
the background of the French Revolution. Although Dickens
borrowed from Thomas Carlyle's history, The French Revolution,
for his sprawling tale of London and revolutionary Paris,
the novel offers more drama than accuracy. The scenes of large-scale
mob violence are especially vivid, if superficial in historical
understanding. The complex plot involves Sydney Carton's sacrifice
of his own life on behalf of his friends Charles Darnay and
Lucie Manette. While political events drive the story, Dickens
takes a decidedly antipolitical tone, lambasting both aristocratic
tyranny and revolutionary excess--the latter memorably caricatured
in Madame Defarge, who knits beside the guillotine. The book
is perhaps best known for its opening lines, "It was
the best of times, it was the worst of times," and for
Carton's last speech, in which he says of his replacing Darnay
in a prison cell, "It is a far, far better thing that
I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest
that I go to, than I have ever known.
Copyright © The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
All rights reserved.
with the Dragon Tattoo
by Steig Larsson
rarely come much colder than the decades-old disappearance
of teen heiress Harriet Vanger from her family's remote island
retreat north of Stockholm, nor do fiction debuts hotter than
this European bestseller by muckraking Swedish journalist
Larsson. At once a strikingly original thriller and a vivisection
of Sweden's dirty not-so-little secrets (as suggested by its
original title, Men Who Hate Women), this first of a trilogy
introduces a provocatively odd couple: disgraced financial
journalist Mikael Blomkvist, freshly sentenced to jail for
libeling a shady businessman, and the multipierced and tattooed
Lisbeth Salander, a feral but vulnerable superhacker. Hired
by octogenarian industrialist Henrik Vanger, who wants to
find out what happened to his beloved great-niece before he
dies, the duo gradually uncover a festering morass of familial
corruptionat the same time, Larsson skillfully bares
some of the similar horrors that have left Salander such a
marked woman. Larsson died in 2004, shortly after handing
in the manuscripts for what will be his legacy. 100,000 first
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a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
by Anne Tyler
Ms. Tyler's best novels, Digging to America gives us an intimate
picture of middle-class family life: its satisfactions and
discontents, its ability to suffocate and console. But at
the same time the story ventures into territory more usually
associated with writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Gish Jen. It
looks at the promises and perils of the American Dream and
the knotty, layered relationship made up in equal parts of
envy, admiration, resentment and plain befuddlement that can
develop between native-born Americans and more recent immigrants
intent on making their way through the often baffling byways
of the New World.
Copyright © New York Times. All rights reserved.
by Barbara Kingslover
Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor"
when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time
she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native
with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a
surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen
bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom.
But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's
passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first
novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random
and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its
irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful.
Taylor playfully names her little foundling "Turtle,"
because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at
the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent,
staring child's past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor
lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to
stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely
foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also
comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly,
Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence
are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book
is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and
SOURCE: Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information,
by Ann Patchett
her readers now eagerly anticipate, Patchett (The Magician's
Assistant) can be counted on to deliver novels rich in imaginative
bravado and psychological nuance. This fluid and assured narrative,
inspired by a real incident, demonstrates her growing maturity
and mastery of form as she artfully integrates a musical theme
within a dramatic story. Celebrated American soprano Roxane
Coss has just finished a recital in the home of the vice-president
of a poor South American country when terrorists burst in,
intent on taking the country's president hostage. The president,
however, has not attended the concert, which is a birthday
tribute in honor of a Japanese business tycoon and opera aficionado.
Determined to fulfill their demands, the rough, desperate
guerrillas settle in for a long siege. The hostages, winnowed
of all women except Roxane, whose voice beguiles her captors,
are from many countries; their only common language is a love
of opera. As the days drag on, their initial anguish and fear
give way to a kind of complex domesticity, as intricately
involved as the melodies Roxane sings during their captivity.
While at first Patchett's tone seems oddly flippant and detached,
it soon becomes apparent that this light note is an introduction
to her main theme, which is each character's cathartic experience.
The drawn-out hostage situation comes to seem normal, even
halcyon, until the inevitable rescue attempt occurs, with
astonishing consequences. Patchett proves equal to her themes;
the characters' relationships mirror the passion and pain
of grand opera, and readers are swept up in a crescendo of
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. All
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of
cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern
science possible. And from that same life, and those cells,
Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta
Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family,
of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta
Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American
migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from
a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample
of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent,
as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy
grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even
thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency
gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs,
beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's
family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health,
and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and
her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger,
and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately
gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the
trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about
Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting
story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who
carries our memories? --Tom Nissley
Copyright 2010 Amazon.com.All
by Judy Blume
lives with her mother in Sante Fe, but spends summers on a
New England island with her father, brother, and stepmother.
Both parents give her free rein, and her beauty, independence,
and talent for getting away with outrageous behavior make
her an intriguing star to her middle school classmates. Victoria
can't understand why Caitlin would single her out to be her
"summer sister" on Martha's Vineyard as she sees
herself as quiet and dull. She senses, though, that this vacation
is an important turning point and convinces her conservative
parents to let her go. The girls become fast friends, sharing
six unforgettable summers together. The girls cope with their
changing bodies, difficult family relationships, boyfriends,
and concerns about their futures. The author's perceptive
treatment of special childhood moments, the trials and joys
of adolescence, and the magical possibilities of summer make
this an entertaining read.
Copyright 2010 Amazon.com.All
is Short, but Wide
by J. California Cooper
a story about love: hard-to-find, hard-to-get, hard-to-keep
love. The narrator is 91-year-old Hattie B. Brown, who,
along with her 105-year-old mother, relates the saga of a
family that begins with Val Strong, a Native American cattle
driver, and Irene, the African American woman he comes to
love. Between them they build a life in Wideland, Oklahoma,
with a house and some land. Cooper tells her story with simplicity
and grace. No apologies are made for the foolishness or baseness
of any of her characters, and she freely sermonizes and moralizes
whenever she feels it is called for. The result is a poignant
and often-funny story of people trying to survive and find
someone to love. --Elizabeth Dickie
Copyright 2010 Amazon.com.All
by David Almond
the intensity and anxiety of his world, Michael is a normal
kid. He goes to school, plays soccer, and has friends with
nicknames like Leakey and Coot. It's at home where his life
becomes extraordinary, with the help of Skellig and Mina,
the quirky, strong-willed girl next door. Skellig was the
Whitbread Award's 1998 Children's Book of the Year, and this
haunting novel is sure to resonate with readers young and
Copyright 2010 Amazon.com.All