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2013 Reading Group Selections

2013 Reading Group Selections

Upcoming Reading Selections

January 8, 2013

Wild Swans
by Jung Chang

Bursting with drama, heartbreak and horror, this extraordinary family portrait mirrors China's century of turbulence. Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, had her feet bound at age two and in 1924 was sold as a concubine to Beijing's police chief. Yu-fang escaped slavery in a brothel by fleeing her "husband" with her infant daughter, Bao Qin, Chang's mother-to-be. Growing up during Japan's brutal occupation, free-spirited Bao Qin chose the man she would marry, a Communist Party official slavishly devoted to the revolution.

In 1949, while he drove 1000 miles in a jeep to the southwestern province where they would do Mao's spadework, Bao Qin walked alongside the vehicle, sick and pregnant (she lost the child). Chang, born in 1952, saw her mother put into a detention camp in the Cultural Revolution and later "rehabilitated." Her father was denounced and publicly humiliated; his mind snapped, and he died a broken man in 1975. Working as a "barefoot doctor" with no training, Chang saw the oppressive, inhuman side of communism.

She left China in 1978 and is now director of Chinese studies at London University. Her meticulous, transparent prose radiates an inner strength.

SOURCE: Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc
  

February 5, 2013

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
by Stephen King

"The world had teeth and it could bite you with them anytime it wanted." King's new novelAwhich begins with that sentenceAhas teeth, too, and it bites hard. Readers will bite right back. Always one to go for the throat, King crafts a story that concerns not just anyone lost in the Maine-New Hampshire woods, but a plucky nine-year-old girl, and from a broken home, no less. This stacked deck is flush with aces, however.

King has always excelled at writing about children, and Trisha McFarland, dressed in jeans and a Red Sox jersey and cap when she wanders off the forest path, away from her mother and brother and toward tremendous danger, is his strongest kid character yet, wholly believable and achingly empathetic in her vulnerability and resourcefulness. Trisha spends nine days (eight nights) in the forest, ravaged by wasps, thirst, hunger, illness, loneliness and terror. Her knapsack with a little food and water helps, but not as much as the Walkman that allows her to listen to Sox games, a crucial link to the outside world. Love of baseball suffuses the novel, from the chapter headings (e.g., "Bottom of the Ninth") to Trisha's reliance, through fevered imagined conversations with him, on (real life) Boston pitcher Tom Gordon and his grace under pressure. King renders the woods as an eerie wonderland, one harboring a something stalking Trisha but also, just perhaps, God: he explicitly explores questions of faith here (as he has before, as in Desperation) but without impeding the rush of the narrative.

Despite its brevity, the novel ripples with ideas, striking images, pop culture allusions and recurring themes, plus an unnecessary smattering of scatology. It's classic King, brutal, intensely suspenseful, an exhilarating affirmation of the human spirit.

SOURCE: Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
  

March 5, 2013

The Silent Land
by Graham Joyce

Near the outset of this gently haunting fantasy thriller from British author Joyce (Requiem), a freak avalanche buries Zoe and Jake, a couple on a skiing holiday near the Pyrenean resort town of Saint-Bernard-en-Haut. After digging out, they find themselves the only inhabitants of the unnaturally silent landscape. Back at their hotel, they discover they're still alone. All their efforts to leave for the next town only bring them back in a circle. Jake suspects that they've died—but then Zoe begins seeing furtive figures and hearing snatches of speech that suggest this likely explanation is more complex than it seems.

Joyce brings freshness to this familiar supernatural scenario by emphasizing the humanness of his characters over the weirdness of the phenomena. By the time the tale sounds its final bittersweet note, readers will remember the passionate emotional bond the two have shared and self-sacrifices that are the hallmark of a love that can transcend death.

SOURCE: (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
  

April 2, 2013

A Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby

In his fourth novel, New York Times-bestselling author Nick Hornby mines the hearts and psyches of four lost souls who connect just when they've reached the end of the line.

Meet Martin, JJ, Jess, and Maureen. Four people who come together on New Year's Eve: a former TV talk show host, a musician, a teenage girl, and a mother. Three are British, one is American. They encounter one another on the roof of Topper's House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives.

In four distinct and riveting first-person voices, Nick Hornby tells a story of four individuals confronting the limits of choice, circumstance, and their own mortality. This is a tale of connections made and missed, punishing regrets, and the grace of second chances.

SOURCE: Copyright © BN.com. All rights reserved.
  

May 7, 2013

Smyrna Reading Group
Sugar
by Bernice McFadden

With her eponymous anti-heroine, debut novelist McFadden breaks the mold of a venerable stereotype. Here, the hooker with a heart of gold is instead a hooker with a past so tarnished no amount of polishing can change her fate. As a baby, Sugar is abandoned by her mother and raised by a trio of prostitutes who run an Arkansas bordello. Turning tricks at age 12, and leaving town four years later to try her luck in St. Louis and then Detroit, brings more degradation, along with an ever-hardening heart. Upon her mother's death in 1955, Sugar is willed a modest home in Bigelow, Ark., but when she moves into town, and supports herself the only way she knows, the female population rises in wrath against her.

All except Pearl, Sugar's next-door neighbor, who more than a decade ago lost her beloved daughter, Jude, to a vicious rapist/murderer. Pearl is struck by Sugar's uncanny likeness to Jude, and is determined to become Sugar's friend in spite of vocal disapproval. Although the two women are opposites in nearly every way, they bring out the best in each other: Sugar convinces Pearl to loosen up and accompany her to a Saturday night juke joint, and Sugar promises to go to church for two months of Sundays.

Hypocritical gossip spreads among the townsfolk and tension grows when it turns out that nearly every married man in Bigelow pays a visit to Sugar, leaving the apparently frigid wives planning to run Sugar out of town. Pearl gives it her best shot to transform Sugar, but both women's painful pasts come back to haunt them in a crescendo of violent reenactments, betrayals and surprising revelations leading to a poignant, bittersweet ending. While hampered by a forced and compressed backstory, a surfeit of maudlin moments and some overwriting that is inadvertently funny, this ambitious first novel will appeal to readers who can appreciate Sugar's determination to come to terms with her past and fashion a viable future. Agent, James Vines.

SOURCE: Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
  

June 4, 2013

Smyrna Reading Group
Five Quarters of the Orange
by Joanne Harris

In Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris returns to the small-town, postwar France of Chocolat. This time she follows the fortunes of Framboise Dartigan, named for a raspberry but with the disposition of, well, a lemon. The proprietor of a café in a rustic village, this crabby old lady recalls the days of her childhood, which coincided with the German occupation. Back then, she and her brother and sister traded on the black market with the Germans, developing a friendship with a charismatic young soldier named Tomas. This intrigue provided a distraction from their grim home life--their father was killed in the war and their mother was a secretive, troubled woman. Yet their relationship with Tomas led to a violent series of events that still torment the aging Framboise.

Harris has a challenging project here: to show the complicated, messy reality behind such seemingly simple terms as collaborator and Resistance. To the children, of course, these were mere abstractions: "We understood so little of it. Least of all the Resistance, that fabulous quasi-organization. Books and the television made it sound so focused in later years; but I remember none of that. Instead I remember a mad scramble in which rumor chased counter-rumor and drunkards in cafes spoke loudly against the new regime." The author's portrait of occupier and occupied living side by side is given texture by her trademark appreciation of all things French. Yes, some passages read like romantic, black-and-white postcards: "Reine's bicycle was smaller and more elegant, with high handlebars and a leather saddle. There was a bicycle basket across the handlebars in which she carried a flask of chicory coffee." But these simple pleasures, recorded with such adroitness, are precisely what give Framboise solace from the torment of her past.

SOURCE: Copyright © Amazon.com. All rights reserved.
  

July 3, 2013


Ethan Frome

by Edith Wharton

`This love story has an emotional intensity made all the more poignant by the inarticulate reticence of Wharton's characters - a menage a trois consisting of Frome, his querulous wife and her young girl cousin. With quiet assurance, Wharton conveys passion, malaise and tragedy with memorable impact.'

SOURCE: Copyright © Sophia Sackville-West, Evening Standard (London) All rights reserved.
  

August 3, 2013


Summer Shorts-Short Stories
by Popular Authors

"The Robber Bridegroom" by The Brothers Grimm
"At the Gate" by Myla Jo Closser
"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry
"The Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury
"One of these Days" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling
"The Faith Cure Man" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
"The Possibiltiy of Evil" by Shirley Jackson
"The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

These stories are available for free via the Internet.
The library also has some of them available in print in story collections.

   

September 3, 2012


Handle with Care
by Jodi Picoult

Starred Review. Perennial bestseller Picoult (Change of Heart) delivers another engrossing family drama, spiced with her trademark blend of medicine, law and love. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe's daughter, Willow, was born with brittle bone disease, a condition that requires Charlotte to act as full-time caregiver and has strained their emotional and financial limits. Willow's teenaged half-sister, Amelia, suffers as well, overshadowed by Willow's needs and lost in her own adolescent turmoil. When Charlotte decides to sue for wrongful birth in order to obtain a settlement to ensure Willow's future, the already strained family begins to implode.

Not only is the defendant Charlotte's longtime friend, but the case requires Charlotte and Sean to claim that had they known of Willow's condition, they would have terminated the pregnancy, a statement that strikes at the core of their faith and family. Picoult individualizes the alternating voices of the narrators more believably than she has previously, and weaves in subplots to underscore the themes of hope, regret, identity and family, leading up to her signature closing twists.

SOURCE: Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    

October 1, 2013


The Art of Racing in the Rain

by Garth Stein

If you've ever wondered what your dog is thinking, Stein's third novel offers an answer. Enzo is a lab terrier mix plucked from a farm outside Seattle to ride shotgun with race car driver Denny Swift as he pursues success on the track and off. Denny meets and marries Eve, has a daughter, Zoë, and risks his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life, and hopes for the day when his life as a dog will be over and he can be reborn a man.

When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo remains his most steadfast if silent supporter. Enzo is a reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability. Much like Denny, however, Stein is able to salvage some dignity from the over-the-top drama.

SOURCE: Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
   

November 5, 2013


Anil's Ghost
by Michael Ondaatje

While he is generally considered a Canadian writer, Booker Prize-winner Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, and he has chosen to set his powerful and resonant new novel in that country during its gruesome civil war in the mid-1980s. Written in his usual cryptic, elliptical style, much of the story is told in flashbacks, with Ondaatje hinting at secrets even as he divulges facts, revealing his characters' motivations through their desperate or passionate behavior and, most of all, conveying the essence of a people, a country and its history via individual stories etched against a background of natural beauty and human brutality.

Anil Tessira, a 33-year-old native Sri Lankan who left her country 15 years before, is a forensic pathologist sent by the U.N. human rights commission to investigate reports of mass murders on the island. Atrocities are being committed by three groups: the government, anti-government insurgents, and separatist guerrillas. Working secretly, these warring forces are decimating a population paralyzed by pervasive fear.

Taciturn archeologist Sarath Diyasena is assigned by the government to be Anil's partner; at 49, he is emotionally withdrawn from the chaotic contemporary world, reserving his passion for the prehistoric shards of his profession. Together, Anil and Sarath discover that a skeleton interred among ancient bones in a government-protected sanctuary is that of a recently killed young man. Anil defiantly sets out to document this murder by identifying the victim and then making an official report. Throughout their combined forensic and archeological investigation, detailed by Ondaatje with the meticulous accuracy readers will remember from descriptions of the bomb sapper's procedures in The English Patient, Sarath remains a mysterious figure to Anil. Her confusion about his motives is reinforced when she meets his brother, Gamini, an emergency room doctor who is as intimately involved in his country's turmoil as Sarath refuses to be.

The lives of these characters, and of others in their orbits, emerge circuitously, layer by layer. In the end, Anil's moral indignation--and her innocence--place her in exquisite danger, and Sarath is moved to a life-defining sacrifice. Here the narrative, whose revelations have been building with a quiet ferocity, assumes the tension of a thriller, its chilling insights augmented by the visceral emotional effects that masterful literature can provide. More effective than a documentary, Ondaatje's novel satisfies one of the most exalted purposes of fiction: to illuminate the human condition through pity and terror. It may well be the capstone of his career.

SOURCE: Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
   

December 3, 2013


Hush

by Jacqueline Woodson

When Toswiah Green's father, witness to a murder, does the right thing by testifying against two fellow police officers, he puts his entire family in danger. Now the Greens have fled for their lives, leaving behind all that is comfortable and familiar for the alien existences laid out by the witness protection program. Shifting between past and present, Woodson's (Miracle's Boys; If You Come Softly) introspective novel probes the complex reactions of 12-year-old Toswiah as she reluctantly reinvents herself as Evie Thomas.

Telling lies about her past is as awkward for Toswiah as her adjustment to a new apartment, city and school, but most disturbing of all is the fragmentation of her formerly close-knit family. Toswiah's mother, searching for meaning and for support, becomes an avid Jehovah's Witness. Mr. Green slips into suicidal depression, and Toswiah's older sister, unbeknownst to their parents, arranges to enter college at 15. "Evie/Toswiah Thomas/Green," as the narrator once refers to herself, taps hidden stores of inner strength, ultimately realizing that "I am no longer who I was in Denver, but at least and at most I am."

Readers facing their own identity crises will find familiar conflicts magnified and exponentially compounded here, yet instantly recognizable and optimistically addressed. Ages 10-up.

SOURCE: Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
  

 

 

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