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2014 Reading Group Selections

2014 Reading Group Selections

Upcoming Reading Selections

January 7, 2014



The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers
by Tom Mullen

At the start of Mullen's compelling second novel, set during the heyday of J. Edgar Hoover's war on crime in the 1930s, violent bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson (aka the Firefly Brothers) wake up in an Indiana morgue, having miraculously survived bullet wounds that led the authorities to triumphantly announce their deaths. The pair escape and inform the third Fireson brother, Weston, and their mother, that they're alive. Meanwhile, the embarrassed local police report that ghouls stole Jason and Whit's corpses.

This is but the first of a number of fantastic episodes in which the criminals cheat death, with no logical explanation. Despite the surrealism, Mullen (The Last Town on Earth) makes the despair of the Great Depression palpable, as his antiheroes become folk icons to the downtrodden people of the Midwest resentful of a government that can't help them. Readers comfortable with significant narrative ambiguities will be engrossed.

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

February 4, 2014



Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

In 1966 Jean Rhys reemerged after a long silence with a novel called Wide Sargasso Sea. Rhys had enjoyed minor literary success in the 1920s and '30s with a series of evocative novels featuring women protagonists adrift in Europe, verging on poverty, hoping to be saved by men. By the '40s, however, her work was out of fashion, too sad for a world at war. And Rhys herself was often too sad for the world--she was suicidal, alcoholic, troubled by a vast loneliness. She was also a great writer, despite her powerful self-destructive impulses.
Wide Sargasso Sea is the story of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole heiress who grew up in the West Indies on a decaying plantation. When she comes of age she is married off to an Englishman, and he takes her away from the only place she has known--a house with a garden where "the paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest tree ferns, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched."

The novel is Rhys's answer to Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë's book had long haunted her, mostly for the story it did not tell--that of the madwoman in the attic, Rochester's terrible secret. Antoinette is Rhys's imagining of that locked-up woman, who in the end burns up the house and herself. Wide Sargasso Sea follows her voyage into the dark, both from her point of view and Rochester's. It is a voyage charged with soul-destroying lust. "I watched her die many times," observes the new husband. "In my way, not in hers. In sunlight, in shadow, by moonlight, by candlelight. In the long afternoons when the house was empty."

Rhys struggled over the book, enduring rejections and revisions, wrestling to bring this ruined woman out of the ashes. The slim volume was finally published when she was 70 years old. The critical adulation that followed, she said, "has come too late." Jean Rhys died a few years later, but with Wide Sargasso Sea she left behind a great legacy, a work of strange, scary loveliness. There has not been a book like it before or since. Believe me, I've been searching. --Emily White

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

March 4, 2014

Bloodroot
by Amy Greeene

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2010: Bloodroot is that rare sort of family saga that feels intimate instead of epic. Set in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, it’s told largely in tandem voices that keep watchful eyes on Myra Lamb. She is a child of the mountain, tied to the land in ways that mystify and enchant those around her. There’s magic to Myra--perhaps because she has the remarkable blue eyes foretold by a nearly-forgotten family curse--but little fantasy to her life. Bloodroot is as much about the Lambs as it is about a place, one that becomes ever more vivid as generations form, break free, and knit back together. Its characters speak plainly but true, they are resilient and flawed and beautiful, and there's a near-instant empathy in reading their stories, which--even in their most visceral moments--are alluring and wonderful. --Anne Bartholomew

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

April 1, 2014

Guest Speaker Fran Stewart

Fran Stewart fell in love with words at an early age. An award-winning mystery writer and member of the National League of American Pen Women, Sisters in Crime, and the Atlanta Writers Club, Fran conveys her indomitable spirit, warmth, and humor in her writing. The people and events of her life lend form and substance to her novels, short stories, essays, and poems, and serve as a voice for communicating life’s many lessons.

A true Renaissance woman, Stewart writes, edits, knits, sings, practices Reiki, shares her house with rescued cats of all ages, sizes, and personalities, is well-respected as a public speaker, loves a good laugh, and embraces life with passion.

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



Indigo As An Iris
by Fran Stewart

In Fran Stewart s most emotionally charged novel so far, small-town librarian Biscuit McKee confronts Glaze, her bipolar sister on the verge of deep depression. Glaze has an ex-boyfriend sitting in jail and plotting ways to get even with Glaze through kidnap and extortion. Biscuit s good friend Margaret becomes a pawn in this attempt for revenge. Complications result in mistaken identities, dire misunderstandings, and a kidnapping gone horribly awry. Marmalade, Biscuit s orange and white tabby cat is once again misunderstood by her humans. They think she s only purring.

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

May 6, 2014

Blessings
by Anna Quindlen

Quindlen's novel of redemption and second chances is given a warm, sympathetic reading by Allen. Skip Cuddy is one of life's losers: abandoned by his parents as a child and railroaded by so-called "friends" into a crime that wasn't his fault as an adult. But he's content with his new job as caretaker of Blessings, the estate of elderly, isolated Lydia Blessing. When a frightened unwed teenager leaves her newborn by Skip's garage apartment (instead of the estate's front door, as planned), Skip finds a new lease on life in taking care of the infant. And when Lydia discovers the baby and agrees to help Skip raise her, she too finds new meaning in life, as well as a mutually rewarding friendship with Skip. (Of course, eventually the baby's mother wants her back.) Allen's voice is filled with compassion, and she does a fine job differentiating the characters. Particularly memorable are the voices of elderly Lydia Blessing; Korean maid Nadine; and Chris, a sleazy, manipulative friend of Skip's.

SOURCE: Copyright © 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Summer Series of Science
June 3, 2014

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded
by Simon Winchester

An erudite, fascinating account by one of the foremost purveyors of contemporary nonfiction, this book chronicles the underlying causes, utter devastation and lasting effects of the cataclysmic 1883 eruption of the volcano island Krakatoa in what is now Indonesia. Winchester (The Professor and the Madman; The Map That Changed the World) once again demonstrates a keen knack for balancing rich and often rigorous historical detail with dramatic tension and storytelling. Rather than start with brimstone images of the fateful event itself, Winchester takes a broader approach, beginning with his own viewing of the now peaceful remains of the mountain for a second time in a span of 25 years-and being awed by how much it had grown in that time. This nod to the earth's ceaseless rejuvenation informs the entire project, and Winchester uses the first half of the text to carefully explain the discovery and methods of such geological theories as continental drift and plate tectonics. In this way, the vivid descriptions of Krakatoa's destruction that follow will resonate more completely with readers, who will come to appreciate the awesome powers that were churning beneath the surface before it gave way. And while Winchester graphically illustrates, through eyewitness reports and extant data, the human tragedy and captivating scientific aftershocks of the explosion, he is also clearly intrigued with how it was "a demonstration of the utterly confident way that the world, however badly it has been wounded, picks itself up, continues to unfold its magic and its marvels, and sets itself back on its endless trail of evolutionary progress yet again." His investigations have produced a work that is relevant to scholars and intriguing to others, who will relish it footnotes and all.

SOURCE: Copyright © 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The documentary movie will be presented on Monday, June 2, 2014 at 6:00 PM

The Summer Series of Science
July 1, 2014

The Men Who Stare at Goats
by Jon Ronson

This exploration of the U.S. military's flirtation with the supernatural is at once funny and tragic. It reads like fiction, with plenty of dialogue and descriptive detail, but as Ronson's investigation into the government's peculiar past doings creeps into the present-and into Iraq-it will raise goose bumps. As Ronson reveals, a secret wing of the U.S. military called First Earth Battalion was created in 1979 with the purpose of creating "Warrior Monks," soldiers capable of walking through walls, becoming invisible, reading minds and even killing a goat simply by staring at it. Some of the characters involved seem well-meaning enough, such as the hapless General Stubblebine, who is "confounded by his continual failure to walk through his wall." But Ronson (Them: Adventures with Extremists) soon learns that the Battalion's bizarre ideas inspired some alarming torture techniques being used in the present-day War on Terror. One technique involves subjecting prisoners to 24 hours of Barney the Purple Dinosaur's song, "I Love You," and another makes use of the Predator, a small, toy-like object designed by military martial arts master Pete Brusso that can inflict a large amount of pain in many different ways ("You can take eyeballs right out... with this bit," Brusso tells Ronson). Ronson approaches the material with an open mind and a delightfully dry sense of humor, which makes this an entertaining, if unsettling, read. Indeed, as the events recounted here grow ever more curious-and the individuals Ronson meets more disturbing-it's necessary to remind oneself of Ronson's opening words: "This is a true story."

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

The movie, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" starring George Clooney will be presented on
Monday June 30, 2014 at 6:00 PM

August 5, 2014

State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett

Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2011: In State of Wonder, pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. But first she must locate Dr. Anneck Swenson, a renowned gynecologist who has spent years looking at the reproductive habits of a local tribe where women can conceive well into their middle ages and beyond. Eccentric and notoriously tough, Swenson is paid to find the key to this longstanding childbearing ability by the same company for which Dr. Singh works. Yet that isn’t their only connection: both have an overlapping professional past that Dr. Singh has long tried to forget. In finding her former mentor, Dr. Singh must face her own disappointments and regrets, along with the jungle’s unforgiving humidity and insects, making State of Wonder a multi-layered atmospheric novel that is hard to put down. Indeed, Patchett solidifies her well-deserved place as one of today’s master storytellers. Emotional, vivid, and a work of literature that will surely resonate with readers in the weeks and months to come, State of Wonder truly is a thing of beauty and mystery, much like the Amazon jungle itself. --Jessica Schein

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

September 2, 2014

The House at Riverton
by Kate Morton

This debut page-turner from Australian Morton recounts the crumbling of a prominent British family as seen through the eyes of one of its servants. At 14, Grace Reeves leaves home to work for her mother's former employers at Riverton House. She is the same age as Hannah, the headstrong middle child who visits her uncle, Lord Ashbury, at Riverton House with her siblings Emmeline and David. Fascinated, Grace observes their comings and goings and, as an invisible maid, is privy to the secrets she will spend a lifetime pretending to forget. But when a filmmaker working on a movie about the family contacts a 98-year-old Grace to fact-check particulars, the memories come swirling back. The plot largely revolves around sisters Hannah and Emmeline, who were present when a family friend, the young poet R.S. Hunter, allegedly committed suicide at Riverton. Grace hints throughout the narrative that no one knows the real story, and as she chronicles Hannah's schemes to have her own life and the curdling of younger Emmeline's jealousy, the truth about the poet's death is revealed. Morton triumphs with a riveting plot, a touching but tense love story and a haunting ending.

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

October 7, 2014

Even the Stars Look Lonesome
by Maya Angelou

As in Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, famed poet and author Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) casts a keen eye inward and bares her soul in a slim volume of personal essays. This collection is narrower in scope than Angelou's earlier book and the sense of racial pride is stronger, more compelling. But all of her opinions are deeply rooted and most are conveyed with a combination of humility, personable intelligence and wit. Like a modern-day Kahlil Gibran, Angelou offers insights on a wide range of topics-Africa, aging, self-reflection, independence and the importance of understanding both the historical truth of the African American experience and the art that truth inspired. Women are a recurrent topic, and in "A Song to Sensuality," she writes of the misconceptions the young (her younger self included) have of aging. "They Came to Stay" is a particularly inspirational piece paying homage to black women: "Precious jewels all." Even Oprah Winfrey (to whom the previous collection was dedicated) serves as subject matter and is likened to "the desperate traveler who teaches us the most profound lesson and affords us the most exquisite thrills." In her final essay, Angelou uses the story of the prodigal son to remind readers of the value of solitude: "In the silence we listen to ourselves. Then we ask questions of ourselves. We describe ourselves to ourselves, and in the quietude we may even hear the voice of God."

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

November 4, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.... When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out."

Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up.

Like the slow-moving occupants of her fictional town, Lee takes her time getting to the heart of her tale; we first meet the Finches the summer before Scout's first year at school. She, her brother, and Dill Harris, a boy who spends the summers with his aunt in Maycomb, while away the hours reenacting scenes from Dracula and plotting ways to get a peek at the town bogeyman, Boo Radley. At first the circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Mayella Ewell, the daughter of a drunk and violent white farmer, barely penetrate the children's consciousness. Then Atticus is called on to defend the accused, Tom Robinson, and soon Scout and Jem find themselves caught up in events beyond their understanding. During the trial, the town exhibits its ugly side, but Lee offers plenty of counterbalance as well--in the struggle of an elderly woman to overcome her morphine habit before she dies; in the heroism of Atticus Finch, standing up for what he knows is right; and finally in Scout's hard-won understanding that most people are essentially kind "when you really see them." By turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking, To Kill a Mockingbird is one classic that continues to speak to new generations, and deserves to be reread often.

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

December 9, 2014
Date Changed From December 2

Are You There God It's Me Margaret
by Judy Blume

If anyone tried to determine the most common rite of passage for preteen girls in North America, a girl's first reading of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret would rank near the top of the list. Judy Blume and her character Margaret Simon were the first to say out loud (and in a book even) that it is normal for girls to wonder when they are ever going to fill out their training bras.

Puberty is a curious and annoying time. Girls' bodies begin to do freakish things--or, as in Margaret's case, they don't do freakish things nearly as fast as girls wish they would. Adolescents are often so relieved to discover that someone understands their body-angst that they miss one of the book's deeper explorations: a young person's relationship with God.

Margaret has a very private relationship with God, and it's only after she moves to New Jersey and hangs out with a new friend that she discovers that it might be weird to talk to God without a priest or a rabbi to mediate. Margaret just wants to fit in! Who is God, and where is He when she needs Him? She begins to look into the cups of her training bra for answers ...

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

 

 

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