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Title | Author | Call Number (BG = Book Group)

84 Charing Cross Road | Helene Hanff | BG 921 Hanff

In our contemporary life, where nearly any book we want to read can be quickly found and purchased with just a click of a mouse or read on an electronic device, it’s hard to remember when people had to search for specific books. This memoir, constructed entirely of letters, takes you back to those pre-Amazon days and into the life of writer Helene Hanff. What began in 1949 as a search for a collection of Hazlitt letters that was of better quality than “Barnes and Noble’s grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies” became a transatlantic friendship between the writer and Mr. Frank Doel of Marks & Co Booksellers of 84 Charing Cross Road, London. As the friendship develops it creates an image of the physicality of books—the scent, the feel of a tight binding, the leather cover, the turning of a page—that will renew your affection for books, reading, and friendship.

 

About a Boy  |  Nick Hornby  |  BG Hornby

Will Lightman is coasting through his hip North London lifestyle of smug self-interest, proudly unconcerned with his rather shallow character and living off of the royalties of a popular jingle his father wrote years ago. While keeping score of his chart-topping coolness, Will devises a brilliant plan to meet vulnerable (read: desperate) single women in an effort to sustain his juvenile ego but ultimately relieve him of any form of long-term commitment or responsibility. So when he is drawn into the depressed life of Fiona and her precociously quirky twelve year-old son, Marcus, Will’s anxiety and refusal to see himself as anything but a indolent man-child comes to a head in a way that can only be About a Boy.

 

Addie  |  Mary Lee Settle  |  BG 921 Settle

Author Mary Lee Settle’s memoir is an unforgettable portrait, not only of her own childhood, but also the lives and fortunes of her feisty Grandmother Addie. Born in West Virginia, Addie ends up in Kentucky, and her life encompasses some of the themes of America itself: the Civil War, the pioneers’ move west, and, above all, family. Addie is a wonderful character, a Holy Roller and believer in ghosts. However, she is also someone who interests her granddaughter in great literature. Settle’s account is a reminder that the past always shapes the future, and that family is always at the beginning of our story.

 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer  |  Mark Twain  |  BG Twain

Haven’t read this book since you were a kid? Then you may remember some of the lighter episodes in the book: the whitewashed fence, skipping school to play on the Mississippi River, or Becky and Tom falling in puppy love. But do you remember some of the book’s darker threads? Superstition, violence, racism, and poverty hover just under the surface of this book, and it merits a re-reading by all adults. The fun and nostalgia are still there, but you’ll also uncover real truths about the American life of Twain’s childhood.

After the Dancing Days  |  Margaret Rostkowski  |  BG Rostkowski

Young Annie learns about the horrors of World War I through the suffering and stories of wounded soldiers recovering in a veterans’ hospital near her small Kansas hometown. Annie, who has lost a much loved uncle during the recent war, learns the real story of his death and comes to a better understanding of the world outside her comfortable life. Author Rostkowski is an high school teacher in Ogden, and this, her first novel, won multiple awards in Utah and across the nation.

 

The Age of Innocence |  Edith Wharton  |  BG Wharton

Newland Archer is a man unable to choose between the comfortable and the unknown. Set in New York’s high society at the end of the 1800’s, The Age of Innocence details the lavish lifestyle of an American “Gilded Age” and the emergence of a powerful American aristocracy. In the center of it, the calm and cultured Newland is engaged to the perfect woman: May Welland, equally cultured and rich, a true match. Nothing can go wrong, until the fascinating Countess Ellen Olenska arrives. Socially ostracized for her divorce, Countess Olenska represents freedom from social constraints and duty to self—the things Newland wants but is too timid to claim. A biting indictment of wealth and society, Wharton’s bittersweet novel is a love story that won her the Pulitzer.

 

Agnes Grey  |  Anne Bronte  |  BG Bronte

Anne Bronte is probably most famous for being a sister of Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre) and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights). Instead of writing wild romantic tales (like her sisters), Anne Bronte created strong women who overcame opposition with commonsense and hard work. Her characters earned the right to be loved and, in turn, to love. Agnes Grey is based on Bronte’s personal experience as a governess, and is an ironic critique of nineteenth century English middle-class society.

 

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion  |  Fannie Flagg  |  BG Flagg

She might be facing an empty nest and her demanding mother’s continuous needs, but southerner Sookie Simmons Poole is doing just fine—until she receives a letter that sets her life in an entirely new direction. Her research leads her to the Jurdabralinski family, four sisters who helped keep their family’s Phillip’s 66 gas station afloat during World War II, as well as serving the United States as members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Sookie’s process of discovering who she really is (not who her overbearing mother wants her to be) is fueled by her growing knowledge of those four courageous sisters. Full of Flagg’s trademark southern charm mixed with a little-known part of American history, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a quirky novel, warm and funny and the smallest bit bittersweet.

 

All the Light We Cannot See  |  Anthony Doerr  |  BG Doerr

This haunting, almost gentle novel tells the story of Marie, a blind girl growing up in France as World War II begins, and Werner, an orphan growing up in Germany during the same time. Marie’s father is the locksmith at the Museum of Natural History; he creates keys and locks, and distributes them, to protect the museum’s acquisitions. Werner lives in an orphanage in Essen, the mining district of Germany; his father was killed in a coal mine. Each character has a transition: Werner’s natural instinct for science, math, and radio technology is discovered by a Nazi official, who arranges for him to be sent to the school at Schulpforta, where Nazis were created out of ordinary boys, while Marie moves to St. Malo, an ancient city on the coast of France, after the invasion of Paris. The dual stories intertwine with that of von Rumpel, a German diamond expert tasked by the Nazis with the responsibility of finding the Sea of Flames jewel, which may or may not be cursed—and might possibly be in the possession of Marie’s father. An elegant study of the way technology, time, and war influence the personal behaviors of individuals, All the Light We Cannot See illustrates that there are still stories to be told about this harrowing time in history.

 

Almost Famous Women  |  Megan Mayhew Bergman  |  BG Bergman

The women in this collection of short stories are almost famous either because of their proximity to fame—Lord Byron’s abandoned daughter, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s outgoing sister Norma, Oscar Wilde’s vivacious niece—or because their grand ambitions were only barely noticed by most of the world—dancing in Paris, driving a motorcycle at daring speeds and angles, forming America’s first integrated all-girl swing band. They are risk takers, daredevils, quiet renegades, women trying to find their way on unusual paths. The author was inspired to write these stories out of “a fascination with real women whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes”; reading them is a process of discovering forgotten but important historical moments in women’s lives.

 

The Amateur Marriage  |  Anne Tyler  |  BG Tyler

Michael and Pauline fall in love at first sight and subsequently marry in the patriotic fervor following Pearl Harbor. The two quickly discover their polar-opposite personalities. Frequent fighting soon strains their relationship and home life. After decades of marriage, both must re-examine their lives and how their marriage of opposites has affected so many lives.

 

Angle of Repose  |  Wallace Stegner  |  BG Stegner

The novel opens when wheelchair bound historian Lyman Ward decides to chronicle the lives of his extraordinary grandparents and their struggles in the Western frontier. Their story takes them from boom towns in Colorado, to near starvation on the banks of an Idaho river, to near-peace in California. However, Lyman’s study of his grandparents leads him to discover that he is connected to his family in more ways that he ever imagined. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. It was written when Stegner was presented with a brief biographical history and series of letters that would inspire the creation of one of American fiction’s most memorable couples: Susan and Oliver Ward.

 

Anil’s Ghost  |  Michael Ondaatje  |  BG Ondaatje

Anil Tissera returns to her native Sri Lanka after many years. She is now a forensic anthropologist, part of an UN human rights commission sent to investigate the horrors of an ongoing civil war. Assigned to work with complex and withdrawn archeologist Sarath Diyasena (a man who loves the past more than he lives in the present), Anil is drawn deeper into the complex and devastating effects of war. Anil sets in motion consequences she cannot predict when she begins investigating a mysterious skeleton uncovered on a government sanctuary. Another poetic masterpiece from Michael Ondaatje, the celebrated author of The English Patient and a native of Sri Lanka.

 

Anna Karenina  |  Leo Tolstoy  |  BG Tolstoy

An international classic, and perhaps the most honored Russian novel ever written. Anna Karenina is a nineteenth-century Russia socialite who must choose between her boring bureaucratic husband and the dashing Count Vronsky. Anna must choose between becoming a social outcast or losing the love of her life. A romance that continues to enthrall readers around the world.

 

The Atlas of Love | Laurie Frankel | BG Frankel

“You don’t get through graduate school without alliances,” Janey Duncan knows. Her alliance is her friendship with Jill and Katie, fellow students working on Literature PhDs. When Jill discovers she’s pregnant and her boyfriend discovers he’s not interested in being a parent, the three friends decide to take care of the baby together. What a first seems like an ideal solution forces them to explore (and revise) what they know about friendship, adulthood, faith, parenting, and family.

 

Atonement  |  Ian McEwan  |  BG McEwan

Ian McEwan’s haunting novel details the devastating impact of one child’s decision on a summer day in 1935. After observing her older sister Cecilia and the housekeeper’s son Robbie in a compromising situation she doesn’t understand, young Briony makes an accusation that changes lives. As the years pass, each character remains tied to that accusation and while being immersed in a world at war. Part crime story, part romance, part history, this heartbreaking novel deserves its designation as a modern classic.

 

The Awakening |  Kate Chopin  |  BG Chopin

First published in 1899, this beautiful, brief novel so disturbed critics and the public that it was banned in America for decades afterward. Now widely read and admired, The Awakening has been hailed as an early example of the modern novel. Originally entitled “A Solitary Soul,” the novel serves as a portrait of twenty-eight-year-old Edna Pontellier as she searches for love outside a stifling marriage, and finds herself, in turn, awakening to the beauty in nature and herself . Author Willa Cather described its style as “exquisite,” “sensitive,” and “iridescent.”

 

The Bean Trees  |  Barbara Kingsolver   |   BG Kingsolver

Taylor Greer leaves Kentucky to begin a new life in the West, never imagining the strange shape this journey will take. Left with a 3-year-old girl by a Cherokee woman in Oklahoma, Greer decides to keep the toddler and make a life together. A pair of flat tires in Tucson forces the two to settle down and try to make a real home. The novel is a tale of freedom, friendship, love, and resourcefulness: with a light dose of wit and humor. Thousands have enjoyed Kingsolver’s charming and insightful characters.

 

Bee Season  |   Myla Goldberg  |  BG Goldberg

How do individuals manage to have spiritual interactions with deity? That question, and perhaps some answers, is at the core of Myla Goldberg’s novel. When she wins her school spelling bee, Eliza Naumann discovers her previously-unknown talent with letters, which changes her life completely. No longer the mediocre daughter in her family, she takes her brother Aaron’s place in her father’s attentions. Saul Naumann, a cantor, has devoted his life to Jewish mysticism; he uses this knowledge as he coaches Eliza, preparing her for both upcoming spelling bees and her own route through mysticism. Eliza’s mother, Miriam, has a secret life that is, in its peculiar way, an attempt to connect with the divine. Aaron, too, keeps his actions secret. In their own painful ways, each character is looking for what Aaron describes as “the sense of absolute assurance that filled him with the idea that God was right there.” Somewhere within the search, between spelling bees and obsessive behavior, the Naumann family begins falling apart, and the ways they both do and don’t put themselves back together will leave this novel embedded in your memory.

 

Bellfield Hall, or, the Observations of Miss Dido Kent | Anna Dean  | BG Dean

Set in the 1805 England that’s familiar from Jane Austen’s novels, this is the first in a mystery series. Dido Kent, at 35 years old, is considered to be a hopeless spinster—but solving mysteries gives her life a sense of purpose. Dido’s niece Catherine is heartbroken, as her fiancé has abruptly called off the engagement. He vanishes, and then a murdered woman is found on the grounds of Bellfield Hall, and Dido must figure out if the two are connected.

 

Bless Me, Ultima  |  Rodolfo Anaya  |  BG Anaya

Set in 1940s New Mexico, this is Rudolfo Anaya’s award-winning Hispanic coming of age novel. The work’s main character, young Antonio, is torn between the lifestyles of his father’s cowboy and his mother’s farming families. One side wants him on a horse; the other would have him become a priest. However, Antonio’s life changes forever when Ultima, Antonio’s aunt, comes to live with the family. Ultima, a mystical healer, teaches Antonio how to gather the knowledge that will help him become a man.

 

Blessings  |  Anna Quindlen  |  BG Quindlen

A young couple sneaks onto the estate of Lydia Blessing and leave a box containing a baby. Skip Cuddy, the caretaker, finds the baby and decides to keep her. However, secrets take center stage as the story progresses and characters’ pasts emerge. The result is a touching look at what makes a person or a life and how decisions are really made. The novel looks at redemption and life’s most meaningful activities.

 

Bog Child  |  Siobhan Dowd  |  BG Dowd

In the 1980’s, Ireland was a country mangled by The Troubles, and all that 18-year-old Fergus McCann wants is to finish high school and escape to university in Scotland. But it is difficult for him to avoid the conflicts in his world: his older brother Joe, arrested for involvement in the IRA, begins a hunger strike in prison, and a local criminal is blackmailing Fergus into smuggling mysterious packages across the Irish border. When he discovers a body in a peat bog, Fergus begins dreaming of a murder victim, whose story intertwines with his own, helping him to understand the choices he needs to make. A coming-of-age story set in a turbulent era, Bog Child mixes modern history with bronze-age Ireland in a haunting novel with plenty of topics to discuss.

 

The Bonesetter’s Daughter  | Amy Tan  |  BG Tan

In this powerful story of courage, hardships, surviving and healing, a Chinese-born mother and her America-born daughter explore their past. Although tragedy has marred their lives, Tan explores three generations of women who, despite vastly different circumstances, are tied by the common bonds of heritage.

 

The Book of Jonas  | Stephen Dau | BG Dau

At fifteen, Younis knows just a small bit of the world, the tiny village in a Middle Eastern country where he’s grown up. When an American military operation destroys his village and kills his family, he is sent to Pennsylvania to live as a foster child. Jonas, as he’s known in his new life, tries to assimilate into American life and culture, but it is not until he meets the mother of the soldier who saved him that he is able to remember what happened to him and thus move forward.

 

The Book Thief  |   Markus Zusak  |  BG Zusak

The Book Thief rotates around an unlikely pair: the narrator—death—and the young Liesel Meminger, whose father has disappeared for being a communist and whose mother soon vanishes. On the way to a foster home in Musling, Germany, her younger brother dies, and at the small grave side service, she steals a book from one of the grave diggers about how to dig graves. Books become intertwined with dying, with the powerful destructive forces of Nazi Germany all around her. Because she can’t yet read, Liesel’s new foster father teaches her how—using the gravedigger’s manual as a reading primer. Once she can read, she becomes a book thief, stealing tomes from piles set aside for burning and from the mayor’s wife. Death, unable to resist Liesel, comments and explains, adding a layer of sardonic wit to this story that will linger, haunting, in your memory.

 

 

Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation

                                                                                                           |  Sally M. Walker  |  BG 974.88 W1541

This Sibert Medal Winner tells the long history of the 40 degree north parallel line of latitude—also known as the Mason-Dixon line. The boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, this line was mapped in the 1760’s by British surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. It was one of the greatest technological and scientific feats of that time period. Full of photographs of instruments, charts, diagrams, details of maps, and excerpts of old letters and journals, Boundaries brings this story to life with vivid, compelling text.

 

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind  |  William Kamkwamba | BG 921 Kamkwamba

A random encounter with a book called Using Energy changed the world for William Kamkwamba. Living in Malawi, an African country hit hard in the early 2000’s by drought and famine, he was hungry. The drought ruined his family’s farm, and soon his family could no longer afford to pay for his tuition. Just a teenager, Kamkwamba turned to his small local library for education; when he learned about windmills he decided to build one. Scrapped together with pieces of bicycles, tractor parts, and scrap metal, the windmill brought to his family what only 2% of Malawians have: electricity and running water. His story spread beyond his small country, helping him become a source of inspiration about how ingenuity and determination create change.

 

The Bridge of San Luis Rey  |  Thornton Wilder  |   BG Wilder

Wilder, the playwright of the American classic Our Town and the only person to win the Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and drama, uses the event of bridge collapse in 18th century Peru to examine the human condition through the eyes of an investigating monk.

 

Call the Midwife  |  Jennifer Worth  |   BG 921 Worth

In the 1950’s, Jennifer Worth left her comfortable, middle-class life to work in London’s East End as a midwife. She gathers the stories of her experiences in this remarkable memoir. The chapters alternate between telling the intimate stories of the laboring mothers in this poor part of post-war London and describing the often-humorous accounts of living at Nonnatus House, the convent where Worth was based. The stories here vary widely, some grim, some joyful, just as the lives of the families did in that time; the sometimes-gritty medical details are fascinating, but the real drama comes in the experiences of mothers determined (mostly) to make a good life for their babies.

 

The Chosen  |  Chaim Potok  |  BG Potok

Potok’s magnificent story of two friends and two fathers is an unforgettable American classic. Two Brooklyn boys meet through a softball game and become fast friends, despite very different background. Reuven comes from a Jewish family with modern, American leanings. Danny is heir-apparent to his father, a conservative Hassidic Rabbi. The novel is an exploration of fatherhood, faith, Judaism, and a friendship that defies the odds.

 

A Christmas Carol  |  Charles Dickens  |  BG Dickens

The second most famous Christmas story ever told. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman, learns the true meaning of Christmas after he is visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. Bah humbug!

 

A Christmas Memory   |  Truman Capote  |  BG Capote

Filled with memories from his childhood in Alabama, this memoir from Truman Capote pays tribute to his distant cousin Miss Sook Faulk. Capote spent his childhood with distant relatives, but it was the old-maid cousin with whom he formed a special bond; making fruitcake, cutting their own tree, and celebrating a tipsy yuletide (from the leftover moonshine-soaked fruitcake). A Christmas Memory is full of the tenderness and innocence of childhood. In addition to Capote’s rightful literary fame, some readers may recognize Capote, a childhood friend of Harper Lee, as the basis for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

The Color of Water  | James McBride | BG 921 McBride

James McBride wrote this best selling work as a tribute to his mother, a Jewish girl who left her middleclass childhood home in Virginia to live a life of largely inner-city poverty. In the next fifty years Ruth McBride Jordan experienced two happy marriages to devoted Black men and raised twelve children. James celebrates this extraordinary woman’s love and determination while exploring his own identity, racially and culturally.

 

Confessions of a Molly Mormon | Elona K. Shelley | BG M242.643 Sh441

“There is the ideal, and then there is reality.” Elona Shelley was discussing the observation of the Sabbath when she wrote that, but it is a tidy summary of her book. The LDS gospel presents many ideals: commandments and obligations and requirements, ways of being and examples to uphold. Trying to fulfill those ideals perfectly sometimes leads members to feel as if they are failing. Starting with a mighty change of heart she experienced, Elona explores how living the gospel within the reality of the world might not fulfill the ideal, but still brings us closer to God.

 

Corelli’s Mandolin  |  Louis De Cernieres  |  BG De Bernieres

A historical romance complicated not only by the Second World War but by lovers on opposing sides, Corelli’s Mandolin tells the story of Dr. Iannis and his daughter Pelagia who live on the idyllic Greek island of Cephalonia. When Pelagia’s fiancée Mandras, a gentle fisherman, joins the Greek partisans, it isn’t long before she begins a passionate love affair with invader Captain Antonio Corelli, the cultured mandolin-playing commander of the Italian garrison.

 

Crossing to Safety  |  Wallace Stegner  |  BG Stegner

When Larry and Sally Morgan, poor Westerners, move to Wisconsin to begin work at Wisconsin University during the Depression, it is the generosity of wealthy Easterner Sid, an established faculty member, and Charity, his headstrong domineering wife, which keeps them afloat. As time passes each character’s ambitions are tempered by personal choice and the unexpected trials of life. Decades later Charity reunites everyone after tragedy strikes one of the couples. The work is a touching tribute to friendship, family, and love.

 

Cry, the Beloved Country  |  Alan Paton  |  BG Paton

A murderer for a son and a prostitute for a sister – that is how Stephen Kumalo, a poor country pastor, finds his son Absalom and his sister Gertrude when he arrives in the troubled Johannesburg of the 1940s. A timeless story told in poetic prose in which dignity, love, and compassion triumph over crime, poverty, and racial injustice.

 

Dancing at the Rascal Fair  |  Ivan Doig  |  BG Doig

“The Atlantic was a child’s teacup compared to the ocean that life could be,” Angus McCaskill thinks, a tidy summary of a sprawling, funny, tender book that tells the story of immigration and expansion. With his friend Rob Barclay, Angus leaves Scotland for Montana, where the two friends become sheep ranchers, as well as fathers, husbands, and men along the way. Dancing at the Rascal Fair shares thirty years of their lives with readers, in stories rich with humor, suffering, love and friendship.

 

Dandelion Wine  |  Ray Bradbury  |  BG Bradbury

12-year-old Douglas Spaulding suddenly awakens to the world around him in the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois. His new adolescent awareness takes him on a journey of first discoveries full of magic and exuberance. A joyful read, Ray Bradbury’s first novel is about childlike innocence and living in the present.

 

The Distant Hours  |  Kate Morton  |  BG Morton

Kate Morton is the master of intricately plotted historical novels that move back and forth between current times and the past; seeing how narratives unravel and stories connect is part of the pleasure of reading her books. The Distant Hours is no exception. In contemporary London, Edie receives a letter that was mailed to her mother nearly fifty years ago and only just arrived. Her normally mellow mother reacts so strongly to the letter—which came from one of the three sisters she lived with in Middlehurst castle in Kent during the Blitz—that Edie decides to investigate. Mystery lovers, as well as history fans, will be fascinated by this story as it unwinds to its bittersweet end.

 

The Dollmaker   |  Harriette Arnow  |  BG Arnow

The demand for World War II munitions forces a backwoods Kentucky family to move to inner-city Detroit. As the pressures of the city mount, the family is held together by their amazing mother Gertie Nevells. Gertie’s dream is to purchase a farm and gather her family about her. However, it takes everything this powerful and compassionate matriarch (with a passion for wood sculpting and carrying on conversations with her daughter’s imaginary playmates) has to keep the family together and live by the rural values that have guided them for generations.

 

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood  |  Alexandra Fuller  |  BG 968.91 F9581

Fuller describes her childhood, armed with an Uzi, in Zimbabwe during the Rhodesian Civil War of the 1970s. The daughter of white settlers, Fuller’s understated observations of the harsh African existence (the family lost three children at childbirth and endured constant illness, even hunger) combines with her descriptions of native revolts for self-rule. The ensuing violent conflict is described from a child’s unique perspective. The experience of the Fuller family (including their own racism and quirks) is told without sentimentality, and this book beautifully explores the beauty of Africa, the strength of family life, the human capacity for brutality, and the unique nature of individual experience.

 

Doomsday Book  |  Connie Willis  |  BG Willis

Oxford graduate student Kivrin Engle, who specializes in medieval history, finally persuades her professor to allow her to travel to England in the middle ages, just before the beginning of the Black Plague. She falls ill right after her arrival, and is found and then cared for by members of a village. In contemporary Oxford, a new influenza plague disrupts the university, stranding Kivrin in the past. This extraordinary book is hard to classify—part history, part plague story, with a bit of science fiction and religious belief. It is sad, funny, touching, and utterly memorable.

 

Drenched in Light  |  Lisa Wingate  |  BG Wingate

After her dream of becoming a prima ballerina with the Kansas City ballet crumbles because of her struggles with anorexia, Julia moves back home to work as a guidance counselor at a prestigious school for performing arts. Her life begins to intertwine with Dell, a scholarship student who is a music virtuoso but struggling to fit in with her wealthy, snooty peers. As she works to overcome the tensions both within the school and her family, Julia begins to realize the impact of her decisions and where her life’s truth path lies.

 

Dubliners  |  James Joyce  |  BG Joyce

James Joyce’s collection of fifteen short stories explores 1900 Dublin, Ireland. The stories look at the lives of everyday Irish people—shop girls and students, office clerks and housemaids, businessmen and swindlers—and their everyday concerns. But within the seemingly-mundane events, Joyce brings us intelligence from the personal and often tragic lives of his characters. He intended the collection to act as a sort of lens for the people of Dublin, a way for them to examine their own lives and beliefs, but they also speak profoundly to the people of our contemporary world.

 

Ella Minnow Pea  |  Mark Dunn  |  BG Dunn

Ella lives on the tiny island called Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina, a “nation of letter writers” named after Nevin Nollop, who wrote the sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet. (The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.) All is peaceful and happy on Nollop, until letters begin falling off the statue of Nevin Nollop. The island’s leaders decide that the missing Z is a sign: that letter is no longer a part of the alphabet. Public floggings, banishment from the island, and even death are the consequences of using a Z in written or oral communication. As more letters fall from the statue and are banned, the people come up with more and more ingenious use of language—while their entire society begins to fall apart. Quirky and intelligent, the novel makes great use of wordplay as it works towards Ella’s attempt to save every letter. Even Z.

 

The End of Everything   | Megan Abbott  |  BG Abbott

Thirteen-year-olds Evie Verver and Lizzie Hood have been best friends forever. To Lizzie, whose parents are divorced, the Verver family—a charming, involved father, a glamorous older sister, and a mother who stays on the fringes of things and doesn’t push—is alluring. Seemingly perfect, even, and her friendship with Evie is that intense sort that young teenage girls have, the kind where they seem to know everything about each other. When Evie disappears, Lizzie, who saw her last, tries to figure out what happened using that knowledge she has. A novel of secrets, families, mothers, friendships and their inevitable breaking points, The End of Everything casts a mysterious, sensual spell.

 

Etta and Otto and Russell and James   | Emma Hooper  | BG Hooper

Etta and Otto and Russell and James tells the story of Otto Vogel, just one of a 15-kid family growing up on a dusty farm in Saskatchewan with his best friend Russell, who becomes a sort-of Vogel, pitching in with the chores and eating at their table. When they are teenagers, their teacher, ill from the area’s constant dust, is replaced with a new one, Etta Kinnick. The James of the title is a complicated, mysterious character best discovered in the book itself. This is a novel that moves seamlessly between the past and the present; part of the story is Otto’s perspective and part is Etta’s. We go to war with Otto, we stay home with Etta and then—when she is near the end of her life—we go on a walk with her. Etta, who has never seen the sea, decides (at age 83!) to walk there. Russell’s role in Etta’s life, and James’s, as well as Otto’s experiences at home on his own and pining for his wife, create a compelling and devastating read. This lovely, sweet, and sad novel, part history, part travel adventure, is entirely charming.

 

Far From the Madding Crowd  |  Thomas Hardy  |  BG Hardy

Set in the fictional British county of Wessex, famously invented by Thomas Hardy as the setting for his most important novels, Far From the Madding Crowd was Hardy’s first recognized masterpiece. It tells the story of the beautiful and passionate Bathsheba Everdene, who seems destined for happiness when she inherits her uncle’s wealthy farm. Thus equipped, Bathsheba prepares to settle down to a life of relative ease, together with her trusted shepherd Gabriel Oaks. However, Bathsheba, always unconventional, sends a teasing valentine to a wealthy neighbor saying only “Marry Me.” Shocked, he promptly falls in love and proposes. The same night, however, Bathsheba meets a dashing but unscrupulous soldier named Sergeant York, and falls in love herself. The inevitable tragedy that results from this triangle is one of the most famous in literature and established Thomas Hardy’s reputation as one of the greatest chroniclers of 19th century England.

 

Father Brown: The Essential Tales  |  G. K. Chesterton  |  BG Chesterton

These short mysteries place the chubby and unprepossessing priest Father Brown in the role of detective. His knowledge, gleaned in part from years of experience taking confessions, of how human evil works, provides the basis for his skill at solving crimes. These stories are quite unrealistic, but Chesterton is serious about ideas, and those he formulates here are always clever and often thought-provoking.

 

A Fine and Pleasant Misery  |  Patrick F. McManus  |  BG 796.502 M4599

“The more you talked about the miseries of life in the woods,” writes Patrick McManus, “the more you wanted to get back out there and start suffering again. Camping was a fine and pleasant misery.” But it’s not just camping that McManus expounds upon in this collection of wilderness stories written for Field & Stream magazine; hiking, fishing, hunting, and other nature-based adventures also appear, as well as the unique pleasures of bring a kid or two along with you. If you’ve ever pitched a tent or hit the trail, McManus’s writing will make you laugh in recognition of the miserable joys of the great outdoors.

 

Flowers for Algernon  |  Daniel Keyes  |  BG Keyes

Charlie Gordon has always been described as slow but with a passion for learning. When a new procedure hopes to triple his IQ, Charlie agrees to have the experimental process performed on him. The surgery and its effects change this simple, quiet man in lasting ways. The delicate prose of this touching novel moves toward a fantastic tear-jerker ending.

 

Gilead  |  Marilynne Robinson  |  BG Robinson

Reverend John Ames knows he is dying, and Gilead is written as a letter to his six year old son, a boy Ames realizes will never otherwise have any real record of his father. Writing in 1956 from his lifelong home of Gilead, Iowa, Ames’ story includes two world wars, the Great Depression, the death of his first wife and child, and his attempts to create a meaningful life through his writing (mostly of sermons). Ames also goes back in time to tell the story of the lifelong rivalry and misunderstandings between his own father and grandfather, an inter-generational conflict that continues to have repercussions in the present day. This is a magical novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and an unforgettable examination of fatherhood and faith.

 

Girl in Translation  |  Jean Kwok  |  BG Kwok

With the promise of housing and a job, Ah-Kim and her mother immigrate to San Francisco from Hong Kong after her father dies. The housing her Aunt Paula provides is a squalid, unheated apartment and the factory work is demanding and exhausting. Kimberly, as she’s known in America, barely has enough clothes to keep warm, let alone avoid the taunts of kids at school. It’s not flashy, but her quiet strength, intelligence, and courage as she tries to create an American life for herself and her mother infuse this novel with an uplifting sense of possibility.

 

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips  |  James Hilton  |  BG Hilton

Charles Chipping is a terrible teacher – uninspiring and unloved by his students at the (somewhat) prestigious Brookfield School for Boys in England. But everything changes when he meets and marries the lovely and intelligent Katherine on a summer vacation. With some of shyness finally overcome, Chips discovers a way to begin connecting with the young men in his classes, helping them to uncover the beauty of language and history. This novel is not only a sweet and sometimes tragic life story; it is also a record of the sweeping changes in England from the Victorian Era (Mr. Chips begins teaching in 1870) through the beginning of World War II. A great record of a great teacher.

 

The Good Earth  |  Pearl S. Buck  |  BG Buck

In what critics and readers have deemed a universal story, Nobel Laureate Pearl Buck creates the tale of Wang Lung, a poor peasant in rural China in the early twentieth century. Describing the joys and sorrows, trials and triumphs of Wang Lung’s family, Buck powerfully examines the human condition and masterfully reveals the common denominators that link the members of the human race.

 

The Goose Girl   |  Shannon Hale  |  BG Hale

Local author Shannon Hale reinvents the goose girl fairy tale in this award-winning novel. Princess Anidori is born with a word on her tongue, which means as she grows she learns, under her aunt’s encouragement, how to speak to animals. This strangeness does not sit well with the queen, so when the king dies, Princess Ani’s mother forges a marriage between her and the prince of Bayern, a neighboring country. But Ani’s betrayal by trusted people is just beginning; on her way to Bayern her friend Selia plots to kill Ani and take her place. Ani escapes, makes it to Bayern, and works as a goose girl while trying to take her future back. A story about a character working out her own fate instead of waiting to be rescued, Hale’s book is a magical tale.

 

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  |  Mary Ann Shaffer  |  BG Shaffer

On the tiny Channel island of Guernsey, an impromptu literary society is formed when four friends, walking home from a dinner party, are stopped by German officers. On the spot they claim they’re walking home from a literary society meeting; their quick thought helps them avoid prison and leads to the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. This society becomes a place where the group members can “almost forget, now and then, the darkness” of living in occupied England during World War II. A decade later, English writer Juliet Ashton stumbles across the stories from the society and strikes up a conversation via letters with its members. This epistolary novel tells the story of an occupation by the Germans that was first intended to be “model,” but worsened until a concentration camp was built there. Not just a war novel, it examines the way books can connect, redeem, and sometimes even save us.

 

Guests of the Sheik  | Elizabeth Warnock Fernea | BG 306.956 F394

In 1956, Elizabeth Fernea was a newlywed. Her husband’s field research in anthropology took the couple to a small, rural Iraqi village. In a friendly, intimate tone, Fernea tells the story of her two years there, which she begins as an American woman knowing next to nothing about Iraqi culture, language, or mores, resentful of the abaya she is required to wear; and ends as a close friend to the women of El Nahra. An intimate and detailed examination of the real lives women led in Iraq in the 1950s, Guests of the Sheik is an adventure story at heart, illustrating that no matter how different our cultures are, we all share the need to live vibrant lives.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale  |  Margaret Atwood  |  BG Atwood

In the country of Gilead, women have no choices: not what to wear, or who to marry, or what do. They cannot own property, gain education, or have a bank account.  The fertile (who are few), may bear children—but they must be given to the powerful ranking families of the dictatorship. The slightly terrifying thing is that Gilead is America, in the future, when fertility rates have plummeted and women become pawns in a game of power. The narrator, whose real name we never discover, is called Offred, and she is a handmaid: a woman who had a child before the coup and so might conceive again. She is given to a Commander’s family, where once a month she participates in the Ceremony that has become her duty.

 

The Happiness Project |  Gretchen Rubin  |  BG 158 R8244

One day, while riding a bus in New York City, Gretchen Rubin realized that despite her fabulous life—good, kind husband, two beautiful daughters, a writing career—she wasn’t quite, exactly, thoroughly happy. Deciding that she wanted to “feel grateful for ordinary days,” she embarked on a happiness project, which was a year-long experiment in different approaches to happiness. She read the history and philosophy of the study of happiness; she identified areas to work on and resolutions within them. Then she spent 365 days exploring happiness. In this book, she writes about her experiences exploring happiness. It might just encourage you to consider your happiness, too, and how you can improve it.

 

Heartbeat  |  Sharon Creech  |  BG Creech

Twelve-year-old Annie loves to run. At home, her parents are having a new baby and her grandfather, once a champion runner himself, is falling into dementia. Although her best friend Max, struggling with the inevitable moods of adolescence, runs to escape the problems in his life, Annie runs for the pleasure of running. Sharon Creech’s narrative poetry uses the rhythm of Annie’s stride to illustrate her journey as she adapts to changes in her everyday life. Heartbeat is an easy, delightful read.

 

The Help  |  Kathryn Stockett  |  BG Stockett

Written in three distinct voices, The Help tells the story of the reality of the racial divide in the 1960’s South. Aibileen, a black maid who is raising her seventeenth white child, finds it harder as she grows older to hold back her bitterness toward her white employeers. Minny is Aibileen’s best friend, also a maid, but never afraid to speak her mind, which means she’s out of work yet again. There’s also Skeeter, a white socialite; recently graduated from Ole Miss, she’s expected to find a husband,  but  has other ambitions: she wants to write a book about the experiences black maids have raising white children and taking care of white people’s homes. The maids in the community initially resist Skeeter’s idea, but when a tragedy befalls one of their friends, thirteen of them take the risk to tell of the hardship of their positions. With its trio of funny, touching, and lyrical voices, the novel seeks to illustrate the personal sacrifices that must be made for social changes to occur.

 

The History of Love  |  Nicole Krauss  |  BG Krauss

In the process of writing this novel, Krauss wanted to write “a book that people would take personally.” By touching on themes we all relate to personally—the fear of dying without being seen or remembered, the way grief changes a person into someone else, the persistence of love—she accomplishes just that. The eponymous The History of Love is a novel written by Leo Gursky during the beginning of World War II; he loses it, along with Alma, the woman he loved. Unbeknownst to him, The History of Love is published and, decades later, translated from the Spanish by thirteen-year-old Alma’s mother, who is caught up in the grief of losing her husband to cancer. Alma searches for the origin of her name while Leo searches for a way to be seen before his death; as the novel progresses the threads of all the stories work their way together into a satisfying ending, detailing along the way the power of creativity to act as a healing force.

 

The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again   |  J. R. R. Tolkein | BG Tolkein

The story of The Hobbit began as a tale Tolkein told his children and evolved into a book, published in 1937. Inside its pages you’ll discover the timid hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who is ordered by the wizard Gandalf to act as a smuggler on an expedition to retrieve the dwarves’ treasure, stolen by the dragon Smaug. But Bilbo’s adventure grows bigger than just a trip to a dragon. He encounters trolls, goblins, giant spiders, evil wolves called Wargs, and the strange creature Gollum, who lives alone in a cave with his Precious. Bilbo accidentally discovers Gollum’s golden ring, a fortuitous find that helps him and his companions out of several tight spots. In the end, Bilbo’s adventures going there and back again create a changed hobbit, full of confidence and self-assurance.

 

The House of the Scorpion  |  Nancy Farmer  |  BG Farmer

Matteo Alacran is not your everyday boy. Cloned from the DNA of a powerful leader, hatched in a Petri dish and grown in the womb of a cow, he’s now growing up next to a poppy field in the small cottage of Celia, the only person he’s ever known. All that changes the day he makes friends with some other children, and his remarkable coming-of-age experience begins. Surrounded by danger-most people in his community despise clones-Matt comes to love El Patron, the man who he was cloned from, even as he discovers an entirely sinister plot behind his existence. This fast-paced, adventure-filled novel will keep you reading and give you plenty of material for discussion.

 

Housekeeping  |   Marilynne Robinson  |  BG Robinson

Marilynne Robinson’s modern classic novel tells the story of two sisters, Ruth and Lucille, who have been raised partly by their grandmother, marginally by two great-aunts, and then, haphazardly and somewhat completely, by their strange and scattered aunt Sylvie. Sylvie, who “talks a great deal about housekeeping,” is nearly vagrant in her care of the sisters, a situation that grows increasingly difficult for Lucille. When family court finally intervenes, Ruth and Sylvie form a family unit of their own, vanishing into the world without Lucille. This gorgeously written novel focuses on relationships between women and the process of finding individual happiness.

 

I  Capture the Castle  |   Dodie Smith  |  BG Smith

Meet Cassandra Mortmain: 17, living in a falling-down castle with her impoverished family in 1930s England, trying to learn how to write by keeping a journal. Meet her, because you’ll fall in love with this delightful, quick-witted, eccentric character. Dodie Smith’s classic novel tells Cassandra’s coming-of-age story. Initially disdainful of love, but still full of romantic ideas, she experiences an Austen-esque series of adventures with the wealthy American family who moves into the estate near the castle. Cassandra’s charisma pulls you through the novel as she discovers the type of woman she really wants to be.

 

I Heard the Owl Call My Name  |   Margaret Craven  |   BG Craven

I Heard the Owl Call My Name is the simple yet powerful story of a young vicar sent to live with the Kwakiutl tribe in the Pacific Northwest. Unaware of his own impending death, he finds that the tribe’s ways are being eroded by an encroaching American culture. Craven’s classic story is filled with the lush landscape of the Pacific Coast and the heartbreaking alienation felt by Native Americans caught between cultures.

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lax   |  Rebecca Skloot  |  BG 616.0277 Sk45

HeLa cells are a necessity in medical and biotech research. These “immortal” cells—given food and warmth, they continue to grow forever—influenced the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping, in vitro fertilization, and numerous other scientific advancements. The cells originated in the body of Henrietta Lacks, a thirty-year-old woman suffering from cervical cancer that rapidly killed her. Taken without her knowledge or consent, her cells revolutionized modern medicine, yet for two decades her family did not know about them. Skloot’s book examines the medical repercussions of HeLa cells, but it looks more closely at the personal effects. Lacks’s family, who can’t afford health insurance, struggles to pay for medical procedures that exist because of their mother’s cells and have never been compensated for the cells. Medical ethics and legalities are examined, but in the end Skloot’s book, winner of several major literary awards, gives a face to what was previously a pile of cells growing in a test tube.

 

In the Heart of the Sea  |   Nathaniel Philbrick  |  BG 910.9164 P534

Did you know that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was actually based on a true story? Philbrick takes you on an exciting tale of seafaring, a whale attack, survival, starvation and the eventual cannibalism of the crew. This National Book Award winner is a must read.

 

Interpreter of Maladies  |  Jhumpa Lahiri  |  BG Lahiri

Lahiri’s debut, a lyrical representation of life in India and among immigrants in America and Britain, earned her some of the most prestigious awards in fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize and Pen/Hemingway awards. Each story considers the interplay between culture and nationality and how people can or can’t come together. A man fears for his family in the Pakistani Civil War and must rely on the kindness of friends. One couple mourns for a stillborn baby, while another contemplates items left behind in an old house. Each story has a special beauty and resonance. Lahiri demonstrates her outstanding ability to paint human experience.

 

The Invention of Wings  |  Sue Monk Kidd  |  BG Kidd

Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké were two of the earliest abolitionists and suffragettes in America, fighting for equal rights in the 1830’s so vocally that they were eventually exiled from their Charleston, South Carolina home. In this novel, Sue Monk Kidd explores the life of Sarah Grimké along with that of Handful, a black slave who was given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. This “human gift” was so repulsive to Sarah it started in motion her life-long fight for equality. The chapters alternate between Sarah’s and Handful’s perspectives as the two women’s lives and struggles influence each other over decades. Sarah realizes that “we can do little for the slave as long as we’re under the feet of men,” and it is this understanding of the dual nature of her and Handful’s struggles that informs both of their experiences.

 

The Invisible Man  |  Ralph Ellison  |  BG Ellison

Ralph Ellison took the literary world by storm in 1952 when he published this National Book Award winning-novel. The first Black author to win the award, Ellison’s work follows the intellectual journey of a young Black man through the South and 1940’s Harlem. The novel’s provocative, brilliant prose is underscored by a subtle sense of dark humor. Perfect for any group that wants to explore social and psychological conditions.

 

An Irish Country Wedding  |  Patrick Taylor  |  BG Taylor

Set in the fictional North Ireland village of Ballybucklebo, Taylor’s Irish Country novels tell the stories of the townspeople, as experienced by the local MDs, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and the apprentice Dr. Barry Laverty. These gentle, humorous, and sweet stories paint a vivid picture of Ireland in the 1960s. In An Irish Country Wedding, the seventh in the series (the books need not be read in order), Dr. O’Reilly has finally proposed to his childhood sweetheart, but when his housekeeper, Kinky Kincade, comes up ill, a series of dramas—as well as the beginning of the Troubles—might set back the wedding.

 

 

Jane Eyre  | Charlotte Bronte  |  BG Bronte

The novel is a Victorian classic. Having been raised as an unloved orphan in her aunt’s home, Jane Eyre finds her place as governess in Thornfield Hall. Before long Jane’s life is intertwined with the mysterious characters that make up her new home, from the dark Mr. Rochester to his odd servant Grace Pool. Eventually love and drama intertwine as Jane must attempt to understand the strange happenings of the house and desires of her heart.

 

The Killer Angels   |  Michael Shaara  |  BG Shaara

Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes the reader into the minds and hearts of the leaders of the Blue and Gray. Based on the diaries and letters of the men themselves, Shaara brings the complex characters of Lee, Longstreet, and Chamberlain alive for the battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest three days of American history. This easily accessible novel, which is still considered one of the great historical fiction novels, is recommended for anyone interested in the nation’s heritage.

 

The Kitchen House   |  Kathleen Grissom  |  BG Grissom

During the early decades of American slavery, there were also thousands of Irish indentured servants. While these people had eventual access to freedom because of their skin color, during the time of their servitude they were often treated as poorly as the slaves were. Kathleen Grissom’s historical novel The Kitchen House tells the story of this lesser-known detail from that time period. Young Lavinia’s parents die while the family is crossing the ocean to America, and the ship’s captain takes her as servant at his plantation to pay for her passage across the Atlantic. She is assigned to the kitchen house, where she is taught to work by Belle, a slave who is also the captain’s daughter. Lavinia forms a close relationship with the slaves she works alongside, but as she grows older her life’s possibilities and the untenable conditions of slavery begin to fracture the bonds. This novel tells a riveting historical tale while illustrating the devastating consequences of human bondage in all its forms.

 

The Language of Flowers    |  Vanessa Diffenbaugh  |  BG Diffenbaugh

Anemone for abandonment, caledula for enduring the heavy cares of the world, a dahlia for instability, a geranium for melancholy: At 18, Victoria Jones has gathered a bouquet of sorrows. She’s just aged out of the foster care system and, with a string of difficult placements behind her and no one to take care of her, she begins living in a park. Using the knowledge of the Victorian language of flowers—taught to her by the one foster parent with whom she might have had a future, if things had not taken a dark turn—she plants a small garden. When a local florist notices the unique message of Victoria’s flowers, she gives her a job, starting a process that will bring Victoria both the possibility of a strong future and the necessity of facing the impact of old secrets.

 

The Last Lecture   |   Randy Pausch  | BG 921 Pausch

The tradition of the “last lecture” is an old one; a retiring professor gives his last remarks, with the idea of transmitting one final bit of lasting wisdom. When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, gave his last lecture, he knew it was vital to express his wisdom, as he was dying from pancreatic cancer. This book reshapes and deepens his original lecture, conveying truths about living our lives to their fullest.

 

Leaving Home  |  Garrison Keillor  |  BG Keillor

The novel is a terrific book, at turns hilarious and poignant, by one of the finest humorists of our day. Lighthearted and full of warmth, Keillor celebrates the common events that fill our lives. The work is a collection of the author’s Prairie Home Companion radio shorts. Although the pieces are set in fictional Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, the stories remind us of our shared human experience.

 

A Lesson before Dying  |  Ernest Gaines  |  BG Gaines

A brilliant and beautiful novel destined to become an American classic, A Lesson Before Dying explores faith, dignity and redemption. Grant Wiggins has returned to the Louisiana plantation of his youth to teach the local schoolchildren. Jefferson is a young man from the quarter, sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit. At his grandmother’s request, Grant grudgingly accepts the task of teaching Jefferson to face death as a man. In the process, Grant struggles with his own humanity and Jefferson wrestles with his ability to see beyond himself. The novel is a heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful, look at the emotional consequences of prejudice.

 

Letters of a Woman Homesteader  |  Elinore Stewart  |  BG 978.703 St493

After deciding that city life as a laundress wasn’t for her, Elinore Pruitt, a young widowed mother, accepted an offer to assist with a ranch in Wyoming, work that she found exceedingly more rewarding. In this delightful collection of letters, she describes these experiences to her former employer, Mrs. Coney.

 

Light of the Candle  |  Carol Pratt Bradley  |  BG Bradly

Most everyone knows the bible story of Daniel in the lion’s den: captured and taken away to Babylon, he remained true to the religion he learned in Jerusalem by praying three times a day. When he refused to stop, he was thrown into a den of lions, but angels sealed their mouths and saved him. What might not be known is the rest of the story. In Light of the Candle, Utah author Carol Pratt Bradley brings ancient Jerusalem and Babylon to life with the stories of Daniel’s experiences.

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  |  C. S. Lewis  |  BG Lewis

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein were professors at Oxford University, and both were members of Inklings, a literary group who met on Thursday evenings to discuss their work. While Tolkein’s Christian references are subtly woven within his story, Lewis’s are more obvious in his beloved Chronicles of Narnia. The story is also influenced by Celtic, Norse, and Greek mythology. When the Pevensies, four children from England, stumble upon a connection between our world and Narnia, they discover magic, talking animals, friendly satyrs, and a battle between good and evil.

 

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book | Wendy Welch | BG 381.45 W446

A 2013 Boston Globe article explains that owning a bookstore has become a popular dream of many people—and has moved from number 15 to number eight on the list of  “most-wanted retirement careers.” When Wendy Welch decided to open a used book store in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, she knew that fulfilling this ambition would be difficult given the economy, the proliferation of e-readers, and, of course, Amazon. Rather than just a place to buy books, she created a community resource where readers of all sorts make connections with others in the community and the reading world at large. Her book tells the funny, moving, and unique experiences she and her husband had as they established a small-town space where “people go to define themselves for themselves.”

 

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County  | Tiffany Baker | BG Baker

Truly, sister of the petite and beautiful Serena Jane, has a pituitary disease that forces her to grow to extraordinarily large proportions. When their father dies, the sisters are split up, each sent to a different home in small-town Aberdeen. But Serena Jane’s beauty damages rather than redeems, and Truly steps in to raise her son. Spiked with just a touch of magic realism, the novel explores sisterhood, responsibility, relationships, and courage.

 

Little Women  |  Louisa May Alcott  |  BG Alcott

A classic and much-loved book about the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy), Little Women is Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel. When their father leaves to serve in the Civil War, each sister must discover her own inner strengths and talents in order to make her way in the world. As the pranks, mishaps, tragedies, successes and small dramas in the girls’ lives unfold,  the novel explores themes such as transcendental and feminist ideals, the struggle between caring for others and developing individual happiness, the need to be focused on the inner spiritual self, and the resistance of societal expectations.

 

A Long Way from Chicago  |  Richard Peck  |  BG Peck

The book is a set of hilarious tales of an eccentric gun-toting grandmother and her two grandchildren, visiting on their annual summer hiatus from Chicago. The novel, written by the award-winning Richard Peck, is a perfect and beloved yarn for seekers of all ages.

 

Lorna Doone  |  R. D. Blackmore  |  BG Blackmore

A swashbuckling love story set in 17th century England: murder, forbidden love, lost heiresses, highway men, knighthood, and revenge weave together the tale of John Ridd and his love for a woman of an enemy clan, Lorna Doone.

 

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women  |  Harriet Reisen  |  BG 921 Alcott

Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, Little Women, is a partly autobiographical retelling of her childhood, but only of the high points. Not intending to write a beloved classic, she wrote the book—with the features of “moral pap” found in the best sellers of the day—in order to make money for her family. In her thoroughly-researched, narrative biography of Alcott, Harriet Reisen looks behind the public face of an enormously successful writer (Alcott sold more books than Hawthorne, Emerson, or Melville) to the real woman. Alcott’s writing motivation was to provide wealth for her family, but she was a layered and complicated personality. The Woman Behind Little Women explores this personality, revealing Alcott’s imperfect, caring, intelligent identity.

 

Love in the Time of Cholera  |  Gabriel Garcia Marquez  |  BG Garcia Marquez

When Gabriel García Márquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, the committee wrote he had been chosen “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” Love in the Time of Cholera perfectly reflects García Márquez’s commitment to the fantastic and magical, and his realistic depiction of life in South America. When Florentino Ariza falls deliriously in love with Fermina Daza, a beautiful student, his love will survive more than half a century, war, marriage, and, yes, even cholera. An excellent introduction to this unique author’s unforgettable world.

 

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat   |  Oliver Sacks  |   BG 616.8 Sa14

An 88-year-old woman, somewhat deaf, awakens one night to the sound of music from her childhood playing loudly. The songs don’t come from any radio but play loudly and repeatedly in her head. Her ENT and psychiatrist can’t find anything wrong, but her neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, eventually figures out what’s causing the music: a small stroke in the woman’s temporal lobe. That’s just one of the stories Dr. Sacks writes about in this collection of neurological case studies. Published both in medical and literary journals, Sacks’ studies present the intricacies of the human brain and its workings along with the resilience of the human spirit. Interesting, informative, and illuminating, this work will make you think about what it means to be human.

 

Mansfield Park  |  Jane Austen  |  BG Austen

This novel, like all of Jane Austen’s work, is filled with witty dialogue and stinging social criticism. The plot revolves around the shy and sweet-tempered Fanny Price. Taken in by the Bertram’s, rich relatives, Fanny finds herself as an afterthought in the family’s busy world. Over time her compassion and ethics unveil her true worth, value recognized by two very different suitors. Confusion and love result in another magnificent Austen masterpiece.

 

March: A Novel  |  Geraldine Brooks  |  BG Brooks

Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is re-imagined in this novel by Brooks. In the original, the girls wait anxiously for letters from their father, off fighting in the Civil War. In Brooks’ novel, we see the harsh reality of the actual life he leads. Based loosely on Alcott’s real father, March is a minister influenced by Emerson and Thoreau (both family friends) and struggles to maintain his faith and idealism in the face of racism and mercenary behavior from both sides of the conflict. His wife, Marmee, waiting at home with the girls, will uncover uncomfortable truths of her own when her husband ends sick and wounded at Washington Hospital. A unique look at what remains one of the most important periods, and books, in American history.

 

Medicine River  |  Thomas King  |  BG King

Will plans to return to the small town of Medicine River, just outside a reservation in Alberta, Canada, simply for his mother’s funeral. His friend Harlen Bigbear (who is, according to Will, “like the prairie wind. You never knew when he was coming or when he was going to leave”) has other plans. The town needs a photographer, and Will is just the man for the job. He’s got other plans for Will, too, involving a single mother. Harlen and Will are the connecting threads in the novel’s narrative, which moves back and forth through the history of their friendship. A simple, gentle read, Medicine River will make you laugh as you consider your ideas about Native Americans.

 

Middlemarch  |  George Eliot  |  BG Eliot

Dorothea Brooke longs to do something with her life to enrich humanity, but is limited by the boundaries placed on her by Victorian society. Dorothea struggles to find purpose through marriage and love in hopes of reaching her potential to help others.

 

Midnight in Austenland | Shannon Hale | BG Hale

A companion novel to Austenland, this is the story of Charlotte Kinder, whose husband has recently taken up with another woman. She escapes to Pembrook Park—a sort of amusement park for the extreme Jane Austen fan—for a two-week vacation with corsets, balls, and attentive men. Her vacation’s (plotted) romance includes a mystery, which is all fun and games until a real, dead body shows up in a Gothic ruin. As she struggles to solve the mystery, Charlotte just might figure out some truths about herself as well.

 

Midwives  |  Christopher Bohjalion  |  BG Bohjalian

Connie Danforth narrates the story of her mother, Sibyl—a rural Vermont midwife, who was tried for murder for performing an emergency Caesarean section on a woman that may have still been alive. Sibyl must not only face the charges laid against her but the hostility of traditional doctors and the community. In time the truth of what really happened comes to light.

 

Moon Over Manifest  |  Clare Vanderpool  |  BG Vanderpool

Vanderpool’s Newbery-winning novel is set in the town of Manifest Kansas, “a place too far away to ever get back to, a place too good to be real. A place one was proud to call home” during the 1930’s. It tells the story of Abilene Tucker, whose father Gideon has sent her back to live in Manifest for the summer, thinking she’ll be safer there than living a drifter lifestyle with him. Abilene discovers the decades-old mystery of The Rattler along with new friends and a boxful of old objects that lead her to Gideon’s history. Weaving the history of prohibition, orphan trains, Spanish influenza, coal mining and World War One with the lifestyle of a small Midwestern town, the story reads like an instant classic. It manages to combine what is endearing about childhood—mystery, adventure, the power in an object, the pull of story and that deep-seated need for affection and a place to call your own—into a sweet and satisfying experience.

 

Mountains Beyond Mountains  | Tracy Kidder  |  BG 921 Farmer

The book is the true story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a renowned infectious-disease specialist. In his quest to diagnose and cure diseases, Farmer traveled to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Farmer dedicated his life to combating disease and poverty. Many of his ideas are considered innovative solutions to worldwide cycles of suffering.

 

Mrs. Mike  |  Benedict Freedman  |  BG Freedman

Mrs. Mike is the true story of Katherine Mary O’Fallon, a young Irish girl from Boston, who marries Canadian Mountie Sergeant Mike Flannigan, who is priest, doctor and magistrate to all in the wilderness of the North Woods of Canada. Extremely popular, the novel has won the hearts of millions for its depiction of young love’s journey to maturity.

 

My Antonia  |  Willa Cather  |  BG Cather

Willa Cather published her masterpiece My Antonia in 1918 to critical acclaim. Narrator Jim Burden tells the story beginning when, as a small boy, he left his life in civilized Virginia and traveled to the edge of the Nebraska frontier. Jim remembers his childhood friend, the vivacious and spirited Antonia, an immigrant child from Bohemia, and how their own lives, families, and friends were shaped by the beauty and cruelty of the Great Plains. Universal themes of death, youth, and friendship have enthralled readers for the near century this novel has now been in print. My Antonia captures the settling of the American frontier as no other work of fiction ever has.

 

My Brilliant Career  |  Miles Franklin  |  BG Franklin

First published in 1901, Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career remains a remarkable portrait of a sixteen-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a renowned author. Sybylla Melvyn, Franklin’s semi-autobiographical narrator, must struggle against drought and isolation in the Australian outback if she wants to realize her ambitions. Sybylla’s description of life on small hardscrabble farms contrasts sharply with the idealized vision of pioneer and farm life so prevalent today, and her resolve to make a career despite the odds seems especially remarkable in this harsh environment. A marriage with wealthy neighbor Harry Beecham presents a possible escape from poverty and toil for Sybylla, and the resultant love story, combined with Sybylla’s unique voice, has continued to intrigue readers for more than a century.

 

My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer  |  Anousheh Ansari  |  BG 921 Ansari

Ansari was the first Muslim woman to travel into space. In her memoir, she tells the story of her early years in Tehran, her immigration to American, and the financial successes that allowed her to enter the Russian space program. She also writes about her time in space, which was spent not as a professional astronaut, but as an observer, so her experiences are more personal than scientific. A fast and touching read that might inspire you to follow your own dreams.

 

My Grandfather’s Blessings  |  Rachel Remen  |  BG 296.72 R282

In My Grandfather’s Blessings, author Rachel Remen proves that it is possible to embrace spirituality even as a doctor continually facing the realities of life and death. Having grown up emotionally divided between the religious devoutness of her rabbi grandfather and the academic world of her parents, Remen shares with her readers the lessons she learned as she consolidated these two views and embraced healing.

 

My Name is Resolute  |  Nancy Turner  |  BG Turner

A historical novel by the author of These is My Words, My Name is Resolute narrates the story of the daughter of a Jamaican plantation owner. Resolute is kidnapped, along with most of her family save her mother, by pirates and sold as an indentured slave in America. She is driven by the desire to return home to her mother, but her life takes her to many other places: Montreal, a stint with the Native Americans, Massachusetts. It is in Lexington that she is caught up in the political and social upheaval that will lead to the Revolutionary War. This is a long, satisfying novel, built on thorough historical research and solid character development; it brings to life America’s struggle for independence through the perspective of a determined and brave literary character.

 

My Real Children  |  Joe Walton  |  BG Walton

Jo Walton’s novel My Real Children is hard to pin down: part alternate-universe, part family saga, part love story, part travelogue, what it really does is explore the consequences of choice. It tells the story of Patricia, an old woman living in a care center whose chart regularly reads “VC” for “very confused.” She is confused because of dementia, but also because she isn’t sure which of her memories are correct: Did she marry Mark and have four children? Or did she say no to Mark, fall in love with Bee, and have three children? Is her life as a traditional wife and mother the real one? Or the one where she was a travel writer in love with Italy? The novel tells the story of both possible lives, leaving Patricia (and the reader) to decide: which was the real one? This intriguing and unusual novel will push you to look at your own choices and consider how your life was changed by them.

 

North and South  |  Elizabeth Gaskell  |  BG Gaskell

Written as a serialized novel in Charles Dickens’ Household Words in 1855, Gaskell’s classic novel North and South explores issues of industrialization, social injustice, and poverty in northern England. When Margaret Hale’s father gives up his role as a priest in the Church of England after doubting its leadership, the family leaves the pastoral, southern town of Helstone for the industrialized, northern town of Milton. Here Margaret discovers a sharp contrast to her previous experiences, caused by the poverty and difficult working conditions of the factory laborers. She also meets John Thornton, the powerful owner of a cotton mill. Thorton’s mill is facing a striking labor force, while Margaret’s family is also in upheaval caused by her mother’s illness and her brother Fredrick’s legal troubles brought on by a mutiny. The developing romance between Margaret and John, full of antagonism and misunderstanding, binds the story’s varying topics into a cohesive whole.

 

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All  |  Alan Gurganus  |  BG Gurganus

In a distinctly opinionated voice, ninety-five-year-old Lucy Marsden narrates the story of her life in the novel The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. At the age of fifteen, Lucy marries a fifty-year-old Civil War captain who still suffers from war related trauma. Her story is interlaced with vignettes about her childhood, parents, and best friend, a slave named Castalia. She addresses the major issues which confronted the South of her generation including slavery, the position of women in society, and the effects of war on the United States.

 

On the Beach  |  Nevil Shute  |  BG Shute

Written during the height of the Cold War, Nevil Shute’s On the Beach is a haunting reflection on the end of humanity. In the wake of a colossal nuclear war, Australia is still alive, but slowly anticipating the arrival of radioactive fallout from the Northern hemisphere. Still, life must go on much as before – babies must be cared for, people fall in love, and everyone makes their own choices about the coming end. On the Beach changed how the world thought about the threat of nuclear war, and would eventually be made into an award-winning film starring Gregory Peck. The film was the first American movie to premiere in the Soviet Union.

 

Once Upon a Town  |  Bob Greene  |  BG 978.282 G8303

They began almost immediately, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor: the people of a tiny town in Nebraska started feeding the soldiers who came through North Platte by the trainful. A small canteen sprang up at the train depot where the soldiers briefly stopped – for ten or fifteen minutes, they were treated to food, hot coffee, cake, fruit, and hospitality. The community around North Platte joined in the project, and volunteers made sure that the soldiers on every train, from 5:00 a.m. until midnight, were greeted, fed, and encouraged. “I would say that the majority of men on the battlefields knew exactly what North Platte was,” one soldier explains. “They would talk about it like it was a dream.” Chicago Times columnist Bob Greene explores this little-known story from World War II, showing how the kindness of strangers changed lives. This touching read will remind you of the goodness that’s inherent in people and the comfort in good food and a smile.

 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  |  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn  |  BG Solzhenitsyn

Falsely accused of being a spy for the Germans during World War II, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov is sentenced to serve time in the Soviet gulag system. As the title indicates, the book describes a typical day experienced by Ivan in his work camp. Working in temperatures well below freezing, the inmates struggle to stay warm, dream of being released, and always seem to hunger for a scrap of bread to eat or a cigarette to smoke. In simple prose, the author (who himself served time in Stalin’s labor camps) graphically describes what it was like to try to maintain one’s dignity in the face of communist oppression.

 

The Optimist’s Daughter  |  Eudora Welty  |  BG Welty

The Optimist’s Daughter begins when seventy-one-year-old Judge McKelva goes to the hospital complaining of a problem with his vision. His daughter, Laurel, becomes anxious about her father’s health and hurries to his side. Upon her arrival in New Orleans, Laurel must deal with her father’s new wife, Fay, who contributes to Judge McKelva’s lack of recovery and eventual death. As she buries her father, Laurel is forced to consider the weighty topics of life and death, in addition to the balance between the past, present, and future.

 

The Orphan Keeper  |  Camron Wright  |  BG Wright

Growing up in India, Chellamuthu experiences hunger, poverty, abuse, and quite a bit of theft, but everything changes when he is kidnapped and sold to an orphanage. An American family meets him at the orphanage and decides to adopt him, but it is many months before he can speak enough English to tell them that he actually already has a family. A semester abroad in London, spent living with an Indian family, sparks his need to find his birth family. This novel, based on a true story, explores the concept of what creates and defines a family.

 

Out of Africa  |  Isak Dinesen  |  BG 967.62 D612

From 1914 to 1931, Danish aristocrat Baroness Karen Blixen owned and operated a coffee plantation in Kenya. After the plantation failed, she returned to Europe and began to write under the pen name Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa reads like a collection of stories in which she adheres to no strict chronology, gives no explanation of the facts of her life, and apologizes for nothing.

  

Peace Like a River  |  Leif Enger  |  BG Enger

After years of work with Minnesota Public Radio, storyteller Leif Enger weaves together a beautiful expression of love. The novel follows a young family in a heroic trek to find their fugitive brother. Although none of the family finds what they expected, Enger blends faith and hope in a story of family, sacrifice, and religion. The writing is delightful and the story meaningful.

 

Persian Pickle Club  |  Sandra Dallas  |  BG Dallas

In Depression-era Harveyville, Kansas, a group of women form the Persian Pickle Club, erstwhile quilting group turned sisterhood. The newest “Pickle,” Rita, has just moved to Kansas from Denver, and she’s a little bit different from the rest of the group. She’s a big-city girl who doesn’t know the details of living a farm life, let alone quilting, but Queenie Bean, the group’s youngest member and the novel’s narrator, strikes up a friendship with her anyway. When Rita—an aspiring writer—tries to solve the murder of group member Ella’s husband, she discovers that the women aren’t as small-town as they might seem.

 

Plainsong  |  Kent Haruff  |  BG Haruff

Life in the small town of Holt, Colorado, rings true in this rich, unsentimental novel that explores both the complexities of the natural world and human interaction. The novel’s characters struggle with realistic problems in a compassionate ode to the beauty of imperfect humanity. A high school teacher struggles to raise his two boys and deal with his disintegrating marriage. His wife struggles with depression and the guilt she feels as she faces a future that might not include her husband and children. The boys try to understand the pain and violence that accompanies their coming of age in the world. Two brothers live a solitary existence on their ranch, feeling more comfortable with cattle than people. Eventually, the struggles of a young pregnant teenager bring their stories together and testify of the power of community and human decency.

 

The Professor and the Madman   |   Simon Winchester  |  BG 423 W7217

Who would have thought that a madman in an insane asylum would have been one of the greatest contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary?  Although it sounds like fiction, the book it is a true story of the collaboration between the OED scholar James Murray and the incarcerated Dr. Minor (an American Civil War surgeon). This amazing story is both tragic and inspirational—a tribute to the human spirit.

 

Quartered Safe out Here   |   George MacDonald Frazer |  BG 940.5425 F8629

Near the beginning of his memoir, novelist George MacDonald Fraser prepares readers that this is not a historical record of the Burma campaign of World War II; instead, it is the story of his experiences as he recalls them forty years later. Fraser was just 18 when he was sent to Burma, and that difference—an older, experienced author looking back and his young-adult experiences—creates a somehow familiar and comfortable story, even as Fraser discusses the atrocities of war. Humor mixes with death; a vivid new landscape contrasts with Fraser’s sense of England as home. Fraser uses his narrative skills to create the story of his war, bringing to life Calcutta, India, the Burmese jungle as clearly as his fellow soldiers. “There was something else, too,” he writes of Calcutta, “which if it did not transform the second city of Empire, lifted it at least a little from the depths. Everybody smiled.” This war memoir does something similar: It doesn’t transform much of the horror of war experiences, but it still manages to make readers smile.

Range of Motion   |   Elizabeth Berg  |  BG Berg

The scent of morning toast and jam, sunlight on trees in the afternoon, the way a summer evening cools with an unexpected breeze: all of the everyday sensory experience of living a human life are all around us, every day, and yet how often do we really take notice of them? This is the question  Elizabeth Berg’s novel, Range of Motion, puts forth as it examines how Lainey’s live changes as she tries to cope with caring for her husband, who is in a coma after being struck by a chunk of ice falling from a roof. Lainey never stops believing that her husband, Jay, will wake up, and to encourage him, every day she brings some small item to call him back to his life. Berg has a way of using story to examine the way difficult moments propel us to change, and she does so beautifully in this novel.

 

Rebecca  |  Daphne Du Maurier  |  BG Du Maurier

When she arrives at Manderley, the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter discovers not all is as expected. Her husband’s first wife, the seemingly-brilliant, talented, and beautiful Rebecca, haunts both the house itself and its occupants. Attempting to establish her marriage and her place within the house, Mrs. de Winter is challenged at every turn by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Only when Maxim is able to tell his second wife the truths about his first can this gothic story come to its chilling fruition.

 

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place  |  Terry Tempest Williams  |  BG Williams

During two decades — 1940-1960—the U.S. government conducted secret nuclear experiments in the Nevada deserts that caused a series of cancer clusters in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah in the 1980’s. Williams’ family was all affected, leaving her “the family matriarch at age 34.” In Refuge she draws connections between her mother’s death and the flooding of the Great Salt Lake. Her writing is moving, powerful, and lyrical; it will leave you both heart-sore and hopeful.

 

The Remains of the Day  |  Kazuo Ishiguro  |  BG Ishiguro

This quietly magnificent novel tells the story of Stevens, a Victorian butler born into the wrong era. The perfect gentleman, Stevens is an ideal butler to his employer Lord Darlington just prior to and during World War II. But politics and people stand between Stevens and his ideals of keeping the perfect home: the Nazis are gaining power, domestic staff is harder to find, and the new housekeeper, Miss Kenton, is a strong woman who threatens Stevens’ tidy world and reined-in emotions. As Salman Rushdie comments, The Remains of the Day is “a story both beautiful and cruel.” A modern masterpiece of love and regret.

 

The River Between Us  |  Richard Peck  |  BG Peck

Winner of the 2004 Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction, A River Between Us is a masterful tale of mystery and war. 1861 brings changes for young Tilly Pruitt. The nation stands at the brink of war and the only boy in the family, Tilly’s brother Noah, wants to join the fight. That leaves Tilly with her mother and sister struggling to make ends meet. That is, until the elegant Delphine and her dark traveling companion arrive on a steamboat. Rumors fly throughout the town about the odd couple, wondering if the companion is a slave and if the beautiful Delphine could be a Southern spy. The Pruits become entangled in the suspicion when they take the pair into their home. The result is a marvelous novel about the lasting influence one person can have on another.

 

Rose Daughter  |  Robin Mckinley  |  BG McKinley

“Not silly sweethearts’ love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole”—that is the sort of love that roses need to grow healthy blossoms and, in Robin McKinley’s retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, it’s the sort Beauty is able to give. When her merchant father’s ships are lost at sea, the family moves to a tiny cottage far away from anything they know. Rose Cottage, it’s called, but the roses are bedraggled and weak until Beauty starts to nurture them. Then she is called on for an entirely different sort of nurturing. While it follows the usual Beauty-and-the-Beast plot line, Rose Daughter arrives at a very different thematic place, taking a thorny, magical, and slightly-edgy route to the resolution.

 

The Running Dream  |  Wendelin Van Draanen  |  BG Van Draanen

“I am a runner. That’s what I do. That’s who I am. Running is all I know, or want, or care about.” The runner in question, 16-year-old Jessica Carlisle, is her high school track team’s star 400-meter racer. But when she loses her leg in an accident, her identity seems to be amputated as well. What is life worth to a person who lives to run but only has one leg? She discovers that finding the worth in life is a little bit like running: the spark has to come from her, but there’s support if she can reach out and accept it.

 

Same Kind of Different as Me  |  Ron Hall  |  BG 976.4571 H1469

Ron Hall and Denver Moore couldn’t have lived much different lives: Ron, an international art dealer, is wealthy, with a supportive wife and a beautiful home, whereas Denver grew up a modern-day slave in Louisiana before escaping to a life on the streets. They are united, however, by Ron’s wife Debbie. Dying of cancer, Debbie asks Denver to maintain the ministry she began for homeless people in Fort Worth, Texas, and through this work the two men’s disparate lives weave together to form a friendship that redeems them both. This moving true story will remind you of the power friendship has to overcome social boundaries and make both people stronger.

 

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt | Beth Hoffman | BG Hoffmann

When her mother Camille—former Onion Queen of 1951, with a habit of standing in the street to blow kisses at passing cars—is killed, CeeCee Honeycutt is just about on her own. After all, her father isn’t about to step in and take care of her. Luckily, CeeCee’s long-lost great-aunt Tootie shows up in Ohio just hours after the funeral. She whisks her great-niece off to live with her and her maid Oletta in Savannah. Under the care and laughter of her new-found family of southern women, CeeCee discovers that mothers can come in many forms.

 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place  |  Julie Berry  |  BG Berry

The seven students at St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies—Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor—have formed a pleasant little sisterhood away from their horrible families. But when the school’s headmistress and her brother die during their Sunday meal (poisoned, Pocked Louise denounces, by the veal), their situation is threated. So they do what any clever girls would do: hide the bodies and carry on. This Victorian farce, a junior novel full of dark comedy, mystery, and cleverness, is a fun and fast-paced read.

 

The Secret Garden  |  Frances Hodgson Burnett  |  BG Burnett

Burnett’s classic is about a young girl who is anything but sweet. When the reader meets Mary, we can be forgiven for describing her as a brat. Tragedy followed by banishment to a neglected English estate does nothing to improve her character. It will take an equally unpleasant cousin, a young laborer, and a hidden garden to bring happiness the many unhappy characters in this novel. A childhood classic that deserves a re-reading by any adult.

 

The Secret Keeper  |  Kate Morton  |  BG Morton

Kate Morton is the queen of atmospheric, compelling novels that revolve around secrets, and The Secret Keeper is no exception. Avoiding her siblings by hiding in a tree house during a family party, 16-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother kill a man who appears to be an intruder. But fifty years later, when she is an accomplished actress and her mother is near death, Laurel rediscovers questions she has about what she witnessed. Moving through England during World War II, the Blitz, the 60’s and beyond, the story flashes between Laurel’s perspective, her mother’s, and the murdered man’s. A mystery set within a history within an epic family saga, The Secret Keeper explores how ambitions and hopes shape a myriad of lives.

 

The Secret Life of Bees  |   Sue Monk Kidd  |  BG Kidd

Ten years after the death of her mother, all14 year-old Lily Owens has left of her is a mysterious picture of a Black Madonna, with the words “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on the back. After a run-in with the law, Lily and her Black nanny Rosaleen must flee the police and Lily’s abusive father to find the answers Lily has been seeking. With the backdrop of Civil Rights transition occurring around them, the greatest change takes place in Lily and Rosaleen as they discover much more than they expected about love, friendship, and family.

 

Singing School: Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters

|  Robert Pinsky  |  BG 808.1 P657

While working as the US poet laureate, Robert Pinsky created the Favorite Poems Project, a collection of American citizens’ favorite works, many of them read by the citizens themselves on the project’s website. Here, he again gathers poems, but this time as examples. Whether you are a writer of poetry or a reader, a poetry expert or novice, this book will introduce you to accessible poems that act both as literary works and as examples of writing possibilities. Divided into sections such as “form” and “dreaming things up,” the collection works in a myriad of ways, helping readers understand poetry better as they brim with new ideas for writing their own.

 

Sister  |  Rosamund Lupton  |  BG Lupton

When she receives the news that her sister, Tess, has committed suicide, Beatrice Hemming flies home to London. She is certain that artistic, mercurial Tess would never kill herself, so—despite a reluctant detective—Beatrice begins searching for her sister’s murderer. This is a mystery novel that reads like a gothic thriller; creepy, intriguing, and puzzling, it raises hackles and inspires chills. But at its heart it is much more than a whodunit. It is, ultimately, a novel about families and sisterhood that happens to include a murder. Written as a letter from Beatrice to Tess, the novel’s structure allows Beatrice to tell the story of trying to uncovering the murderer while simultaneously writing about Tess’s death and its effect on her. And the ending? Well, the ending comes as a thing both unanticipated and perfectly foreshadowed in the story.

 

Sister, Mother, Husband, Dog  |  Delia Ephron  |  BG 814 Ep38

The title of this essay collection gives a hint to what’s inside. Yes, it’s about relationships the writer Delia Ephron has with her parents (Hollywood screenwriters who insisted their daughters have careers, preferably in the writing industry), her husbands (a first, and then a second), her sisters (Nora, screenwriter and producer of When Harry Met Sally, among other movies, is perhaps the most well-known), and her dog (“because ‘dog’ is the punchline; it has to be funny!”). But in a larger sense, it is about the “jumble of life,” all the odd, sweet, difficult, funny, painful and exhilarating hodge-podge we experience in our lives. It’s about friends and places, losses and accomplishments; it’s at once funny and sad, frantic and conversational. And true—always truthful. If you have ever been a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, you will love this book (even if you don’t love dogs!)

 

The Snow Child  |  Eowyn Ivey  |  BG Ivey

This retelling of the Russian fairy tale “The Snow Maiden” is also a historical novel. It is the story of Jack and Mabel, who’ve left their fairly safe but exceedingly sad life in 1920’s Pennsylvania for the Alaskan frontier. Sad because, except for one stillborn, they never were able to have children, and all of the family reminders around them (the nieces and nephews, the new babies, the excited couples marrying) were just too much. Of course, life in Alaska is hardly easy either, with the short growing season, fierce winters, and isolation. But then, one night of clean snow and happiness, Jack and Mabel build a snow girl, dress her with mittens, a hat, and a scarf. In the morning, they wake to find the knitted clothing gone and a dead rabbit next to the decimated snow girl. Then they find a girl, Faini, wandering in the forest, and their sadness starts to melt away.

 

Someone  |  Alice McDermott  |  BG McDermott

The subject of Someone is life itself, ordinary life with its difficulties and joys. The life in question belongs to Marie Commeford, who grows up in (and eventually away from) Brooklyn. Moving forward and backward through time, the story takes us through Marie’s life, from her pre-depression childhood in New York City through her adult years. Family happiness and strife; the promise and disappointment of romance; motherhood and work and friendship: the intimate, quiet details of a human being living an unremarkable life show just how remarkable humanity really is.

 

The Soul of An Octopus  |  Sy Montomery  |  BG 594.56 M7674

Octopuses might seem like a strange subject for a book, but Sy Montgomery—who’s also written about pigs, monkeys, and parrots—is so skilled at bringing the natural world into clear focus, the subject almost doesn’t matter. Except: octopuses are fascinating! (Who knew?)  Montgomery’s interest in them was sparked one day at the New England Aquarium, where an octopus named Athena reached her tentacles towards her. These intelligent creatures play games, solve puzzles, change colors to show their moods, and interact surprisingly well with their human handlers. Montgomery explores both the octopuses’ world and the people who take care of them, creating a book that will both surprise and delight as it reveals this fascinating animal.

 

The Speckled Monster  |   Jennifer Lee Carrell  |  BG  614.521 C232

Smallpox was a dreaded disease in the early Eighteenth century. For example, an epidemic in Boston from 1721 to 1722 infected 6,000 of the city’s 11,000 inhabitants (about 800 died). Choosing to give oneself a form of the disease seemed tantamount to murder. However, Jennifer Carrell, a writer for Smithsonian, tells the story of two proponents of vaccination. One, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu takes her cause all the way to King George I. The other, Dr. Zabdiel Bylston, faced public opposition in Boston for his early vaccination work, learned from local slaves. Some outraged citizens even tried to kill him when he continued to work on the disease. However, their work revolutionized medical practices and its effect continues to this day. Read about their courageous efforts in this accessible book.

 

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down   |  Anne Fadiman  |  BG 306.461 F126

In the small community of Merced, California, reside thousands of Hmong refugees from the highlands of Laos; among them is the Lee family, whose youngest daughter Lia suffers from severe epilepsy. Anne Fadiman attempts to shed light on Hmong culture and understand the seemingly irreconcilable differences between western medicine and the Hmong in this poignant narrative.

 

A Star for Mrs. Blake   |  April Smith  |  BG Smith

Established in 1928, The Gold Star Mothers Organization helps mothers whose children have been killed in war. During the 1930s, some of these mothers traveled to France to see the graves of their sons, killed in World War I. Smith’s novel explores this little-known historical tidbit. In 1931, Cora Blake receives an invitation to lead a group of five mothers in their travels to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Friendships form during the journey, as well as tensions based on race and class. A warm and hopeful novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake illustrates the lingering consequences of war on survivors.

 

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers  |  Mary Roach  |  BG 611 R53

A crash-test dummy. (What happens to a body when it’s in a car crash?) A subject in an Army Ordnance Department experiment. (Just how, exactly, do bomb shells affect human flesh?) An anthropological assistant. (What happens to a body as it decomposes in, say, a block of cement?) Those are just a few examples of how a body can be useful after dying, the main thread in Mary Roach’s book. Sounds a little creepy, but Roach manages to write about all of the post-mortem possibilities with a dry sense of humor that will leave you grinning, not grossed out.

 

Stones for Ibarra  |  Harriet Doerr  |  BG Doerr

Richard and Sarah Everton move to Ibarra, Mexico, with dreams of reopening Richard’s grandfather’s copper mine. Their idyllic plans to live out their lives surrounded by land and each other are disrupted by neighbors they don’t understand and events they can’t control. This classic tale is their beautiful journey to understand and, eventually, embrace both obstacles.

 

Stones from the River  |  Ursula Hegi  |  BG Hegi

Trudi, a dwarf librarian, tells about the lives of citizens in the small German town of Burgdorf from World War I into the 1950s. In doing so, Trudi learns the secret that unites all humans—that of being different. This book is for everyone who has ever felt they don’t fit in.

 

Survival Lessons  |  Alice Hoffman  |  BG 616.9944 H6751

Novelist Alice Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor, in remission for nearly two decades. Here, she writes the book she wishes she’d had during her diagnosis and treatment. “In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons for myself,” she explains, “to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss.” Not a book about cancer, Survival Lessons is instead about choices and how they affect our perspective. You’ll finish it uplifted and revitalized, ready to see what choices you can make to improve your own life.

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God  |  Zora Hurston  |  BG Hurston

This beloved work has reemerged as one of the premier books of the Twentieth Century. Hurston, relying on her background recording folk history, tells the story of Janie Crawford, an articulate African-American woman in the 1930s. The spunky and unforgettable Janie, explains her quest for identity, three marriages (one of which resulted in her being accused of murder), and a journey to her roots.

 

These is My Words  |  Nancy Turner  |  BG Turner

Written as a diary, this novel is Sarah’s story. At 18, in 1881, she leaves her home in New Mexico to begin a new life on the Arizona frontier. Her journal starts out rough—full of misspellings and awkward sentences—but (with the assistance of a pile of books she discovers) becomes smooth, confident, and powerful, illustrating how her experiences change her. Sarah faces down marauding Native Americans, survives a marriage to an abusive husband, experiences flood, heat, drought, and rattlesnakes, and manages to create a strong, good life, nevertheless. Based on the journals of one of the author’s ancestors, the story is continued by Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden.

 

They Came Like Swallows  |  William Maxwell  |  BG Maxwell

Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, Maxwell captures the psychological complexity of family relations in a small Midwestern town. Elizabeth Morison is the center of life for her husband James and their two boys, Benny and Robert. Her importance, brought into focus by a sudden tragedy, is compassionately displayed through the view of each of the male figures. Maxwell’s sensitive and delicate prose is a tribute to all mothers.

 

Things Fall Apart  |  Chinua Achebe  |  BG Achebe

Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece is considered the first masterpiece written in English by an African author. There are more than eight million copies of the novel in print worldwide. The work explores the cultural collision of Western influences and traditional Nigerian tribal practices. As the story unveils it exposes a shared humanity that transcends national boundaries.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird  |  Harper Lee  |  BG Lee

A terrible crime splits a Southern community along racial lines. However, Atticus Finch, a courageous white lawyer, refuses to sacrifice his principles to public demand. The consequences of his choice affect both his family and the town. This tale of courage, strength, and love is told through the insightful and charming voice of Atticus’ daughter Scout. The novel is a worldwide classic with more than 30 million copies in print.

 

To the Lighthouse  |  Virginia Woolf   |  BG Woolf

In typical Virginia Woolf genius, this novel focuses on the drama of the everyday and the mysteries of time and human bonds. Woolf poignantly follows the complex lives of an English family before the start of World War II and then picks them up again after a ten year hiatus in order to explore the effects of time. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, the novel considers women’s roles in family and in the arts.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  |  Betty Smith  |  BG Smith

Sweet, tender, endearing; realistic, compassionate, heartbreaking. There are many words to describe this novel, but they can all be condensed into just two: so good. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a classic coming-of-age novel, set in New York in the early 1900’s. Francie Nolan is eleven when the novel opens, living in Brooklyn in a tenement house. Her father is an alcoholic but her mother is a strong woman who makes sure her family is provided for. Francie is a quiet, imaginative child, passionate about learning, reading, and writing, but life doesn’t bring her the things she wants. As the story progresses you experience the heartbreaks and triumphs, ambitions and mistakes along with Francie as she, like the Tree of Heaven, flourishes in the world’s stony soil.

 

True Grit  |  Charles Portis  |  BG Portis

“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood,” begins the novel True Grit; incredible, perhaps, but fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross did just that. When her father is shot down in Fort Smith, Arkansas—his horse and his $150 bank roll stolen as well—she heads out into Indian Territory in the company of the meanest U.S. Ranger she can find, Rooster Cogburn. Her goal, of course, is to find Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father, and make sure he is punished for his deed. The outcome of her adventures is the very definition of “grit.” Mattie’s story is by turns funny, sad, heart-pounding and satisfying, a read you won’t soon forget.

 

Undaunted Courage  |  Stephen Ambrose  |  BG 973.46 AM185

Stephen Ambrose, author of Band of Brothers and D-Day, takes on the story of real-life adventurer Meriwether Lewis. Ambrose records Lewis’s friendship with Thomas Jefferson, his interaction with native tribes, the expedition’s battles with the environment and disease, their triumphant return and the aftermath of the journey. Drawing from the journals of members of the “Corps of Discovery” as well as Ambrose’s own experiences following their trail, Undaunted Courage is an entertaining, compelling, and utterly readable account of this epic in American history.

 

Until I Say Good-bye: My Year of Living with Joy  |  Susan Spencer-Wendel  |  BG 921 Wendel

At 44, Susan Spencer-Wendel was an award-winning journalist writing for the Palm Beach Post, with three kids and a happy marriage. One day, her left hand started shriveling; it was the onset of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, although she wouldn’t be officially diagnosed for more than a year. Once she knew the name of her illness and what it would entail—an irreversible weakening of her body’s muscles—she made a choice to seek happiness and fulfilling experiences in whatever time she had left. She quit her job and planned seven vacations to take with the seven most important people in her life; she made scrapbooks with a lifetime’s worth of photos, created a backyard haven, and wrote. The story she tells is sad, of course; we know she is dying. But it is not an examination of death. Instead, it explores living life with purpose, intent, and presence, surrounded by friends and family and actively seeking out joy.

 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox  | Maggie O’Farrell  |  BG O’Farrell

When she receives a phone call explaining that her great aunt Esme is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—and needs somewhere to live—Iris Lockhart is stunned: she didn’t know she had a great aunt. Esme was placed in a mental hospital at the age of sixteen and has lived there, forgotten and written out of her family’s story, for sixty years. Although Iris enjoys her solitary life, she can’t bear to put Esme in the miserable halfway house, so she takes her home with her for a trial weekend. The only living person who once knew all the secrets is Kitty, Esme’s sister and Iris’s grandmother, but since she is suffering from Alzheimer’s, she is only able to express regrets in fragments. Moving between Esme’s memories in 1930’s India and Iris’s contemporary life in Edinburgh, the story is crafted with tension, rich characterization, and a lyrical writing style.

 

Waiting  |  Ha Jin  |  BG Jin

“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu.”  Thus begins Ha Jin’s National Book Award-winning novel, Waiting, a tale the Chicago Tribune calls “a simple love story that transcends cultural barriers.”  Seeking to divorce his wife from an arranged marriage, Lin returns to his village each summer in hopes that he will eventually be able to marry the educated, modern woman he loves. Each summer, however, his wife agrees with the divorce only to back out at the last minute.

 

A Walk in the Woods  |  Bill Bryson  |  BG 917.404 B848

Weaving from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Tail (AT) takes hikers through 2,100 miles of mountains and forests, the longest swath of nature in America. Bill Bryson started on the trail at its southern-most point in Georgia with the goal of hiking the entire length. Then he wrote about his adventures on the trail. A travel memoir, a commentary on small-town America, and a detailed observation of nature, man, and how they interact, A Walk in the Woods will also make you laugh. Come along on Bryson’s AT adventures to discover “the amazing complex delicacy of the woods.”

 

Walking Across Egypt  |  Clyde Edgerton  |  BG Edgerton

Mattie Rigsbee is the spunky center of this funny story. At 78, Mattie wishes for grandchildren, but her kids won’t seem to settle down and deliver the goods. Just as she’s beginning to slow down, teenage delinquent Wesley Benfield enters her life, in need of good cooking and grandmotherly affection. Despite the concern of family and friends, Wesley and Mattie forge a bond in this endearing comic novel.

 

Watership Down  |  Richard Adams  |  BG Adams

This classic tale uses the playful, seemingly simple story of a group of Berkshire rabbits as a text to explore human nature. The rabbits are forced to flee when their traditional home is destroyed by development. In the course of their romping adventure, the band skirts danger and becomes acquainted with a world of myth and culture. The book is written using the dialect and folk history of the English countryside. The work has been cherished ever since its 1972 publication.

 

The Watsons go to Birmingham  |  Christopher Curtis  |  BG Curtis

Kenny Watson’s parents are fed up with his older brother Byron, who is running with the wrong crowd and developing a talent for getting in trouble. They pack up Byron, Kenny and little sister Joetta and head to Birmingham, Alabama. Instead of finding the slower pace and quiet lifestyle they had hoped for, the Watsons witness one of the most chilling events of the Civil Rights struggle. Kenny’s narration is both funny and moving as he intertwines his own story of family love and endurance with the tragic 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church.

 

We Were Liars  |  E. Lockhart  |  BG Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair Eastman—third generation of a bigoted, old-money, establishment family in Massachusetts—her cousins Johnny and Miren, and their aunt’s boyfriend’s son Gant are “the Liars,” running wild all summer on the family’s private island off Martha’s Vineyard. The summer the Liars were fifteen, Cady and Gat fell in love, but something devastating also happened, leaving her with constant headaches and a fuzzy memory. Two years later, she tries to piece together details of the experience. Although it looks at complicated and painful family dynamics through the lens of privilege and wealth, the story strives to point out how insular yet unbelievably lucky the Sinclairs are. Cady’s efforts to dig up the truth about Summer 15 build to a shocking reveal, but the real power in the book is Cady’s voice, tremulous and fractured yet beginning to build in power as she discovers how all the wealth in the world can’t protect against unintended consequences.

 

Wide Sargasso Sea  |  Jean Rhys  |  BG Rhys

As a Creole heiress, Antoinette Cosway lives a life of leisure until she leaves the Caribbean to England. There, she mingles in high society before her marriage leads her to become the crazed Mrs. Rochester. The novel’s question is whether Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre is the victim or the villain? Read the haunting prequel from Mrs. Bertha Rochester’s point of view.

 

The Witch of Blackbird Pond  |  Elizabeth George Spears  |  BG Spears

When her beloved grandfather dies, Kit Tyler is orphaned, and so must sail from Barbados to the village of Wethersfield in the colony of Connecticut. The restrictive rules of Puritan New England do not mix well with Kit’s free spirit, and she gets in trouble often with her uncle Matthew and the villagers. When she strikes up a friendship with an old woman named Hannah—thought to be a witch—she must confront the society’s narrow moral views. Praised for its vivid recreation of colonial America, this book won the 1959 Newbery Medal.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea  |  Ursula K. Le Guin  |  BG Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic fantasy masterpiece reveals the land of Earthsea, a landscape made of hundreds of islands. Here, dragons roam and magic is used by wizards to keep good and evil in balance. Like Tolkein’s Middle-earth, Earthsea is built with an ancient, detailed history and unique language that creates an entirely new world for readers to explore. In A Wizard of Earthsea, the first book in the series, you will meet the wizard Ged, who starts the story as an overconfident boy wizard and becomes, as he survives his training and daunting experiences, a master.

 

Women Write: A Mosaic of Women’s Voices in Fiction, Poetry, Memoir, and Essay  |  Susan Cahill, ed. |  BG 820.8 C1197

Susan Cahill, author of three works of nonfiction, was asked to bring together a sampling of women writing. The result is an anthology that introduces readers to many of the finest women authors of all time. Included in its pages are two Nobel laureates and many of the most beloved 20th century female authors. Enjoy the work of Edith Wharton, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Zora Neale Hurston, Sandra Cisneros, and a host of others all collected in one book.

 

The World’s Strongest Librarian  |  Josh Hanagarne  |  BG 921 Hanagarne

Josh Hanagrarne first developed the tics of Tourette’s Syndrome when he was six, on stage acting the role of a tree in his first-grade play. The syndrome—which he nicknamed Misty—came to influence almost all of his life, from his adolescent experiences to his LDS mission. As he tries to create an adult life around his condition (explained so vividly that readers themselves start to understand a bit of how it feels to live constantly with “an abomination of motor skills gone amok”) he discovers that weight lifting and yogic breathing help him gain some control over his tics. Now a librarian at the downtown Salt Lake City library, Hanagarne mixes his personal narrative with the tales of a metropolitan library, creating a funny, moving memoir that explores faith, books, limitations, family, adaptations, and the lengths we will go to in order to save ourselves.

 

The Worst Hard Time  |  Timothy Egan  |  BG 978.032 Eg14

Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Timothy Egan won the 2006 National Book Award for this harrowing account of the longest and largest environmental disaster in American history: the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. Egan’s portraits of the families who stayed behind are sobering and far less familiar than those who left for California and the West to escape the devastation. Egan interviews the surviving families to tell of towns depopulated to this day, a mother who watched her baby die of “dust pneumonia,” and farmers who gathered tumbleweed as food for their cattle and, eventually, for their children.

 

A Wrinkle in Time  |  Madeline L’Engle  |  BG L’Engle

Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin O’Keefe travel through space, with the help of Mrs. Who, Mrs, Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, to find her father, who has vanished. They find him imprisoned by the powerful IT on the planet of Camazotz, where all people are identical. As much an exploration of good and evil, the consequence of individuality, and the power of loving people as it is an intergalactic adventure, A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbery Medal and changed the lives of countless readers.

 

The Year of Magical Thinking   |  Joan Didion  |  BG 921 Didion

On December 30, 2003, essayist Joan Didion’s husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a massive heart attack. The couple had just returned home from the hospital, where they had been caring for their daughter Quintana who was in a coma. Over the next year, Didion is forced through a series of difficult experiences; some she dealt with calmly and others not as well. This work is a spare, moving, and elegant examination of that year of her life, touching on marriage, parenting, and grief.

 

Updated April 2017