It’s that time of year again. Time for book clubs to cast around for new titles. Here are over twenty suggestions I hope will provide mesmerizing reads and great discussions. All are available in paperback.
For Contemporary Fiction Devotees:
The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel. Take one disgraced NYC journalist and banish him to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida. Throw in a new job as a broker for foreclosed homes and the possibility that he fathered a child with his high school girlfriend. Smart writing, great characters.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw. A young girl’s death after a wedding has repercussions over the following decades for the bride, her siblings and a host of friends and lovers. The story is fueled by questions of how far we “carry” guilt and why some people cope better than others.
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg. Edie Middlestein has always lived to eat. Now her husband of over thirty years has left and her children are obsessed with their mother’s morbid obesity. At what point should familial concerns trump individual rights and desires?
For Short Story Lovers:
Dear Life by Alice Munro. Supposedly the last book we’ll see from the High Priestess of Short Stories. Let the wailing begin but only after you’ve devoured and discussed these fourteen stories.
The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham. Each of these clever stories contains the phrase “the news from Spain.” A sharp first collection.
Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber. Another impressive debut collection. Several of these stories focus on mothers and daughters and the myriad of issues that bind and divide them.
Regional Fiction Stand-Outs:
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. An astounding, lyrical first novel set in rural Washington State at the the turn of the 20th century. One of my favorite books from 2012 featuring one of my favorite characters, William Talmadge. He reminded me of Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. In this terrific debut family loyalty is pitted against personal happiness. A young boy in a small North Carolina town is caught between protecting his disabled brother and his community’s fascination with a charismatic preacher.
The Cove by Ron Rash. Few authors meld place and story like Rash. His latest novel is set in a remote Appalachian valley at the height of WWI. A mysterious stranger stumbles into the quiet lives of a shunned woman and her brother, bringing both love and danger with him.
(Here’s yet another opportunity for me to plug one of my all-time favorite books. Serena, Rash’s 2008 novel, is an epic story of lust, greed and revenge. It’s also a great book club selection especially since the movie version is due out later this year.)
Guys and Gals Clubs:
Fobbit by David Abrams. This debut will appeal to both sexes thanks to clever writing and a pitch-perfect narrator. It’s set in a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq where desk jockeys work behind the scenes of the war. Think “The Office” meets “M*A*S*H.”
A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. The main character is middle-aged Alan Clay who has one shot at avoiding bankruptcy and foreclosure: convince a wealthy Saudi Arabian king to purchase an expensive IT program. His biggest challenge is getting a face-to-face with the potential buyer.
The O’Briens by Peter Behrens. Canadian author Behrens is a critics darling who doesn’t get the readership he deserves. His second novel (after his excellent debut, The Law of Dreams) sweeps through six decades in the life of Joe O’Brien and his family beginning around the turn of the 20th century. This book features fine writing and vivid characters. It may remind some readers of The Son by Philipp Meyer.
An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. After the death of his wife, sixty-two-year old Edward Schuyler figures he’ll live out his days alone. But when his stepchildren pop his profile into the New York Review of Books personals, he quickly becomes a hot commodity. This book is witty and engaging with just a touch of the bittersweet.
The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman. In 1920 Edward Mason visits an elderly relative on her gorgeous Maryland estate, Mason’s Retreat. His single goal, inheritance, changes after he hears the engrossing story of the Retreat and the lives of those who lived and died there.
Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment. Retirees Alex and Ruth are having a tough 48-hours. They’re attempting to sell their apartment of 45 years and their beloved elderly dachshund has fallen ill. Tender and nimble, this is a book I wish I could have discussed with others.
The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney. Private detective Ray Lovell has been hired by a Gypsy family to locate their estranged daughter/sister. He’s half Romany himself so why are his new employees so hostile towards him? Superb writing with a neat plot twist.
Defending Jacob by William Landay. How far would you go to protect your teenage son from a murder charge, especially when you suspect him of being a sociopath?
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye. First in a well-researched series set in mid-19th century Manhattan featuring Timothy Wilde, a founding detective in New York City’s police force.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. Part tribute/memoir, part homage to bibliomania. Don’t let the title frighten you away.
The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw. We’ve read books about his wife, his children and his grandchildren. Here’s the definitive biography of the man at the head of the table.
Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers. Even if you’re not a foodie, you’ll be swept away by Samuelsson’s journey from orphan to culinary hotshot.