The Booklist Reader is proud to once again partner with the Women’s National Book Association for National Reading Group Month. Every October, the WNBA supplies a list of Great Group Reads—and this list could not come at a better time of year for many book-group leaders. This is the month when many of us are beginning to plot out the reading paths for our book groups in the coming year, and the Great Group Reads list is an inspiring place to start.
The books are chosen to “help passionate readers find those great gems of mid-list fiction and memoir that may be overlooked in the clamor over the bestsellers.” The Great Group Reads Selection Committee are writers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, publicists, and otherwise passionate readers. Here are this year’s selected titles, with links to Booklist reviews where available:
All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall—and long—narrative a swift movement through time and events
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
It is March 1829, and Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been sentenced to be beheaded for murdering her employer. Due to the cost of keeping her imprisoned, she is sent to the farm of district commissioner Jon Jonsson, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, until her execution. She arrives at the farm filthy, bruised, and bleeding due to the cruelty with which she has been treated during her imprisonment.
Cataract City, by Craig Davidson
Two boyhood friends become adult adversaries, at either ends of the law, in the city of Niagara Falls.
This is the month when many of us are
beginning to plot out the reading paths
for our book groups in the coming year,
and the Great Group Reads list is an
inspiring place to start.
Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani
Set against the backdrop of the Iran-Iraq War, Delijani’s story tells of an interrelated group of Iranians, all of whom are negatively affected by the country’s fundamentalist regime. Azar gives birth in prison only to have her daughter cruelly taken away months later. Leila sacrifices her life as an independent factory worker to raise the children of her two imprisoned sisters.
The Commandant of Lubizec, by Patrick Hicks
This is a fictional account of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland.
Euphoria, by Lily King
Just after a failed suicide attempt, Andrew Bankson, English anthropologist studying the Kiona tribe in the territory of New Guinea, meets a pair of fellow anthropologists fleeing from a cannibalistic tribe down river. Nell Stone is controversial and well respected. Her rough Australian husband, Fen, is envious of her fame and determined to outshine her.
Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
A teenage girl goes missing and is later found to have drowned in a nearby lake, and suddenly a once tight-knit family unravels in unexpected ways. As the daughter of a college professor and his stay-at-home wife in a small Ohio town in the 1970s, Lydia Lee is already unwittingly part of the greater societal changes going on all around her.
Foreign Gods, INC., by Okey Ndibe
Ike, a Nigerian immigrant, hasn’t been able to make it in America. Driving a taxi, divorced, and broke, he continues to look for an angle and thinks he may have found it in an article about an art gallery that buys icons of foreign deities. He returns to his village in Nigeria in search of art but finds his family caught up on both sides of a religious war between Christianity and native beliefs revolving around the god Ngene.
Marching To Zion, by Mary Glickman
This moving novel by a National Jewish Book Award nominee (for One More River, 2011) is set in the Mississippi Valley during and just after WWI, a region and a period deeply affected by historical events: the brutal East St. Louis “race riot” of 1919, the devastating Mississippi River floods of 1927, and the Great Depression soon after—all of which touch the book’s characters profoundly.
Neverhome, by Laird Hunt
Although historical novelists have been slow to honor the brave women who fought in America’s wars disguised as men, several, including Erin Lindsay McCabe and Alex Myers, have recently remedied this oversight. Hunt joins their strong ranks with an enthralling novel about an Indiana farm wife who leaves her husband in 1862 to become a Union soldier; she has her own reasons why.
The Orphans of Race Point, by Patry Francis
Gus Silva is just nine years old when his mother is killed by Gus’ abusive father, marking the boy forever and leaving him desolate with grief and inexpressible guilt. Only the assistance of classmate Hallie Costa, daughter of widower Dr. Nick, pulls Gus from depression.
Painted Horses, by Malcolm Brooks
Set in an American West of the 1950s but carrying vestiges of the nineteenth century, and with Indian artifacts and the ancestry of wild horses going back even earlier, much of this novel, like its milieu, has a timeless feel. Catherine Lemay is a young archaeologist hired to explore a Montana canyon slated for damming and destruction.
Prayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement
In Clement’s powerful new novel, Ladydi Garcia Martinez tells the story of how she grew up in a remote Mexican mountain village disguised as a boy. This was to ensure that the marauding gangs of drug dealers believed that the village was populated solely by adult women and young boys. No men and absolutely no pretty young girls.
The Promise, by Ann Weisgarber
In 1900, pianist Catherine Wainwright abandons her fashionable life in Philadelphia after her shocking affair with a married man is discovered. Heartbroken, destitute, and the subject of gossip, Catherine decides marriage is her only way out. She strikes up a correspondence with Oscar Williams, a childhood friend who once harbored deep feelings for her.
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
Genetics professor Don Tillman’s ordered, predictable life is thrown into chaos when love enters the equation in this immensely enjoyable novel. Never good with social cues, Don explains his difficulty empathizing with others, which he forthrightly says is a defining symptom of the autism spectrum, as a result of his brain simply being wired differently.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with the new Knightly Press sales rep.
An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
While we give merely cursory thought to what the kidnappings of the wealthy in impoverished nations might entail, rising star Gay exposes the full horror of this intimate crime and stealthy weapon of social decimation in her superbly written and excoriating first tale of terror and suspense.
What Is Visible, by Kimberly Elkins
In this fictional treatment of the life of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person to learn language, Elkins aims to show “how little one can possess of what we think it means to be human while still possessing full humanity.” After a raging bout of scarlet fever at the age of two, Laura loses her eyes, her hearing, and her ability to taste and smell. ”
Where Somebody Waits, by Margaret Kaufman
Her statuesque figure topped by a towering crown of flaming red hair, Ruby bears a striking resemblance to America’s reigning comic queen of the 1950s. Equally zany and as headstrong as the beloved Lucille Ball, Ruby might be more than her backwoods Arkansas town can handle.
The World of Rae English, by Lucy Rosenthal
Rae English is an attractive young writer, who after a divorce, relocates to Iowa City to start writing again.