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Book Club Bash Choices: August 2013


The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin $14.95) In March 1990, two men dressed as police officers looted 13 works of art from  the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and this plot-driven novel with great intrigue revisits the unsolved theft.  After reading this book, you will want to go to the museum to see for yourself the bare walls where the paintings once hung. (Sandra)

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (Riverhead $16)  Why would 36 year old Cora Carlisle volunteer to accompany 15 year old Louise Brooks from Wichita, Kansas to New York City in the summer of 1922?  Was it because, as she said, she'd never been to New York and wanted a summer adventure?  Both females will end the summer with totally different lives. (Sandra)

Crusoe's Daughter by Jane Gardam (Europa $16).  In 1904, six-year-old Polly is sent to live with her aunts in a house by the sea. Orphaned shortly thereafter, Polly will spend the next 80 years stranded in this quiet corner of the world. Polly returns again and again to the story of Robinson Crusoe, who, marooned like her, fends off the madness of isolation with imagination. (Nancy)

Dear Life:  Stories by Alice Munro (Vintage $15.95).  "The best short-story writer in English today. . . in every story she finds new ways to make the lives of ordinary people compelling."—Booklist, starred review.  What makes these stories especially meaningful is the author's autobiographical last four stories.  A beautiful collection. (Nancy)

18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev (Open Letter $15.95) A darkly comic love story and adventure featuring a young Bulgarian artist who loses his wife in California, finds a giant bag of marijuana in Mexico, and embarks on a trip across America to find himself and sell his weed. (Tony)

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Helprin (Houghton Mifflin $28, $15.95 pb due in Oct. ).  A magically inspiring, lyrical saga that so powerfully draws you into New York at the dawn of the modern age that, as in a vivid dream, you will not want to leave.  It gives us a real hero and a beautiful romance by one of the great moralist writers of our time. (Nancy)   

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt (St. Martin's $25.99). Barnhardt brilliantly skewers Southern womanhood, Southern manhood, writers, Civil War enthusiasts, UNC, NC State, and most other things many of us below the Mason-Dixon line hold dear. This is the story of the Jarvis family, scions of Charlotte high society until things start to crumble from within and without. (Sarah)

My First Suicide by Jerzy Pilch (Open Letter $15.95) Neither strictly a collection of stories nor a novel, these ten pieces straddle the line between intimate revelation and drunken confession. Combining irony and humor, anecdote and gossip, love and desire with an irresistibly readable style, Pilch belies the despair of the title with an undeniable love of life. (Tony)

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (Ballantine $15) Based on Courtenay’s own childhood and told from the point of view of Peekay,  who is sent to boarding school at age 5,  this is a powerful story set in the South Africa of WWII and apartheid.  Remarkable characters, a gripping plot, and a vividly drawn world. (Sarah)

The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Harper Collins $27.99, $15.99 pb due 9/24)  In Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation, a Native American woman is traumatized by a rape and savage beating in a ceremonial round house, and retreats to her home in silence. Years later, her son, now a public prosecutor, narrates the gripping story of his quest for justice for his mother when he was a 13 year old boy.  (Sandra)

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer (St. Martin's $14.99).  An utterly original, moving, thought-provoking story of two people--childhood friends and now husband and wife facing challenges--autistic child, another pregnancy, a loving but dying mother, an astronaut husband in danger on a NASA mission.  I fell in love with every one of these characters, as did all the reviewers.  (Nancy)

To Hell with Cronje by Ingrid Winterbach (Open Letter $15.95) A South African Heart of Darkness, Ingrid Winterbach's novel is a poetic exploration of friendship and camaraderie, an eerie reflection on the futility of war, and a thought-provoking re-examination of the founding moments of the South African nation. (Tony)

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides (Anchor $15.95)  When Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated his death spurred the largest manhunt in U.S. history.  Sides' account of events leading up to the murder, and of the hunt itself, offers a fascinating, politically nuanced look at race relations in America at the time.  It may be 45 years since King's death, but as recent events have shown, race is still a hot subject in America.  And in 1968, it was a tinderbox. (Rosemary) 

The History of White People by Nell Painter (Norton $17.95).  Looks at the history of “whiteness” as a racial category and rhetorical weapon and how notions of whiteness have morphed over time in response to shifting demographics, aesthetic tastes, and political exigencies.  (Kent)

The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic by Michael Sims (Walker & Co. $16) Sims brings the shy and sometimes melancholy E. B. White to life. It’s great fun to trace the roots of his books in the childhood trips with his family to a lake in backwoods Maine, or in the barn on his farm where he meets the first of several Charlottes. White's deep love and knowledge of the world of animals, and the respect for children and writing that he brought to the careful crafting of all his books, are inspiring. (Sarah)

Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West by Peter Hessler (Harper $14.99).  A collection of Hessler’s best global reportage: on the strength of local traditions, the overlap between opposing cultures, and the lessons drawn from those who straddle different worlds.  (Kent)

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood  by Oliver Sacks (Vintage $15.95) Chronicles his love affair with science, his magnificently odd and sometimes harrowing childhood, and his brilliant London family. (Kent)  


Young Adult


Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Penguin $16.99).  Mo(ses) LoBeau literally washed up on the river banks of Tupelo Landing, NC during a hurricane when she was a baby. She's built a life with her honorary family in this town filled with quirky, endearing characters.  What'll happen when her way of life is threatened? Mystery, surprises, and lots of charm infuse Turnage's debut novel. (Rosemary)

Homecoming  by Cynthia Voigt (Simon & Schuster $7.99).  Being abandoned by their mother is just another step in a journey by the four Tillerman children.  Oldest Dicey holds her remaining family together through an eventful and tumultuous process to reach a place they can call home.  First in the award-winning Tillerman Cycle.  (Rosemary) 

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