Either I’m getting to know the right publishing reps, they’re getting to know my reading tastes, or it’s just going to be a bumper crop of good stuff for reading groups in 2011, take your pick. But I violated my cardinal rule of “thou shalt not cart home conference swag cause it hurts your back and costs more at flight check-in.” I brought home a stack of great material that will be making it onto the reading lists of a number of Kansas City’s reading groups later this year and into early 2012.
Look for Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante this summer. This debut novel will be a good choice for groups that like mysteries. Dr. Jennifer White is a respected surgeon who tapes notes to her kitchen wall to remind her of her name, age, and children. She has dementia. Her best friend, and sometime rival, Amanda lives down the block and has just been murdered. In addition to her grief and bewilderment, Dr. White is frightened. She is the primary suspect and can’t say for certain she hasn’t committed the crime. Readers will enjoy talking about the tricks our memories can play on us, complex family dynamics, and the strength and intimacy we share with loved ones.
Sometimes the closest familial relationships we share are the ones about which we know the least. Such is the case with Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows, bowing in April. A box of her mother’s belongings arrives on the doorstep of new mother Sam. As Sam begins to examine each object, she learns that her grandmother, Violet, spent her early childhood in New York City before her own mother gave her up by putting Violet on the Orphan Train to the Midwest. The lives of these three women are tied together by secrets Sam will unravel and perhaps pass onto her own daughter, Ella.
Lure some male readers to the book group with Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff. As adrenaline packed as Into Thin Air and as detailed as Ghost Soldiers, this little known episode of World War II history will astound readers. An American plane crashes on a remote tropical Pacific island. The survivors, all badly injured, begin the dangerous climb down the mountainside, hoping to avoid disease, parasites, snakes, and the enemy Japanese. They discover a “lost” tribe of primitive island natives who have never seen white people before. This is only the beginning of their harrowing escape off a jungle paradise. And don’t think the female readers will be left out. Did I mention one of the survivors was a woman? A riveting true-life adventure tale coming in May.
It’s hard to think of a novel set in the 1980s as historical fiction, but I’d better start getting used to it. Tayari Jones’ third novel, Silver Sparrow, is the story of two sisters only one of whom knows they are related. Told in the two lively voices of Dana and Chaurisse, this moving story of fatherhood, secrets, family loyalty and betrayal will hold readers as they wait for the inevitable explosion between the two families. Look for this one in May, too.
Groups that like to dip into short stories will not be disappointed by You Know When the Men Are Gone, an intriguing and tight collection from Siobhan Fallon. Writing from personal experience and observation, Fallon has pulled together a loosely connected set of stories about the Army wives of Fort Hood, Texas. Time and patience are not the same on an army base as they are in civilian life, yet readers will have no trouble recognizing these resilient, likeable, and occasionally funny women. The New York Times has already weighed in on this soon-to-be published collection.
Finally, fans of biographical historical fiction can look forward to The Paris Wife by Paula McLain in March. This rich and romantic novel revolves around the life shared by Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, and possibly the love of his life, Hadley Richardson. Hadley is with Ernest during his formative years in Paris. McLain captures the heady café society of Hemingway’s colleagues, Stein, Fitzgerald, Pound and Hadley’s struggles with her husband’s budding writing career and his personal demons. Book groups who enjoyed Loving Frank will enjoy talking about The Paris Wife.
These are only a few of the discussable gems I encountered at ALA Midwinter. Keep your eyes peeled for more.