Last week, I had a fabulous experience:
In the course of several block parties and other events, I realized we had quite a few very active readers on our block – one of them read 165 books last year, including men as well.
So after some time of thinking, I finally invited my block to meet as a book club. But a special book club, a trading titles one, meaning: we do not need to all read the same book, but we share a book we just read and loved a lot.
It was so much fun, there was so much excitement, when others had read the same titles, and in the exchange after each presentation.
We were 11, 4 men and 7 women. Some couples could not make it this time.
Here are the titles we shared:
Meeting #1 on 01/13/2012
(synopsis taken from Goodreads.com)
1.Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s key (2007) [presented by P. and P. – read by 5 people]
Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family’s apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel’ d’Hiv’s 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France’s past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl’s ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d’Hiv’, to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah’s past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
2. Mary Doria Russell, A Thread of Grace (2005) [presented by M. – read by 3 people]
Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, this new novel is the first in seven years by the bestselling author of The Sparrow and Children of God.
It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.
Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war’s final phase. The result of five years of meticulous research, A Thread of Grace is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell’s many fans and earn her even more.
3. Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption (2010) [presented by J. – read by 3 people]
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
Link to my review [it includes a book trailer]: https://wordsandpeace.com/2010/12/14/unbroken/
4. Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing (2002) [presented by A.]
On Easter day, 1939, at Marian Anderson’s epochal concert on the Washington Mall, David Strom, a German Jewish émigré scientist, meets Delia Daley, a young Philadelphia Negro studying to be a singer. Their mutual love of music draws them together, and—against all odds and better judgment—they marry. They vow to raise their children beyond time, beyond identity, steeped only in song. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth grow up, however, during the Civil Rights era, coming of age in the violent 1960s, and living out adulthood in the racially retrenched late century. Jonah, the eldest, “whose voice could make heads of state repent,” follows a life in his parents’ beloved classical music. Ruth, the youngest, devotes herself to community activism and repudiates the white culture her brother represents. Joseph, the middle child and the narrator of this generation-bridging tale, struggles to find himself and remain connected to them both.
5. Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (2011) [presented by P. – read by 2 people]
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
Link to my review: wordsandpeace.com/2011/11/15/80-review-1q84/
6. Keith Richards, Life (2010) [presented by R.]
Rock ‘n’ roll’s great survivor looks back on an extraordinary life. From the Rolling Stones’ first success in the 1960s through increasing fame and addiction to the present day, Richards tells his story in his own inimitable way.
7. John Sanford, Shock Wave (2011) (Virgil Flowers #5) [presented by B. – read by 2 people]
Talk about risky business.
The superstore chain PyeMart has its sights set on a Minnesota river town, but two very angry groups want to stop it: the local merchants fearing for their businesses, and the environmentalists predicting ecological disaster. The protests don’t seem to be slowing the project down, though, until someone decides to take matters into his own hands.
The first bomb goes off on the top floor of PyeMart’s headquarters. The second one explodes at the construction site itself. The blasts are meant to inflict maximum damage—and they do. Who’s behind the bombs and how far will they go? It’s Virgil Flowers’s job to find out . . . before more people get killed.
8. SJ Watson, Before I Go To Sleep (2011) [presented by me]
‘As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me …’ Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life
Link to my review: https://wordsandpeace.com/2011/11/21/83-before-i-go-to-sleep/
9. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose (1971) [presented by L.]
Angle of Repose tells the story of Lyman Ward, a retired professor of history and author of books about the Western frontier, who returns to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, in the Sierra Nevada. Wheelchair-bound with a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need, Ward is nonetheless embarking on a search of monumental proportions – to rediscover his grandmother, now long dead, who made her own journey to Grass Valley nearly a hundred years earlier. Like other great quests in literature, Lyman Ward’s investigation leads him deep into the dark shadows of his own life.
10. Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle (2006) [presented by J.].
Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.
Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.
What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.
Other titles briefly mentioned:
– Elizabeth Kostova, The Historian
– Emma Donoghue, Room
– Books by Terry Goodkind [genre: fantasy]
– Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
– Patricia MacLachlan, Waiting For The Magic [children book]