It’s Reading Group Month

  As book groups across the county look for new titles and prepare  lists for their book discussion groups, the Women’s  National Book Association (WNBA) has already been hard at work preparing for National Reading Group Month, vetting  and selecting new titles from the publishers, that would make GREAT group discussion books.  Each year they create a list, Great Group Reads.

As explained by the WNBA , Great Group Reads 2011 titles are selected on the basis of their appeal to reading groups that will open up lively conversations about  timely and provocative topics, from the dynamics of personal relationships to major cultural and world issues. The 20-member Committee also focuses its attention on gems from small presses and lesser-known mid-list releases from larger houses. All are books with strong narratives peopled by fully realized characters; books which perhaps have fl own under the radar of reviewers.   (from Women’s National Book Association)

Some 2011 Great Group Reads Selections


The Beauty of Humanity Movement  by Camilla Gibb

Raised in the United States but Vietnamese by birth, Maggie has come to Hanoi seeking clues about the fate of her father, a dissident artist who disappeared during the war. Her search brings her to Old Man Hu’ng’s pho stall and Tu’, a hustling young entrepreneur. Maggie, Hu’ng, and Tu’ come together during a highly charged season that will mark them forever. Exploring the indelible legacies of war and art, as well as love’s power to renew, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a stellar achievement by a globally renowned literary light.   From the acclaimed author of Sweetness in the Belly.  (Penguin Putnam) 

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War by Annia Ciezadlo

 “I cook to comprehend the place I’ve landed in,” muses Ciezadlo  in her first book, a vividly written memoir of her adventures in travel and taste in the Middle East. She fills her pages with luminous, funny, and stirring portraits of the places and people she came across in her time abroad. There is always her passion for food and the conundrums she faced in her wanderings;  the struggle to define identity, ethnic and personal, and the challenge of maintaining social continuity in wartime. The capstone to all her thoughtful ruminations is a mouthwatering final chapter collecting many of the dishes she describes earlier in the book. She does this all in writing that is forthright and evocative, and she reminds us that the best memoirs are kaleidoscopes that blend an author’s life and larger truths to make a sparkling whole.  (Booklist)

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

Fifty years after an unconventional reporter of genteel origins becomes a single mother, present-day London painter Elina navigates the first weeks of single motherhood upon surviving a dangerous labor and learns that her life is disconcertingly linked to the woman from the past.  A spellbinding novel of two women connected  by art, love, betrayals, secrets, and motherhood. Like her acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, it is a “breathtaking, heart-breaking creation.” And it is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.  (Houghton)


My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

The Civil War offers a 20-year-old midwife who dreams of becoming a doctor the medical experience she craves, plus hard work and heartbreak, in this rich debut that takes readers from an upstate New York doctor’s office to a Union hospital overflowing with the wounded and dying. Though she’s too young for the nursing corps, she goes to Washington anyway and is led to the Union Hotel Hospital, where she assists chief surgeon William Stipp. From a variety of perspectives Mary, Stipp, their families, and social, political, and military leaders the novel offers readers a picture of a time of medical hardship, crisis, and opportunity. Oliveira depicts fine details that set this novel above the gauzier variety of Civil War fiction. The focus on often horrific medicine and the women who practiced it against all odds makes for compelling reading.   (Publishers  Weekly)

Silver Sparrow : A Novel by Tayari Jones

“My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.” Thus begins Silver Sparrow, a story that winds its way around this one life-making fact. Set in 1980’s Atlanta, the book peels open James’s  two lives, the one with his legitimate wife and daughter, Laverne and Chaurisse Witherspoon, and the one with his secret family, Gwendolyn and Dana Yarboro. Told from the points of view of both daughters, what unfolds in these pages has nothing to do with convention and everything to do with love, how it pushes and prods you to startling ends, and compels you to make choices you would never imagine.

Silver Sparrow is Jones’s third novel, and she writes with the adeptness and grace of one who is both gifted and highly skilled at her craft. Her narrators’ voices ring with authenticity, their openness frank and unflinching. The story holds not a wink of sentimentality or woe-is-me-ism, and it’s what allows Jones to pull off this tale of deception, secrets, and four women scorned.  (ForeWord Reviews)


Under the Mercy Trees by Heather Newton

A melancholy mood suffuses Newton’s nimble debut about a middle-aged man who returns, reluctantly, to his rural North Carolina hometown. Martin Owenby might have never again set foot in Willoby County if it weren’t for the disappearance of his ornery brother, Leon. Now he finds himself in the company of the same damaged souls he fled decades before.  Martin, who has kept his homosexuality a secret, reconnects with his high-school sweetheart, now married.  As time passes, family and friends begin to lose hope that Leon is alive. In this eloquent, sorrowful novel, short-story writer Newton gradually reveals dark secrets about each member of the Owenby clan, including Leon, who may have had good reason to disappear. Readers of both Pat Conroy, on one hand, and Carson McCullers, on the other, will relish Newton’s flawed characters and piquant portrayal of small-town life.   (Booklist)


The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

Thompson brings together all of her talents to deliver the career-defining novel her admirers have been waiting for: a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century. It begins in 1973, and follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious, richly told, and fiercely American, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character. The National Book Award finalist author of Who Do You Love and Throw Like a Girl chronicles the Eriksons from coming-of-age to the present day, in a story told from revolving viewpoints.   (Simon & Schuster)


You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

When you leave Fort Hood, the sign above the gate warns, You’ve Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming. It is eerily prescient.  There is an army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians’ speeches.   An anthology of interconnected stories tours the experiences of military wives who are privy to each others’ lives in community housing and who share a poignant vigil  waiting for their husbands to return.   (Penguin Putnam)


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