Here are my book club choices for 2017 and other books nominated. Descriptions come from Amazon.
Book Club Choices for 2017
Dawn Dumont– Rose’s Run
Rose Okanese, website like this a single mother with two kids, stomach has been pushed into a corner by Rez citizens to claim some self-respect, and decides that the fastest way to do that would be for her to run the reserve’s annual marathon. Though Rose hasn’t run in twenty years, smokes and initially has little motivation, she announces her intention to run the race. One quality Rose doesn’t lack is spontaneity which sometimes clashes with her iron will and though she has initial regrets about opening her mouth, her life begins to dictate that she must follow through. With a cast of unusual and unfamiliar characters, Dumont interweaves a tale of motherly love, friendship, lustful longing, wîhtikow lore, and Rez humour and keeps the hoopla going until the race is done.
At the story’s vortex is Rose, a woman destined to face her fears and provide some rich laughter while doing so. Will she send a demon back to where it came from before the spirit claims her teen daughter? Will she get back together with her philandering, rock musician husband before her girls grow up? Will she sort out her best friend’s winter pregnancy? But more importantly, will she get this all done before her big, face-saving race with Dahlia Ingram, a woman whom God has designed for one purpose: to run long distances at high speeds with effortless grace.
Christina Baker Kline – Orphan Train
An unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past.
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.
Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.
Ian McEwan – Nutshell
An altogether original story of deceit and murder, told by a narrator with a perspective and voice unlike any in recent literature. Love and betrayal, life and death come together in the most unexpected, moving ways in this sensational new novel from Ian McEwan, which will make readers first gasp with astonishment then laugh with delight. Dazzling, funny and audacious, it is the finest recent work from a true master, beautifully told, brilliantly executed.
Derek B. Miller – Norwegian by Night
A soulful, humane, and sparklingly funny novel. Spend some time with Sheldon and company in the Scandinavian wilderness and you just might make peace with your god, your ghosts, and yourself.’ – Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
Sheldon Horowitz-widowed, impatient, impertinent-has grudgingly agreed to leave New York and move in with his granddaughter, Rhea, and her new husband, Lars, in Norway-a country of blue and ice with one thousand Jews, not one of them a former Marine sniper in the Korean War turned watch repairman. Not until now, anyway. Home alone one morning, Sheldon witnesses a dispute between the woman who lives upstairs and an aggressive stranger. When events turn dire, Sheldon seizes and shields the neighbor’s young son from the violence, and they flee the scene. As Sheldon and the boy look for a safe haven in an alien world, past and present weave together, forcing them ever forward to a wrenching moment of truth.
‘This is one of the best books of the season, of any genre.’ – Buffalo News “ “Has the brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller.” — New York Times
Claire North (Catherine Webb)– The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
Until now. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.” This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.
Ann Patchett – Commonwealth
The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.
One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.
When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.
Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.
Kevin Patterson – The News From the Red Desert
News From the Red Desert begins in late 2001, when everyone believes the war is already won and the Taliban defeated, then leaps late in the severely escalated conflict–into the mess, and death, and confusion. At its heart are the men and women who have come to Afghanistan to seek purpose, and adventure, and danger, by engaging in the most bewitching and treacherous of human pursuits: making war.
It’s the story of Deirdre O’Malley, an American journalist who had been covering municipal politics when the airplanes went into the towers. Now a war correspondent, she has come to love the soldiers she covers and to grieve so hard over their wounds and their deaths she considers herself a member of the mission too. Embedded with Canadian infantry, she can’t ignore the situation on the ground. Her loyalty toward her ex-lover, the American general who has taken command of the theatre, wavers as the war wavers, and the use of torture and the slaughter of civilians is brought to light. Fuelling the tension is a melancholy American supply sergeant who accidentally releases a trove of war porn online that sparks a furious hunt for the person who leaked it. Fearing arrest at any moment, he has stayed on too long in Kandahar for reasons he doesn’t understand himself. Caught up in these currents are the Pakistanis who operate the Green Beans café on the Kandahar Airfield, led by optimist Rami Issay, who wants to lighten his customers’ hearts (and make a success of his business) by running film and chess clubs in the only zone of recreation on the base. But the war intrudes even into the lives of the well-intentioned. In a powerful climax that tests everyone’s loyalty and faith, the essential chaos of violence asserts itself. Love and desire endure, but no-one escapes unscathed.
Madeleine Thien – Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Madeleine Thien’s new novel is breathtaking in scope and ambition even as it is hauntingly intimate. With the ease and skill of a master storyteller, Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century. With exquisite writing sharpened by a surprising vein of wit and sly humour, Thien has crafted unforgettable characters who are by turns flinty and headstrong, dreamy and tender, foolish and wise.
At the centre of this epic tale, as capacious and mysterious as life itself, are enigmatic Sparrow, a genius composer who wishes desperately to create music yet can find truth only in silence; his mother and aunt, Big Mother Knife and Swirl, survivors with captivating singing voices and an unbreakable bond; Sparrow’s ethereal cousin Zhuli, daughter of Swirl and storyteller Wen the Dreamer, who as a child witnesses the denunciation of her parents and as a young woman becomes the target of denunciations herself; and headstrong, talented Kai, best friend of Sparrow and Zhuli, and a determinedly successful musician who is a virtuoso at masking his true self until the day he can hide no longer. Here, too, is Kai’s daughter, the ever-questioning mathematician Marie, who pieces together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking a fragile meaning in the layers of their collective story.
With maturity and sophistication, humour and beauty, a huge heart and impressive understanding, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.
Amor Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow
He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to. From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.
Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose
Julian Barnes – The Noise of Time
The book begins in 1936, with Dmitri Shostakovich petrified at the age of thirty and fearing for his livelihood and even his life. His opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District has just been denounced in Pravda in an article that certainly reflects the opinion of Joseph Stalin himself. Every night he waits on the landing outside his apartment, expecting NKVD agents to come and whisk him away. Shostakovich reflects on not only his predicament but also his own personal history, his parents and his various women and wives and his children, and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate.
When the interrogation he fears does eventually arrive, a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming a casualty of the Great Terror that claims so many of his friends and contemporaries–“chips that had flown while the wood was being chopped.” Still, the spectre of the government hovers over him for several further decades, forcing him to constantly weigh the merits of appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music. Barnes elegantly guides us through subsequent stages of Shostakovich’s life, from being ground into the dirt under the thumb of despotism to being made to serve as a figurehead of Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York, and finally being forced into joining the Party. The trajectory of his career illuminates the evolution of the Soviet Union, with Nikita Khrushchev assuming its leadership, this providing no great joy to Shostakovich.
The Noise of Time is both a heartbreaking account of a relentlessly fascinating man’s experience and a brilliant meditation on the meaning of art and its place in society.
David Bergen – Stranger
Íso, a young Guatemalan woman, works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. She tends to the rich northern women who visit the clinic hoping that the waters of the nearby lake might increase their chances of conception. Like many of the women working at the clinic, Íso is aware of the resident American doctor, Eric Mann. Soon Íso is his secret lover, stealing away with Dr. Mann on long motorcycle rides through the mountains and enjoying beach vacations with Eric and his doctor friends. But their tryst does not last long. Dr. Mann decides he will return to the US, and a freak accident cuts the couple’s time together even shorter. Before Íso can tell Dr. Mann that she is pregnant, he is gone.
After the birth of her daughter, the baby is taken from her. The director of the clinic informs Íso that her child is in America. Determined to reclaim her stolen daughter, Íso makes her way north through Mexico, eventually crossing illegally into a United States divided into military zones. Travelling without documentation, and with little money, Íso descends into a world full of danger. In a place of shifting boundaries, Íso must determine who she can trust and how much, aware that she might lose her daughter forever.
The profound intelligence and political resonance we have come to expect from Bergen sit front and centre in Stranger, contributing to the growing legacy of this Giller Prize–winning author. With its themes of dislocation and disruption, of power and vulnerability, of rich and of poor, Stranger is a powerfully resonant political novel for our times.
Nina George – The Little Paris Bookshop
Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.
After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.
Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people’s lives.
Terry Hayes – I Am Pilgrim
Breakneck race against time…and an implacable enemy.
An anonymous young woman murdered in a run-down hotel, all identifying characteristics dissolved by acid. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering heat of a Saudi Arabian public square.
A notorious Syrian biotech expert found eyeless in a Damascus junkyard. Smoldering human remains on a remote mountainside in Afghanistan.A flawless plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity.
One path links them all, and only one man can make the journey. Pilgrim.
“I Am Pilgrim is a 21st century thriller: a high concept plot, but with finely drawn protagonists. The plot twists and turns like a python in a sack. The style is visceral, gritty and cinematic…A satisfying and ambitious book, written with skill and verve.” (Adam LeBor The Times, UK) “I AM PILGRIM Is the Best Book of 2014” (The Huffington Post)
Robert Hough –Final Confession of Mabel Stark
In the 1910s and 1920s, when circus was the most popular form of entertainment in North America, Mabel Stark made her name in a man’s world as the greatest female tiger trainer in history, the centre-ring finale act for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. Brazen, courageous, obsessed with tigers and sexually eccentric, Stark survived a dozen severe maulings — and five husbands. Now, at age 80 and about to lose her job, she decides that there is one last thing she needs to do: Mabel Stark wants to confess.
This ribald, rough-hewn debut novel by a prize-winning Canadian writer is based on the flamboyant career of Mabel Stark, arguably the greatest (certainly the greatest female) tiger trainer of all time. Recounted as Stark is turning 80 in 1968, the faux memoir follows her path to superstardom through the 1910s and ’20s as she learns to tame tigers and men, and finally tours with the famous Ringling Brothers Circus. Stark, born Mary Haynie, is a teenage Louisville, Ky., nurse, when she is committed to a mental hospital after rebelling against her brutish husband’s insensitivity. Aided by a smitten psychiatrist, she escapes to Tennessee, where she becomes Little Egypt, a headliner belly dancer with the Great Parker Carnival. Another marriage and another gig as a “cooch dancer” follow, until she is rescued at the age of 23 by Al G. Barnes, a carny pal, lately owner of a small circus. When the show’s animal trainer falls for her, he teaches her how to work with tigers and a new career is launched. Famous for the act in which she wrestles Rajah, a 500-pound Bengal tiger she’s raised from a cub, she is also known for her brazenness, multiple marriages (“My men. Whew. Had a slew of them”) and black leather jumpsuit. Rich in the atmosphere of circus life, this graphic, slangy fictional reminiscence also offers some surprising, deft metafictional touches.
Annie Proulx – Barkskins
In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.
Proulx’s inimitable genius is her creation of characters who are so vivid—in their greed, lust, vengefulness, or their simple compassion and hope—that we follow them with fierce attention. Annie Proulx is one of the most formidable and compelling American writers, and Barkskins is her greatest novel, a magnificent marriage of history and imagination.
Timothy Taylor – Stanley Park
A young chef who revels in local bounty, a long-ago murder that remains unsolved, the homeless of Stanley Park, a smooth-talking businessman named Dante — these are the ingredients of Timothy Taylor’s stunning debut novel — Kitchen Confidential meets The Edible Woman.
Trained in France, Jeremy Papier, the young Vancouver chef, is becoming known for his unpretentious dishes that highlight fresh, local ingredients. His restaurant, The Monkey’s Paw Bistro, while struggling financially, is attracting the attention of local foodies, and is not going unnoticed by Dante Beale, owner of a successful coffeehouse chain, Dante’s Inferno. Meanwhile, Jeremy’s father, an eccentric anthropologist, has moved into Stanley Park to better acquaint himself with the homeless and their daily struggles for food, shelter and company. Jeremy’s father also has a strange fascination for a years-old unsolved murder case, known as “The Babes in the Wood” and asks Jeremy to help him research it.
Dante is dying to get his hands on The Monkey’s Paw. When Jeremy’s elaborate financial kite begins to fall, he is forced to sell to Dante and become his employee. The restaurant is closed for renovations, Inferno style. Jeremy plans a menu for opening night that he intends to be the greatest culinary statement he’s ever made, one that unites the homeless with high foody society in a paparazzi-covered celebration of “local splendour.”
Ludmila Ulitskaya – The Big Green Tent
The Big Green Tent epitomizes what we think of when we imagine the classic Russian novel.
With epic breadth and intimate detail, Ludmila Ulitskaya’s remarkable work tells the story of three school friends who meet in Moscow in the 1950s and go on to embody the heroism, folly, compromise, and hope of the Soviet dissident experience. These three boys?an orphaned poet; a gifted, fragile pianist; and a budding photographer with a talent for collecting secrets?struggle to reach adulthood in a society where their heroes have been censored and exiled. Rich with love stories, intrigue, and a cast
The Big Green Tent offers a panoramic survey of life after Stalin and a dramatic investigation into the prospects for individual integrity in a society defined by the KGB. Each of the central characters seeks to transcend an oppressive regime through art, a love of Russian literature, and activism. And each of them ends up face-to-face with a secret police that is highly skilled at fomenting paranoia, division, and self-betrayal. A man and his wife each become collaborators, without the other knowing; an artist is chased into the woods, where he remains in hiding for four years; a researcher is forced to deem a patient insane, damning him to torture in a psychiatric ward. Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel belongs to the tradition of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pasternak: it is a work consumed with politics, love, and belief?and a revelation of life in dark times.
Esme Weijun Wang – The Border of Paradise
A remarkable multigenerational novel, The Border of Paradise transports readers into the world of an iconoclastic midcentury family.
In booming postwar Brooklyn, the Nowak Piano Company is an American success story. There is just one problem: the Nowak’s only son, David. A handsome kid and shy like his mother, David struggles with neuroses. If not for his only friend, Marianne, David’s life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame – beautiful, sharp-tongued Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California’s Polk Valley.
As David’s mental health deteriorates, he has a brief affair with Marianne, producing a daughter. When Marianne appears at their doorstep, the couple’s fateful decision to take the child as their own determines a tragic course of events for the entire family. Told from multiple perspectives, The Border of Paradise culminates in heartrending fashion, as the young heirs to the Nowak fortune must confront their past and the tragic reality of their future.
Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.