March 1, 2013

10 Great Books (perfect for a book club)

When I was working on my last post about books for middle elementary kids, I was thinking about all the great books that I've read myself.  I think one of the reasons my kids love to read so much is because I love to read.    Granted, I don't have nearly as much free time for pleasure-reading as I did before kids, but I still love to read whenever I get the chance. 

Figuring that some of you might also enjoy reading as much as I do, I thought I'd compile a short list of some of my favorites.  Some I've read as part of a book club, others just on my own.  The topics and styles are fairly varied, but each of these books have been memorable and the stories and characters have stayed with me long after I put the book down.  

Here's my list...  
(I've included a brief description from Amazon as well as a sentence or two of my own)


book club suggestions, great books, book club ideas




The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

     "After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
      Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them."
I just read this book last month and loved it.  Throughout the story, you see how even when people have the best of intentions, their actions can deeply affect those around them.



Room by Emma Donaghue

    "To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
     Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
     Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, ROOM is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another."
Wow, what a book this was!  I read it in my book club and it brought up so many interesting discussions.  It would have been a horrifying tale if told from the mother's perspective, but told though a child's eyes you see the horrors in a whole different way



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  "Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.
      Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of. "

This was such a fascinating non-fiction read.  Cells taken from Henrietta Lacks without her knowledge were developed and used for decades.  Vaccines and tons of scientific research were done with these HeLa cells and their value was in the billions of dollars.  Meanwhile, her children and grandchildren were living years later in relative poverty, with no health insurance and no clear understanding of exactly how their mother's cells were still alive.



The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

   "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 townRex 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."

I really enjoyed this memoir.  I love reading about the strength some people have to overcome adversity and that trait was so evident in this book.  I also enjoyed reading Walls' story about her hard-working and resilient grandmother in Half Broke Horses



Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

"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.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode."

I always find myself drawn to historical fiction and this was such a moving story.  It's one of those books that just haunts you, long after you put it down.



 Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

     "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."

Another non-fiction book and one that very well might be my favorite book ever.  It's definitely the one I recommend the most to anyone ~ male or female.   Zamperini is just one fascinating man with a strength that very few people are capable of.  Whenever I feel myself getting overwhelmed by life, I think of his story and my obstacles seem much more manageable.



The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen

 "Based on the remarkable true story of a freed African American slave who returned to Virginia at the onset of the Civil War to spy on the Confederates, The Secrets of Mary Bowser is a masterful debut by an exciting new novelist. Author Lois Leveen combines fascinating facts and ingenious speculation to craft a historical novel that will enthrall readers of women’s fiction, historical fiction, and acclaimed works like Cane River and Cold Mountain that offer intimate looks at the twin nightmares of slavery and Civil War. A powerful and unforgettable story of a woman who risked her own freedom to bring freedom to millions of others, The Secrets of Mary Bowser celebrates the courageous achievements of a little known but truly inspirational American heroine."

I mentioned before that I really like historical fiction and I definitely enjoyed this book.  It was such a neat perspective on slavery and the Civil War and I love that it was based on a little-known real person.




Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

     "I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.
      So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives.
     In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright.
      Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan’s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world. Mamah’s is an unforgettable journey marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility, leading inexorably ultimately lead to this novel’s stunning conclusion.

Okay, I know this is yet another historical fiction novel on my list, but it was such a great story.  After reading it, I found myself googling all sorts of facts from the book, seeing the buildings and reading about the real-life people it was based on.




Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

All children should believe they are special. But the students of Hailsham, an elite school in the English countryside, are so special that visitors shun them, and only by rumor and the occasional fleeting remark by a teacher do they discover their unconventional origins and strange destiny. Kazuo Ishiguro's sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, is a masterpiece of indirection. Like the students of Hailsham, readers are "told but not told" what is going on and should be allowed to discover the secrets of Hailsham and the truth about these children on their own. Offsetting the bizarreness of these revelations is the placid, measured voice of the narrator, Kathy H., a 31-year-old Hailsham alumna who, at the close of the 1990s, is consciously ending one phase of her life and beginning another. She is in a reflective mood, and recounts not only her childhood memories, but her quest in adulthood to find out more about Hailsham and the idealistic women who ran it. Although often poignant, Kathy's matter-of-fact narration blunts the sharper emotional effects you might expect in a novel that deals with illness, self-sacrifice, and the severe restriction of personal freedoms. As in Ishiguro's best-known work, The Remains of the Day, only after closing the book do you absorb the magnitude of what his characters endure.

I read this book a few years ago for another book club.  I really liked it, others in the group did not.   It's science fiction that's just slightly beyond what might be possible with advances in bioengineering.




 Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
     Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what's it's like to literally lose your mind...

 Another book club book that I really enjoyed.  Like Room that I talked about before, this book is an example of how the point of view of a story can really impact the tale.  Because it's told from the perspective of an Alzheimer's patient, we really get an idea of what it feels like to slowly lose your awareness of your life and surroundings.


Have you read any of these books?  If so, did you like them?   Have any other great books to recommend?  I'm always looking for new reads.

Disclosure:  This post contains Amazon links and I am an Amazon associate. 

29 comments:

  1. The only book that I have read is Room. It most definitely was an interesting read and like you said the fact that it was put in the point of view of a five year old child made it much more interesting and put a totally different twist rather than had the mother told it. It is one that makes you think about things a lot even after you finish reading it, and I think that was something I really enjoyed.

    Thank you for the list there are a couple of them that I have added to my list of books to read!

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  2. I've read more than half of the books that you recommended. All of them I would recommend as well. Unbroken is probably my all time favorite, but The Light Between Oceans is a close second. I cried like a baby!

    I just placed a hold on The Secrets of Mary Browser. Seems like one I would love. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry right now. Good read, not the best, but worth picking up. Also, just finished Call the Midwife. Excited to start the sequel of it once I finish my other book. So many good reads!

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  3. My Book Club has read The Light Between Oceans, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Half-Broke Horses, and Sarah's Key. I loved all of them! I would recommend The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

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    1. I've read both of those too, Phaedra, and liked them. Kite Runner was excellent. For some reason, it took me awhile to get into The Book Thief. I put it down and picked it back up again several times. However, once I got about a quarter of the way through, I really got into it and enjoyed it.

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  4. What a great list! No, I haven't read any of these before, so there's lots for me to choose from. I tend to enjoy non-fiction books, so the ones you mentioned will probably go on my to-read list. Room looks interesting enough to give it a go. :) And some of the historical fiction ones you mentioned.

    Thanks!

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  5. I have heard of most of these books, but only read the Heniretta Lacks one. I think a couple of my favorite books I read last year were 11/22/63, Gone Girl, The invention of Hugo Cabret and Calico Joe.

    I love getting book recommendations! Finding new good books can be hard sometimes.

    Check out my new years resolution regarding books at http://www.amycoleman1.blogspot.com

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  6. I liked "The Light Between Two Oceans". Our book club is reading "The Last Letter From Your Lover" which is okay. I'm going to pick the book next time and I was thinking about "The Lost Child" by John Hart. It's a thriller and gets good reviews.

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  7. I've never read any of these but some of them definitely made my list! I recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King if you like historical fiction!

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  8. I've never read any of these but some of them definitely made my list! I recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King if you like historical fiction!

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  9. Unbroken is definitely in my top 3 favorite books ever! I have a problem with reading most books that are not aimed at YA because the content and language gets out of hand for me. I'm quite sensitive, especially to bad language... I wish books came with a rating, but have to suffice with recommendations, so with that said, would any of these recommendations be like a PG-13 or less?

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    1. Hmm, good question! I don't always notice the language if I'm really into the book (and any cursing fits the the character/plot), however, I know what you mean. Room and Sarah's Key were excellent, with no language that I recall, but the content could definitely be rather disturbing at times. I'd say out of all of them above, I'd recommend Still Alice to you. It's such a good book and my mother borrowed it too and really liked it (and she notices language and content more than I do). I also think you might enjoy Light between Oceans and Immortal Life of Henrieta Lacks.

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    2. Thanks Laura! I really appreciate your response!

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  10. Still Alice is one of my favorite books. Lisa Genova writes wonderfully, shes' my favorite author by far! I tend to enjoy non-fiction but Lisa's writing is so captivating to me because she works as a neuroscientist so her stories are SO real. I really think that anyone would enjoy her three books- Still Alice, Love Anthony, and Left Neglected. Hard to say which is my favorite... each is it's own story but if you've loved one you will love all three. Next on my list will be The Light Between Oceans! Thanks!

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    1. I read Left Neglected and really liked it. You're right, Lisa Genova's writing is so real you almost think it's non-fiction. I hadn't heard of Love Anthony but I just read the description online and I'm putting it on my to-read list.

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    2. Glad it's on your list! It's another wonderful story. I just finished The Light Between Oceans, what an AMAZING book!

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    3. I also loved Still Alice. It is almost as if you feel like Lisa Genova was the one going through the Alzheimer's experience. Having a parent at that time that was recently diagnosed with Alz. I could not put it down.

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  11. I read "The Glass Castle" and it is one of my all time favorites. I was amazed, not only by Walls' resilience, but also by her capacity to forgive while striving to understand her parents. I loved that the book wasn't a bashing and re-hasing of old anger. You could tell by her recounting that she was deeply scarred and affected by her parents, but I could literally feel the love that she had for them.

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  12. Because I've read The Glass Castle (one of my all-time favorite books) and Room, you must have great taste! I found myself adding the rest of your list to my to-read list. I have a degree in English, so I tend to be very picky about current "mass market" books and lean toward the classics, books that have stood the test of time. But I do like to know "what's going on" in GOOD lit today, so thanks for the recommendations.

    You've probably already read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but if not, it's one of my favorite historical fiction novels.

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  13. If you liked Sarah's Key, make sure to check out Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum - amazing!!

    Another great book (my favorite from last year) is The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

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  14. Thanks for the great list! Some of these were already on my Goodreads list, and I've added the rest. I've just started Unbroken. This year I've already read These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech--I loved them both! If you like historical fiction, you might really like The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I'm still thinking about that book months later. Happy reading!

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  15. My personal library contains well over 10K volumes, fully 80% of which are a genre other than faction. No brag, just inforrmation so you'll understand the breadth of my reading experience , so that when I say that this is the best list of "great books" I've seen in a very long time, it's primarily because I've not read a single title here! Jeanette Walls has been on my list for awhile, but I haven't gotten around to her yet. You have inspired me to start reading through this list! Marvelous, thanks!

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  16. I have read about half that list and just started reading The Light Between Oceans. I look forward to reading the other books on your list! I recommend Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan - another excellent book!

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  17. Great post and information. We joined a kids book club when our son was just 6 months old, and have read at least 30 minutes for him every single day, and clearly observe how far ahead of others he is now, so I highly recommend getting started as soon as possible. Other parents have found A New Book Every Month a great place to start.

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  18. Thank for taking the time to put this list together! I have downloaded a bunch from your list, can't wait to read them :)

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  19. Great list. Three of my all time favorites: The Unbroken, Room and The Glass Castle. All must reads.

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  20. Have you read These is My Words? I read it years ago and loved it. Then we read it in our book club last year, and it was enjoyed by almost everyone. It is required reading for sophomore advanced Language Arts at the high school where I teach. It is historical fiction.

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  21. I have read several books on your list and enjoyed them very much. Last year I read "WILD" by Cheryl Strayed true story and I just loved it, you will have many questions you want to ask her after you read it, a fantastic book. Also read THE DOVEKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman, historical fiction, the characters come alive and you can picture each person in your mind, author Alice Hoffman..love all her books. Just finished We Are Water by Wally Lamb, beautifully written book. Also read Half Broke Horses related to Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls - very good book. Sho Gun was and still is one of my favorite books of all time. I saw a cute saying on Pinteres " I cannot be trusted with a credit card in a Book Store" that is me...,,tks for the great list of books look forward to reading a few of them. bye for now

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  22. Just finished The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Her best work yet. I couldn't put it down. Everything else I pick up seems like a let down after reading it.

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  23. I have an unusual suggestion in thst not many have ever heard of it but I absolutely Loved it. The Blue Bottle Club & I cant recall the author but I know Iits on Amazon. The main character is abyoung, single repporter who is at the scene of a fire of a historical southern house. A fireman brings her a glass blue bottle he found in the rubble. Inside the bottle are small slips of paper with the goals & dreams of young teenaged girls written on them. To make a long story short, she becomes obsessed with locating these girls who would now be in their late 80's. She locatesand learns if each girl had her dreams come true and in the end a huge surprise or twist as to her personal connection to these women unknown to her or her family. A fascinating page turner that I absolutely could not put down. I hope someone will find & read it.

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