2013 Book Club Picks
Sixteen-year-old Isabelle McAllister longs to escape the confines of her northern Kentucky hometown, but after her family’s housekeeper’s son rescues her from a Newport drunk, the boundaries seem smaller than ever.
Falling for a black boy in late 1930s Kentucky isn’t just illegal, it’s dangerous. Signs at the city limits warn Negroes, “Don’t let the sun set on you here.” Despite repeated warnings, Isabelle and Robert disregard the racial divide, starting a chain of events that threatens jobs, lives, and generations to come.
Decades later, black hairstylist Dorrie Curtis agrees to drive her elderly white client cross-country to a funeral. Over the years, Miss Isabelle has become more than just a customer, but the timing couldn’t be worse. First, Dorrie’s seeing a man she’s afraid she could fall for, but one thing is more obvious than ever: Trust is not her strong suit. Second, she knows her teenager’s in big trouble; he just hasn’t told her yet.
When a phone call from home confirms Dorrie’s fears, Miss Isabelle’s tale of forbidden love illuminates Dorrie’s dilemma, merging the past and present in a journey with unexpected detours and a bittersweet destination.
In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers bound and gagged two guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and stole thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million. Despite thousands of hours of police work and a $5 million reward, the artwork has never been recovered. Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
After a scandal involving the provenance of an acclaimed modern painting derails Claire Roth’s career, the promising young Boston artist, now a pariah in the art world, makes a living reproducing famous works of art for the popular online retailer, Reproductions.com. In a desperate move to improve her situation, Claire makes a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner, to forge a Degas masterpiece stolen during the Gardner Museum heist, the largest unsolved art theft in history, in return for a one-woman show at his gallery. Their romantic entanglement adds danger to their business arrangement and heightens the possibility of betrayal as each struggles to achieve the end that initially drove them into their illegal pact.
But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one which had been hanging for 100 years at the Gardner Museum—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may not be the original, but a forgery itself. As she begins her search for the truth about the painting’s origins and its possible link to a secret relationship between Edgar Degas and Isabella Stewart Gardner–revealed to the reader through Isabella’s letters to her niece—Claire finds herself in a breathless race through a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late 19th century may hold the key to the mysteries of the present.
2012 Book Club Picks
“He’s a gambler at best, a con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons.
While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her that he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins.
But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.
The story, which takes its title from a late-season, cold-weather phenomenon, continues Jio’s rich exploration of the ways personal connections can transcend the boundaries of time.
Seattle, 1932. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May snowstorm has blanketed the city, and that her son has disappeared into the heart of the storm. Outside, she finds his teddy bear lying face down in the cold snowy streets.
Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge is assigned to cover the May 1 “blackberry winter” storm and its predecessor that occurred on the same date nearly eighty years earlier. Learning of the unsolved abduction, Claire vows to unearth the truth—only to discover that she and Vera are linked in unexpected ways.
In the bestselling tradition of The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Jane Austen Book Club, three women find unexpected answers, happiness, and one another with Meryl Streep movies as their inspiration.
Two sisters and the cousin they grew up with after a tragedy are summoned home to their family matriarch’s inn on the coast of Maine for a shocking announcement. Suddenly, Isabel, June, and Kat are sharing the attic bedroom–and barely speaking. But when innkeeper Lolly asks them to join her and the guests in the parlor for weekly Movie Night–it’s Meryl Streep month–they find themselves sharing secrets, talking long into the night–and questioning everything they thought they knew about life, love, and one another. Each woman sees her complicated life reflected through the magic of cinema: Isabel’s husband is having an affair, and an old pact may keep her from what she wants most . . . June has promised her seven-year-old son that she’ll somehow find his father, who he’s never known . . . and Kat is ambivalent about accepting her lifelong best friend’s marriage proposal. Through everything, Lolly has always been there for them, and now Isabel, June, Kat–and Meryl–must be there for her. Finding themselves. Finding each other. Finding a happy ending.
Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own. She’s the round-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag. As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound.
Then Deirdre’s sometime-boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deirdre he never wanted. While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing with the Stars replacement. It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically. It might even get her a life of her own. Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun.
Irresistible, offbeat, yet with a thoroughly relatable and appealing heroine, Wallflower in Bloom is an original and deeply satisfying story of one woman who’s ready to take a leap into the spotlight, no matter where she lands.
When Macy Dillon was five years old her father encouraged her to draw a picture in the guestbook of a Carolina beach house. The next year, Macy returned to discover a drawing by an unidentified little boy on the facing page. Over the next eleven years the children continue to exchange drawings … until tragedy ends visits to the beach house altogether. During her final trip to Sunset, Macy asks her anonymous friend to draw her one last picture and tells him where to hide the guest book in hopes that one day she will return to find it—and him. Twenty-five years after that first picture, Macy is back at Sunset Beach—this time toting a broken family and a hurting heart. One night, alone by the ocean, Macy asks God to help her find the boy she never forgot, the one whose beautiful pictures touched something deep inside of her. Will she ever find him? And if she does, will the guestbook unite them or merely be the relic of a lost childhood?
Can the river heal her?
Roslyn Byrne is twenty-four years old, broken in body, heart and soul. Her career as a professional ballet dancer ended with a car wreck and a miscarriage, leaving her lost and grieving. She needs a new path, but she doesn’t have the least idea how or where to start. With some shoving from her very Southern mama, she immures herself for the summer on Manny’s Island, Georgia, one of the Sea Isles, to recover. There Roslyn finds a ten-year-old girl, Damascus, who brings alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo into her sorry life.
Roslyn rents a house from Damascus’s family, the Trezevants, a strange bunch. One of the cousins, Nonnie, who works in the family’s market, sees things Roslyn is pretty sure she shouldn’t, and knows things regular people don’t. Between the Trezevant secrets and Damascus’s blatant snooping and meddling, Roslyn finds herself caught in a mysterious stew of the past and present, the music of the river, the dead and the dying who haunt the riverbank, and finding the courage to live her new life.
ON THE LAST DAY OF THE MILLENNIUM, sassy chain-smoking, 70 year old Faith Bass Darling is selling all her valuable worldly possessions at a garage sale on the lawn of her historic Bass, Texas mansion.
Why? God told her to.
Because she knows what this is about. It’s about dying, and about killing her long-gone husband Claude. As the townspeople grab up the family’s heirlooms, the antiques of five generations of Faith’s founding family—a Civil War dragoon, a wedding ring, a French-relic clock, a family bible, a roll top desk, an entire room of Tiffany lamps–reveal their own secret roles in the family saga, inspiring life’s most imponderable questions:
Do our possessions possess us?
What are we without our memories?
Is there life after death?
Or second chances here on earth?
And is Faith Darling really selling that 1917 Louis Comfort Tiffany lamp for a $1…???
It is the summer of 1914 and Europe is on the brink of war, but Grace Winter’s future finally seems secure as she and her new husband set sail for New York, where she hopes to win over a disapproving and status-conscious mother-in-law. When a mysterious explosion sinks their ship, Grace is thrust into a lifeboat by a quick-witted crew member, who climbs in after her even though the boat is already filled beyond capacity.
As the weather deteriorates and the passengers are forced to choose sides in a brewing power struggle, Grace realizes that her survival could depend on whether she backs the ruthless but experienced John Hardie or the enigmatic but increasingly forceful Ursula Grant. Over the course of three perilous weeks, the lifeboat passengers plot, scheme, gossip and console one another while questioning their deepest assumptions about goodness, humanity and God.
Grace is finally rescued, only to be put on trial for her life. Unsure what to make of their client, Grace’s attorneys suggest she write her story down. The result is a page-turning tale of moral dilemmas, and also a haunting portrait of a woman as unforgettable and complicated as the events she describes.
How long do you hold on to hope?
Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell. But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her? Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.
Having survived a life-threatening illness, Kate celebrates by gathering with six close friends. At an intimate, outdoor dinner on a warm September evening, the women challenge Kate to start her new lease on life by going white-water rafting down the Grand Canyon with her daughter. Kate, however, is reluctant to take the risk. That is, until her friend Marion proposes a pact: if Kate will face the rapids, each woman will do one thing in the next year that scares her. Kate agrees, with one provision — she didn’t get to choose her challenge, so she gets to choose theirs.
The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market inspires her to question what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
Some of our most popular earlier book club selections…
A Watershed Year by Susan Schoenberger
Two months after the death of her best friend Harlan, Lucy remains haunted by the things she never told him including her deep love for him. Then she begins receiving emails he’d arranged to be sent after his death, emails that will change the course of her life. One email in particular haunts her — he tells her he is certain she is destined for motherhood. Thus begins her watershed year.
It is said that out of despair comes hope and in her grief, Lucy finds that the possibility of adopting a child offers her a new chance for a fulfilled life. When she travels to Russia to meet four-year-old Mat she sees in him a soul that is as lonely and lost as hers. Slowly they learn to trust one another and each begins healing. It is when Mat’s father comes to America to reclaim his child that a truth about Mat’s past is revealed, a truth that might shatter Lucy’s fragile little family forever.
A Watershed Year is a powerful story of love, loss, redemption, and what it means to be a mother proving that out of despair can come joy and the beauty of second chances.
Lady In Waiting by Susan Meissner
Content in her comfortable marriage of twenty-two years, Jane Lindsay had never expected to watch her husband, rad, pack his belongings and walk out the door of their Manhattan home. But when it happens, she feels powerless to stop him and the course of events that follow Brad’s departure.
Jane finds an old ring in a box of relics from a British jumble sale and discovers a Latin inscription in the band along with just one recognizable word: Jane. Feeling an instant connection to the mysterious ring bearing her namesake, Jane begins a journey to learn more about the ring—and perhaps about herself.
In the sixteenth-century, Lucy Day becomes the dressmaker to Lady Jane Grey, an innocent young woman whose fate seems to be controlled by a dangerous political and religious climate, one threatening to deny her true love and pursuit of her own interests.
As the stories of both Janes dovetail through the journey of one ring, it becomes clear that each woman has far more infl uence over her life than she once imagined. It all comes down to the choices each makes despite the realities they face.
On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her much anticipated wedding. Dr. Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is also eager to get back East for a slate of surgeries he has scheduled for the following day. When the last outgoing flight is cancelled due to a broken de-icer and a forthcoming storm, Ben finds a charter plane that can take him around the storm and drop him in Denver to catch a connection. And when the pilot says the single engine prop plane can fit one more, if barely, Ben offers the seat to Ashley knowing that she needs to get back just as urgently. And then the unthinkable happens. The pilot has a heart attack mid-flight and the plane crashes into the High Uintas Wilderness– one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States.
Ben, who has broken ribs and Ashley, who suffers a terrible leg fracture, along with the pilot’s dog, are faced with an incredibly harrowing battle to survive. Fortunately, Ben is a medical professional and avid climber (and in a lucky break, has his gear from a climb earlier in the week). With little hope for rescue, he must nurse Ashley back to health and figure out how they are going to get off the mountain, where the temperature hovers in the teens. Meanwhile, Ashley soon realizes that the very private Ben has some serious emotional wounds to heal as well. He explains to Ashley that he is separated from his beloved wife, but in a long standing tradition, he faithfully records messages for her on his voice recorder reflecting on their love affair. As Ashley eavesdrops on Ben’s tender words to his estranged wife she comes to fear that when it comes to her own love story, she’s just settling. And what’s more: she begins to realize that the man she is really attracted to, the man she may love, is Ben.
As the days on the mountains become weeks, their survival become increasingly perilous. How will they make it out of the wilderness and if they do, how will this experience change them forever?
Both a tender and page-turning read, The Mountain Between Us will reaffirm your belief in the power of love to sustain us.
The Mailbox by Marybeth Whalen
Centered on a real landmark on the coast of North Carolina, The Mailbox blends intriguing folklore and true faith with raw contemporary issues that affect every woman.
When Lindsey Adams first visits the Kindred Spirit mailbox at Sunset Beach, she has no idea that twenty years later she will still be visiting the mailbox–still pouring out her heart in letters that summarize the best and worst parts of her life.
Returning to Sunset for her first vacation since her husband left her, Lindsey struggles to put her sorrow into words. Memories surface of her first love, Campbell–and the rejection that followed. When Campbell reappears in her life, Lindsey must decide whether to trust in love again or guard herself from greater pain. The Mailbox is a rich novel about loss, hope, and the beauty of second chances.
Leaving a life of privilege to strike out on her own, Lauren Durough breaks with convention and her family’s expectations by choosing a state college over Stanford and earning her own income over accepting her ample monthly allowance. She takes a part-time job from 83-year-old librarian Abigail Boyles, who asks Lauren to transcribe the journal entries of her ancestor Mercy Hayworth, a victim of the Salem witch trials.
Almost immediately, Lauren finds herself drawn to this girl who lived and died four centuries ago. As the fervor around the witch accusations increases, Mercy becomes trapped in the worldview of the day, unable to fight the overwhelming influence of snap judgments and superstition, and Lauren realizes that the secrets of Mercy’s story extend beyond the pages of her diary, living on in the mysterious, embittered Abigail.
The strength of her affinity with Mercy forces Lauren to take a startling new look at her own life, including her relationships with Abigail, her college roommate, and a young man named Raul. But on the way to the truth, will Lauren find herself playing the helpless defendant or the misguided judge? Can she break free from her own perceptions and see who she really is?
Twenty-something Kate Davis can’t seem to get this grieving widow thing right. She’s supposed to put on a brave face and get on with her life, right? Instead she’s camped out on her living room floor, unwashed, unkempt, and unable to sleep-because her husband Kevin keeps talking to her.
Is she losing her mind?
Kate’s attempts to find the source of the voice she hears are both humorous and humiliating, as she turns first to an “eclectically spiritual” counselor, then a shrink with a bad toupee, a mean-spirited exorcist, and finally group therapy. There she meets Jack, the warmhearted, unconventional pastor of a ramshackle church, and at last the voice subsides. But when she stumbles upon a secret Kevin was keeping, Kate’s fragile hold on the present threatens to implode under the weight of the past . and Kevin begins to shout.
Will the voice ever stop? Kate must confront her grief to find the grace to go on, in this tender, quirky story about second chances.