Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig


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Storytelling at its best!  Sent alone by his grandmother in the Montana Rockies to her sister in faraway Manitowoc, Wisconsin ride the “dog bus” with 11 year old Donal and then back again.  One rollicking misadventure after another, a host of memorable characters, the backdrop of 1951 America’s West guarantee a humorous, most enjoyable read  – the last book from a most gifted contemporary writer.

“One of Doig’s best novels…enchanting … It’s warming to think that in his final months [he] shared the writing hours with one of his greatest characters: a version of his younger self wound up and set spinning on the long zigzag adventure called life in the American West.”The New York Times Book Review

Last Bus to Wisdom is a treasure; one suspects that the beloved Ivan Doig–a red-haired boy who lived with his grandmother and grew up to tell stories–chuckled as he plotted to leave his readers a part of himself.” Shelf Awareness (starred)

“[T]he true successor to the dean of Western writers, Wallace Stegner…Last Bus to Wisdom is a rambunctious adventure packed with color, vitality and characters worth rooting for… a masterful fusion of picaresque exploits and ripping yarns.” The San Francisco Chronicle

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The Paris Architect: a Novel by Charles Belfoure


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The author himself is an architect. He has chosen a time in history – Vichy France, 1942 – where his main character, the gifted Lucien Bernard, will be put to the test.  Desperate for income, Lucien says yes to the Germans for the opportunity of his career to design a building despite it being a munitions factory. But then, his wealthy French benefactor asks him to risk his life to design invisible spaces to hide Jews. The architect’s decisions alter his very being.  An extra plus: an interview with the author as well as a Reading Group Guide are included.

“A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man’s unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war.” –Malcolm Gladwell

A thrilling debut novel of World War II Paris, from an author who’s been called “an up and coming Ken Follett.” (Booklist)

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Happy Family by Tracy Barone


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Here is a humorous but gut-wrenching novel about an independent woman’s struggle to become pregnant while coming to terms with her own adoptive and biological parents. Why does it take some of us half a lifetime to come of age?

“In her debut novel, screenwriter, playwright, and film producer Barone uses a wide lens to capture Cheri Matzner’s life, from a precarious beginning to a confident, peaceful middle age… Cinematic in its scope, this novel takes readers on a broad, deep, and poignant journey alongside a tough, admirable woman and the varied characters who populate her life.”―Kirkus

“Cheri Maztner is interesting company…Barone has a background in writing for screen and stage, and knows how to propel a story at an engaging clip. Indeed, the pace and structure of this novel suggest a movie-in-waiting.”
New York Times Book Review

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Blankets: an Illustrated Novel by Craig Thompson


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This lengthy but fast-moving graphic novel is a contemporary coming-of-age story set in the rural mid-west. The story centers on Craig, a lonely, sensitive boy growing up with his younger brother Phil in a Christian fundamentalist family. Craig’s childhood centers on home, school and church, and all are austere and forbidding places for him.  Cowed by his father’s harsh discipline, the strict teachings of his church and the bullies at school who target him because of his small frame and family’s modest circumstances, he matures into young adulthood undaunted by circumstance, drawing strength from his artistic talent and a first love.  Loosely based on the author’s life.

In telling his story, which includes beautifully rendered memories of the small brutalities that parents inflict upon their children and siblings upon each other, Thompson describes the ecstasy and ache of obsession (with a lover, with God) and is unafraid to suggest the ways that obsession can consume itself and evaporate. The New York Times

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The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal ; translated from the French by Sam Taylor


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An immediate best seller in France for all of 2014!  And now the gift of an excellent translator has made it possible for us to experience the gorgeous prose and gripping story that takes place over just 24 hours.  After a fatal accident, the heart of 17 year old surfer, Simon Limbres, begins its own journey. The author unflinchingly presents us with the moral questions and the hour by hour complexity of life and death.  It is a memorable read that lingers long after the final page.

“I read The Heart in a single sitting. It is a gripping, deceptively simple tale―a death, a life resurrected―in which you follow along as everyone touched by the events is made to reveal what matters most to them in their lives. I was completely absorbed.” ―Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal

“I’ve seldom read a more moving book . . . De Kerangal is a master of momentum, to the extent that when the book ends, the reader feels bereft. She shows that narratives around illness and pain can energize the nobler angels of our nature and make for profoundly lovely art. One longs for more.” ―Lydia Kiesling, The Guardian

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Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters


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A well-read patron recommended this book to me.  I am glad she did!  Roberta, a used book shop sorter of books, has kept a collection of those peculiar things that fall out of donated books.  Then a letter to her own grandmother falls from a suitcase full of books left off by her father that puzzles her completely – dates, names, places all see very different from what she had always grown up knowing about her grandmother.  What did happen during those war years that no one living seems to recall?  Guaranteed: an unpredictable ending!

“A breathtaking, beautifully crafted tale of loves that survive secrets.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“Musty books, unrequited love, and old family secrets combine to create a crackling multigenerational saga infused with passion, pathos, and evocative WWII-era historical detail. Plenty of book-club and cinematic potential in this irresistible page-turner.” — Booklist

“A solid debut . . . [that] may appeal to those who have also liked bookishly romantic stories such as Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.” – Library Journal

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


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I still think about this book several months after reading it. The novel opens as a disease quickly spreads around the world and society collapses, then skips ahead twenty years to show the aftermath and the people that have survived. Focusing on a handful of characters, this is a powerful, beautifully written story.

“Soul-quaking. . . . Mandel displays the impressive skill of evoking both terror and empathy.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

 Station Eleven is so compelling, so fearlessly imagined, that I wouldn’t have put it down for anything.”
— Ann Patchett

“A superb novel . . . [that] leaves us not fearful for the end of the word but appreciative of the grace of everyday existence.” —San Francisco Chronicle 

“Mandel delivers a beautifully observed walk through her book’s 21st century world…. I kept putting the book down, looking around me, and thinking, ‘Everything is a miracle.’”—Matt Thompson, NPR

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The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh


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In this literary, suspenseful novel, a young woman is found dead in a small town in the Ozarks, compelling her friend to find out what happened to her. Her search leads her to the story of what happened to her own mother, who disappeared years ago. The characters and descriptions are vivid, and by the end I could picture this fictional community.

“Gripping . . . Her prose will not only keep readers turning the pages but also paints a real and believable portrait of the connections, alliances, and sacrifices that underpin rural, small-town life. . . . Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy thrillers by authors such as Laura Lippman and Tana French.”—Library Journal (starred review)

 “[A] suspenseful novel, with a barn burner of a plot . . . McHugh shows herself to be a compelling writer intimately familiar with rural poverty and small-town weirdness.”—Booklist

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Sweet Girl by Travis Mulhauser


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In this gritty story of survival set in northern Michigan, 16-year-old Percy James shoulders responsibilities beyond her years, quitting school to work at a furniture-making store to support herself and her drug-addicted mother Carletta whose disappearance during a snow-storm leads a concerned Percy to a drug-den where her outrage at the severe neglect of a baby brings her to risk life and limb to bring the child to safety.

Sweetgirl works on so many levels, it’s difficult to know how to classify it… hilarious, heartbreaking and true, a major accomplishment from an author who looks certain to have an impressive career ahead of him.” (NPR)

” A riveting novel… far, far funnier than it has any right to be. If you’re a fan of Charles Portis and Denis Johnson–and if you’re not, then you should be–then this is book is exactly what you’ve been wanting, what you’ve been waiting for.” (Brock Clarke, author of The Happiest People in the World)

“[Sweetgirl is] filled with true wit, cunning, and the unwanted wisdom of a child denied a childhood. This novel comes on like the blizzard at its center, and leaves you dazzled and dazed not only by how much Travis Mulhauser knows, but how deeply he cares.” (Michael Parker, author of All I Have in this World)

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The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys


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In this quiet and contemplative book the author explores the topics of imprisonment and freedom while interweaving the story with bird-watching.  Both James Hunter, a young British pilot shot down in Germany during World War II and imprisoned as a POW, and his lonely wife, Rose, find solace during wartime. As the war comes to an end and perhaps the return of happiness, both characters find that they long for the wartime years.  The author’s love of nature in the British landscape is an added bonus. Many of the scenes are set in Ashdown Forest, the enchanted home of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin.

“Scintillating…What Humphreys does so well, in beautiful, precise prose, is convey the shock of that violence, how it rends the everyday. I am very glad to have spent some of my moments on earth reading The Evening Chorus. I reached the end with a sense of wonder that so much life and pain and beauty could be contained in so few pages.”
—The Boston Globe

“Humphreys (Nocturne, 2013, etc.) offers a heartbreaking yet redemptive story about loss and survival…Humphreys deserves more recognition for the emotional intensity and evocative lyricism of her seemingly straightforward prose and for her ability to quietly squirrel her way into the reader’s heart.”—Kirkus, starred review

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