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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Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller

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When the marketer for a luxury resort in rural West Virginia is found murdered on the property of an impoverished recluse who had vehemently refused his offers to buy the parcel of land that would halt the multimillion-dollar project, prosecutor Bell Elkins privately probes wounds that run deep in a place of poverty and despair.

“A beautifully crafted mystery in which Keller explores love, hate, and poverty in a place of stunning natural beauty with pockets of overwhelming ugliness. The ending may leave you in tears.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Keller conveys smalltown mind-sets with a folksy style that richly evokes a part of Appalachia still grappling with its past.” ―Publishers Weekly

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Redeployment by Phil Klay

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This collection of short stories gives a visceral explanation of the power of the war experience on a soldier and his/her inner life.  Take a look at the searing effects of the recent wars on our newest combat soldiers.  Winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction.

“A sharp set of stories….Klay’s grasp of bureaucracy and bitter irony here rivals Joseph Heller and George Orwell….A no-nonsense and informed reckoning with combat.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“[Klay captures] on an intimate scale the ways in which the war in Iraq evoked a unique array of emotion, predicament and heartbreak. In Klay’s hands, Iraq comes across not merely as a theater of war but as a laboratory of the human condition in extremis. Redeployment is hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad. It’s the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls.”  – Dexter Filkins, The New York Times Book Review

“Klay grasps both tough-guy characterization and life spent in the field, yet he also mines the struggle of soldiers to be emotionally freed from the images they can’t stop seeing. It’s clear that Klay, himself a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq, has parlayed his insider’s knowledge of soldier-bonding and emotional scarring into a collection that proves a powerful statement on the nature of war, violence, and the nuances of human nature.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred)

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Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

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Led by matriarch Kathleen, a charismatic, cruel, and complicated woman now in her 80s, the Kelleher family has spent decades of summers at their Maine summer property. Maine alternates chapters between four women in the Irish Catholic family as they converge at the summer house and confront each other. While the book’s title is Maine, there are also many references to Boston history and locations. Maine is a good book to take on your own summer vacation, with a little more substance than the average beach book.

“I have never stayed at this cottage in Maine, or any cottage in Maine, but no matter: I now feel I know what it’s like being in a family that comes to the same place summer after summer, unpacking their familiar longings, slights, shorthand conversation, and ways of being together. J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine is evocative, funny, close-quartered, and highly appealing.” —Meg Wolitzer, author of The Uncoupling

“Ah, family. Isn’t it satisfying to leave your own briefly behind to drop in on another—and see how thoroughly they bungle it all up? This is the pleasure of Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan’s second novel, which delves into the secrets and simmering emotions of one dysfunctional family over the course of a single summer month. . . . The dialogue sizzles as the tension between the women’s love and anger toward one another tightens. . . . You don’t want the novel to end.” —Lily King, The New York Times Book Review

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Vinegar Girl : The Taming of the Shrew Retold by Anne Tyler

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I loved Anne Tyler’s newest, a lighthearted, super adorable farce full of quirky characters. A friend told me she thought it was the perfect summer read and I agree.

“Resplendent storyteller Tyler (A Spool of Blue Thread, 2015) is perfectly paired with The Taming of the Shrew…Deeply and pleasurably inspired by her source, Tyler is marvelously nimble and effervescent in this charming, hilarious, and wickedly shrewd tale of reversal and revelation.”—Booklist (starred review)

“[A] screwball comedy of manners that actually channels Jane Austen more than Shakespeare. It’s clear that [Tyler] had fun with Vinegar Girl, and readers will too…A fizzy cocktail of a romantic comedy, far more sweet than acidic, about finding a mate who appreciates you for your idiosyncratic, principled self — no taming necessary.”—NPR.org

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