A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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Five book leaders at the Wellesley Book Store posted that this was the best book they had read this year.  I join the chorus. Utterly absorbing – I read this book only when I had carefully set aside chunks of time to read uninterrupted –  to be immersed in the world of Count Rostov and his sentence to captivity for life in the grand hotel, the Metropol.  It’s been a very long time since I hugged a book to my heart at its conclusion with utter gratitude to the author for this gift of story, characters, and an ending that does not disappoint  – only that it is the final page.

-novelist Amor Towles continues to explore the question of how a person can lead an authentic life in a time when mere survival is a feat in itself . . . Towles’s tale, as lavishly filigreed as a Fabergé egg….—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Who will save Rostov from the intrusions of state if not the seamstress, chefs, bartenders and doormen? In the end, Towles’s greatest narrative effect is not the moments of wonder and synchronicity but the generous transformation of these peripheral workers, over the course of decades, into confidants, equals and, finally, friends.  With them around, a life sentence in these gilded halls might make Rostov the luckiest man in Russia.” –The New York Times Book Review

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Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

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9780812980479_p0_v3_s192x300This biography follows writer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter, novelist Mary Shelley, in alternating chapters. It is worth the time to savor their vivid journey across Revolutionary France and Victorian England, from the Italian seaports to the highlands of Scotland. I knew only a little about these women before starting this book and was engrossed by their fascinating life stories.

“By linking these two lives, Ms. Gordon’s biography stretches over a fascinating era in history, characterized by great flux in political and cultural thinking and involving some of the main figures in English literary and philosophical history.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Gordon unfolds the two stories in tandem, deftly balancing the gossipy aspects of her subjects’ lives with their serious intellectual concerns.”The New Yorker

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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

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A short but powerful novel about a girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. The story explores family, gender, race, and the narrator’s coming of age in beautiful, poetic language.

“The novel’s richness defies its slim page count. In her poet’s prose, Woodson not only shows us backward-glancing August attempting to stave off growing up and the pains that betray youth, she also wonders how we dream of a life parallel to the one we’re living.” (Booklist (Starred Review))

“Woodson crafts a haunting coming-of-age story of four best friends in Brooklyn, New York…Here is an exploration of family—both the ones we are born into and the ones we make for ourselves—and all the many ways we try to care for these people we love so much, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. A stunning achievement from one of the quietly great masters of our time.” (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)

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The Dig by John Preston

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A little historical fiction find!  On an English grassy plain at water’s edge, a small group of unremarkable persons is about to probe into the mysterious mounds assumed to be previously robbed.  It is 1939, the eve of the start to WWII, no one here is looking up to the skies as their focus turns to the little copper and gold specks sparkling in the sun at a farm called Sutton Hoo.

“The Dig offers both a vividly reimagined slice of history and a tantalizing rumination on what remains after we cease to exist” Booklist 

“Shimmers with longing and regret . . . Preston writes with economical grace . . . He has written a kind of universal chamber piece, small in detail, beautifully made and liable to linger on  in the heart and the mind. It is something utterly unfamiliar, and quite wonderful.”—The New York Times Book Review

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The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

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Are you looking for a leisurely-paced gentle read?  You may want to try this heartwarming novel about Lydia Hoffman, a young woman who takes a giant step of faith in opening her own yarn store after recovering from a serious illness. Along the way, Lydia makes discoveries about herself while helping others to do the same.  This is the first in a series.

“Fans of Debbie Macomber’s contemporary romances and novels of women’s lives prize her inspirational stories, domestic settings, and sympathetic heroines. Macomber’s protagonists are ordinary women who are sometimes caught in difficult situations, but remain optimistic through every adversity.” – Novelist

“Macomber is a master storyteller; any one of these characters could have been a stereotype in less talented hands. Instead, these women and their stories are completely absorbing.” -RT Book Reviews

“Debbie Macomber tells women’s stories in a way no one else does.” –BookPage

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Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

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Sixteen minutes after take-off on a foggy night from Martha’s Vineyard airport, a private jet plummets to the ocean.  Only a down-on–his-luck artist and a 4 year old boy (now the sole inheritor of immense wealth from his mogul media father’s empire)  manage to swim to safety.  “Who? and why?” scream to be answered.  A suspense thriller at its best.

“From the Emmy, PEN, Peabody, Critics’ Choice, and Golden Globe Award-winning creator of the TV show Fargo comes the thriller of the year, 2016.”

“This is one of the year’s best suspense novels, a mesmerizing, surprise-jammed mystery that works purely on its own, character-driven terms….Mr. Hawley has made it very, very easy to race through his book in a state of breathless suspense.”―Janet MaslinNew York Times 

“In the hands of a writer like Noah Hawley, who knows how to build tension from mundane moments, it is a remarkable thriller that most readers will find difficult to put down…it moves toward a breathless ending.”―The Washington Times

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The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

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A tale of hope and heartache set in post World War II Australia that explores life and grief and the randomness of tragedy.  Not only does the author explore the intersecting lives of the four main characters, but Ashley Hay also creates remarkable sensory details for the reader to savor and experience – the astonishing views, tastes and smells of the Australian seaside town of Thirroul, as well as the clamor and clack of the railway cars through the town and the surrounding countryside.

“Multilayered, graceful, couched in poetry, supremely honest, gentle yet jarring, Hay’s thought-provoking novels pulls you along slowly, like a deep river that is deceptively calm but full of hidden rapids.  Much to ponder.”  Kirkus Reviews

“Exquisitely written and deeply felt, The Railwayman’s Wife is limpid and deep as the rock pools on the coastline beloved by this book’s characters and just as teeming with vibrant life. Ashley Hay’s novel of love and pain is a true book of wonders.” -Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Secret Chord

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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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