Two months ago, I asked members of local book clubs to contact me and share with me the titles of one or two of the favorite books they have read and discussed this year.
I heard from four groups and what surprised me is that there was no overlap among the clubs. I am sure if I got a complete list of the books they had read there would be some overlap, but not among their favorites. It just reinforces that there are many wonderful books out there to be savored. I share here the seven books that were recommended to me. Thanks to each of you.
A reader contacted me the day my column ran, and explained to me that her club, the Forrestridge Book Club, rates the books they read on a 5-point scale, so it was easy for her to tell me their top two books. Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng, Penguin Press, 2017, 338 pages, $27) rated a 5. Set in the idyllic town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s, the opening chapter describes a fire in a lovely home where there were little fires everywhere, and the varying responses to it by the family and members of the community. The rest of the book then reveals how this day was reached.
Mia, a single mother and artist who constantly feels the need to follow the open road, and her daughter Pearl, who is very bright and would love to settle in one place, arrive in Shaker Heights and rent a duplex apartment from the Richardsons, a prominent family. Their presence is a catalyst for change within the community and specifically for the Richardsons. A tale of class, race, family and motherhood, Little Fires Everywhere has much for the reader to explore.
The second book recommended by this club, with a rating of 4.7, is Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (David Grann, Doubleday, 2017, 338 pages, $28.95). This is a book told in three parts. The Osage Indian Nation at one time had the wealthiest members of society due to the oil under their land. They had protected it with a strategy called headrights, which decreed that each member of the tribe owned land they could sell, but the mineral rights were owned by the tribe and that shares could only be inherited.
The book centers on Mollie Burkhart and her family and the many ways they were killed so their Caucasian spouses could inherit the rights. There are deaths from poison, guns and explosions. Enter the FBI under its new director, J. Edger Hoover. He sent a team to solve the murders, but they failed. He then turned to Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, who solved the murders but could not get a white jury to convict white men for murdering Indians. How he solved the murders and finally prevailed is an interesting story. The third part is of the author’s visit to the Osage Nation almost a century later, and his unearthing of the story that formed this book.
My friend Vickie Armstrong is a member of the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church Book Sisters, a group that has been meeting since 2003. In December, they will be reading and discussing their 175th book. A poll of the group produced two recommendations: Before We Were Yours and The Choice.
I must admit that Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate, Ballantine Books, 2017, 342 pages, $26) is my favorite of all these books. From the 1920s to the 1950s, Georgia Tann ran the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where she stole and swindled children from families in poverty and sold them through the veil of adoptions to prominent families who were desperate to adopt a child.
Wingate has created a fictional family caught in this horror, and her novel alternates between 1939, when the children were stolen, and today. She considers the ramifications of this action on four of the seven children and their families. Her storytelling is captivating and I could not put the book down until I knew the whole story.
I have always believed that life is a series of choices and each of us is responsible for the life we choose to lead. Bad things can happen to good people but we can choose how we respond to them. So, there is not a more affirming book I could have read than The Choice: Embrace the Possible (Edith Eva Eger, Scribner, 2017, 288 pages, $27).
In this book, essentially a memoir, Eger describes the life she led as a Jew in Hungary during the war years, the wearing away of rights until the family is sent to Auschwitz in 1943. The fear and degradation are aptly described, but more indelible is how she and her sister Magda survive by always thinking of and working to save the other.
In 1945 Eger is pulled from a pile of rotting corpses by a soldier who sees her barely moving hand. Coming to America after the war with her husband and child, she becomes a noted psychiatrist who works with those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies.
It’s worth studying how she arrived at her own freedom from guilt and her belief in dismantling the prison one creates for oneself. As Eger says, “You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you, But you can choose how you live now. … You can choose to be free.”
The indomitable Pat Cheek belongs to the Trinity Presbyterian Women’s Book Club and suggested A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles, Viking, 2016, 462 pages, $27). Related in a sedate and mannered style reminiscent of a Victorian novel, the tale of Count Rostov unfolds from the time he is determined to be an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced in 1922, to house arrest in the Metropol, a glorious hotel across from the Kremlin, until his 1954 escape. It is amazing how much of the world can be savored and experienced even when one is so confined. It helps that he is truly a gentleman and treats everyone respectfully.
My friend Diane Prentice of the BB’s had two suggestions. The Lost Girls of Paris (Pam Jenoff, Park Row Books, 2019, 359 pages, $26.99) begins in 1946 when Grace, cutting through Grand Central Station, discovers an abandoned suitcase. Inside she finds photographs of women who turn out to be spies sent from England into France to serve as couriers and radio operators. These 12 did not survive, and the novel explores what happened to them and the betrayal by their own leaders.
Those who find the book interesting might also want to read Sarah Helm’s biography A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War Two. Another World War II-related title is We Were the Lucky Ones (Georgia Hunter, Viking, 2017, 403 pages, $27). When she was 15, the author discovered her family consisted of Holocaust survivors from Poland. After extensive research, she wrote this novel, patterning the characters after her family members. Strewn all over the world by war, including a Siberian gulag and Brazil, the Kurcs survived the devastating events of war through a combination of luck, hope and love.
You will find these books and more in the Denton Public Library. Our local Barnes & Noble store has created a display of these books, so stop by and peruse.