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Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (2015)

manatthehelmIn the early 1970s, a woman from a wealthy background suddenly finds herself divorced and living in a small English village, where divorced women are suspect (it would seem for good reason). The book is told in the first person by ten-year-old Lizzie (looking back as an adult) and has quite a funny tone and wonderfully set pieces. Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm is very funny, but sad too.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

micemenJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a powerful story about two day laborers during the Great Depression who dream of owning an acre of land. George is small, but smart, and he worries over and tries to protect his friend Lennie, who is big and strong, but has the mind of a child. Their prospects look promising until a flirtatious woman enters the picture, and George must act quickly to do what he feels is best for his friend. You won’t be able to put this book down.

For other classics that make great choices for reading and discussing, check out our book list.
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American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

americangodsThe novel opens in the very realistic setting of a prison where model prisoner and likable character Shadow finds himself about to be released into society. Tragedy strikes and Shadow is released into a dismal, lonely future.

When Shadow believes he has nothing to lose, he agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday. In American Gods, Neil Gaiman creatively switches gears and the reader is on a fantasy quest in a strange world where gods and goddesses are as real as prison was just hours before.

Enjoy this novel? Check out our list of the best fantasy novels for adults.

Fear the Worst by Linwood Barclay (2009)

feartheworstLinwood Barclay’s thrillers are usually good at grabbing the reader right from the beginning and pulling him in. Fear the Worst is no exception to that rule. In this story, Tim Blake is just an average guy who is good at selling cars. He has an ex-wife and a 17-year-old daughter who is staying with him for the summer. His real nightmare begins when his daughter disappears, supposedly into thin air. When he starts to search, no one has heard of her, not even at the place she was working.

To make matters worse, he is constantly being watched because others are looking for his daughter too. They’re not planning a welcome home celebration, though. This is a good mystery that will keep you up late at night turning pages.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)

jonathanstrangeSusanna Clarke writes a historical fantasy novel full of curious characters and thousands of rich details that are woven together masterfully. Set in the age of Napoleon, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell follows two English gentlemen determined to bring magic back to England. While old Mr. Norrell wishes to hoard the magic for himself and is overly cautious, Jonathan Strange daringly forges ahead producing new and exciting magic despite the risks. Many of the scenes are comical, but there is an ominous cloud of dark magic which hangs over the entire story creating a feeling of foreboding and suspense. (The book was made into a BBC miniseries in 2015.)

A Place for Us by Harriet Evans (2015)

placeforusMartha Winter is turning eighty and having a big family party, at which she plans on revealing a secret. Martha and her husband, David (a famous cartoonist) have built what looks like, from the outside, an idyllic life at Winterfold, their home in Surrey. Their granddaughters, Lucy and Cat, now grown, remember it that way too. For Martha and David's three children, however, there was conflict between Daisy (the middle child) and her siblings--eldest Bill and youngest Florence.

In Harriet Evans’ novel, the reader explores the family's lives both past and present from many points of view. A Place for Us is an exploration of family relationships and is a real treat for people who enjoy the novels of Joanna Trollope, Rosamunde Pilcher, and early Jojo Moyes.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (2012)

dogstarsAfter a pandemic flu has wiped out all but a few people, a pilot named Hig finds himself teamed up, for better or for worse, with Bangley, who is armed to the teeth and would rather shoot first and ask questions later. They have staked out a valley with a small suburban airport, with Hig warning people from the air that they should stay away. While Bangley is ruthless, Hig has a gentle nature, so they keep to themselves with Hig’s dog Jasper being his only real friend. It is a lonely and violent existence. When Hig hears a radio transmission from his plane, he must decide whether or not to risk everything to see if there is still some civilization out there.

Fans of dystopian literature will enjoy Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It is not nearly as bleak as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but still has plenty of desperate, exciting moments and ultimately conveys a message of hope. Check out other tales of dystopia here.
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The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon (2014)

killjoysGerard Way and Shaun Simon’s piece is not your run-of-the-mill graphic novel; its story chronologically takes place after My Chemical Romance’s album: Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. That’s one of the best parts about it! Since its precursor was a music album, as you are reading through it, there are references to MCR’s lyrics and you can actually hear what some characters are intended to sound like. As you’re reading Dr. Death-Defying’s lines, his voice appears in your head like magic. It’s a surreal experience to have when you’re reading a graphic novel that doesn’t have a TV or movie adaptation!

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is a great read for anyone who is (and even isn’t) a My Chemical Romance fan. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to Danger Days but stands on its own as well with no pre-knowledge of the music. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl who was previously under the protection of the Killjoys. After their deaths in Danger Days, she struggles to find her place in the unforgiving world she was left in. Why were they protecting her? What was it about her that made them so willing to risk their lives? In The Fabulous Killjoys, the reader finds the answers that they are seeking and so much more.

The High Divide by Lin Enger (2014)

highdivideUlysses Pope embarks on a journey that will lead him far away from home for an indefinite period of time. He may not even come back. But the only explanation for his departure that he gives his family is vague and left to be discovered in a note inside a locked trunk. Set in the late 1800s, The High Divide follows the members of the Pope family as they travel across the Great Plains—the father’s departure prompting first his young sons, and then his wife to go on their own quests.

The story unfolds as three different narrators (Ulysses, his wife Gretta, and his older son Eli) give accounts of their adventures—each searching inwardly and outwardly for answers, and encountering many colorful, and sometimes dangerous, individuals along the way. The High Divide is sure to be an entertaining read for lovers of fiction set in this era, as Lin Enger has created authentic voices for his characters and woven some intriguing historical personages and events into his tale.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (2004)

ghostwriterA young Australian boy searches out the mysterious past of his mother in postwar England based on the clues revealed in the ghost stories composed by his great-grandmother. A few of the ghost stories are included, and it becomes increasingly hard to discern if art is following life, or life is following art in John Harwood’s The Ghost Writer.

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf (2014)

littlemerciesEllen is an overworked social worker with three children of her own. After a tragic accident occurs in her own family, she finds herself on the other side of the system she works for.

Ten-year-old Jenny, alone in Iowa, must rely on her street smarts to help herself.

When their lives intersect, the pair finds some unique ways to help each other. Little Mercies is a really good page turner, with characters you come to care about. Check out the latest from Heather Gudenkauf.

Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh (2005)

bakertowersJennifer Haigh’s family saga takes place in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Baker Towers exudes family love, pain, and pathos, as the children of Italian/Polish immigrants go out to meet the world to find their calling, a sense of happiness, and directions to their lives.

The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis (2014)

IMG_0983I grabbed this quirky graphic novel on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. Rob DavisThe Motherless Oven contains a story of friendship as three teens go on an adventure to solve the usual mysteries of life. Can someone escape their assigned death day? Where did Scarper's robot father go?

It was the world building in this book that intrigued me the most though. Why on earth does it rain knives instead of water? Read this on a day you are FEELING WEIRD. Or ready to feel weird. Or weirder than you already feel.

 

Trains & Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith (2013)

trainsloversThree men and a woman share a train compartment between Edinburgh and London. From different age groups, backgrounds, and even countries, they prove it is sometimes easier to bare your soul to strangers, except for one coveted secret of an old love that is revealed only to readers. The travelers share their personal or family love stories and, oddly enough, they all involve trains. Diverse anecdotes take the reader all over England, Scotland, Australia, and the eastern part of the U.S., past and present day. The stories of Trains & Lovers get at the heart of human emotions. By the last chapter, Alexander McCall Smith may convince you to book a rail journey.

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks (2011)

bestofmeSome of Nicholas Sparks’ novels are just really sad, but I still loved this one and have to recommend it. The character development and the plot have just the right amount of suspense thrown in to keep the reader turning pages.

Dawson and Amanda were lovers 25 years ago and are reunited in their North Carolina hometown after the death of a mutual friend. Neither has lived the life they had hoped to live, nor can they forget the special love that they shared.

In The Best of Me, you really come to care about the main characters as they struggle to accept and live with the choices they’ve made. After you read the book, check out the movie adaptation.