The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (2011)

From flowers to foster care, from motherhood to mental illness, Vanessa Diffenbaugh takes them all on and creates a very special character by the name of Victoria. She creates the perfect setting for a book about the meaning of flowers - San Francisco! The reader cries for Victoria and roots for her to succeed. She is her own worst enemy. In The Language of Flowers, Diffenbaugh keeps us in suspense until the last minute as to what Victoria's fate will be.

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt (2013)

Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt is full of sharp insights about life in the modern South along with plenty of dysfunctional family drama, civil war rehashing, bourbon drinking, and the ongoing struggle to keep up appearances.

We follow a different member of the Johnston family each chapter as they interact with each other during doomed holiday dinners and on their own, usually unfortunate, tangents. Matriarch Jerene manages to hold the family together by wielding a formidable array of threats and lies, all while impeccable groomed, until events progress beyond even her extreme damage control skills.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)

Donna Tartt’s new novel The Goldfinch is a remarkably fast read, despite its size. The title refers to the tiny painting of a pet bird in captivity by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius from 1654. The Goldfinch becomes central in Theo’s life after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother one rainy day. Tragedy strikes at the museum and Theo is left practically an orphan. Over the next ten years, Theo struggles with the loss of his mother and the post-traumatic stress of incident. This is a beautifully written story that captures the essence of New York, the pain of loss, and power of objects.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (2012)

Robin Sloan’s book has all of the elements of wonderful and unforgettable story. There are a quirky set of characters led by the clerk of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Clay Jannon. With help from his roommates, childhood friend, and new girlfriend, Clay attempts to figure out what is really going on at the unusual bookstore.  He unknowingly stumbles on a 500 year mystery and embarks on an epic journey. Humorous and well written with a great narrator, this is wonderful novel to listen to.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (2008)

The White Tiger is a dark and funny novel which plunges the reader deep into the underbelly of modern India, a place where people are still very much prisoners to their own caste. The story unfolds as a series of letters to a Chinese official, and it is this device which brings the main character to life, revealing his wit, his flaws, and his deepest inner thoughts. We follow Balram through his daily life which is so oppressively frightening on the one hand but presented in such absurd scenarios that I actually laughed out loud.

Well written, and exploding with symbolism, the story is really about Balram’s struggle for freedom—freedom from “the Darkness” where most people live in subhuman conditions. It is a quick read, and after the first chapter, you won’t be able to put it down.

And since it’s such a quick read, those of you in your 20s and 30s should read it this weekend and join our GenLit Book Discussion Group on Monday, July 16 at 6:30 at Taste of India in Willowbrook. Get your copy of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga today.

Talk Talk by T. C. Boyle

Talk Talk by T. C. Boyle (2006)

This book about identity theft will make you stop and think. There are wonderful characters that portray how it feels to be a victim of identity theft. The plot has twists along the way which keeps the story moving along. I was surprised by the story and think it is a good one. The best quote I saw after reading Talk Talk is from the Portland Oregonian. “Yet the book as a whole still resonates beyond the end, having provided not just entertainment but also tangible new experiences for readers to absorb.”

Learn all about the author and check out the reading guide to this provocative novel.

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch (2010)Kings of the Earth fictionalizes the Ward brothers of Munnsville, New York, whose story was told in the documentary Brother’s Keeper. In this novel, the four brothers become the three fictional Proctor brothers: Vernon, Audie and Creed; who in their senior years still live on the family's old and inadequate dairy farm. When the eldest brother dies, apparently after being suffocated, the local authorities take a confession from the brother, Creed, to explain the death.

Ranging from the 1930s to 1990s and back again, we hear a rural chorus of voices telling the story of three brothers. Recalling William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, each chapter is headed with a character name and told from his point of view and each releases essential information. Some of the chapters are little more than a few sentences, but effectively present the story of conflict between old versus new – rural versus modern. Inspiring and poignant, this novel by Clinch addresses one of Faulkner's favorite themes: our ability to endure.

Visit the author's webiste and view his reading guide. Read the L.A. Times review.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
If you’re looking for a novel you can really “sink your teeth into,” you’ll like this story of a liberal Minneapolis family dealing with themselves, each other, and the political climate during the Bush years. Well drawn, multidimensional characters and the author’s smart, sometimes humorous and often irreverent writing, add to the book’s appeal.

Listen Jonathan Franzen discuss his book on All Things Considered and read the New York Times review.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (2009)
An immigrant tale set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn follows Eilis Lacey as she journeys from Ireland to New York City to escape economic hardship and begin a new life. This heartwarming coming of age story filled with grit and determination may move too slowly for some, but features interesting characters and lovely writing.

 Brooklyn was the Chicago Public Library’s selection for “One Book One Chicago” in spring 2010. Read more about the book and visit the author's website.

Spotlight: Graham Greene

Spotlight: Graham GreeneGraham Greene was one of the most important and popular English writers of the mid-twentieth century and his works are defined by that century. The Blitz (The End of the Affair - 1951), the Vietnam issues (The Quiet American - 1955), and British colonialism (The Heart of the Matter - 1948) —all these things are fading fast from living memory but are the basis for his very engaging stories. There is in his writing a lasting relevance; he reported on the human condition and drew searing insights into it. His novels are still to be enjoyed as are the movies that were produced based on many of them.

Listen to NPR's Scott Simon reflect on Greene's books, learn more about the author from the website Greeneland: the world of Graham Greene and explore the New York Times topics on Graham Greene.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008)
This book – set in France – started out a little slow. I had not thought about phenomenology/existentialism since college. It soon turns focus on many exciting characters who move in unexpected directions. Cultural rules and stereotypes are broken.

Read an interview with the author and the New York Times review.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (2010)
Major Pettigrew is a very proper English gentleman. Widowed and retired, he is ready for romance when Mrs. Ali, owner of the local convenience store, enters his life. But her stern and critical nephew and the Major's own self-involved son, not to mention all of the matrons at the local golf club, seem to conspire to keep the two apart.

Visit the author's website, preview the book and read the Washington Post book review.

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga

The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga (1994)
In 1966, the Arno flooded its banks and devastated the priceless collections of galleries, libraries and churches in Florence. Margot Harrington, a 29-year-old American book conservator, travels to Italy to join those who went to help rescue priceless treasures. Margot pitches in where she can and eventually she ends up at a convent... While working to save their library, she discovers a lost book of pornography that dates back to the Renaissance. She realizes that the sale of this book, once properly preserved, could save the Abbey.

The author Robert Hellenga goes into great detail about the book restoration process, Florence in the 1960s and the moral and social situations in which Margot gets involved – all of which change her life in ways she never imagined.

Read an interview with the author, preview the book and review the reading guide.

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle (2008)
Set on a run-down horse ranch in small-town Colorado, this coming-of-age story is a powerful tale. Alice Winston helps her father run the riding stable while coping with her reclusive mother and the loss of her older sister, who has run off with a rodeo cowboy. As the adolescent voice, 12-year-old Alice is smarter than most. Her character is charming and authentic but she is a child with more than she can handle and no one to help her cope.

Aryn Kyle has crafted a brilliant debut; a sad story of compromises and dreams that will never come true.

Visit the author's website and preview the book.

The Women by T.C. Boyle

The Women by T. C. Boyle (2009)
T. C. Boyle is an easy-to-read, interesting author who writes accurate historical fiction. This story about the women in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright is a realistic read. Anyone who knows Wright's architectural background will truly enjoy this book of his personal life. If you don't know or care about Wright's life, this book is still a very interesting read about a man's life in the years 1880s to 1950s.

Watch the video clip of the author discussing his book and read the  New York Times review.