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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 Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (2001)
The novel begins with a genealogy chart to help keep track of the characters. Sure enough there are miracles (that the down to earth can explain) and a rich flow of almost musical storytelling.

Learn more about this prolific author, view a reading group guide, and preview the book.

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 Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian (2002)
I was intrigued by the basic premise of this book, about a couple who tragically lose their twin daughters in a flood, then several years later decide to become foster parents. They take in a 10-year-old African American boy named Alfred. This heartwarming story reveals how this little boy affects the lives of everyone he meets. One of the highlights of the story is how an endearing friendship develops between Alfred and an elderly, retired neighbor. It shows how anyone, no matter what age, can bring hope and encouragement into another person’s life.

Read an excerpt and reading group guide at BookReporter.com and visit the author's website.

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.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich (2010)
The latest from Louise Erdrich is a difficult book to read since it is about the disintegration of a marriage, the impact on all members of the family and the ugliness of behavior that the situation can provoke. A quick read, but not an easy one.

Read the New York Times review and listen to the NPR interview with the author discussing her book.

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (2010)
Schine puts a clever spin on the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility. Instead of two young women and their mother being thrown out of their home by their brother and his greedy wife when their father dies, the sisters are middle aged and their mother loses her home when her husband of nearly fifty years decides to divorce her and marry his greedy work assistant. For those familiar with the original the popping up of each character who parallels a character in the original is a treat. But just because you have read the original, don't think you know how this one turns out.

Visit the author's blog to learn more about her and her novels and read the New York Times review.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, has written another compelling, good read. This time it's about two beautiful, wealthy sisters, Pearl and May, who are forced into arranged marriages with two unknown American men when the bottom falls out of their father's lucrative business just as Japan invades China. Tragedy after tragedy befall them in China and in America. Their sisterly bond remains intact as they work to survive what happens. It's a page turner, but be forewarned: the ending cries “sequel to come.”

Check out the author's website and read reviews at Amazon.com.

Finn by Jon Clinch

Finn by Jon Clinch (2007)
Jon Clinch’s first novel has created a fascinating story based on a minor character from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huck’s abusive, alcoholic father, Pap, who meets a mysterious, violent end. This is definitely not an easy, breezy novel of life on the Mississippi, but rather a story of damaged souls and complicated relationships. According to Clinch, Huck’s pa was not a nice guy!

I enjoyed the exploration of the backstory to an American classic and think I’ll try Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, which takes a look at the mad woman in Jane Eyre’s attic. I'll let you know how that goes!

Preview the book, read reviews and visit the author's website.