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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



Dash by Kirby Larson (2014)

dashI knew little about the Japanese internment camps of WWII before reading this Bluestem-nominated novel (for grades 3-5). But while based in a significant historical time period, the story itself revolves primarily around the relationship between the main character (Mitzi) and her beloved dog, Dash, as well as friends and classmates as they process the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Dash by Kirby Larson is a short listen or read for dog-lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts.

Citizens Creek by Lalita Tademy (2014)

citizenscreekThis book is arranged in two parts: first about Cow Tom, born a slave and sold to a Creek Indian chief before he was 10 and then about his granddaughter, Rose who was born free. Tom gained his name while tending the tribe’s cows under the direction of his mentor, Old Turtle. Tom wanted more than living on someone else’s land, doing another’s bidding; he wanted marriage, a son, and most of all freedom. Both Old Turtle and Chief Yargee recognize Tom’s special skills with language and the Chief allows Tom to apply part of his earnings as a translator towards his and his family’s freedom.

Rose dearly loved her grandfather and desperately wanted to find her place as a respected member of the family, the tribe, and break the family curse of only girl babies. These stories show family and tribal commitment from black slaves and freedmen at a time of conflict and removal of tribes from the southeast into Oklahoma Indian Territory. In Lalita Tademy’s Citizens Creek, the reader can easily become involved with the characters from their loyalty to one another and their conversations about their problems and struggle to reach their goals.

Sycamore Row by John Grisham (2013)

sycamorerowA very rich man (Seth) kills himself by hanging and leaves much of his estate to his black caregiver by a holographic will. Of course, Seth’s family challenges the will; a jury must determine whether Seth’s handwritten will is valid.

John Grisham’s masterful storytelling leads the reader through the trial, the families’ histories and a look at justice and redemption. This is one of Grisham’s best novels set in Clanton, Mississippi, with a street lawyer (Jake) from A Time to Kill as the principal character. Grisham teases the reader to find out why a deceased man would abandon his children and grandchildren in such a manner; how he accumulated such a fortune; and what became of his brother who is mentioned in the handwritten will. Amazing characters, afflicted with greed, stupidity, racism and drink color the story in Sycamore Row and entertain the reader as he navigates through this engaging tale. For more information, read this review in the New York Times.

Mandarin Gate by Eliot Pattison (2012)

In this seventh of the Inspector Shan series, we have culture, politics, and a compelling mystery to keep one reading another page when it is time to turn off the light and go to sleep. In Mandarin Gate, neither the reader nor Inspector Shan (now demoted to irrigation ditch inspector) can see a reason for the terrible triple murder but can only speculate as to a possible cause. Beijing wants the crime solved without international ripples and Inspector Shan is very concerned that the recent suicide of his friend, an unregistered Tibetan monk, may have implications in the case. Readers concerned about China’s dismantlement of Tibet’s culture and religion will find much to think about while reading Eliot Pattison’s compelling novel.

 

The Round House by Louise Erdrich (2012)

Like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Round House is narrated by a young person, 13-year-old Joe, of the Ojibwe tribe, whose mother has been brutally attacked and whose father, a tribal Judge, tries to find justice. As the story unfolds, Joe, with the help of his three friends, sees it as his responsibility to bring protection and vindication to his family.

The story is interwoven with colorful characters engaging Joe and his friends along their way. There is the ex-Marine priest who refuses to include target practice on gophers as part of Joe’s confirmation, the centenarian grandfather who tells stories of the tribe in his sleep and still enjoys worldly pleasures when he can get Sonia the ex-stripper to visit, and uncle Whitey, Sonia’s significant other who becomes jealous when she directs too much motherly attention to Joe. All of these play poignant and sometimes humorous scenes in the story.
The Round House is more than just a hunt for the attacker; it is the extended Native American family showing concern and helping one another, the tension and humor of dealing with the Anglo community, and young boys struggling to grow up. The story ends with hard happenings, but like Mockingbird, brings closure to the injustice.

Louise Erdrich's novel also won the  2012 National Book Award.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (2010)

I haven’t read such fun book for a long time, the kind you hate to see end. Major Pettigrew is a “one of kind character,” warm, human, complex yet naïve. The author artfully tells the story from Pettigrew’s perspective. What a story it is. A lovely Muslim storekeeper is the Juliette of this September romance and they make a delicious pair as they tread their way through prejudice of a small English town, their families, and their own personal hang ups.

 One of the strong points of the book is the pacing. It is a work of art the way the plots moves quickly along to a photo finish. The morality of change, good and bad, presents a fascinating dilemma but never in a boorish or boring way. Go for it.

 Drop in the library for a book discussion on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:00.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
The novel traces the story of two sisters and their lives from Shanghai to California. At times it’s very heart wrenching. Shanghai Girls shows how strong the bond between sisters is.

Preview this incredibly popular book, visit the author's website, and watch the author discuss her book on YouTube.

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.

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco (2009)
How can we take time to learn from the past during a dire and urgent emergency? As both war journalist and cartoonist, Sacco depicts the bleak existence of Palestinians living in the Gaza strip with incredible skill. He documents his interviews and the situation in contemporary Gaza while trying to piece together the events of a massacre in 1956.

The entire investigative tale, with its demolished homes and weathered inhabitants, is illustrated in jaw-dropping, painstaking detail. Sacco captures the omnipresent grief, pain and anger, along with occasional moments of humanity and levity.

Read the New York Times review and watch the author interview.

Over 400 pages long, this is not a mere comic book. This is a hefty, eye-opening read that will tug at your heart.


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.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
I really enjoyed this book. It has a good story line and well developed characters. I enjoyed learning about Afghanistan and its culture. Read more about the book and view a trailer for the movie. Read the reviews at Amazon.com and use the reading group guide.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri (2003)
I loved this novel about the Gonguli family – who left their home in India in the late 1960s to begin a new life in America. It’s a story not only about the immigrant experience, but also about the family ties that bind us all. Beautifully written.

Come join the Novel Idea book discussion of this title on Wednesday, October 14 at 7:30.

Read an interview with the author, preview the book, and explore a reading guide to the book.

The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Epstein


The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein (2008)
Reminiscent of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, this novel is a re-imagining of the life of Pan Yuliang and how she went from prostitute to post-Impressionist artist. Pan Yuliang was actually one of the most talented and provocative Chinese artists of the twentieth century. The background of historical events make The Painter from Shanghai an irresistible story.

Visit the author's website, read an interview with the author, and check out the reviews.

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates

Midnight at the Dragon Café by Judy Fong Bates (2004)
This coming of age novel is a wonderfully written, unique and imaginative, first novel. Set in the 1960s, this is the story of a young girl, the daughter of a small Ontario town’s solitary Chinese family, over the course of a summer.

Told through Su-Jen’s eyes, the hard life behind the scenes at the Dragon Café unfolds. Su-Jen’s elderly father and beautiful young mother are unhappy in their marriage. Su-Jen’s mother is miserable in this new small town.

Su-Jen is rapidly adapting to life in Canada and goes through all the ups and downs of a typical 1960s childhood. She develops a friendship with Charlotte, a spirited girl who behaves in a way that is older than her years. There is also tragedy, foreshadowed, yet still a shock when it finally occurs.

The first and last paragraphs of Midnight at the Dragon Café are poignant and are Su-Jen’s reflections on a fate she thinks should have been hers.