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Gilead. Marilynne Robinson.

Rev. John Ames is 77 years old in 1956, in failing health, with a much younger wife and six-year-old son; as a preacher in the small Iowa town where he spent his entire life, he has produced volumes and volumes of sermons and prayers, "[t]rying to say what was true." But it is in this mesmerizing account—in the form of a letter to his young son, who he imagines reading it when he is grown—that his meditations on creation and existence are fully illumined. LP, A


Girl in Translation. Jean Kwok.

A resolute yet naïve Chinese girl confronts poverty and culture shock with equal zeal when she and her mother immigrate to Brooklyn. Ah-Kim Chang, or Kimberly as she is known in the U.S., had been a promising student in Hong Kong when her father died. Now she and her mother are indebted to Kimberly's Aunt Paula, who funded their trip from Hong Kong, so they dutifully work for her in a Chinatown clothing factory where they earn barely enough to keep them alive. Despite this, and living in a condemned apartment, Kimberly excels at school, perfects her English, and is eventually admitted to an elite, private high school.


Girl Named Zippy. Haven Kimmel

Named "Zippy" for the way she would bolt around her home, Kimmel's witty memoir takes readers back to a time when small-town America was caught in the amber of the innocent post-war period, where people helped their neighbors, went to church on Sunday, and kept barnyard animals in their backyards.

The Girls from Ames: a story of women and friendship. Jeffrey Zaslow.

Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child's illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. LP, E

The Glass Castle. Jeannette Walls.

Walls opens her memoir by describing looking out the window of her taxi, wondering if she's "overdressed for the evening" and spotting her mother on the sidewalk, "rooting through a Dumpster." Walls's parents—just two of the unforgettable characters in this excellent, unusual book—were a matched pair of eccentrics, and raising four children didn't conventionalize either of them. LP, A
Grand Opening. Jon Hassler.

The Foster family; Catherine, Hank, their 12-year-old son, Brendan, and Catherine's elderly father are urging a 1928 De Soto toward the town of Plum, Minn., and a time-honored American Dream: ownership of a business (they have purchased a dilapidated grocery store), a home and a sense of belonging. But Plum turns out to be a lemon; sour in spirit, pitted with religious bias and general mistrust.


Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck.

Controversial, even shocking, when it was written, the work continues to be so even today. It poses fundamental questions about justice, the ownership and stewardship of the land, the role of government, power, and the very foundations of capitalist society. As history, this brings the Dust Bowl years to life in a most memorable way. A


Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. LP, A, DA, E

The Handmaid and the Carpenter. Elizabeth Berg.

Berg's sweetly understated dramatization of the Nativity story casts Mary and Joseph as provincial teenagers who try to honor family tradition in spite of challenging circumstances. Alternating between the voices of the holy couple, Berg relates a romance that blossoms at the wedding of relatives between the 16-year-old carpenter from Nazareth and the comely 13-year-old girl originally from Sepphoris. LP


Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.


The Healing. Jonathan Odell.

Plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield’s intense grief over losing her daughter crosses the line into madness when she takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague that is sweeping through the plantation’s slave quarters, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave woman known as a healer who immediately senses a spark of the same gift in Granada. Soon, a domestic battle of wills begins, leading to a tragedy that weaves together three generations of strong Southern women. E, LP.

Heaven is for Real: a little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back. Todd Burpo.

Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. A, DA, E

The Help. Kathryn Stockett.

In Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, there are lines that are not crossed. With the civil rights movement exploding all around them, three women start a movement of their own, forever changing a town and the way women--black and white, mothers and daughters--view one another. LP, A, DA, E


The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again. J.R.R. Tolkien.

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum. A
Homestead. Rosina Lippi.

Each life has its place, and every variation ripples the surface of the tiny alpine villages called Rosenau. Be it a mysteriously misaddressed love letter, or a girl’s careless delivery of two helpless relatives into Nazi hands, the town’s balance is ever tested, and ever tender. Here is a novel spanning eighty years – years that bring factories and wars, store bought cheese, and city-trained teachers – weaving the fates of the wives, mothers, and daughters in this remote corner of Austria.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Jamie Ford.

Henry Lee, a Chinese-American in Seattle who, in 1986, has just lost his wife to cancer. After Henry hears that the belongings of Japanese immigrants interned during WWII have been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel, the narrative shuttles between 1986 and the 1940s in a story that chronicles the losses of old age and the bewilderment of youth. Henry recalls the difficulties of life in America during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American school friend, Keiko, wandered through wartime Seattle. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry, horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria, is further conflicted because of his Chinese father's anti-Japanese sentiment. A, E

The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins.

In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives. This is Book 1 of a trilogy. LP, A, DA


I Capture the Castle. Dodie Smith

The Story of a seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle” – and the heart of the reader – in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: and other thoughts on being a woman. Nora Ephron.

With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself. A, DA, E, LP.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou.

In this first of five volumes of autobiography, poet Maya Angelou recounts a youth filled with disappointment, frustration, tragedy, and finally hard-won independence. LP, A
An Invisible Thread. Laura Schroff.

She was a successful ad sales rep in Manhattan. He was a homeless, eleven-year-old panhandler on the street. He asked for spare change; she kept walking. But then something stopped her in her tracks, and she went back. And she continued to go back, again and again. They met up nearly every week for years and built an unexpected, life-changing friendship that has today spanned almost three decades. 
Jayber Crow. Wendell Berry.

Jayber himself is an orphan, lately returned to the town of Port William. His status as barber and bachelor places him simultaneously at its center and on its margins. A born observer, he hears much, watches carefully, and spends 50 years learning its citizens by heart.


The Kite Runner. Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable. They spend idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors until an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever, and eventually cements their bond in ways neither boy could have ever predicted. LP, A

The Kitchen Boy. Robert Alexander.

Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra as seen through the eyes of the Romanovs’ young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanov’s brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder?

Last of her Kind. Sigrid Nunez.

Two women meet as freshmen on the Columbia campus in 1968. Georgette George does not know what to make of her brilliant, idealistic roommate, Ann Drayton, and her obsessive disdain for the ruling class into which she was born. She is mortified by Ann's romanticization of the underprivileged class, which Georgette herself is hoping college will enable her to escape....


Leaving Mother Lake. Yang Erche Namu.

With the help of anthropologist Mathieu, singer Namu describes growing up on the Chinese-Tibetan border in Moso country, "the Country of the Daughters." Detailing her late-1960s, early-'70s upbringing-she was known in her village as "the girl who was given back three times"-she sheds light on the unique matrilineal Moso culture, with its "walking marriages," where women take as many lovers as they want and the men continue to reside in their mothers' homes.


Left Neglected. Lisa Genova.

Sarah Nickerson, like any other working mom, is busy trying to have it all. One morning while racing to work and distracted by her cell phone, she looks away from the road for one second too long. In that blink of an eye, all the rapidly moving parts of her over-scheduled life come to a screeching halt. After a brain injury steals her awareness of everything on her left side, Sarah must retrain her mind to perceive the world as a whole. In so doing, she also learns how to pay attention to the people and parts of her life that matter most. A, LP
A Lesson Before Dying. Ernest J. Gaines.

From the author of A Gathering of Old Men and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman comes a deep and compassionate novel. A young man who returns to 1940s Cajun country to teach, visits a black youth on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Together they come to understand the heroism of resisting. E

Life of Pi. Yann Martel.

Pi Patel is an unusual boy. The son of a zookeeper, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior, a fervent love of stories, and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.... LP, A, E


A Long Year of Silence. Kathryn Adams Doty.

A sixteen-year-old minister’s daughter, Emma faces relationship challenges with her parents and her peers when the United States enters World War I and anti-German hysteria sweeps through New Ulm, Minnesota.


Long-Shining Waters. Danielle Sosin.

Grey Rabbit, an Ojibwe woman living by the lake in 1622, is a mother and wife whose dream-life has taken on fearful dimensions. As she struggles to understand “what she is shown at night,” her psyche and her world edge toward irreversible change. In 1902, Berit and Gunnar, a Norwegian fishing couple, also live on the lake. Berit is unable to conceive, and the lake anchors her isolated life and tests the limits of her endurance and spirit. And in 2000, when Nora, a seasoned bar owner, loses her job and is faced with an open-ended future, she is drawn reluctantly into a road trip around the great lake. E.


Looking for Lost Bird: A Jewish Woman Discovers her Navaho Roots. Yvette Melanson

While growing up as an adopted child in a Jewish family, the author of this compelling memoir never quite fit in with expectations of who she was supposed to be. On the Internet, with help she attributes to both kind strangers and the Great Spirit, Melanson discovers the reason she didn't fit in, uncovering the bizarre truth that she is, in fact, Navajo.

Loving Frank. Nancy Horan.

A fictionalization of the life of Mamah Borthwick Cheney, best known as the woman who wrecked Frank Lloyd Wright's first marriage. Despite the title, this is not a romance, but a portrayal of an independent, educated woman at odds with the restrictions of the early 20th century.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Helen Simonson.

In her witty and wise debut novel, newcomer Helen Simonson introduces the unforgettable character of the widower Major Ernest Pettigrew.  The Major epitomizes the Englishman with the "stiff upper lip," who clings to traditional values and has tried (in vain) to pass these along to his yuppie son, Roger. The story centers around Pettigrew's fight to keep his greedy relatives (including his son) from selling a valuable family heirloom--a pair of hunting rifles that symbolizes much of what he stands for, or at least what he thinks he does. LP, A, DA, E



Me Before You: A Novel. Jojo Moyes..

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living. LP, E

The Memory of Running. Ron McLarty.

By all accounts, especially his own, Smithson “Smithy”” Ide is a loser. An overweight, friendless, chain-smoking, forty-three-year-old drunk, Smithy’s life becomes completely unhinged when he loses his beloved parents and long lost sister all within the span of one week. Rolling down the driveway of his parents’ house in Rhode Island on his old Raleigh bicycle in an effort to escape his grief, the emotionally bereft Smithy embarks on an epic, hilarious, luminous, and extraordinary journey of discovery and redemption. LP, A

Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Kim Edwards.

On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret.... LP, A


Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. Brady Udall.

If I could tell you only one thing about my life, it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close.


Moloka’i. Alan Brennert.

This debut novel tracks the grim struggle of a Hawaiian woman who contracts leprosy as a child in Honolulu during the 1890s and is deported to the island of Moloka'i, where she grows to adulthood at the quarantined settlement of Kalaupapa.


Mountains Beyond Mountains. Tracy Kidder.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most.

My Sister’s Keeper. Jodi Picoult.

Kate Fitzgerald has a rare form of leukemia. Her sister, Anna, was conceived to provide a donor match for procedures that become increasingly invasive. At 13, Anna hires a lawyer so that she can sue her parents for the right to make her own decisions about how her body is used when a kidney transplant is planned. Meanwhile, Jesse, the neglected oldest child of the family, is out setting fires, which his firefighter father, Brian, inevitably puts out. Picoult ably explores a complex subject with bravado and clarity, and comes up with a heart-wrenching, unexpected plot twist at the book's conclusion. LP, A

Nickel and Dimed. Barbara Ehrenreich.

Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- could be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour?... LP


Night. Elie Wiesel.

In Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's memoir Night, a scholarly, pious teenager is wracked with guilt at having survived the horror of the Holocaust and the genocidal campaign that consumed his family. His memories of the nightmare world of the death camps present him with an intolerable question: how can the God he once so fervently believed in have allowed these monstrous events to occur? A
Night Birds. Thomas Maltman.

In 1862, led by Chief Little Crow and incited by the government's failure to provide their annuity, the Dakota Sioux staged an uprising in Minnesota, slaughtering hundreds of settlers. As a result, 38 Dakota men were hanged, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Maltman's promising first novel bounces between the years leading up to this atrocity-laden conflict and 1876, when the James-Younger gang would stir up its own brand of bloody mayhem in Minnesota. E

A Night to Remember. Walter Lord.

First published in 1955, A Night to Remember remains a completely riveting account of the Titanic's fatal collision and the behavior of the passengers and crew, both noble and ignominious. Some sacrificed their lives, while others fought like animals for their own survival. Wives beseeched husbands to join them in lifeboats; gentlemen went taut-lipped to their deaths in full evening dress; and hundreds of steerage passengers, trapped below decks, sought help in vain. This book was selected as the 2012 North Mankato Community Read. A, E

The Nine. Jeffrey Toobin.

It's not laws or constitutional theory that rule the High Court, argues this absorbing group profile, but quirky men and women guided by political intuition


1984 George Orwell.

The year is 1984; the scene is London, largest population center of Airstrip One. In a grim city and a terrifying country, where Big Brother is always Watching You and the Thought Police can practically read your mind, Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. He knows the Party's official image of the world is a fluid fiction. He knows the Party controls the people by feeding them lies and narrowing their imaginations through a process of bewilderment and brutalization that alienates each individual from his fellows and deprives him of every liberating human pursuit. A, E


Oh my Stars. Lorna Landvik.

As this folksy novel opens, the sadness in Violet's life is as thick as the cream on top of the milk bucket. Faced with abandonment, cruelty and a life-altering accident, Violet has an empty heart but also finds herself open to change, which enters in the form of a parade of characters. LP, E



Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout.

Thirteen linked tales present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers living lives of quiet grief intermingled with flashes of human connection. A, E




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