2012 Great Group Reads
The 2012 Great Group Reads features 19 novels and 1 memoir.
We hope you’ll read as many books as you can and enjoy them as much as we do. If you talk about them on social media, use #GreatGroupReads.
And if you are looking for people to share your love of reading with, the Bookwoman Book Club exclusively reads books from the GGR lists. It’s open to all WNBA members.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these fantastic reads!
Now, on to the list!
by John Boyne
Publication Date: July 10, 2012
Categories: historical, war, LGBTQ+
It is September 1919, and twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.
But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan’s visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As he recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will — from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.
The Absolutist is a masterful, unforgettable tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I.
An Age of Madness
by David Maine
Red Hen Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Categories: psychological, women, family
Dr. Regina Moss has built herself a successful career as a psychiatrist in Boston: she enjoys a lucrative private practice, hefty consultation fees, and a reputation that inspires colleagues and patients alike. Why then, is Regina haunted by her past? Why does her own daughter barely speak to her? What’s the story with her gruff, softhearted husband Walter — and why can’t Regina stop thinking about the lanky new tech on the ward? An Age of Madness peels back the layers of Regina’s psyche in a voice that is brash, bitter, and blackly humorous, laying bare her vulnerabilities while drawing the reader unnervingly close to this memorable heroine.
From the author of The Preservationist, which was hailed as “hilarious and illuminating” by The Los Angeles Times Book Review and “pithy and smart” by the New York Post, comes the latest turnabout in a career filled with unexpected surprises. An Age of Madness brings a sharp edge of psychological realism to a story filled with startling revelations and heartrending twists.
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach
Publication Date: September 7, 2011
Categories: literary, sports, pyschological, coming-of-age
A disastrous error on the field sends five lives into a tailspin in this widely acclaimed tale about love, life, and baseball, praised by the New York Times as “wonderful . . . a novel that is every bit as entertaining as it is affecting.”
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment — to oneself and to others.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
by Jan-Philippe Senker
Publication Date: January 31, 2012
Categories: literary, romance, family, women, cultural heritage
A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present. When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be . . . until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of.
Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.
by Kathy Hepinstall
Publication Date: April 10, 2012
Categories: literary, historical, women, mental health
Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Iris Dunleavy is put on trial by her husband, convicted of madness, and sent to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a compliant Virginia plantation wife. But her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing on notions of cruelty and property.
On this remote Florida island, Iris meets a wonderful collection of inmates in various states of sanity, including Ambrose Weller, a Confederate soldier haunted by war, whose dark eyes beckon to her. Can love in such a place be real? Can they escape, and will the war have left any way — any place — for them to make a life together?
by Alyson Hagy
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
May 2012 Indie Next List
With Boleto, Alyson Hagy delivers a masterfully told, exquisitely observed novel about our intimate relationships with animals and money, against the backdrop of a new West that is changing forever.
“Hagy follows modern-day Wyoming cowboy Will Testerman on his simple quest: to make his way in the world through his gift for working with horses, and to prove he can spot raw talent by training a quarter horse, bought cheap, into a polo pony he can sell for riches . . . Will himself is an endearing character, everything you’d want in a cowboy — honest, forthright, polite, capable, modest, yet not so squeaky clean that he makes your teeth ache. In language that is lucid and true, Hagy tells his story, one that will resound with readers long after Will Testerman rides off into the sunset.”—The Dallas Morning News
by Alice Hoffman
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Categories: literary, historical, Jewish
October 2011 Indie Next List
Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.
Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.
The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
Equal of the Sun
by Anita Amirrezvani
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
Categories: historical, literary, cultural heritage
June 2012 Indie Next List
Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, Equal of the Sun is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of the unlikely bond between a princess and a eunuch.
Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and protégée, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but her maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, possess an incredible tapestry of secrets that explode in a power struggle of epic proportions.
Legendary women — from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots — changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf of their sons, and ruled in their own right.
In Equal of the Sun, Anita Amirrezvani’s gorgeously crafted tale of power, loyalty, and love in the royal court of Iran, she brings one such woman to life, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi. Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and in her lustrous prose this rich and labyrinthine world comes to vivid life with a stunning cast of characters, passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.
by Jennifer Haigh
Publication Date: January 17, 2012
Categories: sci-fi, faith, family
June 2011 Indie Next List
When Sheila McGann sets out to redeem her disgraced brother, a once-beloved Catholic priest in suburban Boston, her quest will force her to confront cataclysmic truths about her fractured Irish-American family, her beliefs, and, ultimately, herself.
Award-winning author Jennifer Haigh follows her critically acclaimed novels Mrs. Kimble and The Condition with a captivating, vividly rendered portrait of fraying family ties and the trials of belief and devotion in Faith.
I Married You for Happiness
by Lily Tuck
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Categories: women, artist, illness, family
October 2011 Indie Next List
Throughout Lily Tuck’s wide-ranging and award-winning career, she has been praised by critics for her crisp, lean language and her sensuous explorations of exotic locales and complex psychologies. From Siam to Paraguay and beyond, Tuck inspires her readers to travel into unfamiliar realms. Her newest novel is no exception. In I Married You for Happiness, marriage, mathematics, and memory coalesce to create her most accessible, riveting, and deeply moving book yet.
“His hand is growing cold, still she holds it,” is how this story of a marriage begins. The tale unfolds over a single night, while Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Too shocked yet to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long marriage, beginning with their first meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician—it was a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love. As the reader is drawn through select memories — real and imagined — of events that occurred in places as distant and disparate as France, Wisconsin, Hong Kong, Mexico, and California, Tuck reveals the most private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys that shaped the lives of Nina and Philip.
Slender, powerful, and utterly engaging, I Married You for Happiness is not only a moving elegy to a man and a marriage, but also a meditation on the theory of probability and how chance can affect both a life and one’s consideration of the possibility of an afterlife.
In the Shadow of the Banyon
by Vaddey Ratner
Publication Date: August 7, 2012
Categories: biographical, historical, cultural heritage, Asian
PEN Hemingway Award Finalist; August 2012 Indie Next List
A beautiful celebration of the power of hope, this New York Times bestselling novel tells the story of a girl who comes of age during the Cambodian genocide.
You are about to read an extraordinary story, a PEN Hemingway Award finalist “rich with history, mythology, folklore, language and emotion.” It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors. It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry. It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the Cambodian killing fields between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives. It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss.
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus. Over the next four years, as the Khmer Rouge attempts to strip the population of every shred of individual identity, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival. Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.
A Land More Kind Than Home
by Wiley Cash
Publication Date: March 3, 2012
Categories: literary, thriller, faith, family, Southern
In his phenomenal debut novel — a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small North Carolina town — author Wiley Cash displays a remarkable talent for lyrical, powerfully emotional storytelling. A Land More Kind than Home is a modern masterwork of Southern fiction, reminiscent of the writings of John Hart (Down River), Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), Ron Rash (Serena), and Pete Dexter (Paris Trout) — one that is likely to be held in the same enduring esteem as such American classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and A Separate Peace.
A brilliant evocation of a place, a heart-rending family story, a gripping and suspenseful mystery — with A Land More Kind than Home, a major American novelist enthusiastically announces his arrival.
by Peter Behrens
Publication Date: March 6, 2012
Categories: literary, military, historical, romance, saga, family
The O’Briens is an unforgettable saga of love, loss, and change spanning half a century in the lives of a restless patriarch and his splendid, tragic, ambitious clan.
In Joe O’Brien — backwoods boy, railroad magnate, brooding soul — Peter Behrens gives us a fiercely compelling man who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling possibilities and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century. When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in Venice-by-the-Sea, California, their courtship becomes the first movement in a symphony of the generations. The O’Briens is the story of a marriage and a family moving through the turbulence of history, told with epic precision and wondrous imagination.
by Amanda Coplin
Publication Date: August 21, 2012
Categories: literary, historical, Westerns
At once intimate and epic, The Orchardist is historical fiction at its best, in the grand literary tradition of William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, and Toni Morrison.
In her stunningly original and haunting debut novel, Amanda Coplin evokes a powerful sense of place, mixing tenderness and violence as she spins an engrossing tale of a solitary orchardist who provides shelter to two runaway teenage girls in the untamed American West, and the dramatic consequences of his actions.
The Right-Hand Shore
by Christopher Tilghman
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Categories: literary, historical, family
A masterful novel that confronts the dilemmas of race, family, and forbidden love in the wake of America’s Civil War
Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel Mason’s Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and the Chesapeake Bay in The Right-Hand Shore.
It is 1920, and Edward Mason is making a call upon Miss Mary Bayly, the current owner of the legendary Mason family estate, the Retreat. Miss Mary is dying. She plans to give the Retreat to the closest direct descendant of the original immigrant owner that she can find. Edward believes he can charm the old lady, secure the estate, and be back in Baltimore by lunchtime.
Instead, over the course of a long day, he hears the stories that will forever bind him and his family to the land. He hears of Miss Mary’s grandfather brutally selling all his slaves in 1857 in order to avoid the reprisals he believes will come with Emancipation. He hears of the doomed efforts by Wyatt Bayly, Miss Mary’s father, to turn the Retreat into a vast peach orchard, and of Miss Mary and her brother growing up in a fractured and warring household. He learns of Abel Terrell, son of free blacks who becomes head orchardist, and whose family becomes intimately connected to the Baylys and to the Mason legacy.
The drama in this richly textured novel proceeds through vivid set pieces: on rural nineteenth-century industry; on a boyhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; on the unbreakable divisions of race and class; and, finally, on two families attempting to save a son and a daughter from the dangers of their own innocent love. The result is a radiant work of deep insight and peerless imagination about the central dilemma of American history.
Running the Rift
by Naomi Benaron
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Categories: general, coming-of-age, cultural heritage
Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction; January 2012 Indie Next List
Running the Rift follows the progress of Jean Patrick Nkuba from the day he knows that running will be his life to the moment he must run to save his life. A naturally gifted athlete, he sprints over the thousand hills of Rwanda and dreams of becoming his country’s first Olympic medal winner in track. But Jean Patrick is a Tutsi in a world that has become increasingly restrictive and violent for his people. As tensions mount between the Hutu and Tutsi, he holds fast to his dream that running might deliver him, and his people, from the brutality around them.
Naomi Benaron has written a stunning and gorgeous novel that — through the eyes of one unforgettable boy — explores a country’s unraveling, its tentative new beginning, and the love that binds its people together.
Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward
Publication Date: September 6, 2011
Categories: literary, racism, family, African American
Winner of the National Book Award; Summer 2012 Reading Group
Jesmyn Ward, two-time National Book Award winner and author of Sing, Unburied, Sing, delivers a gritty but tender novel about family and poverty in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull’s new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family — motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce — pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
Publication Date: February 1, 2012
Categories: literary, magical realism, family, historical
Pulitzer Prize Finalist; February 2012 Indie Next List
In this magical debut, a couple’s lives are changed forever by the arrival of a little girl, wild and secretive, on their snowy doorstep.
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone — but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
What Alice Forgot
by Liane Moriarty
Publication Date: June 2, 2011
Categories: literary, illness, psychological, family, women
Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually thirty-nine-years old.
Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over . . .
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
by Jeanette Winterson
Publication Date: November 1, 2011
Categories: memoir, LGBTQ+, abuse, mental health, women
Winner of the Stonewall Award; March 2012 Indie Next List
Jeanette Winterson’s bold and revelatory novels have earned her widespread acclaim, establishing her as a major figure in world literature. She has written some of the most admired books of the past few decades, including her internationally best-selling first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, the story of a young girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, that is now often required reading in contemporary fiction classes.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a memoir about a life’s work to find happiness. It is a book full of stories: about a girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night; about a religious zealot disguised as a mother who has two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the dresser, waiting for Armageddon; about growing up in a north England industrial town now changed beyond recognition; about the universe as a cosmic dustbin. It is the story of how a painful past, which Winterson thought she had written over and repainted, rose to haunt her later in life, sending her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also a book about other people’s literature, one that shows how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.
Witty, acute, fierce, and celebratory, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a tough-minded search for belonging — for love, identity, home, and a mother.
About Great Group Reads
Started as an initiative in 2009 for the Women’s National Book Association’s National Reading Group Month program, Great Group Reads is a list of recommended books perfect for shared reading. The list is released annually in time to celebrate National Reading Group Month in October.
“Booklist and the American Library Association share the Women’s National Book Association’s mission to get the word out about worthy and exciting books, and to encourage reading and book discussion. To commune privately with a book, then share the thoughts and feelings, questions and realizations that a book inspires is to expand and deepen one’s life and sense of connection. Booklist is delighted to join in the celebration of National Reading Group Month and the Great Group Reads selections.” — Donna Seaman, Editor, Adult Books, Booklist