2013 Great Group Reads
We have 21 fantastic books for all who like literary fiction and memoir!
This curated list takes the best books published from October 2012 through September 2013.
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 a book club to join, the Bookwoman Book Club exclusively reads books from the GGR lists.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these fantastic reads!
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Categories: literary, racism, immigrants, African, cultural heritage
Longlisted for the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu — beautiful, self-assured — departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze — the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor — had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion — for their homeland and for each other — they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.
by Jess Walter
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Categories: historical, literary, romance
July 2012 Indie Next List
The acclaimed, award-winning author of the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets returns with his funniest, most romantic, and most purely enjoyable novel yet.
Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, Beautiful Ruins is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 . . . and is rekindled in Hollywood fifty years later.
by Lionel Shriver
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Categories: literary, family
From the New York Times bestselling author Lionel Shriver, a striking novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity
When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the Iowa airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the four years since she last saw him, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? And it’s not just the weight. Edison breaks her husband Fletcher’s handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school. After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it’s him or me. But which loyalty is paramount, that of a wife or a sister? For without Pandora’s support, surely Edison will eat himself into an early grave.
Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat — an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much we are obligated to help members of our families, and whether it’s ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Categories: historical, war, family
May 2013 Indie Next List; National Book Award Longlist Selection; Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Winner
In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.
For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
by Ray Robertson
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Categories: literary, historical, slavery, African American
“God and whiskey have got me where I am. Too little of the one, too much of the other.”
—David King, 1895.
Born a slave in 1847, but raised as a free man by the Reverend William King, David has rebelled against his emancipator and his predestined future in the church. He’s taken up residence in the nearby town of Chatham, made a living robbing graves, and now presides—in the company of a German ex-prostitute named Loretta—over an illegal after-hours tavern.
These days that final, violent confrontation with Reverend King seems like a lifetime ago. The residents of Chatham know David as a God-cursing, liquor-slinging, money-having man-about-town, famously educated and fabulously eccentric. And he seems to be more-or-less happy … that is, until the death of Reverend King brings his past crashing down upon him.
Inspired by the Elgin Settlement, which by 1852 housed 75 free black families and was studied by Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, David is a fiery look at one man’s quest for knowledge and forgiveness, and a moving portrait of life after the Underground Railroad.
The House Girl
by Tara Conklin
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
Categories: literary, historical, artist, racism, slavery, African American, cultural heritage
February 2013 Indie Next List
The House Girl, the historical fiction debut by Tara Conklin, is an unforgettable story of love, history, and a search for justice, set in modern-day New York and 1852 Virginia.
Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine . . .
2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.
1852: Josephine is a seventeen-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm — an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.
It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.
A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the lawsuit — if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine’s fate following Lu Anne Bell’s death in 1852. In piecing together Josephine’s story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother’s mysterious death twenty years before.
Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and asks whether truth can be more important than justice. Featuring two remarkable, unforgettable heroines, Tara Conklin’s The House Girl is riveting and powerful, literary fiction at its very best.
How It All Began
by Penelope Lively
Publication Date: November 27, 2012
A vibrant new novel from Penelope Lively — a wry, wise story about the surprising ways lives intersect.
When Charlotte Rainsford, a retired schoolteacher, is accosted by a petty thief on a London street, the consequences ripple across the lives of acquaintances and strangers alike. A marriage unravels after an illicit love affair is revealed through an errant cell phone message; a posh yet financially strapped interior designer meets a business partner who might prove too good to be true; an old-guard historian tries to recapture his youthful vigor with an ill-conceived idea for a TV miniseries; and a middle-aged central European immigrant learns to speak English and reinvents his life with the assistance of some new friends.
Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet. Brought to life in her hallmark graceful prose and full of keen insights into human nature, How It All Began is an engaging, contemporary tale that is sure to strike a chord with her legion of loyal fans as well as new readers. A writer of rare wisdom, elegance, and humor, Lively is a consummate storyteller whose gifts are on full display in this masterful work.
Is This Tomorrow
by Caroline Leavitt
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
May 2013 Indie Next List
In 1956, Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a desirable Boston suburb. Ava is beautiful, divorced, Jewish, and a working mom. She finds her neighbors less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood — in the throes of Cold War paranoia — seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son.
Years later, when Lewis and Rose reunite to untangle the final pieces of the tragic puzzle, they must decide: Should you tell the truth even if it hurts those you love, or should some secrets remain buried?
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Categories: historical, war, sci-fi
What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
Darkly comic, startlingly poignant, and utterly original: this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best.
by Jillian Cantor
Publication Date: September 03, 2013
Categories: historical, Jewish, cultural heritage
A story of sisters that imagines Anne Frank’s sister Margot survived World War II and was living in America, from the author of The Lost Letter and The Hours Count.
Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten. In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.
Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history.
by Marisa Silver
Publication Date: March 7, 2013
Categories: literary, historical, women, artists, poverty
March 2013 Indie Next List
Bestselling author Marisa Silver takes Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother photograph as inspiration for a story of two women — one famous and one forgotten — and their remarkable chance encounter.
In 1936, a young mother resting by the side of the road in central California is spontaneously photographed by a woman documenting migrant laborers in search of work. Few personal details are exchanged and neither woman has any way of knowing that they have produced one of the most iconic images of the Great Depression.
In present day, Walker Dodge, a professor of cultural history, stumbles upon a family secret embedded in the now-famous picture. In luminous prose, Silver creates an extraordinary tale from a brief event in history and its repercussions throughout the decades that follow — a reminder that a great photograph captures the essence of a moment yet only scratches the surface of a life.
by Jami Attenberg
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Categories: literary, women, family, Jewish
November 2012 Indie Next List
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food–thinking about it, eating it–and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle — a whippet thin perfectionist– is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?
With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.
Nowhere Is a Place
by Bernice L. McFadden
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Categories: literary, women, family, coming-of-age, African American
Nothing can mend a broken heart quite like family.
Sherry has struggled all her life to understand who she is, where she comes from, and, most important, why her mother slapped her cheek one summer afternoon. The incident has haunted Sherry, and it causes her to dig into her family’s past. Like many family histories, it is fractured and stubbornly reluctant to reveal its secrets; but Sherry is determined to know the full story.
In just a few days time, her extended family will gather for a reunion, and Sherry sets off across the country with her mother, Dumpling, to join them. What Sherry and Dumpling find on their trip is far more important than scenic sites here and there — it is the assorted pieces of their family’s past. Pulled together, they reveal a history of amazing survival and abundant joy.
The One-Way Bridge
by Cathie Pelletier
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Categories: general, family, women
In her highly anticipated new novel, acclaimed literary master Cathie Pelletier returns to Mattagash, Maine, the beloved New England town where it all started.
Welcome to Mattagash, the last town in the middle of the northern Maine wilderness. The road dead-ends here, but Mattagash’s citizens are fiercely proud.
Yet this simple town connected by a single one-way bridge is anything but tranquil. While neighbors bicker publicly over trivialities such as offensive mailbox designs and gossip about suspicious newcomers, they privately struggle to navigate deeper issues — scandals, loss, failed ambitions, the scars of war . . . and a mysterious dead body in the woods.
With her trademark wit and keen eye for detail, Pelletier has assembled an unforgettable cast of endearing and eccentric characters, from scheming mailmen and peeping toms to lovesick waitresses and loggers whose underhandedness belies their ingenuity. The citizens of Mattagash will make you laugh and cheer for them as they stumble into one another’s lives and strive to define themselves in a changing world that threatens to leave them behind.
The One-Way Bridge is an extraordinary portrait of family, loneliness, and community — and the kinds of compromises we all make in the name of love.
by William Kent Krueger
Publication Date: October 1, 2013
Categories: historical, mystery, coming-of-age
Winner of the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel; Winner of the 2013 Dilys Award
From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger, a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family — which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother — he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
The Other Typist
by Suzanne Rindell
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Categories: historical, women, murder, psychological thrillers
Perfect for fans of Lara Prescott’s The Secrets We Kept, this haunting debut novel — and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year — is set against the background of New York City in the 1920s . . .
Confessions are Rose Baker’s job. A typist for the New York City Police Department, she sits in judgment like a high priestess. Criminals come before her to admit their transgressions, and, with a few strokes of the keys before her, she seals their fate. But while she may hear about shootings, knifings, and crimes of passion, as soon as she leaves the room, she reverts to a dignified and proper lady. Until Odalie joins the typing pool. As Rose quickly falls under the stylish, coquettish Odalie’s spell, she is lured into a sparkling underworld of speakeasies and jazz. And what starts as simple fascination turns into an obsession from which she may never recover.
The Round House
by Louise Erdrich
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Categories: coming-of-age, Native American
National Book Award for fiction; October 2012 Indie Next List
One of the most revered novelists of our time — a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life — Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.
Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction — at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.
by Amity Gaige
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Categories: literary, family
A lyrical and deeply affecting novel recounting the seven days a father spends on the road with his daughter after kidnapping her during a parental visit.
Attending a New England summer camp, young Eric Schroder — a first-generation East German immigrant — adopts the last name Kennedy to more easily fit in, a fateful white lie that will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course.
Schroder relates the story of Eric’s urgent escape years later to Lake Champlain, Vermont, with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amid a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life to understand-and maybe even explain-his behavior: the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.
Alternately lovesick and ecstatic, Amity Gaige’s deftly imagined novel offers a profound meditation on history and fatherhood, and the many identities we take on in our lives–those we are born with and those we construct for ourselves.
by Roxana Robinson
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Categories: literary, military, war
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Nominee
Conrad Farrell does not come from a military family, but as a classics major at Williams College, he has encountered the powerful appeal of the Marine Corps ethic: Semper Fidelis comes straight from Sparta, a society where every citizen doubled as a full-time soldier. When Conrad graduates, he joins the Marines to continue a long tradition of honor, courage, and commitment over the course of a four-year tour in Iraq. When we meet him, he has just come home to Katonah, New York. As Conrad attempts to find his footing in the civilian world, he learns how hard it is to return to the people and places he used to love. Gradually, he awakens to a growing rage and the realization that something has gone wrong.
Suspenseful, compassionate, and perceptive, Roxana Robinson’s Sparta “is a beautifully written novel that illuminates what happens when we’re estranged from the world as we know it” (Chicago Tribune).
by Margaret Wrinkle
Publication Date: February 5, 2013
Categories: historical, literary, racism, slavery
Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction Flaherty Dunnan Award; Finalist for the 2013 Chautauqua Prize
In this luminous debut, Margaret Wrinkle takes us on an unforgettable journey across continents and through time, from the burgeoning American South to West Africa and deep into the ancestral stories that reside in the soul. Wash introduces a remarkable new voice in American literature.
In early 1800s Tennessee, two men find themselves locked in an intimate power struggle. Richardson, a troubled Revolutionary War veteran, has spent his life fighting not only for his country but also for wealth and status. When the pressures of westward expansion and debt threaten to destroy everything he’s built, he sets Washington, a young man he owns, to work as his breeding sire. Wash, the first member of his family to be born into slavery, struggles to hold onto his only solace: the spirituality inherited from his shamanic mother.
As he navigates the treacherous currents of his position, despair and disease lead him to a potent healer named Pallas. Their tender love unfolds against this turbulent backdrop while she inspires him to forge a new understanding of his heritage and his place in it. Once Richardson and Wash find themselves at a crossroads, all three lives are pushed to the brink.
The Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
Categories: literary, war, psychological
Finalist for the National Book Award; September 2012 Indie Next List
The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive in Iraq.
“The war tried to kill us in the spring.” So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss.
In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.
In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.
With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.
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