2018 Great Group Reads
The 2018 Great Group Reads are so varied, so rich, so interesting — we’ll hope you’ll read one, or two, or all of them!
After careful consideration by the Great Group Reads (GGR) committee, 20 books have been chosen that make the perfect selections for book clubs, reading groups, libraries, bookstores, and others who love to read together and discuss what they’ve read.
We hope you’ll read as many books as you can and enjoy them just as much as we do. If you talk about them on social media, you can use #GreatGroupReads.
If you’d like to read the books from the GGR list with others but don’t have a group to share the list with, we invite you to join the Bookwoman Book Club, which exclusively reads GGR books. All WNBA members are welcome. We hope you’ll join us!
America for Beginners
by Leah Franqui
Publication Date: July 24, 2018
Categories: women’s, racism, immigration, family, friendship
Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.
Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly — heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.
Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi — a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream — it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year — and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week “working” vacation traveling across America be?
Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son — and her hopes of a reunion with him — are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America — and themselves — in different and profound new ways.
A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.
As Wide as the Sky
by Jessica Park
Publication Date: July 31, 2018
Categories: women’s, school shooting, grief, capital punishment
Five am: Amanda Mallorie wakes to the knowledge that her son Robbie is gone. And a new chapter of her own life must begin. She has spent four years as her son’s only support, desperately trying to understand the actions that landed him on death row and to change his fate. Now Amanda faces an even more difficult task — finding a way, and a reason, to move forward with her own life.
Before the tragedy that unfolded in a South Dakota mall, Robbie was just like other people’s sons or daughters. Sometimes troubled, but sweet and full of goodness too. That’s the little boy Amanda remembers as she packs up his childhood treasures and progress reports, and discovers a class ring she’s never seen before. Who does it belong to and why did Robbie have it in his possession? So begins a journey that will remind her not only of who Robbie used to be, but of a time when she wasn’t afraid — to talk to strangers, to help those in need, to reach out. Robbie’s choices can never be unmade, but there may still be time for forgiveness and trust to grow again. For a future as wide as the sky.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance
by Ruth Emmie Lang
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Categories: fantasy, magical realism, environmental
Full of nature and wonder, love and adventure, Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is a beautifully written novel that “bristles with charm and curiosity” (Winston Groom, New York Times bestselling author of Forrest Gump).
Born in a blizzard, orphaned, and believed to be raised by wolves, Weylyn Grey is someone who inspires endless curiosity in everyone he’s ever met. People say that once Weylyn wanders into your world, you’ll wish he’d never leave. But what makes him different? How does he possess the ability to transform others’ lives? How does he manage to find — and create — magic in the ordinary?
This is the story of Weylyn’s journey, told from the perspective of those who knew him, loved him, or were bewildered by him along the way. In this stunning and deeply imaginative debut, author Ruth Emmie Lang introduces us to a character who will live in readers’ hearts long after the last page is turned.
Dear Mrs. Bird
by A.J. Pearce
Publication Date: July 13, 2018
Categories: historical, coming of age, humor, WWII, women’s
August 2018 Indie Next List, Summer 2019 Reading Group Indie Next List
This charming, irresistible debut novel set in London during World War II about a young woman who longs to be a war correspondent and inadvertently becomes a secret advice columnist is “a jaunty, heartbreaking winner” (People) — for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.
Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are doing their bit for the war effort and trying to stay cheerful, despite the German planes making their nightly raids. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent, and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance; but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, renowned advice columnist of Woman’s Friend magazine.
Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who many have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she begins to secretly write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.
“Fans of Jojo Moyes will enjoy A.J. Pearce’s debut, with its plucky female characters and fresh portrait of women’s lives in wartime Britain” (Library Journal) — a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times. “Headlined by its winning lead character, who always keeps carrying on, Pearce’s novel is a delight” (Publishers Weekly). Irrepressibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs. Bird is “funny and poignant…about the strength of women and the importance of friendship” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis).
The Home for Unwanted Girls
by Joanna Goodman
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Categories: literary, historical, family, women’s
Philomena meets Orphan Train in this suspenseful, provocative novel filled with love, secrets, and deceit — the story of a young unwed mother who is forcibly separated from her daughter at birth and the lengths to which they go to find each other.
In 1950s Quebec, French and English tolerate each other with precarious civility — much like Maggie Hughes’s parents. Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over. But Maggie’s heart is captured by Gabriel Phénix. When she becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption and get her life ‘back on track.’
Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. Bright and determined, Elodie withstands abysmal treatment at the nuns’ hands, finally earning her freedom at seventeen, when she is thrust into an alien, often unnerving world.
Maggie, married to a businessman eager to start a family, cannot forget the daughter she was forced to abandon, and a chance reconnection with Gabriel spurs a wrenching choice. As time passes, the stories of Maggie and Elodie intertwine but never touch, until Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter, finally reclaiming the truth that has been denied them both.
A House Among the Trees
by Julia Glass
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Categories: literary, women’s, LGBTQ, friendship, artists
Julia Glass’s richly imagined novel begins just after the sudden death of world-renowned children’s book author Mort Lear, who leaves behind a wholly unexpected will, an idyllic country house, and difficult secrets about a childhood far darker than those of the beloved characters he created for young readers of all ages. Left to grapple with the consequences of his final wishes are Tommy Daulair, his longtime live-in assistant; Merry Galarza, a museum curator betrayed by those wishes; and Nick Greene, a beguiling actor preparing to play Lear in a movie.
When Nick pays a visit to Lear’s home, he and Tommy confront what it means to be entrusted with the great writer’s legacy and reputation. Tommy realizes that despite his generous bequest, the man to whom she devoted decades of her life has left her with grave doubts about her past as well as her future. Vivid and gripping, filled with insight and humor, A House Among the Trees is an unforgettable story about friendship and love, artistic ambition, the perils of fame, and the sacrifices made by those who serve the demands of a creative genius.
by Richard Wagamese
Publication Date: April 10, 2018
Categories: literary, Native American, coming of age, Own Voices, racism
Saul Indian Horse is a child when his family retreats into the woods. Among the lakes and the cedars, they attempt to reconnect with half-forgotten traditions and hide from the authorities who have been kidnapping Ojibway youth. But when winter approaches, Saul loses everything: his brother, his parents, his beloved grandmother — and then his home itself.
Alone in the world and placed in a horrific boarding school, Saul is surrounded by violence and cruelty. At the urging of a priest, he finds a tentative salvation in hockey. Rising at dawn to practice alone, Saul proves determined and undeniably gifted. His intuition and vision are unmatched. His speed is remarkable. Together they open doors for him: away from the school, into an all-Ojibway amateur circuit, and finally within grasp of a professional career. Yet as Saul’s victories mount, so do the indignities and the taunts, the racism and the hatred — the harshness of a world that will never welcome him, tied inexorably to the sport he loves.
Spare and compact yet undeniably rich, Indian Horse is at once a heartbreaking account of a dark chapter in our history and a moving coming-of-age story.
In the Distance
by Hernan Diaz
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Categories: historical, literary, westerns, immigration
Finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award
A young Swedish immigrant finds himself penniless and alone in California. The boy travels East in search of his brother, moving on foot against the great current of emigrants pushing West. Driven back again and again, he meets naturalists, criminals, religious fanatics, swindlers, Indians, and lawmen, and his exploits turn him into a legend. Diaz defies the conventions of historical fiction and genre, offering a probing look at the stereotypes that populate our past and a portrait of radical foreignness.
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills
by Jennifer Haupt
Publication Date: April 2, 2018
Categories: literary, family, cultural heritage, racism
In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills is a sweeping family saga that spans from the turmoil of Atlanta during the Civil Rights Movement, through the struggle for reconciliation and forgiveness in post-genocide Rwanda. At the heart of this literary novel that crosses racial and cultural boundaries is the search for family on a personal and global level.
In 1968, a disillusioned and heartbroken Lillian Carlson left Atlanta after the assassination of Martin Luther King. She found meaning in the hearts of orphaned African children and cobbled together her own small orphanage in the Rift Valley alongside the lush forests of Rwanda.Three decades later, in New York City, Rachel Shepherd, lost and heartbroken herself, embarks on a journey to find the father who abandoned her as a young child, determined to solve the enigma of Henry Shepherd, a now-famous photographer.
When an online search turns up a clue to his whereabouts, Rachel travels to Rwanda to connect with an unsuspecting and uncooperative Lillian. While Rachel tries to unravel the mystery of her father’s disappearance, she finds unexpected allies in an ex-pat doctor running from his past and a young Tutsi woman who lived through a profound experience alongside her father. Set amongst the gaping wounds of a healing country, follow the intertwining stories of three women who discover something unexpected: grace when there can be no forgiveness.
Invitation to a Bonfire
by Adrienne Celt
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Categories: historical, literary, thrillers, coming of age, artists
June 2018 Indie Next List
A tense psychological thriller and deft character study. —The Chicago Tribune
In the 1920s, Zoya Andropova, a young refugee from the Soviet Union, finds herself in the alien landscape of an elite all-girls New Jersey boarding school. Having lost her family, her home, and her sense of purpose, Zoya must now endure the malice her peers heap on scholarship students and her new country’s paranoia about Russian spies. With the arrival of visiting writer and fellow Russian migr Leo Orlov — whose books Zoya has privately obsessed over for years — her luck seems poised to change, but the relationship that forms between them will put Zoya, Leo, and his calculating wife, Vera, all at risk.
Grappling with class distinctions, national allegiance, and ethical fidelity — not to mention the powerful magnetism of sex — Invitation to a Bonfire investigates how one’s identity is formed, irrevocably, through a series of momentary decisions, including how to survive, who to love, and whether to pay the complicated price of happiness.
Mornings with Rosemary (aka The Lido)
by Libby Page
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Categories: women’s, friendship
We’re never too old to make new friends — or make a difference.
Rosemary Peterson has lived in Brixton, London, all her life, but everything is changing. The library where she used to work has closed. The family grocery store has become a trendy bar. And now the lido, an outdoor pool where she’s swum daily since its opening, is threatened with closure by a local housing developer. It was at the lido that Rosemary escaped the devastation of World War II; here she fell in love with her husband, George; here she found community during her marriage and since George’s death.
Twentysomething Kate Matthews has moved to Brixton and feels desperately alone. A once-promising writer, she now covers forgettable stories for her local paper. That is, until she’s assigned to write about the lido’s closing. Soon Kate’s portrait of the pool focuses on a singular woman: Rosemary. And as Rosemary slowly opens up to Kate, both women are nourished and transformed in ways they never thought possible.
“Charming [and] an unusually poignant tale of married love” (The Washington Post), Mornings with Rosemary is a feel-good novel that captures the heart and spirit of a community across generations — an irresistible tale of love, loss, aging, and friendship.
by Michael Henson
Publication Date: March 2018
Finalist 2019 Weatherford Award (Fiction)
Set in Appalachian Ohio amid an epidemic of prescription opiate abuse, Michael Henson’s linked collection tells of a woman’s search for her own peculiar kind of redemption, and brings the novel-in-stories form to new heights. Maggie Boylan is an addict, thief, liar, and hustler. But she is also a woman of deep compassion and resilience. The stories follow Maggie as she spirals through her addictive process, through the court system and treatment, and into a shaky new beginning.
In these masterful stories, we rarely occupy Maggie’s perspective, but instead gain a multilayered portrait of a community as we see other people’s lives bump up against hers — and we witness her inserting herself into their spheres, refusing to be rebuffed. The result is a prismatic view of a community fighting to stay upright against the headwinds of a drug epidemic: always on edge, always human.
The Mercy Seat
by Elizabeth H. Winthrop
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Categories: historical, literary, racism
On the eve of his execution, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones sits in his cell in New Iberia awaiting his end. Across the state, a truck driven by a convict and his keeper carries the executioner’s chair closer. On a nearby highway, Willie’s father Frank lugs a gravestone on the back of his fading, old mule. In his office, the DA who prosecuted Willie reckons with his sentencing, while at their gas station at the crossroads outside of town, married couple Ora and Dale grapple with their grief and their secrets. Moving from voice to voice, Winthrop elegantly brings to stark light the story of a town and its injustices. The Mercy Seat is an intricately layered and incisive novel from one of our most acute literary observers.
by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Publication Date: June 2018
Categories: Sci-fi, dystopia, historical, immigration, racism, healthcare
In a tour-de-force tapestry of science fiction and historical fiction, Andromeda Romano-Lax presents a story set in Japan and Taiwan that spans a century of empire, conquest, progress, and destruction.
2029: In Japan, a historically mono-cultural nation, childbirth rates are at an all-time low and the elderly are living increasingly longer lives. This population crisis has precipitated the mass immigration of foreign medical workers from all over Asia, as well as the development of finely tuned artificial intelligence to step in where humans fall short.
In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipina nurse who has been in Japan for the last five years, works as caretaker for Sayoko Itou, a moody, secretive woman about to turn 100 years old.
One day, Sayoko receives a present: a cutting-edge robot “friend” that will teach itself to anticipate Sayoko’s every need. Angelica wonders if she is about to be forced out of her much-needed job by an inanimate object — one with a preternatural ability to uncover the most deeply buried secrets of the humans around it. Meanwhile, Sayoko becomes attached to the machine. The old woman has been hiding secrets of her own for almost a century — and she’s too old to want to keep them anymore.
What she reveals is a hundred-year saga of forbidden love, hidden identities, and the horrific legacy of WWII and Japanese colonialism — a confession that will tear apart her own life and Angelica’s. Is the helper robot the worst thing that could have happened to the two women — or is it forcing the changes they both desperately needed?
The Second Mrs. Hockaday
by Susan Rivers
Publication Date: November 14, 2017
Categories: historical, African American, war/military, women’s issues
Indie Next Pick for January 2017; Finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize 2017; Finalist for the Southern Book Prize 2017
When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?
A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation — and the next — began to see their world anew.
Shores Beyond Shores
by Irene H. Butter
White River Press
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Categories: memoir, WWII, Holocaust
National Jewish Book Award Finalist 2020
Irene’s first person Holocaust memoir, Shores Beyond Shores, is an account of how the heart keeps its common humanity in the most inhumane and turbulent of times.
Irene’s childhood is cut short when she and her family are deported to Nazi-controlled prison camps and finally Bergen-Belsen, where she is a fellow prisoner with Anne Frank. Later forbidden from speaking about her experiences by the American relatives who cared for her, Irene is now making up for lost time. Irene has shared the stage with peacemakers such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Elie Wiesel, and she considers it her duty to tell her story now and on behalf of the six million other Jews who have been permanently silenced.
by Wyomia Tyus
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Categories: historical, sports, racism, Own Voices
Finalist for the Track and Field Writers of America’s 2018 Armory Foundation Book Award
In 1968, Wyomia Tyus became the first person ever to win gold medals in the 100-meter sprint in two consecutive Olympic Games, a feat that would not be repeated for twenty years or exceeded for almost fifty. Tigerbelle chronicles Tyus’s journey from her childhood as the daughter of a tenant dairy farmer through her Olympic triumphs to her post-competition struggles to make a way for herself and other female athletes.
The Hidden Figures of sport, Tigerbelle helps to fill the gap currently occupying Black women’s place in American history, providing insight not only on what it takes to be a champion but also on what it means to stake out an identity in an often hostile world. Tyus’s exciting and uplifting story offers inspiration to readers from all walks of life.
With a foreword by MSNBC host Joy Reid, and an afterword by sportswriter Dave Zirin.
The Vain Conversation
by Anthony Grooms
Publication Date: March 1, 2018
Categories: African American, Own Voices, racism
Inspired by true events, The Vain Conversation reflects on the 1946 lynching of two black couples in Georgia from the perspectives of three characters — Bertrand Johnson, one of the victims; Noland Jacks, a presumed perpetrator; and Lonnie Henson, a witness to the murders as a ten-year-old boy. Lonnie’s inexplicable feelings of culpability drive him in a search for meaning that takes him around the world, and ultimately back to Georgia, where he must confront Jacks and his own demons, with the hopes that doing so will free him from the grip of the past.
In The Vain Conversation, Anthony Grooms seeks to advance the national dialogue on race relations. With complexity, satire, and sometimes levity, he explores what it means to redeem, as well as to be redeemed, on the issues of America’s race violence and speaks to the broader issues of oppression and violence everywhere.
The Widows of Malabar Hill
by Sujata Massey
Publication Date: January 2018
Categories: historical, mystery, Own voices, women’s issues
January 2018 Indie Next List; Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
1920s India: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer, is investigating a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows living in full purdah when the case takes a turn toward the murderous. The author of the Agatha and Macavity Award-winning Rei Shimura novels brings us an atmospheric new historical mystery with a captivating heroine.
Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes women’s legal rights especially important to her.
Mistry Law has been appointed to execute the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen examines the paperwork, she notices something strange: all three of the wives have signed over their full inheritance to a charity. What will they live on? Perveen is suspicious, especially since one of the widows has signed her form with an X — meaning she probably couldn’t even read the document. The Farid widows live in full purdah — in strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate, and realizes her instincts were correct when tensions escalate to murder. Now it is her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that no innocent women or children are in further danger.
Inspired in part by the woman who made history as India’s first female attorney, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a richly wrought story of multicultural 1920s Bombay as well as the debut of a sharp new sleuth.
by Helen Benedict
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Categories: literary, military, family, immigration, racism, PTSD, environment
After a hurricane devastates a small town in upstate New York, the lives of three women and their young children are irrevocably changed. Rin, an Iraq War veteran, tries to protect her blind daughter and the three wolves under her care. Naema, a widowed doctor who fled Iraq with her wounded son, faces life-threatening injuries and confusion about her feelings for Louis, a veteran and widower harboring his own secrets and guilt. Beth, who is raising a troubled son, waits out her marine husband’s deployment in Afghanistan, equally afraid of him coming home and of him never returning at all. As they struggle to maintain their humanity and find hope, their war-torn lives collide in a way that will affect their entire community.
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