Thursday, March 11, 2004

The 2004 - 2005 Reading Group Suggestions Book Sense 76

Mar 10, 2004

1. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES: A Novel, by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin, $14, 0142001740) "The Secret Life of Bees is a wonderfully sensuous read. Book groups will be intrigued as relationships are explored in the context of religion, family, and race. I will share this book with all the people I care about." --Genny Lord, Browsing Bison Books, Deer Lodge, MT

2. LIFE OF PI: A Novel, by Yann Martel (Harvest, $14, 0156027321) "While 16-year-old Pi is emigrating to North America, the ship on which he is a passenger goes down at sea, and he ends up in a lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger. This is a story of survival, introspection, and adventure, told with insight and humor. There is a lot to talk about in this book, so hold on and enjoy!" --Clyde Holloway, So Many Books..., Vancouver, WA

3. THE DA VINCI CODE: A Novel, by Dan Brown (Doubleday, $24.95 hardcover, 0385504209) "This thriller about secret religious societies is the quintessential book club choice. It fascinates with its subject matter; it informs with its in-depth research; and, perhaps best of all, it's the book everyone is already talking about. No one fails to have a passionate reaction, and therein lies the secret to a great book club discussion!" --Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI

4. ATONEMENT: A Novel, by Ian McEwan (Anchor, $14, 038572179X) "A beautifully crafted novel of love and war. Topics of childhood and class -- as well as guilt and forgiveness -- span the years from 1935 to the turn of the 21st century, and offer many opportunities for discussion. This novel was a Man Booker Prize finalist and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award." --Elizabeth Merritt, Titcomb's Bookshop, East Sandwich, MA

5. DON'T LET'S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT: An African Childhood, by Alexandra Fuller (Random House, $13.95, 0375758992) "Reading groups will find much to discuss in Fuller's gritty memoir of growing up white during the Rhodesian civil war. The book segues from the horrific to the comic and back again, as booze, guns, and the land defined her parents' hardscrabble existence in Africa." --Mary Kay Watson, Sister Wolf Books, Park Rapids, MN

6. BEL CANTO: A Novel, by Ann Patchett (Perennial, $13.95, 0060934417) "In Bel Canto, a ratty group of terrorists holds hostage an opera singer and a group of dignitaries in a South American country. Patchett brings humor and sympathy to all the characters, and, by this poignant story's end, reading groups will feel compassion for all the characters." --David Cheezem, Fireside Books, Palmer, AK

7. MIDDLESEX: A Novel, by Jeffrey Eugenides (Picador, $15, 0312422156) "More than a novel about a girl who becomes a man, Middlesex is the story of an American century. It offers everything a book group needs: little-known history that broadens our minds; many complex characters who provoke animated debate; and gender issues that take us into contemporary politics." --Marian Nielsen, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

8. THREE JUNES: A Novel, by Julia Glass (Anchor, $14, 0385721420) "Glass has created a novel full of wisdom and interesting observations on life. The author is adept at intertwining and examining the lives of the various characters, their loves, and their relationships. There's a lot to digest in this great book club selection." --Marianne Kitchell, Madison Park Books, Seattle, WA

9. THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor, $11.95, 1400034779) "When the middle-aged Botswanan Mma Ramotswe inherits some money, she renovates an office, borrows a typewriter, and hires a secretary. What more do you need to open the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency? This is the first in a series of surprising, insightful, and charming mysteries that book groups love to discuss." --Amy Rosenfield, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cleveland, OH

10. PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger (Grove, $13, 0802139256) "A truly remarkable debut novel about a father raising his three children in 1960s Minnesota. I recommend it for everyone, but especially book groups, because the book -- with its focus on family, love, miracles, and faith -- offers so much to discuss and share. A definite must-read." --Pat Olbert, Forget Me Not Books, Spring Green, WI

Three From Book Group Favorite Barbara Kingsolver

THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, by Barbara Kingsolver (Perennial, $15, 0060930535) "A fascinating novel for book groups about the politics and culture of the Belgian Congo in the late 1950s. The story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, an evangelical Baptist missionary, as their family is transformed during three decades in postcolonial Africa." --Wilfried and Lilo Eder, Fort Ashby Books, Fort Ashby, WV

PRODIGAL SUMMER, by Barbara Kingsolver (Perennial, $14, 0060959037) "It's easy to slip into the heart of Appalachia with one of our most gifted writers. Kingsolver's knowledge of the region makes for an absorbing read, and her talent for character development provokes deep discussion about our connection to nature and each other." --Beth Henkes, University Book Store, Bellevue, WA

SMALL WONDER: Essays, by Barbara Kingsolver (Perennial, $12.95, 0060504080) "On subjects ranging from genetic engineering to what it means to be an American post-9/11, Kingsolver's thought-provoking essays are a call to attention regarding things of our world both big and small -- yet her relaxed style will make book groups feel as if they are sitting at Kingsolver's kitchen table." --Derf Maitland, The Reader's Café, Hanover, PA

Stories of Memorable Women

THE BLIND ASSASSIN, by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, $14.95, 0385720955) "This is a family saga filled with secrets and lies, an exotic science fiction novel written by clandestine lovers, and, best of all, an account of the day-to-day musings of the narrator, Iris, a complicated woman in her twilight years. Why do I think it would be good for reading groups? Because if I recommend it to a customer who has already read it, the chances are we form an immediate bond." --Paula Foley, Cover to Cover Booksellers, San Francisco, CA

THE ELEGANT GATHERING OF WHITE SNOWS, by Kris Radish (Bantam, $11, 0553382411) "Both men and women will find many discussion topics in this novel about eight women and their joyous friendship. The women revel in the freedom to walk outside the door and leave responsibility behind for a time, and exemplify the way in which sharing a burden with another can lighten that burden's load." --Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM

MISS GARNET'S ANGEL, by Sally Vickers (Plume, $13, 0452282977) "Julia Garnet, retired teacher and spinster, travels to Venice for her first extended stay away from England. In Venice, Miss Garnet has a spiritual and emotional journey that causes her to see her life and the lives of her new friends in an entirely different light. Our reading group read this book more than a year ago, and it still comes up in our monthly book discussions." --Fred Powell, Main Street Books, Frostburg, MD

I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT, by Allison Pearson (Anchor, $13.95, 0375713751) "Every mom will relate to Kate -- even if you aren't a world-traveling bonds trader, you're still balancing job, kids, husband, and maybe a minute or two for yourself. With a sharp British tone, Pearson melds the poignancy and frustrations of Kate's life with hilarious episodes. You'll laugh and cry, and love knowing Kate!" --Cheryl McKeon, Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

THE LAST GIRLS, by Lee Smith (Ballantine, $14.95, 0345464958) "More than 30 years ago, five college roommates traveled, on a lark, down the Mississippi on a makeshift raft. Now, four of them make the trip on a cruise ship, reunited to scatter the ashes of Baby, their wild, beautiful, complicated friend. The reader grows to care about these friends and their choices, which offer rich topics for discussion." --Ellen Davis, Dragonwings Bookstore, Waupaca, WI

MRS. KIMBLE, by Jennifer Haigh (Perennial, $13.95, 0060509406) "I love to begin a book without first reading the jacket copy ... especially one like this, where I managed to get well into the book before realizing exactly what was going on. The character of each of the three Mrs. Kimbles is beautifully developed -- and through these women, we learn about Mr. Kimble. What a great book club book!" --Liz Murphy, Learned Owl Book Shop, Hudson, OH

POPE JOAN, by Donna Cross (Ballantine, $14.95, 0345416260) "The Catholic Church denies (and/or has covered up) the existence of Pope Joan, so this book is a work of literary historical fiction. Whether or not you believe her story, you'll be enthralled by Pope Joan. It's all here: war, romance, Vatican intrigue, politics, and a shocking ending. Rich in discussion topics, Pope Joan continues to be a perennial favorite of our book clubs." --Kate Larson, Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA

THE RED TENT, by Anita Diamant (Picador, $14.95, 0312195516) "The Red Tent offers something for readers of all ages and backgrounds. History, Bible lore, relationships between women, and interactions among family are all presented in a story that explores the strong role women played in ancient times. A powerful and moving book." --Susan Danner, Danner's Books & Coffee Shop, Muncie, IN

THE VIRGIN BLUE, by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $14, 0452284449) "The Virgin Blue features two story lines -- one set in the present and one in the 16th century -- that are intricately interwoven in terms of relationships, omens, dreams, and memories. As in her earlier books, Chevalier expresses interest in the special difficulties and issues faced by women, and here she also makes note of cultural differences. Add in a centuries-old crime, and the book comes alive for discussion." --Blanchette W. Bailey, Baileywick Books, New Milford, CT

Going Behind the Headlines

THE HEMINGWAY BOOK CLUB OF KOSOVO, by Paula Huntley (Tarcher/Penguin, $13.95, 1585422932) "A remarkable journal of the author's eight months spent volunteering as an English teacher in Kosovo. Huntley offers a sympathetic, loving look at victims of war without demonizing those who wage it. Book groups will be intrigued by this real-life account of an experience that revealed the similarities and differences between two different cultures and countries, and reminds us of the importance of human connections." --Linda Rolcyznski, Lindon Bookstore, Enumclaw, WA

NICKEL AND DIMED: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich (Owl, $13, 0805063897) "I struggle to find the words to describe this book -- sad and frustrating are the two that come to mind most often. This is the true story of the people who serve us our food in restaurants, clean our houses, and even help take care of our elderly parents. Book groups will grapple with the fact that these are jobs that have to be done -- but can anyone really afford to do them?" --Stacey Carr, Scott's Bookstore, Mount Vernon, WA

READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN: A Memoir in Books, by Azar Nafisi (Random House, $13.95, 081297106X) "This memoir about secretly teaching Western literature to a small group of young women in revolutionary Iran is structured around the novels studied; each section reveals both the transformative powers of literature and the tragic consequences of repression. The author's experience of two cultures colliding provides a wealth of ideas for reading groups to explore." --Tripp Ryder, Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN

Amazing Debuts

THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER, by Ann Packer (Vintage, $14, 0375727132) "This book has so many layers to unpeel for discussion. The ethical and moral dilemmas that face this young couple and their families as they deal with personal tragedy will generate animated discussions for book groups." --Patti McCall, Queen Anne Avenue Books, Ltd., Seattle, WA

EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Perennial, $13.95, 0060529709) "Everything Is Illuminated turns humor on its head. It begins as a light story of a young Jewish-American traveling to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. However, the novel grows from laugh-out-loud to very serious as history is revealed in a fantastical, magical-realism sort of way. The characters will stay with book groups for weeks afterwards." --Deb Wehmeier, Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans, LA

THE LOVELY BONES, by Alice Sebold (Little, Brown, $21.95 hardcover, 0316666343) "Teenage Susie Salmon, speaking from heaven, will mesmerize readers and enthrall on every page. It is also the strength of her voice that elicits conversations within book groups about the use of voice in the novel." --Karen Shelnutt, Chapter 11, Marietta, GA (Paperback edition scheduled for April)

THE SONG READER, by Lisa Tucker (Downtown Press, $12, 0743464451) "The premise alone of The Song Reader -- that the snippets of tunes playing in one's head are windows into one's wounded psyche -- will prompt as many hours of discussion as there are book club members. A multi-layered work that will resonate with readers from young adults on up." --Nancy Colalillo, Tome on the Range Books, Las Vegas, NM

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, by Audrey Niffenegger (MacAdam/Cage, $25 hardcover, 1931561648) "This is an engaging love story chronicled like no other. Due to a genetic disorder, Henry DeTamble finds himself spontaneously displaced in time to different moments in his past and future, many of which involve the love of his life, Clare Abshire. Book groups will discover the connections between these two soul mates in the same way they do themselves -- through a patchwork of scenes, eras, and settings that ultimately connects into one poignant history." --Tom Heywood, The Babbling Book, Haines, AK

WHITE TEETH, by Zadie Smith (Vintage, $14, 0375703861) "Reading groups will not be disappointed by this brilliant debut from a young writer with an uncanny knack for dialogue and description. Cockney Archie and Bengali Samad become lifelong friends after serving together in World War II, and the tragicomic tale of their families weaves themes of fate, free will, race, religion, and assimilation into plot lines involving mutant mice, radical vegetarians, and more." --Carla Jimenez, Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL


BLUE LATITUDES: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, by Tony Horwitz (Picador, $15, 0312422601) "Horwitz vividly recounts the three epic voyages of Captain James Cook and confirms his place as one of the greatest navigators in maritime history. In retracing many of the journeys while working as a crewman aboard a replica of Cook's vessel, Horwitz uses his reporting skills, insight, and humor to explore the enigma of the man and the conflicted legacy he left." --Tripp Ryder, Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN

THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, by Michel Faber (Harvest, $15, 0156028778) "With the scope of a sprawling Dickens or Eliot novel, Faber's bawdy masterpiece has everything a great novel should: penetrating social commentary, fabulously drawn characters, and an immensely compelling and tragic plot. There's plenty of grist for any book group's mill." --Will Peters, Annie Bloom's Books, Portland, OR

PIANO TUNER, by Daniel Mason (Vintage, $14, 1400030382) "Mason's sensitive writing details images of colonial Burma and the British Empire of the late 1800s. He translates a simple story of duty, love, and companionship into a fascinating account that merges history, music, geography, and colonial politics." --Charlie Peterson, Books by the Way, Vashon, WA

SPIES, by Michael Frayn (Picador, $13, 0312421176) "Stephen Wheatley finds himself compelled to return to his childhood home, and to disturbing memories of a long-forgotten summer in wartime London, 50 years before. As the story unfolds, reading groups will see how Frayn demonstrates that things -- and people -- are not always what they seem." --Robin Buckingham, Lindon Bookstore, Enumclaw, WA

THE STORY OF LUCY GAULT, by William Trevor (Penguin, $14, 014200331X) "Nine-year-old Lucy Gault goes missing the very morning her family must leave behind their beloved home in Ireland. Under the threat of violence from Irish nationalists, the Gaults have made the bitter decision to leave the country, with devastating consequences. There's much to discuss in this quiet and poignant story of lives forever changed by misunderstanding and guilt, and bolstered by the power of love and forgiveness." --Kristine Kaufman, The Snow Goose Bookstore, Stanwood, WA

YEAR OF WONDERS, by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin, $14, 0142001430) "An itinerant tailor brings plague -- on a bolt of cloth -- to a rural English village in the year 1666. In a few months, the village is decimated. Should the villagers flee, or close themselves off from the world until the plague abates? Superstition, panic, complex feelings, and great personal courage make this lyrical novel a title that will provide fuel for book group discussion." --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Cannon Beach, OR

Crossing Cultures

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS, by Dai Sijie (Anchor, $10, 0385722206) "An amazing narrative about the secret power of literature in the lives of two young Chinese boys who are exiled to a remote mountain village. This is a story as finely detailed as the garments sewn by the little Chinese seamstress with whom the boys fall in love." --Heather Folan, Bristol Books, Inc., Wilmington, NC

EMBERS, by Sandor Marai, (Vintage, $12, 0375707425) "Originally published in Hungary in 1942, this rediscovered gem is suspenseful and compelling. You'll want to discuss the three characters' relationships with one another, and the very nature of memory, friendship, and love." --Joe Battaglia, Towne Center Books, Pleasanton, CA

THE NAMESAKE, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Houghton Mifflin, $24 hardcover, 0395927218) "A moving and poignant portrait of a family in search of self-acceptance and cultural identity from an author who is a master at depicting the immigrant experience. No detail is too small, no character undefined. The result is a book you can't put down, and reading groups of all ages, genders, and backgrounds will find much to discuss." --Hester Jeswald, Sarasota News & Books, Sarasota, FL

Modern Classics

CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, by Alan Paton (Simon & Schuster, $14, 0743262174) "After rereading this book, a favorite of ours in the 1960s, it was reassuring to find that it still rang clear and true, tragic and hopeful. With beautifully written language and a love of country and kin, a gentle, loving man deals with personal and cultural racial injustices and tragedies in South Africa with poignant dignity." --Lynn Heiser and Barbara Siepker, The Cottage Book Shop, Glen Arbor, MI

DISGRACE, by J.M. Coetzee (Penguin, $13, 0140296409) "Disgrace, written by Nobel Prize-winning South African writer J.M. Coetzee, explores the nature of relationships -- husband to wife, father to daughter, man and his country, in violence and peace. Disgrace will grace reading groups with a memorable literary experience." --Fred Powell, Main Street Books, Frostburg, MD

EAST OF EDEN, by John Steinbeck (Penguin, $16, 0142004235) "This is classic Steinbeck: It's Genesis set in the first half of 20th century California farm country. A tale we all know we should read, but probably haven't -- and a good candidate for a book group." --Carolyn Chin, Books on First, Dixon, IL

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee (Perennial, $11.95, 0060935464) "One of the best-loved stories of all time, this novel has an edge that cuts through to the heart and teaches us an astonishing number of useful truths about growing up, about life in the deep South, and about standing up for what is right among all who think it 'wrong.'" --Karla Gundlach, Snickernoodle Kids, Reno, NV

American Stories

BLESSINGS, by Anna Quindlen (Random House, $13.95, 0812969812) "This is one of the titles we most often recommend to reading groups. A tiny baby, abandoned on matriarch Lydia Blessing's estate, opens hearts long closed to love. An unlikely group of damaged souls comes together to form the village that will strengthen them all." --Bobbie McCormick and Dinah Price, The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, TX

CARAMELO, by Sandra Cisneros (Vintage, $13.95, 0679742581) "Sandra Cisneros writes wonderfully about families. The characters bloom with life, and the inner workings of the fictional Reyes family are dramatic and lively. Lots to discuss here!" --Martha Wales, Bear Pond Books of Montpelier, Montpelier, VT

CHILD OF MY HEART, by Alice McDermott (Picador, $13, 0312422911) "McDermott's skill in bringing the reader into the world of a Long Island teenager over the course of one summer shines on every page. This novel's examination of friendship, family, love, and loss will appeal to reading groups -- and the character of Theresa will find a place in every reader's heart." -- Duff Bruce, The Open Book, Greenville, SC

THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson (Vintage, $14.95, 0375725601) "This is a thrilling look at Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair told via two storylines: the building of the fair and the story of a vicious serial killer who preys on the young women who attend the event. Reading groups will enjoy both the juxtaposition of the two stories and the fascinating look at a place in time told from such different points of view." --Sue Boucher, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest, IL

HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, by Andre Dubus III (Vintage, $14, 0375727345) "The complications and tragedies engendered by a dispute over home ownership are magnified by the combatants' vastly different cultural backgrounds. Trying to understand how the cultures affect the behavior of the individuals, trying to grasp how people's lives can quickly spiral downward, and trying to plumb the tragedies that inevitably result will spur fascinating discussions." --Susan Wasson, Bookworks, Albuquerque, NM

THE HUMAN STAIN, by Philip Roth (Vintage, $14.95, 0375726349) "The Human Stain is a fascinating and powerful novel about an educated man who has lived his life guarding a surprising secret. This entertaining and rewarding book lends itself to discussion of race, culture, and relationships." --Anita Isser, Bloomsbury Books, Ashland, OR

THE LITTLE FRIEND, by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $14.95, 1400031699) "A heartbreaking account of a precocious young girl who, while on the trail of her brother's killer, embarks on a journey of self-discovery as well. This thrilling whodunit is infused with wisdom and humor, and has all the earmarks of a book club book, simply because it has everything: a coming-of-age, murder, mystery, and fascinating family dynamics. How can you go wrong?" --Heather Sussman, Chapter 11, Roswell, GA

THE MASTER BUTCHERS SINGING CLUB, by Louise Erdrich (Perennial, $13.95, 0060935332) "This is an emotionally rich novel about German immigrants and their neighbors in Argus, North Dakota. Book groups will especially enjoy discussing this story, because the moral complexity of the characters set against the backdrop of small-town life leaves the reader with much to think about." --Lanora Hurley, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop, Mequon, WI

PLAIN TRUTH, by Jodi Picoult (Pocket, $13, 0671776134) "A collision of culture and faith provides controversy -- and much to discuss -- in this book, which examines the murder of a newborn child and the resulting trial. In this intricate story, Picoult treats us to a richly written narrative of scandal, courtroom drama, and Amish life." --Debra Goldenberg, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

POPULATION: 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time, by Michael Perry (Perennial, $13.95, 0060958073) "Population: 485 is a story of place -- a smart, fascinating look at life in a rural small town. Volunteer EMT Perry takes the reader from sorrow to laughter, from a fire call to the origins of the fire department, and from life to death. Because he is from the small town he writes about, he tells his story with an authenticity that resonates with readers and may prompt them to take a closer look at the people in their own communities." --Carol Dunn, Northwind Book & Fiber, Spooner, WI

SEABISCUIT, by Laura Hillenbrand (Ballantine, $15.95, 0449005615) "This is an exciting, interesting, and well-written account of a charismatic horse. There are several areas for lively discussion: horse racing, the Depression, character development, and the inevitable comparisons between the book and the movie." --Else Petersen, The Cottage Book Shop, Glen Arbor, MI


THE SAMURAI'S GARDEN, by Gail Tsukiyama (St. Martin's, $12.95, 0312144075) "Set in Japan at the start of World War II, Tsukiyama weaves a beautifully written tale of young and old while exploring issues of culture and history. With a story like this, it's no wonder this novel has been added to high school reading lists." --Beth Henkes, University Book Store, Bellevue, WA

WHEN THE ELEPHANTS DANCE, by Tess Uriza Holthe (Penguin, $14, 0142002887) "The family stories collected in this novel bring the life and times of World War II on the Philippine Islands new meaning. Filipino legends and history, religious beliefs, and family responsibilities are some of the topics for discussion to be found in this rich story." --Barbara Theroux, Fact & Fiction, Missoula, MT

WHEN THE EMPEROR WAS DIVINE, by Julie Otsuka (Anchor, $9.95, 0385721811) "A Japanese-American family is uprooted and sent to an internment camp during World War II. Readers will be riveted as Otsuka tells their stories in a poignant and powerful voice. A great book for discussion about a shameful time in America's history." --Rachel Bandock, Twenty-Third Avenue Books, Portland, OR

Great Reads

EMPIRE FALLS, by Richard Russo (Vintage, $14.95, 0375726403) "Richard Russo's big novel about a small town is full of his typically well-drawn characters, who seem like people you already know. Miles Roby, a short-order cook, faces many dilemmas that are both real and discussable. Told with humor and drama, this book draws a detailed picture of American life and personal conflict." --Debra Goldenberg, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT, by Brady Udall (Vintage, $14, 0375719180) "From the moment the mailman runs over his head, this kid grabs your attention and your heart and doesn't let go. Edgar takes everything that life has to throw at him, teaches us about good and evil, and, in the end, finds his own place in the world. Is he admirable, pathetic, or a bit twisted? You decide." --Barb Bassett, The Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, MN

MYSTIC RIVER, by Dennis Lehane (HarperTorch, $7.99, 0380731851) "Mystic River is not a light read, nor even a book you must read in one devouring gulp (although you may not be able to resist it), but it is a story you will chew over and over and over. An urban crime novel of surpassing darkness, it can stand as a Notable Book, a fiction of its time and place like, say, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or the Dostoevsky novel it more nearly resembles. An amazing work and a great choice for book groups." --Barbara Peters, The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, by Frances Mayes (Broadway, $15, 0767900383) "This enchanting novel is a great escape -- if you've ever dreamed of going to Italy, this is the book for you. Filled with vivid details of Tuscany, the book will prompt conversations about lifestyle, house renovations, cooking, and travel." --Lee Musgjerd, Lee's Book Emporium, Glasgow, MT

Like Nothing Else

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, by Mark Haddon (Doubleday, $22.95 hardcover, 0385512104) "An exceptionally bright but socially inept 15-year-old is accused of killing the neighbor's dog. He decides to investigate the crime. The novel delves into the minds of autistic children and will lead to frank discussion about how others view the world, and the author's interesting choices regarding plot and characters will keep the conversation lively and interesting." --Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, TX

THE EYRE AFFAIR, by Jasper Fforde (Penguin, $14, 0142001805) "Imagine being able to jump inside your favorite book and watch the plot unfold before your eyes. In The Eyre Affair, heroine Thursday Next finds herself in all sorts of trouble in her work and love life. Reading groups will enjoy this funny, fast-paced -- even dizzying, at times -- story of time travel and adventure." --Jennifer Roberts, Wind & Tide Bookshop, Oak Harbor, WA

THE SPARROW, by Mary Doria Russell (Ballantine, $13.95, 0449912558) "When music emanates from a distant planet, a gifted linguist and a not-so-spiritual Jesuit priest assemble a crew for a space expedition. This novel will consistently intrigue devotees of science fiction, as well as those who don't usually read books in this genre because of the way in which it addresses both spiritual questions, and the unintended consequences of exploring new worlds." --Cammie Mannino, Halfway Down the Stairs, Rochester, MI

WICKED: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire (Regan Books, $15, 0060987103) "Maguire tells the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. In the process, he gives us a fascinating look at being an outsider and the nature of good and evil, and reminds us that the winner of any given conflict is the one who gets to tell the story." --Peggy Hailey, BookPeople, Austin, TX

The Art World

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, by Tracy Chevalier (Plume, $14, 0452282152) "Chevalier eloquently captures the essence of an artist and his time, with reflections on class and culture in 1660s Holland. I gained a new appreciation for art and history after reading this beautifully written and evocative novel based on the relationship between Vermeer and a serving girl." --Carrie Sutherland, JW Beecroft Books & Coffee, Superior, WI

HEADLONG, by Michael Frayn (Picador, $14, 0312267460) "Martin Clay -- a philosopher who will follow any siren song that takes him away from the book he is supposed to be writing -- believes that he has discovered an authentic Bruegel painting stuck in a dusty corner of a neighboring country squire's chilly manse. Can he acquire it, and convince his art-historian wife that the painting is what he thinks it is? A wonderfully discussable meditation on obsession, self-deception, and the lore and lure of great art." --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Cannon Beach, OR

THE PASSION OF ARTEMISIA, by Susan Vreeland (Penguin, $13, 0142001821) "A vibrant tale of 18th century patriarchal society and its effects on the life of a brilliant female artist. This book will prompt thought-provoking conversation, and will surely relate to readers' personal experiences." --Karen Dallett, Books & Beyond, Heber City, UT

Stories of the West

BREAKING CLEAN, by Judy Blunt (Vintage, $13, 0375701303) "Blunt grew up a third-generation homesteader on an isolated family ranch in Montana, a place where men were men and women knew their place. Though she ultimately walked out on her ranch-wife life, Blunt pays homage to her past. Readers will be left with a sense of awe, not only for a giant land and the wind that strips it raw, but also for one woman's humble and brave act of breaking free." --Judy Klein, Chapter One Book Store, Hamilton, MT

THE POWER OF THE DOG, by Thomas Savage (Back Bay, $13.95, 0316610895) "This is the story of one family's internal hierarchy on an isolated ranch, where the struggle to eke out some kind of happiness leads ultimately to murder. The actual and metaphorical landscapes Savage describes are rich enough to keep any book group discussion lively. Every reader will see something different in the story." --RoseMarie London, Chickering Bookstore, Laramie, WY

RED WATER, by Judith Freeman (Anchor, $14, 0385720696) "Red Water is the story of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah, told by three of the wives of John Lee, the man who was blamed for the slaughter. The women's characters vividly come to life, and their personalities shine through and make this an exciting read and a great discussion book." --Catherine Jordan, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, by Jon Krakauer (Doubleday, $26 hardcover, 0385509510) "In addition to the true story of the Mormon brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her baby in God's name, Krakauer discusses the history of the Mormon Church and its numerous fundamentalist spin-offs. This book will provide ample fodder for discussion, because the book highlights both the good and bad sides of the mainstream Mormon Church." --Gary D. Robson, Red Lodge Books, Red Lodge, MT

Family Dramas

CROW LAKE, by Mary Lawson (Delta, $12.95, 0385337639) "An elegant, well-paced tale of a family striving to manage its responsibilities in the face of monumental tragedy. The complex emotions of fear, anger, and guilt are explored through the eyes of the Morrison children. This debut novel is a worthy candidate for book group discussions." --Rebecca Willow, Parkplace Books, Kirkland, WA

UNLESS, by Carol Shields (Fourth Estate, $13.95, 0007154615) "Shields' story of a daughter who decides to leave behind life as she knows it and take up begging on a Toronto street corner explores the ways this decision affects the woman's family. This book also explores what we fear most: loss, be it of innocence, of health, of a child, of life itself. Ideal for book groups." --Lynne Shotton Reed, Misty Valley Books, Chester, VT

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS: A Memoir, by Augusten Burroughs (Picador, $14, 031242227X) "Burrough's story will bring you to your knees, whether laughing or crying at the extremes of his childhood. A discussion of this book will surely be lively and heartfelt … and will go on all night." --Martha Wales, Bear Pond Books of Montpelier, Montpelier, VT

(C) Copyright 2002 American Booksellers Association. All Rights Reserved

Bookselling This Week: The 2004 - 2005 Reading Group Suggestions Book Sense 76

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