What book for December?

I didn’t add any new books this time, but I removed any that had 2 or fewer votes. Let’s just vote for one this time.

The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling

When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

Winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize

A novel so compelling that it begs to be read in a single setting, The Sense of an Ending has the psychological and emotional depth and sophistication of Henry James at his best, and is a stunning new chapter in Julian Barnes’s oeuvre.This intense novel follows Tony Webster, a middle-aged man, as he contends with a past he never thought much about—until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance: one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present. Tony thought he left this all behind as he built a life for himself, and his career has provided him with a secure retirement and an amicable relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, who now has a family of her own. But when he is presented with a mysterious legacy, he is forced to revise his estimation of his own nature and place in the world.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Marriage can be a real killer.
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable, by David Rakoff

David Rakoff takes us on a bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess. Whether he is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. Somewhere along the line, our healthy self-regard has exploded into obliterating narcissism; our manic getting and spending have now become celebrated as moral virtues. Simultaneously a Wildean satire and a plea for a little human decency, Don’t Get Too Comfortable shows that far from being bobos in paradise, we’re in a special circle of gilded-age hell. (from Amazon)

Defending Jacob, by William Landay


Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles

This sophisticated and entertaining first novel presents the story of a young woman whose life is on the brink of transformation. On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve. With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatji

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy in Colombo boards a ship bound for England. At mealtimes he is seated at the “cat’s table”—as far from the Captain’s Table as can be—with a ragtag group of “insignificant” adults and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship crosses the Indian Ocean, the boys tumble from one adventure to another, bursting all over the place like freed mercury. But there are other diversions as well: they are first exposed to the magical worlds of jazz, women, and literature by their eccentric fellow travelers, and together they spy on a shackled prisoner, his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. By turns poignant and electrifying, The Cat’s Table is a spellbinding story about the magical, often forbidden, discoveries of childhood, and a lifelong journey that begins unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage.

The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y K Lee

In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee’s debut novel is a tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong. In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

At Westish College, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league until a routine throw goes disastrously off course. In the aftermath of his error, the fates of five people are upended. Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight 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. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, “The Art of Fielding is mere baseball fiction the way Moby Dick is just a fish story” (Nicholas Dawidoff). It is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others.

Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks

New York Times bestselling tale of passion and belief, magic and adventure from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author

Bethia Mayfield is a restless and curious young woman growing up in Martha’s vineyard in the 1660s amid a small band of pioneering English Puritans. At age twelve, she meets Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a secret bond that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia’s father is a Calvinist minister who seeks to convert the native Wampanoag, and Caleb becomes a prize in the contest between old ways and new, eventually becoming the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. Inspired by a true story and narrated by the irresistible Bethia, Caleb’s Crossingbrilliantly captures the triumphs and turmoil of two brave, openhearted spirits who risk everything in a search for knowledge at a time of superstition and ignorance.

Truth Like The Sun, by Jim Lynch

A classic and hugely entertaining political novel, the cat-and-mouse story of urban intrigue in Seattle both in 1962, when Seattle hosted the World’s Fair, and in 2001, after its transformation in the Microsoft gold rush.

Larger than life, Roger Morgan was the mastermind behind the fair that made the city famous and is still a backstage power forty years later, when at the age of seventy he runs for mayor in hopes of restoring all of Seattle’s former glory. Helen Gulanos, a reporter every bit as eager to make her mark, sees her assignment to investigate the events of 1962 become front-page news with Morgan’s candidacy, and resolves to find out who he really is and where his power comes from: in 1962, a brash and excitable young promoter, greeting everyone from Elvis Presley to Lyndon Johnson, smooth-talking himself out of difficult situations, dipping in and out of secret card games; now, a beloved public figure with, it turns out, still-plentiful secrets. Wonderfully interwoven into this tale of the city of dreams are backroom deals, idealism and pragmatism, the best and worst ambitions, and all the aspirations that shape our communities and our lives.

The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Economist • Vogue • Slate • Chicago Tribune • The Seattle Times • Dayton Daily News • Publishers Weekly • Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered
 
SELECTED ONE OF THE TOP 10 BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Kansas City Star • Library Journal

In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her—the legend of the tiger’s wife.

The True Believers, by Kurt Anderson

In True Believers, Kurt Andersen—the New York Times bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Heyday and Turn of the Century—delivers his most powerful and moving novel yet. Dazzling in its wit and effervescent insight, this kaleidoscopic tour de force of cultural observation and seductive storytelling alternates between the present and the 1960s—and indelibly captures the enduring impact of that time on the ways we live now.

Karen Hollander is a celebrated attorney who recently removed herself from consideration for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her reasons have their roots in 1968—an episode she’s managed to keep secret for more than forty years. Now, with the imminent publication of her memoir, she’s about to let the world in on that shocking secret—as soon as she can track down the answers to a few crucial last questions.

As junior-high-school kids back in the early sixties, Karen and her two best friends, Chuck and Alex, roamed suburban Chicago on their bikes looking for intrigue and excitement. Inspired by the exotic romance of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, they acted out elaborate spy missions pitting themselves against imaginary Cold War villains. As friendship carries them through childhood and on to college—in a polarized late-sixties America riven by war and race as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll—the bad guys cease to be the creatures of make-believe. Caught up in the fervor of that extraordinary and uncanny time, they find themselves swept into a dangerous new game with the highest possible stakes.

Today, only a handful of people are left who know what happened. As Karen reconstructs the past and reconciles the girl she was then with the woman she is now, finally sharing pieces of her secret past with her national-security-cowboy boyfriend and Occupy-activist granddaughter, the power of memory and history and luck become clear. A resonant coming-of-age story and a thrilling political mystery,True Believers is Kurt Andersen’s most ambitious novel to date, introducing a brilliant, funny, and irresistible new heroine to contemporary fiction.

The Buddha in The Attic, by Julie Otsuka

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction
National Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
New York Times Notable Book

A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Sick Puppy, by Carl Hiaasen

Independently wealthy eco-terrorist Twilly Spree teaches a flagrant litterbug a lesson–and leaves the offender’s precious Range Rover swarming with hungry dung beetles. When he discovers the litterer is one of the most powerful political fixers in Florida, the real Hiaasen-style fun begins.

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

What would happen if you were visited by your younger self, and got a chance for a do-over?

Alice Love is twenty-nine years old, madly in love with her husband, and pregnant with their first child. So imagine her surprise when, after a fall, she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! she HATES the gym!) and discovers that she’s actually thirty-nine, has three children, and is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

A knock on the head has misplaced ten years of her life, and Alice isn’t sure she likes who she’s become. It turns out, though, that forgetting might be the most memorable thing that has ever happened to Alice.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir), by Jenny Lawson

For fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris, Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut.
Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives, the ones we’d like to pretend never happened, are in fact the ones that define us. In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: ‘Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel’; ‘A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband’; ‘My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking’; ‘And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.’ Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

In 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, a city of great wealth and glamour, the home of millionaires and beggars, gangsters and gamblers, patriots and revolutionaries, artists and warlords. Thanks to the financial security and material comforts provided by their father’s prosperous rickshaw business, twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Though both sisters wave off authority and tradition, they couldn’t be more different: Pearl is a Dragon sign, strong and stubborn, while May is a true Sheep, adorable and placid. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree . . . until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth and that in order to repay his debts he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from California to find Chinese brides.

As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, one that will take them through the Chinese countryside, in and out of the clutch of brutal soldiers, and across the Pacific to the shores of America. In Los Angeles they begin a fresh chapter, trying to find love with the strangers they have married, brushing against the seduction of Hollywood, and striving to embrace American life even as they fight against discrimination, brave Communist witch hunts, and find themselves hemmed in by Chinatown’s old ways and rules.

At its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters: Pearl and May are inseparable best friends who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection, but like sisters everywhere they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. They love each other, but each knows exactly where to drive the knife to hurt the other the most. Along the way they face terrible sacrifices, make impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are–Shanghai girls.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”

Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

With his signature wit, charm, and seemingly limitless knowledge, Bill Bryson takes us on a room-by-room tour through his own house, using each room as a jumping off point into the vast history of the domestic artifacts we take for granted. As he takes us through the history of our modern comforts, Bryson demonstrates that whatever happens in the world eventually ends up in our home, in the paint, the pipes, the pillows, and every item of furniture. Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and his sheer prose fluency makes At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer

Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?

From the New York Times best-selling author of How We Decide comes a sparkling and revelatory look at the new science of creativity. Shattering the myth of muses, higher powers, even creative “types,” Jonah Lehrer demonstrates that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few. It’s a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing the rut, thinking like a child, daydreaming productively, and adopting an outsider’s perspective (travel helps). He unveils the optimal mix of old and new partners in any creative collaboration, and explains why criticism is essential to the process. Then he zooms out to show how we can make our neighborhoods more vibrant, our companies more productive, and our schools more effective.

You’ll learn about Bob Dylan’s writing habits and the drug addictions of poets. You’ll meet a Manhattan bartender who thinks like a chemist, and an autistic surfer who invented an entirely new surfing move. You’ll see why Elizabethan England experienced a creative explosion, and how Pixar’s office space is designed to spark the next big leap in animation.

Collapsing the layers separating the neuron from the finished symphony, Imagine reveals the deep inventiveness of the human mind, and its essential role in our increasingly complex world.

The Information Diet, by Clay Johnson (Sandy’s buddy!)

The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour—so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.

We’re all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.

In The Information Diet, you will:

  • Discover why eminent scholars are worried about our state of attention and general intelligence
  • Examine how today’s media—Big Info—give us exactly what we want: content that confirms our beliefs
  • Learn to take steps to develop data literacy, attention fitness, and a healthy sense of humor
  • Become engaged in the economics of information by learning how to reward good information providers
  • Just like a normal, healthy food diet, The Information Diet is not about consuming less—it’s about finding a healthy balance that works for you

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Sex and Death to the Age 14, by Spalding Gray

As Spalding Gray summed it up best, “Sex and Death to the Age 14 is basically about the death of goldfish and masturbation.” Gray takes us through his childhood recollections of growing up in a Christian Science household in Barrington, Rhode Island, in the 1950s. From the untimely deaths of various pets (ducks to dogs) to his sexual awakening as a teenager, from erotic pictures in Life magazine to strip poker, we get Gray’s humorous take on coming to terms with both subjects—death and sex. Throughout his childhood these weighed heavily on his mind, and 30 years later, we find him trying to make sense of it all.

We Is Got Him: The Kidnapping that Changed America, by Carrie Hagen

In 1874, a young boy named Charley Ross was snatched from his front yard in Philadelphia. The child’s father received a letter that read: “Mr. Ross; be not uneasy you son charley bruster be all writ. we is got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand. You wil have two pay us before you git him from us, and pay us a big cent to.”

Philadelphia had just won the bid to host America’s centennial celebration. The country had survived revolution, civil war, and recession, and city politicians were eager to prove the country had matured enough to survive another hundred years. What they couldn’t foresee was how a child’s kidnapping threatened to unravel social confidence and plunge a city into despair. Hagen expertly weaves this historical narrative as we see Philadelphia’s mayor fight to preserve his city’s stature, and watch the manhunt spread from Philadelphia to the streets of New York. Based on a tremendous amount of research, the author accurately captures the darker side of America–with its corrupt detectives, thief-catchers, spiritualists, and river pirates–as a country in which innocence had become an ideal of the past.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell

O’Farrell’s fourth novel brilliantly illustrates her talent for gradually revealing her characters’ inner lives by jumping back and forth in time and juxtaposing different narrative points of view. Iris Lockhart, a young Scottish woman, is suddenly informed that she has the power of attorney for her great aunt, Esme Lennox—who Iris never knew existed. Esme has been locked away in a mental institution for over 60 years—a fact never mentioned by her sister Kitty, Iris’ grandmother, who now has Alzheimer’s. In compelling prose, O’Farrell gradually pieces together the puzzle of Esme’s life up to the age of 16, when her cold and repressive parents sent her away to the hospital that is now closing down. Esme had a bold and independent spirit, unseemly for a girl at that time. That as well as a younger brother who died in her arms and a never-mentioned rape contributed to her lost life—a life “half strangled by what-ifs.” A gripping read with superbly crafted scenes that will blaze in the reader’s memory long after the novel is returned to the shelf.

The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: For outré performance artists, Caleb and Camille Fang, everything in life is secondary to art, including their children. Annie and Buster (popularly known as Child A. and Child B.) are the unwilling stars of their parents’ chaotically subversive work. Art is truly a family affair for the Fangs. Years later, their lives in disarray, Annie and Buster reluctantly return home in search of sanctuary—only to be caught up in one last performance. The Family Fang sparkles with Kevin Wilson’s inventive dialogue and wonderfully rendered set-pieces that capture the surreal charm of the Fang’s most notable work. With this brilliant novel, the family Fang is destined to join the families Tenenbaum and Bluth as paragons of high dysfunction.

Doc, by Mary Doria Russell

A Letter from Author Mary Doria Russell
For the past three years, when people asked what my next novel is about, I’ve only had to say four words. “It’s about Doc Holliday.” You mention Doc Holliday to guys especially and they just light up. “Oh, man! I love Doc!” they say, and they often mention Val Kilmer’s portrayal in the movie Tombstone.

I love that movie, too, but when I write characters, I’m really writing about whom and what they love. The shining silver wire that runs through Doc is John Henry Holliday’s love for his mother.

Alice Holliday was 22 when her son was born near Atlanta in the summer of 1851. She was still in mourning for her firstborn, “a sweet little girl who lived just long enough to gaze and smile and laugh, and break her parents’ hearts.” I’m sure you can imagine her distress when her second child was born with a cleft palate and cleft lip. Even today, when you know clefts can be repaired, they’re a shock.

In 1851, such children commonly died within weeks, but Alice kept her boy alive, waking every hour to feed him with an eyedropper, day and night, for eight long weeks. Think about that exhausted young woman and the baby with the hole in his face. Locking eyes. Struggling to stay awake. Struggling to stay alive…

When the infant was two months old, his uncle Dr. John Stiles Holliday performed a successful surgical repair of the cleft–an achievement kept private to protect the family’s reputation. You see, in the 1850s, the Hollidays were Georgia gentry whose large extended family would become the O’Haras, Wilkeses and Hamiltons in Gone With The Wind. (Margaret Mitchell was Doc’s cousin, twice removed.) These were people who took “good breeding” seriously, and birth defects were a source of familial shame–for everyone but Alice.

Alice and her son became intensely close. She invented a form of speech therapy to correct his diction. She was a piano teacher who introduced him to the music that would become their great shared passion. She home-schooled him until she was sure his speech wouldn’t be ridiculed, then sent him to a local boys academy, where he excelled in every subject. In the midst of our nation’s ugliest war, she raised a shy, intelligent child to be a thoughtful, courteous gentleman and a fine young scholar who would earn the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery before he was 21.

Alice didn’t live to see him graduate. She died of tuberculosis when John Henry was 15. The loss was staggering, and when he, too, developed TB, he knew exactly what kind of awful death he faced. Hoping dry air and sunshine would restore his health, he left everyone and everything he loved, and went West. He was only 22 when he left Atlanta in 1873.

The Doc Holliday of legend is a gambler and gunman who appears out of nowhere in 1881, arriving in Tombstone with a bad reputation and a hooker named Big Nose Kate. But I have written the story of Alice Holliday’s son: a scared, sick, lonely boy, born for the life of a minor aristocrat in a world that ceased to exist at the end of the Civil War, trying to stay alive on the rawest edge of the American frontier.

John Henry Holliday didn’t have a mother to love him when he was grown, so I have taken him for my own. My fondest hope for Doc is that it will win for him the compassion and respect I think he deserves. Read it, and weep.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being “human.” When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong… Words like “provocative” and “compelling” will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer.

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