Best book club reads for 2012
The following books come with the highest recommendation from our book clubs. They were suggested in December 2012.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Synopsis: A coming of age story set in Victorian England. An orphaned girl, Jane, is becomes the governess at gloomy Thornfield Hall, a house filled with secrets and seemingly haunted. She is attracted to the house’s master, Mr Rochester. He’s a Byronic sort of hero, dark, brooding and ill-mannered, so a troubled romance blooms.
A classic of the romance genre, read avidly for more than a century, Jane Eyre remains popular with modern readers because it isn’t tied down in Victorian social formailities.
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Author’s synopsis: Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.
The narrator of Caleb’s Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island’s glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative, secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia’s minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the island’s strongest pawaaw, against whose ritual magic he must test his own beliefs.
One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. Bethia, also in Cambridge at the behest of her imperious elder brother, finds herself enmeshed in Caleb’s fate as he crosses between cultures.
Like Brooks’s beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha’s Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb’s Crossing further establishes Brooks’s place as one of our most acclaimed ovelists. (Source)
Book club discussion questions (see the bottom of the page)
The Fix by Nick Earls
Publisher’s synopsis: Josh Lang went to London with investigative journalism on his mind, but he carved out a reputation as a fixer instead and mastered the art of spinning any client out of a crisis. Now he’s home in Brisbane, and this time the job is supposed to be good news. The client is a law firm, the talent is Ben Harkin, and the story is the Star of Courage Ben is about to be awarded for his bravery in a siege. But it was Josh’s messy past with Ben that was a big part of his move to London in the first place, and the closer he gets to Ben’s story the more the cracks start to show. Throw in a law student who’s an exotic dancer by night, and a mini-golf tour of the Gold Coast, and Josh’s pursuit of the truth becomes way more complicated than he’d ever expected. Written with warmth, humour and a touch of the detective, The Fix will leave you guessing until the very last page. (Source)
Book club discussion questions (see the bottom of the page)
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
Publisher’s synopsis: Nineteenth-century Europe—from Turin to Prague to Paris—abounds with the ghastly and the mysterious. Conspiracies rule history. Jesuits plot against Freemasons. Italian republicans strangle priests with their own intestines. French criminals plan bombings by day and celebrate black masses at night. Every nation has its own secret service, perpetrating forgeries, plots, and massacres. From the unification of Italy to the Paris Commune to the Dreyfus Affair to notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Europe is in tumult and everyone needs a scapegoat. But what if, behind all of these conspiracies both real and imagined, lay one lone man? What if that evil genius created the most infamous document of all? Eco takes his readers on an unforgettable journey through the underbelly of world-shattering events. The Prague Cemetery is Umberto Eco at his most exciting, a novel immediately hailed as his masterpiece. (Source)
The Red House by Mark Haddon
Publisher’s synopsis: A dazzlingly inventive novel about modern family, from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The set-up of Mark Haddon’s brilliant new novel is simple: Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister Angela and her family to join his for a week at a vacation home in the English countryside. Richard has just re-married and inherited a willful stepdaughter in the process; Angela has a feckless husband and three children who sometimes seem alien to her. The stage is set for seven days of resentment and guilt, a staple of family gatherings the world over.
But because of Haddon’s extraordinary narrative technique, the stories of these eight people are anything but simple. Told through the alternating viewpoints of each character, The Red House becomes a symphony of long-held grudges, fading dreams and rising hopes, tightly-guarded secrets and illicit desires, all adding up to a portrait of contemporary family life that is bittersweet, comic, and deeply felt. As we come to know each character they become profoundly real to us. We understand them, even as we come to realize they will never fully understand each other, which is the tragicomedy of every family.
The Red House is a literary tour-de-force that illuminates the puzzle of family in a profoundly empathetic manner — a novel sure to entrance the millions of readers of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (Source)
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Author’s synopsis: In Eowyn Ivey’s magical debut novel The Snow Child, a couple creates a child out of snow. When she appears on their doorstep as a little girl, wild and secretive, their lives are changed forever.
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone, but they catch sight of an elusive, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever.
Eowyn was inspired to write the novel after she discovered the classic Russian fairy tale of the snow maiden. She was shelving books in the children’s section of Fireside Books when she happened across a copy of Freya Littledale’s retelling of the fairy tale with illustrations by Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee. The story haunted Eowyn with its loneliness and magic in a landscape so similar to the one she grew up in. She spent the next few months researching the original tale, and depictions of it in Russian art work, before she began writing.
The Snow Child has been described as a “remarkable achievement”, “stunningly conceived” and “enchanting from beginning to end.” (Source)
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Author’s synopsis: When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever. (Source)
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Publisher’s synopsis: On a radiant day in Sydney, four people converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each of the four is haunted by memories of the past: Ellie is preoccupied by her experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution. Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes vividly four lives which chime and resonate. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed. (Source)
The House on Willow Street by Cathy Kelly
Publisher’s synopsis: Jess is happy with her lot; she lives in the idyllic Irish coastal village, Avalon, with her teenage son, Zach, and works in the local antiques shop. Her only regret in life is that everything went so horribly wrong with her first love, Cashel.
Suki, Jess′s sister, fled Ireland years ago to marry politician Kyle Richardon, but when Suki discovers that a biographer wants to tell-all about the Richardsons′ there is only one place she can go to ensure that her secrets stay hidden.
Danae is the village post mistress in Avalon and she′s worked very hard to make sure nobody knows where she came from or who she is… Her past is her business and that′s the way she would like to keep it.
In Galway, Mara sits with a smile glued to her face at the wedding of her ex; she only wants to ask him one thing: why did he tell her he loved her? Needing to put her past behind her Mara packs up her life and gets ready for a fresh start.
Can these four women lay their pasts to rest? Or, do they need to look back before they can begin to live for the future? (Source)
Book trailer (on the right)
Home by Toni Morrison
Publisher’s synopsis: America’s most celebrated novelist, Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison extends her profound take on our history with this twentieth-century tale of redemption: a taut and tortured story about one man’s desperate search for himself in a world disfigured by war.
Frank Money is an angry, self-loathing veteran of the Korean War who, after traumatic experiences on the front lines, finds himself back in racist America with more than just physical scars. His home may seem alien to him, but he is shocked out of his crippling apathy by the need to rescue his medically abused younger sister and take her back to the small Georgia town they come from and that he’s hated all his life. As Frank revisits his memories from childhood and the war that have left him questioning his sense of self, he discovers a profound courage he had thought he could never possess again.
A deeply moving novel about an apparently defeated man finding his manhood—and his home. (Source)
The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri Murari
Publisher’s synopsis: When an infamous Taliban government Minister decrees that a cricket team is to be formed, the ludicrous idea finds a champion in a young women fated to be his reluctant bride. A hugely satisfying and heartwarming story of resilience, love and courage. (Source)
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Publisher’s synopsis: It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey …
Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long-lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother?s emotional distance masks an old secret.
Evacuated from London as a thirteen-year-old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond, author of the 1918 children?s classic The True History of the Mud Man. In the grand and glorious Milderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie?s mother. She discovers the joys of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers.
Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother’s riddle, she, too, is drawn to Milderhurst Castle and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fianc? in 1941 plunged her into madness.
Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it. (Source)
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
Edward Warren, 23, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: His dad lies comatose in a NH hospital, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara.
Cara, 17, still holds a grudge against her brother, since his departure led to her parents’ divorce. In the aftermath, she’s lived with her father – an animal conservationist who became famous after living with a wild wolf pack in the Canadian wild. It is impossible for her to reconcile the still, broken man in the hospital bed with her vibrant, dynamic father.
With Luke’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what lengths will his sister go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision?
LONE WOLF looks at the intersection between medical science and moral choices. If we can keep people who have no hope for recovery alive artificially, should they also be allowed to die artificially? Does the potential to save someone else’s life with a donated organ balance the act of hastening another’s death? And finally, when a father’s life hangs in the balance, which sibling should get to decide his fate? (Source)
Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Author’s synopsis: Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true – she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare – one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for; and breaks apart her marriage to Max.
In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist – using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer’s patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa – a guidance counselor — asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe’s surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.
Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle – until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor – Clive Lincoln – has vowed to fight the “homosexual agenda” that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.
SING YOU HOME explores what it means to be gay in today’s world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation – two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind – enter the courtroom? And most importantly, what constitutes a “traditional family” in today’s day and age? (Source)
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
Author’s synopsis: Grace Fox poisoned her husband in January, 1953. Or did she? Though she was tried for murder and subsequently hanged, Grace remained a silent and enigmatic figure to the very end.
When Chris Lowndes returns to his native Yorkshire to live in the isolated Kilnsgate House nearly sixty years later, in the wake of his wife’s untimely death, he wants only to be left alone to compose his piano sonata after years of soul-destroying, though lucrative, work writing film scores. Soon, however, as he learns the troubled history of Kilnsgate, he becomes fascinated by Grace’s story. The more he discovers about her life and her work as a Queen Alexandra’s nurse during the war, the more certain he becomes that she couldn’t have murdered her husband.
As Chris searches for other explanations of what might have happened on that snow-bound January night, through rumours of half-glimpsed figures, mysterious strangers and a missing letter, his quest to prove Grace’s innocence becomes entangled with his own need to sift through the ruins and loose ends of his own life in search of some kind of meaning and order, and his new relationship with local estate agent Heather Barlow.
Alternating between a contemporary account of Grace’s trial, her wartime journals of Dunkirk, Singapore and Normandy, and Chris’s quest for the truth, Before the Poison is a suspenseful exploration of guilt, self-sacrifice and redemption, moving inexorably towards a revelation that, when it is uncovered, will prove shattering and surprising both to Chris and to the reader. (Source)
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose
Author’s synopsis: A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra—and lost for 2,000 years. (Source)
Book club discussion questions (Brief, near the bottom of the page)
The Amateur Science of Love by Craig Sherborne
Publisher’s synopsis: They say we fall in love. But really we fall in sickness. I lost appetite for food in those two nights with Tilda. My stomach was sunken in its wishbone cavity. Me, I was never sick, but I was sick now, the strangest sickness that made my eyes gleam green with excellent health. They had shiny white edges. My cheeks were glossed in a fresh oil of pink.
Colin dreams of escaping his parents’ New Zealand farm for a grand stage career. He makes it to London and a disastrous audition before meeting Tilda—beautiful Tilda, older, an artist—who brings his future with her.
A heady romance leads to a new home in a decaying former bank in a small town hours from Melbourne. They are building a life together—but there are cracks in the foundation.
This is a love story, told from passionate beginning to spectacular end. It is intimate and honest, blackly funny and emotionally devastating. (Source).
Daughters in Law by Joanna Trollope
Author’s synopsis: When you’ve dedicated your life to your children, what happens when they grow up?
Rachel loves being at the centre of her large family. She has devoted herself fiercely to bringing up her three sons, but at their childhood home on the wide, bird-haunted coast of Suffolk, Rachel finds that her control begins to slip away. Other women – her daughters-in-law – are usurping her position. They have become more important to her boys than she is.
A crisis brings these subtle rifts to the surface. Can there be a way forward, if they are to survive as a family? (Source)
The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers
Author’s synopsis: A woman at the end of her life. A man unable to restart his. A history of guilty secrets and things left unsaid. A powerful, moving novel that will steal your heart.
Elderly and in poor health, Mary has lived in Hobart a long time. But when a letter is delivered to her house by someone she hoped never to see again, she decides to return to Bruny Island so she can live out her last days with only her regrets and memories for company. Years before, her husband was the lighthouse keeper on Bruny, and she raised her family on the windswept island, until terrible circumstances forced them back to civilisation. Now, the secret that has haunted her for decades threatens to break free and she is hoping to banish it before her time is up. But secrets have a life of their own, and as Mary relives the events of her life, she realises her power over the future may be limited.
Back in Hobart, Mary’s adult children are respectively outraged, non-committal and sympathetic about her escape from their care. But no amount of coaxing will shake her resolve. Her youngest son Tom loves Bruny, and can understand her connection to that wild island, a place of solitude, healing and redemption for them both.
As Mary’s secret threatens to tear her apart, both she and Tom must face their pasts in ways they cannot even begin to imagine. And Mary finds that the script that she’s written to the end of her life has taken a few twists of its own.
The Lightkeeper’s Wife is a moving story of love, loss and family, and what we have to do to live the best kind of life. (Source)
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Author’s synopsis: Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Welcome to Christine’s life.
Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle- aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.
But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, that directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities—tearful mornings with Ben, sessions with Dr. Nash, flashes of scenes from her former life—and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon. As the entries build up, Christine asks many questions. What was life like before the accident? Why did she and Ben never have a child? What has happened to Christine’s best friend? And what exactly was the horrific accident that caused such a profound loss of memory?
Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems. (Source)
When God was a Rabbit by Sara Winman
Publisher’s synopsis: 1968. The year Paris takes to the streets. The year Martin Luther King loses his life for a dream. The year Eleanor Maud Portman is born.
Young Elly’s world is shaped by those who inhabit it: her loving but maddeningly distractible parents; a best friend who smells of chips and knows exotic words like ‘slag’; an ageing fop who tapdances his way into her home, a Shirley Bassey impersonator who trails close behind; lastly, of course, a rabbit called God. In a childhood peppered with moments both ordinary and extraordinary, Elly’s one constant is her brother Joe.
Twenty years on, Elly and Joe are fully grown and as close as they ever were. Until, that is, one bright morning when a single, earth-shattering event threatens to destroy their bond forever.
Spanning four decades and moving between suburban Essex, the wild coast of Cornwall and the streets of New York, this is a story about childhood, eccentricity, the darker side of love and sex, the pull and power of family ties, loss and life. More than anything, it’s a story about love in all its forms. (Source)