Same Kind of Different as Me | Ron Hall | BG 976.4571 H1469
Ron Hall and Denver Moore couldn’t have lived much different lives: Ron, an international art dealer, is wealthy, with a supportive wife and a beautiful home, whereas Denver grew up a modern-day slave in Louisiana before escaping to a life on the streets. They are united, however, by Ron’s wife Debbie. Dying of cancer, Debbie asks Denver to maintain the ministry she began for homeless people in Fort Worth, Texas, and through this work the two men’s disparate lives weave together to form a friendship that redeems them both. This moving true story will remind you of the power friendship has to overcome social boundaries and make both people stronger.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt | Beth Hoffman | BG Hoffmann
When her mother Camille—former Onion Queen of 1951, with a habit of standing in the street to blow kisses at passing cars—is killed, CeeCee Honeycutt is just about on her own. After all, her father isn’t about to step in and take care of her. Luckily, CeeCee’s long-lost great-aunt Tootie shows up in Ohio just hours after the funeral. She whisks her great-niece off to live with her and her maid Oletta in Savannah. Under the care and laughter of her new-found family of southern women, CeeCee discovers that mothers can come in many forms.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place | Julie Berry | BG Berry
The seven students at St. Etheldreda’s School for Young Ladies—Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor—have formed a pleasant little sisterhood away from their horrible families. But when the school’s headmistress and her brother die during their Sunday meal (poisoned, Pocked Louise denounces, by the veal), their situation is threated. So they do what any clever girls would do: hide the bodies and carry on. This Victorian farce, a junior novel full of dark comedy, mystery, and cleverness, is a fun and fast-paced read.
The Secret Garden | Frances Hodgson Burnett | BG Burnett
Burnett’s classic is about a young girl who is anything but sweet. When the reader meets Mary, we can be forgiven for describing her as a brat. Tragedy followed by banishment to a neglected English estate does nothing to improve her character. It will take an equally unpleasant cousin, a young laborer, and a hidden garden to bring happiness the many unhappy characters in this novel. A childhood classic that deserves a re-reading by any adult.
The Secret Keeper | Kate Morton | BG Morton
Kate Morton is the queen of atmospheric, compelling novels that revolve around secrets, and The Secret Keeper is no exception. Avoiding her siblings by hiding in a tree house during a family party, 16-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother kill a man who appears to be an intruder. But fifty years later, when she is an accomplished actress and her mother is near death, Laurel rediscovers questions she has about what she witnessed. Moving through England during World War II, the Blitz, the 60’s and beyond, the story flashes between Laurel’s perspective, her mother’s, and the murdered man’s. A mystery set within a history within an epic family saga, The Secret Keeper explores how ambitions and hopes shape a myriad of lives.
The Secret Life of Bees | Sue Monk Kidd | BG Kidd
Ten years after the death of her mother, all14 year-old Lily Owens has left of her is a mysterious picture of a Black Madonna, with the words “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on the back. After a run-in with the law, Lily and her Black nanny Rosaleen must flee the police and Lily’s abusive father to find the answers Lily has been seeking. With the backdrop of Civil Rights transition occurring around them, the greatest change takes place in Lily and Rosaleen as they discover much more than they expected about love, friendship, and family.
A Separate Peace | John Knowles | BG Knowles
During the summer session at Devon, a private school in New England, two teenage boys begin a friendship that will illuminate and influence the rest of their lives. World War II is looming; roommates Finny and Gene, however, experience it only as a background shadow to their summer term. They develop a ritual of jumping off a tree into the river below, but when Finny is hurt, the repercussions spread deeply into the rest of the school year. As they navigate their friendship, the boys begin to learn adult truths about rivalry, envy, individuality, and the depths (and limitations) of human kindness.
The Shadow behind the Stars | Rebecca Hahn | BG Hahn
The Greek Fates—three goddess sisters who spin, measure, and cut the thread that determines a person’s life—are often cast as cruel, cold beings who control the outcomes of lives without caring about human pain or sorrow. In The Shadow Behind the Stars, however, the three Fates are shown in a different light. It’s not that they don’t care about devastation, sadness, and death; it is simply that they cannot change a person’s outcome without destroying the world. Chloe, Serena, and Xinot live on a rocky island, spinning the lives of humanity without fanfare or drama, until a beautiful girl finds her way to their home. Aglia’s village was destroyed and all her community murdered; only she escaped, and she has come to the house of the Fates to demand that they tell her what there is to live for. As this beautiful, lyrical and heartbreaking story moves towards its conclusion, the Fates themselves will be forced to learn the burden of—and the meaning behind—human suffering.
Sister | Rosamund Lupton | BG Lupton
When she receives the news that her sister, Tess, has committed suicide, Beatrice Hemming flies home to London. She is certain that artistic, mercurial Tess would never kill herself, so—despite a reluctant detective—Beatrice begins searching for her sister’s murderer. This is a mystery novel that reads like a gothic thriller; creepy, intriguing, and puzzling, it raises hackles and inspires chills. But at its heart it is much more than a whodunit. It is, ultimately, a novel about families and sisterhood that happens to include a murder. Written as a letter from Beatrice to Tess, the novel’s structure allows Beatrice to tell the story of trying to uncovering the murderer while simultaneously writing about Tess’s death and its effect on her. And the ending? Well, the ending comes as a thing both unanticipated and perfectly foreshadowed in the story.
The Snow Child | Eowyn Ivey | BG Ivey
This retelling of the Russian fairy tale “The Snow Maiden” is also a historical novel. It is the story of Jack and Mabel, who’ve left their fairly safe but exceedingly sad life in 1920’s Pennsylvania for the Alaskan frontier. Sad because, except for one stillborn, they never were able to have children, and all of the family reminders around them (the nieces and nephews, the new babies, the excited couples marrying) were just too much. Of course, life in Alaska is hardly easy either, with the short growing season, fierce winters, and isolation. But then, one night of clean snow and happiness, Jack and Mabel build a snow girl, dress her with mittens, a hat, and a scarf. In the morning, they wake to find the knitted clothing gone and a dead rabbit next to the decimated snow girl. Then they find a girl, Faini, wandering in the forest, and their sadness starts to melt away.
Someone | Alice McDermott | BG McDermott
The subject of Someone is life itself, ordinary life with its difficulties and joys. The life in question belongs to Marie Commeford, who grows up in (and eventually away from) Brooklyn. Moving forward and backward through time, the story takes us through Marie’s life, from her pre-depression childhood in New York City through her adult years. Family happiness and strife; the promise and disappointment of romance; motherhood and work and friendship: the intimate, quiet details of a human being living an unremarkable life show just how remarkable humanity really is.
The Soul of An Octopus | Sy Montomery | BG 594.56 M7674
Octopuses might seem like a strange subject for a book, but Sy Montgomery—who’s also written about pigs, monkeys, and parrots—is so skilled at bringing the natural world into clear focus, the subject almost doesn’t matter. Except: octopuses are fascinating! (Who knew?) Montgomery’s interest in them was sparked one day at the New England Aquarium, where an octopus named Athena reached her tentacles towards her. These intelligent creatures play games, solve puzzles, change colors to show their moods, and interact surprisingly well with their human handlers. Montgomery explores both the octopuses’ world and the people who take care of them, creating a book that will both surprise and delight as it reveals this fascinating animal.
Speak | Laurie Halse Anderson | BG Anderson
“It’s easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.” What Melinda’s friends think happened at that summer party: She freaked out because people were drinking so she ratted and called the cops, and everyone got in trouble. What really happened: Well, Melinda can’t say. Not because she doesn’t remember what Andy did to her under the tree in the field behind the party, but because if she speaks it out loud, it will have to be true. So she starts ninth grade as the girl who ratted, the silent girl who never talks to anyone. But as the year passes, she discovers art, she discovers gardening, she discovers she has a voice and that only by speaking her truth can she help others—and herself.
The Speckled Monster | Jennifer Lee Carrell | BG 614.521 C232
Smallpox was a dreaded disease in the early Eighteenth century. For example, an epidemic in Boston from 1721 to 1722 infected 6,000 of the city’s 11,000 inhabitants (about 800 died). Choosing to give oneself a form of the disease seemed tantamount to murder. However, Jennifer Carrell, a writer for Smithsonian, tells the story of two proponents of vaccination. One, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu takes her cause all the way to King George I. The other, Dr. Zabdiel Bylston, faced public opposition in Boston for his early vaccination work, learned from local slaves. Some outraged citizens even tried to kill him when he continued to work on the disease. However, their work revolutionized medical practices and its effect continues to this day. Read about their courageous efforts in this accessible book.
***Spinning Silver | Naomi Novik | BG Novik
Told through the voices of three women, Spinning Silver is a reworking of the “Rumplestiltskin” fairy tale blended with aspects of Russian mythology. Miryem, the daughter of an unsuccessful moneylender, changes her family’s fortune by turning his business around with her cunning way with numbers. Wanda, the daughter of one of Miryem’s customers, is offered to her in forgiveness for her father’s debt. And Irina, the daughter of a duke, risks her engagement to the Tsar when a Staryk silver ring sparks her fey blood. These three women’s lives and choices weave within each other as the fey who live in the woods around their village draw a seemingly-endless winter around them.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down | Anne Fadiman | BG 306.461 F126
In the small community of Merced, California, reside thousands of Hmong refugees from the highlands of Laos; among them is the Lee family, whose youngest daughter Lia suffers from severe epilepsy. Anne Fadiman attempts to shed light on Hmong culture and understand the seemingly irreconcilable differences between western medicine and the Hmong in this poignant narrative.
State of Wonder | Ann Patchett | BG Patchett
Ann Patchett’s novel State of Wonder begins with a probable death, that of Dr. Marina Singh’s pharmaceutical co-worker, Anders Eckman, who has disappeared while working in the Amazon jungle. Marina is sent to Brazil herself, tasked with the responsibility of discovering the fate of Anders. If the book starts with death, it burgeons with other things: fertility, the beauty and terror of tropical landscapes, unimaginable snakes, science, drugs, tree bark, lost cell phones, medical ethics, cannibals, redemption. Ostensibly a story about women exploring the rainforest, it is a novel that explores the way characters can be remade by experience if they are brave enough to allow change to happen.
A Star for Mrs. Blake | April Smith | BG Smith
Established in 1928, The Gold Star Mothers Organization helps mothers whose children have been killed in war. During the 1930s, some of these mothers traveled to France to see the graves of their sons, killed in World War I. Smith’s novel explores this little-known historical tidbit. In 1931, Cora Blake receives an invitation to lead a group of five mothers in their travels to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Friendships form during the journey, as well as tensions based on race and class. A warm and hopeful novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake illustrates the lingering consequences of war on survivors.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers | Mary Roach | BG 611 R53
A crash-test dummy. (What happens to a body when it’s in a car crash?) A subject in an Army Ordnance Department experiment. (Just how, exactly, do bomb shells affect human flesh?) An anthropological assistant. (What happens to a body as it decomposes in, say, a block of cement?) Those are just a few examples of how a body can be useful after dying, the main thread in Mary Roach’s book. Sounds a little creepy, but Roach manages to write about all of the post-mortem possibilities with a dry sense of humor that will leave you grinning, not grossed out.
The Summer of My German Soldier | Bette Greene | BG Greene
Near the end of World War II, a small town in Arkansas opens a prison camp for German prisoners of war. Twelve-year-old Patty Bergen meets one of the soldiers, Anton, when he comes into the store her father owns. Days later, she helps to hide him when he escapes from the prison. As their friendship forms, Anton helps Patty learn that despite her father’s abuse and her mother’s disdain, she is a person of value and intelligence. Winner of the 1973 New York Times Book of the Year award, as well as many others, The Summer of My German Soldier explores the themes of cruelty, abuse, prejudice, racism, and power, as well as the redemptive force of friendship.
Summerlost | Ally Condie | BG Condie
Ally Condie wrote the popular young adult trilogy Matched; here she writes a middle-grade novel about friendship, adventure, and dealing with loss. A year ago, Cedar’s father and brother Ben were killed by a drunk driver, and to help everyone cope her mom has moved what’s left of her family to the small town of Iron Creek, Utah. Cedar finds a friend, the quirky Leo, who helps her get a job at the town’s Shakespeare Festival, Summerlost. When they’re not working, the two friends discuss the mysterious life of an actress who haunts the sets of the festival’s stage. Her experiences with Leo, the theater people, and the mystery help her to begin to learn how to live with her grief. This sad, sweet tale is one you’ll cherish.
Survival Lessons | Alice Hoffman | BG 616.9944 H6751
Novelist Alice Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor, in remission for nearly two decades. Here, she writes the book she wishes she’d had during her diagnosis and treatment. “In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons for myself,” she explains, “to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss.” Not a book about cancer, Survival Lessons is instead about choices and how they affect our perspective. You’ll finish it uplifted and revitalized, ready to see what choices you can make to improve your own life.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane | Lisa See | BG See
In the remote region of China where the Akha people live, villagers’ lives are managed by ancient traditions and rules as much as the seasonal harvesting of Pu’er tea. Li-yan, however, is one of the few educated girls in the area, and when a man from the outside world arrives—in the first automobile the villagers have ever seen—she discovers her way out of her predicament, a pregnancy with a “human reject,” a baby of mixed parentage. She leaves her daughter at an orphanage and begins to try to construct a life in this new, modern world of contemporary China, far from her old rituals. Meanwhile, her daughter Haley is adopted by an American couple. Despite her privileged California lifestyle, Haley grows up wondering about her birthmother; she begins exploring her Chinese heritage while studying biology and global climate change in college. Will the teacake Li-yan left with her baby be a pathway to reunion?
Their Eyes Were Watching God | Zora Hurston | BG Hurston
This beloved work has reemerged as one of the premier books of the Twentieth Century. Hurston, relying on her background recording folk history, tells the story of Janie Crawford, an articulate African-American woman in the 1930s. The spunky and unforgettable Janie, explains her quest for identity, three marriages (one of which resulted in her being accused of murder), and a journey to her roots.
These is My Words | Nancy Turner | BG Turner
Written as a diary, this novel is Sarah’s story. At 18, in 1881, she leaves her home in New Mexico to begin a new life on the Arizona frontier. Her journal starts out rough—full of misspellings and awkward sentences—but (with the assistance of a pile of books she discovers) becomes smooth, confident, and powerful, illustrating how her experiences change her. Sarah faces down marauding Native Americans, survives a marriage to an abusive husband, experiences flood, heat, drought, and rattlesnakes, and manages to create a strong, good life, nevertheless. Based on the journals of one of the author’s ancestors, the story is continued by Sarah’s Quilt, The Star Garden, and Light Changes Everything.
They Came Like Swallows | William Maxwell | BG Maxwell
Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, Maxwell captures the psychological complexity of family relations in a small Midwestern town. Elizabeth Morison is the center of life for her husband James and their two boys, Benny and Robert. Her importance, brought into focus by a sudden tragedy, is compassionately displayed through the view of each of the male figures. Maxwell’s sensitive and delicate prose is a tribute to all mothers.
Things Fall Apart | Chinua Achebe | BG Achebe
Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece is considered the first masterpiece written in English by an African author. There are more than eight million copies of the novel in print worldwide. The work explores the cultural collision of Western influences and traditional Nigerian tribal practices. As the story unveils it exposes a shared humanity that transcends national boundaries.
To Kill a Mockingbird | Harper Lee | BG Lee
A terrible crime splits a Southern community along racial lines. However, Atticus Finch, a courageous white lawyer, refuses to sacrifice his principles to public demand. The consequences of his choice affect both his family and the town. This tale of courage, strength, and love is told through the insightful and charming voice of Atticus’s daughter, Scout. The novel is a worldwide classic with more than 30 million copies in print.
*** Transcription | Kate Atkinson | BG Atkinson
In 1940, Juliet Armstrong is 18, naïve but intelligent. She reluctantly begins working for M15, transcribing the exploits of British Fascist sympathizers until the accidental discovery of an important document thrusts her into the world of espionage. A decade later, the choices she made during the war come back, forcing her to reckon with her true identity. This fast-paced, intriguing novel is a combination of espionage, thriller, and historical fiction filled with fully-created characters who grapple with their role in society.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn | Betty Smith | BG Smith
Sweet, tender, endearing; realistic, compassionate, heartbreaking. There are many words to describe this novel, but they can all be condensed into just two: so good. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a classic coming-of-age novel, set in New York in the early 1900’s. Francie Nolan is eleven when the novel opens, living in Brooklyn in a tenement house. Her father is an alcoholic but her mother is a strong woman who makes sure her family is provided for. Francie is a quiet, imaginative child, passionate about learning, reading, and writing, but life doesn’t bring her the things she wants. As the story progresses you experience the heartbreaks and triumphs, ambitions and mistakes along with Francie as she, like the Tree of Heaven, flourishes in the world’s stony soil.
True Grit | Charles Portis | BG Portis
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood,” begins the novel True Grit; incredible, perhaps, but fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross did just that. When her father is shot down in Fort Smith, Arkansas—his horse and his $150 bank roll stolen as well—she heads out into Indian Territory in the company of the meanest U.S. Ranger she can find, Rooster Cogburn. Her goal, of course, is to find Tom Chaney, the man who shot her father, and make sure he is punished for his deed. The outcome of her adventures is the very definition of “grit.” Mattie’s story is by turns funny, sad, heart-pounding and satisfying, a read you won’t soon forget.