Here are a dozen recommendations for your book club to read in 2014. All have already published in hardcover and ebook, and all will publish in paperback between January and April 2014.
In order to decide which are right for your book club, you can browse an excerpt of each and a range of review opinion. In addition, most have a handy printable reading guide.
Thanks for reading!
Davina, BookBrowse Editor
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
Paperback: Feb 2014. 448 pages. Historical Fiction. Published by Berkley Books
McVeigh's The Fever Tree is entrancing and provocative. It is a beautiful character drama and an insightful historical representation. This novel is not to be missed.
(Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker) Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
A Constellation of Vital Phenomenaby Anthony Marra
Paperback: Feb 2014. 416 pages. Novel. Published by Hogarth Books
Anthony Marra's forte may very well be his ability to create characters his readers really come to care about. Every one of them, from the lowliest guard up, is drawn with amazing depth, with the author sometimes conveying a character's whole history in just a few sentences. He even leads his readers to understand and sympathize with the book's most unsavory character, something that is extraordinarily difficult to do.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs) Reviews & Excerpt
Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.
But first, perhaps, we should try to define the somewhat ambiguous line between literary and popular fiction. Castano outlines the difference this way: Popular fiction tends to focus on plot, and characters tend to be more stereotypical—the hero and the antagonist are clear-cut from the beginning, while "literary fiction focuses on the psychology and inner life of the characters." In literary fiction, the characters are both more complex and less filled in, leaving room for the reader to interpret their thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
David Comer Kidd says the difference can also be thought of in terms of the distinction between "writerly" and "readerly" writing. With writerly writing, the reader participates more by filling in the gaps, whereas the readerly writing of genre fiction like adventure, romance and thrillers more thoroughly prescribes the reader's experience. With readerly fiction, we are taken on an exhilarating ride that is a similar experience for everyone. Literary or writerly fiction requires more participation by the reader. Characters are more complex, less explained and there are fewer instructions on what the reader should think or feel.
At BookBrowse, we don't just review books, we go 'beyond the book' to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a recent "Beyond the Book" feature for Enon by Paul Harding
In Enon (as in his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Tinkers), Paul Harding constructs and describes the fictional New England town of Enon, complete with a chronicling of its multi-generational history, descriptions of its homes, woods and native plants, and stories of those buried in its cemetery.
Generally speaking, the setting of a story helps locate the culture, mindset, and mood of a book; it guides readers' emotions, allows them to form expectations for characters' behaviors, identifies whether they fit in, and places them in time and space. When writers create fictional settings whether made-up towns in familiar places, or fantastical worlds we never dreamed possible they have the ability to manipulate everything around them and dive deep into their creative wells, which makes for some great storytelling.
Perhaps one of the most famous literary settings is J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth (featured in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion), home to hobbits of the Shire, elves of Lothlórien, Gondor's men, and orcs of Mordor. Praised for its intricate and incredibly detailed histories, Tolkien creates more than just a setting for his books. He develops an entire universe filled with elaborate genealogies, and even new languages and alphabets (which groups such as the Linguistic Fellowship of the Tolkien Society have studied and published on at length).
And who can forget L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz, where Munchkin Country, and Emerald City provide Dorothy (and her little dog too) with a colorful and wondrous backdrop for their adventures. C.S. Lewis takes readers to Narnia, J.K. Rowling makes magic in Hogsmeade, and J.M. Barrie gives us Neverland, where we can fly and never ever have to grow up.
If Steig Larsson was one of your essential beach reads a few summers ago, you have the guys at Quercus Publishing to thank. Since exploring what's new in books is one of our favorite things to do at BookBrowse, our ears perked up when we discovered that this nimble UK publishing company is now making waves stateside.
It doesn't get any more low-budget than this: Principals Mark Smith and Wayne Davies launched their indie publishing group in the UK less than a decade ago, and hand-sold their first batch out of a suitcase at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
So how do you get from here to being recognized as Publisher of the Year at the 2011 Bookseller Industry Awards?
For one thing, carving your niche helps. Quercus isn't interested in highly commercial books, nor is it interested in the extremely literary, instead it seeks out that middle ground of intelligent but readable fiction and nonfiction. In other words, just the kinds of books we look for at BookBrowse! Second, publish authors, not just books. Taking care of authors and building them from unknowns to household names has driven strong sales.
And if crime fiction or Steig Larsson are not your cup of tea, Quercus's range is broad enough to make sure there's many compelling reads for everyone. Lit fiction? Check! Narrative non-fiction? Check! Kids' fiction? Check!
Three of Quercus's early UK successes
(showing USA covers, even though published by others in America, as these are the covers familiar to the majority of our readers)
Staying true to its unusual name (Quercus means oak tree), the company has grown strong roots and is now spreading its branches. In May this year it established an office in New York and last month it published its first books in the USA.
We live in a time when bullying is at the front and center of attention. And it should be. Kids who do not follow social-norm rules are sometimes subject to ridicule, alienation, or even, yes, bullying. How do we protect those brave kids? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we teach all of the kids around them to question those social-norm rules in the first place?
Conversation is key. Questions are imperative. Scrutiny of what we take for granted is vital. But how do we do all of that? Books always have been a great tool for examination of self, other and society as a whole. And books that are explicitly designed to offer half of the conversation, and to ask the reader to engage in the dialogue are even better. Break These Rules edited by Luke Reynolds is a perfect example of such a book.
Teacher, writer and breaker of rules himself...in this guest post Luke explores the realities facing teens, and all of us, today:
The Problem with Rules
By Luke Reynolds
We hear so many of them - endless lists of what to do and what not to do. And they start when we're so terribly young and when we're seeking to know and learn everything we can about the world around us. Rules govern a lot in our lives, and this is sometimes incredibly helpful - I don't want to drive down the interstate and have people cross lanes without blinkers, or drive 100 miles per hour, or be guzzling a beer while they navigate.
So some rules rock.
But there are other rules - many of them silent or suggested; constructed of society, culture, or organizational structures like schools - that are crushing and disempowering, especially for young people. And more than anything young people (and not-so-young-people) want to be free of these unhelpful constraints.
As a teacher, I see so many young people who change before my very eyes from these beautiful beacons of light and joy into fearful, ashamed creatures when peers enter the picture. One-on-one, they can shed the pressures of some rules, but add the rule-oriented peer culture, and bam, they freeze up and remember that - Crap! I am too fat, too pimply, too loud, too quiet, too unbranded, too dark, too light, too short, too lanky, too interested in chess or poetry or robotics! The rules strike at their hearts and my students struggle to resist them.
Or take another set of rules - those coming from us teachers and parents and other well-meaning adults. We're all too influenced by society's mega messages, blasted through media for us, and we pass these messages on to the young people in our care, too: You won't be happy unless you go to college, make a lot of money, be very popular in high school, go to the senior prom, think the same, politically, as me, act the way a man/woman is supposed to act!
In the glorious YA literature out there, images and stories of young people who break these kinds of rules (and others) are everywhere. Books like Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt, which reveals an antithesis to the macho-guy-syndrome, or Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, which explores gender and government in a rule-breaking way, are so important for young people (and, yup, for not-so-young people). Counter-stories, which offer different ways of being and thinking for young people, are crucial right now.
There's nothing worse than being stuck with a bad book for your book club. Actually, there is something worse - being the one responsible for choosing it!
To save you from Book Club embarrassment, here are a dozen carefully selected books personally recommended by our reviewers. All have recently published in paperback, or will publish in paperback before the year end (and all are also available as ebooks). You can browse through an excerpt of each so as to decide which are right for your book club. You can also read a a range of review opinion for each book (and, if you're a member, BookBrowse's full review and backstory). All but one also has a handy printable reading guide.
Davina, BookBrowse Editor
Publication dates are all for USA, and may differ elsewhere
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Paperback: July, 2013; 400 pages. Penguin Books
Me Before You is a story about personal redemption and self-worth, about finding courage, about knowing what to hold onto and what to let go. It's also a meditation on one of the most controversial and divisive issues of our times. (Reviewed by Norah Piehl). Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Paperback: July 2013; 336 pages. Vintage
Alice Munro writes with an almost invisible, crystalline style that rarely incorporates common literary devices like simile or metaphor. The height of Munro's flourish is a bit of repetition or delicate hints at vernacular language. This clarity allows for a closer proximity to the characters, who speak and act in the straightforward manner of a moment or memory rather than the formality of a performance. (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk). Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
Small Damages by Beth Kephart
Paperback: July 2013; 304 pages. Published by Speak
I have never been to Spain. I have never stayed on a bull ranch just outside of Seville, where the heat beats down on the olive groves, and the smell of saffron permeates the thick atmosphere. I have never breathed in the air there, "which smells like fruit and sun and the color blue."
But after reading Small Damages I feel like I have. In fiction, a vividly drawn landscape can ground the reader. It can help the reader rest comfortably inside the story because she knows – by way of her senses – where she is. Beth Kephart is a master at this. She creates landscape in a glorious way. With lyrical prose that rings unique and familiar all at the same time, she opens the reader's ears, eyes, nose and skin – she transports the reader smack into the middle of the world she has created. (Reviewed by Tamara Smith).
This is a young adult book with cross over appeal for adults, thus could be a particularly good choice for mother-daughter book clubs. Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Paperback: July 2013, 400 pages. Published by Anchor
Sweet Tooth is, in part, a fictionalized memoir of the literary scene in the 1970s (based quite heavily on McEwan's own experiences as a university student and as a young short story writer; the novel includes cameos by a handful of his friends and mentors) and a breathy piece of escapist spy fiction. McEwan is not John le Carre, however, and so the most intriguing aspects of McEwan's novel are not about espionage per se, but rather about the ways in which writers of realistic fiction, by mining their own lives and the lives of those around them, are, in themselves, the craftiest and most artful spies of all. (Reviewed by Norah Piehl). Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
Homesick by Roshi Fernando
Paperback: July 2013; 288 pages. Published by Vintage
In the end, Homesick emerges as a moving and powerful novel about Sri Lankans in England. In showcasing her characters' everyday anxieties and triumphs, Fernando effectively portrays a slice of humanity we can all - immigrants or not - identify with readily. It is this empathy that Fernando manages to elicit from her readers and that makes Homesick such a compelling, triumphant debut. (Reviewed by Poornima Apte). Reviews, Excerpt & Reading Guide
At BookBrowse, we don't just review books, we go 'beyond the book' to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature.
Here is a recent "Beyond the Book" feature for The World of The End by Ofir Touché Gafla
Mythic expression is humanity's first language. These myths, or to use a more contemporary synonym, metanarratives, are the stories that give purpose and meaning to a people, a way of understanding the seemingly random occurrences in the lives of individuals and communities. Whether these are expressed in clay statues, paintings on cave walls, or mutually intelligible symbols such as words, each is a vision of the world and of the place of humanity within it.
Some have dismissed these stories as "early science," which has been superseded by rational understandings of the working of nature, of life, and of the psyche. However, myth actually remains foundational to all our knowledge, even to the most objective scientific explorations, because all knowledge is framed by some accepted system of beliefs and presuppositions, by a shared worldview, which alone allows us to communicate our truth to each other.
Science does not replace mythic invention, but the very imaginative fancy that underlies myth is the ground from which new scientific hypotheses and theories arise. Ptolemy and Copernicus created visual models of the solar system as Aristotle and Newton imagined falling objects; in each case, one model or story supplanted another because it resonated more closely with our experiences. Einstein devised his theories of special and general relativity using thought games, imagining scenarios in which the traditional theories of space and time did not work. The Big Bang, a theory about the beginning of our universe almost universally accepted by modern science, is a metaphor, a symbolic story that describes science's discoveries put in the language of mythic imagination.
Mythic fantasy, an important form, is different from mere imaginative invention in that it reflects back symbolically the world out of which it arose. It is generally believed that most of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid were not based on any accurate history but were a reflection on the lives of the Greeks and Romans who saw in them frameworks within which these cultures could formulate their origins, their values, and their destinies. The Greeks and Romans were sophisticated scientists; Aristarchus of Samos, for example, suggested a heliocentric vision of the universe in the 3rd century b.c.e. So the classical civilizations did not use mythic invention as a substitute for science but saw both as sources of knowledge and wisdom. In our own day, Carl Jung and those who followed his lead, like the late Joseph Campbell, understood mythic fantasy as the gateway to the unconscious and to the understanding of the human psyche.
Here's a selection of particularly good books publishing in September 2013, selected from over 100 new and notable books that are previewed on BookBrowse.
This month brings new works from many familiar writers. J. M. Coetzee returns with The Childhood of Jesus, an eerie allegorical tale told primarily through dialogue which explores childhood and destiny. From Southern fiction master Daniel Woodrell comes The Maid's Version, an explosive emotional story about family, justice and the power of truth. Edwidge Danticat, author of the best-selling Brother, I'm Dying, delivers Claire of the Sea Light, a stunning novel about a fisherman's daughter gone missing and what it means to be a parent, child, friend, neighbor and lover.
Jane Urquhart's Sanctuary Line is a powerful, poetic read offering a reflection on the fragility of human life and our tenuous connection to one another, all mirrored in the study of the migratory habits of monarch butterflies. A stew of Middle East politics, computer sci-fi and Jewish philosophy, Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed is an ambitious and highly entertaining novel. Fans of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal author Jeannette Winterson will want to check out her novel The Daylight Gate, a magical modern-day tale of the Pendle Witches.
Historical Fiction & Sci-Fi
"Socially conscious melodrama at its best", Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies, set in rural North Carolina during a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension, explores the lives of two women, seemingly very different, but truly connected. Set in Depression-era Seattle comes another story of two connected people - Songs of Willow Frost is a powerful tale of a boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past, both in search of love, hope, and forgiveness. Robert Morgan's The Road from Gap Creek is the long-awaited sequel to Gap Creek - a moving and monumental portrait of people in the Great Depression and World War II.
Award winning poet Jason Mott explores faith and morality, love and responsibility in his debut novel The Returned in which loved ones all over the world come back from the beyond; while Margaret Atwood fans will be thrilled that the final entry in her MaddAddam series is here!
Mysteries & Thrillers
Inspector Gamache returns in a new Louise Penny novel, How the Light Gets In. This is the ninth in the series and receiving reviews that indicate it could be her best yet; BookBrowse members who reviewed it for First Impressions rated it an average of 4.9 out of 5.0! John Lawton's Then We Take Berlin is a gripping historical thriller of espionage, war and the people caught up in it. World War I nurse and amateur sleuth Bess Crawford is back in Charles Todd's A Question of Honor; as is Jack Reacher in Lee Child's Never Go Back, an intricate puzzle that forces Reacher to question who he is, what he's done and what his life will become.
If you're wondering what films based on books will release in Fall 2013 (August - December), BookBrowse has the answer! Below you will find films opening in the USA, UK and elsewhere. There are films for youth, films for adults, films based on classics and films based on recent bestsellers.
As the weather turns cooler, the days grow shorter, and fall gives way to winter, keep an eye out for these new films! And tell us which you'd like to see by taking our quick poll (click to this page then scroll to the bottom of the page to see the poll).
Films Premiering in the USA:
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
Starring: Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Harald Zwart
Opens: August 21 in the USA (and 45 other countries near the same time)
When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld.
Based on the first volume of the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, five volumes of which have been published, with a sixth due to be published in March 2014.
IMDB Rating: 6.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore, Judy Greer
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Opens: October 18 in the USA
Summary: A reimagining of the classic horror tale about Carrie White, a shy girl outcast by her peers and sheltered by her deeply religious mother, who unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom.
A reimagining of the 1976 movie which starred Sissy Spacek, based on the creepy novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Not yet rated
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Abigail Breslin, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin and Ben Kingsley
Director: Gavin Hood
Opens: November 1 in USA (and in 25+ other countries through the end of 2013)
Summary: 70 years after a horrific alien war, an unusually gifted child is sent to an advanced military school in space to prepare for a future invasion.
Based on Orson Scott Card's Hugo and Nebula Award–winning 1994 novel Ender's Game.
Not yet rated
The Book Thief
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Director: Brian Percival
Opens: November 15 in the USA (other countries from mid-Jan)
While subjected to the horrors of WWII Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others. Under the stairs in her home, a Jewish refuge is being sheltered by her adoptive parents.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, P.J. Byrne, Jon Favreau
Director: Martin Scorsese
Opens: November 15 in USA (and 15+ other countries through January 2014)
Summary: Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Based on the 2008 memoir by brokerage firm founder (and convicted stock market manipulator) Jordan Belfort.
Not yet rated
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Opens: November 22 in the USA (premieres in London on November 11 and then showing in 35+ other countries near the same time)
Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.
Based on the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Rated: Not yet rated but is likely to be PG-13, the same as the first Hunger Games film.
Q: "We recently gained a new book club member who is causing problems. She's only been to three meetings so far but she talks about herself non-stop. Every time someone makes a point about the book, she somehow relates it back to her life and tells a 10+ minute story. I've tried everything I can think - redirecting her back to the book, interrupting her, ignoring her but it's not working. She also puts people down, probably without meaning to, but still she does it. I don't think she has much of a social life outside of the club so I don't want to just tell her she can't come but she's ruining book club for the rest of the group at the moment so I need to do something. What is your advice?"
As you all know, we get a lot of book-related questions at BookBrowse. While we certainly have our own answers to these fascinating and excellent dilemmas, we love turning to our Facebook followers who always have the perfect answer - or answers! Here is their advice for addressing this sticky, tricky problem:
Technique #1: Rules
"Set and sign policies, including how many warnings you get before you get the boot." - Susie KC
"Send a general note or email to the whole group with guidelines for the meeting spelled out in black and white. You would not have to mention any names, but just say that in the last few meetings the club has been straying and getting off topic." - Bridget G
"Have each member contribute and set a time limit for each contribution. If this works, maybe you can relax eventually." - Liz G
"One thing I used (admittedly with a group of teens) was a beanbag. If you weren't holding it, you couldn't talk. Pass it around and make sure everyone gets to hold it once before anyone else gets a second time to talk. Time limits (with a small sand timer) also work. You could try making her "recorder" and have her take notes on what everyone says about the book." - Becky H
"Saying something like: Back to the book now usually does it. Or: Let's talk about that later." - Pat J
"Put the person who misbehaves in charge. That nearly always works to force them to stay on the straight and narrow." - Donna C
"Most clubs I have been in go around in a circle so everyone gets to have time to contribute or pass." - Tamara VK
Technique #2: Specific Social Time
"Our club has social time at the beginning of our get togethers, and then when we discuss the book each member gets to talk individually without interruptions. We socialize again at the end of the meeting. It works well for us and everyone gets to speak without interruptions." - Patsy B
"Be honest, address the whole group (perhaps via email) about having strict book discussion time, then poll everyone and perhaps choose to have a brief social time before or after the book talk. Good luck!" - Shelley RC
Technique #3: Talk To Her in Private and Be Kind
"It's important to be kind. A tactful person should speak with her privately, to reinforce that members are not happy that she tends to monopolize the discussions with personal stories, and the ambience of the group is being affected." - Carolyn L
"Be direct but kind. Have a one on one conversation with her. She may not realize what she is doing. Sharing this with her in person gives her the courtesy of letting her know. If you don't you run the risk of losing long-standing members, which isn't fair to them either. Honesty is always the best policy but honesty can be delivered gently." - Chris G
"Could two of you (one as a "witness") take her aside and talk with her about this, nicely, and ask her if everything is ok?" - Diane Elizabeth S