July 2004

Reading Recommendations · Book Club Suggestions

Looking for something for your next book club meeting? Try one of these novels from our collection. And don’t forget to check out the Book Discussion Groups section of our website for information about participating in a discussion at one of our libraries.
Cover of Darkness Peering

Darkness Peering

Alice Blanchard
Sheriff Nalen Storrow committed suicide in 1980 when it looked as though his son, Billy, was implicated in the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. Eighteen years later, his daughter, Rachel, is on the force when the disappearance of another woman again casts suspicion on Billy. A resonant and suspenseful novel of family loyalty and duty.

The Distant Land of My Father

Bo Caldwell
Anna Schoene’s flamboyant, wayward father stays in Shanghai when Anna’s mother moves her to the U.S. on the eve of World War II. It’s a separation that shapes Anna’s whole life, even after father and daughter are reunited. A mesmerizing portrayal of “a risky person to love.”

Wonder Boys

Michael Chabon
Professor Grady Tripp was a “wonder boy”—a young writer who achieved instant success. He has never been able to maintain this level of achievement and is now going through a mid-life crisis. A funny but tender portrait of the literary world and those who worship in it.
Cover of Pope Joan

Pope Joan

Donna Woolfolk Cross
Legend has it that a woman once held the papal throne. Did she really exist, and how could her rise to power have come about? Cross creates a fascinating historical novel, giving us the story of a young girl named Joan and her unorthodox life in the fourteenth century. This compelling historical fiction will draw the reader back to the Middle Ages.

The Brothers K

David James Duncan
Duncan’s endearing family saga mesmerizes readers with the ups and downs of the extraordinary Chance family, whose six children are raised in the 1960s and 1970s in the Pacific Northwest. In one of America’s most turbulent eras, the family weathers experiences and experiments in religion, relationships, baseball, and politics with humor and humanity.

Everything Is Illuminated

Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer mixes tragedy and comedy in a stunning debut. An American student, accompanied by a young translator, seeks the Ukrainian shtetl where a woman may once have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. As his quest unfolds, his novel-in-progress traces the village’s dark history.
Cover of Plainsong


Kent Haruf
The harsh plains of contemporary eastern Colorado are the setting for this beautiful, simply written book of love, family, and community. Facing loss and abandonment, several townspeople—among them a pregnant high school girl, a depressed teacher, and two farmer brothers—come together to form a different kind of family. A quiet, poignant work. A sequel, Eventide, was published in 2004.

When the Elephants Dance

Tess Uriza Holthe
“When the elephants dance, the chickens must be careful.” As the Americans and Japanese struggle for control of the Philippines during World War II, a group of families and friends spend three years hiding in a basement, where magical Filipino myths and folktales draw them together and offer compassionate lessons in life, love, and death in this entrancing debut.

When We Were Orphans

Kazuo Ishiguro
Christopher Banks, raised in Shanghai, China, is sent to England after his parents disappear. When he returns as an adult to search for them just before World War II, he is forced to confront the illusions on which he has built his life. By the author of the award-winning novel The Remains of the Day.
Cover of Hostile Witness

Hostile Witness

William Lashner
Victor Carl is willing to do almost anything to escape his failing law practice and is sure it’s going to be easy money when he’s offered the chance to defend a politician charged with racketeering. He’s in over his head before he realizes it’s a setup. This absorbing legal thriller takes some surprisingly dark twists through the human psyche.

Shutter Island

Dennis Lehane
In 1954, US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner are sent to Massachusetts’ Shutter Island to investigate a missing insane asylum patient. Soon Daniels is unsure of his own sanity, as gale-force winds rack the island, his partner vanishes, and he suspects someone is feeding him drugs. This is a first-rate psychological thriller that will leave readers hanging till the last page.

Miracle at St. Anna

James McBride
Lost behind enemy lines in December of 1944, four African-American GIs from a “Buffalo Soldiers” unit find refuge in a tiny Italian village. As the Germans close in, the four very different men discover that miracles may still be possible. McBride’s magical tale illuminates faith, trust, and hope against the darkness of war and bigotry.
Cover of The Piano Tuner

The Piano Tuner

Daniel Mason
A Victorian piano tuner is sent out to a remote post in Burma to repair a piano, an instrument on which the fate of the colony may rest. His encounter with a charismatic imperial officer and his seduction by the Burmese landscape and culture are hauntingly recounted in this mesmerizing tale of empire, literary historical fiction at its finest.

In the Lake of the Woods

Tim O’Brien
John and Kathy Wade are in retreat in a cabin in the woods when Kathy mysteriously disappears. Was she murdered, or did she run from a marriage not as successful as it appeared? Through John’s gripping narration, interspersed with interviews and news clippings, the Wades’ less-than-perfect lives are examined in a way that will leave the reader hypnotized.

Crawfish Dreams

Nancy Rawles
Camille refuses to move away from her home in Watts despite her children’s worries. She has cooked for forty-one years for local priests and now is determined to own a restaurant in her neighborhood. This winning story, told with humor and frankness, offers uplifting insight into human goodness and frailties.
Cover of The Smallest Color

The Smallest Color

Bill Roorbach
Coop Henry has spent the last thirty years maintaining the story that his long-missing brother, a 1960s radical, is alive and in hiding. Only five people know the truth, and it is tearing Coop apart. Past and present alternate with rising intensity as an award-winning writer tells a story of love, loyalty, and lies.

Empire Falls

Richard Russo
Miles Roby runs the Empire Grill in his dying hometown of Empire Falls, Maine. Though he looks like a failure and his dream of owning the grill a fantasy, his life is much richer than at first it appears. The author of Nobody’s Fool has produced another compassionate and complex novel of small-town New England life. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Perfect Witness

Barry Siegel
Greg Monarch agrees to defend his former partner, Ira Sullivan, when Ira is charged with a murder he can’t remember. The prosecution has a witness, a beautiful woman who claims she saw the whole thing. But is she lying? How far will Greg go to manipulate her into becoming a “perfect witness” for the defense? Siegel’s spellbinding debut goes beyond courtroom drama to an astute examination of the legal system in all its complications.
Cover of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Dai Sijie
Two young men imprisoned in a remote Maoist re-education camp are enthralled when they discover a collection of forbidden European classics. When one of the boys decides to share these books with the local tailor’s daughter, the results are not what he expected. Dai Sijie, a camp survivor himself, has written a poignant and charmingly funny debut.

The Story of Lucy Gault

William Trevor
A misguided youthful action and its far-reaching consequences are the materials with which master storyteller Trevor crafts this novel of guilt, grief, understanding, and forgiveness. The story begins in an Ireland uneasy under English martial law in 1921, when young Lucy Gault runs away to try to force her parents not to flee the country.

Easter Island

Jennifer Vanderbes
Although separated by sixty years, the voyages of two women to Easter Island converge in intricate ways. British Elsa Beazley, her scientist husband, and her mentally ill sister arrive in 1912; while American paleontologist Greer Faraday arrives in 1973. History, science, love, and duty intertwine in this remarkable novel of a remote and mysterious place.
Cover of The Wedding

The Wedding

Dorothy West
The extended Cole family is an African-American success story in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950s. Though descendents of slaves, they are educated and affluent. When one branch of the family prepares for a wedding, however, their comfortable lives are shaken up. West was one of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance movement, and this work of her old age is superb.

Short Stories

Ten Little Indians

Sherman Alexie
Alexie’s stories address universal themes of love, loss, humor, and sacrifice, but his characters are almost always members of the Spokane tribe of the Pacific Northwest. It’s this juxtaposition of Native life and culture against the white world that draws us into the writer’s compassionate, straight-forward story-telling and his compelling vision of modern life.

Interpreter of Maladies

Jhumpa Lahiri
This compassionate debut collection of short stories follows the lives of several Indian characters who are stoically trying to accept their dislocation to the United States. With poise and objectivity, Lahiri writes of the loneliness, the trials, and the degradation that immigrants face. Moving and thought provoking international fiction.
Cover of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

ZZ Packer
Packer’s clear and graceful writing in this debut collection of eight stories draws the reader powerfully into the lives of the predominantly young, female, African-American characters. These well-realized characters face life in all of its complexities. This debut is all the more impressive for the author’s youth.
Need more suggestions? Email the Popular Library or contact your local branch and our staff will be happy to assist you.