At the last meeting of the Bring Your Own Book Club, a bunch of book lovers chatted about the books we’ve all been reading lately. Looks like we’ll be doing it again on January 28th if you’d like to join us.
Here’s some of the books we discussed.
Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin
Ray Welter, who was until recently a high-flying advertising executive in Chicago, has left the world of news speak behind. He decamps to the isolated Scottish Isle of Jura in order to spend a few months in the cottage where George Orwell wrote most of his seminal novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray is miserable, and quite prepared to make his troubles go away with the help of copious quantities of excellent scotch. But a few of the local islanders take a decidedly shallow view of a foreigner coming to visit in order to sort himself out.
Broken Places by Tracy Clark
Former cop Cass Raines has found the world of private investigation a less stressful way to eke out a living in the Windy City. But when she stumbles across the dead body of a respected member of the community, it’s up to her to prove a murderer is on the loose . . . Cops can make mistakes, even when they’re not rookies. If anyone knows that it’s Cass Raines, who took a bullet two years ago after an incompetent colleague screwed up a tense confrontation with an armed suspect. Deeply traumatized by the incident, Cass resigned from the Chicago PD, leaving one less female African-American on the force.
Now she’s the head of a one-woman private investigation agency, taking on just enough work to pay the bills. She spends the rest of her time keeping an eye on the tenants in her little Hyde Park apartment building, biking along the lakefront, and playing chess with the only father figure she’s ever known, Father Ray Heaton. When Father Ray asks Cass to look into a recent spate of vandalism at his church, she readily agrees to handle the case. But only hours later she’s horrified to discover his murdered body in the church confessional, a dead gangbanger sprawled out nearby. She knew Pop, as she called him, had ticked off plenty of people, from slumlords to drug dealers and even some parishioners and politicians, with his uncompromising defense of the downtrodden. But a late-night random theft doesn’t seem like much of a motive at a cash-strapped parish like Saint Brendan’s. The lead detective assigned to the case is all too ready to dismiss it as an interrupted burglary gone awry, just another statistic in a violent city. But Cass’s instincts tell her otherwise, and badge or no badge, she intends to see justice done.
Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier
Way up in the Swiss mountains, there’s an old grand hotel steeped in tradition and faded splendor. Once a year, when the famous New Year’s Eve Ball takes place and guests from all over the world arrive, excitement returns to the vast hallways. Sophie, who works at the hotel as an intern, is busy making sure that everything goes according to plan. But unexpected problems keep arising, and some of the guests are not who they pretend to be. Very soon, Sophie finds herself right in the middle of a perilous adventure–and at risk of losing not only her job, but also her heart.
Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne Valente
Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect. It’s just that he’s away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect. But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband’s face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can’t quite meet her gaze…. But everything is perfect. Isn’t it?
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
Having captured the hearts of readers across the globe, Murderbot has also established Martha Wells as one of the great SF writers of today.
No, I didn’t kill the dead human. If I had, I wouldn’t dump the body in the station mall. When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people–who knew?) Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict
In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection. But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white–her complexion is dark because she is African American.
The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Owens family has been cursed in matters of love for over three-hundred years but all of that is about to change. The novel begins in a library, the best place for a story to be conjured, when beloved aunt Jet Owens hears the deathwatch beetle and knows she has only seven days to live. Jet is not the only one in danger–the curse is already at work. A frantic attempt to save a young man’s life spurs three generations of the Owens women, and one long-lost brother, to use their unusual gifts to break the curse as they travel from Paris to London to the English countryside where their ancestor Maria Owens first practiced the Unnamed Art. The younger generation discovers secrets that have been hidden from them in matters of both magic and love by Sally, their fiercely protective mother. As Kylie Owens uncovers the truth about who she is and what her own dark powers are, her aunt Franny comes to understand that she is ready to sacrifice everything for her family, and Sally Owens realizes that she is willing to give up everything for love.
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading “with murderous attention,” must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home. Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time. Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either. Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa–the “Waldorf of Harlem”–and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes. Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett
At the center of These Precious Days is the title essay, a surprising and moving meditation on an unexpected friendship that explores “what it means to be seen, to find someone with whom you can be your best and most complete self.” When Patchett chose an early galley of actor and producer Tom Hanks’ short story collection to read one night before bed, she had no idea that this single choice would be life changing. It would introduce her to a remarkable woman–Tom’s brilliant assistant Sooki–with whom she would form a profound bond that held monumental consequences for them both.
A literary alchemist, Patchett plumbs the depths of her experiences to create gold: engaging and moving pieces that are both self-portrait and landscape, each vibrant with emotion and rich in insight. Turning her writer’s eye on her own experiences, she transforms the private into the universal, providing us all a way to look at our own worlds anew, and reminds how fleeting and enigmatic life can be.
The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
Catalina Martín desperately needs a date to her sister’s wedding. Especially since her little white lie about her American boyfriend has spiraled out of control. Now everyone she knows–including her ex and his fiancée–will be there and eager to meet him. She only has four weeks to find someone willing to cross the Atlantic and aid in her deception. New York to Spain is no short flight and her raucous family won’t be easy to fool. Enter Aaron Blackford–her tall, handsome, condescending colleague–who surprisingly offers to step in. She’d rather refuse; never has there been a more aggravating, blood-boiling, and insufferable man. But Catalina is desperate, and as the wedding draws nearer, Aaron looks like her best option. And she begins to realize he might not be as terrible in the real world as he is at the office.
Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers
It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend. One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered. But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how. They’re going to need to ask it a lot.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease. At first taken aback by the severity of her new life, Marie finds focus and love in collective life with her singular and mercurial sisters. In this crucible, Marie steadily supplants her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth with something new to her: devotion to her sisters, and a conviction in her own divine visions. Marie, born the last in a long line of women warriors and crusaders, is determined to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects. But in a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, one that can never reconcile itself with her existence, will the sheer force of Marie’s vision be bulwark enough?
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim–the Thursday Murder Club–are still riding high off their recent real-life murder case and are looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet at Cooper’s Chase, their posh retirement village. But they are out of luck. An unexpected visitor–an old pal of Elizabeth’s (or perhaps more than just a pal?)–arrives, desperate for her help. He has been accused of stealing diamonds worth millions from the wrong men and he’s seriously on the lam. Then, as night follows day, the first body is found. But not the last. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim are up against a ruthless murderer who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can our four friends catch the killer before the killer catches them? And if they find the diamonds, too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus? You should never put anything beyond the Thursday Murder Club.
Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
Beautiful Sylvia Kaye and another young woman had been seen hitching a ride not long before Sylvia’s bludgeoned body is found outside a pub in Woodstock, near Oxford. Morse is sure the other hitchhiker can tell him much of what he needs to know. But his confidence is shaken by the cool inscrutability of the girl he’s certain was Sylvia’s companion on that ill-fated September evening. Shrewd as Morse is, he’s also distracted by the complex scenarios that the murder set in motion among Sylvia’s girlfriends and their Oxford playmates. To grasp the painful truth, and act upon it, requires from Morse the last atom of his professional discipline.
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
A teenager is pulled back in time to witness her grandmother’s experiences in World War II-era Japanese internment camps in Displacement , a historical graphic novel from Kiku Hughes. Kiku is on vacation in San Francisco when suddenly she finds herself displaced to the 1940s Japanese-American internment camp that her late grandmother, Ernestina, was forcibly relocated to during World War II. These displacements keep occurring until Kiku finds herself “stuck” back in time. Living alongside her young grandmother and other Japanese-American citizens in internment camps, Kiku gets the education she never received in history class. She witnesses the lives of Japanese-Americans who were denied their civil liberties and suffered greatly, but managed to cultivate community and commit acts of resistance in order to survive. Kiku Hughes weaves a riveting, bittersweet tale that highlights the intergenerational impact and power of memory.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a traditional degree. But this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but Lizzie has little chance to spend her new free time with husband and son before her old mentor, Sylvia Liller, makes a proposal. Sylvia has become famous for her prescient podcast, Hell and High Water , and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience–but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks . . . And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in–funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.
Fault Lines by Emily Itami
Mizuki is a Japanese housewife. She has a hardworking husband, two adorable children, and a beautiful Tokyo apartment. It’s everything a woman could want, yet sometimes she wonders whether she would rather throw herself off the high-rise balcony than spend another evening not talking to her husband and hanging up laundry.
Then, one rainy night, she meets Kiyoshi, a successful restaurateur. In him, she rediscovers freedom, friendship, and the neon, electric pulse of the city she has always loved. But the further she falls into their relationship, the clearer it becomes that she is living two lives–and in the end, we can choose only one.