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 June 4th, if you’d like to join us.
Here are some of the books we talked about.
Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna’s daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives—grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team—a bitter political war kept them apart.
In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family’s story—five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.
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The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years and seventeen days without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.
In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet—and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.
Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.
Class Act by Jerry Craft
Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying “You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.” His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted? To make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids. He wants to pretend like everything is fine, but it’s hard not to withdraw, and even their mutual friend Jordan doesn’t know how to keep the group together.
As the pressures mount, will Drew find a way to bridge the divide so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most important, will he finally be able to accept himself?
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The Big Show by Steve Pond
Oscar parties. Oscar pools. Oscar style. Oscar predictions. The Oscars breed their own peculiar mania and a billion people worldwide are alleged to watch the broadcast every year. While that figure may be the Academy’s big white lie, the Oscars draw a viewership well into the hundreds of millions–a tremendous audience for what is essentially a television program. But this is no ordinary show. Love it or loathe it, the Oscars are an irresistible spectacle: a gloriously gaudy, glitzy, momentous, and foolish window into the unholy alliance of art and commerce that is the film industry. The Oscar statuette is a totem of such potency that millions are spent and careers laid on the line in the reckless pursuit of an eight-pound chunk of gold-plated britannium.
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
The Kidd siblings have grown up diving down to shipwrecks and traveling the world, helping their famous parents recover everything from swords to gold doubloons from the bottom of the ocean. But after their parents disappear on the job, the kids are suddenly thrust into the biggest treasure hunt of their lives. They’ll have to work together to defeat dangerous pirates and dodge the hot pursuit of an evil treasure hunting rival, all while following cryptic clues to unravel the mystery of what really happened to their parents-and find out if they’re still alive.
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The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell weaves together the stories of a Dutch genius and his homemade computer, a band of brothers in central Alabama, a British psychopath, and pyromaniacal chemists at Harvard to examine one of the greatest moral challenges in modern American history.
Most military thinkers in the years leading up to World War II saw the airplane as an afterthought. But a small band of idealistic strategists, the “Bomber Mafia,” asked: What if precision bombing could cripple the enemy and make war far less lethal?
In contrast, the bombing of Tokyo on the deadliest night of the war was the brainchild of General Curtis LeMay, whose brutal pragmatism and scorched-earth tactics in Japan cost thousands of civilian lives, but may have spared even more by averting a planned US invasion. In The Bomber Mafia, Gladwell asks, “Was it worth it?”
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A Spy in the Struggle by Ava de Leon
Since childhood, Yolanda Vance has forged her desire to escape poverty into a laser-like focus that took her through prep school and Harvard Law. So when her prestigious New York law firm is raided by the FBI, Yolanda turns in her corrupt bosses to save her career–and goes to work for the Bureau. Soon she’s sent undercover at Red, Black, and Green–an African-American “extremist” activist group back in her California college town. They claim a biotech corporation fueled by Pentagon funding is exploiting the neighborhood. But Yolanda is determined to put this assignment in her win column, head back to corporate law, and regain her comfortable life.
Until an unexpected romance opens her heart–and a suspicious death opens her eyes. Menacing dark money forces will do anything to bury Yolanda and the movement. Fueled by memories of who she once was–and what once really mattered most–how can she tell those who’ve come to trust her that she’s been spying? As the stakes escalate, and one misstep could cost her life, Yolanda will have to choose between betraying the cause of her people or invoking the wrath of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agency.
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Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green
Without question, Fawn Birchill knows that her used bookstore is the heart of West Philadelphia, a cornerstone of culture for a community that, for the past twenty years, has found the quirkiness absolutely charming. When an amicable young indie bookseller invades her block, Fawn is convinced that his cushy couches, impressive selection, coffee bar, and knowledgeable staff are a neighborhood blight. Misguided yet blindly resilient, Fawn readies for battle.
But as she wages her war, Fawn is forced to reflect on a few unavoidable truths: the tribulations of online dating, a strained relationship with her family, and a devoted if not always law-abiding intern–not to mention what to do about a pen pal with whom she hasn’t been entirely honest and the litany of repairs her aging store requires.
You Are Your Best Thing by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown
It started as a text between two friends. Tarana Burke, founder of the ‘me too.’ Movement, texted researcher and writer Brené Brown to see if she was free to jump on a call. Brené assumed that Tarana wanted to talk about wallpaper. They had been trading home decorating inspiration boards in their last text conversation so Brené started scrolling to find her latest Pinterest pictures when the phone rang.
But it was immediately clear to Brené that the conversation wasn’t going to be about wallpaper. Tarana’s hello was serious and she hesitated for a bit before saying, “Brené, you know your work affected me so deeply, but as a Black woman, I’ve sometimes had to feel like I have to contort myself to fit into some of your words. The core of it rings so true for me, but the application has been harder.”
Rules for Being Dead by Kim Powers
It’s the late 1960s in McKinney, Texas. At the downtown theater and the local drive-in, movies—James Bond, My Fair Lady, Alfie, and Dr. Zhivago—feed the dreams and obsessions of a ten-year-old Clarke who loves Audrey, Elvis, his family, and the handsome boy in the projector booth. Then Clarke loses his beloved mother, and no one will tell him how she died. No one will tell her either. She is floating above the trees and movie screens of McKinney, trapped between life and death, searching for a glimpse of her final moments on this earth. Clarke must find the shattering truth, which haunts this darkly humorous and incredibly moving novel.
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Failing at Fairness by Myra Pollack Sadker
Chronicles studies that show how gender-biased education, often propagated by well-meaning teachers, affects the intellectual and social growth of girls and instructs how teachers and students can avoid this trap.
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied, and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight in shining armor offers to rescue them.
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Lakewood by Megan Giddings
On paper, Lena Johnson’s new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood.
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Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.
A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times–collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.
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A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
One night two young couples run into an enchanted forest in an attempt to escape their problems. But these four humans do not realize that the forest is filled with fairies and hobgoblins who love making mischief.
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.
Henrietta’s family did not learn of her “immortality” until more than twenty years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family—past and present—is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
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Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight by Julia Sweig
Perhaps the most underestimated First Lady of the twentieth century, Lady Bird Johnson was also one of the most accomplished and often her husband’s secret weapon. Managing the White House in years of national upheaval, through the civil rights movement and the escalation of the Vietnam War, Lady Bird projected a sense of calm and, following the glamorous and modern Jackie Kennedy, an old-fashioned image of a First Lady. In truth, she was anything but. As the first First Lady to run the East Wing like a professional office, she took on her own policy initiatives, including the most ambitious national environmental effort since Teddy Roosevelt. Occupying the White House during the beginning of the women’s liberation movement, she hosted professional women from all walks of life in the White House, including urban planning and environmental pioneers like Jane Jacobs and Barbara Ward, encouraging women everywhere to pursue their own careers, even if her own style of leadership and official role was to lead by supporting others.
Where no presidential biographer has understood the full impact of Lady Bird Johnson’s work in the White House, Julia Sweig is the first to draw substantially on Lady Bird’s own voice in her White House diaries to place Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson center stage and to reveal a woman ahead of her time—and an accomplished politician in her own right.
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The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
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The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel De La Cruz, known affectionately as Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly one hundred, dies herself, leading to a farewell doubleheader. Across one bittersweet weekend in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother, and recounting the many tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that brought them to a fraught and sublime country and allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home. The story of the De La Cruzes is the American story. This indelible portrait of a complex family reminds us of what it means to be the first generation and to live two lives across one border.
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Conversations on Writing by Ursula K. Le Guin
When the New York Times referred to Ursula K. Le Guin as America’s greatest writer of science fiction, they just might have undersold her legacy. It’s hard to look at her vast body of work?novels and stories across multiple genres, poems, translations, essays, speeches, and criticism?and see anything but one of our greatest writers, period.
In a series of interviews with David Naimon (Between the Covers), Le Guin discusses craft, aesthetics, and philosophy in her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction respectively. The discussions provide ample advice and guidance for writers of every level, but also give Le Guin a chance to to sound off on some of her favorite subjects: the genre wars, the patriarchy, the natural world, and what, in her opinion, makes for great writing. With excerpts from her own books and those that she looked to for inspiration, this volume is a treat for Le Guin’s longtime readers, a perfect introduction for those first approaching her writing, and a tribute to her incredible life and work.
A Separation by Katie Kitamura
A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. As she begins her new life, she gets word that he has gone missing in a remote region of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him.
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The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little were all born at the beginning of the 20th century and forced to contend with the prejudices of Jim Crow as Black women. These three extraordinary women passed their knowledge to their children with the hope of helping them to survive in a society that would deny their humanity from the very beginning—from Louise teaching her children about their activist roots, to Berdis encouraging James to express himself through writing, to Alberta basing all of her lessons in faith and social justice. These women used their strength and motherhood to push their children toward greatness, all with a conviction that every human being deserves dignity and respect despite the rampant discrimination they faced.
These three mothers taught resistance and a fundamental belief in the worth of Black people to their sons, even when these beliefs flew in the face of America’s racist practices and led to ramifications for all three families’ safety. The fight for equal justice and dignity came above all else for the three mothers. These women, their similarities and differences, as individuals and as mothers, represent a piece of history left untold and a celebration of Black motherhood long overdue.
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