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 including those listed below. Looks like we’ll be doing it again on August 25th at 3:30 PM. If you’d like to tell us about some books or hear what your fellow readers suggest, join our Zoom chat.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
“Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked…” 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.
Turtle Boy by M. Evan Wolkenstein
Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. His science teacher finds out about the turtles he spent his summer collecting from the marsh behind school and orders him to release them back into the wild. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he has to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. Unfortunately, Will hates hospitals.
At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster, go to a concert and a school dance, and swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with his turtles. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.
Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess
When Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her preppy, white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.
But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.
Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forwards, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.
Business or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Chandler Cohen has never felt more like the ghost in “ghostwriter” until she attends a signing for a book she wrote—and the author doesn’t even recognize her. The evening turns more promising when she meets a charming man at the bar and immediately connects with him. But when all their sexual tension culminates in a spectacularly awkward hookup, she decides this is one night better off forgotten.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Her next project is ghostwriting a memoir for Finn Walsh, a C-list actor best known for playing a lovable nerd on a cult classic werewolf show who now makes a living appearing at fan conventions across the country. But Chandler knows him better from their one-night stand of hilarious mishaps.
Chandler’s determined to keep their partnership as professional as possible, but when she admits to Finn their night together wasn’t as mind-blowing as he thought it was, he’s distraught. He intrigues her enough that they strike a deal: when they’re not working on his book, Chandler will school Finn in the art of satisfaction. As they grow closer both in and out of the bedroom, they must figure out which is more important, business or pleasure—or if there’s a way for them to have both.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
As a third-year Ph.D. candidate, Olive Smith doesn’t believe in lasting romantic relationships–but her best friend does, and that’s what got her into this situation. Convincing Anh that Olive is dating and well on her way to a happily ever after was always going to take more than hand-wavy Jedi mind tricks: Scientists require proof. So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.
That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. But when a big science conference goes haywire, putting Olive’s career on the Bunsen burner, Adam surprises her again with his unyielding support and even more unyielding… six-pack abs.
Suddenly their little experiment feels dangerously close to combustion. And Olive discovers that the only thing more complicated than a hypothesis on love is putting her own heart under the microscope.
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden
Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.
At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.
Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.
Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao Restaurant’s delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, happy to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. But when brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo Chao is found dead―presumed murdered―his sons discover that they’ve drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town.
The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant’s reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
Five years ago, Mira Bunting founded a guerrilla gardening group: Birnam Wood. An undeclared, unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic gathering of friends, this activist collective plants crops wherever no one will notice: on the sides of roads, in forgotten parks, and neglected backyards. For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira stumbles on an answer, a way to finally set the group up for the long term: a landslide has closed the Korowai Pass, cutting off the town of Thorndike. Natural disaster has created an opportunity, a sizable farm seemingly abandoned.
But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. Robert Lemoine, the enigmatic American billionaire, has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker–or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira, Birnam Wood, and their entrepreneurial spirit, he suggests they work this land. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust each other?
Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters
When it comes to her career, Cade Elgin has it all figured out. Only “professional talk” has become her default mode, relationships are nonexistent, and don’t even mention the word “orgasm.” All work and no play makes Cade a dull human. But when she inherits a sex toy store, Cade is caught between business and a store filled with every imaginable kind of pleasure—including her infuriatingly irresponsible and deliciously sexy new co-owner.
Selena Mathis learned the hard way that she can have too much of a good thing. Which is precisely why she’s taken an oath of celibacy and is focusing on how to make Satisfaction Guaranteed a success. She won’t mess this up. Not this time. But once again, Selena’s emotions are getting in the way, and tempting her with a serious attraction to buttoned-up Cade.
But the shop isn’t exactly vibe-ing, and Cade and Selena are on the verge of losing both their income and the possibility of love. Can they find a way to work together . . . before Satisfaction Guaranteed runs out of batteries?
Lovely War by Julie Berry
It’s 1917, and World War I is at its zenith when Hazel and James first catch sight of each other at a London party. She’s a shy and talented pianist; he’s a newly minted soldier with dreams of becoming an architect. When they fall in love, it’s immediate and deep–and cut short when James is shipped off to the killing fields.
Aubrey Edwards is also headed toward the trenches. A gifted musician who’s played Carnegie Hall, he’s a member of the 15th New York Infantry, an all-African-American regiment being sent to Europe to help end the Great War. Love is the last thing on his mind. But that’s before he meets Colette Fournier, a Belgian chanteuse who’s already survived unspeakable tragedy at the hands of the Germans.
Thirty years after these four lovers’ fates collide, the Greek goddess Aphrodite tells their stories to her husband, Hephaestus, and her lover, Ares, in a luxe Manhattan hotel room at the height of World War II. She seeks to answer the age-old question: Why are Love and War eternally drawn to one another? But her quest for a conclusion that will satisfy her jealous husband uncovers a multi-threaded tale of prejudice, trauma, and music and reveals that War is no match for the power of Love.
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
Every year, Ceyala “Lala” Reyes’ family—aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and Lala’s six older brothers—packs up three cars and, in a wild ride, drive from Chicago to the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother’s house in Mexico City for the summer. From the celebrated bestselling author of The House on Mango Street and winner of the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.
Struggling to find a voice above the boom of her brothers and to understand her place on this side of the border and that, Lala is a shrewd observer of family life. But when she starts telling the Awful Grandmother’s life story, seeking clues to how she got to be so awful, grandmother accuses Lala of exaggerating. Soon, a multigenerational family narrative turns into a whirlwind exploration of storytelling, lies, and life. Like the cherished rebozo, or shawl, that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women, Caramelo is alive with the vibrations of history, family, and love.
Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir
When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda.
But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth. In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.
And winter is closing in on Floralinda…