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Six Debut Novels for Book Clubs in 2018

Editor's blog - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 20:34
As we settle into 2018, here are six of the best debut novels to read and discuss during the year. If you love books about place and community, Golden Hill, The Big Dry and If the Creek Don't Rise all transport readers to the streets of small towns and big cities and into the hearts of the people who struggle to make their lives there. Secrets are held – and readers' attentions are held too! – in both The Second Mrs. Hockaday and The Mothers. And, finally, readers can't help but root for quirky, clever teenager Ginny Moon even as she resists the loving family that finally wants to bring her home. All of these debuts are sure to spark emotion and conversation and are great bets for your book club! Read on for information on each... [More]
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Reader Review: "Ginny Moon"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 06:00
by Ellen F: I wasn't prepared to like this book or the main character. I thought it was going to be a very different type of book. The author brings the reader into Ginny's world as the story develops. I could empathize with all of the characters in her life and begin to understand how Ginny has invented ways to cope with the life she has been dealt. I found myself rooting for her dysfunctional mother despite what had gone before because the deep ties of family were apparent. I ended up loving the book and came away wiser having read Ginny's story.

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Reader Review: "The Immortalists"

Top Reader Reviews - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 06:00
by Becky H (Chicago): THE IMMORTALISTS follows four children throughout their lives. The children visit a woman who tells them their death date. That knowledge compels each of the young people to follow a different pathway through life. A gay boy who is uncertain of his sexuality and self-worth, a girl who may be suffering from a mental illness and infatuated by magic, a girl who is intellectually brilliant but socially inept and a boy who is the family's "golden child" intent on doing everything perfectly make up this group of siblings.

Each one's story is told in succession with little interaction between the siblings until each one's death. Each story is compelling on its own. The characters are well developed. Each life story has a clear beginning, middle and end. The place and time each sibling's story covers is detailed and distinct.

An intriguing, well written, and aware novel delineating the difference between belief and science, reality and fantasy. The choices each sibling makes will resonate long after you finish reading.

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Reader Review: "Ginny Moon"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 06:00
by M. Kassapa (Minneapolis): Ginny Moon, fourteen years old with autism, is trying to make sense of her world and with her as the narrator we are on a wild adventure following in her footsteps, watching how her mind works in navigating the zigzag path of her life. From the very first moment of this roller coaster of confusion and her desire to be reunited with her birth mother we want her to succeed. Once you understand the parameters of the journey Ginny is on, there is no way you can put this book down until reaching its culmination. Though at times you feel her fear and desperation, you hang in there with her. She holds our attention, our empathy and compassion as we cheer her through the obstacles that confound reaching her goal. And maybe she's not the only one who doesn't understand what's going on.

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Reader Review: "Ginny Moon"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 01/04/2018 - 06:00
by Rebecca (Western USA): I absolutely loved this book and could not turn the pages fast enough. The newspaper review which compares this book to The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time caught my attention since I still remember reading that book many years ago. However, this book's narrator is more appealing. However, I must admit that I felt the frustration of the teachers and adoptive parents as the formerly abused, autistic fourteen-year-old made choices that continued to mess up her life. Anyone who has ever had a friend in an abusive situation or interacted on a regular basis with children or young teens with autism or other mental issues will immediately know that the characterization of Ginny rings true. I like the fact that this book tells a fast-paced story with some unsavory characters without having to use a plethora of curse words. I like to be able to recommend books to teenagers as well as adults, and with some other books, the pages of "T.M.I." intimate details sometimes ruined that opportunity. The reader will feel suspense, frustration with a victim of abuse who seems to choose to hinder her own progress, and some moments of restrained anger (much like the teachers and adoptive parents) I highly recommend this unique book and think it would work well with book clubs as well as anyone just wanting an interesting story. I also hope this book will be made into a movie some day, but I want the movie to follow the book exactly.

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Reader Review: "The Sellout"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 01/03/2018 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): The Sellout is the fourth novel by award-winning American author, Paul Beatty. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2016. Our narrator is the son of a psychologist by the name of Mee (who has dropped the second "e"). Until his untimely and unfortunate death at the hands of the Los Angeles Police, his father was known as the Nigger Whisper for his ability to talk down coloured folk attempting suicide, a role that has been thrust upon the narrator by default.

Since his father's death, he manages their farm in a suburban area of LA once known as the City of Dickens. A talented farmer, he grows, among other cash crops, square watermelons and pot, and his uniquely delicious produce is very popular locally. In the prologue, we find him summoned to appear before the Supreme Court of USA on charges of racial segregation and slavery.

Although our narrator's name is never mentioned, he is referred to by one character as The Sellout, and bears the nickname Bonbon from his performance in a school spelling bee. Beatty gives the reader a cast of quirky characters that includes a former child-actor, the Assistant Principal of the Chaff Middle School, a female bus driver and a has-been TV personality who rewrites classic texts into blackly correct books. A former city is re-established via Freeway signs and a three-inch-wide white painted border. Meetings of the Dum Dum Donuts Intellectuals are the forum for black ideas and our protagonist employs a sort of reverse psychology that ends up in a resegregation push. He also provides novel take on blackface entertainment.

One World have produced editions of Beatty's four novel with themed covers and this one has a lawn jockey with a gas lamp on the cover, the significance of which becomes clear in the text. This satire has been described as brilliant, outrageous, demented, hilarious and profound, all succinct and accurate descriptors. Very entertaining.

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American Reading Habits Infographic

Editor's blog - Mon, 01/01/2018 - 12:35
There's nothing quite like that feeling of getting a brand-new book from the bookstore, taking it home and spending hours absorbed in its pages.

People used to talk about the imminent death of reading. The internet, it was thought, would kill the book industry. But old habits die hard, and the trusty American novel continues to give readers many hours of escapism. In fact, according to Global English Editing's infographic on American reading habits published below, we're reading almost as much as we ever have. [More]
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Reader Review: "Slumberland"

Top Reader Reviews - Thu, 12/28/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "The Schwa ruffled the pages of the book over his pant seam, and the resulting sound rivaled that of the best Max Roach brushwork. I nearly fainted. He lifted the book to his mouth and played chapter seven like a diatonic harmonica; blowing and drawing on the pages like leaves of grass in the hands of Pan. Who knew a Signet paperback was in the key of D? For the more percussive sounds he rapped the spine on his elbow, thumb drummed page corners, pizzicatoed the preface, flutter tongued the denouement and bariolaged the blurbs."

Slumberland is the third novel by Man Booker Prize-winning American author, Paul Beatty. Ferguson W. Sowell, aka DJ Darky has a talent for DJing, and says "I compensate for a lack of skills and Negritude with a surfeit of good taste and a record collection that I like to think is to DJing what the Louvre is to painting." He has spent months trying to compose his perfect beat, and it's almost there: in the parlance, it is "presque parfait".

The Beard Scratchers, members of his record pool, agree. After much analysis, they hit upon the missing element: it needs to be ratified by their ultimate beat break, the elusive Charles Stone, aka the Schwa. Coincidentally (or perhaps not quite?), Ferguson comes across a porn tape sound-tracked with music certain to be the Schwa's. The trail leads to East Germany and, with some help from the Beard Scratchers, Ferguson finds himself engaged as a Jukebox-Sommelier at the Slumberland Bar in Berlin.

It is a Berlin about to tear down its Wall, and Ferguson is somewhat surprised to find that others share his love of the Schwa's music: he is assisted in his quest by a bartender, a journalist, a Stasi agent, a pair of German negro sisters, and, eventually, the clientele of the Slumberland. Through a number of quirky characters and some crazy, laugh-out-loud events, Beatty examines the experience of the negro in Germany.

One World have produced editions of Beatty's four novel with themed covers and this one has LP discs on the cover. A knowledge and appreciation of jazz is bound to enhance the enjoyment of this story, but is not essential, because the plot and characters are strong enough to draw the reader in. The musical descriptions certainly make the reader wish to hear the Schwa's music. There's plenty of wit and black humour in Beatty's lyrical prose. Original, incisive and funny.

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Reader Review: "A Piece of the World"

Top Reader Reviews - Mon, 12/18/2017 - 06:00
by Suzy L (Westport Ct.): Andrew Wyeth spent his summers in Cushing, Maine with his family. It is here where he first met Christina Olson who later becomes the inspiration for his painting "Christina's World". Christina lived a tough life along with her brother Al on the neighboring farm. Their dilapidated home lacked modern day conveniences and had fallen into disrepair. Andrew encounters the Olsons through their neighbor Betsy and he decides to express their lives via a painting. As Andrew puts paint to canvas, the details of the Olson's hardships come to light.

The story unfolds with Christina's as a young girl. A childhood illness left her with difficulty walking and no cure for her bone disease. As she grew older, the effects worsened leaving her crippled making her farm chores difficult. A bright student, the opportunity to further her studies to become a teacher were dismissed early by her parents. Her future only left her with two choices, to marry or maintain the farm. Sadly, she had very few opportunities to make romantic connections leaving her with no escape. Christina is not the most likable character, but by reading the book you become sympathetic to her disposition. Andrew Wyeth developed a relationship with her over many years and was able to capture a different side of her in this painting.

Andrew Wyeth painted the portrait, but the author writes a beautiful story by bringing it to life. Intertwined in the story is how she met Wyeth, who through his masterpiece, shows the world her softer side of someone having suffered so much both internally and externally. The author showcases a very moving and impactful novel.

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Honest Book Reviews From Real Readers

Editor's blog - Sat, 12/16/2017 - 14:36
Today, we look back on the incredible selection of books our members have reviewed for First Impressions during the year - 45 titles in total. Reader reviews abound on the web these days but it's difficult to know which to trust, especially when there are businesses who will arrange for glowing "reader reviews" to be posted and other reviews may be written by well-meaning family and friends. BookBrowse's First Impressions program offers you a source of trustworthy reader reviews because only BookBrowse members can post reviews. Members indicate which books they're interested in but cannot prioritize, and copies are assigned by BookBrowse's algorithms. So, while it's conceivable that somebody connected to the book might be assigned a ... [More]
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2017 Book Club Discussions

Editor's blog - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 14:08
What better way to be sure a book is going to be right for your book club than being a fly on the wall at a real discussion - such as for the fifteen books we discussed in BookBrowse's Book Club during 2017 (with more than 3500 comments posted), or any of the approximate one hundred books that we've discussed over the past few years! [More]
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Reader Review: "The Second Mrs. Hockaday"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 06:00
by Betty Taylor (Macon GA): Using the epistolary technique, this story is told through letters and diary entries. It worked well although I did have to frequently jump to the end of the letter to see who the letter was from. The time line also was a bit confusing at times – letters written between 1863 – 1865 jumping back and forth – then forward to 1892 interspersed with diary entries from 1864. But it really did not distract from the story. As their husbands went off to war, wives were left behind to tend to the crops and livestock. But Union troops (and men dressed as troops) took food and livestock from them, not caring how the families were to survive. Slaves were leaving as the opportunity presented itself. Newly-wed Placidia barely knew her husband when he left her to tend their huge farm and his young son from his previous marriage. This was not a marriage of convenience as they seemed to truly love each other. But two years later when Major Hockaday returns home, he finds that Placidia has been arrested for killing her newborn child, a child that definitely was not his. Can he forgive his love for whatever happened while he was away? And what did happen? Can she be honest with him? Can their love survive? Placidia had to make many critical decisions on her own. Was she an irresponsible teenager? Or wise beyond her years? Did the Major return a cold, heartless man after the horrors of the war, or did his love for his wife cool the anger and shock? Toward the end of the book I was totally engrossed wanting to know how life would treat these brave characters who had to do whatever it took to survive.

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The 20 Best Books of 2017, and Our 4 Award Winners

Editor's blog - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 13:58
Dear BookBrowsers, It's hard to believe that another year has gone by filled with great literature. The number of books we fit into our daily lives and the ones we add to our to-read pile has us endlessly lament "too many books, too little time." BookBrowse's annual Best of the Year awards are an excellent barometer of great reading. The awards are particularly noteworthy because voting is only open to BookBrowse subscribers - so no vote stuffing by rabid fan bases; and instead of just voting for a book (which favors the most widely read books) subscribers rate each book they've read that is on the shortlist, and the winners are the books with the highest overall rating. Such considered selection results in truly outstanding bo... [More]
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Reader Review: "The Second Mrs. Hockaday"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 06:00
by Cariola: Placidia was only 17 and not even thinking of marriage when widower Major Gryff Hockaday swept her off her. She had a single day to decide whether to accept his proposal. Only a few days after they married, the major was called back to join his Confederate troops, and Placidia was left to manage the farm, oversee the slaves, and care for Charles, her husband's toddler son. As the situation deteriorates, Placidia finds herself charged with a crime, but she is keeping her secrets.

The novel is told in the form of letters and diary entries. Most of the action takes place in 1864-65, and the early letters are between Placidia and her cousin Mildred, but later sections set in the 1890s focus on how Achilles, the son of Placidia and Gryff, uncovered his parents' secrets and changed the way he thought about them and himself.

I can't say much more without giving away too much. I found the novel held my interest and that the author did a great job of heightening the suspense while slowly revealing the truth. The novel explores the hardships of women left alone to manage while their men are at war, as well as the dark side of slavery, but it also depicts a marriage that, although sorely tried, survives because of love.

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Reader Review: "The Perfect Girl"

Top Reader Reviews - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): "Adults like to put a name on everything you feel, as if a name can neutralise it. They're wrong, though. Some things settle under your skin and don't ever go away, no matter what you call them"

The Perfect Girl, also titled much more evocatively, Butterfly in the Dark, is the second novel by British author, Gilly Macmillan. At fourteen years of age, Zoe Guerin, a precociously talented Devon girl, had a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of her. Then she was found guilty of causing an accident that took three teenagers' lives.

At seventeen, now called Zoe Maisey, she has served her sentence in a Secure Unit, and her mother Maria has tried to give them both what Zoe recognises as a Second Chance at Life. But her attempt to restart her career in Bristol is dramatically aborted due to an incident that vividly brings back that tragic event and its aftermath. And mere hours later, Maria Maisey is dead.

Macmillan employs three main narrators (Zoe, her aunt Tessa and her solicitor, Sam) to tell the story, adding another two in later chapters. The bulk of the story covers a period of less than twenty-four hours, but there are flashbacks that detail earlier occurrences.

Zoe's memories of her trial, her interactions with her keyworker at the Secure Unit, and a film script written by her step-brother, Lucas, serve to fill in some of the back story and establish Zoe's state of mind. Both Sam's and Tessa's more mature perspectives establish the nature of the main characters and their interactions.

Macmillan's portrayal of a brilliant teenager and the effects of the accident on her life, and the lives of those close to her, is convincing. Her descriptive prose is evocative: 'Lucas … just moved quietly around the different parts of the house and when he settled down anywhere, it reminded me of a dark shadow cast over a patch of white sand".

While the cover's enticer "Nobody knows the truth but her" is quite misleading, this is a gripping tale. All the characters have secrets and several could have motives for murder. Macmillan skilfully builds her story, gradually feeding in clues and red herrings to produce a page-turner that will keep the reader guessing until the truth is revealed. Recommended!

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Reader Review: "Uncommon Type"

Top Reader Reviews - Sun, 12/03/2017 - 06:00
by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul): Uncommon Type: Some Stories is the first print book by American actor, filmmaker and author, Tom Hanks. This is a collection of seventeen quite diverse stories. They vary not only in subject matter, but also format. Many are straight narrative, but there's also a screen play and a series of newspaper columns from the Tri-Cities Daily News/Herald entitled Our Town Today with Hank Fiset. Hank muses on modern news consumption and production compared with that of fifty years ago; he shares his opinion of New York City; he reminisces on significant moments in his life as punctuated by a typewriter bell; he describes a return to analog by a typewriting evangelista.

Typewriters feature heavily: there's a typewriter on the cover; there's an image of a different model of typewriter at the beginning of each chapter; sometimes, a typewriter is an integral part of the story, sometimes it has a minor role, and sometimes it just gets an incidental mention. Many of the characters are appealing and a particular quartet who reappear twice after their initial tale might be well suited to have their own novel (in fact, one of their stories was published in a separate volume in 2014).

The stories are an ideal length for dipping into, but also interesting and different enough to read without pause. Topics are many and mixed: refugees in the present day (or near future) and from a half a century ago; travel by car and plane as well as time travel, space travel and travel down memory lane; ten pin bowling; surfing; motel accommodation; moving house; the public relations junket; making it on the stage; the heavy toll of wartime service.

Hanks gives the reader laughter and romance, loyal friends, wise words and plots that aren't entirely predictable. It's easy to imagine Hanks himself as the narrator in many of these tales: his voice is really there, even in the print version. This is an outstanding debut, and if Hanks ever tires of Hollywood, he can certainly direct his energies to the keyboard (whether a typewriter or electronic), as more tales of this ilk would definitely be welcome. Very enjoyable.

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Young Adults as Unreliable Narrators

Editor's blog - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:20
In How to Set a Fire and Why, Lucia claims to not remember exactly what occurred during an argument with her aunt's landlord, leaving her exact reasoning and motivation somewhat mysterious. In writing Lucia as an unreliable narrator, Jesse Ball draws from an established tradition. An unreliable narrator lies, expresses uncertainty or bias, or seems to have a misunderstanding of situations that occurred. The author may employ an unreliable narrator to intentionally mislead the reader or as a means of characterization. Part of the pleasure in encountering such a narrator is parsing out what is true and what is not. Teen and young adult narrators are some of the most obvious and well-known examples of the trope, and this makes logical sen... [More]
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Reader Review: "Idaho"

Top Reader Reviews - Wed, 11/15/2017 - 06:00
by Lorri (Ridgewood, NJ): This book is not what you may think it is. It sounds so dark from the description, one of those edge-of-your-seat-are-things-really-what-they seem page turners. But what it really is, is a book about grace, how a complicated life, filled with unimaginable sadness, still has those moments of grace, of connection. This is a beautifully written book, it quietly builds tension and then just as quietly releases you from it, but never completely. Happiness is never quite attained, sadness is always lurking at the edges, and yet there is a satisfaction there, equal parts resignation and unexpected joy.

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Climate Fiction: A Glimpse into the Growing Genre

Editor's blog - Mon, 11/13/2017 - 11:12
In Midnight at the Electric, it is the year 2065, and teenager Adri is part of a carefully selected group departing Earth forever to live on Mars. Although the story takes place less than 50 years from now, massive planetary destruction has already taken place. As Adri puts it early on, "there's no Miami and hardly any Bangladesh and no polar bears…and they're paying billions of dollars to start a colony on Mars because humans need an exit strategy." Considered by some to be a sub-genre of science-fiction, and by others to be an entirely new genre, climate-fiction highlights climate change and its potential ramifications. Although books exploring man-made climate change date back to the '70s, it was only in 2007 that journalist Da... [More]
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The Origins of the Kashmir Dispute

Editor's blog - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 10:42
The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan occupies center stage in Arundhati Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. For readers unfamiliar with the dispute here is some background (this piece first ran as the "beyond the book" article for Roy's long awaited book): The conflict in Kashmir traces its roots back to the partition of India and Pakistan (see our Beyond the Book article for An Unrestored Woman). When the British left India in 1947, Kashmir was not an Indian state, but was instead one of hundreds of smaller independent princely states. each with their own rulers, who swore loyalty to the British empire. As the British Raj withdrew, these princely states had to make the complicated decision as to whether to become a pa... [More]
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