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Bookclub-in-a-Box’s 2015 summer must-read list

This Sunday marks the first official day of summer, and we’re already stacking a lot of books up on our to-read pile. Marilyn Herbert, founder of Bookclub-in-a-Box, has put together this list of books you should read — including Harper Lee’s long-awaited followup to To Kill a Mockingbird — either to be enjoyed on your own or for a discussion with your closest book-loving friends.

BK-GodInRuinsA God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson)

A God In Ruins picks up the life of Ursula Todd’s young brother Teddy. We met Ursula in the mesmerizing Life After Life where she lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. We meet Teddy as a would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father and as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have.

 

The Truth According to Us (Annie Barrows)

Evoking the same small town charm with the same great eye for character, the co-author of Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society finds her own voice in this debut novel about a young debutante working for the Federal Writer’s Project whose arrival in Macedonia, West Virginia changes the course of history for a prominent family who has been sitting on a secret for decades. The Romeyn family is a fixture in the town, their identity tied to its knotty history. Layla enters their lives and lights a match to the family veneer and a truth comes to light that will change each of their lives forever.

 

The Betrayers (David Bezmozgis)

 

When Baruch Kotler refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the West Bank settlements, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior. He and the fierce young Leora flee the scandal for Yalta, where he comes face to face with the former friend who denounced him to the KGB almost forty years earlier. In a mere 24 hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own ethical dilemmas in the Israeli army, and the wife who stood by his side through so much.

Sweetland (Michael Crummey)

 

The epic tale of an endangered Newfoundland community and the struggles of one man determined to resist its extinction. The scarcely populated town of Sweetland’s slow decline finally reaches a head when the mainland government offers each islander a generous resettlement package — the sole stipulation being that everyone must leave. Fierce and enigmatic Moses Sweetland, whose ancestors founded the village, is the only one to refuse. As he watches his neighbours abandon the island, he recalls the town’s rugged history and its eccentric cast of characters.

 

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

 

This beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Anthony Doerr deftly interweaves the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, illuminating the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

A Replacement Life (Boris Fishman)

 

Yevgeny Gelman, grandfather of Slava Gelman, “didn’t suffer in the exact way” he needs to have suffered to qualify for the restitution the German government has been paying out to Holocaust survivors. But suffer he has — as a Jew in the war; as a second-class citizen in the USSR; as an immigrant to America. So? Isn’t his grandson a “writer”? 
Slava’s turn as the Forger of South Brooklyn teaches him that not every fact is the truth, and not every lie a falsehood. It takes more than law-abiding to become an American; it takes the same self-reinvention in which his people excel. Intoxicated and unmoored by his inventions, Slava risks exposure. Cornered, he commits an irrevocable act that finally grants him a sense of home in America, but not before collecting a price from his family.

 

Funny Girl (Nick Hornby)

 

Set in 1960s London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful and humorous, Nick Hornby’s latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process.

 

The Back of the Turtle (Thomas King)

 

In The Back of the Turtle, Gabriel returns to Smoke River, the reserve where his mother grew up and to which she returned with Gabriel’s sister. The reserve is deserted after an environmental disaster killed the population, including Gabriel’s family, and the wildlife. Gabriel, a brilliant scientist working for DowSanto, created GreenSweep, and indirectly led to the crisis. Now he has come to see the damage and to kill himself in the sea. But as he prepares to let the water take him, he sees a young girl in the waves. Plunging in, he saves her, and soon is saving others. Who are these people with their long black hair and almond eyes who have fallen from the sky?

 

The Mountain Story (Lori Lansens)

 

On his 18th birthday, Wolf Truly takes the tramway to the top of the mountain that looms over Palm Springs, intending to jump to his death. Instead he encounters strangers wandering in the mountain wilderness, three women who will change the course of his life. Through a series of missteps he and the women wind up stranded, in view of the city below, but without a way down. They endure five days in freezing temperatures without food or water or shelter, and somehow find the courage to carry on. Wolf, now a grown man, has never told his son, or anyone, what happened on the mountain during those five days. In telling the story to his only child, Daniel, he at last explores the nature of the ties that bind and the sacrifices people will make for love.

 

Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee)

 

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her. Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic.

H is for Hawk (Helen MacDonald)

 

As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T. H. White’s tortured masterpiece, The Goshawk, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. H is for Hawk is a record of a spiritual journey—an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.

All Our Names (Dinaw Mengestu)

 

A sweeping, continent-spanning story about the love between men and women, between friends, and between citizens and their countries, All Our Names is a transfixing exploration of the relationships that define us. Fleeing war-torn Uganda for the American Midwest, Isaac begins a passionate affair with the social worker assigned to him. But the couple’s bond is inescapably darkened by the secrets of Isaac’s past: the country and the conflict he left behind and the beloved friend who changed the course of his life — and sacrificed everything to ensure his freedom.

 

Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Cyrus Mistry)

 

The city of Bombay conceals a near invisible community of Parsi corpse bearers, whose job it is to carry bodies of the deceased to the Towers of Silence. Segregated and often wretchedly poor, theirs is a lot that nobody would willingly espouse. Yet that’s exactly what Phiroze Elchidana, son of a revered Parsi priest, does when he falls in love with Sepideh, the daughter of an aging corpse bearer. Derived from a true story, Cyrus Mistrys extraordinary new novel is a moving account of tragic love that, at the same time, brings to vivid and unforgettable life the degradation experienced by those who inhabit the unforgiving margins of history.

The Book of Aron (Jim Shepard)

 

Aron, a young boy, is driven out of his home by the German onslaught into Poland.  He and a handful of boys and girls risk their lives by scuttling around the ghetto to smuggle contraband through the walls in hopes of keeping families alive. They are hunted by blackmailers and by Jewish, Polish, and German police, not to mention the Gestapo. When his family is finally stripped away from him, Aron is rescued by Janusz Korczak, the doctor famous throughout prewar Europe as an advocate of children’s rights. When the Nazis swept in, he was put in charge of the Warsaw orphanage. Treblinka awaits them all, but does Aron manage to escape to spread word about the atrocities?

 

All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews)

 

Elfrieda is a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Her sister Yolandi is divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking. But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him.

 

Nora Webster (Colm Toibin)

 

Set in Wexford, Ireland, and in breathtaking Ballyconnigar by the sea, Colm Toibin’s eighth novel introduces the formidable Nora Webster. Widowed at 40, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world she was born into. In masterfully detailing the intimate lives of one small family, Toibin has given us a vivid portrait of a time and an intricately woven tapestry of lives in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, and where well-meaning gestures often have unforeseen consequences.

Medicine Walk (Richard Wagamese)

 

Franklin Starlight, 16 and raised by a guardian for most of his life, receives a summons from his biological father, who is an alcoholic dying of liver failure in a hardscrabble mill town. The request is hard to stomach: the man who has been a heartbreaking disappointment wants his son to take him out on the land and bury him like a warrior in the way of his ancestors. Franklin takes up his filial duty like the honourable man he’s been raised to be, walking out on the land behind the horse that carries the broken shell of his father. There is quiet strength and beauty in his self-reliance, and he is a credit to the farmer who raised him.

Love and Treasure (Ayelet Waldman)

 

In 1945 on the outskirts of Salzburg, victorious American soldiers capture a train filled with unspeakable riches: piles of fine gold watches, crates filled with wedding rings, family heirlooms, and Shabbat candlesticks passed down through generations. Jack Wiseman, a tough, smart New York Jew, is the lieutenant charged with guarding this treasure — a responsibility that grows more complicated when he meets Ilona, a fierce, beautiful Hungarian who has lost everything in the ravages of the Holocaust. Seventy years later, Jack gives a necklace to his granddaughter, Natalie Stein, and charges her with searching for an unknown woman whose secret may help Natalie to understand the guilt her grandfather will take to his grave.


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