Three. Wow! That’s a tough number for this ADD reader—especially when you figure most book clubs read anywhere from 8-12 books a year—and I coach dozens of clubs. And what does “best” really mean? Most enjoyable? Most popular? Most discussable? These can be vastly different qualities. To narrow down the field and to make this post more useful to you, I thought I’d eliminate the Most Popular books. After all, you can pull up GoodReads or LibraryThing, or peruse the latest copies of Bookmarks or BookPage and read all about those New York Times mega-sellers like The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, and Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. (And BTW, I would not pass up a single one of those…) However, let me share with you some of the great mid-list finds that you might’ve overlooked in 2013. Here are:
2013 Top 3 Book Club Books (Hidden Gems)
3) Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt. Although the author finally hit the New York Times Best Seller list with this—her 10th novel—and WNBA selected it as a 2013 Great Group Reads choice, many folks are just now discovering the magic that is Leavitt’s writing. Set in the 60’s –it’s much more than a nod to the Mad Men-era. The author paints a picture of women’s roles at that period in time, what it feels like to be an outsider, and how loss can keep you from finding your own way in the world. Powerful stuff—and, of course, great discussion material for book clubs. Her last novel, Pictures of You, may have put her on the map, but ‘Tomorrow’ is certainly her best so far!
2) Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Reminiscent of one of my favorites from last year, Wiley Cash’s A Land Kinder than Home, this gothic southern novel is part mystery, part literary fiction, and 100% compelling story. It was also selected by WNBA as a 2013 Great Group Reads pick. The sensual language will grab your attention from the start and the deeply-drawn characters will pull you in the rest of the way. Don’t miss it!
1) The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins—this is my #1 book pick for 2013! It’s a tale of two mothers separated by an ocean—and more than a century. They’re united in their will to do what’s best for their children. The author creates such rich, realistic, and rounded characters, she makes it easy for us to cheer for them. The two stories alternate with each chapter, offering unique voices and creating suspense while contributing to the pleasant pacing of the storylines. But, what stood out most for me about Ms. Cummins writing, is how she can switch from snarky New York humor (and precocious potty-mouth) to lyrical prose in a heartbeat. This is not a book for just mothers or daughters—although mothers and daughters will love it—but a book for everyone who considers themselves human.
Things to look forward to…
I can’t close out 2013 without anticipating some equally great reading in 2014. So let me share with you the top three books I’m eager to read next…
3. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan (1.21.14 release; 496 pgs; Ballantine Books; Historical Fiction) The much-anticipated second novel by the author of the New York Times bestseller, Loving Frank, tells the story of the turbulent relationship between Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wild-tempered American wife, Fanny. Like Benjamin, it seems Horan has found her historical niche…
2. Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah (1.7.2014 release; 256 pgs, Sarah Crichton Books; Contemporary Fiction) You may recognize Ishmael as the author of the 2007 bestselling memoir, A Long Way Gone. Ishmael Beah came to prominence as a former child soldier who survived the civil war in Africa’s Sierra Leone and wrote of his harrowing experiences. In his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, Beah examines postwar life in Sierra Leone through the eyes of two friends who return to their village and try to repair what the civil war has destroyed.
1. This Dark Road to Mercy, by Wiley Cash (1.28.2014 release; 240 pgs; William Morrow; Literary Fiction) Cash’s debut novel, A Land Kinder than Home, was a WNBA Great Group Reads selection and also made my Top 10 List for 2012. It was a haunting novel, and I was convinced he was an author to watch. So, I could not be more pleased to learn about his sophomore effort. It’s the story of two young sisters who are trying to resettle their lives and survive the foster care system in the foothills of the Appalachians. Enter the prodigal father who kidnaps them in the middle of the night and now is being pursued not only by the girl’s new guardian, but also by his past—hell-bent on revenge. Yep—sounds as though Mr. Cash has delivered another great Southern gothic novel!
And it looks like three very different types of reads will be keeping me up nights in the New Year! What are you looking forward to reading in 2014? We’d love to hear from you!
Marsha Toy Engstrom coaches and facilitates numerous book clubs. She also pens a book column for The Wildwood Independent newspaper, writes on all-things-book-club on her blog, Book Club Cheerleader, and is working on her first book, Celebrating Book Clubs! Marsha serves as the Author Event Coordinator for her local Carnegie Library, is a team-member for her hometown’s One City, One Book program, and recently spoke as a panelist for BEA’s Book Club Facilitators Speak Out. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, the WNBA-San Francisco Chapter, and has served on the WNBA selection team for National Reading Group Month’s Great Group Reads for the past couple of years.