Friends Who Read

A book club

Books 16-30

Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. This exquisite novel tells the story of one of the most compelling heroines in modern literature–Emma Bovary. Unhappily married to a devoted, clumsy provincial doctor, Emma revolts against the ordinariness of her life by pursuing voluptuous dreams of ecstasy and love. But her sensuous and sentimental desires lead her only to suffering corruption and downfall. A brilliant psychological portrait, Madame Bovary searingly depicts the human mind in search of transcendence. Who is Madame Bovary? Flaubert’s answer to this question was superb: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Acclaimed as a masterpiece upon its publication in 1857, the work catapulted Flaubert to the ranks of the world’s greatest novelists. This volume, with its fine translation by Lowell Bair, a perceptive introduction by Leo Bersani, and a complete supplement of essays and critical comments, is the indispensable Madame Bovary. RATING: 2.50

Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan. “I have been standing on the side of life, watching it float by. I want to swim in the river. I want to feel the current.” So writes Mamah Borthwick Cheney in her diary as she struggles to justify her clandestine love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright. Four years earlier, in 1903, Mamah and her husband, Edwin, had commissioned the renowned architect to design a new home for them. During the construction of the house, a powerful attraction developed between Mamah and Frank, and in time the lovers, each married with children, embarked on a course that would shock Chicago society and forever change their lives. In this ambitious debut novel, fact and fiction blend together brilliantly. While scholars have largely relegated Mamah to a footnote in the life of America’s greatest architect, author Nancy Horan gives full weight to their dramatic love story and illuminates Cheney’s profound influence on Wright. Drawing on years of research, Horan weaves little-known facts into a compelling narrative, vividly portraying the conflicts and struggles of a woman forced to choose between the roles of mother, wife, lover, and intellectual. Horan’s Mamah is a woman seeking to find her own place, her own creative calling in the world. Mamah’s is an unforgettable journey marked by choices that reshape her notions of love and responsibility, leading inexorably ultimately lead to this novel’s stunning conclusion. Elegantly written and remarkably rich in detail, Loving Frank is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman, a national icon, and their timeless love story. RATING: 4.0

Circling My Mother, by Mary Gordon. Anna Gagliano Gordon, who died in 2002 at the age of 94, was the personification of the culture of the mid-century American Catholic working class. A hard-working single mother – Mary Gordon’s father died when she was still a girl – she managed to hold down a job, dress smartly, raise her daughter on her own, and worship the beauty in life with a surprising joie de vivre. Bringing her exceptional talent for detail, character, and scene to bear on the life of her mother, Gordon gives us a deeply felt and powerfully moving book about their relationship. Toward the end of Anna’s life, we watch the author care for her mother in old age, beginning to reclaim from memory the vivid woman who helped her sail forth into her own life. RATING: 3.0

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. This moving novel follows Louis Charles Lynch (“Lucy”) as he and his wife of forty years are about to embark on a vacation to Italy. Lucy is sixty years old and has spent his entire life in Thomaston, New York. Like his late, beloved father, Lucy is an optimist, though he’s had plenty of reasons not to be—chief among them his mother, still indomitably alive. Yet it was her shrewdness, combined with that Lynch optimism, that had propelled them years ago to the right side of the tracks and created an “empire” of convenience stores about to be passed on to the next generation. Lucy’s oldest friend, once a rival for his wife’s affection, leads a life in Venice far removed from Thomaston. In fact, the exact nature of their friendship is one of the many mysteries Lucy hopes to untangle in the “history” he’s writing of his hometown and family. And with his story interspersed with that of Noonan, the native son who’d fled so long ago, the destinies building up around both of them (and Sarah, too) are relentless, constantly surprising, and utterly revealing. Bridge of Sighs, from the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, is a moving novel about small-town America that expands Russo’s widely heralded achievement in ways both familiar and astonishing. RATING: 2.0

Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert. This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai’i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place—and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning. With a vibrant cast of vividly realized characters, Moloka’i is the true-to-life chronicle of a people who embraced life in the face of death. Such is the warmth, humor, and compassion of this novel that “few readers will remain unchanged by Rachel’s story.” RATING: 3.0

Final Payments, by Mary Gordon. When Isabel Moore’s father dies, she finds herself, at the age of thirty, suddenly freed from eleven years of uninterrupted care for a helpless man. With all the patterns of her life suddenly rendered meaningless, she turns to childhood friends for support, gets a job, and becomes involved with two very different men. But just as her future begins to emerge, her past throws up a daunting challenge. A moving story of self-reinvention, Final Payments is a timeless exploration of the nature of friendship, desire, guilt, and love. RATING: 3.0

O Pioneers, by Willa Cather. Cather’s sentimental and somewhat controversial novel tells the story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish pioneers that settles for life in the American prairie. While Alexandra, the family matriarch, is able to turn the family farm into a financial success, her brother Emil must grapple with the tragedy of solace and forbidden love. A novel surprisingly ahead of its time, this proto-feminist work touches upon a wide range of themes, including love, marriage, temptation, and isolation. RATING: 3.0

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Tess of the d’Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented is a novel by Thomas Hardy. It initially appeared in a censored and serialised version, published by the British illustrated newspaper The Graphic in 1891 and in book form in 1892. Though now considered a major nineteenth century English novel, Tess of the d’Ubervilles received mixed reviews when it first appeared, in part because it challenged the sexual mores of late Victorian England. RATING: 2.0

Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book—a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dockmaster and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-fi rst birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, “Nell” sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes up the search after Nell’s death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled. A spellbinding tale of mystery and self-discovery, The Forgotten Garden will take hold of your imagination and never let go. RATING: 3.0

Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline. When reporter Ellen Gleeson gets a “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer in the mail, she almost throws it away. But something about it makes her look again, and her heart stops―the child in the photo is identical to her adopted son, Will. Her every instinct tells her to deny the similarity between the boys, because she knows her adoption was lawful. But she’s a journalist and won’t be able to stop thinking about the photo until she figures out the truth. And she can’t shake the question: if Will rightfully belongs to someone else, should she keep him or give him up? She investigates, uncovering clues no one was meant to discover, and when she digs too deep, she risks losing her own life―and that of the son she loves. Lisa Scottoline breaks new ground in Look Again, a thriller that’s both heart-stopping and heart-breaking, and sure to have new fans and book clubs buzzing. RATING: 3.0

Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope–a captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it. RATING: 3.0

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. Murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue combine into one satisfyingly complex and entertainingly atmospheric novel, the first in Stieg Larsson’s thrilling Millenium series featuring Lisbeth Salander. Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of unfathomable iniquity and astonishing corruption. RATING: 4.0

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. Dust jacket notes: “Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known. Everything readers expect from Follett is here: intrigue, fast-paced action, and passionate romance. But what makes The Pillars of the Earth extraordinary is the time – the twelfth century; the place – feudal England; and the subject – the building of a glorious cathedral. The author has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters – into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life. The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king. At once a sensuous and endearing love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age, The Pillars of the Earth is without a doubt Ken Follett’s masterpiece.” RATING: 4.0

Story of a Soul, by Therese de Lisieux. Two and a half years before her death in 1897 at the age of 24, as Thérèse Martin began writing down her childhood memories at the request of her blood sisters in the Lisieux Carmel, few could have guessed the eventual outcome. Yet this Story of my soul, first published in 1898 in a highly edited version, quickly became a modern spiritual classic, read by millions and translated into dozens of languages around the world.
Decades later, in response to growing requests from scholars and devotees of the Saint, a facsimile edition of the manuscripts appeared, along with more popular French editions of what the Saint had actually written. Here, expressed with all of Thérèse’s original spontaneity and fervor, we rediscover the great themes of her spirituality: confidence and love, the little way, abandonment to God’s merciful love, and her mission in the church and world today.
Father John Clarke’s acclaimed translation, first published in 1975 and now accepted as the standard throughout the English-speaking world, is a faithful and unaffected rendering of Thérèse’s own words, from the original manuscripts. This new edition, prepared for the centenary of the Saint’s death, includes a select bibliography of recent works in English on Thérèse, along with a new referencing system now widely used in studies of her doctrine. RATING: 2.0

Abigail Adams: A Life, by Woody Holton. In this new, vivid, nuanced portrait, now in paperback, prize-winning historian Woody Holton uses original sources and letters for the first time in a sweeping reinterpretation of Adams’s life story and of women’s roles in the creation of the republic. Using previously overlooked documents from numerous archives, Abigail Adams shows that the wife of the second president of the United States was far more charismatic and influential than historians have realized. One of the finest writers of her age, Adams passionately campaigned for women’s education, denounced sex discrimination, and matched wits not only with her brilliant husband, John, but with Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. When male Patriots ignored her famous appeal to “Remember the Ladies,” she accomplished her own personal declaration of independence: Defying centuries of legislation that assigned married women’s property to their husbands, she amassed a fortune in her own name. Adams’s life story encapsulates the history of the founding era, for she defined herself in relation to the people she loved or hated (she was never neutral), a cast of characters that included her mother and sisters; Benjamin Franklin and James Lovell, her husband’s bawdy congressional colleagues; Phoebe Abdee, her father’s former slave; her financially naïve husband; and her son John Quincy. At once epic and intimate, Abigail Adams, sheds light on a complicated, fascinating woman, one of the most beloved figures of American history. RATING: 2.0

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