Alex’s Picks

Picks from Alex that we’ve read: Etta and Otto and Russell and James; Boys in the Boat; The Weight of Ink; News of the World; and Salt to the Sea.

Average Rating:

4.0 rating based on 73,670 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 043912042X
ISBN-13: 9780439120425
Goodreads: 89763

Author(s): Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Published: 9/27/2002

Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico--she'd always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances--Mama's life, and her own, depend on it.
 

Average Rating:

3.8 rating based on 9,311 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0062367552
ISBN-13: 9780062367556
Goodreads: 25308876

Author(s): Publisher: Ecco
Published: 5/5/2015

A ravishing first novel, set in vibrant, tumultuous turn-of-the-century New York City, where the lives of four outsiders become entwined, bringing irrevocable change to them all

New York, 1895. Sylvan Threadgill, a night soiler cleaning out the privies behind the tenement houses, finds an abandoned newborn baby in the muck. An orphan himself, Sylvan rescues the child, determined to find where she belongs.

Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.

A young woman named Alphie awakens to find herself trapped across the river in Blackwell’s Lunatic Asylum—sure that her imprisonment is a ruse by her husband’s vile, overbearing mother. On the ward she meets another young woman of ethereal beauty who does not speak, a girl with an extraordinary talent that might save them both.

As these strangers’ lives become increasingly connected, their stories and secrets unfold. Moving from the Coney Island seashore to the tenement-studded streets of the Lower East Side, a spectacular human circus to a brutal, terrifying asylum, Church of Marvels takes readers back to turn-of-the-century New York—a city of hardship and dreams, love and loneliness, hope and danger. In magnetic, luminous prose, Leslie Parry offers a richly atmospheric vision of the past in a narrative of astonishing beauty, full of wondrous enchantments-a marvelous debut that will leave readers breathless.
 

Average Rating:

4.2 rating based on 32,671 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 1250077699
ISBN-13: 9781250077691
Goodreads: 25332115

Author(s): Publisher: Flatiron Books
Published: 1/5/2016

A riveting, deeply-affecting true story of one girl's coming-of-age in a polygamist cult.

Ruth Wariner was the thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children. Growing up on a farm in rural Mexico, where authorities turned a blind eye to the practices of her community, Ruth lives in a ramshackle house without indoor plumbing or electricity. At church, preachers teach that God will punish the wicked by destroying the world and that women can only ascend to Heaven by entering into polygamous marriages and giving birth to as many children as possible. After Ruth's father—the man who had been the founding prophet of the colony—is brutally murdered by his brother in a bid for church power, her mother remarries, becoming the second wife of another faithful congregant.

In need of government assistance and supplemental income, Ruth and her siblings are carted back and forth between Mexico and the United States, where her mother collects welfare and her stepfather works a variety of odd jobs. Ruth comes to love the time she spends in the States, realizing that perhaps the community into which she was born is not the right one for her. As Ruth begins to doubt her family’s beliefs and question her mother’s choices, she struggles to balance her fierce love for her siblings with her determination to forge a better life for herself.

Recounted from the innocent and hopeful perspective of a child, The Sound of Gravel is the remarkable true story of a girl fighting for peace and love. This is an intimate, gripping tale of triumph, courage, and resilience.
 

Average Rating:

3.8 rating based on 142,149 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0062491792
ISBN-13: 9780062491794
Goodreads: 28214365

Author(s): Publisher: Harper
Published: 9/13/2016

The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives.

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.

#1 New York Times Bestseller
 

Average Rating:

3.9 rating based on 454,235 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10:
ISBN-13:
Goodreads: 51240105

Author(s): Publisher: William Morrow
Published: 2//2020

#1 New York Times Bestseller – Soon to be a Major Motion Picture starring Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Gary Oldman

For readers of Gillian Flynn and Tana French comes one of the decade’s most anticipated debuts, to be published in thirty-six languages around the world and already in development as a major film from Fox: a twisty, powerful Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic woman who believes she witnessed a crime in a neighboring house.

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Twisty and powerful, ingenious and moving, The Woman in the Window is a smart, sophisticated novel of psychological suspense that recalls the best of Hitchcock.
 

Average Rating:

4.4 rating based on 376,256 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0425284689
ISBN-13: 9780425284681
Goodreads: 32148570

Author(s): Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: 6/6/2017

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.
 

Average Rating:

4.0 rating based on 177,095 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0062430874
ISBN-13: 9780062430878
Goodreads: 25574782

Author(s): Publisher: William Morrow
Published: 9/29/2015

Twenty years ago Claire Scott's eldest sister, Julia, went missing. No one knew where she went - no note, no body. It was a mystery that was never solved and it tore her family apart.

Now another girl has disappeared, with chilling echoes of the past. And it seems that she might not be the only one.

Claire is convinced Julia's disappearance is linked.

But when she begins to learn the truth about her sister, she is confronted with a shocking discovery, and nothing will ever be the same...
 

Average Rating:

3.9 rating based on 334,960 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0385536976
ISBN-13: 9780385536974
Goodreads: 16085481

Author(s): Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 6/11/2013

Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.

Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should--and should not--marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
 

Average Rating:

4.1 rating based on 713,376 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0735224293
ISBN-13: 9780735224292
Goodreads: 34273236

Author(s): Publisher: Penguin Press
Published: 9/12/2017

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned--from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren--an enigmatic artist and single mother--who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood--and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Named a Best Book of the Year by: People, The Washington Post, Bustle, Esquire, Southern Living, The Daily Beast, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, Goodreads, Library Reads, Book of the Month, Paste, Kirkus Reviews, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and many more...


Perfect for book clubs! Visit celesteng.com for discussion guides and more.
 

Average Rating:

3.7 rating based on 5,636 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0061337633
ISBN-13: 9780061337635
Goodreads: 399395

Author(s): Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: 4/10/2007

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family's avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee.

The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women's prison. But young Adair finds that love can live even in a place of horror and despair. Her interrogator, a Union major, falls in love with her and vows to return for her when the fighting is over. Before he leaves for battle, he bestows upon her a precious gift: freedom.

Now an escaped "enemy woman," Adair must make her harrowing way south buoyed by a promise...seeking a home and a family that may be nothing more than a memory.
 

Average Rating:

4.3 rating based on 377,154 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10:
ISBN-13:
Goodreads: 51851615

Author(s): Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: 2//2020

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.
 

Average Rating:

4.5 rating based on 797,318 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0399590501
ISBN-13: 9780399590504
Goodreads: 35133922

Author(s): Publisher: Random House
Published: 2/20/2018

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Librarian's note: An alternate cover edition can be found here
 

Average Rating:

4.0 rating based on 258,673 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 1616201347
ISBN-13: 9781616201340
Goodreads: 33590210

Author(s): Publisher: Algonquin Books
Published: 2/6/2018

Newlyweds, Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together, when they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.
This stirring love story is a deeply insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control. An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward- with hope and pain- into the future.
 

Average Rating:

4.6 rating based on 143,202 ratings (all editions)

ISBN-10: 0812994523
ISBN-13: 9780812994520
Goodreads: 20342617

Author(s): Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Published: 10/21/2014

An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.

Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.

One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.