When deciding what to read next in your bookclub, you might want to see what books celebrities and bookstores are talking about. Here are some “official” recommendations from Barnes & Noble, Oprah, Reese and Jenna.
I always enjoy a Lisa Jewell book – she keeps you engrossed and guessing. The last one I read was I Found You. about a missing husband, an unidentified stranger and a charming teenager. Plenty of mystery to keep you engaged!
Oprah’s Book Club
Oprah’s latest pick is Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. See Oprah making the announcement on CBS This Morning HERE.
If you need a refresher on the cranky, honest main character before you tackle the new Strout book, check out the Pulitzer Prize Winner, Olive Kitteridge .
You can also see the television mini series with Frances McDormand on HBO.
Reese’s Book Club – Hello Sunshine
Sticking with an author she loves who creates compelling characters, Reese chose The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes for this month’s pick.
If you haven’t already indulged yourself, Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You love story trilogy is perfect for those snowy days to come, and warrants a warm blanket and a huge box of tissues!
The movie is also great; CLICK HERE for the trailer!
Read With Jenna
Jenna Bush chooses some interesting books that aren’t as obvious as the other celebrity choices. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is about a woman who takes care of two kids who have a special ability. The reviews have been very good and readers are surprised at how much they are liking this one.
Choosing a book for your group to read can be challenging. I always like to pick something that has some meat…enough to discuss beyond the plot and writing style. Whether it be a setting, character relationships or social issues. Discussing the book and beyond can be informative as well as a bonding experience for participants in the group discussion, as long as everyone is willing to offer up their personal insights and opinions. All of these books have much to talk about and make great choices!
I took the opportunity to listen to The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff and I was captivated by this wonderful story of friendship, dedication and courage. Suspenseful, and fast moving, this historical fiction novel takes us to 1940s NYC. Grace, a young widow trying to get her life together, discovers some photos in an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Terminal. After some digging, she finds they belong to Eleanor, a woman who had just been in an accident, and was previously the ring leader to a group of women who were spies in Europe during World War ll. Grace also learns that Marie, a brave mother who left her young daughter behind to assist with the war efforts and act as a radio operator, is missing, along with the rest of the women spies. Grace is determined to investigate the suspicious disappearances of these women and learn all she can about their contributions to the resistance.
Pam Jenoff does a remarkable job intertwining fact and fiction when it comes to history and women’s efforts as spies in the 40s. We hear from Grace, Eleanor and Marie as they navigate their lives and make difficult choices during wartime. I enjoyed the audible version – different voices were assigned to each character and it was easy to follow the alternating time periods. I love stories that have strong female characters, highlighting friendships, dedication and courage, and how they shaped our history. The Lost Girls of Paris does just that!
Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Lost Girls of Paris and The Orphan’s Tale, both instant New York Times bestsellers. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff practiced law at a large firm and in-house for several years. She now teaches law school at Rutgers.
Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, The Yellow Bird Sings touches the music of your soul. It is 1941 Poland; Roza and Shira, mother and daughter are Jews, hidden in a barn by farmers. Henryk, the husband, ensures their safety while violating Roza in the night, and his wife Krystyna, provides extra food for Shira; she believes all children deserve an equal chance. Roza and Shira, silenced and afraid, lay quietly in the barn’s hay for more than 15 months. After their family was violently taken from them, they have no choice but to go into hiding. They revisit their cherished memories, whisper stories, use their imagination, and create music in their heads to soothe themselves and pass the time.
When the Germans announce plans to use the farmer’s barn for storage, mother and daughter must find a new safe space right away. They are encouraged to separate so Shira can go to a convent to have lessons and be with other children, allowing her a better chance of surviving. Filled with sadness, regret and fear, Roza is on her own and heads to the forest.
The Yellow Bird Sings will rip your heart out as you feel the emotional and physical struggles of both mother and daughter; at first stifled, secluded and living in silence with the burden and horrific fear of the unknown, with only what is inside their minds and their hearts to comfort and sustain them as they live day by day in hiding. And then separated, longing to be together, doing everything possible to survive.
Author Jennifer Rosner tells an extraordinary story with beautiful use of language; her words and phrases are visual and powerful….
“Words to Zosia (Sofia) are like glass beads around her neck. If one were to break loose, they would all clatter to the floor and scatter, shatter the quiet that kept her and her mother alive, entwined beneath hay.”
When referring to understanding loss; “What is whole does not comprehend what is torn until it, too, is in shreds.”
When seeing other mothers with their children, “Something breaks loose inside Roza and skitters down the stairs of her heart.”
We follow Roza and Shira on their separate journeys, holding out hope that they will be reunited after the war. With a blanket from the past, a magic yellow bird, cherished memories in their minds and soulful music in their hearts, The Yellow Bird Sings delivers a powerful story of Roza and Shira’s incredible survival, their unbreakable connection, their will to be heard, and the celebration of music that, through the generations, links us to each other. Emotional, heartbreaking and hopeful, I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!
I loved your debut historical fiction novel, The Yellow Bird Sings. The story was powerful and your characters were filled with so much pain and love at the same time. The deep emotion it conveyed, the evocative, visual language you utilized and the heartfelt music that was described made me feel like I was experiencing the written word more fully and completely.
Thank you so much! This means a lot to me:)
Q: As a young child, Shira seems to have a special musical aptitude. What inspired you to use music in such a big way in your novel?
A: Music has had great connective power in my life; I sang as a child, and later trained to become an opera singer. My singing forged a rare connection between my mother and me; also, my father played violin daily, and his music connected us to each other, and also to Judaism.
In my novel, music is a connective tissue linking mother and daughter, together and apart, and expressing a bond that endures even in the most brutal of circumstances. Beauty, in music and in other forms, is a lifeline, conveying hope.
Q: Shira has a special relationship with her violin teacher. Who inspired this character?
A: Several mentors in my musical, academic, and writing life have been deeply supportive and generous. In developing the teacher’s character, and their relationship, it felt important for Shira to feel a profound connection to the person who coached her and supported her musical genius.
Q: Shira conjures a magic yellow bird, which she cups in her hands and also muffles to keep quiet. Shira’s mother then tells a nightly story of a girl and her bird, who avert threats and find safety. What is the significance of Shira’s bird?
A: While Shira must be silent, her yellow bird sings out the music she hears in her head and in other ways enacts the childhood she cannot. Her bird brings security as well as expression. The magic of Shira’s bird is that it admits her powerful imagination (and her mother’s) into their horror-filled situation. I believe that much survival occurred because people kept alive their imaginations (their artistry, their poetry, etc) and stayed aware of what beauty they could find in their circumstances.
Q: Can you share with us why you were interested in writing about a mom having to keep her child silent?
A: The seed for this story came years ago when I was at a book event for my memoir about deafness. (If A Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard) . My daughters were born deaf. With hearing technology (cochlear implants and hearing aids), they were learning to listen and talk and I was describing our efforts as we encouraged them to vocalize. After the book talk, a woman from the audience came up to me. She told me about her childhood experience, hiding in an attic with her mother during WW2. She had to stay entirely silent. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, and also her mother. While I so wanted our daughters to speak, this mother had to keep her young child from making any sound at all. From this seed, my novel grew.
Q: You do a beautiful job keeping the reader engaged, giving just enough in each chapter to motivate us to tackle the next. Once the story splits into two when Rosa and Shira go their separate ways, did you write the book in the order that we read it, or did you write one character’s story and then the other’s?
A: In later drafts, I wrote the chapters mostly in the order they appear. However, earlier in the process, I wrote out long swaths of each character’s story trajectory, to understand where they were going and how their stories might dovetail. There was a lot of cutting and reworking!
Q: What kind of research did you do for the book? How long did it take to write?
A: While I was writing the book, I interviewed several “hidden children”— adults who, as children during the war, were secreted in attics, barns, and the woods. I also traveled to the settings of my novel. In Poland I visited areas of countryside with barns much like the one I’ve written about; I visited a convent where Jewish children were hidden; and I went to a swath of deep forest where a Partisan/family camp was formed.
I consulted with experts on Holocaust history and convent life. I talked to a tracker to learn how my character could traverse the forest without leaving a trace. A Polish translator, also a mushroom forager, advised me on which mushrooms my character might find in the woods! And I consulted with a musicologist and a master class violinist, as I sought to discover how a prodigy like Shira would practice; how she would progress, what she would play. It took years to conceive of and to write this novel, and many many drafts.
Q: When Shira plays Kaddish on her violin, my thoughts went to the Mourner’s Kaddish and my heart breaks for her and the loss of her mother. Music invokes so much emotion, personal to each of us. How did you choose the musical pieces you refer to in the book?
A: Yes, Ravel’s Kaddish is haunting and evocative, and I chose it for Shira to play as a mourning piece for her mother.
Generally speaking, I listened to a LOT of music before choosing pieces; I waned to make sure each one contributed to the story, and that it would fit Shira’s circumstance and her level of play. As I mentioned, I consulted with musical experts.
Q: It amazed me how long Roza and others lasted living in the forest in Poland. We are always looking for a parking spot closest to where we are headed so we don’t have to walk an extra step, and these people walked miles and miles, with little food and shelter, and lived outside in the elements for weeks, months and years! How did you learn about the resistance camps and why did you choose to set your story in Poland?
A: I learned about the Jewish Partisans years ago from a friend who is a documentary filmmaker. (Julia Mintz is a producer/director/writer and her film is The Jewish Partisans.) When it came to researching my novel, I went to an area of Polish forest—in winter—to understand what it would be like for my character! I read innumerable accounts of people hiding in wooded camps, as families and as Partisans. We can’t overestimate the ingenuity, strength, and perseverance they brought to their survival.
Q: You have received praise for the cover of your book; can you tell us about it?
A: The brilliant art director at Flatiron developed the cover. He based it on a torn photograph, signaling that something is torn in the story. (The Picador UK cover, wildly different, is also wonderful; it suggest elements of an enchanted garden floating out from a barn window.)
Q: What have you read lately that you recommend?
A: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong — it is astonishing.
Other books I’ve recently read and loved:
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Q: Are you going on book tour and where can we expect to see you?
A: Yes, I will be scheduling events, starting with a book launch on my publication date, March 3, 2020. I will keep an events list running on my website (www.jennifer-rosner.com) and would be happy to receive invitations to read, to attend book clubs, etc!
Q: Are you working on a new book yet?
A: I have just begun a new novel – but it’s too preliminary to describe! Stay tuned.
Jennifer Rosner’s revelatory memoir explores family, silence, and what it means to be heard. When her daughters are born deaf, Rosner is stunned. Then, she discovers a hidden history of deafness in her family, going back generations to the Jewish enclaves of Eastern Europe. Traveling back in time, she imagines her silent relatives, who showed surprising creativity in dealing with a world that preferred to ignore them.
Rosner shares her journey into the modern world of deafness, and the controversial decisions she and her husband have made about hearing aids, cochlear implants and sign language. An imaginative odyssey, punctuated by memories of going unheard, Rosner’s story of her daughters’ deafness is at heart a story of whether she – a mother with perfect hearing – will hear her children.
If a Tree Falls is a poignant meditation on life’s most unpredictable moments, as well as the delights and triumphs hidden within them.
To order Jennifer Rosner’s novel, memoir and/or children’s book, click below.
Fellow Westporter, Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly, treats Westport Library patrons to a wonderful book event a few times a year. She recommends a long list of new books, fiction and nonfiction, and gives us a short summary of each and reasons why she loves each one. Here is her current list!
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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a wonderfully rich story, in the form of a letter, written by a Vietnamese son to his mother who will most likely never read it. She is illiterate and has had a difficult life of her own, which has influenced her parenting skills and contributed to her mental health. Overloaded with the burden of abuse, feeling like an outcast not being a white American and battling with his own sexuality, the adult son comes to terms with his vulnerability, his abusive and unreliable upbringing, his first intimate relationship and his feelings for his mother and grandmother, all while he fearlessly and unapologetically tells the story of his childhood and his search for acceptance.
In the form of a letter to his mother, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has many tangents that accommodate the author’s trains of thought. It is self-reflective and written poetically, infused with insight gained with age. As the narrator looks back, he describes in detail how kids picked on him, and his mother could not help him because she didn’t speak English. She hit him until he was 13 years old; her violent tendencies possibly due to mental illness. He describes in detail, play by play, his first sexual encounter with another young boy. Expertly conveying the roughness and the tenderness, he reveals his vulnerable and insecure self with no apologies. So much of what he shares is painful and sad, yet we witness glimmers of self-acceptance at his personal turning point when he looked in the mirror and saw something someone could love.
“To be gorgeous (like sunset), you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.”
The author makes interesting structural choices in his novel. He used Moby Dick by Herman Melville as a guide; exploring tangents surrounding the main story to give background and context. The letter format of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous allows the writer to say whatever he chooses without having to worry about a beginning, middle and end, a character arc or a formal conclusion.
Ocean Vuong is a poet and his book is autobiographical in many ways, although we don’t know all of what is fact or fiction. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because he takes us on a unique and beautiful journey; one of a life that is not easy. He nourishes the actual happenings with details of family, tradition, superstition and cultural history which enhance our understanding of this boy. The writing is rich and vibrant, the subject matter excruciatingly painful at times; an unusual combination that makes this a slow, fully absorbing and fulfilling read.
My book group enjoyed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; some of us listened to it and enjoyed the author’s voice and emotion while others preferred to read so they could take the time to absorb the beautiful language. We found it challenging in our discussion to keep the author and the narrator separate – drawing the line between truth and fiction was murky but in the end we all appreciated the writing and the story. Check out Ocean Vuong’s late night conversation with Seth Meyers to get a feel for what he is like!
Ocean Vuong is the author of the debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 15 other languages worldwide. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.
Vuong’s writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Justin Trudeau, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, VICE, The Fantastic Man, and The New Yorker.
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at Umass-Amherst.
I always enjoy books by Sally Hepworth and listening to The Mother-In-Law was addictive and so much fun! The mother-in-law relationship has the reputation for being tense and strained, and in this latest book by Hepworth it appears to be the case. Chapters alternate narrators and time periods, between Lucy, the daughter-in-law, and Diana the mother-in-law, and from past to present. Diana had not envisioned her son’s wife to be anything like Lucy, so she kept their relationship distant. Lucy craved Diana’a acceptance, yet was unable to make any great strides towards a closeness over the years, despite her attempts. We learn about Lucy’s early marriage to her husband and the growing of their family as they welcome 3 children. We also learn about Diana’s youth and upbringing, and her early marriage to Tom, leading up to her later years. Then there is a murder, a suicide note, a cancer diagnosis, and family members with deceptive behaviors. Each chapter reveals some crucial piece of information that has us working hard to try and figure out whodunnit!
Even though The Mother-In-Law is a quick read and a fun murder mystery, Sally Hepworth is not shy about bringing up serious issues including ALS, infertility, breast cancer, infidelity and euthanasia, and she dives deep when it comes to family relationships and loyalty. She is a master when it comes to writing dialog, and keeps the story fast moving and engaging. So if you need a break from the rat race and want to pick up a well written novel about people, family secrets and murder…this one is for you!
Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of five novels, most recently The Mother In Law (2019). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.
Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.
Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.
I loved the heartfelt debut, In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow. In this charming story about an African American family in North Carolina spanning from the 1940s – 1987, and the difficult struggles and complexities of love, we meet Knot. She has an unconventional lifestyle, always reveling in her freedom, as she lives alone, reads books and drinks a lot and whenever she pleases.When Knot gets herself into a bit of trouble, she reaches out to her neighbor and friend, Otis Lee for help. Otis Lee is loyal and trustworthy and steps up for his friend, but there are deeply hidden family secrets he is unaware of that have unknowingly altered his life and are making an impact on the ones he loves.
The troubled past and longtime friendships weave this small town community together through the generations and De’Shawn Charles Winslow captures our attention with his vivid voice and memorable characters. From out of wedlock pregnancies to disowned family members, Winslow depicts this big-hearted, southern community as gossip-filled and passionate, with tension and hurt along with love and support. I loved this story and highly recommend the heart warming and heart breaking In West Mills.
De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s recent book is In West Mills. He was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and in 2003 moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is a 2017 graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He has received scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. De’Shawn lives in East Harlem.
Toby Fleishman is a short, Jewish liver doctor with a few hangups, but a seemingly sincere family man. Newly separated from his wife of 15 years, he unexpectedly finds solace in online dating apps. He is overwhelmed with the attention he is getting, basking in the never before received interest from the ladies. Bombarded with sexy photos and texts, Toby tries to stay focused on his patients at work and being a good parent to his young daughter and son.
His ex-wife, Rachel, a successful talent agent, drops the kids off to him earlier than he expects one summer morning, based on their separation agreement, and after several days she is not returning messages. After quite a while of not answering her phone, she now seems to have disappeared, and Toby is left with the question of where she is, and whether or not he truly understood his wife to begin with. Fleishman Is In Trouble is easy to follow and so enjoyable; a smart, humorous look at marriage and relationships.
Toby’s best friend Libby, a girl he met on a trip to Israel with his friend Seth when they were young and single, is back in touch after many years and is being a good friend to him, meeting him for lunch and trying to help solve his current problems without mentioning her own personal struggles.
Libby feels compassion and empathy for him, much like the reader is meant to, and we understand Toby’s marriage and divorce situation from his point of view. Once we are completely absorbed in Toby and his troubles, Libby mentions to him that he is so busy with the dating apps, he hasn’t realized SHE could use a friend, and that she has some problems too.
This is when I realized I got so sucked in to feeling sorry for Toby, I may have been manipulated by the author to see only one side of the Fleishman marriage. And that is one of the many wonderful aspects of the author’s writing as she is able to bring her audience on the ride with her and ultimately sharing different perspectives. With her story of Toby and Rachel, along with other sub-plots like the one with the patient that has Wilson’s Disease, Brodesser-Akner highlights the idea that we may be able to predict our future if we are observant and look hard enough.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an acute observer and talented journalist, known for her profile pieces on famous people like Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper. She has an incredible talent for pulling the reader in to all she writes about, and then tells you something that causes a seismic shift in your thinking! Speaking to the human condition, she allows you to empathize with each of her characters even though we can clearly see their flaws, not to mention her witty commentary that keeps you laughing out loud. Her sense of humor brings additional charm just when comic relief is needed and I experienced many moments of joy and delight while reading, all the while thinking this would make a great tv show!
The author has no problem getting into the head of a man and providing the male perspective of his relationship.Toby didn’t really consider where Rachel was coming from or how she might feel – she didn’t clearly communicate it to him, but he had little intuition.She was having a breakdown, her upbringing contributed to her style of mothering and she was struggling, yet nobody was there to help her get through it. Because of Toby’s point of view, I disliked Rachel until, through Libby, I learned more about her. Taffy Brodesser-Akner took over the power of my emotions with her vivid observations, guiding me to feel the way she intended.
I really loved this heartbreaking and hilarious story of marriage, with valuable insights into how men and women think and communicate. The NYC upper east side references were pure joy, as my husband and I lived in the Wellesley on 72nd St. and ate at EJ”s in the early 1990s, so it was a welcomed walk down memory lane (or 3rd Avenue) for me! Fleishman Is In Trouble is a smart, humorous and accurate look at marriage, midlife, dating and relationships and reminds us that paying attention now can help us to navigate in the future.
It is worth your time to check out the three links below!
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine. Prior to that, her work appeared in GQ, ESPN the Magazine, Matter, Details, Texas Monthly, Outside, Self, Cosmopolitan and many other publications. Fleishman Is In Trouble is her first novel.
Jenna Bush Hager, news personality, author, journalist, daughter of George W. and Laura Bush and co host of Today (the fourth hour of NBC’s news program), and actress, producer and entrepreneur, Reese Witherspoon have had a wonderful impact on the success of so many books by choosing them for their reading lists.
The sought after publicity is golden for authors, and monthly recommendations come fast a furious for us readers…not always so easy to keep up!
Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck may be walking off the field, but he is sure to keep busy with his book club that has been going on for several years.
The Andrew Luck Book Club encourages younger and older folks, he calls them rookies and veterans, to read each month, and with over 15,000 followers on instagram, #ALbookclub is accomplishing its mission!
Here are some of these book gurus’ recommendations: