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Reading: One Book, One Lincoln

One Book, One Lincoln is a community reading program sponsored by Lincoln City Libraries. Every year, a book is selected from a list of nominations made by the public.

2019 Finalists

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
A dazzling new novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980's Chicago and contemporary Paris

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920's paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico's funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico's little sister.

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.


The Far-Away Brothers by Lauren Markham
The deeply reported story of identical twin brothers who escape El Salvador's violence to build new lives in California - fighting to survive, to stay, and to belong.

Growing up in rural El Salvador in the wake of the civil war, the United States was a distant fantasy to identical twins Ernesto and Raul Flores – until, at age seventeen, a deadly threat from the region’s brutal gangs forces them to flee the only home they’ve ever known. In this urgent chronicle of contemporary immigration. journalist Lauren Markham follows the Flores twins as they make their way across the Rio Grande and the Texas desert, into the hands of immigration authorities, and from there to their estranged older brother in Oakland, CA. Soon these unaccompanied minors are navigating school in a new language, working to pay down their mounting coyote debt, and facing their day in immigration court, while also encountering the triumphs and pitfalls of teenage life with only each other for support. With intimate access and breathtaking range, Markham offers an unforgettable testament to the migrant experience.


There There by Thomas Orange
The book offers unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. It’s “the year’s most galvanizing debut novel”

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow -- some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent — momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

There There is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. It’s “masterful . . . white-hot . . . devastating” (The Washington Post) at the same time as it is fierce, funny, suspenseful, thoroughly modern, and impossible to put down. Here is a voice we have never heard — a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.


2018 Finalists

Beartown by Fredrick Backman
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove returns with a dazzling, profound novel about a small town with a big dream - and the price required to make it come true.

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
From New Yorker staff writer David Grann, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Lost City of Z, a twisting, haunting true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West - where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed - many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization's first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly compelling, but also emotionally devastating.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

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.


2017 Winner

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel's doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count's endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

2017 Finalists

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon
From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York's Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the "American Century," the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.

2016 Winner

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

2016 Finalists

Bettyville by George Hodgman
When George Hodgman leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri, he finds himself - an unlikely caretaker and near-lethal cook - in a head-on collision with his aging mother, Betty, a woman of wit and will. Will George lure her into assisted living? When hell freezes over. He can't bring himself to force her from the home both treasure - the place where his father's voice lingers, the scene of shared jokes, skirmishes, and, behind the dusty antiques, a rarely acknowledged conflict: Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot quite reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay.

As these two unforgettable characters try to bring their different worlds together, Hodgman reveals the challenges of Betty's life and his own struggle for self-respect, moving readers from their small town - crumbling but still colorful - to the star-studded corridors of Vanity Fair. Evocative of The End of Your Life Book Club and The Tender Bar, Hodgman's New York Times bestselling debut is both an indelible portrait of a family and an exquisitely told tale of a prodigal son's return.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990's Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.

What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact - both tragic and redemptive - will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family's destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions - economic, political, and religious - and the epic beauty of its own culture.

With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation's masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.



2015 Winner

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu - beautiful, self-assured - departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze - the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor - had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion - for their homeland and for each other - they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.
Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives,
Americanah is a richly told story set in today's globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's most powerful and astonishing novel yet.


2015 Finalists

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship - and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

2014 Winner

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day's journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, who keeps meticulous records and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel insists the baby is a "gift from God," and against Tom's judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the 'cemetery of lost books', a labyrinthine library of obscure and forgotten titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel one cold morning in 1945. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. But as he grows up, several people seem inordinately interested in his find.

Then, one night, as he is wandering the old streets once more, Daniel is approached by a figure who reminds him of a character from The Shadow of the Wind , a character who turns out to be the devil. This man is tracking down every last copy of Carax's work in order to burn them. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julian Carax and to save those he left behind. A page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, and the places that obsession can lead.

The Presidents' Club by Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy
The Presidents Club, established at Dwight Eisenhower's inauguration by Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover, is a complicated place: Its members are bound forever by the experience of the Oval Office and yet are eternal rivals for history's favor. Among their secrets: How Jack Kennedy tried to blame Ike for the Bay of Pigs. How Ike quietly helped Reagan win his first race in 1966. How Richard Nixon conspired with Lyndon Johnson to get elected and then betrayed him. How Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter turned a deep enmity into an alliance. The unspoken pact between a father and son named Bush. And the roots of the rivalry between Clinton and Barack Obama.

Time magazine editors and presidential historians Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy offer a new and revealing lens on the American presidency, exploring the club as a hidden instrument of power that has changed the course of history.

2013 Selection

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This is a quiet book. There is no sweeping historical backdrop or violent crime that will pull you into an undertow. Harold Fry & his wife, Maureen, have lived sedate lives, burying their troubles under layers of English civility and the distance of separate bedrooms. When Harold receives a letter from a former co-worker who is stricken with cancer, he goes to put a reply into the mailbox - and keeps on walking. He develops the idea that, if he walks across England to visit his old acquaintance, she will keep living. And so he keeps walking, meeting a host of people along the way. Harold and Maureen both reveal a vulnerability that is both painful and joyful to read. All in all, endearing.

2013 Finalists

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
In 1915, 21 year-old Elizabeth Endicott travels to Syria to help the refugees of the Armenian Genocide. It is a far cry from Mount Holyoke and her life of privilege in Boston. Years later, her granddaughter searches through history to find the story of her family - and discovers its secret. Much of this book is gut-wrenching. Most of the Armenian men were killed immediately - but the women were put on a tortuous march to Syria. Elizabeth Endicott is a strong, admirable heroine. The world has yet to officially recognize the tragedy as "genocide" and, as the centennial anniversary of the events approaches, there is strong hope that that will change

The Round House by Louise Erdrich
A masterpiece. A woman living on a North Dakota reservation is violently attacked and her 13 year-old son, Joe, tries desperately to sort out what has happened. With a serious crime and the politics of Indian, Federal & State laws in the background, Erdrich's real accomplishment in this novel is to capture the essence of her young protagonist. 13 is a wonderful, funny, confusing age. Joe tries earnestly to heal his mother, communicate with his father, a tribal court judge, and figure out a way to balance the scales of true justice. Joe's friendship with three other boys is fueled by shared experiences on the reservation, an obsession with Star Trek & Star Wars and the high energy of teenage hormones. Suspenseful, funny, poignant and political. A great read.

2012 Selection

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Aside from the fact of Garfield's presidency - and that he was assassinated - I can't say I knew much about the man before reading this book
. After reading it, I'm hungry for more Garfield biographies - and other books by Candice Millard. Much like Erik Larson in Devil in the White City (great book), Millard builds suspense for the reader - even though we know the ending already. She goes back and forth between the lives of James A. Garfield and Garfield's mad assassin, Charles Guiteau. She also weaves in relevant historical tidbits from the lives of scientist Joseph Lister and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, whose discoveries could have increased the chance of Garfield's survival. Moreover, I loved reading Millard's descriptions of 1880 Washington D.C.. In weak moments, it's easy to succumb to the idea that things used to be great - and things have been declining ever since. And then you read that in 1880, the Washington monument stood half-built for over 15 years and that the White House was leaking, rotting and infested with rats. You read about the extreme corruption of Roscoe Conkling, Garfield's political enemy. It's enough to snap you out of cynicism and back to reality. Thoroughly interesting, this would make a great book club choice.

2012 Finalists

The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater (tour guide) in The Tower of London
. His wife, Hebe, works at London Underground's Lost Property Office, along with chubby Valerie Jones. This delightful novel is full of eccentricities - the collection of small bottles of rainwater that Balthazar keeps, the magician's box and other oddities at the Lost Property Office, and Mrs. Cook, the Jones' 120 year-old pet tortoise. When Balthazar is asked to create a menagerie at the Tower for exotic animals gifted to the Queen, the level of eccentricity goes up several notches. In all, this is a novel about what is lost and what is found: safe codes, tomato plants, Mrs. Cook, confidence and love. The Denver Post best describes this book, saying it's "feather-light without being feather-brained." It's a great summer read. 

The Submission by Amy Waldman
Now that a decade has gone by, we're starting to see more fiction take on the subject matter of 9/11. In this novel, a selection committee is tasked with choosing a design for the 9/11 memorial in New York City. The committee members are thrown for a loop when the architect who submitted the chosen design turns out to be a Muslim named Mohammed. Debate about whether to accept the design is ongoing when the media breaks the story and the public clamor begins. This is a smart book with lots to talk about: the purpose of art/memorials, prejudice, religion, national identity, the role of the media, societal expectations - and above all, ambition. Waldman's well-drawn complex characters keep a human face on all of it. This book is sure to inspire lively discussions at book clubs.

2011 Selection

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This is a book to dive into. At a little over 650 pages, it may look intimidating at first, but soon you'll be swept away by the story. It's set mainly in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haile Selaisse - and it opened my eyes to that part of the world in the way that The Kite Runner opened my eyes to Afghanistan. Verghese also has a distinguished medical career and he uses that expertise to describe "Missing Hospital" (Ethiopian speech makes saying "mission" difficult and soon "missing" became the official name). Conjoined twins, Marion and Shiva, are born and separated surgically - but remain deeply connected until a betrayal causes a rift. Throughout the novel, we see how things are broken. But we also see how they are mended - through a surgeon's talent or with the human power to heal with kindness.  What form of treatment is administered by ear? Words of comfort.

2011 Finalists

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
This book focuses on two people, Leo Gursky and Alma Singer. Leo escaped the SS, immigrated to New York and is an old man who fears dying without being noticed. Alma is a 15 year-old who lost her father to pancreatic cancer. She attempts to console the depression of her widowed mother and works to understand and protect her younger brother, Bird. They are great characters, full of yearning that makes this a funny, poignant and quirky book. When the Treat Goddess book club visited our store, they all gushed about this novel as one of their favorite selections!

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Zeitoun is a true story about a man in New Orleans in the tragic days following Hurricane Katrina. We were all shocked by the images we saw on the news - but I had no idea of the full dimensions of this catastrophe until I read this book. It's a page-turner of narrative non-fiction and fans of John Krakauer and Sebastian Junger will devour it - but it's a must read for everyone. You'll be amazed at what you learned happened right here in America.

2010 Selection

I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bear's Journey for Justice by Joseph Starita
In 1877, the Ponca tribe was forcibly removed from the Niobrara Valley in Nebraska to the plains of Oklahoma. The journey south has been described as a Trail of Tears. Thomas Henry Tibbles, an ex-preacher and editor, filed a writ of habeas corpus on Standing Bear's behalf, saying there was no reason the Ponca should be deprived of their property. In 1879, Standing Bear stood in a courtroom in Omaha, Nebraska and demanded that the U.S. government recognize him as a person. This forced the United States to decide whether, as in the case of recently emancipated Black slaves, Native Americans were persons entitled to equal protection under U.S. Law. Joseph Starita is the author of The Dull Knifes of Pine Ridge and he's a terrific writer. This is a poignant, dramatic story - NOT a dry history book!

2010 Finalists

Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
This mystery is set in Saudi Arabia. Nouf, the sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy family, is found dead in the desert just days before her wedding. This shock is magnified with the discovery that she was also pregnant. Although the family does not want to pursue a public investigation, Nouf's brother has asked Nayir al-Sharqi to investigate privately. More than a formulaic private eye story transported to the desert, this well-written novel explores Muslim culture and women's role in Muslim society. The investigation is complicated by the constrictions held firmly in place by Muslim culture - for instance, it is forbidden for Nayir to speak directly to women.  His attempt to understand what happened to Nouf takes him on a personal journey that leads him to consider his own beliefs. This is a literary page-turner!

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Renee is the stereotypical concierge of a Parisian hotel. She is overweight, grumpy and fades into the background of the hotel, unnoticed by the guests until they need something - which is exactly how Renee prefers it. Renee actually has deep interests in art, philosophy and Japanese culture and spends some of her time musing humorously about the vacuous lives of the guests. Paloma is a hotel guest - an acute, sensitive girl who philosophically journals
about the world's absurdity and plans to end her life on her upcoming 13th birthday. Kakuro Ozu moves into the hotel. He is wealthy, courteous and perceptive and finds a way into Renee and Paloma's secret lives. What he discovers is at times funny, at times, heart wrenching. These are characters to fall in love with.

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle
This is a high-impact novel that contrasts the lives of two couples: Candido & America Rincon, illegal immigrants from Mexico and Delaney & Kyra Mossbacher, well-intentioned liberals enjoying a comfortable myopia.
 The Rincons live in a makeshift camp at the bottom of a canyon. Candido makes the long walk to the Labor Exchange before dawn each day in effort to ward off starvation and perhaps, save enough for an apartment. The Mossbachers live in Arroyo Blanco Estates. Delaney serves his step-son a macrobiotic breakfast while Kyra heads off to her high-powered real estate job. T.C. Boyle is a fantastic writer and the book is full of nuance (unlike this condensed review). Although the novel was written in the 1980's, it remains extremely relevant today - particularly in light of recent legislation in Arizona. I feel like a better person for having read it. 

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
In this fictional work based on real people, we discover Mamah Borthwick, a bright woman struggling with the social conventions of the early 1900's.
 She meets Frank Lloyd Wright when she and her husband commission him to design a house for them. The affair that she and Frank pursue is not only physical but intellectual. Mamah recognizes him for the genius he is and feels revitalized around him. Her struggles with the roles of intellectual, mother, wife, lover and muse are central to the book. She and Frank are plagued by scandal - Horan actually takes passages directly from newspapers that reported the affair. The conflict with societal expectations brings the moral questions involved sharply into focus. We watch Mamah attempt to live an authentic life that feels true to her. However, no one is flawless, least of all, Frank. Loving Frank had its costs. The ending of this book took my breath away.

2009 Selection

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
Set in Sarajevo 1996, the story follows Hanna Heath, a 30-year-old Aussie who has been hired to perform an exacting task under the watchful eyes of bank security guards, Bosnian police officers, two United Nations peacekeepers and an official UN observer. She is about to examine a precious 15th- century codex, the Sarajevo Haggadah.
(I really enjoyed People of the Book. The Sarajevo Haggadah is real, but very little is known about its history. From a basic framework, Brooks creates a rich, fictional history of the book that spans The Inquisition, World War II and the turbulence of Sarajevo in the 1990's. People repeatedly risk their own safety in order to protect the book - and the story is full of mystery and drama. Discussions at local bookstores and libraries promise to be interesting - there's a lot to talk about!)

2009 Finalists

The Color of Water by James McBride
This compelling story focuses on the author's mother, Ruth McBride Jordan, the two good men she married, and the 12 good children she raised. Jordan battled not only racism but also poverty to raise her children and, despite being sorely tested, never wavered.  

What is the What by Dave Eggers
Valentino Achak Deng, a refugee of the Sudanese civil war, tells the story of his years in flight. Escaping from his village during a massacre in the mid-1980s, Deng becomes one of the so-called Lost Boys. Eventually he is resettled in the United States with thousands of other young Sudanese men, and a very different struggle begins.

Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
Based on true events, this historical novel follows the saga of Carrie McGavock, a lonely Confederate wife who finds purpose transforming her Tennessee plantation into a hospital and cemetery during the Civil War.

River of Doubt by Candice Millard
After narrowly losing the 1912 presidential election to Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt  embarked on a harrowing journey along an unknown tributary of the Amazon River...the River of Doubt.

2008 Winner
The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
The enigmatic Vida Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself-- all of them inventions that brought her fame and fortune but kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission. As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

2007 Winner
The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan
The dust storms that terrorized America's High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Drawing on the voices of those who stayed and survived; a story of endurance and heroism against the backdrop of the Great Depression.

2006 Winner

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson
This work of non-fiction reads like a novel. It tells the story of the 1893 World's Fair and portrays the wide spectrum of Chicago so vividly that the reader feels transported. We journey via streets stinking of manure to the perfumed grandeur of high-society sitting rooms. With this backdrop of contrasts, the book mainly focuses on the lives of two men: Daniel Burhnam, the architect most responsible for the creation of the fair and Dr. H. H. Holmes, a diabolical serial killer who used the chaos provided by the fair to his advantage.

2005 Winner
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
This book reveals an Afghanistan entirely different from the place we are used to seeing on the five o'clock news. Afghanistan is shown to be a place of lively markets and festivals that erodes with changes brought about by the Soviet invasion and later, the Taliban. The novel is about love and betrayal, guilt and redemption-- all told in prose beautiful enough to make you weep.

2004 Winner
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger
Set in the God-fearing world of Minnesota and later, the Dakota hills, this story comes to us in the voice eleven-year-old Ruben Land. Ruben is eleven, asthmatic and witness to his father's miracles. The divine seems to manifest itself in the plainness of the characters and their desperate struggle to do the right thing. This novel offers a humble but clear poetry.

2003 Winner
Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
Terrorists cause a shocking disruption to a birthday party in attempt to capture the president of the unnamed South American country in which this novel is set. However, as the president had stayed home from the party, this leads to the odd domesticity of a hostage situation that stretches on for months. Among the hostages is Roxanne Cross, a famous soprano hired to perform for the ill-fated party. She continues to practice daily and provides the common language of music. Terrorists and hostages have time to soften in their shared humanity-- but relationships that are formed have the doomed intensity of an opera score.

2002 Winner

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
Plainsong is an unadorned melody but one that is right on-key. Kent Haruf creates the prairie town of Holt, Colorado. He introduces us to Tom Guthrie, struggling to bring up two sons, the elderly McPheron brothers whose nightly conversation is comprised of the farm report and Victoria Roubideaux, a seventeen-year-old pregnant girl. The characters' lives intersect in a way that is heartwarming but not overly sentimental and Haruf possesses an ear for the music of dialogue.


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