The Next Chapter Fall 2011 Top 20 Best Books List

21 Oct

This is our Top 20 List for the Fall of 2011, handpicked by Tresa, Annie and Diane. Some are best-sellers, others are more obscure; most are new for the season, a few are a bit older; but all of them spoke to us and are books we believe that many of you will enjoy!  We also have a Children’s Top 20 list, which I will get around to posting soon.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Knopf, 2011, $26.95, Fiction
The magical tale of a mysterious circus that moves from place to place, unannounced, and sets up overnight in a palette of black, white, and silver.  Each tent holds surprises more wonderful than the last, and this book is well worth reading just for the descriptions of the tents and their contents.  But it is so much more.  It is also the story of two young magicians who are groomed since early childhood to compete in a mysterious rivalry with unknown rules and an unknown victory point.  And arching over these two themes, are the love stories of the people of the circus who feel every sort of love from filial and fraternal to the unrequited and the sublime.  This is the best book we’ve read in a very long time!

Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto

Crown Publishing, 2011, $23.00, Fiction
A widow learns that her husband, Max, was not who she thought he was when a young man claiming to be Max’s grandson comes to her door and tells her Max is still alive. The two set out to find the elusive Max, and along the way they tell one another their stories of life with Max, and slowly reveal his true nature.  Mystery, history and romance with a lovely thread of golden baked eggs running through it. Yummy!

Coming Up for Air by Patty Callahan Henry

St. Martin’s Press, 2011, $24.99, Fiction
A moving novel about an artist grieving both her mother and her empty nest who must come to terms with her marriage and life.  Everything she thought she understood is then challenged when the writer researching her mother’s philanthropic life turns out to be an old flame, revealing more about her mother’s unknown life and about her own feelings.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Touchstone, 2011, $16.00, Fiction
An injured ballerina from London learns that she has inherited a sheep station in Australia from her grandmother.  When she travels to Australia with the intent of selling the sheep station, she begins to learn more about her grandmother, whose life was rich, if not easy, and she finds that a new life is possible in the most unexpected places. Compelling, atmospheric, and romantic.  If you liked Kate Morton’s Forgotten Garden, pick up Wildflower Hill!

Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Random House, 2011, $25.00, Fiction
An emotionally shattered young woman ages out of the foster care system, and struggles to find her way in the world, building a flower business along the way based on the Victorian idea of the Language of Flowers.  A dark condemnation of the current foster care system, this is not a happy book, but one with plenty of questions about what makes us who we are, and how we may someday be able to overcome it.

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Random House, 2011, $26.00, Fiction
Nightwoods may be Frazier’s best work to date. This is the lucid and beautifully written story of a reclusive woman who finds herself raising her murdered sister’s very damaged young twins in the South of the 1970s. A layered cast of characters includes the heir to a fortune, and the unholy duo of her lawman father and her psychotic brother-in-law.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Harper Collins, 2011, $26.99, Fiction
A pharmaceutical researcher goes to the Amazonian jungle to retrieve the notes and personal effects of a colleague who recently died there.  When she gets there, she encounters her former mentor, a renowned gynecologist researching the exceptional fertility among one of the native tribes, and comes face to face with her own past and the decisions that shaped it in the midst of the humid heat and hardships of the jungle. Beautiful and atmospheric writing drives home this emotional tour-de-force.

Lost in Shangri La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Harper, 2011, $26.99, History
Set during WWII in the Pacific, this is the suspenseful story of the search and rescue operation undertaken after a plane full of Medics crash lands among the dreaded Head Hunters of New Guinea, leaving only three survivors, including one woman.  A riveting story of deliverance under the most unlikely circumstances, Lost in Shangri-La deserves its place among the great survival stories of World War II.

Thirteen Hours & Trackers by Deon Meyer

Grove Atlantic, 2010 & 2011, $24.00, Mystery / Thriller
Where do you go after you’ve read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?  You move on to other top-notch foreign authors like Deion Myer.  In 13 Hours, South African police detective Benny Greisl must find a fleeing American girl who witnessed a terrible crime before the bad guys do while he solves another murder across town, all the while navigating the new social rules in South Africa.  If you liked the TV show 24, you’ll like the hour-by-hour non-stop action here.  In Trackers , Meyer’s brand new novel, a highly skilled bodyguard becomes embroiled in an animal smuggling and rescue operation. This is a brilliantly complex standalone thriller set in his native South Africa, which captures the many facets of modern South Africa.

Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason

Minotaur, 2011, $24.99, Mystery / Thriller
Another foreign writer to catch, the popular Icelandic author Indridason.  When the remains of a crashed WWII plane re-surface on an Icelandic glacier, a woman and her brother find themselves embroiled in a plot to hide its secrets that reaches from Nazi Germany to the highest reaches of government in the 21st century.  With skillfully-wrought pulse-pounding suspense, authentic locales, and plenty of secrets and twists, the ending to this thriller was satisfying and left me ready for more Indridason!

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

Picador, 2011, $16.00, History / Biography
This strange and graceful family memoir follows the history of a group of Japanese Netsuke carvings from the late 19th century when they joined the collection of the Ephrussis, a prominent European Jewish family, through the family’s misfortunes during WWII, when a faithful maid saved the Netsukes – the only survivors from the vast art collection destroyed by the Nazis —  to the modern day when they were inherited by the author, a famous ceramicist in England.

Rin-Tin-Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

Simon & Schuster, 2011, $26.99, History
The life, legend and business of Rin-Tin-Tin, the soulful German shepherd who was born on the battlefields of World War I, immigrated to America, conquered Hollywood, struggled in the transition to the talkies, helped mobilize thousands of dog volunteers against Hitler and himself emerged victorious as the perfect family-friendly icon of cold war gunslinging, thanks to the new medium of television.  Epic and heartwarming, this is one terrific story, beautifully written and meticulously researched.  Perfect for the US history buff on your Christmas list!

American Boy by Larry Watson

Milkweed, 2011, $24.00, Fiction
Renowned Midwest author Larry Watson returns with this poignant coming-of-age story about a young boy in a small Midwestern town 1960s, and of the conflicts of loyalty that confront him after he is taken under the wing of the local doctor and his family.  This is one beautiful and wise novel that will linger in your mind for a long time to come.

Sacred Acre : The Ed Thomas Story by Mark Tabb

Zondervan 2011, $22.99, Biography / Memoir
The moving and inspiring biography of beloved Parkersburg, Iowa, coach who was a high school football coach, a man of deep faith, and a pivotal leader in his community, and who was senselessly gunned down by a disturbed former student.  This is also the story of the grace and love that his family showed to Thomas’ murderer and his family in the aftermath.  Riveting, and highly recommended.

Wicked River : The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin

Knopf, 2011, $15.95, History
The fascinating history of the mighty Mississippi River during its heyday as the nation’s highway in the first half of the 19th century.  A tribute to the river’s complexity and power with all its floods and snags, this narrative is populated by slaves and merchants, farmers and drifters, would-be revolutionaries and artists, their stories told with humor and a certain raw authenticity that adds another dimension to the classic vision of the Mississippi written by Mark Twain.  A fun and thought provoking chapter of our nation’s history.

The Orchard : A Memoir by Theresa Weir

Grand Central, 2011, $24.99, Biography / Memoir
This is the moving and surprising memoir of a city girl who after a whirlwind courtship, marries into an Iowa Apple farming family, only to find that life on the farm is isolated and heartbreaking.  She struggles to integrate into her new husband’s family, and with the family, she struggles against the pests that threaten not only the apples but also their livelihood and their lives.

Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith Fertig

Andrews McMeel, 2011, $30.00, Cooking
This gorgeous cookbook celebrates the bounty of locally grown food, and the traditions of the Midwest with all its rich ethnic and historical heritage in a mouth-watering presentation of traditional ingredients and wonderful recipes.  What a great gift for any cook, or any midwesterner!

Woodland Style by Marlene Hurley Marshall

Feiwel & Friends, 2010, $24.95, Home Décor
Both art-book and craftista-inspiration, this gorgeous volume is chock full of beautiful things to make and admire from materials gathered in the forest.  A wonderful gift for those of us who never return from a walk in the woods with empty pockets.

Life is a Verb and Creative is a Verb by Patti Digh

Globe Pequot, 2010, $19.90 each, Inspiration
Life is a Verb is brilliantly-crafted, beautifully-designed, and not your mother’s kind of ‘self-help’ book. It guides the reader, through stories that sparkle, astonish and soar, how to move toward who you really are and what you want through actions.  Creative is a Verb, the follow up, helps the reader realize their own creative spirit, whether they be artists or folks who say ‘I’m not creative’.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair : My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Harper, June 2011, $23.99, Memoir
After her sister’s death, a woman who grew up in a family of readers, resolves to spend a year reading one book a day, and writing about it.  The result is this thoughtful memoir that explores the healing and transformational power of reading.


One response to “The Next Chapter Fall 2011 Top 20 Best Books List

  1. Charlene Ann Baumbich

    January 13, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I really appreciate your list–and your store. I have a couple of those titles in my que, and now a few more to add to my “find out more” list. Sadly, I’m feeling lamer than lame in that I haven’t read a single one of your favorites! At least not *yet*.

    Thanks for serving your community so well, and for feeding our minds.


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