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Top 20 Reads for Spring 2013!

This is a list of our favorite new books released this season!

These are selected by Annie, Tresa and Diane, especially to appeal to our customers.  We don’t pretend that these are necessarily the most important books of the season, or that these will all become classics, but they are all great reads we hope will keep you entertained and enriched for the next few months at least!  Enjoy!

Love AnthonyLove Anthony , Lisa Genova

Gallery Books, $16.00, Fiction

By the author of Still Alice and Left Neglected comes another tour-de-force exploring the inner workings of the human mind. This is the moving story of one family’s struggle with the realities of parenting a child with autism, and the support they get from the community around them.  When the child dies young, his mother, who has struggled to connect with him, is left to pick up the pieces of her life and find hope again. After reading this remarkable story, especially those passages told from the child’s perspective, you will see autism in an entirely new light.  Read More

Promise of StardustThe Promise of Stardust , Priscille Sibley

William Morrow, $15.99, Fiction

The story of a successful and loving, but childless, couple and the tragedy that shatters their world, leaving a wife on life support, and a family to grapple with questions of life and death in the face of a political and media frenzy.  Full of questions about the boundaries of decency and the public versus the private world.  Moving and thought provoking, great for fans of Jodi Picoult.  Read More

Calling Invisible WomenCalling Invisible Women, Jeanne Ray

Broadway Books, $14.00, Fiction

A delightful read about Clover, a middle aged former reporter, wife and mother who wakes up one morning to discover she’s invisible–truly invisible!  What would you do?  Have you ever felt invisible to your family and the world around you?  Would you retreat and hide, unsure of your new role? Or would you set out to change the world? As Clover grapples with this problem, she learns she is not alone in her invisibility, and that she may just have what it takes to change the world for all the Invisible Women!  Read More



BenedictionBenediction , Kent Haruf

Knopf, $25.95, Fiction

The new, beautifully written novel from the beloved and bestselling author of Plainsong and Eventitide, set once again in Holt, Colorado. In Benediction, Haruf follows ‘Dad’, a dying man through his quiet last days, as he reflects on the ties that bind people together, and observes all the wonderful small things about life in a small town. But make no mistake, this is not a book about dying, it is a book about living told in the luminous prose fans of Haruf have come to love. Read More



Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace, William Kent Krueger

Atria, $24.99, Mystery

A departure from Krueger’s usual thriller fare, this is a coming of age story about a two boys in the early 1960s whose childhoods come to an abrupt end as death visits their small town — first with the death of a young boy, then with their happening upon the body of a hobo, and most terribly, the brutal murder of the beautiful older sister of the main character.  As they grapple with death and what it does to their own families, they must also learn what ripples it will leave in their community. Ordinary Grace is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.  Read More


Ghana Must GoGhana Must Go , Taiye Selase

Penguin Press, $25.95, Fiction

Kwaku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside the home he shares in Ghana with his second wife. The news of Kwaku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before.  This novel teaches us so much about the lives of immigrants to America, and the cultural differences that we all grow up with that shape how we see the world and what we believe is wrong or right. This one with stay with me for weeks!   Read More.



BirdseyeBirdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Mark Kurlansky

Doubleday Books, $15.95, Biography

This lively biography from the author of Cod and Salt follows the life and times of Clarence Birdseye, the man who developed the process for fast freezing food, and founded the company that still bears his name.  But not only did Birdseye forever changed the way we preserve, store, and distribute food, and the way we eat, but his insatiable curiosity let him to invent solutions to a wide variety of problems, and to a rich life full of family and perpetual discovery. This is a vibrant and affectionate narrative reveals Clarence Birdseye as a quintessential “can-do” American., Read More


After Visiting FriendsAfter Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story

Michael Hainey, Scribner, $26.00, Memoir

This memoir that reads like a thriller is the account of a man’s search for the truth about what happened to his father forty years ago,  when he was found dead in Chicago.  Filled with familiar places, and set against the backdrop of the newspaper industry of the Midwest, it is a son’s relentless quest to uncover what really happened, and an account of a mother’s love and sacrifices, and how families create and bury secrets.  Read More.




Rage Against the DyingRage Against the Dying , Becky Masterman

Minotaur, $24.99, Mystery/Thriller

Retired FBI agent, Brigid Quinn’s experiences in hunting sexual predators have left her with memories she wishes she didn’t have and lethal skills she hopes never to need again. But the past intervenes when a man confesses to the worst unsolved case of Brigid’s career. We definitely hope to see more of this feisty white-haired heroine and her riveting adventures!  Read More




Evidence of LifeEvidence of Life , Barbara Taylor Sissel

Mira Books, $14.95, Mystery/Thriller

After a woman’s husband and daughter disappear during a weekend camping trip, she mounting evidence that her husband had secrets, and she will not rest until she solves the mystery of what happened to them.  For fans of Anita Shreve, this is a taut psychological thriller that cuts to the heart of a woman’s fears. Read More




YardThe Yard, Alex Grecian

Putnam, $16.00, Mystery

Set during the early days of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, just after Jack the Ripper’s rampages, during the height of the Victorian era, this tale of murder and suspense is a satisfying first entry in a new series.  Readers get to know the hard-working cops that patrol the streets of London, their families, and the murderer who is stalking them and killing the police-men one by one. Readers also get glimpses of the emerging science of forensics, as law enforcement begins to use the advancements of science in their sleuthing.  The first in what promises to be a great new series of historical mysteries!  Read More


Maid and the QueenThe Maid and the Queen : The Secret History of Joan of Arc, Nancy Goldstone

Penguin, $16.00, History

You may think you know the story of Joan of Arc, the simple medieval peasant girl who led the French army to victory against the invading English, but was later tried for heresy and burned as a witch.  But, as Goldstone carefully lays out, that is not the whole story.  Joan, or Jeanne D’Arc as she was known, did lead an army, but she was much more than a simple peasant, and she was supported by Yolande of Aragon Queen of Sicily, one of her time’s most influential politicians.  This is the tale of two powerful women set against a complex backdrop of shifting alliances and a world where women had to work behind the scenes to control their own destinies.  Not a light read, but one of those fascinating and satisfying books that change the way you look at history. Read More

Seven LocksSeven Locks, Christine Wade

Atria, $15.00, Historical Fiction

With a haunting and utterly unique voice, this is the story of a wife and mother living in a Dutch community in the Catskill Mountains on the eve of the American Revolution.  She cares little for what her neighbors think, but when her husband abandons her to care for their farm and children alone, she must depend on her community, and her own hard work for survival.  This novel gives voice not only to a hidden corner of history, but also to the common citizens who were buffeted by the winds of war and politics during the early years of your nation’s history.  If you like historical fiction, don’t miss this one! Read More



Aviators WifeThe Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

Delacorte Press, $26.00, Historical Fiction

This novel goes inside the private world of the very public figures of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and will change the way you look at fame, at aviation, and even at history.  Beautiful and riveting, this story gives us an inside look at what it was like to be a wife and mother during the early decades of the 20th century, at a crossroads of women’s rights and responsibilities within the family, at a juncture of fame and fortune, and during the crisis of a family caught in the middle of it all.  Read More



Mary CoinMary Coin, Marisa Silver

Blue Rider Press, $26.95, Historical Fiction

Most of us have seen the iconic photograph taken by Dorothea Lange of a woman and her children during the dustbowl years of the Great Depression.  This is the story inspired by the photograph of this Native American migrant worker and mother of six. It is also the story of the photographer who captured the image, and a man, decades later, who tries to find the truth of the story.  This is Diane’s pick for best book of the year!  Read More


Orphan TrainOrphan Train, Christina Baker Kline

William Morrow, $14.99, Fiction / Historical Fiction

This is the story of a 9 year old Irish immigrant girl who was among the thousands of children shipped west from New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on what became known as the Orphan Trains.  These children were parceled out to any families who would take them in states like Kansas and Iowa, and often faced lives of servitude and abuse at the hands of their new ‘parents’.  This is also the story of a modern-day troubled teenager who is just aging out of the Foster Care system, and is given the choice to do community service to recompense for her crime.  To meet her obligation, she goes to help an elderly woman clean out her attic, and the two find they have a great deal in common as they sift through the memories of a lifetime. Read More


Weight of Small ThingsThe Weight of Small Things, Sherri Wood Emmons

Kensington, $15.00, Fiction

When an old love resurfaces in her life, asking for her help in keeping his non-profit children’s shelter open, a woman must decide if she will help him, thus facing the choice she made decades ago. Moving and thought provoking, this story explores the weight of those decisions we all carry with us as we move through life. Read More




Truth About Love and LightningThe Truth About Love and Lightning , Susan McBride

William Morrow, $14.99, Fiction

A freak tornado brings a magical man to the walnut farm where Gretchen lives with her twin sisters. It’s as if he fell from the sky, landing in the millions of walnuts dropped by the storm.  This mystery man has no memory of who he is or how he got there, but something seems very familiar.  With Gretchen’s daughter Abby arriving simultaneously to the farm, pregnant and unmarried, all is a bit unnerving for Gretchen.  Are these events about to reveal her 40 year old secret?  Read More


Fate of Mercy AlbanThe Fate of Mercy Alban, Wendy Webb

Voice, $15.99, Gothic Suspense

For fans of the classics from Phyllis Whitney and Daphne DuMaurier, a quintessential Gothic Romance from award-winning novelist Webb. This is a spine-tingling modern-day haunted house story set on Lake Superior, with all the elements a good gothic should have, including a mysterious house, a beautiful heroine, an enigmatic love interest, forgotten stories, and the retainers that know them all. Webb has woven a suspenseful mystery that skillfully skirts the boundary between what is paranormal and what is psychological., Read More



Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen, G Willow Wilson

Grove Press, $16.00, Fantasy

A sort of Arabian Nights meets Harry Potter in which a young computer hacker in an unnamed Arab emirate shields his clients–dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups–from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif. He is in love with a woman out of reach of his social status, and when she is betrothed to his arch enemy, the Government computer mastermind known as The Hand of God, he is betrayed, sending Alif on the run through the streets of the city along with his neighbor, a young woman whose face he has not seen since they were children and she took the veil.  Deeper than it’s adventurous spirit may seem, this was one I could not put down, and that has stayed with me for months!  Read More


River of No ReturnThe River of No Return, Bee Ridgeway

Dutton, $27.95, Fantasy / Historical Fiction

This romp in time has it all!  There’s a dashing hero, several feisty heroines, some really nasty bad guy, plenty of mystery, suspense, humor and romance as Ridgeway navigates her eminently plausible route along the River of Time filled with paradoxes and switchbacks. For readers of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of WitchesRead More


Review : Back in the Game by Charles Holdefer

Longing.  I presume that sometime in the deep darkness of our linguistic past that the word measured the degree of difference between where one is, and where one wants to be.  Implied also is desire; yearning, and the emotions that accompany them, good or bad. Longing to be a musician, an astronaut, or for one who loves you may be joyful.  Alternatively, longing for a lost opportunity, or an old lover no longer interested in you, woeful.
Charles Holdefer’s book Back in the Game, is a book about longing.  It’s also a book about the intricacy of human relationships, and their fragility. It’s also a book about globalization, and small town Iowa life. And pork. Stanley Mercer longed for a career in the big leagues of baseball, but didn’t quite make it. From A ball through Triple A, he took detours through Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and eventually a defunct European League where he lost his job in France when the team owner lost interest in the game. Stanley also lost his girlfriend Delphine somewhere along the way.  Probably long before he knew it.
Thanks to a little “white lie” and to his brother Riley, a well-off fellow in a marshmallow existence, Stanley finds himself in a teaching position in a high school in a dying town called Legion.  Big Ag is getting bigger and bigger, and bottom line is that as farms get bigger, many rural towns die.
One professional life in tatters, and another soon to be, Stanley finds unrequited love and oddly kindred souls on the margins of existence.  That, or at the center of it.
Lovingly crafted, and written from the unique perspective of an Iowan, an insider who knows our culture yet has a cosmopolitan eye for the big picture, this is a delightful and challenging perspective of a uniquely modern midwestern life, remarkably close to our own.
Reviewed by Robert Leonard
Charles Holdefer is a native of Knoxville, Iowa, and currently lives in Brussels with his family, although he returns to Iowa regularly to teach at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  He will be here at The Next Chapter on Thursday evening, July 19th, 2012, at 5:30, to discuss Back in the Game, writing, and life, and to sign copies of his book.

Author & Humorist Charlene Baumbich Comes to Knoxville!

A couple of years ago a woman from Illinois and her husband were driving through Iowa, and they happened to stop for gas in Knoxville at the BP station just east of the square.The woman took advantage of the stop and visited the ladies room, and much to her delight, found it to be super clean and very stylish with checkerboard tiling in raceway colors.  She mentioned her approval of the bathroom to the gas station attendant, as she was purchasing a soda at the counter.  The cashier mentioned that the root beer she had chosen was made locally at our new brewery, which led her directly down the street to Peace Tree Brewing Company. During her tour, the director learned that the woman was an author and she sent them over to us at The Next Chapter.
This charming and charismatic woman bounded through the book store door asking whether I’d ever visited the BP bathroom before.  After I admitted I hadn’t had the pleasure, she proceeded to go on and on about how fabulous it was, even showing me a picture she had taken of it!  She continued on, in her excited and contagious way, to describe her fabulous time at Peace Tree, with t-shirts in tow for her sons.

As we talked, I learned that Charlene is an author.  She has written numerous books, including several inspirational and self-help titles, the beloved Dearest Dorothy series, and the Snow Globe Connections series, and when I met her she was working on a new book for her Snow Globe Connections series.  She mentioned that she was looking for a ballet dancer to help her with some technical details for this newest book.  Of course, I disclosed that I was a book store owner, but also the owner of “Tresa’s School of Dance” and had taught dance classes for 38 years!

It was like a match made in heaven as she ran across the store to hug me, and then asked if I would help with her process by reading her manuscript. I was honored and excited at this request, and sent her to the computer shop to have her script printed so she could leave it in Knoxville with me. Then, local KNIA/KRLS news director, Dr. Bob Leonard, also happened into our store during Charlene’s visit, and he asked if she might be interested in giving an interview for his weekly show, to which she graciously and excitedly agreed.

After a lovely visit, we sent Charlene and her husband to The Swamp Fox for dinner, and so their gas station stop turned into a six hour sojourn in Knoxville!

Since then, we’ve kept in touch with Charlene, read some of her books, and learned more about her career as a humorist and speaker.  I enjoyed reading her manuscript for Finding Our Way Home, and was able to offer some expert advice to make the book, which features an injured ballerina who must learn to live without her dancing, even more true to life.  And now, I am so pleased to have the final result on our shelves along with Charlene’s other books!

So, to celebrate the release of Finding Our Way Home, it is with great pleasure that we welcome Charlene to Knoxville once again, for a trio of special events on Thursday, March 22nd.  At 12 noon, the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce will host Charlene at the Peace Tree Tasting Room for an edition of Expert Edge– Business Survival 101: The Balance Between Humor and Grit. At 2pm, an Afternoon Tea and Book Signing here at the Next Chapter. Finally, at 5:30, come to The Peace Tree for “Charlene, etc., Life’s Quirky Tidbits,” as our special guest entertains us with humor, uncommon wisdom, and passionate insights.

We hope you can join us!

Read more about Charlene and her work at her website:


It’s Been 3 Years!

To our Wonderful Customers,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since we opened our doors on November 3rd, 2008 — so much has happened in that time, both in the world around us, as well as in our shop. It hardly seems possible for it to all have gone on in just three years!

Here at The Next Chapter, Tresa and I have watched a dream grow, first becoming a startup indie bookshop with a few gifts and lots of ideas; and then blossoming into the thriving shop we like to call our Book and Gift Boutique, where we are fortunate to be working, every day.

Three years ago, we were just opening our doors, hoping that you would find something you liked on our shelves.  You were wonderful! You supported us beyond most predictions, so we got to work, and the startup grew into a bustling shop.  It was the Next Chapter in both of our lives.

We knew we wanted to have used books as well as new.  So we opened our used book basement, seeded it with books from our own collections and began taking donations, giving 10% of each month’s used book sales back to the community in the form of checks to local charities.

We wanted The Next Chapter to have a warm and welcoming atmosphere, so we made a seating area with soft couches and a table with chairs.  We installed the book shelves all along the perimeter of the space and arranged displays of books and gifts on tables and shelves and spinners throughout the middle of the shop. We invited people to stop, have a cup of coffee, take a few minutes to browse, relax, enjoy.

Over the next three years, we listened to feedback, we worked to fulfill requests, we watched what was happening in our community, and tried to help wherever we could. We read countless book reviews and fine tuned our book selection. When we didn’t have what you were looking for, we helped you locate the books you wanted.  When you responded to the few gift lines we carried, and asked for more, we slowly began to carry more kinds of items, or bigger selections of the kinds of things you shopped for.  When other shops on the square closed their doors, or opened, we responded to fulfill the needs of our town by carrying items like greeting cards.

We tried a few things that just didn’t work, like magazines; or that were initially intended to be temporary like blooming plants during the spring season. We sought out some of the things that weren’t available in our community, to encourage you to shop locally.  We added some specific gift lines that you asked for, like Willow Tree figurines and WoodWick Candles, to name just two.

And again, your response has been great!  All the kind words and encouragement, as well as the willingness to shop locally, have made The Next Chapter a success.  In April of this year, we annexed the suite of offices between the main shop and the dental office, and added a Home and Garden Décor section, stocking it with lots of beautiful things to make your house a home, and gourmet food mixes, coffees and teas to feed your loved ones.

A few months later, we realized we needed more help, so we hired Diane Gordon, the third member of our team, who brings years of bookshop and book-keeping experience along with a generous portion of creativity to the mix. We’ve enjoyed having her, and her new perspective, helping make this an even better place.

If you haven’t been to The Next Chapter lately, you may not know that the term ‘gift selection’ is perhaps a bit misleading.  We have a fashion accessories section, a paper goods section with cards and journals, and a toy section, and of course, our Home and Garden section.

One day, a year or so ago, a woman from out of town, who had spent some time browsing and shopping, stopped on her way out carrying several bags, and exclaimed, “This is a Book Boutique!  I love it!” We liked it too, and have added that to our description of The Next Chapter.

We like being a Book and Gift Boutique.  We also like being part of Knoxville’s own next chapter, as our town looks to the future and works to solve the problems facing many communities of our size.

Here are some of the ways we are trying to help:

  • We have donated over $5000 to local causes benefitting everything from homeless pets to college bound students.
  • We’ve sold nearly 20,000 new books, and 9000 used books since we opened – just think of all that reading!
  • We have entered into partnerships with other local businesses, such as the Peace Tree Brewing Company to bring entertaining events to the town.
  • We have worked with local schools, libraries and churches, offering discounts and services, because we want to be the local source for the books they need.
  • We have offered adult education classes on such diverse topics as Basic Computers, Flower Arranging, Memory Quilt Crafting and more.
  • We provide meeting space for several local organizations, and gathering space for the community at large.
  • We have sold tickets to numerous events for organizations like the Red Rock Arts Alliance and K-Act.
  • We have welcomed other would-be entrepreneurs, offering encouragement and practical assistance whenever we could.

As we look to the future, we’re ready for yet another chapter as we begin our 4th year of business.  We will continue to bring the best new books each season, finding those titles that make you happy and keep you informed and entertained. We will continue to find great new product lines for your gift-giving needs and your own pleasure.  We will continue to support our community with financial contributions, in-kind donations, and institutional discounts; as well as by being the local outlet for event tickets, and the ideas incubator for would-be entrepreneurs.

We not only want to encourage folks to shop local, we also want to become a destination for people outside of our community.  We will bring in more authors, more events, and more classes.  We want to live up to our name, by helping to bring the ‘Next Chapter’ to Knoxville.

Want more photos of life at The Next Chapter?  See our photo album


Spy Thrillers!

I’ve got spy thrillers on the brain, as I pick the three books our Lunch Time Book Club will read this winter.

We’ve been taking a tour of popular fiction genres, reading three iconic or representative novels from a given genre each season.  We read romances in summer, and are finishing up Westerns next week.  We’ll take a break and meet again January 3rd, 2012, to discuss the first of our three Spy Thrillers! We’ve had a lot of fun with this ‘tour’, it has brought new people to our group, and we’re all reading a few books that are definitely out of our respective reading boxes.

I’ve done some googling, and learned that the Spy Thriller, as a genre, began to develop in the late 1800s, with a few suspense and mystery novels veering toward the espionage side of the tracks, with books like Kipling’s Kim, and then later by authors like James Fenimore Cooper. WWI and the Russian Revolution also spurred a number of spy novels, including The 39 Steps by John Buchan, and works by Joseph Conrad.

Later, during WWII, Helen MacInness and other writers revived the genre, which had languished a bit between the wars, but it was after the war was over, and the Cold War went into full swing, that Spy Thrillers really got going.  I have chosen to focus on titles written since this florescence, and have compiled a list of best-of-the-best Spy Thrillers for your feedback.

At our last meeting, I told our book club members that I would ask for input (I’m having a hard time choosing), so I’ve made a poll (see below) to allow you to vote for your top three favorites.  We are looking for those three Spy novels that are the best of the best and classics of the genre, or the best of one of the crucial authors in the genre.

So please, help me, vote for your TOP 3 Spy Thrillers from the list below.


The Next Chapter Fall 2011 Top 20 Best Books List

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.


Our Top 20 Spring Reads List!

We realized when we had our list compiled, that these books have a common theme – FREEDOM.  We found books about the freedom to do what you want – for better or worse, to be what you want, to make mistakes, and the freedom to forgive yourself (and others) for past mistakes. Other books on the list are about fighting for freedom, sacrificing for freedom, and the freedoms that some people will go to the ends of the earth to acquire, and even the freedoms that some people try to prevent other people from enjoying.  It was an unintended theme, but one that emerged nonetheless.  We hope you find some of these books to be as wonderful as we did.

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s intensely realized characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.  Read More

Ape House, by Sara Gruen

In her new novel, Water for Elephants author Sara Gruen once again examines the relationship – both emotional and biological – between man and animal. This time, focusing on highly intelligent bonobo apes, she infuses the story with an unexpected level of humor, mystery and a foray into popular culture. What the reader can be assured of is yet another thoroughly engaging story, brimming with deftly drawn characters and compelling storylines.  Read More

West of Here, by Jonathan Evison

Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, on Washington State ‘s rugged Pacific coast, “West of Here” is propelled by a story that both re-creates and celebrates the American experience it is storytelling on the grandest scale. With one segment of the narrative focused on the town ‘s founders circa 1890 and another showing the lives of their descendants in 2006, the novel develops as a kind of conversation between two epochs, one rushing blindly toward the future and the other struggling to undo the damage of the past.  Read More

When We Were Strangers, by Pamela Schoenewaldt

When Irma Vitale, a young girl growing up in a tiny mountain village in Italy, realizes that her life stretches out before her with no appealing possibilities, she sets out, on foot and alone, for America, and the promise of opportunity it holds.  We follow her through the terrible ocean crossing to Cincinnati, where she hopes to find her brother who disappeared two years earlier.  But life in America is not all she dreamed of, and making her way requires grit and determination Irma doesn’t know if she possesses.  A wonderful book that sheds new light on the hardships suffered by our ancestors who dared to emigrate and face an unknown future.  Read More

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, by Mark Twain

Unpublished until a century after the author’s death, per his explicit instructions, this is a literary event not to be missed!  With all the acerbic wit we expect from Twain, and many of the ideas he was reluctant to express during his lifetime, this is the much anticipated, much discussed, carefully curated account of the life of an American icon — in his own words.  Read More

Tammy Wynette : Tragic Country Queen, by Jimmy McDonough

An emotional and revealing exploration of the life of the Queen of Heartbreak. Based on dozens of interviews, McDonough’s book unveils a life of profound extremes, from Wynette’s impoverished youth in Mississippi, to her meteoric rise after meeting legendary producer Billy Sherrill, to her star-crossed marriage to music legend George Jones. What emerges is an unforgettable view of a Nashville that no longer exists-and a woman whose life mirrored the sadness captured in her music.

The Other Wes Moore : One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.  Read More

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin

Set in the late 1970s in Mississippi this taught, psychological thriller was Dr. Bob’s pick as the best of the year.  Larry Ott and Silas “32” Jones were boyhood pals. Their worlds were as different as night and day: Larry, the child of lower-middle-class white parents, and Silas, the son of a poor, single black mother. Yet for a few months the boys stepped outside of their circumstances and shared a special bond. But then tragedy struck: Larry took a girl on a date to a drive-in movie, and she was never heard from again. She was never found and Larry never confessed, but all eyes rested on him as the culprit. The incident shook the county—and perhaps Silas most of all. His friendship with Larry was broken, and then Silas left town.  More than twenty years have passed. Larry, a mechanic, lives a solitary existence, never able to rise above the whispers of suspicion. Silas has returned as a constable. He and Larry have no reason to cross paths until another girl disappears and Larry is blamed again. And now the two men who once called each other friend are forced to confront the past they’ve buried and ignored for decades.  Read More

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, by Conor Grennan

Grennan takes a year off from his job with the EastWest Institute and volunteers for three months in a Nepalese orphanage. He is captivated by his lively and affectionate young charges, but the story grows darker as he learns more about the for-profit traffic in young children stolen from their families and villages. Grennan vows to return to help reunite the children with their families, and the story of his fulfillment of that quest is powerful and moving.  Read More

Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert

At the end of her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love with Felipe, a Brazilian living in Indonesia. The couple swore eternal love, but also swore (as skittish divorce survivors) never to marry. However, providence intervened in the form of a U.S. government ultimatum: get married, or Felipe could never enter America again. Told with Gilbert’s trademark humor and intelligence, this fascinating meditation on compatibility and fidelity chronicles Gilbert’s complex and sometimes frightening journey into second marriage, and will enthrall the millions of readers who made Eat, Pray, Love a number one bestseller.  Read More

Women Food & God, by Geneen Roth

After three decades of studying, teaching and writing about our compulsions with food, bestselling author Geneen Roth adds a powerful new dimension to her work in Women Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God.  Read More

Shmirsky, by E.

“Shmirshky” is a groundbreakingly brisk, hilarious, and also entirely serious girlfriend’s guide to perimenopause and menopause, inspired by the author’s own struggles with what she calls PM&M.  Let’s face it, perimenopause and menopause are still too rarely talked about. Shmirshky turns this taboo topic into an all-inclusive page-turner.  Read More

Emily and Einstein, by Linda Francis Lee

Emily and her husband Sandy Portman seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building.  But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident.  The funeral isn’t even over before Emily learns she is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment.  But worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.

Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was . . . all the while feeling that somehow he isn’t really gone.  Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein.  But is Einstein’s seemingly odd determination that she save herself enough to make Emily confront her own past?  Can he help her find a future—even after she meets a new man?  Read More

Haunting Jasmine, by Anjali Banerjee

This delicious little book was a no-brainer choice for a bookstore lady who also loves anything hinting of magic!  When recently divorced Bengali-American Jasmine Mistry is called home to Shelter Island to run her beloved aunt’s bookstore for a month, she decides a change of scenery will do her good.  What she finds is a wonderful, dusty, magical bookshop where strange things happen as a matter of course.  Surrounded by her loving, if somewhat quirky family, and a collection of savvy ghosts, Jasmine begins to face her heartbreak as she does her best to care for her aunt’s business.  And then, of course, a mysterious handsome stranger appears … but is he more than he seems?  Read More

The Witch Doctor’s Wife and The Headhunter’s Daughter, by Tamar Myers

The Congo beckons to young Amanda Brown in 1958, as she follows her missionary calling to the mysterious “dark continent” far from her South Carolina home. But her enthusiasm cannot cushion her from the shock of a very foreign culture—where competing missionaries are as plentiful as flies, and oppressive European overlords are busy stripping the land of its most valuable resource: diamonds.  Little by little, Amanda is drawn into the lives of the villagers in tiny Belle Vue—and she is touched by the plight of the local witch doctor, a man known as Their Death, who has been forced to take a second job as a yardman to support his two wives. But when First Wife stumbles upon an impossibly enormous uncut gem, events are set in motion that threaten to devastate the lives of these people Amanda has come to admire and love—events that could lead to nothing less than murder.  Read More

You Know When the Men are Gone, by Siobhan Fallon

There is an army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians’ speeches.  When you leave Fort Hood, the sign above the gate warns, You’ve Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming. It is eerily prescient.  Read More

The Good Son, by Michael Gruber

Somewhere in Pakistan, Sonia Laghari and eight fellow members of a symposium on peace are being held captive by armed terrorists. Sonia, a deeply religious woman as well as a Jungian psychologist, has become the de facto leader of the kidnapped group. While her son Theo, an ex-Delta soldier, uses his military connections to find and free the victims, Sonia tries to keep them all alive by working her way into the kidnappers’ psyches and interpreting their dreams. With her knowledge of their language, her familiarity with their religion, and her Jungian training, Sonia confounds her captors with her insights and beliefs. Meanwhile, when the kidnappers decide to kill their captives, one by one, in retaliation for perceived crimes against their country, Theo races against the clock to try and save their lives.  Read More

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

I lost a good deal of sleep turning the pages of this tale of adventure, suspense, and romance. Ride along with this witch-in-denial and her guardian vampire prince as she struggles to reclaim her legacy and avoid the terrible fate visited earlier upon her family. The author did her homework and the history rings as true as the passion. I can’t wait for the sequel!  Read More

Wapsipinicon Almanac, by Timothy Fay, editor

Published on an old fashioned printing press, this annual is a New Yorker Magazine for Iowans — filled with great articles, stories, reviews, and even advertisements, this is a must read for Iowan readers!  Read More

The Book of Awesome, by Neil Pasricha

And to wrap up the list, just because we all need a little help now and then with remembering how sweet the little things in life really are, we suggest this joyful little gem that celebrates the little pleasures, like the smell of rain on a sidewalk, or the feeling you get when you see the colors lined up in a fresh box of crayons !

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