Books for Independent Readers

Book Group Recommendations

 

Is your book group looking for something to read? We have some great recommendations for you! And when you register your group with us, you’ll receive a 10% discount on the books your group is reading.

Want to organize a book group or looking for a place to meet? Contact us at mail@unionavebooks.com or by phone at (865) 951-2180, and we’ll work with you to find the perfect meeting time.


Fiction

Enchanted Islands
Allison Amend
Anchor; $16 (paperback)
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Born to immigrant parents in Minnesota just before the turn of the century, Frances Frankowski grew up coveting the life of her best friend, Rosalie Mendel. And yet, decades later, when the women reconnect in San Francisco, their lives have diverged. Rosalie is a housewife and mother, while Frances works for the Office of Naval Intelligence and has just been given a top-secret assignment: Marry handsome spy Ainslie Conway and move to the Galapagos Islands to investigate the Germans living there in the build-up to World War II.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor — from their friends, from their enemies, and even from each other — may be their undoing.


Green Island
Shawna Yang Ryan
Vintage; $16.95 (paperback)
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Taipei, February 28, 1947: As an uprising rocks Taiwan, a young doctor is taken from his newborn daughter by Chinese Nationalists, on charges of speaking out against the government. Although he eventually returns to his family, his arrival is marked by alienation from his loved ones and paranoia among his community. Years later, this troubled past follows his youngest daughter to America, where, as a mother and a wife, she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family — the same choice she witnessed her father make many years before.

A stunningly lyrical story of a family and a nation grappling with the nuances of complicity and survival, Green Island raises the question: How far would you go for the ones you love?


Homegoing
Yaa Gyasi
Vintage; $16 (paperback)
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Ghana, eighteenth century: Two half-sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.

Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed — and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.


The Animators
Kayla Rae Whitaker
Random House; $17 (paperback)
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In the male-dominated field of animation, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are a dynamic duo, the friction of their differences driving them: Sharon, quietly ambitious but self-doubting; Mel, brash and unapologetic, always the life of the party. Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, where they bonded over their working-class roots and obvious talent, they spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Working, drinking, laughing. Drawing: Mel, to understand her tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.

After a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature, which transforms Mel’s difficult childhood into a provocative and visually daring work of art. The toast of the indie film scene, they stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success come doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship threatening the delicate balance of their partnership. Sharon begins to feel expendable, suspecting that the ever-more raucous Mel is the real artist. During a trip to Sharon’s home state of Kentucky, the only other partner she has ever truly known — her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy — reenters her life, and long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.


The Last Days of Night
Graham Moore
Random House; $17 (paperback)
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New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history — and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society — the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal — private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.


The Glorious Heresies
Lisa McInerney
Tim Duggan Books; $16 (paperback)
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When grandmother Maureen Phelan is surprised in her home by a stranger, she clubs the intruder with a Holy Stone. The consequences of this unplanned murder connect four misfits struggling against their meager circumstances. Ryan is a 15-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father, Tony, whose feud with his next-door neighbor threatens to ruin his family. Georgie is a sex worker who half-heartedly joins a born-again movement to escape her profession and drug habit. And Jimmy Phelan, the most fearsome gangster in the city and Maureen’s estranged son, finds that his mother’s bizarre attempts at redemption threaten his entire organization.

Biting and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies presents an unforgettable vision of a city plagued by poverty and exploitation, where salvation still awaits in the most unexpected places.


Behold the Dreamers
Imbolo Mbue
Random House; $17 (paperback)
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Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their 6-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty — -and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ facades. When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job–even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.


Faithful
Alice Hoffman
Simon & Schuster; $16 (paperback)
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Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion–from dark suffering to true happiness–a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls — including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.


If the Creek Don’t Rise
Leah Weiss
Sourcebooks Landmark; $15.99 (paperback)
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Sadie Blue has been a wife for 15 days. That’s long enough to know she should have never hitched herself to Roy Tupkin, even with the baby.

Sadie is desperate to make her own mark on the world, but in remote Appalachia, a ticket out of town is hard to come by, and hope often gets stomped out. When a stranger sweeps into Baines Creek and knocks things off kilter, Sadie finds herself with an unexpected lifeline … if she can just figure out how to use it.

This intimate insight into a fiercely proud, tenacious community unfolds through the voices of the forgotten folks of Baines Creek. With a colorful cast of characters that each contribute a new perspective, If the Creek Don’t Rise is a debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.


Moonglow
Michael Chabon
Harper Perennial; $16.99 (paperback)
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Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact — and the creative power — of keeping secrets and telling lies. It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France. It is also a tour de force of speculative autobiography in which Chabon devises and reveals a secret history of his own imagination.

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.


Swing Time
Zadie Smith
Penguin Books; $17 (paperback)
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Two brown girls dream of being dancers — but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.

Tracey makes it to the chorus line but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind, traveling the world as an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, observing close up how the one percent live.

When Aimee develops grand philanthropic ambitions, the story moves from London to West Africa, where diaspora tourists travel back in time to find their roots, young men risk their lives to escape into a different future, the women dance just like Tracey — the same twists, the same shakes— and the origins of a profound inequality are not a matter of distant history, but a present dance to the music of time.


Pachinko
Min Jin Lee
Grand Central Publishing; $15.99
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In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters-strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis-survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.


The Other Einstein
Marie Benedict
Sourcebooks Landmark; $15.99 (paperback)
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Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most 20-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. It is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.


The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa
Washington Square Press; $16.99 (paperback)
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Before everything changed, young Hannah Rosenthal lived a charmed life. But now, in 1939, the streets of Berlin are draped with red, white, and black flags; her family’s fine possessions are hauled away; and they are no longer welcome in the places that once felt like home. Hannah and her best friend, Leo Martin, make a pact: Whatever the future has in store for them, they’ll meet it together.

Hope appears in the form of the S.S. St. Louis, a transatlantic liner offering Jews safe passage out of Germany. After a frantic search to obtain visas, the Rosenthals and the Martins depart on the luxurious ship bound for Havana. Life on board the St. Louis is like a surreal holiday for the refugees, with masquerade balls, exquisite meals, and polite, respectful service. But soon ominous rumors from Cuba undermine the passengers’ fragile sense of safety. From one day to the next, impossible choices are offered, unthinkable sacrifices are made, and the ship that once was their salvation seems likely to become their doom.

Seven decades later in New York City, on her twelfth birthday, Anna Rosen receives a strange package from an unknown relative in Cuba, her great-aunt Hannah. Its contents will inspire Anna and her mother to travel to Havana to learn the truth about their family’s mysterious and tragic past, a quest that will help Anna understand her place and her purpose in the world.

The German Girl sweeps from Berlin at the brink of the Second World War to Cuba on the cusp of revolution, to New York in the wake of September 11, before reaching its deeply moving conclusion in the tumult of present-day Havana. Based on a true story, this masterful novel gives voice to the joys and sorrows of generations of exiles, forever seeking a place called home.


The End of the World Running Club
Adrian J. Walker
Sourcebooks Landmark; $15.99 (paperback)
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When the world ends and you find yourself stranded on the wrong side of the country, every second counts. No one knows this more than Edgar Hill: over five hundred miles of devastated wasteland stretch between him and his family. To get back to them, he must push himself to the very limit — or risk losing them forever.

His best option is to run. But what if his best isn’t good enough? End of the World Running Club is an otherworldly yet extremely human story of hope, love, and the endurance of both body and spirit.


The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
Joanna Cannon
Scribner; $16 (paperback)
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England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but 10-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced, and decide to take matters into their own hands.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover more than they ever imagined. A complicated history of deception begins to emerge–everyone on the Avenue has something to hide.

During that sweltering summer, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. The girls come to realize that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was starting to peel back just before she disappeared….


The Wangs vs. the World
Jade Chang
Mariner; $14.99 (paperback)
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This epic family saga is a new look at what it means to belong in America.

Charles Wang, a brash, lovable businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, has just lost everything in the financial crisis. So he rounds up two of his children from schools that he can no longer afford and packs them into the only car that wasn’t repossessed. Together with their wealth-addicted stepmother, Barbra, they head on a cross-country journey from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the Upstate New York retreat of the eldest Wang daughter, Saina. The trip brings them together in a way money never could.


The Muse
Jessie Burton
Ecco; $15.99 (paperback)
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July 1967, Mayfair, London: A painting is left propped on the doorstep of the Skeleton Gallery, discovered by Odelle Bastien, a Caribbean emigre trying to make her way in London. The painting is rumored to be the work of Isaac Robles, whose mysterious death has confounded the art world for decades. The excitement over the painting is only matched by the tension around the conflicting stories of its discovery. Odelle is unsure who or what to believe as she is drawn into a complex web of secrets and deceptions.

Thirty years earlier, Olive Schloss, the daughter of a Viennese Jewish art dealer, follows her parents to a village in southern Spain that is rife with unrest. It is here Olive meets Maria Teresita, the young housekeeper, and Maria’s half-brother Isaac Robles, an ambitious painter newly returned from the Barcelona salons. The illegitimate offspring of the local landowner, neither sibling has anything to lose when by exploiting these new guests in their poverty-stricken town. As they insinuate themselves into the family, the consequences are devastating and echo into the decades to come.

In vividly rendered detail, Jessie Burton spins a tale of desire, ambition, and the ways in which the tides of history inevitably shape and define our lives.


Nonfiction

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Dava Sobel
Penguin Books; $16 (paperback)
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In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges — Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades–through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography — enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight.

Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.


Lab Girl
Hope Jahren
Vintage; $16 (paperback)
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Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life. It is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. Jahren takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment.

Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.


Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live
Peter Orner
Catapult; $16.95 (paperback)
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“Stories, both my own and those I’ve taken to heart, make up whoever it is that I’ve become,” Peter Orner writes in this collection of essays about reading, writing, and living. Orner reads — and writes — everywhere he finds himself: a hospital cafeteria, a coffee shop in Albania, or a crowded bus in Haiti.

Among the many writers Orner addresses are Isaac Babel and Zora Neale Hurston, both of whom told their truths and were silenced; Franz Kafka, who professed loneliness but craved connection; Robert Walser, who spent the last 23 years of his life in a Swiss insane asylum, “working” at being crazy; and Juan Rulfo, who practiced the difficult art of silence. Virginia Woolf, Eudora Welty, Yasunari Kawabata, Saul Bellow, Mavis Gallant, John Edgar Wideman, William Trevor, and Vaclav Havel make appearances, as well as the poet Herbert Morris — about whom almost nothing is known.

An elegy for an eccentric late father, and the end of a marriage, Am I Alone Here? is also a celebration of the possibility of renewal. At once personal and panoramic, this book will inspire readers to return to the essential stories of their own lives.


Books for Living: Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life
Will Schwalbe
Vintage; $16 (paperback)
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For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way both to entertain himself and to make sense of the world, and to find the answers to life’s questions. In each chapter of Books for Living, he discusses a particular book and how it relates to concerns we all share. The books span centuries and genres — Stuart Little to The Girl on the Train, from David Copperfield to Wonder, from Giovanni’s Room to Rebecca, and from 1984 to Gifts from the Sea. Throughout, Schwalbe tells stories from his life and focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost and also figure out how to live each day more fully.


Our book descriptions are excerpted from INDIEBOUND.ORG or from the publisher’s website.

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