2017 Book Club Selections

January 11 –  The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The year is 1792. The French Revolution, driven to excess by its own triumph, has turned into a reign of terror. Daily, tumbrels bearing new victims to the guillotine roll over the cobbled streets of Paris.… Thus the stage is set for one of the most enthralling novels of historical adventure ever written.

The mysterious figure known as the Scarlet Pimpernel, sworn to rescue helpless men, women, and children from their doom; his implacable foe, the French agent Chauvelin, relentlessly hunting him down; and lovely Marguerite Blakeney, a beautiful French exile married to an English lord and caught in a terrible conflict of loyalties—all play their parts in a suspenseful tale that ranges from the squalid slums of Paris to the aristocratic salons of London, from intrigue on a great English country estate to the final denouement on the cliffs of the French coast.

There have been many imitations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, but none has ever equaled its superb sense of color and drama and its irresistible gift of wonderfully romantic escape.

Februrary 8 – The Barn by Avi
One Town One Title
The Barn
The schoolmaster says nine-year-old Benjamin is the finest student he’s ever seen-fit for more than farming; destined for great things someday But his father’s grave illness brings Ben home,from school and compels him to strive for something great right now — to do the one thing that will please Father so much he’ll want to live. But first Ben must convince his older sister and brother to work with him. And together, they succeed in ways they never dreamed possible.
March 8 – The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
The Cookbook Collector
Heralded as “a modern day Jane Austen” by USA Today, National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author Allegra Goodman has compelled and delighted hundreds of thousands of readers. Now, in her most ambitious work yet, Goodman weaves together the worlds of Silicon Valley and rare book collecting in a delicious novel about appetite, temptation, and fulfillment.

Emily and Jessamine Bach are opposites in every way: Twenty-eight-year-old Emily is the CEO of Veritech, twenty-three-year-old Jess is an environmental activist and graduate student in philosophy. Pragmatic Emily is making a fortune in Silicon Valley, romantic Jess works in an antiquarian bookstore. Emily is rational and driven, while Jess is dreamy and whimsical. Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, is fantastically successful. Jess’s boyfriends, not so much—as her employer George points out in what he hopes is a completely disinterested way.

Bicoastal, surprising, rich in ideas and characters, The Cookbook Collector is a novel about getting and spending, and about the substitutions we make when we can’t find what we’re looking for: reading cookbooks instead of cooking, speculating instead of creating, collecting instead of living. But above all it is about holding on to what is real in a virtual world: love that stays.

April 12 – Opening Goliath by Cary J. Griffith
Opening Goliath
Narrow passages, twisting upward or dropping precipitously. Huge vaults filled with fantastic shapes. Tunnels twined in tangled mazes. Over centuries, underground rivers can carve holes and rooms in solid rock; drips of water build walls of stone. Natural caves shape another world beneath our feet. Dangerous and beautiful, these places remain unknown–until someone decides to investigate.

In 2004, businessman and caver John Ackerman drilled an entryway into Goliath Cave, a huge and unexplored complex in the karst region of southeastern Minnesota. Squeezing through tiny openings, scuba diving through silt-filled waters, scaling walls, and traversing crevasses, he and his fellow cavers painstakingly mapped ever-further reaches of the complex in an exploration that continues to this day.

But man-made caves that do not breathe can be even more dangerous than their natural cousins. In St. Paul, also in 2004, five teenagers entered an area where intermittent fires robbed the air of oxygen. Only two emerged alive.

May 10 – The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
Blood of Flowers
In 17th-century Persia, a 14-year-old woman believes she will be married within the year. But when her beloved father dies, she and her mother find themselves alone and without a dowry. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to sell the brilliant turquoise rug the young woman has woven to pay for their journey to Isfahan, where they will work as servants for her uncle, a rich rug designer in the court of the legendary Shah Abbas the Great. Despite her lowly station, the young woman blossoms as a brilliant designer of carpets, a rarity in a craft dominated by men. But while her talent flourishes, her prospects for a happy marriage grow dim. Forced into a secret marriage to a wealthy man, the young woman finds herself faced with a daunting decision: forsake her own dignity, or risk everything she has in an effort to create a new life.
June 14 – We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
We Bought a Zoo
When Benjamin Mee decided to uproot his family and move them to an unlikely new home—a dilapidated zoo where more than 200 exotic animals would be their new neighbors—his friends and colleagues thought he was crazy. Mee’s dream was to refurbish the zoo and run it as a family business. The grand reopening was scheduled for spring, but there was much work to be done and none of it easy for the novice zookeepers. Tigers broke loose, money was tight, the staff grew skeptical, and family tensions reached a boiling point.

Then tragedy struck. Katherine, Ben’s wife, had a recurrence of a brain tumor, forcing Benjamin and his two young children to face the heartbreak of illness and the devastating loss of a wife and mother. But inspired by the memory of Katherine and the healing power of the incredible family of animals they had grown to love; Benjamin and his kids resolved to move forward, and today the zoo is a thriving success.

July 12 – The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
The Summer Before the War
East Sussex, 1914. It is the end of England’s brief Edwardian summer, and everyone agrees that the weather has never been so beautiful. Hugh Grange, down from his medical studies, is visiting his Aunt Agatha, who lives with her husband in the small, idyllic coastal town of Rye. Agatha’s husband works in the Foreign Office, and she is certain he will ensure that the recent saber rattling over the Balkans won’t come to anything. And Agatha has more immediate concerns; she has just risked her carefully built reputation by pushing for the appointment of a woman to replace the Latin master.

When Beatrice Nash arrives with one trunk and several large crates of books, it is clear she is significantly more freethinking—and attractive—than anyone believes a Latin teacher should be. For her part, mourning the death of her beloved father, who has left her penniless, Beatrice simply wants to be left alone to pursue her teaching and writing.

But just as Beatrice comes alive to the beauty of the Sussex landscape and the colorful characters who populate Rye, the perfect summer is about to end. For despite Agatha’s reassurances, the unimaginable is coming. Soon the limits of progress, and the old ways, will be tested as this small Sussex town and its inhabitants go to war.

August 9 – Devil in the White City by Eric Larson
Devil in the White City
Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book’s categorization to be sure that ‘The Devil in the White City’ is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham’s challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous “White City” around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair’s incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World’s Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

September 13 – The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker BuckOregon Trail A major bestseller that has been hailed as a “quintessential American story” (Christian Science Monitor), Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail is an epic account of traveling the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way—in a covered wagon with a team of mules—that has captivated readers, critics, and booksellers from coast to coast. Simultaneously a majestic journey across the West, a significant work of history, and a moving personal saga, Buck’s chronicle is a “laugh-out-loud masterpiece” (Willamette Week) that “so ensnares the emotions it becomes a tear-jerker at its close” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) and “will leave you daydreaming and hungry to see this land” (The Boston Globe).
October 11 – Big Wheat by Richard A Thompson
Big Wheat
The summer of 1919 is over, and on the high prairie, a small army of men, women, and machines moves across the land, bringing in the wheat harvest. Custom threshers, steam engineers, bindlestiffs, cooks, camp followers, and hobos join the tide. Prosperous farmers proudly proclaim “Rain follows the plow,” meaning that the bounty of the land will never be exhausted. Everywhere, people gleefully embrace the gospels of progress and greed. The threshing season is on.

But there is also an evil upon the land. A killer who calls himself the Windmill Man believes he has a holy calling to water the newly plucked earth with blood. For him, the moving harvest is a target-rich environment, an endless supply of ready victims. He has been killing for years now and intends to kill for many more. Who could stop him? Nobody even knew he existed. Until now.

A young man named Charlie Krueger also follows the harvest. Jilted by his childhood sweetheart and estranged from his drunkard father, he hopes to find a new life as a steam engineer. But in a newly harvested field in the nearly black Dakota night, he has come upon a strange man digging a grave. And in that moment, he has become the only person who can stop the evil, if he lives long enough. For the killer knows his name and his wanderings, and he, too, is now a target. When next they meet, one of them will have to die.

November 8 – The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb
Tale of Halcycon Crane
When a mysterious letter lands in Hallie James’s mailbox, her life is upended. Hallie was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire decades earlier. But it turns out that her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie’s father have taken her away from Madlyn? What really happened to her family thirty years ago?

In search of answers, Hallie travels to the place where her mother lived, a remote island in the middle of the Great Lakes. The stiff islanders fix her first with icy stares and then unabashed amazement as they recognize why she looks so familiar, and Hallie quickly realizes her family’s dark secrets are enmeshed in the history of this strange place. But not everyone greets her with such a chilly reception―a coffee-shop owner and the family’s lawyer both warm to Hallie, and the possibility of romance blooms. And then there’s the grand Victorian house bequeathed to her―maybe it’s the eerie atmosphere or maybe it’s the prim, elderly maid who used to work for her mother, but Hallie just can’t shake the feeling that strange things are starting to happen…

December 13 – West of the Moon by Margi Preus
West of the Moon
Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.