Adult Contemporary's Favorite Titles

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Adult Contemporary Book Discussion Group! We've compiled a list of our favorite books over the years. Maybe your book club is looking for recommendations or maybe you are interested in joining our group. We meet every 3rd Monday of the month at 7PM in the Community Room. 

The nightingale by Kristin Hannah

"Viann and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle's father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it's not only the sisters' relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions. Vivid and exquiste in its illumination of a time and place that was filled with great monstrosities, but also great humanity and strength, Kristin Hannah's novel will provoke thought and discussion that will have readers talking long after they turn the last page"--.

Famed aviator and renowned racehorse trainer Beryl Markham is only one of the subjects of McLain's captivating new novel. The other is Kenya, the country that formed the complicated, independent woman whom Markham would become. Like her father who raised her, she falls under the spell of Kenya's lush valleys and distant mountains. Here she nurtures her affinity for animals in the wild and learns to breed and tame the most recalcitrant thoroughbreds. But when war and weather affect life at their farm in Ngoro, Beryl's father pressures the 16-year-old into marrying a much older, financially stable neighbor, setting in motion Markham's long history of fleeing the constraints of relationships that threaten her keen desire to live life on her own terms. Only on the back of a horse, at the wheel of a car, or, later, flying over her beloved -Africa does she feel fully alive and free. Drawing on Markham's own memoir, West with the Night, McLain vividly introduces this enigmatic woman to a new generation of readers. 

Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee's staunchly nationalistic father pins an "I am Chinese" button to his 12-year-old son's shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instantand forbiddenbond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko's story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry's voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry's changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don't repeat those injustices.

The leisure seeker : a novel by Michael Zadoorian

 Ella and John Robina, eightysomethings, take off in their Leisure Seeker RV against the will of their son, daughter, and doctors. Destination Disneyland, via Route 66. Ella has refused further treatment for cancer, and John's Alzheimer's is four years advanced. So they leave the Detroit suburbs and head west. Ella navigates and narrates their trip and their lives while John, who veers from sentience to senility and rage to tenderness, drives. Crumbling, kitschy Route 66 triggers Ella's thoughts. This is a purely character-driven novel, and Ella is a remarkable creation: she's honest, tough, strong, funny, usually in pain, cranky, and frightened. Her narration is matter-of-fact, but laced with snarky one-liners. Having braved Chicago's chaotic Dan Ryan Expressway, she comforts readers: Between the two of us, we are one whole person. John is a distressingly realistic portrait of a person with Alzheimer's; Ella never knows when he'll have a moment of lucidity or fly into a dangerous rage. Her middle-aged children's panicked demands that the couple return home will resonate with any adult who has feared for a parent's well-being. Zadoorian, whose debut novel, Second Hand (2000), was widely praised, has surpassed his initial success. The Leisure Seeker is pretty much like life itself: joyous, painful, funny, moving, tragic, mysterious, and not to be missed.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

It's a good thing young Ike and Bobby Guthrie are close, because they're in for a spell of loss and radical change. Victoria Roubideaux, 17, is too, but she has no sibling to stand beside her during bouts of morning sickness, or when her mother throws her out of the house. Haruf, author of The Tie That Binds (1984), alternates between the Guthrie boys' adventures and Vicky's quest to find a safe place for herself and her baby, but the two story lines soon entwine because all lives converge in the small Colorado town of Holt, which he so adroitly portrays. The Guthrie boys are often on their own after their mother leaves, while their nearly overwhelmed father, Tom, a high-school teacher, is distracted by the threats of a violent student. Vicky goes to Maggie Jones, a colleague of Tom's, for help. Unable to provide her with the sanctuary she needs, Maggie delivers Vicky to the elderly McPheron brothers, farmers as tightly connected as Tom's sons. Vicky revolutionizes their staid lives, and they provide her with her first true home, and the resulting familial love seems to set the entire countryside aglow. Haruf's narrative voice is spare and procedural, and his salt-of-the-earth characters are reticent almost to the point of mannerism until it becomes clear that their terseness is the result of profound shyness and an immensity of feeling. Haruf's unforgettable tale is both emotionally complex and elemental, following, as it so gracefully does, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

America's first daughter by Stephanie Dray

A Founding Father's daughter tells all! At the age of 10, upon the death of her mother, Patsy Jefferson steps into the role of mistress of the house for her father, Thomas. Patsy, our narrator, recounts the story of a man of great contradictions. He proclaims his love for domestic life but is repeatedly drawn to public service and repeatedly fails to manage his great estate, Monticello, losing it after his death to creditors. Then there is the matter of his slaves"Our slave-holding spokesman for freedom," taunts a schoolmate of Patsy's when Jefferson serves as an American envoy in Paris. His hypocrisy includes a long-standing affair with Sally Hemings, who was not only his slave, but his wife's sister. Authors Dray (Daughters of the Nile, 2013, etc.) and Kamoie (Irons in the Fire, 2007) have performed tireless research. Whether it's detailing Patsy's life as a debutante in Paris, where she dances with Lafayette and witnesses the first flickers of the French Revolution, or recounting the world of a Virginia plantation, they've done their homework. Indeed, their fidelity to history can be excessive: so many Virginia cousins, scandals, and disinheritances can weary the reader, especially when the prose takes a sappy turn ("Watching him struggle against undeserved abuse from such a villain made me forgive him, truly"). Patsy marries her cousin Tom Randolph and bears him 11 children while enduring his abuse, but she remains most devoted to maintaining her father's happiness, property, and legacy. 

A man called Ove : a novel by Fredrik Backman

At 59, Ove is a grumble Gus of the first degree. Rules are made to be followed, signs are meant to be obeyed, and don't even get him started about computers and mobile phones. In truth, Ove has been this way his whole life, but he's gotten worse in the last four years since his wife, Sonia, died, taking with her all the color in a world Ove sees as black-and-white. Ove has decided life without Sonia is not worth living and plans to join her in the next world. But a young couple and their two children (a third is on the way) move in next door, his oldest friend and most feared enemy is about to be forcibly removed to a nursing home, and a street-scarred cat insinuates itself into his life. Suddenly, Ove's suicide plans get delayed as he helps solve neighborly crises large and small. Though Ove's dark mission mitigates any treacly upstaging by animals and small children, readers seeking feel-good tales with a message will rave about the rantings of this solitary old man with a singular outlook. If there was an award for Most Charming Book of the Year, this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down.

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family's past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history. Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant's magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe's fateful summer interrupts this delicate detente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband's perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel's shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free.

When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi

"For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living? At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both. 

Add new comment