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The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 (ish) Book Club Books of 2012

March 29, 2013

Top 10 Book Club Books of 2012

O.K. I couldn’t narrow it down to 10, so please just humor me while I talk about my “Darling Dozen”… (Hey, if Oprah could have 19, I guess I can have 12—I mean, what kind of a number is 19?)

Without further ado—here’s this year’s best—according to me—in no particular order. Ok—I lied about that last one—technically it’s in alpha order, within made-up categories…

Family Ties: Family angst—and all the complicated family relationships—give book clubs tons of fodder for a good book discussion. It’s also nice to walk away feeling that our own families are, perhaps, not so bad after all…

12. The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway (8.2.12 PB; 368p; 3.77 GoodReads; 4.5 Amazon)

Gal Garner is that tough science teacher you had in high school. But she doesn’t just teach. She’s also an amateur rose breeder in her spare time and wants to win “Queen of Show” in a major competition someday. Oh, yeah, and she’d like to get a new kidney—this would be her third new kidney—and until this is accomplished she must spend every other night in the hospital undergoing dialysis. So between school, dialysis, and her green house she leads an extremely busy (if structured) life. That is, until her sister ships off her daughter, Riley, to stay with Aunt Gal without warning. How will Gal handle this additional (and most chaotic) responsibility in her life? And who will have the most ‘thorns’?

Aside from the obvious rose-breeding analogies (TLC, Tenacity, Life’s thorns, etc.) the book also introduces such universal themes as: hope, healing, and humanity (with the unique spin on dealing with chronic illness); family dynamics; teenage angst; education; the power of love, and finally, redemption and forgiveness. With great character development, beautiful language, and a plethora of discussable issues, your book club is bound to love this one!

For a more in-depth review, check out my blog post, Hope Blooms Eternal.

Other Awards: Indie Next Pick, August 2012; Pulpwood Queens’ Best Fiction Book of the Year 2012; Women’s Literature Book of the year by The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) 2012

11. Faith, by Jennifer Haigh (1.17.12 PB; 352p; 3.83 Goodreads; 4.5 Amazon)

Like a Jodi Picoult novel, Haigh has ripped her story from sensational newspaper headlines: the priest sexual abuse scandal of 2002, but what she does with it is both very personal and profound. The author leads us to revelation after revelation, going a bit deeper at each turn. It’s a novel that is well-crafted, surprisingly suspenseful, and quite haunting. Aside from the obvious issue of the church controversy, other discussable themes include: truth vs. fact, trust and loyalty; family; loneness; faith and doubt; belief and deception; human nature; vows and commitment; and finally forgiveness and redemption. Book clubs should bring extra wine the night they discuss this—they’ll be there for a while!

Other Awards: A 2012 “Great Group Reads” selection by Women’s National Book Association

10. An Invisible Thread, by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (8.7.12 PB; 272p; 4.04 Goodreads; 4.5 Amazon)

This is the account of an unlikely friendship between Laura Schroff, a successful ad exec, and Maurice Maczyk, an 11-year old panhandler in New York City. It’s Pay it Forward meets The Blind Side—but not in the sappy, schmaltzy way I had imagined. Its candid tone makes the story of how these two people—different in almost every conceivable demographic—came together to help save each other, believable. Very inspiration—and discussable.

Other Awards: 2012 Christopher Award

9. When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood (7.10.12 PB; 256p; 3.94 Goodreads; 4.5 Amazon)

Wood tells the heartbreaking story of herself as a young girl and her family’s struggle to recover from the sudden death of her father. The parallel with her young Catholic family and The Kennedys was striking, and her mother felt a sisterhood in Jackie’s grace as she handled the president’s death as well. There are many discussable themes for book clubs: innocence of the time period vs. the jarring loss the whole nation felt with the violent assassination of our president; family; courage; loss and grief; religion’s role in comforting the sorrowful; dominance of the single industry in a company town; and the multi-cultural nature of this blue-collar community (Irish, Lithuanian, Italian, French, etc.) I love how learning new words helps Monica cope with her loss by giving it a voice and context! I also love how she compares her family to those reads in literature such as Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and Nancy Drew. Book clubs could spend a whole evening discussing The Kennedys alone!

Other Awards: IndieNext pick, August 2012; Oprah Magazine summer-reading list; Radio Boston summer pick; Runner-up for New England Book Festival Award in Autobiography

8. The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown (2.7.12 PB; 368p; 3.39 Goodreads; 4.0 Amazon)

Every family has its own shorthand communication. But the three Andreas sisters—each named by their Shakespearian Professor father for a different Bard heroin—quote from “our boy Bill” to each other instead of just coming and using the King’s English. Each adult sister is attempting to handle her own life crisis, when their mother is diagnosed with Cancer—providing a common purpose for the siblings. Written with grace, humor, and numerous literary references, even Bard-ignorant readers will enjoy this debut novel.

Other Awards: Amazon’s Best Book of the Month: January 2011 ; Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection; Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Long Ago and Far Away: (AKA Historical Fiction) Book Clubs love this genre as you can learn so much about history while enjoying a good story from a unique viewpoint.

7. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian (7.17.12 HC; 320p; 3.85 GoodReads; 4.0 Amazon; Paperback comes out in April)

Whoever heard about the Armenian Genocide, raise your hands. Before reading this novel, my hands would’ve rested firmly in my lap (or more likely picked at the hole in my jeans…) When I met the author at BEA last year, he told me, “This is the book I was born to write.” Which is pretty unusual since the man has 15 titles to his credit so far, and most authors typically tell you, “My books are like my children—and I can’t choose which child I love best.” This got my attention, so I read his novel on my way home from New York. (The flight attendant probably wondered why I kept dabbing my eyes…) Our main heroine, Elizabeth Endicott, travels from upper-crust Boston to 1915 Syria as a volunteer to bring food and medical help to the Armenian refugees from Turkey. She becomes embroiled in their cause and engrossed in the people—eventually falling in love with an Armenian engineer, Armen Petrosian, who has already lost his wife and infant daughter to the slaughter. A second storyline is narrated by their American granddaughter, Laura, who almost a century later investigates her family history. A heart-felt story of love, war and survival; both beautiful and brutal. Be sure to keep tissues nearby.

Other Awards: A BookPage Best Book of 2012; A Kirkus Reviews “Best Fiction Book” of 2012; An “Book of the Week”, July, 2012

6. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (6.12.12 HC; 352p; 3.82 GoodReads; 4.0 Amazon; Paperback comes out in April.)

Combine Mad Men-era Italy, current-day Hollywood, and a remote resort town in Idaho. Then add a beautiful, but unknown actress, a WWII soldier , an Italian Innkeeper, a disillusioned rock singer and a Hollywood Producer. Write beautifully descriptive prose, develop the characters above, while interweaving their plots—and Jess Walter has himself another winner. You will not be able to put this one down!

Other Awards: Barnes and Noble Best Books of 2012; Esquire Magazine’s Book of the Year, 2012; A Kirkus Reviews “Best Fiction Book” of 2012; Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of 2012; Seattle Times Best Fiction Books of 2012; A Kirkus Reviews “Best Fiction Book” of 2012

5. In The Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner (8.7.12 HC; 336 p; 4.09 GoodReads; 4.5 Amazon; paperback releases on June 4)

The forced exodus of millions of Cambodian nationals during the reign of Khmer Rouge in 1975 as told through the eyes of 7-year old Raami, a displaced princess. Based on her true story, this is a fictionalized version of her fight for survival during the four years of chaos and violence that ensued—while her father’s myths and legends served as both her escape and her lifeline. Discussion topics include: struggle for survival; love of family; safety vs. danger; coming of age in an era and place where you cannot count on anything; loss; hope; but the most interesting theme is the power of stories and how the love of the written word helps one transcend both the unbearable and the mundane.

Other Awards: A 2012 Book Expo America Editor’s Buzz Pick; A 2012 “Great Group Reads” selection by Women’s National Book Association; IndieNext Pick, August 2012; A Kirkus Reviews “Best Book” of 2012; Oprah Magazine summer-reading list; People’s Pick by People Magazine; Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

4. The Sandalwood Tree, by Elle Newmark (3.13.12 HC; 368 p; 3.81 Goodreads; 4.5 Amazon)

Two stories of India—set almost a century apart. In the first, young wife, Evie Mitchell, struggles to set up housekeeping with her war-damaged husband, Martin, and their young son, Billy, on the eve of the partition in 1947. The second story involving two unconventional Victorian Englishwomen living in India in 1857, is uncovered by Evie through a packet of letters she finds hidden in her bungalow wall. Family and friendship, love and war, control and flexibility, betrayal and forgiveness, denial and truth, and the power of our stories are predominate themes that give book clubs much to talk about!

Southern Stories: Maybe it’s my Southern roots, or maybe it’s just my style preference, but a deep southern story just warms my heart—and I hope they do yours. Lovers of William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, and Pat Conroy will feel right at home—but even if you consider yourself a “Yankee” or just a California girl like me—this is just plain great writing!

3. The Living End: A Memoir of Forgetting and Forgiving by Robert Leleux (1.17.12 HC; 160 p; 4.05 GoodReads; 5.0 Amazon)

This story highlights the silver lining in the gloomy cloud we know as the debilitating disease, Alzheimer’s. The author writes, “If you can find a way to keep the dignity of the situation and to honor what has occurred, but can also make it funny, I do feel that it is one of humanity’s ways of winning and being victorious over circumstances.” And funny is what this author does best. Part love letter to a strong and stylish Southern woman, this memoir reflects Leleux’s trademark humor, hopefulness, and humanity—in spades. The Living End is not just for those who know someone who has suffered with Alzheimer’s. It’s for all of us who tend to dwell in the past or future. It’s a poignant reminder that the present is all we have. And really—who couldn’t use that?

For a more complete look at this marvelous book, please check out my blog post, Top 10 Things You Can Learn From Reading Robert Leleux’s Latest Memoir, The Living End.

Other Awards: Pulpwood Queens Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year, 2012

2. A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (4.17.12 HC; 336p; 3.89 Goodreads; 4.5 Amazon)

Young brothers, Christopher and Jess Hall seem to always be eavesdropping when they shouldn’t. When they peek inside their parent’s bedroom window one day and discover that’s not their dad who’s enjoying an afternoon delight with their mother, all hell-fire and damnation breaks loose. Although it read a bit like a thriller, the plot doesn’t overtake the development of the characters or the lyricality of the prose.

For a detailed review, please read my previous blog post, A Haunting Southern Charmer

Other Awards: A 2012 “Great Group Reads” selection by Women’s National Book Association; A Kirkus Reviews “Best Book” of 2012; A Library Journal “Best Book” 2012 selection

1. Man in the Blue Moon by Michael Morris (8.15.12 HC; 400p; 3.76 GoodReads; 4.5 Amazon; Paperback releases on August 12)

After reading—and falling in love with—Michael’s Slow Way Home, I was excited to hear about his new release. I was not disappointed.

In the WWI Florida panhandle, Ella Wallace is trying to support her three young boys by running her family store alone after her charming handle-bar-mustached husband abandoned them. And just as the local banker is trying to take over her land, an unexpected visitor arrives with unorthodox ways. A magical, mystical, and mesmerizing story with strong characters and discussable themes such as faith, survival, poverty, love, and forgiveness. This book has everything your book club could want!

Other Awards: Publisher’s Weekly “Best Books of 2012” List; Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review, 2012; Pulpwood Queens Best Fiction Book of the Year, 2012

I hope this list introduces you to some new books that your club has yet to try. And, of course, it works both ways. Please be sure to share with me what books are your favorites from last year that I missed!

Hope you enjoy your family over the weekend—and maybe sneak in a moment to read a good book! Happy Easter!


Related Links:
Top 10 Book Club Cheerleader Book Club Books of 2010
Top 10 Book Club Cheerleader Book Club Books of 2009 (Sorry—you have to scroll WAY down for this one…)

Disclaimer: I received advanced readers copies of some of these books from the publishers for review, however, the opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own. I do not receive any compensation for any feature or recommendation that appears on my website or recommendation I make to my book clubs. I am a member of Amazon Associates program, which means that I get a few pennies if you buy a book using my links. So far, I’ve earned enough to buy a bag of Meow Mix® for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid—so keep your clicks coming—they’d like some Greenies®, too…You can review my entire Book Features & Book Club Recommendation Policy on my website at

Also, the and GoodReads rankings were current at the time of posting, but may have changed by the time you read this.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2013 3:25 pm

    Great list! I really want to read The Sandcastle Girls. I first learned of the Armenian Genocide when I read The Gendarme. So sad that I’d hadn’t heard of it before.

    • April 1, 2013 3:51 pm

      Thanks, Anna. Yes, you DO want to read The Sandcastle Girls. Move it to the top of your TBR—you will LOVE it! It’s a love story even though the backdrop is horrific. One of my book club members said something rather profound when someone else opined that the description of the genocide was perhaps too graphic. She said, “I think it would be a disservice to the memories of those who died if the author had tried to sugar-coat what really happened.” I could not have put it any better. But the juxtapostioning of the love story was genius on Bohjalian’s part. Thanks for stopping in! Cheers!


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