Maven's December Pick: The Unfinished Gift
In The Unfinished Gift, author Dan Walsh introduces readers to seven-year-old Patrick Collins who finds it difficult to embrace the Christmas spirit after his mother’s recent and untimely death. With his father away at war, Patrick is forced to move into the home of his estranged grandfather, Ian Collins, a man he knows very little about. Years have passed since Ian cut all ties with his family, but his bitterness is rekindled when his grandson, Patrick, arrives at his front door. After the state mails the belongings of Patrick’s mother to the house, Ian uncovers a box of letters that his son had written while serving overseas. The letters bridge a longstanding divide between father and son and force Ian to build a new relationship with Patrick. As grandfather and grandson grapple with their feelings of anger and loss, they learn the power of forgiveness and unwrap the true meaning of Christmas.
Maven's November Pick: Stolen
In the bustle of a Bangkok airport, 16-year-old Gemma catches the stare of a young man with piercing blue eyes. As they exchange a glance, she cannot help but think that she has seen his face before. He follows her into a coffee shop, where they sit and talk. She allows herself to be charmed through conversation, not realizing that in the next few minutes she would be drugged and kidnapped, stolen from her family and taken to the wild Australian outback. When she wakes up, she finds herself stranded in the middle of the desert, miles away from life as she once knew it. But what she sees as a barren wilderness stripped of life, her captor sees just the opposite, and he is intent on introducing her to a new way of living. Over the following days, Gemma uncovers Ty’s true identity and begins to pinpoint his face in the memories of her past. But as the days turn into weeks, not only do her feelings toward the forbidden landscape begin to change but so too do her feelings about Ty.
Maven's October Pick: Water for Elephants
Named a New York Times Bestseller, Water for Elephants allows readers to step inside the Big Top for an unforgettable journey alongside a traveling circus. Main character Jacob Jankowski is a promising student ready to join his father's veterinary practice and follow in his footsteps when tragedy strikes weeks before his final exams. Depressed, confused and ready for a change, Jacob boards a train owned by the "Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth" and escapes into a world of bearded ladies, flying acrobats, miniature clowns and performing elephants. He quickly realizes that the circus is not the fantastical place it seems, but is instead a complex and dangerous society where power rests in the hands of a few and performers are forced to endure miserable working conditions. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the uncertainty of the time sets the stage for Jacob as he cautiously navigates the circus' hidden world and unexpectedly finds love, friendship and himself along the way. Water for Elephants is intended for mature readers.
Maven's September Pick: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts
Neil White, a successful magazine publisher from Mississippi, lived a life of envy. On the surface, he seemed to have it all: a beautiful family, wealth, prestige and respect. But the tenuous house of cards he had built for himself came crashing down after he was convicted of bank fraud and sent to a minimum-security prison in Carville, Louisiana, just outside of Baton Rouge. What White would come to find at Carville would change his life forever. Not only did Carville house federal prisoners, but the converted sugar plantation located on the banks of the Mississippi River was also home to the last leper colony on the U.S. mainland. To White’s surprise, the 130 patients living with “Hansen’s disease” moved about the plantation as they pleased. White’s fears were realized when his kitchen job brought him into close contact with the patients. But when he met Ella, an elderly African-American woman who had lived at Carville for more than 50 years, White’s preconceptions of the patients and his outlook on life slowly began to change.
Maven's August Pick - Mentor: A Memoir
Named one of The Washington Post’s “Best Nonfiction Book of 2010,” Tom Grimes’ Mentor: A Memoir recounts his relationship with friend and fellow author Frank Conroy. Conroy reached literary acclaim with his 1967 memoir Stop-Time and later became the director of the distinguished Iowa Writer’s Workshop (IWW) at the University of Iowa from 1987 until 2005, the same year he passed away from colon cancer. Grimes, a 32-year-old aspiring writer, first meets Conroy in Key West, Florida, in 1989. Although Conroy snubs Grimes at the time, he eventually reads Grimes’ manuscript submission to the IWW and accepts him into the program. The student-teacher acquaintance gradually evolves into a father-son relationship as Conroy takes Grimes under his wing. Grimes’ book retraces the 15-years he knew Conroy, reliving the disappointments they both shared after their respective novels were published, while revealing a genuine account of their writing lifestyles and offering an inside look into writing as both a career and business.
Maven's July Pick: A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun profiles the Youngers, an African-American family living in Southside Chicago during the 1950s. Hailed as a groundbreaking work for its candid portrayal of black life, this three-act play lays bare the hopes and dreams of a lower-class family wanting a better future. Five members of the Younger family, spanning three generations, live together in a cramped apartment space, a space that comes to symbolize their confined aspirations. After receiving a life insurance check following her husband’s death, Lena Younger, A.K.A “Mama,” must decide how to spend the money. While she wishes nothing more than to own a bigger home in a nice neighborhood, her son, Walter Lee, who is hell-bent on becoming financially independent, insists that the money be used to invest in a liquor store, while her college daughter, Beneatha, dreams of studying to become a doctor. The interactions amongst the family provide raw and emotional dialogues that target the desires of every person.
Maven's June Pick: The Solitude of Prime Numbers
In his debut novel, the Solitude of Prime Numbers, Italian author Paolo Giordano parallels the lives of characters Alice and Mattia to a pair of prime numbers, who like their mathematical counterparts, are unable to escape their isolated existence. Giordano refers to his characters as “twin primes.” Just as the number 12 separates primes 11 and 13, so too are Alice and Mattia “alone and lost, close but not close enough to touch each other.” What divide the two characters are traumatic incidents that each endured in childhood. Although the physical scars have healed, the emotional scars still remain, forcing Alice and Mattia to cope with the pain in their own tragic way. The experiences of their pasts have rendered them incapable of expressing their feelings, so they continue on their secluded paths, forever distanced by the invisible barrier they have built for themselves. Giordano’s personal background as a physicist is on full display via his thought-provoking descriptions that are sure to leave readers both confounded and captivated. The Solitude of Prime Numbers is intended for mature readers.
Maven's May Pick: Lord of the Flies
Originally published in 1954, the Lord of the Flies chronicles a group of English schoolboys, whose plane crashes into a deserted island during World War II, leaving them at the mercy of not only the island but also themselves. Author William Golding, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983, lures readers into his story with vivid descriptions and troublesome themes. The boys begin their adventure with sensible logic: they appoint Ralph as chief, build shelters, establish a hunting party and maintain a signal fire. However, the smiles of childhood innocence are quickly replaced with devilled grins when Ralph's counterpart, Jack, challenges his authority and begins a power of struggle for control. Amid the growing conflict, rumors begin to circulate that a wild beast is loose on the island, stoking fear amongst the boys that they are not alone. Order quickly slips into chaos as Jack breaks his allegiance to Ralph and forms a splinter tribe of painted savages, whose blood lust for killing moves from the island's wild pigs to something much more sinister.
Maven's April Pick: Heaven if for Real
Heaven Is for Real is the true story of Colton Burpo, the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who slipped out of consciousness and entered heaven during an emergency appendectomy in 2003. Colton’s parents didn't know what to believe at first, but soon the evidence was clear. Their son’s story was authenticated when Colton described what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital while he was undergoing surgery. Over the next few years, Colton offered details of his visit to heaven, explaining that he met his miscarried sister, whom his parents had never told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before he was born. With disarming innocence and the plainspoken boldness of a child, Colton reports that everyone receives a pair of wings when they enter heaven, no one grows old and that God is really big.Retold by his father, but using Colton’s uniquely simple words, the book’s central message is that heaven is a real place.
Maven's March Pick: Blacklands
Author Belinda Bauer’s debut novel, Blacklands, is a psychological crime thriller that pits 12-year-old Steven Lamb against middle-aged serial killer Arnold Avery. Lamb lives with his mother, grandmother and brother in the small English town of Shipcolt, while Avery is confined to Longmoor prison after being convicted of six counts of murder. The local Shipcolt community is convinced that Lamb’s uncle, Billy, who mysteriously disappeared 18 years prior, was another of Avery’s victims. However, Lamb’s grandmother refuses to believe that Billy is dead, and every day she waits by the front window for her son to return. Determined to put the past behind him and bring his family closure, Lamb spends his free time digging in the desolate moor near his home, the very same location where Avery admitted to burying the bodies of his other victims. As Lamb grows more desperate in his quest to unearth his uncle's remains, he decides to up the ante by writing a cryptic message to Avery in prison, which leads to a chain reaction of unsettling events. Blacklands in intended for mature readers.
Maven's February Pick: First They Killed My Father
Luong Ung was five years old when the Khmer Rouge Communist Party seized control of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, on April 17, 1975. Prior to this date, Ung and her seven siblings lived a life of privilege as the children of a high-ranking government official, but life as they knew it would soon change forever. The urban lifestyle the family had grown accustomed was quickly replaced with countryside servitude at the hands of their oppressors. Forced labor, starvation and barbaric executions were a constant threat, making the family rely on one other for strength amid the rolling tragedy. Ung’s parents were eventually murdered after information surfaced of their former life in Phnom Penh, but Ung escaped to a camp for orphans where she was trained as a child solider. Only after the Vietnamese army defeated the Khmer Rouge was she eventually reunited with her surviving siblings and given a second chance at life. Ung is now the national spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World.
Maven's January Pick: The Imperfectionists
Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists, details the interactions of staff members working for an international English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter introduces readers to a different character, providing keen insight into the chaotic activities of a daily publication from multiple angles. As the Internet revolution unfolds and new information outlets emerge, the newspaper and its employees must find a way to adapt to the rapidly changing media landscape. From the down-and-out Paris correspondent struggling to stay afloat, to the embattled editor-in-chief fighting for additional resources, to the withdrawn publisher unwilling to take decisive action to sustain his family’s failing business, Rachman masterfully intertwines each character’s personal story via the newspaper’s common thread. The intersecting dramas that unfold are often more intriguing than the newspaper’s own headlines, and the same way readers are sucked into a compelling article, they will be equally captivated when flipping through the pages of The Impefectionists.