Book Discussion in a Bag
Check out Portage District Library’s Book Discussion in a Bag kits. In each bag, you will find ten copies of a book title, an author bio, book reviews, discussion questions, and further reading all ready for you to sign them out to book group members and dig into a rousing discussion.
Attention Book Groups!
Book Discussion in a Bag kits may be checked out at the Adult Information Desk for six weeks. No more than one kit at a time may be checked out to an individual. Kits may be reserved but not renewed. Borrowers will be charged $1.00 a day for an overdue kit. The entire kit must be returned on the due date. The person who checks out a Book Discussion in a Bag kit is financially responsible for returning the entire kit. Kits include a sign-up sheet to help borrowers keep track of the books.
Please let us know what your book group is reading, so we can provide your members with the titles you are discussing. Library staff also has resources that list recommended book group titles and we’d love to share your favorites with other book groups.
For more information, call the Adult Reference Desk at 329-4542 ext 600 to find out more about Book Discussion in a Bag.
h2. Book list
Portage District Library’s
Book Discussion in a Bag
All Over but the Shoutin’ (memoir) by Rick Bragg
This is the moving account of one man’s determination to rewrite his family history and to carve out a life for himself based on the strength of his mother’s encouragement and belief. Rick Bragg was born in the pinewoods of Alabama to a mean-tempered, hard-drinking, mostly absent father and a strong-willed, loving mother, who struggled to protect her sons from the effects of poverty and ignorance.
Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age (nonfiction / 2004 National Book Award Winner) by Kevin Boyle
In 1925, Detroit was a smoky swirl of jazz and speakeasies, assembly lines and fistfights. The advent of automobiles had brought workers from around the globe to compete for manufacturing jobs, and tensions often flared with the KKK in ascendance and violence rising. Ossian Sweet, a proud Negro doctor-grandson of a slave-had made the long climb from the ghetto to a home of his own in a previously all-white neighborhood. Yet just after his arrival, a mob gathered outside his house; suddenly, shots rang out: Sweet, or one of his defenders, had accidentally killed one of the whites threatening their lives and homes. And so it began-a chain of events that brought America’s greatest attorney, Clarence Darrow, into the fray and transformed Sweet into a controversial symbol of equality. (description from the book jacket)
Cleopatra, a Life (biography) by Stacy Schiff
Goddess at birth, queen at 18, by 21 Cleopatra had weathered a civil war and had a son with Julius Caesar; at 29 she bore Marc Antony twins; by 35 she had acquired an eastern Mediterranean empire including Cyprus, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and coastal Turkey. Schiff has produced a highly literary, imaginative, coherent narrative, “restoring context” to the scant sources available on Cleopatra.
The Crows (mystery) by Maris Soule local writer
Described by some as a psychological cozy, The Crows is part mystery, part suspense. Wry humor is combined with fast paced events giving the reader a view of life in a rural Michigan farming community. Follow P.J., a C.P.A who discovers a man dying in her dining room after coming home from an afternoon walk in the woods, as she learns that what appears to be true could be deceiving.
Daughter of Time (historical mystery) by Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey’s intriguing mystery starts with her hero, Inspector Grant, stuck in the hospital with a broken leg. Bored to distraction, he turns to studying faces in historical portraits; and without knowing who he is, he classifies Richard III as a man conscience and integrity. Irked that he has misjudged one of the most notorious murderers in history, Grant starts to read everything he can get his hands on about the original “wicked uncle.” Yet the more he learns, the more he begins to wonder: Could the history books be wrong?
Einstein’s God (nonfiction) by Krista Tippett
Both science and religion are set to animate the twenty-first century with new vigor. This will happen whether their practitioners are in dialogue or not. But the dialogue that is possible—and that has developed organically, below the journalistic and political radar—is mutually illuminating and lush with promise. This book is a conversational introduction to interplay between scientific and religious questions—not as argued, but as lived.
Home Safe (fiction) by Elizabeth Berg
Love, work and the absence of both figure prominently in Berg’s latest, a rumination on loss and replenishment. Since novelist Helen’s husband, Dan, died a year ago, she’s been unable to write, and though her publisher and agent aren’t worried, she is, particularly after a disastrous performance at a public speaking engagement leaves her wondering if her writing career will be another permanent loss. Meanwhile, daughter Tessa is getting impatient as Helen smothers her with awkward motherly affection. Then Helen discovers Dan had withdrawn a huge chunk of their retirement money, and Helen’s quest to find out what happened turns into a journey of self-discovery and hard-won healing.
Into the Beautiful North (fiction) by Luis Roberto Urrea
Nineteen year old Nayeli works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US to find work. Recently, it has dawned on her that he isn’t the only man who has left town. They have all gone north. After watching Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the banditos who plan on taking over. Movie tie-in: Magnificent Seven
Kitchen House (fiction) by Kathleen Grissom
In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk. The Kitchen House is a tragic story of page-turning suspense, exploring the meaning of family, where love and loyalty prevail.
Language of Flowers (fiction) by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Language of Flowers is a mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written modern fairy tale. This novel, beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable young woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.
Little Bee (fiction) by Chris Cleave
A young girl (who has taken the name Little Bee) and her sister have fled from one of these villages and soldiers are tracking them down. It is on the beach that the African girls cross paths with Sarah and Andrew…and horror unfolds. Little Bee is a book about two women who unexpectedly find each other through tragedy. It is their stories, told in alternating points of view, which drive the narrative of the novel and reveal the underlying inhumanity of the refugee and asylum system in England.
Lord of Misrule (fiction / 2010 National Book Award Winner) by Jaimy Gordon local writer
Gordon, a creative writing professor at Western Michigan University, worked as a groom and a hot-walker (someone who walks horses after races to cool them down) at a track in West Virginia in the 1970s. Her novel is set in that era, at a fictional track called Indian Mounds, where mediocre horses and washed-up champions—“tragic and beautiful” alike—run for their lives. The novel is notable for its narrative and vivid, marginalized characters which have captured the language and life of the racetrack.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (fiction) by Helen Simonson
After the death of his brother, Bertie, the major finds himself unexpectedly unmoored. He strikes up a friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed local shopkeeper, and they bond over Kipling and the loss of their spouses. Mrs. Ali is a lady of quiet thoughtfulness and innate dignity—whose tweedy neighbors don’t even see her because she is Pakistani and runs a shop. Amid the gentility and good breeding of village life lurks intense scrutiny and judgment. Villagers turn their attention to race relations and the result is ripe for satire. With her dry wit and incisive descriptions, Simonson skewers village life as surely as Austen satirized the 19th century.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (memoir) by Rhoda Janzen local author
Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her brilliant husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on Gay.com, but that same week a car accident left her with serious injuries. Rhoda packed her bags and went home. This wasn’t just any home, though. This was a Mennonite home. While Rhoda had long ventured out on her own spiritual path, the conservative community welcomed her back with open arms and offbeat advice. this safe place that Rhoda can come to terms with her failed marriage; her desire, as a young woman, to leave her sheltered world behind; and the choices that both freed and entrapped her. (description from the book jacket)
Once Upon a River (fiction) by Bonnie Jo Campbell, award-winning local writer
Margo Crane, a sixteen-year-old sharpshooting beauty is the heroine of this Michigan river odyssey. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo’s childhood paradise is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Bonnie Jo’s American Salvage was nominated for the 2010 National Book Award.
Pomegranate Soup: A Novel (fiction) by Marsha Mehran
The Irish hamlet of Ballinacroagh is the unlikely new home for three Iranian sisters and their new Babylon Cafe. Twenty-seven-year-old Marjan, the most skilled in the kitchen; Bahar, the tentative middle sister; and Layla, the charming teenager, fled the Iranian revolution and, after some years in London, have arrived determined to succeed. Initially wary natives soon fall under the spell of the cafe’s cardamom- and rosewater-scented wonders, But town bully Thomas McGuire, who loathes “feckin’ foreigners,” and gossip Dervla Quigley, who thinks “they’re all sluts,” will do anything to drive the sisters away.
Q Road (fiction) by Bonnie Jo Campbell award-winning local writer
A farm in rural Kalamazoo County, Mich., provides the backdrop for this May-December love story. Rachel Crane, a homely, motherless, foul-mouthed teenager, lives on a houseboat with her reclusive mother, Margo. They are tenants of George Harland, whose wife abandoned him to maintain his declining farm alone. George becomes irresistibly drawn to Rachel and asks her to marry him; she accepts, but just so she can inherit “his damned land.” Only when her young friend David’s life is imperiled, does Rachel begin to allow herself to feel genuine love for anything but the land.
The Queen of Palmyra (fiction) by Minrose Gwin
In the turbulent southern summer of 1963, Millwood’s white population steers clear of “Shake Rag,” the black section of town. Florence Forrest is one of the few who crosses the line. The daughter of a burial insurance salesman with dark secrets and the town’s “cake lady,” whose backcountry bootleg runs are an escape from a brutal marriage, Florence attaches herself to her grandparents’ maid, Zenie Johnson. Named for Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Zenie treats the unwanted girl as just another chore, while telling her stories of the legendary queen’s courage and cunning. The more time Florence spends in Shake Rag, the more she recognizes how completely race divides her town, bearing witness to the brutality of her times —- a truth brought to a shattering conclusion when Zenie’s vibrant college-student niece, Eva Greene, arrives that fateful Mississippi summer. (revised from ReadingGroupGuides.com)
Remarkable Creatures (historical fiction) by Tracy Chevalier
Remarkable Creatures is a riveting novel about the real life Mary Anning, who was considered the greatest fossil-hunter ever and Elizabeth Philpot whose fossil fish collection ended up in Oxford. In 1811 when she was 12 (Darwin was two) Mary’s first big find, a “crocodile” later named ichthyosaurus, rocked the scientific world. She later unearthed a plesiosaurus, a pterodactyl and a squaloraja (a transition fish, between sharks and rays). This novel spotlights the limited rights of women in society in general and science specifically. It is the story of a friendship between two women who were indirectly responsible for several male careers and insights including Darwin’s.
Room (fiction) by Emma Donoghue
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough so she devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck.
Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt: A Novel (fiction) by Beth Hoffman
In 1967 CeeCee, a sweet and smart pre-teen, is living in the only home she has ever known, in Willoughby, Ohio, with her mentally ill mother, Camille, and her often absentee father. When Camille is no longer able to care for CeeCee the young girl is brought to Savannah to live with her Aunt Tootie entering a world right with colorful characters and the textures of women’s relationships. CeeCee is welcomed into the world of wise and strong women who teach her about humor, humility, wisdom and perseverance.
South of Superior (fiction) by Ellen Airgood
When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she isn’t prepared for how much her life will change. As Madeline begins to experience the ways of the small, tight-knit town, she is drawn into the lives and dramas of its residents. It’s a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but friendship, community, and compassion run deeper.
The Space Between Us (fiction) by Thrity Umrigar
Sera Dubash is an upper-middle-class Parsi housewife. She lives a privileged life in an affluent Mumbai household with her happily married daughter and son-in-law. Bhima Gopal is Sera’s servant. She is old, poor, tired. Each morning she leaves her mud-floored hut in the squalid slum where she lives to cook and clean at Sera’s house. Bhima polishes furniture she is forbidden to sit on and washes cups she may not use. In spite of these differences their lives have many parallels. Both have watched “the bloom fade from their marriages”, both have supported one another in times of hardship, and both have pinned their future happiness on the younger generation, a dream that splinters when their loyalty to their families and to each other is cruelly tested.
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner (memoir) by Bich Minh Nguyen
The author and her family fled Saigon by ship on April 29, 1975, the very day Saigon fell to the Communists. Bich’s mother was not at home when the family made their hurried motorbike trip down to the docks, and she was left behind. Eight-month-old Bich, Ahn, their father, Noi, and three uncles arrived in America and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, along with 4,000 other Vietnamese refugees. This is the story of a young girl living in several conflicting worlds at once. Her home life consisted of Vietnamese foods, language and customs, while the outside world was fast-paced, foreign and fascinating.
Submission (historical fiction) by Amy Waldman
This provocative historical novel begins with a jury gathered in Manhattan after the 9/11 Islamic terrorist attack in New York to choose a memorial for the victims of the devastating attack. After tense deliberations, they select the Garden, which features trees both living and made from salvaged steel. Then the jury discovers that the anonymous architect who created the winning design is an American Muslim. Ron Charles of the Washington Post calls this novel “[A] coherent, timely and fascinating examination of a grieving America’s relationship with itself.”
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (mystery) by Alan Bradley
In his wickedly brilliant first novel Alan Bradley introduces eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.
Unquiet Bones (mystery) by Mel Starr local writer
The main character of this medieval novel, Hugh de Singelton, is a younger son who managed to get through University and then train as a surgeon. Shortly after taking a position in the town of Bampton a body is found, and de Singleton is pulled into investigating the murderer. His journeys (both metaphysical and on a plodding old horse) take him to every class level in his society. The plot is rich in history and suspense. We see the fascinating medieval landscape of vermin infected village inns and learn what was known of medicine at the time.
Year of Wonders (fiction) by Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders describes the 17th-century plague that is carried from London to a small Derbyshire village by an itinerant tailor. As villagers begin, one by one, to die, the rest face a choice: do they flee their village in hope of outrunning the plague or do they stay? The rector, Michael Mompellion, argues forcefully that the villagers should stay put, isolate themselves from neighboring towns and villages, and prevent the contagion from spreading. His oratory wins the day and the village turns in on itself. Cocooned from the outside world and ravaged by the disease, its inhabitants struggle to retain their humanity in the face of the disaster.