Books Etc.

Amanda's Book Club Selections

Breathless by Amy McCulloch (Anchor), adventure/thriller
Struggling journalist Cecily Wong gives up everything to climb Manaslu, the 8th highest peak in the world, for a career-making article. She ends up fighting the elements, a treacherous terrain, and an elusive killer, her chances for survival slim. McCulloch, who climbed Manaslu in 2019, created an atmospheric novel that transports the reader into the hazardous world of mountaineering.

Riddle Child by Annelie Botes (Penguin), literary mystery
Botes's spellbinding mystery tells of two women caught in a homicide investigation in South Africa, their friendship transcending race, age, religion, and socio-economic status. Autism (ASD) refers to an immensely wide range of conditions and affects an estimated 1 in 60 children in the USA. This novel captures in vivid detail one family's life with a boy suffering from the most severe form - perhaps the best depiction in fiction of severe autism and its impact.

The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and Obsession by Michael Finkel (Knopf), true crime
Based on a series of exclusive interviews, this bestseller provides insights into the mind and crimes of Stephane Breitwieser, "the world's most prolific art thief," who stole not for money but love of art.

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak (Bloomsbury), history
Two powerful queens of the 6th century in what is now France, heroic Brunhild and horrific Fredegund, fought a decades-long civil war against each other, their lives largely forgotten because of attempts to erase their historic importance. This riveting, well-researched book reveals the brutality and ever-present conspiracies and betrayals of that era and warns against destroying and rewriting history. The ending stunned me.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (Simon & Schuster), family memoir
China's turbulent history comes to life through the lives of three generations of women: Jung's grandmother, a concubine with bound feet; her mother, a true believer in Communism; and Jung, a member of the Red Guard who worshipped Mao until she realized that Maoism was destroying China.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (Knopf), true crime
The meteoric rise and shocking fall of the biotech company Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes make for a chilling read. Jennifer Lawrence will star in the movie based on this book.

​​Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots by Nancy Goldstone (Little, Brown and Company), history
Set in the 17th century, Goldstone follows the lives of Elizabeth Stuart and her four daughters and describes the tumultuous times that included the Thirty Years' War and English Civil War.

Walk Through Fire: The Train Disaster That Change America by Yasmine A. Ali, MD (Citadel Press), history
Dr. Ali brings to life the story of the 1978 freight train derailment that killed 16 people and injured hundreds, its devastating impact on Waverly, Tennessee still felt, and how this disaster led to changes in safety regulations and emergency response and led to the formation of FEMA.

Curveball: Spies, Lies, and the Con Man Who Caused a War by Bob Drogin (Random House), history
The book answers questions as to what led to the Iraq War and how and why was America's intelligence so catastrophically wrong. It reveals intrigue, incompetence, and dishonesty at the highest levels of our government.

Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn McCrumb (Atria Books), historical fiction
The resilient Ellendor Robbins faces challenges in her marriage, the Great Depression, then widowhood, and tackling the job of sheriff, always accepting the truth no matter how painful. In this critically acclaimed novel, Sharyn McCrumb presents memorable characters and a vivid picture of life in eastern Tennessee in 1936, interweaving themes of honor, betrayal, revenge, self-reliance, and "prayers the devil answers." The story was inspired by a Kentucky widow, who as sheriff oversaw in 1936 the last public hanging in the USA.

1984 by George Orwell (several publishers), dystopian thriller
This classic was originally published in 1949 and remains popular, even making bestseller lists. It tells of a society where "Big Brother is watching you," wars are promoted, and Newspeak is used to limit freedom of thought and control people.

​Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Addiction by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury Press), sociology
Quinones tells of the horrific devastation caused by OxyContin and black tar heroin, destroying children, families, and entire communities across the country. Yet a "conspiracy of silence" surrounds black tar heroin and its dealers, the Xalisco Boys. Winner of National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. Quinones's The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, the best true-crime book of 2021, is an excellent choice for book clubs.

Gold of Our Fathers by Kwei Quartey (Soho Crime), mystery
Chief Inspector Darko Dawson of the Ghana Police Service is temporarily transferred from Accra to the Ashanti region, an area attracting thousands of illegal gold miners from China. His investigation of the murder of one of these miners exposes the damage they unleash upon Ghana. They lay waste the country's scenic areas, deplete its gold resources, and fuel crime and corruption, their tentacles reaching to the highest level of government. It sends the message: Greed destroys.

At Any Cost: A Father's Betrayal, a Wife's Murder, and a Ten-Year War for Justice by Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar (St. Martin's Press), true crime
Shele Danishefsky was beautiful and wealthy with an illustrious Wall Street career and two children she loved. And she had a husband from hell. Her death was declared an accident, but not everybody agreed. It took ten years to untangle this tale of greed, obsession, bizarre manipulation, and murder. One true crime fan said, "It's the best true crime book of 2021."

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo, translated by Lowell Bair (Bantam), historical fiction
This powerful and fascinating classic, set in 1793 as the French Revolution rages, is Victor Hugo's last novel, and some consider it one of his best works. Like Hugo's other novels, it contains one overdone descriptive section. It has been assigned in Sociology Through Fiction and select history courses. (The quality of the English versions varies by translation, and some e-books have been criticized for excessive typos.)

Aria for Murder: A Julia Kogan Mystery by Erica Miner (Level Best Books), cozy
Julia Kogan, a young violinist at the Metropolitan Opera, inserts herself into the investigation of her mentor's murder and becomes the killer's target. Erica Minor, a violinist with the met for 21 years, presents fascinating insights about intrigues at the opera house in this engaging mystery.

Death of the Mantis by Michael Stanley (Harper Perennial), mystery
Detective Kubu is lured into a deadly trap as he tries to expose a killer. The story provides insights into the remarkable Bushman society and reveals efforts driven by racism and greed to destroy their way of life. A major theme depicts the damage caused to individuals caught between two incompatible cultures. This memorable, critically acclaimed read won the Barry Award and was a finalist for the Anthony and Edgar Awards.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (Ecco), historical fiction
Born in 1915, the strong-willed Stella Fortuna marches to the beat of a different drummer as she fights to control her destiny in her Calabrian village and later in an Italian-American community in Connecticut. This critically acclaimed novel tackles the theme of good versus evil as personified by Stella's parents, and it earns top scores for originality. Juliet Grames received MWA's 2022 Ellery Queen Award, and her second novel, The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia, is forthcoming.

A Dream of Death: A Kate Hamilton Mystery by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane), mystery
When her late husband's sister begs her for help, Kate Hamilton, an antique dealer from Ohio, flies to Scotland and becomes entangled in a sinister murder case. This riveting cozy is the first in a series and includes fascinating historical inserts. The fifth book, A Collection of Lies, will be published on June 18, 2024.

Evil Games by Angela Marsons (Bookouture), thriller
D.I. Kim Stone has in her crosshairs Leonard Dunn, a pedophile, and Dr. Alex Thorne, whose experiments with symbolic role-playing produce devastating results. This riveting read provides insights into sociopathy and reminds me of the real-life Dr. Pamela Buchbinder, Todd Garton, and others who have manipulated innocent people to commit heinous acts. I am looking forward to reading the latest book in this series, Guilty Mothers, to be published on May 30, 2024.

Best Revenge Stories: Novels, Plays & True Crime
The Absolution by Yrsa Sigurdardóttier
Alex by Pierre Lemaitre
Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas
Every Breath You Take: A True Story of Obsession, Revenge, and Murder by Ann Rule
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Gone Girl​ by Gillian Flynn
Gunnar's Daughter​ by Sigrid Unset
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
The Iliad by Homer
The Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie​
The Reckoning by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
The Revenant by Michael Punke
The Shanghai Gesture by John Colton
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Toxic Love: The Shocking True Story of the First Murder by Cancer​ by Thomás Guillén
True Grit by Charles Portis
The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb
Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan & Betty Broderick​ by Stella Stumbo
Wuthering Heights ​by Emily Brontë

Best Crime/Mystery Novel
And Then There Were None 
by Agatha Christie has sold more copies that any other mystery and has been included in nearly all best mystery lists. For a list of top 20 best mysteries ever, see FAQ page.

Books for Young Readers, Grades 2 & Up
The following are some of the many books that have inspired youngsters:
Anne of Green Gables​ by L. M. Montgomery, continues to be popular.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, appears on the list of the biggest best-sellers of all time.
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, chosen one of America's top 100 most-loved novels.
Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester, an Edgar Award nominee​.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, part of the nine-book "Little House" series.
Little Women by Louisa Mary Alcott, a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age novel.
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, the most popular fantasy novel ever.
Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery.
The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas, my favorite book in junior high school.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the most dramatized novels.
Where the Red Fern Grows​ by Wilson Rawls, a timeless classic about a boy and his dogs.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio, the book that inspired the Choose Kind Movement.

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"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." - Joseph Addison