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Snyder: Enjoy Liz's Book Club's readers' picks for 2020
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Snyder: Enjoy Liz's Book Club's readers' picks for 2020


Thanks as always to everyone who sent in suggestions for this year’s Liz’s Book Club.

For our 12th edition, we once again received lots — and lots — of suggestions for good reads, which may especially come in handy this summer, with so many annual events being canceled.

The readers who share their favorite stories report loking forward to a new list of recommendations each summer. Also, they are finding creative ways to stay in touch with fellow reading enthusiasts.

Donna Juzwik tells us, "I am in a book club of eight women who meet monthly. Due to the Safe at Home directive, we met virtually with a glass of wine to stay connected."

Wine and book talk. That sounds like a great way to get through this COVID-19 pandemic together.

Now, dig into some good reads:

  • Donna Burchfield of Pleasant Prairie — a Liz's Book Club veteran member — recommends:

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens: "This is the best book for the year and last year, if you missed it, get it and enjoy," she says of the novel about a young girl who lives alone in a marsh and is the prime suspect in a murder.

"Riding Lessons" by Sara Gruen: "An avid equestrian, Annmarie lived for the thrill or flight atop a strong animal. Then, at 18, a tragic accident destroyed her career and her beloved Harry. Twenty years later, she returns to take care of her father and begins a new life."

"Map of the Heart" by Susan Wiggs: The novel spans oceans and decades, from present-day Delaware to the battlefields of World War II.

"Silent Lady" by Catherine Cookson: In the novel, Burchfield said, "A woman in tattered clothing arrives at a law firm, asking for Mr. Armstrong. They are shocked at her condition. She has been missing for 20 years. Now she wants to see her family."

"Sold on Monday" by Kristina McMorris: "In 1931, a society news writer spots two children sitting on a porch with a sign saying '2 children for sale.' He takes their picture. He returns to their house, and they are gone. He tries to find them so he can rejoin them with their mom. What a great story."

"Code Girls" by Liza Mundy: "Everyone should learn about the dedication and efforts these women put forth during World War II as code breakers," Burchfild said. "You won't find this story in any history books."

  • Judith Leanna tells us, "We have had a lot of time to read during our time at home. Many thanks to the Kenosha Public Library for their efforts to keep us supplied with materials of all sorts during this time. Below are a few of the books I enjoyed. Perhaps you will find one or two you like": "The Great Alone" by Kristin Hannah, the story of a family in Alaska; "The Queen Bee" by Dorothy Benton Frank, "Dreamer's Pool" by Juliet Marillier, "Kingfisher" by Patricia McKillip, "The Book Charmer" by Karen Hawkins, "Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore" by Matthew Sullivan, "The Wednesday Sisters" by Meg White Clayton, "Lies in White Dresses" by Sofia Grant, "The Ten Thousand Doors of January" by Alix E. Harrow, "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn, "The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners" by Luanne Rice, "Running With Sherman, the Donkey with the Heart of a Hero" by Christopher McDougall, "Saving Simon" by Jon Katz (a story of another donkey), "American Duchess" by Karen Harper, "What Rose Forgot" by Nevada Barr, and "Burning Bright" and "The Drifter, " both by Nick Petrie.
  • Karen Stiemsma said, "During these many weeks of shutdown, I have read many books. My two best ‘getting through COVID-19' picks are: 'The Guardians' by John Grisham and 'The Huntress' by Kate Quinn. They eased my mind from the shutdown and brought me into their worlds. Great medicine!"
  • Suzie McMurray tells us about a "wonderful book" she recently read: "Clockwork Angels" by Neil Peart. "The book is a fantasy tale that I absolutely fell in love with," she said. "To read such a story 'at my age' was a treat. The story also illustrates the songs on the album 'Clockwork Angels' by Rush (my favorite band, by the way). The book gives so much more meaning to the songs on the album." Peart, the band Rush's drummer, died in January at age 67 from brain cancer; he wrote the novel with veteran sic-fi author Kevin J Anderson.
  • Bob Cisler, another Book Club regular contributor, starts off with a quote from prolific author David Baldacci. 

"People who read are a lot more tolerant than people who don't" Baldacci said "in one of the seemingly 200 books he has written," Cisler said. "I had never read any Baldacci books until my son sent me two books to read while I was recovering from a sports-related injury. Seems my son knows me well, since the books he sent introduced me to a most interesting character — Amos Decker. I read the first two of the Memory Man series: 'Memory Man' and 'The Last Mile.' Decker played college football at Ohio State and then played briefly for the Cleveland Browns before a devastating blindside hit left him with hyperthymesia, or perfect recall, and synesthesia, meaning his sensory pathways had comingled, meaning he could forget anything and saw things such as numbers in certain colors.

"Decker became a detective after football where his two conditions provide him with significant advantages solving crimes.

"'Memory Man' starts the series and I would recommend starting with that book — an interesting and memorable read.

Cisler found with "the Safer At Home suggestion and the inability to roam around our excellent Kenosha libraries, I fell back on our 'home library' and reread two classic thrillers. 'The Day Of The Jackal' by Frederick Forsyth is a wonderful thriller that details a hired assassin and his plot to murder Charles DeGaulle. The detail, the intricate planning, the calculating mind of the Jackal will convince you that, despite a nationwide manhunt, he will complete his assignment. You are not introduced to Claude Lebel, the best detective in France, until halfway through the book. What I loved about the non-descript policeman was his lack of physical prowess and his lack of arrogance — he is just a good policeman and matches wits with a clever assassin.

"'The Eye of The Needle' by Ken Follet is another highly plausible thriller, about a German spy in London during World War II and his mission to find out where the allies will attack France. 'Die Nadel,' the Needle, uses his stiletto to silence anyone who sees his face and is so clever, so smart that it seems he will complete his mission and tell Hitler that the invasion will take place at Normandy.

"Last, I have often wondered if your readers took advantage of the books suggested by your other loyal readers. So, I decided to read three books that were suggested. I read 'Hillbilly Elegy' by J.D. Vance. What struck me was Vance, pushed by the tough love of a grandmother, was able to escape what he calls the 'social rot' of the environment he grew up in that usually swallows people up and does not let them escape. Vance questions the responsibility of his family and people for their own misfortune. It is a segment of society most us are not familiar with. A revealing read.

"The second recommended book I read was 'Ordinary Grace' by William Kent Krueger. The book captures an era I grew up in, captures the values and mores of that era. It is a murder mystery with well-developed characters that remind you of someone you know and the 'ordinary grace' delivered by many of the characters will linger with you.

"The last of the three suggested books I read was 'Still Life' by Louise Penny. Detective Armaud Gamache is another excellent policeman with a wonderful set of values, yet what I remember most of this wonderful novel were the observations about people made by Penny throughout the book and how those observations fit any decade. Three of my favorites: 'Most of us are great with change as long it was our idea.' 'I think many people love their problems. Gives them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life.' Finally, 'Life is change. If you aren't growing and evolving, you're standing still and the rest of the world is surging ahead.'"

  • Sally Krok's favorite book is another classic: "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. "You can't go wrong with this heartwarming story of love, family and the difficulty of the times," she said. "My son and daughter gave me an illustrated (Louis Jambor) version from 1991. I read it again every so often and will cherish it always."
  • Barbara Blachowicz of Pleasant Prairie sent in two of her favorites: "The Girl from Berlin" by Ronald H. Balson, in which "a present-day lawyer goes to Italy to uncover a World War II land grab," and "The Women in the Castle" by Jessica Shattuck, which Blachowicz describes as "stories of women is post-World War II Germany."
  • Nancy Mathews tells us, "With confinement at home, I've been reading more and 'A Gentleman in Moscow' by Amor Towles was the perfect read for a time of confinement. I also enjoyed reading 'The Last Bathing Beauty' by Amy Sue Nathan and 'When I'm Gone' by Emily Bleeker, which had some similar themes, only being they both take place in Michigan."
  • Barbara Knisley writes to us from Vandalia, Ohio, where she reads the Kenosha News online. A Kenosha native, she moved to Ohio at age 28 and keeps in touch with family and friends here. Her recommendation is "the eight books of the 'Outlander' series by Diana Gabaldon, which came in second in the PBS Great American Read list of best-loved novels. The series has high adventure, history (from mid 18th century Scotland to the American Revolutionary War) plus an ongoing fabulous love story that involves time travel."

The novels, she added, "are great for this time of 'Safer at Home' because each book is over 800 pages long!"

  • Sue Gifford — "I read a lot!" — sent in "a short list of recent favorites": "The last Mrs Parrish" by Liv Constantine, "The Wife Between Us" by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, "The Only Woman in the Room" by Marie Benedict (a novel about the lift of actress Hedy Lamarr) and "If You Tell" by Gregg Olsen.
  • Gail Burgess of Bristol — a Liz’s Book Club regular — said "Back in March, before we were all self-isolating, I read the novel 'The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell,' by Robert Dugoni. In it, we follow the life of Sam Hill, who was born with ocular albinism and is called 'Devil Boy' because of those red eyes. With the help of a mother whose faith is unending and two loyal friends, Sam triumphs over those who mock him and throw challenges in his way.

"I loved the book and then discovered that Dugoni also writes mysteries (my favorite!). So, just as the world around us shut down, I befriended Tracy Crosswhite, Dugoni's homicide detective from Seattle. When I finished the seventh book in the series in Week 6 of self-isolation, I had come to know Tracy and her compatriots quite well. Tracy often works with her lawyer husband Dan, as well as her partners in homicide; they are like one big family. This is important to Tracy because her sister was murdered when Tracy was in college and both parents have died, too. The first book is the series is 'My Sister's Grave.' I recommend reading all seven books in order."

  • Jose Martinez recommends these books: "A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II" by Sonia Purnell, "Alan Ameche: The Story of the Horse" by Dan Manoyan, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" by Heather Morris, "The Dinner Party" by Brenda Janowitz and "Black Dog of Fate: A Memoir" by Peter Balakian.
  • Marie Huml said if readers "want a diversion from war and mystery," they should read "Dear Edward" by Ann Napolitano, a new novel published in January. "The book tells the story of the life of a young boy as the sole survivor of a plane crash," she said. "He travels (no pun intended) through his teen years with struggles attached to the great tragedy in his life. He moves to maturity through sadness and into joy. A sensitive read!"
  • Mike Thompson recommends "a book that has been at the top of the nonfiction best seller lists for many weeks: 'The Splendid and the Vile,' by Erik Larson. I had read a review when it came out and knew I’d be interested, and when I got a chance to buy it at a discount I did, and just in time for sitting safer at home! It essentially covers one year beginning May 10, 1940, the day Winston Churchill is chosen British Prime Minister. Because of the author’s extensive research into personal papers in British archives, diaries, recall of historic conversations, and wherever he could find accurate historical information, the reader feels like a 'fly on the wall,' listening to actual conversations involving the PM, virtually all members of his family, his cabinet ministers and even Londoners and other British who are trying to survive the almost daily bombings of their cities.

"It also includes conversations between Hitler, his Nazi leaders and others on the German side, plus FDR and other involved Americans. If you are interested in living through that harrowing year, this book is wonderful. I should mention that it is not all war strategy; there are plenty of family dynamics involved."

He adds that Larson "also wrote two other books that I either read of listened as audio books and found just as exciting: 'The Devil in the White City' and 'In the Garden of Beasts.' Both are excellent, too."

  • Kathy Brand recommends "The Thirteenth Tale," a gothic suspense novel by Diane Setterfield. "My copy came from my sister-in-law’s book club," he said. "It's a very long book with a spellbinding story that twists and turns. The more I read, I couldn’t put it down because I just had to find out the ending. The ending was totally unexpected to me."
  • Andrea Boudreau sent in her list of 10 of her favorite books. 

Her audio book picks (all available from the Kenosha Public Library and all read by the authors) are:

"My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life" by Ruth Reichl. "Reichl is a former editor of Gourmet magazine who has written several biographies on the subjects of her life and food. She has an amazing voice that brings you to each dish, story and season she described in the book."

"Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service" by actor Gary Sinise, who "writes of growing up in a Northern Chicago suburb and how he ended up creating a non-profit to help military families and first responders. Incredible."

"Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11" by Mitchell Zuckoff. "Everyone should read this or, better yet, listen to it. Zuckoff blends stories with the actual events of 9/11 and the many twists and turns that cost people their life or saved people's lives that day."

Her nonfiction picks are:

"Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope" by Nicholas D. Kristof. "A look at how Americans really live with each other in today's economic times."

"Broken Nek: Finding the Family You Never Knew You Always Wanted" by Katie Albrecht. "Local author (South Milwaukee) writes the true story of her father and his mental illnesses and how it can wreak havoc on an average American family."

"On Two Feet and Wings" by Abbas Kazerooni. This YA novel, she said, "is a true story about a boy who was sent to a foreign country to live at the age of 10 without any immediate family or money. Guardian angels are at work here. He is now a lawyer living in California."

"A Long Way Home" by Saroo Brierley. "The movie Lion starring Dev Patel was based on this book. Again, a guardian angel(s) at work here."

"Miles from Nowhere" by Barbara Savage. "A story of bicycling and traveling and their adventures."

"Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain" by George Mahood. "Funny, funny, funny. A silly journey from one end of Britian to the next." The author bikes across Britain while trying not to spend any money along the way.

Her fiction pick:

"Whistling In the Dark" by Lesley Kagen. "Kagen is an author from Milwaukee and writes some heartfelt stories of young siblings growing up in the Milwaukee area. She writes her characters with great depth and descriptions."

  • Rex Davenport, a fan of crime fiction in frigid climates, recommends "The Chestnut Man" by Soren Sveistrup. "People seem to either love or hate Scandinavian crime fiction," he said. "It tends to be a bit brutal and often centered on the abilities (or failings) of the protagonist — a troubled detective. I've read all of the 'Wallander' novels by Henning Mankell (Sweeden) and the 'Harry Hole' novels of Jo Nesbo (Norway). This book looks like if could be a good Danish series, if it continues with future novels."
  • Sue Smith sent in two lists. On her list this year are historical novels. "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate tells "the story of four siblings kidnapped and put up for adoption by an unscrupulous orphanage." Her other pick is "Lady Clementine" by Marie Benedict, "the fact-based story of Clementine Churchill and her relationship with her husband Winston and World War II." She adds, "I can't wait for the library to reopen to request Marie Benedict's other books, all are about women involved in history."

Smith tell us, "My partner loves history and only does audio books. His picks are: 'Undaunted Courage' by Stephen Ambrose. The story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. 'The Path Between the Seas' by David McCullough, the (very long) and detailed history of the Panama Canal, and 'Wilderness Warrior' by Douglas Brinkley. It is the story of Teddy Roosevelt and the establishment of the national parks and monuments."

  • Colette Kraeuter says "One of my favorite reads this last winter was 'Becoming Mrs. Louis,' written about the wife of the great author C.S. Louis. She herself was an author in her own right. This book is well written. It's a candid and lovely account of her and her endearing as well as captivating husband. Written by Patti Callahan."
  • Peggy Cairo also recommends "The Nickel Boys" and "The Tattooist of Auschwitz," along with "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas (the story, focused on a police shooting, is very timely), "The Lager Queen of Minnesota" by J. Ryan Stradal, "Know My Name: A Memoir" by Chanel Miller, and "Educated" by Tara Westover. She calls this book — which tells the story of the author's struggle to reconcile her desire for education and autonomy with her family's rigid ideology and isolated life — "a real eye-opener for me. I couldn’t put it down."

She adds, "For those who like creepy books, I recommend listening to 'NOS4A2' by Joe Hill. The author is Stephen King’s son, and he included a few homages to his dad’s books. Sometimes the narrator can make or break a book. Kate Mulgrew gets top marks for this one!" The book is also an AMC TV series; the second season starts on June 21.

  • Mary Philips — who moved here three years ago from Illinois — also recommends "Lady Clementine" by Marie Benedict and "good page turners by David Baldacci and by John Grisham." She also enjoyed "Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn, about "what happens when a town forbids the use of varied alphabet characters, and "especially enjoyed the audio version of 'The Dutch House' by Ann Patchett, which is read by Tom Hanks."
  • Gordon Latson — who has "read hundreds and hundreds of books in my 80 years" — says "the one book that stands out always is 'The Pillars of the Earth' by Ken Follett." That 1989 novel, about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge, England, in the middle of the 12th century, was made into an eight-part miniseries in 2010. It was also a 2007 selection in Oprah's Book Club and is the first book in the Kingsbridge Series.
  • Karen Rorek, a former colleague here at the Kenosha News, is busy reading in her retirement. Her book pick is "The Blooding" by Joseph Wambaugh. "It's the true story of the first time a murderer was caught using DNA," she said. "I found it to be a good read."
  • Barb Boldt sent in two suggestions:

"The Book of Lost Friends" by Lisa Wingate. "Set in Louisiana," she said, "this historical fiction work switches between the 1875 post-Civil War Reconstruction Era and the 1987 story of a first-year teacher in a subsidized teaching job in a poor rural school. It is based on and includes excerpts from actual 'Lost Friends' advertisements placed in Southern newspapers by freed slaves searching for their families after emancipation."

"The Giver of Stars" by JoJo Mayes. "Another historical fiction work, this book is set in the mountains of Kentucky during the Depression. As part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling library initiative, the women’s pack horse libraries brought books to families in the mountains who otherwise had no access to reading materials. This book tells of the struggles to begin and gain support for one such library."

  • Belinda A. Ernsting suggests a book that has been a Liz's Book CLub favorite and was made into a 2019 film starring Milo Ventimiglia — "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein.
  • Donna Juzwik's suggestions are:

"Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver, "a story about monarch butterflies."

"The Gown" by Jennifer Robson, a story about the women who made lace and dresses for the queen of England's family.

"Today Will Be Different" by Maria Semple, "a humorous read about motherhood and middle age."

  • Catherine C. Hall tells us: "A novel I enjoyed this last winter was 'Pachinko' by Min Jin Lee. It's a history of a Korean family in Japan through the 20th century. It's the author's second novel, and I enjoyed it much more than her first book, 'Free Food for Millionaires.'" "Pachinko" was a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for fiction for "Pachinko," and Apple TV+ is working on a TV series based on the novel.
  • Anasha A. Lentz of Pleasant Prairie said her recommended books "are all riveting, from start to finish."

Her picks are: Laurie King's series of mystery novels featuring detective Mary Russell, whose mentor (and, later, her partner) is Sherlock Holmes. The famous London detective also shows up in "Sherlock Holmes and the Rule of 9" by Barrie Roberts, in which Holmes teams up with a New York detective who has traveled to London to get to the bottom of the Rule of Nine, and "The Ice Palace Murders" by Larry Millett. In Millett's novel, Holmes is in Minnesota.

Lentz enjoys King's mysteries because "she includes a woman rather than the traditional Watson" in the cases.

Her other fiction picks are: "The God of the Hive" and "The Language of Bees" mysteries, also by Laurie King; "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah," "Bridge Across Forever" and "One," all by Richard Bach; and Douglas Adams' classic sci-fi novels including "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

She finds Dan Millman's books "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" and "The Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior" inspirational and said Mitch Albom's nonfiction books "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "Have a Little Faith" detail "the journey of a noble, fearless man through to the end of life."

She also recommends "Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)" by blogger Jenny Lawson.

  • Robert Wirch — speaking as a reader, not a state senator — recommends "The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present" by David Treuer. The book presents "125 years of Native American history, told by an Ojibwe writer," Wirch said. "There are a lot of fascinating stories in this book."
  • Robert Beiser of Pleasant Prairie recommends "Three Comrades," a 1936 novel by German author Erich Maria Remarque. "Many decades ago, I got a scholarship to go to school in Germany," Beiser tells us. "I didn't speak a word of German, but I was young, foolish and invincible." Forced to learn German quickly, "Three Comrades" was the first book he read in the German language. It tells the story of former World War I German soldiers struggling to survive in post-war Germany. The author himself was a German soldier in World War I and is famous for his 1929 novel "All Quiet on the Western Front." Several of his novels, including "Three Comrades," were made into films.

Beiser is "really not a huge fan of fiction, but some authors possess such experience or firsthand knowledge of the ir works that you just can't put them back on the shelf without completing them." His examples of such works are James Michener's 1963 novel "Caravans" and Ernest Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream," the first of the posthumously published works by the author.

  • Thom Sczygielski of Zion, Ill., a retired Whittier Elementary School teacher and a Liz's Book Club regular contributor, used his time during a 19-hour flight to Australia to read John Grisham's novel "The Guardians," focusing on wrongful convictions and the attempts to overturn them. That's a good use of idle time!

He also recommends: "The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead, which tells the story of two young boys and the social injustices they endure after being arrested in the South; "The One Man" by Andrew Gross, about an intelligence agent who escapes from a concentration camp during World War II and is asked to return to help a famous physicist escape; "The Unknowns" by Patrick O'Donnell, which tells the story of the unknown solider in World War I "and the most decorated heroes who brought him home"; and Grisham's latest novel, "Camino Winds." The book, a sequel to Grisham's "Camino Island," features a murder and a dangerous hurricane.

"Reading to me," Sczygielski said, "is like having a friend, a comfort while we have to stay inside."

  • Jan Mico enjoyed "Mr. Rochester" by Sarah Shoemaker. "I had recently reread 'Jane Eyre,' my favorite book' and came across 'Mr. Rochester.' It was his story starting as a very young boy and goes onward to when he finally has Jane back. It was a perfect companion to 'Jane Eyre,' and I greatly recommend it."
  • Todd Brandes of Twin Lakes recommends Rob Chernow's award-winning "Hamilton" biography but says "my favorite Chernow book is 'Grant' ( a bit more recent publication). And I'll be putting his Rockefeller book on my list, too."

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