by Hally Joseph, contributor
We are almost two months into 2013; how many resolutions have you kept? If “start a book club” is one of your resolutions, look no further than these five books to get you started. From a chef’s memoir to a vampire virus, a swamp theme park to a murderous marriage, these well-written tomes are sure to trigger discussion long after the last page.
“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)
Nothing starts off a book club better than a book about books. In this sprawling story, young Daniel Sempere finds a rare novel by author Julian Carax and sets out to discover the truth behind the rumors: why have all other novels by Julian Carax been burned? Why does danger follower Daniel when he seeks an answer? Ruiz Zafón’s enchanting “The Shadow of the Wind” showcases Barcelona in 1945 and takes readers on a suspenseful adventure of hidden libraries, forgotten people and covered-up family secrets. Michael Dirda of The Washington Post called it, “Scary, erotic, touching, tragic and thrilling.”
“Swamplandia!” By Karen Russell (2011)
This haunting and funny swamp mystery follows the Bigtree family, who live on a Florida island and theme park called Swamplandia! Ava, the 13-year-old narrator, unfolds the story in endearing, comic style, from her descriptions of alligator wrestling to her aversion to mainland life. When Ava’s mother falls terminally ill and a mainland theme park called the World of Darkness starts stealing all of Swamplandia’s visitors, each member of the Bigtree family goes on a quest to save their home. Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, this debut by Karen Russell garnered mass critical acclaim for being eerie, charming and beautifully written. Author Carl Hiaasen wrote, “I was dazzled.”
“The Passage” by Justin Cronin (2010)
In an era of sparkly, love triangle, synthetic blood-drinking vampires, Cronin’s “The Passage” recalls the original shiver of readers first meeting Dracula. This epic post-apocalyptic tale about a virus that destroys human civilization as we know it follows the story of Amy, the girl who may be the key to survival. Complex and dark, “The Passage” is a modern thrill ride. For those who catch this literary virus, have no fear: the second installment of the trilogy, “The Twelve”, was released in fall 2012. Stephen King called it, “Enthralling.”
“Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson (2012)
For fans of nonfiction, this memoir of James Beard award-winning chef and Chopped judge, Marcus Samuelsson, is an incredible telling of growing up Ethiopian in Sweden, choosing cooking over soccer as a young man, and coming to New York City to conquer food culture in the United States. With a clear voice and captivating honesty, Samuelsson recounts how he got to where he is and it is a delight going on the journey with him. Bonus: when he describes certain recipes, you’ll want to rip the page out and eat it. “Marcus Samuelsson tells a story that reaches past racial and national divides to the foundations of family, hope, and downright good food,” said former President Bill Clinton.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn (2012)
Odds are this is not the first time you’ve read the title “Gone Girl”. This suspense novel topped charts, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list. When Nick’s wife, Amy, disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, unraveling this case of unreliable narrators becomes a dark foray into a marriage gone very, very wrong. “Gone Girl” is told from the alternating points of view of Nick and Amy, leaving the reader guessing up until the very end. Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it “Ice-pick-sharp.”