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Seventeen must-read books of spring 2012

Great new books of spring 2012

Tired of scouring the banal titles and worn spines on your bookshelf for your next book club read?

Here are 17 carefully selected fresh new books  —  spanning the genres of literary fiction, memoir and short stories  —  that will infuse your next book club discussion with excitement and energy.

This expansive collection of stories encompasses everything from ancient Greece to 20th-century North Korea, from a lone sojourn in the Mojave desert to a Harvard class reunion, from 1960s hippie culture to post-9/11 terrorism, from the brutal realities of war to the mystical and supernatural.

Listings are accompanied by summaries culled from publisher descriptions and author websites, along with links to the official reading group guides, where available.

  “Carry the One,” by Carol Anshaw“Carry the One,” by Carol Anshaw

“Carry the One” begins in the hours following Carmen’s wedding reception, when a car filled with stoned, drunk and sleepy guests accidentally hits and kills a girl on a dark country road. For the next 25 years, those involved, including Carmen and her brother and sister, craft their lives in response to this single tragic moment. As they seek redemption through addiction, social justice and art, Anshaw’s characters show how one life affects another and how those who thrive and those who self-destruct are closer to each other than we’d expect.

View the “Carry the One” reading group guide.

 

“No One Is Here Except All of Us,” by Ramona Ausubel“No One Is Here Except All of Us,” by Ramona Ausubel

In 1939, the families in a remote Jewish village in Romania feel the war close in on them.  With danger imminent in every direction, the village tries to save itself through sheer force of imagination. At the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl, the community reinvents the world: denying any relationship with the known, forgetting time and history, and starting over from scratch. Ausubel’s debut novel is an imaginative, inspiring story about the bigness of being alive as an individual, as a member of a tribe and as a participant in history.

View the “No One Is Here” reading group guide.
 

“The O’Briens” by Peter Behrens“The O’Briens” by Peter Behrens

Spanning half a century, two wars and the Great Depression, “The O’Briens” continues the family saga begun in Behrens’ award-winning debut novel, “The Law of Dreams,” picking up with Fergus O’Brien’s grandson Joe. A backwoods boy turned railroad magnate, Joe is a self-made man who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling riches and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century. When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in California, the story of their courtship, marriage, and eventual parenthood unfolds. “The O’Briens” is the captivating story of a patriach, a marriage, a family, and ultimately, a whole clan whose roots grow from the history of Irish sorrow.

 

“Perla,” by Carolina De Robertis“Perla,” by Carolina De Robertis

De Robertis’ new novel tells the story of Perla Correa, a young woman coming of age in the newly-restored democracy of Argentina while keeping a dark family secret. In a country still reeling from the abuses perpetrated during the Dirty War, Perla understands that her naval officer father was on the wrong side of the conflict. Perla’s dark history becomes unavoidable when an uninvited visitor appears at her doorstep, prompting a journey that forces Perla to confront her origins and decide who she will become.

 
 

“Arcadia,” by Lauren Groff“Arcadia,” by Lauren Groff

In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. “Arcadia” follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and beyond.

 

“The Good Father,” by Noah HawleyThe Good Father,” by Noah Hawley

Hawley’s intense psychological novel “The Good Father” follows one doctor’s suspense-filled quest to unlock the mind of a suspected political assassin: his 20-year-old son. Told alternately from the point of view of Dr. Paul Allen — the guilt-ridden, determined father — and Daniel — the meandering, ruminative son he left behind in his first marriage — this story is about the responsibilities — and limitations — of being a parent, and about the human capacity to provide children with unconditional love in the face of unthinkable situations.

“The Little Red Guard,” by Wenguang Huang“The Little Red Guard,” by Wenguang Huang

In his new memoir about growing up in China in the 1970s amid the social and political wreckage of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Huang recounts the innumerable ways in which his family was affected by his late grandmother’s obsession with her own death — in particular, her wish to be buried rather than cremated. At a time when the government strictly enforced a national ban on all traditional Chinese practices, including burials, honoring his grandmother’s wish meant living in clear present danger. For 15 years, three generations of Huang’s family were consumed with planning the burial, guarding the coffin and evading detection by the authorities. Now living and working in America, Huang reflects on the extent to which the concern over his grandmother’s burial impacted his upbringing and shaped the lives of everyone in family.

 

“The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson“The Orphan Master’s Son,” by Adam Johnson

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother — a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang — and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. At Long Tomorrows, Jun Do gets his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Eventually catching the attention of superiors in the state, Jun Do rises in the government ranks and becomes a rival of dictator Kim Jong-Il. The New York Times called this epic story “daring and remarkable … a novel that not only opens a frightening window on the mysterious kingdom of North Korea, but one that also excavates the very meaning of love and sacrifice.”

 

“The Vanishers,” by Heidi Julavits“The Vanishers,” by Heidi Julavits

Julavits’ wildly imaginative fourth novel is part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery and part paranormal thriller. This strange tale is narrated by Julia Severn, a 26-year-old psychic student struggling with her unusual gifts and her jealous mentor — the legendary Madame Ackermann. After being struck by various mysterious ailments and ostracized from her program at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, Julia is recruited to track down an elusive missing person — a controversial filmmaker who might have a connection to her dead mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts, astral clues, and the emotional aftershocks of her mother’s suicide, she discovers the true depth of her psychic abilities.

 

“The Red Book,” by Deborah Copaken Kogan“The Red Book,” by Deborah Copaken Kogan

“The Big Chill” meets “The Group” in Kogan’s new novel about a once-close circle of friends at their 20-year class reunion. Since graduating in 1989, Harvard roommates Clover, Addison, Jane and Mia have kept abreast of one another via the Red Book, a class report published every five years, highlighting the careers and accomplishments of alumni. The women return to campus just as the financial and professional walls are crumbling around them, and it becomes clear that the Red Book hides the real stories of these women’s lives — stories of failure, dashed dreams and secret yearnings.

 

“An Unexpected Guest,” by Anne Korkeakivi“An Unexpected Guest,” by Anne Korkeakivi

Clare Moorhouse, the American wife of a high-ranking diplomat in Paris, is arranging an official dinner crucial to her husband’s career. As she shops for fresh stalks of asparagus and works out the menu and seating arrangements, her day is complicated by the unexpected arrival of her son and a random encounter with a Turkish man, whom she discovers is a suspected terrorist. Like Virginia Woolf did in “Mrs. Dalloway,” Korkeakivi brilliantly weaves the complexities of an age into an act as deceptively simple as hosting a dinner party.

The “Unexpected Guest” reading group guide will be available after April 17 in Hachette’s Book Club Guide Archive.

"History of a Pleasure Seeker," by Richard Mason “History of a Pleasure Seeker,” by Richard Mason

“History of a Pleasure Seeker,” Mason’s fourth novel, is an opulent, romantic coming-of-age drama set at the height of Europe’s belle époque. The story centers on Piet Barol, a handsome young Dutchman with an instinctive appreciation for pleasure and a gift for finding it. Securing a position as a tutor to the troubled son of Europe’s leading hotelier. As he enters the glittering world of this wealthy and prominent family, Barol learns their secrets — and soon, quietly, steadily, finds his life transformed as he in turn transforms the lives of those around him.

View the “Pleasure Seeker” reading group guide.

“The Spoiler,” by Annalena McAfee“The Spoiler,” by Annalena McAfee

Published in Britain to great acclaim, McAfee’s debut novel is a dark hyper-comedy set in London in the late 1990s during the height of the newspaper wars, just before the dot-com tidal wave. The story brings together two female journalists at opposite ends of their careers: Honor Tait, a legendary war correspondent now in her eighties, and Tamara Sim, a ruthlessly ambitious young journalist who writes for a gossip magazine.  When Sim is sent to interview the doyenne of British journalists, the two women become locked in a fierce tango of wills and find their lives forever changed by their encounter.

 

“What to Look for in Winter,” by Candia McWilliam “What to Look for in Winter,” by Candia McWilliam 

Candia McWilliam, whose novels “A Case of Knives,” “A Little Stranger” and “Debatable Land” made her a reader favorite throughout the United Kingdom, breaks her decade-long silence with a searing, intimate memoir. “What to Look for in Winter,” is the story of McWilliam’s sudden descent into blindness in 2006 — an assault cruelly tailored for someone whose life consisted of reading and writing — and of the redemptive journey into the past to find her true self and discover how she may come to see once more.

“The Song of Achilles,” by Madeline Miller“The Song of Achilles,” by Madeline Miller

Set in Greece in the age of heroes, when magic and myth were reality, “The Song of Achilles,” is a blisteringly-paced retelling of the Trojan War and life of Achilles by “Iliad” scholar and debut novelist, Madeline Miller. Narrated by Patroclus, a relatively minor character in “The Iliad,” the legend is re-framed as a devastating love story between young warriors. When the Fates demand a terrible sacrifice, Achilles grief and rage over Patroclus’s death change the entire course of the war.

 

“I Am an Executioner: Love Stories,” by Rajesh Parameswaran“I Am an Executioner: Love Stories,” by Rajesh Parameswaran

In “I Am an Executioner,” nine stories about the power of love and the love of power, Parameswaran introduces a cast of heroes — and antiheroes — who spring from his riotous, singular imagination. From the lovesick tiger who narrates the opener, “The Infamous Bengal Ming” (he mauls his zookeeper out of affection), to the ex-CompUSA employee who masquerades as a doctor; from a woman whose Thanksgiving preparations put her husband to eternal rest, to the newlywed executioner of the title, these characters inhabit a marvelous region between desire and death, playfulness and violence.

 

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” by Cheryl Strayed“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” by Cheryl Strayed

Strayed’s powerful, brutally honest new memoir recounts the 1100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe and built her back up again. At age 22, reeling from her mother’s death and the breakup of her own marriage, Strayed made the impulsive decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — alone. With no experience as a long-distance hiker, the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise” — the promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. In “Wild,” Strayed vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of a journey that maddened, strengthened and ultimately healed her.

View the “Wild” reading group guide.

Have you recently read a great new release? Share your book recommendations in the comments section below.

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