The Downtowners book group discusses a lively mix of fiction, nonfiction, classics, and genres.
Ready Player One  by Ernest Cline.
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
Visitation Street  by Ivy Pochoda.
It’s summertime in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a blue-collar dockside neighborhood. June and Val, two fifteen-year-olds, take a raft out onto the bay at night to see what they can see. And then they disappear. Only Val will survive, washed ashore; semi-conscious in the weeds. This shocking event will echo through the lives of a diverse cast of Red Hook residents. Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner, hopes that his shop will be the place to share neighborhood news and troll for information about June’s disappearance. Cree, just beginning to pull it together after his father’s murder, unwittingly makes himself the chief suspect, but an enigmatic and elusive guardian is determined to keep him safe.
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East  by Anthony Shadid.
In the summer of 2006, racing through Lebanon to report on the Israeli invasion, Anthony Shadid found himself in his family’s ancestral hometown of Marjayoun. There, he discovered his great-grandfather’s once magnificent estate in near ruins, devastated by war. One year later, Shadid returned to Marjayoun, not to chronicle the violence, but to rebuild in its wake.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital  by Sheri Fink.
After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. This gripping book is the culmination of six years of reporting, unspooling the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.
Flight Behavior  by Barbara Kingsolver.
In what may be the first novel to realistically imagine the near-term impact of “global weirding,” Barbara Kingsolver sets her latest story in rural Appalachia . In fictional Feathertown, Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow—on the run from her stifling life—charges up the mountain above her husband’s family farm and stumbles onto a “valley of fire” filled with millions of monarch butterflies. This vision is deemed miraculous by the town’s parishioners, then the international media. But when Ovid, a scientist who studies monarch behavior, sets up a lab on the Turnbow farm, he learns that the butterflies’ presence signals systemic disorder—and Dellarobia's in-laws’ logging plans won’t help.
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittoriao  by Amara Lakhous.
A social satire and murder mystery concerning an immigrant-filled apartment complex in Rome. After a murder in the building elevator, each occupant of the Piazza Vittorio—among these, Parviz Mansoor Samadi, an Iranian chef who detests pizza; Benedetta Esposito, an aging concierge from Naples; Iqbal Amir Allah, a Bangladeshi shopkeeper—gets a chapter to relate the truth as he or she knows it (or wants it known), apparently to the police. The odd man out, and the main suspect, is Amedo, a man believed by his neighbors to be a native Italian. The tenants are by turns outraged, disillusioned, defensive and afraid, and their frequently wild testimony teases out intriguing psychological and social insight alongside a playful whodunit plot, exposing the power of fear, racial prejudice and cultural misconception to rob a neighborhood of its humanity.
Guns of August  by Barbara Tuchman.
In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize–winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world.
Cartwheel  by Jennifer duBois.
Lily Hayes, 21, is a study-abroad student in Buenos Aires. Her life seems fairly unexceptional until her roommate, Katy, is brutally murdered, and Lily, charged with the crime, is remanded to prison pending her trial. But is she guilty, and who is Lily, really? To find answers to these questions, the novel is told from multiple points of view—not only that of Lily but also that of her family; of sardonic Sebastien, the boy with whom she has been having an affair; and of the prosecutor in the case.
Margot  by Jillian Cantor.
Can you hide from your past and change who you are? If you try, what do you risk losing? This delicately written novel proposes an alternate fate for Anne Frank’s sister: Margot Frank survives the war, moves to Philadelphia, finds work as a law secretary and assumes the identity ‘Margie Franklin.’ But when the movie version of The Diary of a Young Girl is released and the law firm takes on the case of a Holocaust survivor, Margot’s past and Margie’s carefully constructed present collide. This great book will appeal to reading groups and fans of alternative history, what-if novels and character-centered fiction.
Kaite Stover is the Director of Readers' Services for the Kansas City Public Library, where she serves as the resident expert on book groups. She hosts workshops and presentations nationwide that focus on improved book group experiences. Booklist magazine publishes her side of its regular column "He Reads/She Reads." For more info on the Downtowners Book Group, contact Kaite Stover  at 816.701.3683.