The Monsters of Templeton
Groff's much - praised debut is an inventive and original novel with a spunky heroine at its center. Archaeology student Willie Upton returns to her hometown of Templeton, New York, to recuperate from a failed affair with a married professor. Willie always swore she'd never go back to Templeton, the idyllic community her ancestors established, but the town offers more than a few surprises. For starters, a monster - 50 feet long and, fortunately, dead - appears in a local lake. Then there's Willie's mother, Vi. An artsy bohemian when Willie left for college, Vi is now a born - again Christian with a shocking family secret to share. Contrary to what Willie has long been told, her father was not one of the casual lovers Vi had back in her hippie days - he was from Templeton. Applying her archaeological talents, Willie sets out to learn the truth about her family, only to find herself entangled in a mystery. Family journals reveal the stories of her great - great - grandmother, Sarah, who may have been insane, and of Hettie, a slave to whom Willie is distantly related. The use of diaries, letters and other devices adds a delightful layer to this ingeniously constructed tale. Beautifully written, Groff's novel is full of surprising plot twists and crystalline realizations about the nature of family, relationships and love.
A reading group guide is available at everywomansvoice.com.

The Road
With the film version of McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize - winning novel set for release next year, the time is right for book clubs to take a second look at his remarkable bestseller. The book - available in a new movie tie - in edition - is at once a nightmarish exploration of what the world might be like at its end and a sensitive examination of the father - son bond. The narrative opens on a world that has been reduced to cinders by a catastrophe of some kind, one that's probably nuclear - related. Blackened corpses and melted cars punctuate the landscape. The novel's two primary characters, a nameless man and his son, journey through the ruined world alone. To stay in one place is to risk encountering other survivors, many of whom have formed violent gangs, and so the pair are locked into a fate of perpetual travel. Flashbacks and moments of beautifully rendered dialogue hint at what came before - the world as it existed in its full flowering; the death of the boy's mother. The contrast between past and present is heightened by the dangers the two experience as they search for edible food and serviceable clothing. When the boy shows concern for the survivors they inevitably meet, his father forbids him to make contact. Their relationship deepens and evolves - even in a dead world - and McCarthy's portrayal of their connection is incredibly affecting. This unforgettable novel will haunt readers long after the final page is turned.
A reading group guide is available online at readinggroupcenter.com.

Annette Vallon

Set on the brink of the French Revolution, this lavishly written historical novel takes as its basis the relationship between William Wordsworth and an upper - crust young Frenchwoman named Annette Vallon. The pair meet when Annette is 22 years old and fall deeply in love, settling in the Loire Valley but never marrying. Annette serves as the inspiration for some of the poet's best work, and she eventually bears him a daughter. When the revolution threatens, Wordsworth - viewed with suspicion because he is a foreigner - flees France with Annette's help. The two carry on a long correspondence, and Wordsworth returns later to see their daughter, Caroline, in spite of the fact that he is engaged to a woman in England. After her father dies, Annette finds herself with no financial prospects. As she evolves from a pampered, well - to - do girl into a woman of principles and integrity, she finds her mission in life - to help her fellow countrymen endure in spite of the turmoil that has shaken France to its very foundations. Tipton has a doctorate in English, yet his writing is anything but academic. His lyrical prose style and flair for precise detail make this novel an appealing mix of history and fiction.
A reading group guide is available online at harpercollins.com.

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