Paula Spencer
There's never a dull moment in Doyle's sequel to his best-selling novel The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996). Resilient, tough-spirited Paula Spencer returns, now 48 and determined to stay sober. Paula hasn't had a drink in four months and five days, and she is slowly coming to terms with the fact that she hasn't been much of a mother. Now that her violent, abusive husband Charlo is dead shot by the police during an attempted robbery Paula must raise her youngest children, Jack and Leanne, alone. Fortunately, her cheeky, good-natured sisters, Denise and Carmel, are on hand to lend support. Although she is still toiling away as a cleaning woman, Paula finds solace in the company of her oldest daughter Nicola, now a businesswoman, and her oldest son, John Paul, who is a recovering heroin addict. Set in Dublin, the novel spans a year in Paula's life, beginning with her 48th birthday and continuing on to her 49th, detailing her struggle with sobriety, and her attempts to regain the trust of her children. Full of warmth, humor and wonderful dialogue, the novel is a vivid, realistic portrait of working-class life in Ireland. A reading group guide is available at

The Gathering
Winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, this moving chronicle of an Irish-Catholic family is characterized by Enright's musical prose and ability to spin a compelling story. Veronica Hegarty, struggling to come to grips with the suicide of her brother, Liam, prepares to meet with the rest of her large family in Dublin, where her brother's wake will be held. Having claimed Liam's body, Veronica keeps watch over him, remembering, as she does so, an incident that took place in 1968 at their grandmother's house. Thinking back on the event a secret that only she and Liam knew about awakens all sorts of memories for Veronica, and her recollections send the narrative swirling into the past. The novel follows three generations of the Hegarty clan, and the family's history illuminates the present in a way that adds complexity and drama to the book. Most poignant are Veronica's memories of her teenage years in Dublin. Her parents, always short of money, were too busy to give their children the care and affection they needed. As a teen, Liam was molested by a friend a traumatic experience that Veronica views as the root of his emotional problems. Once the Hegartys come together for Liam's wake, emotions run high, and Veronica's secret is at last revealed. Enright offers a searing, insightful portrayal of family relationships and the difficulties of dealing with grief. A reading group guide is available at

Blood and Thunder
The best-selling author of Ghost Soldiers provides a detailed and fascinating account of the evolution of the West. Using Kit Carson, the famous soldier and trapper, as a sort of central character in the book, Sides opens his narrative in the 1820s, taking up the story of the Navajo Indians and their gradual decline. Carson, a colorful Western figure who could neither read nor write, spoke five different Indian languages and was well-acquainted with the Navajo tribe. Although he married two Native Americans, Carson eventually aided in their routing, obeying orders from the American government to assist with the slaughter of the Navajo, Kiowa and Comanche. This contradictory impulse ties into one of the book's larger themes—the idea of Manifest Destiny and how it influenced America's growth and development. Sides also presents a vivid portrait of the Mexican War, looks at the Confederate Army's failed mission to expand its influence westward, and covers events like the Big Bear Flag Rebellion. Recounting more than 30 years of history, Sides' is a grand tale, grandly told. Written with authority and clarity, this spirited work illuminates a fascinating epoch in America's coming of age, shedding new light on the myth of the West and the growth of the frontier. A reading group guide is available at

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