20 terrific tomes for your TBR: books I've read

Jung Chang writes a sprawling true history of three generations of women in twentieth-century China: herself, her mother, and her grandmother. Wild Swans gives a big picture account of Mao Zedong’s impact on China with the real life effect on Chang’s family. Parts of this are horrifying but it is just as much a story of courage and resilience.
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These days writers with great taste are reading N.K. Jemisin. She's one of the best world-builders out there. SFF World calls this a powerful, epic novel of discovery, pain, and heartbreak.... It is a novel that demands much of its readers; it rewards them aplenty and is one of those novels that becomes more powerful after deep consideration and subsequent readings."
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In this sweeping domestic drama, Lee tracks four generations of a 20th-century Korean family back to the time when Japan annexed the country in 1910, affecting the fates of all. Lee portrays the struggles of one struggling Korean family against the backdrop of cultural and political unrest, as they endure fierce discrimination at the ends of the Japanese. A compelling portrait of a little-explored period of history.
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Fashion, romance, and ... espionage. If you loved Casablanca, try this novel set during the Spanish civil war. Sira Quiroga works her way from dressmaker's assistant to a premier couturier, putting her in contact with the wealthy and powerful. When the British government asks her to spy for them as World War II gears up, she agrees, stitching secret messages into the hems of dresses. Translated from the Spanish, and the dialogue is a little bumpy in places, but the story is worth it. Is it perfect? No way. But engrossing? Definitely.
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Chiaverini’s new historical novel was inspired by the life of Mildred Harnack, a real historical figure whose story was previously untold because the U.S. government deliberately buried it after the war. Harnack was one of dozens of members of the network of American and German resistance fighters the Gestapo called die Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). The bulk of the action takes places between the wars, beginning in 1929; I was initially surprised that a novel about Nazi Germany before and during WWII began SO early, but Chiaverini’s chosen timeline serves her story well: as a reader, you see events escalate over time through these women’s eyes: first they’re incredulous, then increasingly horrified, all the while asking each other, what do we do? The setup feels leisurely but the payoff is worth it. Recommended reading for fans of We Were the Lucky Ones.
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This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio.
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Pilcher's novels are sometimes categorized as romance, but if you're not a fan of the genre, don't let that scare you off. This family saga tells the story of three generations of a modern British family, brought together again during a time of crisis, all of whom have been burned by love and must figure out how to move forward. Full of interesting, well-developed, flawed-but-likable characters. This is a great beach/travel read, but it's LONG, making it perfect for your ereader library. It's one of the top 100 novels in the BBC's Big Read.
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I nearly included this in the Summer Reading Guide but decided maybe not too many of you would be interested in a 672 page book published in 1971. But this book is pretty incredible in structure. A sweeping novel, a commentary on marriage–why it works, why it fails. It’s a Pulitzer winner, but its dream sequence ending feels like a copout.
You all kept telling me amazing things, and I finally finished my first Wally Lamb novel. At nearly 900 pages, I feel like I earned it (which makes this a perfect candidate for an ereader). Lamb wrote one of the best endings I've read in a long time This is the story of two brothers born into a big, messy, complicated family. One is trying to keep his own life together as he attempts to watch over his schizophrenic twin. It's an emotional and challenging read, on many levels, but I thought it was so well done. From the Associated Press: "Every now and then a book comes along that sets new standards for writers and readers alike. Wally Lamb's latest novel is stunning and even that might be an understatement...this is a masterpiece."
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This is Steinbeck's most ambitious novel, and in his opinion, his finest work. ("I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.") My high school English teacher assigned us The Grapes of Wrath instead, so I didn't read this until a few years ago. The title references the fall of Adam and Eve, and the subsequent embattled relationship between brothers Cain and Abel. Grounded thoroughly in its California setting, interweaving the stories of two Salinas Valley families, Steinbeck's magnum opus feels tragic, yet hopeful.
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Southern Baptist Missionary Nathan Price heads off to the African Congo with his wife and 4 daughters in 1959, and nothing goes as planned. Though they bring with them everything they think they will need from their home in Bethlehem, Georgia--right down to the Betty Crocker cake mixes--the Prices are woefully unprepared for their new life among the Congolese, and they all pay the price.
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