Recommended Books List

I love to talk about books! Recently I had the honor of speaking to the ICCSD Retired Teachers Association. Not only is this one of my favorite groups to visit, but I also have an opportunity to see some of the teachers who made a big difference in my life (thank you!).  After my presentation I received a number of requests for the book list I shared. I thought others may enjoy the list as well so I'm posting it here. I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did!

Recommended Books for Iowa City Community School District Retired Teachers Association, January 2013

Wakefield, Dan (Editor) 

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters


Letters shows a very human side of a person who mentored others, was proud of his heritage, was frustrated when he was misunderstood, pushed back against censors, and profoundly loved his family. Vonnegut’s last word of advice he was writing for an audience, “And how should we behave during this Apocalypse? We should be unusually kind to one another, certainly. But we should also stop being so serious. Jokes help a lot. And get a dog, if you don’t already have one …” (Page 413). Biography
Marshall, Penny 

My Mother Was Nuts

Marshall’s biography reads like a Who’s Who of 70′s, 80′s and 90′s pop culture. Each chapter represents a different phase in Marshall’s life, and she often relates the story to a life lesson she learned from her mother. Marshall is pragmatic and unrepentant.  She worked hard and played harder. In the midst of her life choices, and despite her many successes she distills life down to four simple lessons: “try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.”  Biography
James, Eloisa 

Paris in Love

Eloisa James, also known as Mary Bly, is an Associate Professor of English Literature at Fordham University.  She is from Minnesota but has degrees from Harvard, Yale and Oxford.  She is probably best known for the Regency Romances she writes.  After a successful fight with breast cancer, she and her Italian husband, on a whim, decide to go to Paris on sabbatical for a year with their 11 and 15-year-old children.  Biography
Thompson, Jean 

The Year We Left Home

2013 All Iowa Reads selection

My favorite All Iowa Reads book so far. Many events described in the book are memories from my childhood and memories long-time Iowans will share. Lyrical writing conjures experiences of cold Iowa winter days and the joy of an Iowa spring or fall. The book follows four siblings in one family and their life events.  Although they go different places and have different experiences, their roots are deep in the Iowa soil and family ties.  Fiction
Moriarty, Laura 

The Chaperone

Laura Moriarty’s newest novel is a hybrid story about the life of silent-film star Louise Brooks and fictionalized character Cora Carlisle. The story begins in 1922 when 36-year-old Cora Carlisle agrees to chaperone 15-year-old Louise Brooks for a summer in New York City dancing with the Denishawn School of Dance.  Readers learn Cora’s life, just like Louise Brooks’, is not what it appears and the story revolves around Cora’s path of self-discovery and quest for happiness.  Fiction
Walter, Jess 

Beautiful Ruins

Jess Walters weaves a wonderful story that easily switches between 1962 and the present day. The characters are real and readers will understand the friction between dreams and reality that each character faces. I thought the writing was beautiful and I especially appreciated the strong sense of place Walters creates in Italy. The Cinque Terre is on my short list of places where I want to visit, so I appreciated the opportunity to vicariously travel to Italy in the pages of this book.  Fiction
Tyler, Anne 

The Beginner’s Goodbye

Pulitzer Prize winning author, Anne Tyler, is well-known for novels with subtle plots that explore complex issues. These issues often include personal discovery, relationships, life changes, and characters who are seeking meaning in their lives. The Beginner’s Goodbye is definitely subtle and I had to be patient and let Tyler tell me the story when she was ready. It was delightful to slow down and pay attention to the words and story as it unfolded.  Fiction
Rosnay, Tatiana de 

The House I Loved

A fictionalized story of Rose Bazelet and her opposition to the destruction of her family home during Haussman’s renovation of Paris, 1853-1870. Haussman’s radical plan was criticized for the large-scale destruction it caused; however, in recent times he has been credited with establishing Paris as a modern city. de Rosnay is best known for debut novel, Sarah’s Key. Like Sarah’s Key, this book features solid characters, a strong sense of place, and a time of significant historical events.  Fiction
Orringer, Julie 

The Invisible Bridge

Sometimes books come along and leave a lasting impression, forcing the reader to ruminate about events and characters long after the book is done. This is one of those books.  Andras and Tibor Levy are Jewish brothers who grew up in a small village in Hungary. It is the 1930′s and both aspire to do great things. The book focuses on Andras, his adventures and studies in Paris, and the relationship he establishes with the mysterious Klara Morgenstern, a Hungarian ballet instructor.  Fiction
McLain, Paula 

The Paris Wife

The fictional story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. After a whirlwind courtship the couple marries and moves to Paris so Ernest can pursue his writing career. The Hemingways are drawn into Parisian life and meet many other writers and artists. There is a constant friction, though, between Ernest the writer and Ernest the husband. Highly recommended.  Fiction
Vreeland, Susan 

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

Because of this book, I went to New York City to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other places to see Tiffany Glass.  Fictionalized story of Clara Driscoll who worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany at his New York studio and possibly the person who conceived the idea for the iconic Tiffany stained glass lamps. Set with the turn-of-the-century New York City backdrop with issues such as the rise of labor unions, women in the workplace, and advances in technology.  Fiction
Box, C.J. 

Force of Nature

Game Warden Joe Pickett’s friend, Nate Romanowski, knows a secret about a governmental official. That official plans to kill Nate to keep him quiet, and is targeting the entire Pickett family to get to Nate. Will Nate’s actions justify the outcome? Can Nate survive and save his friends? All C.J. Box books recommended including Pickett series and stand-alones.  Mystery
Winspear, Jacqueline 

Elegy for Eddie

It’s April 1933 in London and the Private Investigator, Maisie Dobbs, is grappling with how she fits into the world. Maisie comes from the working-class neighborhood in Lambeth where her father was a costermonger before going to work at a country estate. Maisie inherited a considerable estate from her mentor and feels an obligation to use her new-found wealth to help others but struggles to balance the moral obligation she feels with the wishes of those she wants to help.  Mystery
Bradley, Alan 

Speaking from Among the Bones

The fifth book in the Flavia de Luce Series.  Step aside Nancy Drew and Harriet the Spy, eleven year old Flavia de Luce is on the case! It’s 1950 and Flavia is living in an old English estate with her family. Flavia is a budding chemist as well as a precocious pre-teen. The books are well written, the characters are well developed, and the mysteries are solid.  Mystery
Cain, Susan 


More than 33% of people are introverts. Through research in psychology and neuroscience, and personal interviews, Cain demonstrates the difference between introverts and extroverts and our country’s perception of the “Extroverted Ideal.” The author also focuses on the power of introversion and ways introverts have successfully coped with living in an extroverted world, providing suggestions for how introverts can harness this power while remaining true to themselves.  Nonfiction
Hillenbrand, Laura 


Olympic runner Louis Zamperini enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in 1941. When the plane he was assigned to crashes into the South Pacific, Louis survives the crash and 47 days at sea in a plastic life raft. He was then captured by the Japanese and sent to a labor camp. I respectfully refer to this books as the, “I will never complain about anything ever again book.” An older title but highly recommended!  Nonfiction

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Thank you, Kara.

Thank you for this list of recommendations. I enjoyed Quiet very much.

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