My Life with Bob (Pamela Paul) — I’ll read and enjoy just about any book about books — but My Life with Bob is the most captivating and original “bookworm book” I’ve read. Oh, how I wish I’d done what Pamela Paul has done her whole life — kept a written record of all the books I’ve read. (FYI — “Bob” is the affectionate nickname/acronym for Paul’s “book of books”.)
Saints for All Occasions (J. Courtney Sullivan) — I’ve enjoyed all of J. Courtney Sullivan’s novels, but this one could be my favorite. As always, she excels at creating characters who come to life on the page. At the heart of Saints for All Occasions are two sisters who emigrate from Ireland to Boston. After a painful falling out, one sister becomes a nun, while one marries and raises a family that includes a troubled son. The secrets from their pasts drive them apart, only to bring them together when a family crisis occurs.
‘Round Midnight (Laura McBride) — As she did in We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride brilliantly weaves together the stories of several characters with Las Vegas as the backdrop. The writing is gorgeous and the story is perfectly paced and constructed, with surprises at every turn. The reader’s heart goes out to the four women whose lives intersect: June, a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey turned nightclub owner; Honorata, a Filipina forced to become a mail-order bride; Engracia, a Mexican immigrant who has suffered a tragedy; and Coral, a music teacher trying to understand her mysterious past. I loved ever page of this special novel.
Lab Girl (Hope Jahren) — I really admire how Hope Jahren structured her memoir. Divided into three sections (Roots and Leaves, Wood and Knots, Flowers and Fruit), the chapters alternate between meditations on the natural world and stories about her life and career. She’s a beautiful writer as well as a brilliant scientist — doesn’t seem fair!
Anything is Possible (Elizabeth Strout) — Elizabeth Strout can do no wrong! I loved these linked stories about Lucy Barton’s family and neighbors. Her writing is gorgeous. simple on the surface but actually profound.
City of Saints and Thieves (Natalie C. Anderson) — This fast-paced, well-written thriller fills a hole in the YA market, and it will appeal to both male and female readers. I’d recommend to actual young adults, not grown-up readers.
Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Coming Home (Amy Dickinson) — I enjoyed Dickinson’s earlier memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, and this follow-up is even better. It’s a delightful collection of essays about family, home, and rolling with life’s unexpected punches.
The Stars Are Fire (Anita Shreve) — She’s back! I was disappointed with Anita Shreve’s recent novels, but The Stars Are Fire is one of her best. I knew nothing about the catastrophic fires in coastal Maine, and found Shreve’s descriptions mesmerizing. Perfect for anyone who wants a well-paced, atmospheric novel about a little-known event in history.
The Devil and Webster (Jean Hanff Korelitz) — I read The Devil and Webster almost without stopping, and when I reached the very satisfying ending, I actually wished the book were longer. Often, when I finish a book, I think, Didn’t anyone edit this book? I could have cut out a third of it. Not only is Korelitz a marvelous writer, whose sentences inspire admiration, she’s spun a clever tale about a topic of great interest to me: political correctness and dissent on college campuses.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Lisa See) — I loved See’s breakout novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but didn’t think her subsequent books were quite as good. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is on a par with Snow Flower. The story, which concerns a Chinese peasant woman and the daughter she’s forced to abandon, who is adopted by an American family, is terrific — and the novel is packed with interesting information about Chinese hill tribes and the tea industry.
The Women in the Castle (Jessica Shattuck) — This debut novel has received a lot of pre-publication hype — deservedly so. If you think you’ve read more than your share of World War II novels, think again, because The Women in the Castle provides a fascinating perspective unfamiliar to most readers. The “women” of the title are the widows of three conspirators who plotted to assassinate Hitler.
Ill Will (Dan Chaon) — This literary thriller by a National Book Award finalist left me disappointed. Call me lowbrow, but I am disappointed when I read a book that is partly a murder mystery and there’s no actual resolution at the end.
The Fortunate Ones (Ellen Umansky) — Rose Zimmer’s parents save her life by sending her on a Kindertransport from Austria to England in 1939. After the war, she desperately searches for her family’s Chaim Soutine painting, stolen by the Nazis. The search leads her to Lizzie Goldstein, whose father was the last owner of the painting — which has been stolen again, on Lizzie’s watch. I loved this story of family history and secrets.
A Piece of the World (Christina Baker Kline) — The story behind the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, “Christina’s World”, this novel is a lovely exploration of family, friendship, and art.
All Grown Up (Jami Attenberg) — Forgettable coming of age novel about a woman in her thirties — much too old to be coming of age.
The Association of Small Bombs (Karan Mahajan) — Shortlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, this is one of those literary novels that failed to engage my emotionally. I’ve read many other books about India that received less acclaim but that I connected with more.
Pachinko (Min Jin Lee) — Entertaining and enlightening at once, Pachinko grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn’t let me go. I loved the characters and was fascinated by the experiences of Koreans in Japan. However . . . I didn’t love the writing style. I was frequently distracted by oddly structured or ungrammatical sentences.
We Were the Lucky Ones (Georgia Hunter) — An extended Polish family (five grown siblings, their parents, and spouses) are separated during World War II — miraculously, all survive after many years of unspeakable suffering. The story is based on the experiences of the author’s family, and is a tribute to their courage — and luck
The Passion of Dolssa (Julie Berry) — I was transported into another time and place as I read this wonderful story about a young mystic in medieval Provence, hunted by French inquisitors, and her friendship with three sisters who run a village tavern.
The Second Mrs. Hockaday (Susan Rivers) — There’s nothing I love more than an epistolary novel. The author’s use of letters and diary entries heightens the suspense in this amazing story, which is based on a real-life court case from the mid-19th century. It’s a gem of a book!
Books for Living (Will Schwalbe) — “Much love” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about this inspiring book for book lovers. I can’t imagine a better way to start your reading year than by picking up a copy of Books for Living. The chapter on Stuart Little is worth the price of the book.
Small Admissions (Amy Poeppel) — Would I recommend this title? Yes, if you’re in the mood for something light and fluffy, the literary version of a rom-com. I have a weakness for behind-the-scenes novels set in admissions departments, and I’d never read one that takes place in the crazy world of New York day schools.
Idaho (Emily Ruskovich) — One of those books that sounds promising but turns out to be a disappointment. I kept reading with the hope that the story would coalesce, but it never did. The writing is lovely, but everything about this book seemed implausible to me.