The Storm on Our Shores (Mark Obmascik) — Probably, most readers don’t know much about the only World War II battle fought in North American — the Battle of Attu, which took place in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska in 1943. This well-researched account personalizes history by focusing on two soldiers — a Japanese medic named Paul Tatsuguchi, educated in America and drafted into the Imperial Army, and an American coal mine, Dick Laird who killed him — and found his diary. Versions of the diary were distributed to American soldiers. Many questions are left unanswered at the end of this book, which I suppose is inevitable because this is real history, not historical fiction; still, I felt the author could have spent more time addressing some of the moral controversy raised by the diary.
Save Me the Plums (Ruth Reichl) — I loved every page of Ruth Reichl’s behind-the-scenes look at at her career as editor of Gourmet magazine. At a time when print magazines are becoming an endangered species, Reichl’s love letter to Gourmet — and her talented colleagues — is particularly poignant.
The Honey Bus (Meredith May) — You know you’re reading a really good book when the topic is one in which you’ve previously had no interest — but you still can’t put the book down. The topic here is beekeeping and the natural world of honeybees, and it’s absolutely fascinating — both in its own right and as a metaphor used by Meredith May’s beekeeper grandfather to teach her life lessons. Meredith May’s memoir of growing up in a rural area of northern California, near Big Sur, ranks at the top of my list of coming-of-age memoirs.
Inheritance (Dani Shapiro) — If you’re looking for a terrific book club choice, this is it. I recently moderated two discussions about Inheritance, and both were lively and thought-provoking. Dani Shapiro’s personal story of learning that her biological father was a sperm donor, not the loving man who raised her, is an exploration of the search for identity, nature vs. nurture, and what makes a family.
Sadie (Courtney Summers) — If you’re an adult reader who’s a bit wary of YA fiction, Sadie is a great place to start. This smart and original thriller, about a missing teenage girl, is also perfect for fans of true crime podcasts. Half the book is narrated by Sadie, the runaway girl, and half is a transcription of a podcast called “The Girls”. It’s an addictive read for both older teenagers and adults.
The Age of Light (Whitney Scharer) — I loved learning about Lee Miller, the 1920s Vogue model who was surrealist Man Ray’s muse in Paris and then become a celebrated photographer, documenting the horrors of World War II. If you enjoyed any of Paula McClain’s novels, especially Love and Ruin (about Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway), you’ll adore this book.
Henry, Himself (Stuart O’Nan) — Henry, Himself is the third in a trilogy about a middle-class Pittsburgh family. In the two earlier books, Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone, we meet Henry only in retrospect — he has died and his grieving family is trying to move on without him. In this lovely novel, we see Henry and his family through his own eyes. Short, well-titled chapters alternate between the present, when Henry is 75, and the past, starting with his childhood and moving through his service In World War II and his adult years. The novel brims with affection for its main character, an ordinary man wrestling with big questions: What is the meaning of an individual life? What do we leave behind?
The Perfect Liar (Thomas Christopher Greene) — I really liked two of Greene’s earlier books (The Headmaster’s Wife and If I Forget You), so I had high hopes for The Perfect Liar. This one is, unfortunately, a predictable thriller (is that a contradiction in terms?) that strains credibility. The jacket copy says the book has a “shocking climax no one will expect” . . . . I’m pretty sure that most readers will guess exactly what’s going to happen.
The River (Peter Heller) — Two Dartmouth students, experienced outdoorsmen, embark on a journey in northern Canada that they intend to be a rugged adventure in the wilderness but that turns out to be a “Deliverance”-style nightmare. It’s a page-turner, to be sure, but this novel is much more than that. For one thing, Heller’s writing is gorgeous; for another, he has created two characters that are as real as any you’ll meet on the page. The last lines of the Denver Post review are “I could not put this book down. It truly was terrifying and unutterably beautiful”, and I couldn’t agree more.
Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style (Benjamin Dreyer) — I don’t know how many people like me exist, but there must be enough of us word nerds/grammar geeks to justify publishing books like Dreyer’s English. If you were the kind of kid who liked to read the dictionary, you’ll enjoy this book, which is full of humor as well as useful information. I just find it hard to believe there’s a large audience for it, based on the errors I see both online and in print, but if there is — hallelujah!
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago (Alex Kotlowitz) — In a heartbreaking book that offers no answers, and little hope, Kotlowitz examines the rampant gun violence in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods during the summer of 2013. He brings to life the perpetrators, victims, and their families, demonstrating their shared humanity and the twists of fate that can shape one person into a killer and another into a victim.
The Huntress (Kate Quinn) — The best page-turner/World War II novel I’ve read in a long time! Every chapter ends with a cliffhanger — you can’t stop reading. And I was absolutely fascinated with the carefully researched story of the female Soviet pilots, the “Night Witches.”
The Dreamers (Karen Thompson Walker) — I’m generally not drawn to dystopian fiction, or magical realism. If it couldn’t really happen, I lose interest. But there are exceptions to every rule, and The Dreamers is one of them. I couldn’t stop reading this haunting, and yes, dreamy, story of a college town struck by a mysterious flulike illness whose victims fall deeply asleep and experience vivid dreams. This novel, which reminded me of Station Eleven, will stay with me for a long time.