The Girl With the Louding Voice (Abi Daré)
The Second Home (Christina Clancy) — I’ve added this to my list of fun summer reading about families split apart by disputes about vacation home ownership. (J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine might be my favorite in this sub-genre). The Second Home, set on Cape Cod, includes lots of twists — and a very satisfying happy ending.
The Guest List (Lucy Foley) — The reviews all liken The Guest List, set at a destination wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland, to an Agatha Christie novel. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never actually read Agatha Christie. I’ve also never enjoyed mysteries much — I didn’t even like Nancy Drew when I was a child. But I might become a convert, because I loved The Guest List.
All Adults Here (Emma Straub) — If you like a dysfunctional family story with a lighter touch, this one is for you. I loved that the main character is 68 years old and just discovering who she is. All Adults Here is an of-the-moment story about just about every issue that 21st century families might face, with plenty of warmth and humor.
The Holdout (Graham Moore) — The “holdout” of the title is a juror, Maya Seale, who persuades the rest of the jury to return an innocent verdict. Many years later, Maya — now a defense attorney herself — is accused of murdering one of her fellow jurors after they reunite. This was a decent legal thriller, but if you want to read about the inner workings of a jury and the personal relationships among jurors, I’d recommend The Body in Question.
Valentine (Elizabeth Wetmore) — This debut novel is astonishing in many ways, but particularly in the way it brought West Texas, a place I’ve never visited, to life. The story Wetmore tells will grab you immediately: after an oil rig worker brutally attacks Gloria, a young Mexican girl, the fault lines in the community become apparent. The characters who lend their voices to the narrative are all memorable, from Mary Rose, the rancher’s wife who bravely testifies at the trial, to Corrine the widowed teacher who befriends her, to D.A. the neglected little girl who sees more than the adults realize.
The Red Lotus (Chris Bohjalian) — I was disappointed in Bohjalian’s last book, The Flight Attendant, but The Red Lotus was a happy surprise — a well-written page turner (about a pandemic, no less) that I sped through in a couple of days. It’s more than a thriller, though, emphasizing characters and their relationships along with a diabolically clever plot. Don’t let the theme scare you off — the pandemic in this book is bacterial, not viral, and, without giving anything away, originated quite differently from Covid-19.
My Wife Said You Might Want to Marry Me (Jason Rosenthal) — Unabashedly sentimental, Rosenthal’s memoir of his wife (writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who published a “Modern Love” essay shortly before her death about Jason, entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband”) is a beautiful meditation on love, loss, and grief.
Afterlife (Julia Alvarez) — Antonia, a retired professor in Vermont, grieving after the sudden death of her husband, reluctantly offers shelter to an undocumented immigrant. Meanwhile, her mentally unbalanced sister has vanished and she and her other sisters are searching for her. I adored this story of healing, hope, and family love.
Redhead By the Side of the Road (Anne Tyler) — Every Anne Tyler book is pretty much the same — Baltimore setting, quirky characters, attention to detail, and her own brand of sympathetic humor. Her latest novel (and, I’m pretty sure, her shortest) is no different. It’s a little piece of perfection, and I found it comforting and hopeful.
A Long Petal of the Sea (Isabel Allende) — Allende’s latest, which has not a trace of magical realism, is a gorgeous love story set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and revolutionary Chile. Roser, a young pianist escapes fascist Spain and marries her fiancé’s brother out of desperation. Together, they travel to Chile on a ship chartered by poet Pablo Neruda and build a life there — one in which they face terrible hardships.
The Fountains of Silence (Ruta Septys) — I absolutely loved this book, and applaud Ruta Septys for writing yet another historical novel that appeals to both teenagers and adults. She said in an interview, “I’m an author of young adult fiction that happens to appeal to adults.” I don’t know what it says about me that I thought The Fountains of Silence is the best book I’ve read about the Spanish Civil Wand its legacy. It’s long (512 pages), but I raced through it over one rainy weekend.
The Body in Question (Jill Ciment) — Some of the reviews of this slim, intense novel focus on the crime — a teenager accused of killing her toddler brother. Really, though, the book is about one of the sequestered jurors and her relationship with her elderly husband and with one of her fellow jurors. The unusual narrative style and the issues raised make this a perfect book club choice.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (Robert Kolker) — This is narrative nonfiction at its best — a “truth is stranger than fiction” story packed with information. Mimi and Don Galvin of Colorado had twelve children between 1945 and 1965 — ten boys and two girls. Six of the boys were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health, providing invaluable information about the role of heredity in mental illness. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Hidden Valley Road is a heartbreaking family story and an account of scientific discovery. I couldn’t put it down.
The Illness Lesson (Clare Beams) — I thought this was a pretty great book about feminism, the education of women, and sexual abuse, but it’s the kind of book that will probably be overlooked because it doesn’t fit into a tidy category. Is it historical fiction? Magical realism? Horror? The Washington Post described it as Louisa May Alcott meets Shirley Jackson. Set at an experimental school for girls in late 19th century Massachusetts where a mysterious illness is plaguing the students, the novel reminded me of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
Lost Roses (Martha Hall Kelly) — Eliza Ferriday (based on a real person and the mother of Caroline Ferriday, protagonist of Kelly’s earlier Lilac Girls) travels to St. Petersburg to visit her friend Sofya, a member of the Romanov family. But when World War I breaks out, Eliza returns to the United States, while Sofya struggles to survive in Russia. Fun, fast-paced historical fiction.
Sea Wife (Amity Gaige) — Michael and Juliet, with their two young children, leave their comfortable suburban life behind and buy a sailboat in Panama. What could go wrong? As you might imagine, plenty. More than an adventure story, Sea Wife is an examination of marriage, parenthood, and career choices. It’s expertly written in two alternating perspectives — Michael’s captain’s log and Juliet’s perspective after the voyage.
The Book of Lost Friends (Lisa Wingate) — The author of Before We Were Yours is back with another terrific historical novel about families ripped apart. This novel tells the stories of several enslaved families trying to reconnect after the Civil War. Actual newspaper ads for missing family members were Wingate’s inspiration, and are interspersed throughout the novel. It’s a topic I hadn’t read about before, and I found it fascinating and moving.
Know My Name (Chanel Miller) — I might be in the minority on this, but I didn’t love this book. Chanel Miller’s victim impact statement, which is included, is incredibly moving and told me all I needed to know.
The Guest Book (Sarah Blake) — At the heart of this old-fashioned family saga is a family retreat on an island off the coast of Maine. Written at a leisurely pace, The Guest Book follows three generations of a blue-blooded New England family. The Miltons are comfortable with their power and prestige, until the youngest generation explores disturbing family secrets.
The Night Watchman (Louise Erdrich) — Based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, who worked at a factory near the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota and battled for the rights of Native Americans during the 1950s, The Night Watchman will captivate you and take you to another time and place.
My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell) — Seriously creepy — but I couldn’t put it down. The topic is an abusive relationship between a high school student and a teacher. Read the excellent New York Times review, which explains why fiction sometimes is the best avenue for getting at the truth: “Fiction, good fiction at least, goes for the singular, the conflicting, the impossible to pin down or reduce.” I can’t imagine a better book club selection.
The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel) — Mandel’s Station Eleven is one of my all-time favorite books, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading it now. (It’s about a pandemic called the Georgian Flu that wipes out 99% of the earth’s population.) The Glass Hotel (to be published on March 24) is about a Madoff-type Ponzi scheme and how it affects a variety of people, who are interconnected in surprising ways. It’s a really unusual and creative book, peopled with interesting characters — including several from Station Eleven. I read an advance copy two weeks ago on a lounge chair by the pool in Florida, which seems like a lifetime ago.
A Good Neighborhood (Theresa Anne Fowler) — Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age) panned A Good Neighborhood in the New York Times Book Review, which seemed very odd to me — the books are very similar, both focusing on issues of race and class. Reid found Fowler’s black characters to “lack depth and accessibility.” Made me wonder what Fowler would have to say about Reid’s novel!
Privilege (Mary Adkins) — As soon as I finished this book, I grabbed a copy of the author’s first book. I love her readable, assured writing style. Focusing on a date rape incident at a small liberal arts college, Privilege is a great crossover book for teenagers.
The Girl in White Gloves (Kerri Maher) — One of my guilty pleasures (if there is such a thing) is light biographical fiction. It’s such a fun way to learn more about a person’s life and times, without wading through a dense biography with more details than I need. Maher’s novel about Grace Kelly is one of the best of this type of entertaining, informative fiction.
Lady Clementine (Marie Benedict) — Benedict excels at biographical fiction. I loved her last book, The Only Woman in the Room (about Hedy Lamarr), and Lady Clementine, about Winston Churchill’s wife, who was a fascinating and powerful person in her own right, is just as good.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and the Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Ronan Farrow) — The audio version of this book, masterfully read by the author, kept my husband and me riveted for eleven hours on a recent road trip. Ronan Farrow (the son of Woody Allen, from whom he is estranged), broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the New Yorker (along with New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor) after his employer, NBC News, fired him and killed the story.
The Choice (Edith Eva Eger) — Everyone should read this book, written by a concentration camp survivor who became a psychotherapist after arriving in the United States as a penniless refugee after World War II. Without diminishing her painful experiences, Eger shows how it’s possible to make the choice to forgive, without forgetting: “You can live to avenge the past, or you can live to enrich the present.”
The Braid — Ostensibly about three women (one Canadian, one Indian, and one Italian) connected by the human hair industry, this disappointing and simplistic novel fails to tie the three stories together in the satisfying way I was expecting.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Jenn Shapland) — As you might guess from the title, this is an unusual literary biography; it focuses on the author’s journey of self-discovery as she researched Carson McCullers. I found myself more interested in the sections about Carson McCullers, skimming the parts about Jenn Shapland.
When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains (Ariana Neumann) — Born and raised in Venezuela, Ariana Neumann knew very little about her family’s past until after her father died, when she found some letters and artifacts. For years, she researched her family’s history, discovering through diaries, interviews, and photos a story of survival against incredible odds and learning who her complicated father really was. I know some readers have World War II fatigue, but don’t miss this one — it’s amazing.
Writers and Lovers (Lily King) — Just about every sentence is perfect in this lovely book, which captures the experience of writing better than any book I’ve read. Emma Straub’s blurb makes me laugh: “If you loved The Friend but wish it had had more sex and waitressing, get ready for Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. Delicious.” I did love The Friend — and the waitressing scenes in Writers and Lovers are pitch-perfect. I’ve adored every one of King’s novels; if you haven’t discovered her, I recommend her four earlier books as well.
Saint X (Alexis Schaitkin) — A Connecticut family of four vacations at an idyllic Caribbean island, and Alison, the eighteen-year-old daughter, is murdered. Saint X is much more than a whodunit, although it’s a well-crafted mystery. It’s a character-driven story, focusing on Claire, Alison’s younger sister, as she navigates life in the wake of her sister’s death, and Clive, the local resort employee suspected of murdering Alison. It’s the kind of book you read in a day, and don’t forget.
Dear Edward (Ann Napolitano) — I couldn’t love a book more than Dear Edward, which is a beautiful and hopeful story of a young boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash. The chapters alternate between Edward’s journey from a grief-stricken child to a functioning young adult and the minute-by-minute situation on the plane as it heads towards disaster.
Long Bright River (Liz Moore) — The opioid crisis gets personal in a gritty neighborhood in Philadelphia, where one sister is a police officer cracking down on the drug trade, and the other sister is an opioid addict and prostitute who’s disappeared. If I made a list of books I couldn’t put down, this one would be in the top ten. It’s an edge-of-your-seat page-turner, but also a moving family story and an examination of society. Don’t miss it!
American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) — By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the controversy surrounding this book. My advice is to ignore it and read the book. I defy anyone to stop reading after the first page. I read American Dirt before it was published, and immediately thought it was one of the best page-turners I’d read in years — while calling attention to the human stories behind the faceless migrants we see in the news.