10 Books to Read This Fall

I can’t believe it’s already the last day of September. It’s been a glorious month here in Chicago, and I’m savoring every minute of the warmth and sunshine. For what it’s worth, the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting another frigid and snowy winter in the Midwest. All the more reason to have a pile of good books waiting to be read! Here are 10 books either just published or due to be published this fall to add to your list.

9780062306814The Miniaturist (Jessie Burton)
In 17th century Amsterdam, a young woman marries a wealthy businessman, who gives her a replica of their canal house — opening the door to many strange happenings. The book was inspired by an actual cabinet house owned by Petronella Oortman — which I was lucky enough to see recently in the Rijksmuseum.  The Guardian says it is “a fabulously gripping read” that will “appeal to fans of Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch“, which think describes it perfectly. (Although I dislike the word “read” used as a noun . . .)9780062336019

Gutenberg’s Apprentice (Alix Christie)
Author Christie, a letterpress printer, contends that Gutenberg’s success was due to his gifted young apprentice, Peter Schoeffer. According to the New York Times, “Christie spotlights intriguing parallels between 15th-century Europe and the digital media of the 21st-century world.” As a lover of the printed page, I can’t wait to read this one.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Jeff Hobbs)
Robert Peace escaped the slums of Newark, New Jersey to attend Yale University — where he was author Hobbs’s roommate. He died at age 30, the victim of a gang-related drug assassination. The book has been receiving a lot of acclaim; the Los Angeles Times says: “In the end, The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a book that is as much about class as it is race. Peace traveled across America’s widening social divide, and Hobbs’s book is an honest, insightful and empathetic account of his sometimes painful, always strange journey.” (Two other excellent books on this topic are The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore and A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind.)

9780062284068A Deadly Wandering (Matt Richtel)
A groundbreaking legal case and the latest scientific research on the brain and attention combine in this compulsively readable page-turner about a devastating accident affecting several families and the perils of multitasking in today’s digital world. There are no villains in Pulitzer-Prize winning author Richtel’s moving story of heartbreak and healing. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

What the Lady Wants (Renee Rosen)
Rosen’s first historical novel, Dollface, is an entertaining and enlightening excursion back to Prohibition-era Chicago.  I’m anxious to read her next book, set in the Gilded Age, about department store tycoon Marshall Field and his love affair with Delia Canton. There will be opportunities in Chicago to meet Renee Rosen, hear her read from the book, and ask questions; details to come.  (Due November 4)

9780307700315Some Luck (Jane Smiley)
Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres, a modern-day retelling of King Lear.  She returns to Iowa farm country with her new novel about 33 years in the lives of Walter and Rosanna Langdon and their five very different children. Each chapter covers a single year, beginning in 1920 soon after Walter’s return from World War I. The book is the first installment in a trilogy about the Langdons, and about the transformation of American culture and society in the 20th and 21st centuries. According to Publishers Weekly, “Smiley conjures a world—time, place, people—and an engaging story that makes readers eager to know what happens next.”

A Sudden Light (Garth Stein)
The Art of Racing in the Rain is one of my favorite books, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting Stein’s new novel. This one is not narrated by a dog — instead, by a 14-year-old boy, Trevor Riddell. Trevor’s bankrupt, recently separated father brings him and his sister Serena to their grandfather’s mansion in order to move the old man to a nursing home and sell the property for much-needed cash. However, Trevor discovers that there may be a ghost in the house, and secrets in his family’s history, that will prevent his father from carrying out his plan. I’m in the middle of the book now, and loving it . . . and that is surprising, because I hate ghosts.

we-are-not-ourselves-9781476756660_lgWe Are Not Ourselves (Matthew Thomas)
I think this debut novel, the story of more than 50 years in the life of Eileen Tumulty Leary and her family, is a masterpiece. I read the book months ago, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. As I was reading it, I was reminded of Alice McDermott. The New York Times reviewer remarked on the connection between the two authors: “Mr. Thomas’s narrow scope (despite a highly eventful story) and bull’s-eye instincts into his Irish characters’ fear, courage and bluster bring to mind the much more compressed style of Alice McDermott. (According to this book’s acknowledgments, she has been one of his teachers. If he wasn’t an A student then, he is now.)”

Five Days Left (Julie Lawson Timmer)
If you’re in the mood for a good cry, this is the book for you. Two people have five days left with the people they love most. I can’t really tell you more than that, except that if you read it on public transportation, make sure you have some Kleenex handy. It will definitely get your book club talking, although if you are the one who recommends it, you may be accused of suggesting “depressing” reading material.

Nora Webster (Colm Tóibín)9781439138335
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Irish author Tóibín, especially Brooklyn and The Master, and have been hearing wonderful things about his new novel. Set in his hometown in Wexford County, Nora Webster is the story of a widow raising four children in Ireland during the 1960s and early 1970s.  The Chicago Tribune says: “There is no flash and dazzle in Tóibín’s writing, just unobtrusive control, profound intelligence and peerless empathy that is almost shocking in its penetration.” I’m looking forward to hearing Tóibín speak at the Chicago Humanities Festival on November 9. (Due October 7)

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WWW Wednesday — Husband/Wife Version

IMG_0759A few weeks ago, my mother and I answered three questions:

What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you plan to read next?

Today, I’ll answer those questions for my husband, Jeff, and me. We are busy planning a trip to Europe, with visits to Amsterdam, Ghent, Paris, Normandy, and Brittany. So we have stacks of books that take place in those locations . . . many more than we can ever read, I’m afraid!

I’m currently reading Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, a novel about tulipomania, art, and a 9780385334921love triangle in 17th century Amsterdam. In 2000, when the novel was published, the New York Times said “Moggach’s sumptuous prose creates an impression of serenity that belies the passions just beneath the surface of Amsterdam in the 1630s, where the tulip market is reaching record highs . . . it’s a novel that ponders what it means to push things too far, and keenly examines what the consequences might be.” As the Publishers Weekly review pointed out, it is “popular fiction created at a high pitch of craft and rapid readability”. I’m enjoying the short chapters, each providing different points of view and each opening with an appropriate philosophical quotation.

9781610390965Jeff is in the middle of Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, by Noah Charney. If you  read Monuments Men (or saw the movie based on the book), you’ll recall the scene where the Allies discover Jan van Eyck’s “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, colloquially known as the “Ghent Altarpiece”, hidden in a German salt mine. Charney says, “For all its adventures, the biography of the Ghent Altarpiece, an inanimate object, reads as far more dramatic than the life of any human being”.Alexander_FlirtingFrench_jkt_FinalComp.indd

I just finished Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me, and Nearly Broke My Heart, by William Alexander. (I read an advance copy — it will be published in mid-September.) The author is a Francophile who very badly wants to become fluent in French, and tries every available educational method — but finds it’s impossible for him. The book is filled with humor — as well as all sorts of interesting information about linguistics, neuroscience, and French history and culture. If you like Bill Bryson, you’ll love William Alexander.

9780544290488This month marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Jeff recently read — and highly recommends — two books about the First World War. The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War is based on interviews with the last surviving American veterans of World War I. Author Richard Rubin tracked down dozens of surviving veterans (all over 100 years old at the time of the interviews, and all now deceased) and recorded their experiences fighting 9780300191592in the trenches. Jeff also read Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918. It’s a new translation of the actual wartime diaries of a French soldier. Barthas spent four years in almost constant combat, fighting in every major French battle. Somehow he managed to chronicle his experiences in a series of notebooks. When he arrived home, he added information (letters, official reports, clippings, etc.), eventually filling 19 volumes. (By the way, “poilu” means “hairy one” in French and is the French version of the American “doughboy” — an infantryman.)

9780062306814What’s up next? I’ll be reading The Hundred-Foot Journey for my book/movie club. Part of the book takes place in France, and Anthony Bourdain says it’s “easily the best novel ever set in the world of cooking” — sounds wonderful! I’m also looking forward to reading The Miniaturist (due August 26), by Jessie Burton — more historical fiction about 17th century Amsterdam. It was inspired by a miniatures cabinet now housed in the Rijksmuseum.cvr9781476746586_9781476746586_lg

Jeff has a treat in store — All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, my favorite book of 2014 — so far. (Coincidentally, miniatures also play an important role in this novel.) We’ll be visiting the walled city of Saint-Malo, which was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1944 and which is where the paths of the book’s main characters converge. I found through Google Maps that 4 rue Vauborel really does exist, so we will have to find out what’s there today . . . perhaps a “tall, narrow house”?