Dear Reading Friends,
In the height of the summer reading season, I’m excited to share eleven (I tried for ten!) of my favorite reads with you in case your TBR (to be read) list is depleted or you’re in a reading slump and need some inspiration!
I include only 3, 4, and 5 star reviews on the blog. As always, you can find all the books I’ve read and rated here on Goodreads.
Following is a collection of the eleven books that I’ve enjoyed the most (in alphabetical order) at this point in the year.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer
(a novella) by Fredrik Backman
Genre/category: Literary Fiction, Family Life, Alzheimer’s
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Britt-Marie Was Here comes an exquisitely moving portrait of an elderly man’s struggle to hold on to his most precious memories, and his family’s efforts to care for him even as they must find a way to let go.
With all the same charm of his bestselling full-length novels, here Fredrik Backman once again reveals his unrivaled understanding of human nature and deep compassion for people in difficult circumstances. This is a tiny gem with a message you’ll treasure for a lifetime. Amazon Rating (July): 4.5 stars
An amazing, creative, beautifully written short story with a huge impact and filled with love and tenderness. In Backman’s own words: “It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.” Highly recommended for older teens, men, women, anyone touched by Alzheimer’s, and can be devoured in one sitting. Rating: 5 stars.
Meet the Author:
Fredrik Backman, blogger, columnist, and New York Times bestselling author, lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife and two children. Visit him online at his blog: FredrikBackman.com, on twitter @backmanland, or on instagram @backmansk.
by Fredrik Backman (same author as “And Every Morning…”)
Genre/category: Fiction, Small Town and Rural, Sports
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.
Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world. Amazon Rating (July): 4.6 stars
As the author develops characters and establishes the setting in his unique style, tension builds like the distant rumbling of an approaching severe thunderstorm.
The action is a bit slow in the beginning but once it picks up the tension is sustained as the story plays out. Hockey fans will find this story particularly enjoyable! Filled with fascinating characters and infused with complex and important themes of family, parenting, competition, loyalty, courage, community, belonging, friendship, small town struggles and values, hope, and a girl’s “no,” I’m predicting that this powerful story will be one of the year’s best reads for me. Thoughtful and challenging on multiple levels, this will make a terrific book club selection. Highly recommended for hockey enthusiasts, men (my husband enjoyed it) and women. Rating: 5 stars.
Meet the Author:
(see previous review)
by Jennifer Latham
Genre/category: YA Historical Fiction, Prejudice and Racism
When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.
Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.
Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important questions about the complex state of US race relations. Amazon Rating (July): 4.7 stars
Few books give me a book “hangover,” and readers who’ve experienced this will know what I mean! Dreamland Burning has everything I love about a good story: captivating characters, unputdownable, important and timely themes, substantial content, and beautiful writing. In particular, I loved the seamless transitions between alternating time periods. It flowed like one story with no jarring reentry or mental adjustment into the next point of view. I appreciate the author’s hard work and her craft at making this happen. Dreamland Burning would pair well with Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult for its similar themes. Highly recommended for men and women, for older teens, and especially for thoughtful book club discussions. Rating: 5 stars.
Meet the Author:
Jennifer Latham is an army brat with a soft spot for kids, books, and poorly behaved dogs. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her husband and two daughters. Read more at http://www.jenniferlatham.com/
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Genre/category: Contemporary Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . The only way to survive is to open your heart. Amazon Rating (July): 4.6 stars
If you enjoy stories about quirky characters like Frederick Backman’s Ove or Britt-Marie, you will likely enjoy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Throughout this amazing, witty, poignant, and unique read, we learn her story. Eleanor isn’t fine, and I was completely captivated by her bravery and themes of loneliness, honesty, survival, unconditional love, healing, acceptance, and restoration. I wanted to crawl into the story and give her a hug. Highly recommended as a story that builds empathy for others. Rating: 4 stars.
About the Author:
Gail Honeyman is a graduate of the universities of Glasgow and Oxford. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress and is Honeyman’s debut novel. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland. Find more information at http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Biblio/AuthorDetails.aspx?authorId=85835 and follow her on Twitter: @GailHoneyman
News of the World
by Paulette Jiles
Genre/category: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Westerns
In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.
In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.
Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.
Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself. Amazon Rating (July): 4.6 stars
Do you often read outside of your preferred genres? I never would’ve chosen a western, but I loved this heartwarming and beautifully written story of the rescue of a ten year old girl. In the end, the tension between doing something right (the return) and doing the right thing (the ultimate rescue) earned this story a place among my favorites. Throughout the story, the author creates an amazing sense of place. Not often do I find historical fiction combined with literary fiction combined with westerns! I can envision those who love westerns awarding this 5 stars. Recommended for men and women, for its themes, and for beautiful writing. Rating: 4 stars.
Meet the Author:
Paulette Jiles was born in Salem, Missouri, in the Missouri Ozarks. Raised in small towns in both south and central Missouri and graduated from the University of Missouri (KC) in Romance Languages. After graduation she worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto and in the far north of Ontario and in the Quebec Arctic, helping to set up village one-watt FM radio stations in the native language, Anishinabe and Inuktitut. She became reasonably conversant in Anishinabe but Inuktitut was just too much. Very hard. Besides she was only in the eastern Arctic for a year. Work in the north lasted about ten years all told.
She taught at David Thompson University in Nelson B.C. and grew to love the British Columbian ecosystems and general zaniness. She spent one year as a writer-in-residence at Philips Andover in Massachusetts and then returned to the United States permanently when she married Jim Johnson, a Texan. She has lived in Texas since 1995.
She and her husband renovated an old stone house in the San Antonio historic district and amidst the rubble and stonemasons and ripped-out electrical systems she completed Enemy Women. She now lives on a small ranch near a very small town in the Texas Hill Country with a horse and a donkey. If you want a free donkey, please let her know. She plays Irish tin whistle with a bluegrass group, sings alto in choir, rides remote trails in Texas with friends. Her horse is named Buck. News of the World (William Morrow) was a finalist for the National Book Award. Read more at paulettejiles.com.
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
Genre/category: YA Historical Fiction, Survival Stories
Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies, war. As thousands desperately flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. But not all promises can be kept. Amazon Rating (July): 4.7 stars.
While reading this page turner, I discovered my new favorite author, Ruta Sepetys, and I’m on a quest to read all of her work. Salt to the Sea is an intense, engaging, and gripping historical fiction read featuring a quartet of complex characters each with their own story to tell and a hope of escape. It is a timely story as we hear in current events about refugees escaping war. On a cautionary note: I wondered if it was too heavy to be categorized YA (young adult). Recommended for its beautiful writing and for WWll fans. Rating: 4 stars.
Meet the Author:
Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to stories of strength through struggle. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over fifty countries. “Between Shades of Gray” was inspired by her family’s history in Lithuania. Her second novel, “Out of the Easy” is set in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and her third novel, “Salt to the Sea, exposes one of the greatest hidden disasters of World War II. Ruta lives with her family in Tennessee. For more information:
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult
Genre/catetory: Literary Fiction, Prejudice, Race, Justice, Family
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game. Amazon Rating (July): 4.7 stars
This is an important read and one that I often recommend; however, it was difficult for me to rate. First, I would award it 4 stars for being a page turner and for the focus on an important issue. At the same time, I would rate it 3 stars for the author’s overly pedantic tone (for my preference) and the too convenient plot twists at the end. Overall, that would average out to a 3.5 star rating. On Goodreads, I rounded that up to 4 stars. This rating comes with a word of caution that the author was heavy handed in her message….it seemed to me that the story was an excuse to share her personal views. I’m conflicted as I write this because it’s an important issue and message, but at times it felt like a lecture. In the end, I admire her bravery at tackling this important and sensitive issue. Without hesitation, though, I recommend this book for readers who enjoy controversial and current topics, nurses, and legal professionals, and to those readers who want to form their own opinions on trending new releases. It would make a terrific selection for a book club discussion. Plus, if you’re a huge Jodi Picoult fan you would want to read this prolific author’s latest. Rating: 4 stars.
Meet the Author:
Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-two novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “The Storyteller,” “Lone Wolf,” “Between the Lines,” “Sing You Home,” “House Rules,” “Handle with Care,” “Change of Heart,” “Nineteen Minutes,” and “My Sister’s Keeper.” She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. Read more at http://www.jodipicoult.com/
by Jane Harper
Genre/category: Crime Fiction, Mystery
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.
Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets. Amazon Rating (July): 4.4 stars
This is another book that’s outside of my preferred reading genres. I always love it when I take a chance to expand my reading and stumble upon something I enjoy. Even though this book didn’t end up on my virtual favorite reads bookshelf in Goodreads, I’m including it here for all of you who do love crime fiction and because it was a 4 star read. I appreciated the beautiful writing, excellent character development, and amazing sense of place the author created. In addition, the mystery kept me guessing until the very end (maybe that’s because I don’t read that much crime fiction and not an expert at picking up clues!). Another reason to read this book is that it’s been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon. Some of us are die hard “must read the book before I see the movie” types. Recommended for men and women who love a good mystery but who also enjoy beautiful writing. Rating: 4 stars.
Meet the Author:
Jane Harper was born in Manchester in the UK, and moved to Australia with her family at age eight and gained Australian citizenship.
Returning to the UK with her family as a teenager, she lived in Hampshire before studying English and History at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
On graduating, she completed a journalism entry qualification and got her first reporting job as a trainee on the Darlington & Stockton Times in County Durham.
Jane worked for several years as a senior news journalist for the Hull Daily Mail, before moving back to Australia in 2008 working with the Herald Sun in Melbourne.
In 2014, Jane submitted a short story which was one of 12 chosen for the Big Issue‘s annual Fiction Edition.
That inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously, and that year she applied for the Curtis Brown Creative online 12-week novel writing course.
She was accepted with a submission for the book that would become The Dry and wrote the first full draft during the three-month course.
Jane lives in St Kilda with her husband and daughter. To read more visit http://janeharper.com.au/
The Orphan’s Tale
by Pam Jenoff
Genre/category: Historical Fiction, Jewish
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.
Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything. Amazon Rating (July): 4.4 stars
The circus meets WWll…..an interesting perspective and engaging, page turning, memorable historical fiction read! I was inspired by these phenomenal and courageous characters and by the themes of survival, friendship, taking risk, loyalty, and caring for one another. Recommended for all historical fictions fans. Rating: 4 stars
Meet the Author:
Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including her most recent, The Orphan’s Tale, an instant New York Times bestseller, and The Kommandant’s Girl, which received widespread acclaim, earned her a nomination for the Quill Awards and became an international bestseller. She previously served as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department in Europe, as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon and as a practicing atto her masters degree in history from Cambridge University and her bachelors degree in international affairs from The George Washington University. Pam Jenoff lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school. Pam would love to skype with your book club or library group! Read more at http://www.pamjenoff.com/
The Pearl That Broke its Shell
by Nadia Hashimi
Genre/category: Women’s Fiction, Domestic Life
Afghan-American Nadia Hashimi’s literary debut novel is a searing tale of powerlessness, fate, and the freedom to control one’s own fate that combines the cultural flavor and emotional resonance of the works of Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lisa See.
In Kabul, 2007, with a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can only sporadically attend school, and can rarely leave the house. Their only hope lies in the ancient custom of bacha posh, which allows young Rahima to dress and be treated as a boy until she is of marriageable age. As a son, she can attend school, go to the market, and chaperone her older sisters.
But Rahima is not the first in her family to adopt this unusual custom. A century earlier, her great-great grandmother, Shekiba, left orphaned by an epidemic, saved herself and built a new life the same way.
Crisscrossing in time, The Pearl the Broke Its Shell interweaves the tales of these two women separated by a century who share similar destinies. But what will happen once Rahima is of marriageable age? Will Shekiba always live as a man? And if Rahima cannot adapt to life as a bride, how will she survive? Amazon Rating (July): 4.5 stars
If you enjoyed the Kite Runner, you might appreciate this gripping, page turning story of child brides, violence against women, and gender inequality in Afghan culture. Even though parts of the story are heartbreaking and disturbing, I think it’s an important cultural read and I was profoundly affected by the themes of oppression, plight of women, women fighting for voice and representation, injustice, perseverance, endurance, and hope for a better future. Highly recommended for those who love stories about strong women. Rating: 4 stars
About the Author:
Nadia Hashimi is a pediatrician of Afghan descent and an internationally bestselling author. She attended Brandeis University, obtained a medical degree from SUNY Downstate and trained in pediatrics at New York University. She has hometowns in both New York and New Jersey but now calls Maryland home. She is an advocate for women’s rights and a public speaker. Nadia loves a good story and strong female characters.
Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter or via her website (www.nadiahashimi.com) to learn more or request a virtual book club visit. She’s quite social.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Genre/category: Literary Fiction, Family Saga, Asian American
A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.
Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.
In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.
After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.
A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters. Amazon Rating (July): 4.5 stars
Fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed! This is an amazing read with themes of family, adoption, redemption, courage, determination, culture, mothers/daughters, sacrifice, and coincidence. Recommended for readers who appreciate Lisa See and who love learning about other customs and cultures. Rating: 4 stars
About the Author:
Lisa See is the New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and China Dolls. Her most recent novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, will be released by Scribner in March 2017. Booklist has said of the new novel, “See’s focus on the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, by birth and by circumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage to unconditional love.” Ms. See has also written a mystery series that takes place in China, as well as On Gold Mountain, which is about her Chinese-American family. Her books have been published in 39 languages. Ms. See was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001, was the recipient of the Chinese American Museum’s History Makers Award in 2003, and is slated to receive the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in 2017. Read more at www.lisasee.com
“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Next week I’ll be reviewing The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan if you’d like to “buddy read” with me.
I’d be honored if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog.
Did any of these books pique your interest? Do you have your own reflections on any of the above selections? What do you look for when choosing your next read? What are you currently reading? Please leave a comment!