On My Summertime Reading List

Here's what I'm hoping to read this summer ... I'll get back to you if one strikes a chord. And let me know what's on your list so that I can add more to mine! 

(The blurbs below are from the publishers, so if you notice overwhelmingly positivity, that would be why ... remember, I haven't read these yet, so I take no responsibility if they are awful. Click on the book covers if you want to learn more.)

Sophisticated, intelligent, impossible to put down, Maggie O’Farrell’s beguiling novels—After You’d Gone, winner of a Betty Trask Award; The Distance Between Us, winner of a Somerset Maugham Award; The Hand That First Held Mine, winner of the Costa Novel Award; and her unforgettable bestseller The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox—blend richly textured psychological drama with page-turning suspense. Instructions for a Heatwave finds her at the top of her game, with a novel about a family crisis set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976. 

Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of forty years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta’s three grown children converge on their parents’ home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aoife, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret.

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented.  Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave.  She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

 Following up her highly acclaimed Girl Meets God, author Lauren F. Winner has written an engrossing reflection of literary grace and spiritual wisdom with Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.

As she lives through a failed marriage and the loss of her mother, Winner finds her Christian faith slipping away. Through reading religious works and tomes and being counseled by leaders of the church, she learns she must find the courage to trust in God in order to to find His presence.

Elegantly written and profound, Still offers reflections on how murky and gray the spiritual life can be while, at the same time, shows us how to see the light we do encounter more clearly.

Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice. 

Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It's a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.

Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle's guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son's irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.

Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family's housekeeper--in a town where blacks weren't allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle's first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

From an early age, Kate and her identical twin sister, Violet, knew that they were unlike everyone else. Kate and Vi were born with peculiar “senses”—innate psychic abilities concerning future events and other people’s secrets. Though Vi embraced her visions, Kate did her best to hide them.
 
Now, years later, their different paths have led them both back to their hometown of St. Louis. Vi has pursued an eccentric career as a psychic medium, while Kate, a devoted wife and mother, has settled down in the suburbs to raise her two young children. But when a minor earthquake hits in the middle of the night, the normal life Kate has always wished for begins to shift. After Vi goes on television to share a premonition that another, more devastating earthquake will soon hit the St. Louis area, Kate is mortified. Equally troubling, however, is her fear that Vi may be right. As the date of the predicted earthquake quickly approaches, Kate is forced to reconcile her fraught relationship with her sister and to face truths about herself she’s long tried to deny.

Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own. 

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.

What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.

Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. 

 

From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising—a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? 

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. 

Does Ursula's apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can -- will she?

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit at the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase.

Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge's land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

“Aawww shucks!” NPR's Nancy Pearl said. “I know that’s hardly a usual way to begin a book review, but it was my immediate response to finishing Matthew Quick’s heartwarming, humorous and soul-satisfying first novel . . . This book makes me smile.”

Meet Pat Peoples. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure him a happy ending—the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility.) The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being haunted by Kenny G! As the award-winning novelist Justin Cronin put it: "Tender, soulful, hilarious, and true, The Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful debut."

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

 

From the acclaimed author of Stuffed: an intimate, richly illustrated memoir, written with charm and panache, that juxtaposes two fascinating lives—the iconoclastic designer Elsa Schiaparelli and the author’s own mother—to explore how a girl fashions herself into a woman.

Audrey Morgen Volk, an upper-middle-class New Yorker, was a great beauty and the polished hostess at her family’s garment district restaurant. Elsa Schiaparelli—“Schiap”—the haute couture designer whose creations shocked the world, blurred the line between fashion and art, and believed that everything, even a button, has the potential to delight. 

Audrey’s daughter Patricia read Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, at a tender age, and was transformed by it. These two women—volatile, opinionated, and brilliant each in her own way—offered Patricia contrasting lessons about womanhood and personal style that allowed her to plot her own course. 

Moving seamlessly between the Volks’ Manhattan and Florida milieux and Schiap’s life in Rome and Paris (among friends such as Dalí, Duchamp, and Picasso), Shocked weaves Audrey’s traditional notions of domesticity with Schiaparelli’s often outrageous ideas into a marvel-filled, meditation on beauty, and on being a daughter, sister, and mother, while demonstrating how a single book can change a life.