You know the saying ‘you can take the librarian out of the library, and then smush her into a blog?” No? Is that not a saying? My bad. That being said, once January 1st rolls around this former-librarian-turned-blogger begins her annual search for that year’s top books. I ask friends, read blogs, search bestsellers lists, browse bookstores and work hard to compile the ‘must-reads’ of summer. Then, life gets busy and *blink* it’s the end of July– and not only have I barely made a dent in my own reading, I realize I have yet to post my exhaustive list! Thanks to a nudge from a friend (wut up Julie K!), I decided it’s better to share it late than never. Without further ado, here’s the books that everyone is reading and talking about this summer, broken up into five categories: historical fiction, beach reads, engrossing stories, mysteries & thrillers, and non-fiction & memoirs.
FYI: all blurbs surrounded with quotation marks are taken directly from Amazon, and the links provide more information on each title. Which books are on your list to read this summer?
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. There’s something about learning history through the eyes of another character that brings it to life and enriches the story.
Orphan Train is one of the first books I read this year, and enjoyed learning about an event that hasn’t been talked about in history books. It astounds me what life was like in America at the turn of the century and just how far we have come, for better or for worse. This story is told in both modern and historical times, weaving two character’s stories throughout. A quick read. “An unforgettable story of friendship and second chances that highlights a little-known but historically significant movement in America’s past.”
By the same author as Little Bee (which means if it’s anything like that one, it’s probably brutal and heartbreaking but will stay with you long after it’s finished): “Set in London during the years of 1939–1942, when citizens had slim hope of survival, much less victory; and on the strategic island of Malta, which was daily devastated by the Axis barrage, Everyone Brave is Forgiven features little-known history and a perfect wartime love story inspired by the real-life love letters between Chris Cleave’s grandparents. This dazzling novel dares us to understand that, against the great theater of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.”
This is NOT a book from 2016, it was actually published several years ago and I happened to pick it up at a thrift store (go figure). While none of the main characters are really lovable, you’ll find yourself drawn into the mystery and rooting for them by the end. It also ties in a period of history little known to me despite it’s massive impact, which continues to chill me today.
For fans of the bestselling The Kitchen House, this is the continuation of that riveting and heartbreaking story. For those who wonder ‘what happened next?’, this book is for you.
Sometimes you just need a fast pageturner to read on the beach or plane.
A blogger in Philly? That’s about all I have in common with the main character, but this still sounds like a fun beach read. Here’s what happens when you spin a few small tales and get ensnared in much larger ones– in other words, be careful what you blog about!
The follow-up to last year’s hit (and upcoming movie) Me Before You, which I can thank for depleting my tissue budget in one night.
“What would you do if you could literally rewrite your fate—on Facebook? This heartwarming and hilarious new novel from the authors of Your Perfect Life follows a woman who discovers she can change her life through online status updates.” (if you enjoy this book, you’ll also love The Year We Turned Forty by the same author).
Another fast book with a twist by author Liane Moriarty (who wrote one of my favorites from last year’s list, Little Big Lies). “Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over—she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over.”
I’ve titled this Engrossing Reads because these draw you (and, in some cases, spit you out again).
This is #1 on my next-to-read list. I enjoyed A Man Called Ove (see below) and wonder how this one compares. “Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.
But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met—a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.”
FIVE STAR RATING on Amazon! “For years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig, largely absent to his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness records–obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son’s unfinished Boy Scout badge.
The One-in-a-Million Boy is a richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.”
Oh man, I loved this book. Interestingly enough, I didn’t enjoy it until about 2/3 of the way through and suddenly I found myself entirely engrossed and, of course, sobbing. “A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).”
Sure to be heartbreaking and endearing. “August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go.
What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together.”
Sounds like Wonder Years meets Stand By Me with a darker spin. Thirteen year old Frank Drum begins the summer of 1961 “preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.”
Continuing a common theme this year, here’s a family mystery that unfolds through a beautiful story. “Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. It was a belief that helped shape her own childhood and that of her brother. Now, more than twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in New Bern, North Carolina, cleaning out his house when she finds evidence that what she has always believed is not the truth. Lisa is alive and living under a new identity. But why, exactly, was she on the run all those years ago? What secrets are being kept now, and what will happen if those secrets are revealed? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality. Told with Diane Chamberlain’s powerful prose and illumination into the human heart and soul, The Silent Sister is an evocative novel of love, loss, and the bonds among siblings.”
This book has been one of the most talked about of the year, so it will be interesting to see if that is a result of an amazing publicist or if it’s worth the hype. “This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.”
Interesting characters, a mystery, and revelations from the past woven into a page-turner sure to draw you into this unusual family (noticing a theme in 2016?!). “Lorelei Bird raised her four children and husband in a happy, picturesque home in the Cotswolds in England. So how is it that she ended her life starving, alone, and surrounded by junk? Jewell cleverly frames the destruction of the Bird family with Lorelei’s last communications, e-mails with a man she met online. As Lorelei opens up about her messy life, her three surviving children narrate their struggles with adulthood. All of their reminiscences eventually come back to Lorelei’s meticulously planned, stringently unchanging Easter Sundays, particularly the one where her youngest son, Rhys, a strange and lonely 16-year-old, hanged himself. He left no note, and as the story of this fractured family unfolds, the truth eventually comes out. Jewell deftly balances present-day funeral planning with revealing, increasingly explosive revelations from the past. Just when you think this family can’t endure anymore, the father is moving onto a Spanish commune with the mother of his granddaughter. This is an absolute page-turner as all of the surviving Birds make their uncertain way back to the house they grew up in. –Susan Maguire“
Mystery and Thrillers are my other favorite genre, and most of these also involve some aspect of historical fiction which makes them WIN-WIN in my book.
A continuation of Stieg Larsson’s series written by David Lagercrantz, this book continues where Larsson’s trilogy left off. “A genius hacker who has always been an outsider. A journalist with a penchant for danger. She is Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. He is Mikael Blomkvist, crusading editor of Millennium. One night, Blomkvist receives a call from a source who claims to have been given information vital to the United States by a young female hacker. Blomkvist, always on the lookout for a story, reaches out to Salander for help. She, as usual, has plans of her own. Together they are drawn into a ruthless underworld of spies, cybercriminals, and government operatives—some willing to kill to protect their secrets.”
I love a great mystery, and this one is highly rated (plus it’s part of a series, so if you enjoy it, there’s more like it!) “Jane Casey’s next riveting mystery featuring beloved detective Maeve Kerrigan will keep readers turning the pages from the opening scene to the stunning conclusion.”
This moving historical fiction story will appeal to fans of All the Light We Cannot See (one of my absolute favorite books from last year). “The lives of three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and one is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.”
Currently reading this, actually! I’ll let you know what I think after I finish. 🙂 “Flight of Dreams is a fiercely intimate portrait of the real people on board the last flight of the Hindenburg. Behind them is the gathering storm in Europe and before them is looming disaster. But for the moment they float over the Atlantic, unaware of the inexorable, tragic fate that awaits them.
Brilliantly exploring one of the most enduring mysteries of the twentieth century, Flight of Dreams is that rare novel with spellbinding plotting that keeps you guessing till the last page and breathtaking emotional intensity that stays with you long after.”
I’m not a Bronte fan (and rarely enjoy books with unlikable characters, and you’d be hard pressed to want to befriend any of these characters), so was unsure how I’d feel about The Madwoman Upstairs. However, it helped me learn more about the Brontes while cursing the title characters and their bad decisions at the same time.
“In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—hailed by Deborah Harkness as a “charming and memorable read”—the last remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt, using only the clues her eccentric father left behind, and the Brontës’ own novels.”
I’m a sucker for British mysteries. Are you? “When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation. The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika. The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong… resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?
For fans of ‘thrillers of the year’ such as Gone Girl. “Like the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.”
I’ll admit I tried to get into this one but couldn’t, however, it would appeal to hardcore mystery lovers and/or Canadians. 😉 “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.”
I first heard Adam Grant speak on NPR and he is clearly my spirit animal. I sat in the car in freezing temps saying ‘YES!’ to everything he said about how to raise successful non-conformists, and how they move the world. Hey, high test scores are great but if you want to break through that ceiling or raise game-changers here’s how and why to nurture originality in kids. “Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.”
It’s no secret I adore Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It has revolutionized my home and life. Kondo’s second book is an illustrated guide to the KonMari Method, a FAQ if you will– it has everything you’ve been asking for: practical “step-by-step folding illustrations for everything from shirts to socks, plus drawings of perfectly organized drawers and closets. She also provides advice on frequently asked questions, such as whether to keep “necessary” items that may not bring you joy. With guidance on specific categories including kitchen tools, cleaning supplies, hobby goods, and digital photos, this comprehensive companion is sure to spark joy in anyone who wants to simplify their life.”
THIS ONE. If you read any book this summer, MAKE IT THIS ONE. “At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.”
I thrive on positive energy, and this book shares practical steps to bring out the best in both yourself and those around you. “10 secrets for approaching life and work with the kind of positive, forward thinking that leads to true accomplishment – at work and at home.”
There you have it, this year’s TOP books. It’s after midnight, almost August, my computer is STILL restoring files two weeks after the big crash, and I’m heading on a roadtrip tomorrow. If you love books, SHARE this list and discuss how many of this year’s top books you have read, will read, or plan to say BYE FELICIA and leave on the shelf. It’s important to know the must-not-reads too.
What’s on your list to read next? Tell me all about what you’re loving right now!