I’ve read so many good books already this year, I decided not to wait until January to write up my Favorites list. If you’re looking for some good summer reading, here are the books that I’ve fallen in love with:
Everything I Never Told You
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet.”
So begins this deftly-woven tale of a family coming undone. The story follows all five members of Lydia’s family as each searches to place the blame for her death on themselves and one another. The story threads back and forth in time, slowly building a complex picture of a complex family dynamic, until Lydia herself helps us to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This is a book that went straight back into my reading pile so I can comb through it again and look for the clues I missed the first time.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Kate Atkinson is one of my favorite authors and this is the first book of hers that I ever read. I picked it up again this year to see how her work has changed over the years. This book is classic Atkinson, another family saga spanning several generations, this time told through the eyes of the young protagonist, Ruby. Atkinson uses her wonderful dry wit to tell this darkly comic story of family secrets and seemingly endless tragedy, while dipping again into her bag of detailed World War II stories. This book is on my all time favorites list.
Dysfunctional families have been a theme for me this year, and I very much enjoyed Myla Goldberg’s story of Eliza, the unexceptional daughter of an ambitious family, who shocks everyone by making it all the way to the National Spelling Bee. But Eliza’s unanticipated success puts a crack in the fragile veneer, revealing the secrets and failings within. Goldberg writes with a humor and clarity that kept me leaping from each short section to the next.
A Tale for the Time Being
The story begins when Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing the diary and family heirlooms of a Japanese teen, Nao. Believing it has washed ashore in the aftermath of the tsunami, Ruth is determined to find out if Nao has survived. Through Nao’s journal, we learn her story of a rocky transition from Silicon Valley to Tokyo after her father loses his job, and her relationship with her grandmother, a 104-year-old Buddhist nun. It’s an engaging dip into Japanese culture and history, family lore and legacy, aging, suicide, and quantum physics, all with Ozeki’s humorous touch. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker award and won far too many other awards to list here.
Rebecca and I met in a writing workshop several years ago and when she read the opening chapter of her work-in-progress, Radio Head, I was instantly hooked both on Rebecca (because she’s lovely) and her book. An advanced reader copy of the finished book was the first thing I read this year. (Note: ARCs are just one advantage of stalking authors you love!) I’ll write more soon about what it’s like to read a book that you’ve watched blossom from first draft to completed novel, but for now, I’ll say the Rebecca delves into issues of creativity and mental health, in this lush behind-the-scenes tour of the music industry.
Me Before You
My neighbor told me so many time how much she loved this book that I finally broke down and bought it. It’s funny, heartwarming, and ridiculously romantic, but it pulls no punches when digging into the timely issue of euthanasia and the right to die. I fell head over heels in love with hapless Lou and steely Will, so much that I refused to see the movie when it came out. I wanted to keep the story in my mind and heart just as it was in the book. A high compliment indeed!
Claire Bidwell Smith
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, however I thoroughly enjoyed this story of searching for an answer to what happens after we die. It’s part memoir, part research project, part spiritual odyssey, as the author searches for meaning in the wake of her mother’s death and learn how to prepare her own young daughters for life after she is gone. The themes are similar to those in my forthcoming novel A Strange Companion, which is what drew me to the book in the first place. I attended a reading at my local bookstore, where the author brought with her a psychic medium. It was by far the most interesting and enlightening book event I’ve ever attended.
Lots of great reads here and a towering stack to look forward to for the second half of the year. Do let me know which books have captured your hearts this year.
Happy Summer reading!