Betty is the fearless leader of our Lunchtime Book Group.
In Richard Russo's new novel, three best college friends gather on the Vineyard some 45 years after their graduation and a life-changing weekend they had spent together. As close as they had once been, each harbors secrets which Russo skillfully weaves into a suspenseful plot. Piecing together that fateful weekend they reveal themselves and it's a toss-up whether character or narrative wins the day. Richard Russo is such great company to keep; this novel will remain with you.
Ask Again, Yes is the perfect drama. Neighbors where both Dads are on the NYPD and the kids are best friends can be a picture of suburban bliss. Or not, when a dramatic event tears everything apart. Suddenly their lives are disrupted, the adults scatter, but the kids (a boy and girl) are emotionally intertwined. Years pass and as lives knit back together we discover that the elements that caused the fracture might still be in play. This very satisfying story is well told and has charm and humor along with its heart-wrenching moments. I'd like to read it again right now.
This is a beautifully written ode to libraries wrapped around the true unsolved mystery of who set the devastating 1986 LA Central Library fire. Orlean, known for her skill with non fiction subjects, gives us a compelling story including wonderful Library characters, unknown processes of a Library, and a most interesting history of LA. I read and reread her prologue and last chapter, they were so moving. Give yourself the treat of buying and reading this book.
The beauty of this new novel is that you can "do" marriage counseling by eavesdropping. Sandy is working to help Gretchen and Steve repair their broken marriage, and it's fun to listen in on their process week after week. Screenwriter Osborn has given us perfect dialogue as he takes us through the nuances of saying what we mean. And while your marriage may not look like the one on display here, I'll bet you'll learn a thing or two to tune up the relationship you're in. This is a book that seems light, perhaps, but one that resonates.
What could go wrong when Andrei Kaplan leaves an inhospitable New York academic scene and heads to his native Moscow to look after his aging grandmother? The internet he relies on to teach his PMOOC courses is iffy, his grandmother occasionally can't remember who he is, and his money is quickly running out due to enormous Russian inflation. With ingenuity, dogged determination, and self-effacing humor, Andrei creates a life for himself. And when spring arrives and Russia opens itself to him, the narrative soars. Gessen has written a must read; don't miss it.
While 'scandal' has become a household word, the details are always fascinating. James Whitehouse, en route to high office in the British PM's cabinet has all the right credentials -- except he has had an in-office affair and is now being accused of rape. So we see how the Brits handle this kind of accusation -- the facts, the meaning of consent, and where truth draws the line. This book completely absorbed me (over barely two days)! The characters were great and the questions will resonate.
Tara Westover has written of her upbringing as the youngest in a Mormon family whose livelihood comes from her father's junkyard. Her early skills included stripping fuel tanks from cars and scrapping metal, but not books, arithmetic, or spelling. She eloquently tells the raw story of her wrenching development, which includes making a break from her own history and family. It's both fascinating and horrific and it is a must-read. I don't recall when a memoir has meant so much to me.
In this wonderful, evocative novel, we are told of the intimate love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Loretta Hickok. With tenderness and a sharp eye, Hick recounts living in the White House and the responsible, yet playful, life of the First Lady. The history alone is worth reading, and the remarkable characters who crowded their lives make this a very satisfying novel. In the end, what stays with us are the feelings two independent women shared, in a much earlier, less accepting time than our own.
There's a sinister joy at being dropped into the dysfunctional setting of someone else's workplace. Jillian Medoff happily provides all the details of a wobbly 2010 consulting firm through the eyes of HR. Long term assignments get brushed off, the financial whiz kid never comes to work on time, and the communications girl and training guy enjoy a very friendly 10-year relationship. To give too much away would be unfair. Here's an apolitical escape that will keep you rapt.
Discouraged by their sub-par law school and the crushing debt they've incurred to study there, three law students set out to maximize their legal skills. Their acts turn into more than a caper when they are unmasked. Still they almost manage to run faster than the law in what is a charming new John Grisham tale. Perfect for reading by a fire, the book has pace, charming characters, and just enough grit.
ules, at the end of a very profitable career and his marriage, goes to Israel to make peace with his parents (now gone) and on the way discovers a genetic link to King David. A younger author, whose strained marriage plays out in the back of her mind, is looking for clarity and falls into an exploration of Kafka. Each has a crazy character for an escort and part of the fun is differentiating the real from the virtual. Brilliant, provocative, and often hilarious, this is Krauss's most accomplished novel to date.
Shaker Heights was planned as an orderly suburb of Cleveland, a model for community planners everywhere. When Mia, an artist, and her daughter, Pearl, move to town, a series of unplanned, and combustible, events unfold. Drawn by Ng's sure narrative hand, there are wonderful 3D characters within this unconventional domestic drama and a pace which will keep you breathless. I loved Ng's Everything I Never Told You; this book is even better.
Ah, a new Louise Penny! This one is a real maze of intrigue, and I thought one of her better mysteries. Gamache puts his reputation on the line when he hatches a plan to thwart and capture a drug cartel or two and stem the tide of opiates that are ruthlessly killing people in Canada and the US. The usual cast mix with a group of millennials to confuse the reader in a most satisfying way. A little darker and more psychological, this is one of my favorites in a very good series.
When the British, French, Israeli, and American intelligence services are cooperating with each other, you know they're up against something truly evil. This time the bad guys are mixing drugs with the terrorism, and keen minds will have to strategize to wipe them out. Gabriel Allon is once again the shrewdest and the "games " of intrigue play out in a devious but clever and satisfying way. If you're looking to end August with a bang, this is the book for you.
Does a marriage implode slowly or does it happen in an instant? In Margot Livesey's Mercury, a family copes with the dangerous obsession a wife develops for a horse stabled where she works. The story is told by both the husband and the wife utilizing alternating viewpoints, and it beautifully integrates a Scotsman's reticence and an American woman's gusto and ambition. Rich supporting characters enhance this morality tale.
Tonight (sadly) I finished A Gentleman in Moscow. As with Rules of Civility, Towles has written a very satisfying book. The combination of several beautiful love stories -- the Count's for his homeland, the father's for his daughter, and the willowy actress -- all serve to soften the tale of the brutal transitions of early to mid 20th century Russia. Like an exquisite, and often hilarious, jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of this book fit together perfectly. We come away with a sweeping history lesson and characters we cannot let go of. What a treat!
Another wild ride from thrill master Silva, where ISIS is the enemy and the danger feels very real. Gabriel Allon embeds an Israeli doctor in the caliphate in an attempt to learn ISIS plans and thwart an attack. We go with the stunning Doctor as she penetrates the enemy and seems almost to become them. Of course chaos ensues with a complicated set of twists. Silva has written many Gabriel Allon books and they all terrify, then satisfy. This is a perfect "don't look up from the page" book.
Gail Caldwell tells her story of getting a new lease on life through her hip replacement. But since she's an award-winning journalist -- and off the charts writer -- her story is charming, caustic and real. Infused with descriptions of her struggles, her wonderful canine companion and her indefatigable determination, this is a victorious memoir.
I first met Roxane Gay through her collection of essays titled Bad Feminist. I love her writing which is direct when its called for yet lyrical in its way. Whether writing about Scrabble tournaments, or examining feminism as a personal mantle, Gay is a writer to cherish. Clear, entertaining and thought provoking, Bad Feminist may introduce you to one of your new favorite writers.
Since his earlier book, The Master, Tóibín has been my favorite Irish novelist. Nora Webster, his new novel, secures his place. The story of a too early widowed mother of four is both elegant and reserved. Nora is forced to return to work, cope with her young sons and reestablish herself all under the watchful, small-town eyes of her neighbors. Nora's spirit emerges in unusual ways, keeping her tale both surprising and rewarding.
Nora, the woman upstairs, is a third grade teacher we all know and love. She's wonderful with children -- lively and inventive and vulnerable to an obsession that drives the book. Messud's brainy, compulsive novel brings us inside Nora's life as she falls in love with a family - with them she becomes even more artistic and charismatic; but how can a single woman possess a whole family without setting off sirens of alarm?
Texas can be just like anyplace when it comes to family, community, unspeakable acts and redemption. This book, one of my favorites of the year, is a warm and wrenching tale of a family whose connection defies attack. The brothers are so perfectly drawn, you'll think they are your own children. Johnston writes like a dream.
If you want a master class in writing, read anything by Russell Banks. In his new collection of stories linked by their humanity, each of his characters tries to come to terms with a new situation in life. Funny, but touching, down to earth with moments of great hope and possibility, these stories set in Florida and upstate New York change your vision and stay with you a long time.
If, for some reason, you have missed Donna Tartt's earlier works, now is the time to jump on board. The Goldfinch is a sweeping tale that begins with a blast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and courses through the days of young Theodore Decker as he copes with a parentless world. The characters he meets along the way will be indelible in your mind. This amazing book is an accomplishment both in the writing AND the reading.
Who isn't intrigued by identical twins? Curtis Sittenfeld delves into the lives of twin sisters with a twist or two. Set in St. Louis, MO, Sisterland is an entertaining tale of lives affected by family, scholarship, ESP, and magnetic attractions. The central focus is a predicted earthquake that does its damage well before its arrival. Charming and well-paced.
Brutality and healing live side by side in rural North Carolina. Wiley Cash's debut novel explores religion,passions and brotherhood in a way that compels the reader to see it all. Does the church heal? Are sons like their fathers? Are children innocent? This is an amazing story. Wiley Cash's characters will make you cry, and this novel will echo in your heart for a long time.
Elizabeth Graver's new novel, long overdue, is a wonderfully unfolding artichoke of a book. It is a story of a family during WWII (and beyond) told through three different sets of eyes. Affluent and advantaged, the Porter family's issues tend to be emotional -- terrain in which Graver has proven herself quite skillful. This is a book well worth reading; the only abiding question is with which character will you find yourself most sympathetic?
If you love New York City, and if you swoon at a classic romance, and IF you are taken by gorgeous prose and lyrical images that linger, then you must read Mark Helperin's new novel. Starting after the war, in 1946, this is a pas de duex between a WWII paratrooper and a young singer he encounters. You will savor every phrase.
Manhattan, 1938, is the setting for this wonderfully satisfying tale of the rich -- and the not so rich! Amidst the glitter of New York are some unforgettable characters and a story that dazzles and lingers. We couldn't put it down.
A book I have often heard about, The Tender Bar was every bit as good as had been reported. J.R. Moehringer's memoir about growing up fatherless in Manhasset, Long Island is more than a coming of age story. It is a wonderful amalgam of unusual characters, dysfunctional family life, striving and setbacks, and a love affair with writing. Guided by his single mother, JR ricochets between her ambitions for him and the influence of Dickens the bar that dominates the story. The writing is gorgeous and the plight of a boy trying to define himself is a compelling one.
Tracing the interwoven lives of four Smith College friends during and after college, Commencement is a (less edgy), more appealing updated version of The Group. It is especially delicious to read about the college rituals and Sullivan gets the atmospheric details just right. Commencement has a great narrative thrust and wonderful characters. You will find it a great way to spend a few days caught up in the lives of others.