What did you read this summer? What will you read? After all, we still have more than a month left! My friends and their kids started school in the Midwest, so their beach vacations are over. But here in the Northeast and elsewhere in the country, getaways are still in full swing. Well, regardless of your schedule, here are a two of my favorite books this summer so far.
by Meg Wolitzer
Who doesn’t love a book about friendships and love and happiness and heartache? This book, written by an expert commentator on culture and conundrums, spans decades nailing life’s changes that define each one. The story follows a clique of people who met as teens at summer camp in 1974. Jules, Ash, Ethan, Jonah, Kathy and Goodman all represent a part of yourself or someone you know. This book is not about a stunning, dramatic plot line. Instead, it’s for readers who love characters and their richness. On nearly every page, Wolitzer writes some poignant line that is something you’ve thought before but not been able to put into words: ““After a certain age, you felt a need not to be alone. It grew stronger, like a radio frequency, until finally it was so powerful that you were forced to do something about it.” I didn’t want this one to end.
by Curtis Sittenfeld
I’ll just be honest. The only reason I read this book was because I loved the author’s debut novel, Prep, so much.I knew Sittenfeld had a knack for recounting intimate thoughts and revealing tidbits about slices of life I knew nothing about. She still has those chops when it comes to Sisterland. But the subject matter is totally different. Stay with me here: Twin sisters Kate and Violet have ESP. One doesn’t dig it at all and tries to live a quiet, normal life. The other, Violet, is a flamboyant psychic who predicts a major earthquake in their state of Missouri. Head-butting ensues. If you can get over the gimmicky plot, the book is great. That’s because the author really gets that sibling relationship down. Her pace and her characters kept me turning the pages. Read it–find out if that earthquake really happens.
My friends are already asking me what to read on their summer vacations. The truth is, I have no idea. Unlike this time last year, there are no breakout books like Wild and Gone Girl. June looks like a slower month for book releases, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something amazing. We all just have to look a little harder (and consult the experts on these things). I checked out best-of lists from Publisher’s Weeklyand The New York Times and O Magazine, and here are my faves:
Kiss Me First
Lottie Moggach PW writes: This disturbing, engrossing psychological thriller will keep you up nights as the founder of a website that discusses philosophy lures a lonely young woman into a twisted scenario involving identity takeover via social media. A wild and wicked debut novel.
The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living Wendy Jehanara Tremayne PW writes: Summer is a perfect time to ponder—and try—living with less. Tremayne’s whimsically illustrated back-to-the-land memoir and DIY manual, which PW called a “rollicking, inspiring tale,” convincingly advocates for a “decommodified life.” Readers will be moved to consider everything from the concept of the gift economy to recipes for homemade toothpaste and kombucha.
Gail Godwin PW writes: Charismatic Helen Anstruther, the wry adolescent narrator of Godwin’s new novel, is left in the care of the “hopelessly effusive” Flora, a young family friend. The isolated and rambling house they share once served people recovering from tuberculosis or alcoholism. It’s 1945, Helen’s father is away on business and her mother is long dead, and the summer she spends with Flora—full of boredom, desire, and ultimately heartbreak—profoundly transforms them both. Godwin knows how to deliver rich, textured tales.
The Silver Star
Jeannette Walls O writes: Twelve-year-old “Bean” Holladay and her older sister, Liz, aren’t immediately concerned when their mother abandons them to “make some time and space for myself…to find the magic again”; she’s done this before—to chase a man, or her dream of being a singer. But when she doesn’t return after two weeks, the girls, who’ve been subsisting on a diet of chicken potpies, revert to plan B—buying bus tickets from California to their mother’s hometown in Virginia—to avoid being taken away by social services.
And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hoseinni O writes: And the Mountains Echoed opens like a thunderclap, with a fable of sacrifice told by a destitute Afghan villager to his son and daughter. What makes his sad tale even more searing is that the children are unaware their father is about to sell one of them. From this dramatic opening spins a constellation of star-crossed characters.
Sisterland Curtis Sittenfeld NYT writes: The high-concept gimmick at the heart of Ms. Sittenfeld’s new novel, “Sisterland,” is the premise of twin sisters who have strange psychic powers that enable them to foresee the future. One twin tries to suppress her ESP; like Samantha, the nose-twitching witch in “Bewitched,” she just wants to live life as an ordinary suburban housewife. The other sister cultivates her unusual gifts and becomes a professional psychic; she gains national fame when she warns that a terrible earthquake is going to hit the St. Louis area and is interviewed on the Today show. In both books Ms. Sittenfeld’s gifts for portraying the inner lives of her heroines manage to transcend the silliness and contrivance of her plots.
Bad Monkey Carl Hiassen NYT writes: A washed-up monkey, sex in a morgue, a severed arm at the end of a fishhook and other Carl Hiaasen capers make Bad Monkey his funniest novel in almost a decade.
My fiction pick of the month: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. If you want an enlightening and beautiful read, this is it. The author describes her book in detail below, but here’s my rundown: In a sweeping, well-researched tale that spans from 1929 to the present day, two women–both orphans–try to find their way in a harsh world. Expertly woven together, the main characters Niamh (pronounced Neeve) and Molly are fascinating and unique as they complement each other. I adored the history, latched onto the sadness and felt redeemed by resourcefulness and hopefulness. Christina’s writing is lovely, and the pace is perfect. Pick up the book at Target, where it’s an April selection or do what I did: Download it on Audible. The narrator of Orphan Train, Jessica Almasy, does an incredible read. Listening to Almasy’s rendition of this book–so vivid and emotional–was as much fun as getting swept away by an Oscar-winning movie.
But enough from me. Here’s what the talented and lovely author (she lives in my town) has to say about Orphan Train.
KK: In three sentences, how would you describe your book? CBK: Set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train highlights the real-life story of the trains that between 1854 and 1929 carried thousands of abandoned children from the East Coast to the Midwest. It’s the story of two women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and a troubled teen with one last chance at redemption. As they get to know each other, they find unlikely common ground and together are able to undo the emotional knots of their troubled pasts.
KK: What turned you on to the idea of writing about orphans? CBK: Years ago I read an article about my husband’s grandfather, who had been orphaned along with his five siblings and sent on a train to North Dakota. I’d never heard of the orphan trains, and was appalled to learn that the children who rode them were as young as two. As the mother of three young boys, I couldn’t imagine what that would’ve been like! So I began to do the research to find out.
KK: Orphan Train is so beautifully written, and the characters are inspiring. What message would you like your readers to take away from Orphan Train? CBK: Many train riders were ashamed of this part of their past, and carried the secret of it for decades, and sometimes until they died. I think that the main message of my novel is that shame and secrecy can keep us from becoming our full selves. It’s not until we speak up that we can move past the pain and step forward.
KK: What advice do you have for moms who want to take on–and finish–a dream project like a book? CBK: The writer Anne Lamott tells a story about when she was a kid and her little brother was overwhelmed by a school project about birds. Their father’s gentle advice: “Just take it bird by bird, buddy.” That’s useful to remember. You can write a draft of a book in a year if you write a page a day. The secret is not to get overwhelmed by the big picture. Set yourself concrete goals (in my case, four pages a day or 20 pages a week) and try to stick to them. Yes, this is easier said than done!
See how great it is–check out Orphan Train’s book trailer below.
Today, April 2, is a big day for new releases. I wanted to let you know about some cool stuff that just came out and wish the following awesome authors Happy Book Birthday! Really, these are all great reads, and I have reviews and author Q&As coming up on some of them.
Just this morning, I got to meet Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. She’s got a sad, helpful and funny new book out about her journey through adoption. I’ll write up my interview on Instant Mom this week. I love her–and her warm and honest book made me adore her all the more.
And Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery? She’s been all over the talk shows this week–and she’s an amazing person. Props also to my friend Christina Baker Kline who wrote Orphan Train, an Audible and Target pick of the month. Want to laugh? Check out STFU, Parents. You must do so right now.
Happy Book Birthday to:
by Nia Vardalos The gist: Nia goes through 10 IVFs, and then finally her daughter comes to her through adoption.
Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton The gist: An extension of her candid, truthful blog that everyone I know adores.
by Christina Baker Kline The gist: Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck or chance. Word on the street: This book is lovely.
“Ronan was not expected to live beyond the age of three; he would be permanently stalled at a developmental level of six months. Rapp and her husband were forced to re-evaluate everything they thought they knew about parenting. They would have to learn to live with their child in the moment; to find happiness in the midst of sorrow; to parent without a future. The Still Point of the Turning World is the story of a mother’s journey through grief and beyond it.”
Peace be with you, Emily. Peace be with your family. Peace be with Ronan up above.