NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR
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Hello there, reader! If you've finished all of my books and are wondering what to read next, check out some of my favorite reads by clicking on the buttons below. I love sharing my favorite reads with the world, and while I read and listen to some books that don’t wow me, I choose not to review those.
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In need of a cleansing sob fest? Check out my recommended book list.
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff
An edge-of-your-seat masterpiece based on real events in Poland during World War II. Pam Jenoff has done it again with a harrowing and somehow beautiful story of Sadie, a Jewish girl who must hide in the sewers of Krakow in order to avoid being sent to the camps or murdered in the streets by the Nazis occupying the city. She finds an unexpected friend—a lonely Christian girl named Ella who feels compelled to help…first by bringing food, then in a series of escalating steps to get Sadie and her family to safety. It a is heartbreaking, agonizing, wonderful, uplifting story about the best and worst of humanity.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah is one of the best authors alive. My review could probably stop there, but good golly, what a book! What a book! As with what is perhaps my favorite book of all time—The Nightingale—The Four Winds is a story of survival against the odds. Starting in 1930, Elsa Martinelli was doing well enough, despite a marriage she didn’t particularly want. But she finds a sense of family with her in-laws. Then comes the Dust Bowl, the stock market crash and the Depression come crashing into her world, and Elsa must choose between staying and striking out for California to carve a better life for her children, facing incredible hardship, bleak poverty and sickness.
The Four Winds, which came out this past spring, is also oddly prescient of today’s struggles in America. A pandemic in the form of “dust pneumonia,” a divided nation suspicious of outsiders, unemployment, poverty…this is not an easy read. But it’s a magnificent read, a story of resilience, endurance and friendship and the amazing, indomitable power of a woman on a mission.
Judge's Girls by Sharina Harris
When beloved Judge Joe dies, his daughter, stepdaughter and wife all struggle with the sudden loss…and each other. Maya, Joe’s biological daughter, is a talented attorney. All her life, her dad told her she’d have to work harder as a Black woman, and she has…to the point where she refuses to accept help or support from anyone. Joe’s wife, Jeanie, has always been cast in the role of white trash, but her love for Judge Joe was everything. Alcohol gives her the escape she wants, but it’s ruining her. Her teenaged daughter, Ryder, has never known another father other than Joe, and having always been a bit of an outsider in high school, starts hanging with a bad crowd to escape her suddenly horrible home life.
What I loved about this book was that Sharina Harris doesn’t pull any punches—each character, including the sainted Joe, is flawed, layered and complicated. And Sharina includes an element that was present in (Im)Perfectly Happy as well, something rarely seen in women’s fiction—a solid, loving relationship that won’t budge under pressure. Refreshing, intelligent and completely relatable, this book is a winner.
(Im)perfectly Happy by Sharina Harris
What a great read! Four college friends reunite ten years after graduation to remind each other of their dreams of the future. Now that they’ve had time to become fully-fledged adults, they have to assess if those goals are still viable, if they’ve made excuses for why they haven’t achieved them, and how they want to spend the next ten years of their lives. I loved each friend so much; strong, funny, hardworking women I’d love to meet for a glass of wine. Highly recommend!
The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs
A lovely story about a woman who leaves her corporate job to try to save her late mother’s San Francisco bookshop and care for her grandfather. Starting over is one of my favorite themes in a book…reinvention, going after something new, taking chances. I loved it, as I love all Susan Wiggs books.
The Peacock Emporium by JoJo Moyes
This is the story of an unusual family and their broken dynamic, and I loved every minute of it. (I listened to this one, and the narration by Elizabeth Sastre was utterly fantastic.) Susanna Peacock is the main character, and her transformation from unhappy misfit to a fully realized person was so believable and interesting. With a complicated past, a too-stoic father and a few secrets about her heritage, she has reason to feel like she’s never quite belonged in her own life. The charming set-up of her shop, her coworkers and regular customers was perfection.
Promises of the Heart by Nan Rossiter
A multi-leveled, beautifully written story that will glow in readers’ hearts long after the last page is turned.
Meg & Jo by Virginia Kantra
I don’t know of another author who could do justice to Little Women. In a warm, realistic, and humorous voice, Virginia Kantra knocks it out of the park with Meg & Jo in this rich retelling of the beloved classic.
Pretty Revenge by Emily Liebert
Two female anti-heroines struggling to shed their pasts, seek revenge and recreate themselves against the backdrop of the obnoxiously rich of New York. Juicy and delicious fun. You really don’t know which woman to pull for, since no character is just one thing.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
Gah! It’s terrifying in the most wonderful, creepy, believable way! Hanna is a seven-year-old girl who chooses not to speak. Her mother, Suzette, senses something is off about her daughter’s selective mutism…and her daughter’s obsessive love for her father. Suzette loves her kid, even when she fears her. Is the story over the top? Sure! Give me an evil child story any day for escapist chills and thrills. (Waves to Damien, who still terrifies me.
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Read it one sitting, and I can’t remember the last time I did that. Sally doesn’t make any cheap choices in this novel; every character is nuanced and relatable. Side note: my two moms loved it, too, and we’re having a special lunch just to discuss it.
I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
Reading a book by Sophie Kinsella is like visiting with an old friend. This book delivers on everything that’s made Sophie’s books so wonderful—a heroine struggling with self-worth and family pressure, a charming job in a family home-goods shop and a hero with depth and heart.
You Were There Too by Colleen Oakley
A hypnotic, slow burn of a book about what our lives are and what we might want them to be, and how those two ideas clash. Deep emotional insight, no easy answers and beautiful writing made it a fast and delicious read.
Flying at Night by Rebecca L. Brown
Raw with emotional honesty, this book is a fearless, graceful and compelling look at family, marriage and parenting. Utterly captivating. I loved it!
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
HOW TO WALK AWAY by Katherine Center tells the story of recovery and falling in love when you least expect it. On the day her boyfriend proposes, Margaret has a bad feeling. She’s right. An accident leaves her in the hospital, and no one wants to tell her how bad things are. I loved the intimate writing and cast of imperfect family members, friends and professionals who have to help Margaret adjust to a new way of life. Plus, there was a really believable love story, and that was the icing on the cake.
Little Big Love by Katy Regan
A beautiful, wrenching, joyful story about family, loss, love… and one intrepid little boy. This book will steal your heart.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler
The woman can do no wrong. She is nothing short of a national treasure. No one can write about childhood with as much poignancy and insight.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
For all of us who prefer to stay in and read, who like our lives tidy and uncomplicated, this is our story. Except, of course, Nina’s life becomes uncomfortably messy…and fascinating…when her biological father, a stranger to her, includes her in his will. A celebration of those of us who love trivia, reading, bookstores and home. Absolutely lovely.
Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
This book was a gentle, beautiful story filled with yearning, loneliness and self discovery. I ached for Ellie, so alone in her marriage, wanting to be seen and valued yet not really knowing her own worth. Seeing her journey, her small defiances and her slow realization that she deserved better was incredibly satisfying. Gorgeous writing.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
This is the story of a town that has one thing going for it—hockey. I don’t know the first thing about the game except it happens on ice, but as was true for Friday Night Lights, this book is not really about hockey…it’s about life in a small, cold town and the chance to get out. Trigger warning—a girl is raped. At this point, I almost stopped reading, but I’m glad I didn’t.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
A lovely, creative story about the roads not taken in our lives. Consumed with depression, Nora attempts suicide and finds herself caught in between lives, in a library staffed by her childhood school librarian. Each book Nora reads sucks her into the life she didn’t choose—glaciologist, musician, marriage to the boyfriend she rejected. It’s a Wonderful Life meets Groundhog Day. The ending was a bit easy, but the book left me feeling bright and optimistic. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by the brilliant Carey Mulligan, which added considerably to the experience.
Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette
A gently humorous story, AGATHA OF LITTLE NEON tells the story of Agatha, who became a nun at age 22. When her parish in upstate New York goes bankrupt, Agatha is transferred to Rhode Island with her three fellow nuns. Once, the nuns were daycare providers. Suddenly, they’re working in a halfway house for recovering addicts. Ms. Luchette has a quiet, calm way with the point of view of Agatha. The story is a bit slow to start, and I have to admit that I was distracted by the notion of four young American women turning to the religious service a bit farfetched, as a New England Catholic myself. (Does anyone actually know an American-born nun under the age of 75?) But this is a work of fiction (proven again with two white American-born males under the age of 43 who are Catholic priests), and it’s infused with a gentle wisdom. Agatha is a thinker, not a speaker, someone who joined religious life in order to be accepted, rather than because God called her. The glimpses into the sisterhood and community are told in short vignettes, and whether it’s the car breaking down or a visit to a wind farm, the story is gently propelled forward. When Agatha takes a job as a math teacher in the nearby Catholic school, her worldview starts to open, and she starts to question her choices. Agatha is delightful, honest, wry and intelligent, and this novel was a quick and delightful read, as light and sweet as a glass of prosecco.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
A beautiful woman (sigh) becomes mute after murdering her husband, and her (male) psychologist is obsessed with getting her to speak. It sounds cliché—the tragic, mysterious woman who loved her husband and yet killed him, the young doctor devoted to unlocking her mysteries. But it’s not! It’s so good and twisty and turny, and the ending will make your head explode in the very best way, and you’ll want to read it again immediately. Told from alternating points of view—our first person male narrator and the journals of our silent patient—it’s a fantastic book. Fans of Gone, Girl and The Girl on the Train will love it.
Island Queen by Vanessa Riley
Imagine having to buy yourself out of slavery—the slave holder being your biological father. Imagine having to buy your mother and sister their freedom. And imagine doing this as a woman of color in colonial times. This is the real-life tale of Doll Kirwan, told by master storyteller Vanessa Riley, who captures the strength, intelligence and power of Doll, an entrepreneur, hotelier and landowner who refuses to be defined by anyone but herself. The book is not only a one-sitting read, it’s a slice of history that needs to be told. Utterly brilliant, powerful and inspiring, it will take your breath away.
Dear Child by Romy Hausman
A brilliant thriller, Dear Child is the story of a triangle of people—a woman who’s escaped from the cabin where she was held captive, only to be hit by a car; the little girl who claims to be her daughter; and the father of a missing woman, hoping this Jane Doe is his daughter. So twisty and turny! Who held “Lena” captive? Where is the little boy? Whose body is lying in the living room? What I loved about this book, aside from the sheer genius of the plot, was that it was scary without being gory. No graphic details, which is perhaps more unsettling than too much information. All the characters were so well developed, and the writing was fast and sharp. Kudos to the translator who brought this to life from the original German, too. Can’t wait for more from this talented author with the twisted imagination.
The Other Wife by Claire McGowan
Just when you think you know a character, Claire McGowan blows your mind. This is the story of three women—pregnant Suzi, bored out of her mind in her beautiful home; Nora, the widowed neighbor, always peering out the window, obsessed with Suzi and her wretched husband, Nick; and Elle, an uppercrust woman in London whose only job seems to be waiting for her dashing husband to come home. But each woman is fascinating, and Ms. McGowan doesn’t pull punches at revealing them to be flawed, sometimes strange and completely relatable. The way their lives intertwine is masterful, and the entire story is told in a tense, exciting tone that leads to the crescendo of the ending. So good.
By Her Own Design by Piper Huguley
This book grabbed me so hard and so fast, I read it in one sitting. What an amazing novel—well, fictionalized history, really. This is the story of the legendary Black clothing designer Ann Lowe, who made (among other things) Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress. The thing is, she wasn’t a legend in her own time, or at least, not enough. Being a Black dress designer in the 1950’s and 60’s, she was “society’s best kept secret,” and her lack of accreditation hurt her business. This didn’t stop her, and that wedding dress was not the only iconic look she designed. Dr. Huguley tells this story with such intimacy, it’s like you’re in the shop or helping Jackie get dressed just before her wedding at Hammersmith Farm. A must-read for anyone who loves clothing design, American history, the Kennedys and a heroine who never stops reaching for her dreams.
The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev
Three generations of women come together for a crisis in this delightful, funny, heartwarming book. Bindu, the glamorous grandmother, has just moved into a posh retirement community, thanks to an unexpected inheritance that both delights and horrifies her. Aly, once married to Bindu’s son, is struggling to be seen at the news station where she’s a producer, still a little stunned that her husband left her to go back to India. Her daughter, Cullie, a whiz-kid in Silicon Valley, has her back against the wall as she’s promised a new app to her company…an app she hasn’t invented yet. The three come together after an unexpected twist in Bindu’s complex. This book is all about female relationships, the challenges and thrills of standing out, and the love that binds these women together. Funny, intelligent and filled with emotion, THE VIBRANT YEARS will delight readers.
The One that Got Away by Charlotte Rixon
This book is not a romance, it should be said upfront. What it is, though, is a realistic, often dark story of two people who meet in college, experience the overwhelming power of first love and mess everything up. Neither the hero, Benjamin, nor the heroine, Clara, is perfect. Far from it. Clara is bright, motivated, clingy, possessive and needy. Benjamin is depressed, unfocused, insecure, charming and intelligent. They are perfect for each other, but they’re also just kids.
As the two decades of their story unfold, we see just how hard relationships are, no matter the power of love. Clara and Benjamin break up, but they never get over each other. She marries a nice guy who barely seems to know her; he gets custody of his son after the boy’s mother abandons him. (The kid is the best character in the story.) But what Ms. Rixon does so beautifully is mesmerize the reader. I felt these characters, loved them, hated them, and I longed to know what had made their lives go so askew. Riveting and original and not afraid to tackle difficult topics, I loved the book…and its hopeful ending.
The Bridesmaids Union by Jonathan Vatner
This is a charming, slightly disturbing book about the American obsession with weddings. Iris Hagarty, a single mom in a dead-end job, has one thing going for her—she’s a great bridesmaid. But she’s also under-appreciated, overworked and in debt thanks to that fact. She starts a private Facebook group to air grievances about snappish brides and over-the-top bachelorette weekends and finds a lot of kindred spirits out there. When her sister, who is a successful doggy-shoe designer (you read that right) gets engaged to a man totally wrong for her (and possibly right for Iris), things start to ratchet up.
The plot of the book is not original, but there are some delicious twists and turns, as well as pointed commentary about how much of our days are spent measured against what we see on social media. Iris’s horrible parents, her mysterious older sister and the bride-to-be are not the caricatures they could have been. Mr. Vatner has a light touch but a powerful message, too. A delicious revenge read for all of us who’ve been mired in that kind of wedding.
The Daughter-in-Law by Nina Manning
This is a juicy story about a clearly disturbed mother who’s obsessed with her adult son. Oh, the creepiness of it! If Annie had her way, Ben would live with her forever, just the two of them, her making his bed and meals, him doing nothing other than breathing. Unfortunately, Ben has other plans…like knocking a girl up and marrying her without telling his mother, and Annie is convienced this jezebel has seduced her son and is going to destroy him. After all, she recognizes Daisy from somewhere, she’s sure of it.
Daisy, though smitten with Ben, is keenly aware that her mother-in-law is off. However, after a freak accident that kills her friend and destroys their apartment, Ben and Daisy have nowhere to go but Annie’s large house on the ocean. Unfortunately, Ben has to leave for work in order to support his new family. Numb with grief and shock, Daisy lets her suddenly kind mother-in-law take care of her. And that’s when it starts getting really creepy. This was a very fun read, though I did want to kick Daisy from time to time when she bordered on idiocy (taking tranquilizers despite being six months preggers, never reaching out to the one friend she has left). But Annie is a wonderful sociopath of a villain, and the plot twists kept a-coming.
The Maid by Nita Prose
A brilliant but unusual young woman, Molly Gray loves her life’s work as a hotel maid. Cleaning is her joy, and the posh hotel where she works is her cathedral. Though she knows she has difficulties interpreting people’s intentions and often comes across as innocent, Molly is no fool, either. With her incredibly charming vocabulary, her unusual friendships, grief over her late grandmother and her attention to detail, Molly is fascinating…and even more so after she finds a body in the hotel’s finest suite and soon becomes the prime suspect. The police are eager to pin this high-profile murder on her, but Molly’s disarming honesty and role as an observer make her hard to pin down. At times, poignant at others, The Maid is an incredibly satisfying book.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
Oh, Steve, how I love you! I feel like we’re old friends, you and I, especially that you yelled, “Yankees suck!” at me because I wore an NY cap to a Red Sox game, and I told you to get a life. Nevertheless, I love you, sir, and you owe me months, if not years, of lost sleep since I first picked up The Shining at age twelve and was forever scarred.
I loved two-thirds of Billy Summers, this assassin with a good heart, this man pretending to be slow, this lonely guy who has been so damaged by his horrifying childhood and stint in the Marines. Like any good sniper, Billy becomes an assassin upon coming home. It’s a living. When Billy has to move into a small town months before an assignment and assumes the identity of (what else) a writer, he finds himself unwillingly connecting with his neighbors and fellow office rats. How crushed they will be to learn he’s actually a cold-blooded killer!
But once the job is done and Billy is stiffed on his payment, the book veers off into a familiar Stephen King pattern. The first, perfectly wonderful story is hanging around, waiting for resolution, when suddenly, here comes a new story, loosely tied to the first but full of clichés. The damaged, very young woman Billy rescues from the gutter, literally. She falls in love with him (shocker!) and he with her (no!). She has no one to turn to in this cruel world (gasp), so follows him on his journey of revenge. But he doesn’t want to taint her with his bad mojo (of course), and even her love can’t save him (or can it?). They go to his crusty old mentor who lives off the grid in the mountains (you don’t say!) and the mentor knows and supplies all they’ll need for more assassinations. Then there’s shooting! Things go wrong! Wait, the bad guy isn’t really that bad, there’s another, way worse guy! More things happen, and more, and more, and then some more, until the plot has turned to mush and the book just won’t end. Seriously. At least five times, I thought, “This has got to be the last chapter,” only to find there were four or five more.
And yet, Billy Summers has the Stephen King magic, which is a book that grabs you by the throat, gives you all the feels and paints a clear and visceral picture. Do I wish I’d been his editor? Yes. Do I regret listening to the book? Not a bit. The narration was stellar and added a lot to the book, especially in the last third. I don’t usually post reviews of books that I don’t love 100%, but I figured old Steve could take it. (And the Yankees don’t suck, sir. Not at all.) If you have some time to kill, not a bad investment.