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Top Pick

  • Expats

    The Expats by Chris Pavone. “Great spy drama. Exciting – it unfolds like a flower. TOTAL page turner.” And: “I really liked the flashback structure. Pavone has a unique way of using flashback that keeps you guessing about the characters and whether you can or cannot trust them.” And: “Very gripping and hard to put down. A spy story starring a wife and mother who in between intrigues goes shopping at European Costco and takes clandestine meetings while the kids are at school. Loved it!”

  • Faithful Place

    Faithful Place by Tana French. "How had I not heard of Tana French before last summer? In this, her third novel, an undercover Dublin cop is called back to his old neighborhood by his sister. He’s avoided the place since his girlfriend disappeared twenty-two years earlier, just before they were about to elope. Her suitcase has been found in an abandoned house, turning all his old assumptions upside down. He investigates (failing to mention to his higher-ups his personal involvement in the case). It’s a dark, compelling page-turner. French is a master of story and character and an exquisite writer. (NB: If you like Faithful Place, do not be tempted to think her earlier works must be even better. Unlike some writers who get lazy after one success, French’s work has only improved. It’s best to move on to the sequel, Broken Harbor)."

  • Gentleman in Moscow

    A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  This isn’t exactly a revelation.  Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility was a previous top pick, and this book was much-anticipated and was an immediate hit.  But I can’t not include it as a top pick, because it just IS a top pick. The story follows an aristocrat who is sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel in Moscow during the Russian Revolution and stays there for decades.  "The book is a lot more fun than it sounds.  Well written and the narrator is quite an engaging character.  There are some implausible plot twists but otherwise a very good book."  “Loved it.  What a wonderful character.  So much to chew on and think about, but also just a rollicking good story.”  “Loved it. My whole book club loved it.”

  • Girl on the Train

    The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. “It is a fast read and captivating. The kind of book you don't want to put down. I actually listened to it on audible.com and loves hearing the British accents of the characters. It really brought the book to life.”...”Definitely has similarities to Gone Girl. Both books are psychological thrillers told from different points of view.   I found it interesting that the author, Paula Hawkins, points to Tana French (Dublin detective series), Kate Atkinson (Jackson Brodie series) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) as influences on her work. I look forward to Hawkins' second novel.”....”I'm 46 pages in and enthralled/confused/can't stop reading it.”....”This is a perfect beach read. The book moves along nicely and has many plot twists. “....”light, easy read/beach book -but page turner”

  • Girl with a Dragon Tattoo

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson "I devoured them. Inhaled them. They are page-turners for sure, but with a social conscience. Mind you, a few of the scenes are very troubling and difficult to read. But there is nothing gratuitous about them. The characters are some of the best I’ve read in a long time, I think of them often." and "Hands down MUST read is the girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy. Just finished all and now will spend the rest of the summer with end of book blues. I dare you to find something better...amazing character development. Makes you want to go get some piercings and kick some a**." The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. “The first in the trilogy, this Sweden-set thriller warms up after the first third with great characters and a fascinating plot. Warning: a subplot is violence against women and some of the descriptions are quite graphic.” “It took a few chapters to get into the story, but then I was hooked! A total page turner.” “scary, but a page turner. Don't read if you're home alone!” The Girl Who Played with Fire. "The second book in the trilogy - more exciting and polished than the first. Larsson, who died shortly before publication, was a master." "Double wow! I liked this one even better than the first." "It's as intense as the first book with a cliff-hanger ending." The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. "I haven’t read it yet, but only because I’m saving it for a trip to BVI later this month. Hear it’s fantastic!"

  • Glass Castle

    The Glass Castle By Jeannette Walls. This emerged as the “must read” for the summer of 2006. Has been called an American Angela’s Ashes. “So touching, sweet, sad and hilariously funny. Page one and you are hooked. You MUST read it!"

  • Goldfinch

    Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  I know, I know … I'm sure this isn't the first you've heard of this book, but too many of you loved it not to include as a top pick.  Some of your comments:  “The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker's beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch. Shootouts, gangsters, pillowcases, storage lockers, and the black market for art all play parts in the ensuing life of the painting in Theo's care…”  “Wonderfully well-written book with great characters and an interesting plot that carries over many years.  It is the story of a young boy who ends up in possession of the Dutch Master painting The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.  His desire to protect the painting and what is represents to him defines the choices he makes and the people he comes in contact with.  It is a long book and at times the writing seemed repetitious, but worth the effort.“ “Gripping novel, non-thriller page turner, fabulous writing that gives you the opportunity to google new vocabulary words every 10 pages or so...  I am ¾ thru…expect it may end somewhat predictably but don’t care. I am thoroughly enjoying the literary ride!”   “Well written, absorbing story. It's long but push through the one slow part and you will be glad. Good to read in one fell swoop.”   “Loving the goldfinch so much, went on to read her older The Secret History, which I did not like because the characters were mostly self-absorbed little rich kids and no one seemed to have the guts to stand up for what is right.”  “not exactly 'beach' read, long..is one of those books I think if written in pre kindle times would have been edited more! But...that said, did love the story and struggle of a boy becoming a man in a very messed up situation but a few admirable adult characters.”

  • Gone Girl

    Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book made the list as a unprecedented "midsummer top pick addition" in 2012.  "I'm sure most of you have at least heard of it, if not read it. A gripping psychological thriller.  Very hard to put down."  One contributor commented, “A lot of HATE in that one!"

  • Good Daughter

    The Good Daughter: A Memoir of My Mother's Hidden Life by Jasmin Darznik. “After her father dies, the author discovers a photo of her Mom at age 13 in a wedding dress - with a man who is not her father. The book is the story of her mother's forced marriage in Iran and her efforts to build a life - it certainly made me glad that my daughters are growing up in America.” Another contributor called it “Fascinating and well-written.”

  • Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. "Delightful light summer reading. Great version on audio book if you have a long drive to your vacation spot. Our little ones didn't mind listenting to this -- they found the British accents endearing." (Ed: I flew through this book and enjoyed the history, but it's an epistolary novel, and I felt the letters were written in the same overly ingenuous style. But I think I might be the lone crank on the subject, so don't let me stop you.)

  • Hating Game

    The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.  Since this list is supposed to be “beach books,” I’m adding this enjoyable, lightweight novel.  It’s about colleagues, a man and a woman, who cordially despise one another.  Gee? I wonder what happens.  It is chick-lit, I suppose, but well-written and fun, and richer than it first appears.  Five stars for beach-worthiness.

  • Help

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett. "Initially I thought it would be one more (deserved) stab at racism in the South, but this is different. A very different voice and very real. Great book for discussion. Easy to read, good beach book."  "This book, set in the 60s in the South, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, explores those timeless bonds between women --regardless of race, of age, or of position in life." And another:  "This is my favorite book of the year and it should definitely qualify as a beach book. It is a page- turner for sure. I told a friend about it and she told me that she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it (she has small kids so this is no small sacrifice) … It’s just so engrossing, I wish I could start it over again. Walked by a woman the other day who was reading it sitting on a bench – she said she cannot put it down." I am on vacation with a friend who bought the book last night and was immediately engaged, saying it had changed her vacation. Now she “really has a book.” You know that feeling.

  • High Rising

    High Risingby Angela Thirkell.  I know this isn't a usual top pick, and I got some blowback when I put Woman in White on the list a few years ago, but 1933 novel is so charming, if you're in the mood for cozy British fiction, please consider it.  It was out of print for many years, but Virago Modern Classics has republished it.  Like other British provincial novels, it is simultaneously about very little and absolutely everything.  This is one of her Barsetshire series, whichtake place in Anthony Trollope's fictional English county, Barsetshire.  "High Rising is everything a cozy British novel should be. Thirkell has created a small village of wonderful characters including a strong widowed heroine who supports herself writing pot boilers and can still afford staff and a son at Eton. Light, charming, quaint, funny - the kind of book you read when you just want to feel good in a safe world where the biggest concern is whether or not the neighbor is going to marry his secretary."

  • History of Love

    The History of Love  by Nicole Krauss.  From Amazon:  "A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.  Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of “extraordinary depth and beauty” (Newsday).

  • Hyperbole and a Half

    Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.  "Allie, where have you been all my life?  I read some of blogger Allie Brosh’s humoristic memoir (which also features quirky cartoon drawings) to my teen daughter. We were laughing so hard we cried.  Brosh’s life has not been easy, and she is raw and honest in taking on tough topics, but she’s SO DAMNED FUNNY."

  • Imperfectionists

    The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman. I gather this book is like Olive Kitteridge – a bunch of stories loosely woven together. It’s gotten mixed reviews on Goodreads, but friends gave it raves: "I've been reviewing some of the books I read on Amazon and will be giving this one 5 stars once I think of a review that is worthy. Don’t read the summary on Amazon, just read the book!" and: "I raced through this book in a day, devouring the vignettes of characters who work for an American newspaper headquartered in Rome. Each chapter tells the story of a different employee at the paper. .. Between each chapter/character study is the ongoing back story of the paper's history and its founder, an American business man who leaves his wife and family in Atlanta to move to Rome and create the paper as a way to connect again with an old flame. There is nothing new about building a novel out of a series of connected short stories and the newspaper world creates a microcosm that works will with this technique. Rachman writes with a warmth and humor and an obvious affection for these ‘imperfect’ characters - his style elevates what could have been a fairly average book to something more substantial." (Ed: Just read that Brad Pitt acquired the movie rights.)

  • In the Unlikely Event

    In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Okay, I haven’t read it. It just came out. But it’s Judy, and we know it’ll be good for the beach! UPDATE - I read it!  You should, too, if you like a beach book.  It kept me perfectly engaged through two long flights and a ferry ride.  Most of the novel is set during a short period in the early 1950s when three planes crashed into the city of Elizabeth, NJ.  There are multiple points of view, but the protagonist is a teenager, Miri, so we get a good dose of Judy Blume doing what she does best - creating likeable teenage characters.  I loved Miri - she copes.  It's not as "beachy" as Summer Sisters, but only in that it's not set on a beach.  It has other attributes of a good beach book - nicely written, propulsive movement (no pun intended) well drawn characters.  Synopsis:  “In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.”

  • Invention of Wings

    The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd  “Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.”  “This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women”  “This is a flat-out masterpiece. Kidd has always written beautifully about the power of relationships between women (Secret Life of Bees) and in this book she does so again, set against the realities of slavery in the early 1800s. She focuses on fractious and loving mother-daughter relationships as well as how women grow in wisdom as well as years. The writing is perfect in every respect. This one deserves to become a classic.”

  • Language of Flowers

    The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  "A wonderfully creative premise - using flowers and what they stood for during victorian times as a means to express feelings for an orphan who grew up mostly in abusive foster homes - and a nicely woven together story, with some extreme moments. Overall an entertaining and at times heart wrenching read.”

  • Language of Man: Learning to Speak Creativity

    The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity.  by Larry Robertson.  (Link goes to website - will be available on Amazon soon, but better for author if you order directly anyway).  I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately about creativity, which is why I was so excited when Larry told me about his new book.  It's about creativity in PRACTICE.  He uses neuroscience, philosophy and the experiences of MacArthur Fellows (the "genius grant" awardees) to make a compelling case that we are wired to be creative.  It's SO smart.  It doesn't just tell you that creativity is not the sole purview of a few fortunate people - it shows you. In the words of Brigid Schulte from the Washington Post: “Within the first few pages of his fascinating new book, The Language of Man, Larry Robertson shatters deeply-held myths that creativity and genius are the birthright of a mere handful of elites, bringing the vaunted notion of genius out of the clouds and into our everyday lives. In a carefully constructed argument, backed by wide-ranging research from neuroscience to philosophy and the engaging stories of some of the most creative people on the planet, Robertson instead shows how creativity, more than anything, is a mindset, a habit, a choice, and the limitless and necessary birthright of us all. The accessibility of creativity this book reveals and the possibility it opens our eyes to are utterly captivating.