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Top Pick

  • Let's Take the Long Way Home

    Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship – Non-Fiction by Gail Caldwell. Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp (author of Drinking: A Love Story) became best friends after meeting over dogs. “If you love dogs and women....this is the book for you.”  “It says a lot that Gail Caldwell’s ferociously anguished chronicle of her best friend’s terminal cancer, that it manages to be, among many other things, a properly intelligent examination of the way in which dogs can help heal our past, enhance and challenge our knowledge of ourselves, even shed light on the mysterious workings of the human soul. If female friendship is the beating heart of this book, then a bond with a dog is the vein of pure tenderness that runs through its pages. You feel that the women’s friendship would never have existed in quite the same way without this crucial, balancing canine element." 

  • Lincoln at the Bardo

    Lincoln at the Bardo by George Saunders "This is such a different way of story telling (including quotes - real and fictional - about Lincoln and the historical setting). I think going in without a lot of preconceived ideas and just letting the story unfold is the best way to go. The premise is Lincoln visiting his eleven year old son's grave the day of his burial. But really the heart of the book for me was the wide ranging cast of characters who are between the worlds - in the Bardo of the title - and their touching, funny, tragic, and heart breaking stories. I listened to this book on audio which I highly recommend. There are over 160 voices and they all bring these characters to life (so to speak). Many of the characters make fairly brief appearances but they are vivid in my memory.”

  • Little Way of Ruthie Leming

    The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good LifeBy Rod Dreher. “It's a wonderful book--just released and debuted on the NYT bestseller list. A story of family, community, small town America, illness, and a meaningful life. Ruthie Leming – the author's sister and a non-smoker – is diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in her early 40s. Little Way tells the tale of what happens in the wake of her diagnosis. The ways in which a community rallies around the Leming family and the ways in which it profoundly changes her brother Rod, the author. It's a beautiful book and I highly recommend it to you readers. I couldn't put it down and--despite crying several times during the book. I felt happy and uplifted after reading it. Little Way is a rare book and I hope you and the beach books list will give it a whirl.”

  • Love That Boy

    Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, And My Son Taught Me About A Parent's Expectations by Ron Fournier.  "Believe the rave reviews of Ron Fournier's book about his autistic son Ty, Its brave, wise and big-hearted and has so much to say to all of us about parenting."  "Ron's son has Asperger's. Ron's wife suggested he take Ty on some road trips to presidents and presidential libraries, a passion of Ty's. The trips would be good for father and son and would help Ty to learn those things that don't come naturally, like making eye contact and modulating his voice. The book is about those trips."  Here's an interviewwith the author that will make you cry.

  • Luckiest Girl Alive

     Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll.  MID-SUMMER ADDITION!  I read this until 4:00 this morning, so please excuse my incoherence. This is such a quintissential beach read, I felt it was worth calling to your attention.  Also, because I almost didn't read it because of the weird cover - so weird I just had to include a picture of it.  (WTH?).  Okay, brief synopsis:  Through sheer force of will, TifAni FaNelli, now known as Ani (Ah-Nee) has finally gotten everything she wanted - the rich, blue-blood fiance, the awesome job, the right clothes.  But she is both haunted and driven by some terrible, very public incident from her high school years, when she attended an elite school on the Main Line in suburban Philadelphia. You go back and forth between her high school life and her present-day "perfect" life as the old story unfolds.  I hadn't read much about it, but enough to be warned that the "Gone Girl" comparisons are overdone, which they are.  It's dark and you aren't sure how reliable the narrator is (or whether you're supposed to love her or hate her).  I am probably too tired to think through all the many flaws, but as this is (ostensibly) a "beach book" website, I think the key words are:  "read this until 4 a.m."  The most Gone Girl-esque thing about it was how it grabbed me by the collar and didn't let me go.


  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

    Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson. "What a terrific first novel. It's about a widower in a small English town who falls for a Pakistani widow who runs a shop. The writing is lovely, as is the story. This is an author who knows and plays to her strengths. Yeah, it's a little neat, but who cares? It was a delight to read, a feast for Anglophiles. Like this bit of dialogue:

    'But he already has a title,' said Jasmina.
    'A Scottish title isn't really the same thing at all,' the Major said.
    'Especially when you buy it on the Internet,' added Roger.

    There were times I wasn't sure if I shared the author's sensibilities -- intentional perhaps. In the end, all who deserved my compassion had it."  "I listened to this on audiobook, which was excellent."

  • Me Before You

    Me Before You by JoJo Moyes—“This is one of those books that really makes you sad to finish. Charming characters and good twists. Heartbreaking and also happy if that is possible.” …  “love love the subtle romance and touching "sigh" resolution. Nice to read a story about a bright 20 something in search of finding her importance too.” …  “the perfect beach book if you don't mind your tears falling into the surf. It's the stereotypical love story between people who have no business falling in love - but it's gorgeously written and makes a real statement about what's important in life. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one is an 11." 

  • Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian

    Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Platesby Carol Blymire. We’ve never had a cookbook as a top pick, but this one is special. Not only was it co-written by our clever and devoted contributor, it also includes great summery recipes. (Carol, among many accomplishments, also cooked her way through the Alinea Cookbook. See here).

  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You I'm Sorry

    My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You I'm Sorry by Fredrik Backman. Elsa is seven years old. She is brilliant and bullied.  Before her grandmother (who had been her best – really only – friend) dies, she gives Elsa a letter and asks her to deliver it.  This is the beginning of what turns out to be a great odyssey, with Elsa delivering letters to various people to whom her grandmother wished to extend posthumous apologies.  In the process, Elsa learns about herself and her family.  It’s a heartwarming and engaging story.

  • Nineteen Minutes

    Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  This is a typically gripping Picoult novel about a school shooting. "I haven't read anything that great recently but can't put this one down. Good summer fiction." Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens -- until the day its complacency is shattered by a shocking act of violence. In the aftermath, the town's residents must not only seek justice in order to begin healing but also come to terms with the role they played in the tragedy.

  • Norwegian by Night

    Norwegian By Nightby Derek B. Miller.  Evidently this novel has been a big hit in Europe. "I found it a little slow at first, and then I was taken on a great ride.  It is a well written novel that has many aspects to it.  It is hard to put it in one category. It is a thriller.  There is a historical piece, that I really enjoyed.   There is plenty of humor, and yet, it is very touching.  It has been awhile since I read a book that I didn’t want to put down, and didn’t want to end.  All the members of my book group thoroughly enjoyed it." "The protagonist Sheldon Horowitz, is a wise 82-year-old who carries the weight of many losses - his wife, his son (Vietnam), his friends. Then a woman upstairs is murdered in while he is hiding in the closet with the woman's young boy. Afraid the killer and his gang will return for the boy, Sheldon runs off with him, and an adventure ensues, with Sheldon's many memories woven through.  Sheldon's wonderful character emerges throughout the novel. It's just magnificent."

  • Number One Ladies Detective Agency

    The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and other books in the Alexander McCall Smith series.  "The latest installment in the series (Blue Shoes and Happiness) was on the bestseller list earlier this year, but you need to read them in order. This book is more about the characters and the land and the move away from the ‘old ways’ than about mysteries. The characters really grow on you.” My mother-in-law also enjoyed 44 Scotland Street by Smith.

  • Olive Kitteridge

    Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Stout "My favorite fiction book this year. So many facets of one life with perspectives from many. Half way through the book I looked at the questions in the back and one asked if I liked the main character Olive at which point I thought ‘No, absolutely not!" but by the end of the book I really did like and appreciate her.’  "Great writing. It weaves subtle, sad, and at times shocking life stories in a Maine town."

  • One Day

    One Day by David Nicholls. This novel, published in 2009, has gone a little viral, perhaps because of the impending movie adaptation. Contributor comments: “It should be called ‘One Date,’ as it's about a whole bunch of July 15ths, over a period of 20 years in the lives of Dexter and Emma. I liked peeking into the window their lives, one day (date) at a time, and felt the novel worked well structurally. I had a rooting interest in the outcome, and appreciated their witty exchanges.” … “Great read, well written, good characters.” … “Picking up this book was like reliving 20 years of time with two best friends I didn't even knew I had! Dexter and Emma meet at Edinburgh University on July 15 1988 and every chapter is a glimpse into their lives on July 15 for the next 20 years.”... "This would be a fantastic book to read on the beach. So engaging, you love the characters, well-written but v accessible."

  • Paris Wife

    The Paris Wife by Paula McClain. I think I might be the only one who has not yet read (and loved) this novel, so this may be a review in service of just me. In fact, it got so many recommendations that I had to winnow down the comments (which I did at random): "A simple, but nicely told story of Hemingway and his first wife during their time in Paris. The story comes across very real the entire time, you feel for Hadley, know that it all will not end well - and so does she pretty much, but totally understand her choices and her acceptance of the consequences. The writing is kind of lyrical.” …. “Interesting from two perspectives: historical and a love story. Liked because Hemingway is such a fascinating person. His huge self-confidence and adventure seeking persona are intriguing.” … “You'll want to reread Moveable Feast when you finish.”

  • People of the Book

    People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks: This one also got a few votes. "I just finished this. One of the most interesting, well-written books I've read in a long time. She's a masterful writer and tells a terrific story." And: "I am in the middle of Brook’s latest and am totally captivated. As she has in her other books, the characters are quickly real to you and important. But this one is a mystery, really, about tracing the history of an ancient book. So far I love it, but I have always loved her books!"

  • Proof of Heaven

    Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Dr. Eben Alexander.  This book got many votes in 2013 when it appeared as a top non-fiction pick.  It is about a brain surgeon’s near death experience.   “This book had tremendous impact on me. Of course, Scientific American is discounting everything in it. I read it after a good friend died and shortly after the terrible tragedy in Connecticut occurred. As I watched the Rabbi, Priests, Ministers, etc., give their eulogies, it just was so clear to me that they were all praying to the same ‘person.’ Alexander's writing simplifies things in a way that gave me a language to explain these two events to myself and to my children. Highly recommend for anyone who is struggling or suffering from a loss.”  “This book doesn't constitute ‘proof,’ but it's an interesting addition to the literature on this topic. The author makes his case from his perspective as a neurosurgeon who underwent a critical illness and had a near death experience.”

  • Reunion

    Reunionby Beth Brophy.  "My friend and neighbor has just published this wonderful book about three friends who get together for a reunion to catch up and bond for a few days in a beautiful mansion in the resort town of East Hampton, New York. What could go wrong? A lot, as Faith, Holly, and Charlotte discover. Each of them is struggling with a major crisis, and past decisions that have led to their current predicaments. How will their futures be impacted, and will their friendship survive?  Great story, and beach book defined - set at the beach to read on the beach!" "Absorbing and insightful."

  • Room

    Room by Emma Donohue. Novel. “A riveting story, told entirely from the perspective of a five-year-old, which you would think would get tiresome but somehow doesn’t. It becomes clear quite early in the novel that the whole of the young narrator’s life has been spent in one room, though due to the absolutely heroic efforts of his mother to protect him, he doesn’t know what he is missing. Through the child’s eyes, the circumstances that led to their living in ‘The Room’ unfold, and events ensue.” … “Overall, do not be put off by the subject matter - the strength of the first half of this book makes it worth reading." Several of you commented on the relative weakness of the second half of the book, but all agreed it's a page-turner.

  • Round House

    The Round Houseby Louise Erdrich. Lots of positive comments:  "Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich’s The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture."  ...   "Modern day version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Very interesting story about life on an Indian reservation in the Southwest."