Lee’s Book Marks
As an author and book lover, I’m often asked what I’m currently reading. Or, more fun for me, “What should I read next?” It’s a little like being a book shrink for your friends.
When I started posting books on social media, I began to get emails and comments from near and far; friends, acquaintances and other bookish folks. Some even weighed in to tell me how much they loved a recommendation, and a few to tell me – well—not so much.
It dawned on me that people actually were paying attention, sharing the information, talking smack about books, in a very good way.
There’s a lot going on out there in book world. Never before in history have we had so many choices. And self-publishing has opened up a whole new vein for good writers and authors whose works might not have seen daylight during the days of the traditional publishing funnel. E-books and audio books have also expanded the way we read; they’ve made books more portable and accessible.
There are so many great books out there that don’t get the exposure they deserve. Where does one go to get reputable information in a world where everyone has an opinion? I love the NYT Book Review and I still relish opening the Sunday paper. Word of mouth counts for a ton. My book group is an important source, as are other avid readers.
I look at Goodreads and follow writers I love on instagram and twitter. The Indie Next monthly newsletter is a book bible, as are blogs like Ann Patchett’s “Musings” or Emma Staub’s recommendations (both authors AND book store owners.) Find writers you love and follow what they say or read. “People,” “Vanity Fair” and “O Magazine” contain book reviews that often have me ripping out pages and tucking them in my calendar to buy.
There’s nothing like listening to an audio book when a professional actor does the reading. And yes, a bad/annoying reader can kill a book (frankly, most authors should stick to writing.) I listen to books on audible when I’m hiking, walking the dog, driving, or on the treadmill. Audio books bathe our brains in words, which keeps the synapses firing.
So—in an effort to be one more opinionated book-lover, I’m going to make a commitment to posting “Lee’s Book Marks” on a regular basis. This will by no means be an exhaustive list. There are far too many good ones for that. But my goal is to offer up a cross-section of what I’ve recently enjoyed, and I’ll try not to steer you wrong. Feel free to pass it on to your bookish friends, tell folks to subscribe to this blog, and send me your own recommendations!
Should Be a Movie:
It’s a girlfriend book, a smart piece of chick lit and a perfect end of summer beach read. What’s not to love about a narcissistic actress mother and her three, very different and disconnected daughters? When Mom brings everyone home to help her die, she has an ulterior motive and some wonderful, funny, touching and very real things happen. Green does dialogue the way real people speak and I felt transported to Westport, Connecticut with her descriptive writing.
I came across this staff recommendation at an indie bookstore in Portland, Maine. A wise reader looks closely at staff picks ( and anything Madonna blurbs, just for the curiosity factor.) This is a wonderful, info-packed and quirky book about the history of our love of precious jewels and jewelry and their sometimes-pivotal role in shaping history. Learn the story of diamond engagements rings, the cultured pearl industry, why emeralds are so valuable and the history of the wristwatch. Each chapter was an education delivered in a cheeky fun way. If you enjoy Mary Roach’s books like “Gulp,” “Stiff” and “Grunt,” this reminded me of her genre.
My friend Amy worked on this novel over a number of years, weaving part memoir with fiction. It is written in three distinctly different voices; the main character, her sister and her daughter. The novel has all the elements of a good summer read, family secrets, both dark and delightful, a relationship based on lies, a teenager who is hiding something and an ending that satisfies, without tying it all up in a bow.
New Discovery of an Older Book:
I’m a huge Hoffman fan and if you haven’t read “Marriage of Opposites” it’s a slow burn of a great story. I had missed this book when it first came out and I found it at a friend’s house on a nightstand. It’s the story of one small, fictitious Berkshire town, founded in the 1700’s with the help of a black bear. (I won’t spoil it.) Hoffman moves through the next 200 years with descendants of the original townsman in loose forms, weaving in everything from magic eels to Johnny Appleseed as she brings us up to present day. Her ability to tell a tale is masterful, but this is one of my faves. She’s also just come out with a pre-quel to “Practical Magic”, called “The Rules of Magic.” It’s on my list.
If you ever curled up with Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christies and you love a good mystery, you’ll be eager to turn the pages of Anthony Horowitz’s latest. It’s classic British mystery in a small village with a very modern twist. Magpie Murders is cleverly written as a book within a book, a puzzle within a story. If you love English who-dunnits, with vicars and willies and cardigan sweaters and the manor on the hill, but think of them as formulaic and stodgy, well, you’re in for a treat.
New Author/Historical Fiction:
Benton’s very first novel took one heck of a lot of research into life in Philadelphia in the 1880s. She evokes vivid descriptions of real life institutions for unwed mothers and describes the perils of being a woman during that era in ways that transport all of your senses back in time. When Lilli decides to keep her baby, in order to avoid life long poverty and shame, you’ll be captivated even more. This book reminded me of J. Courtney Sullivan’s “Saints for All Occasions,” although that story deals with a different time and the Catholic faith. Benton is an accomplished writer and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Everyone likes a little steamy sex with their lifestyles of the rich and famous read. Right? Peterson has nailed the Hamptons the way “Crazy Rich Asians” took on a segment of Hong Kong society. As outrageous as Holly’s story is, its all based on real stuff! Looking for flash, sizzle and a fast, fun read ala the show “Billions” with a little of “The Affair” thrown in; this is your great escape. Batteries not included.
Wish I’d Written It:
I’ve long been a Maile Meloy fan, but with her latest novel, she’s reached into the rich and harried psyche of parenting, marriage, fear and loss and come up with a page turner. The children are lost during a cruise to South America. And there is guilt and blame involved. As the story barrels on from both the kids and parent’s perspective, Meloy digs in to how we respond when tested by the unimaginable. Her eyebrow-arched observations about the human condition nail it and I love the way she constructs a sentence. There is a lot of domestic scene painting in the very beginning, but stick with it. It’s about to get really good and hot in the jungle.
If you like books that grip you by the throat in the opening pages, ala my iconic author friend Harlan Coben— this one has more action, blood, heart thumpers and blood chillers in the first few pages than a Freddie Kruger movie. The thing is, Slaughter is a good writer too. I had to set the book down a few times as I chewed over her descriptions of things. How would it really feel to claw my way out of a shallow grave with a busted shoulder if I were buried alive? Well, you can find out.
This book is a great read in any form, but it was an especially fun book to listen to because the narrators nailed the southern voices from bad cops to river rats to elegant ladies to babies. The novel is part “Orphan Train” meets “Water for Elephants” in the grand sweeping style of historical fiction. It’s based on a the scandal surrounding the true and heart-breaking story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the abuse and actual baby stealing that took place in the first half of the 20th century. Get ready to be horrified and heartbroken in places, but the loving bits and the personal story redeems the novel every time you want to despair. When the past and present of the story collide, its like putting two halves of a heart necklace together to discover the mystery. Loved it.