May 2020 Book Marks
If you received my previous “Beloved Books” blog post, you might have been confused as to why the list was extra long and the book choices were not new releases. Through my own quarantine-hazed brain fog, I left out the lead paragraph, which described how this random compendium of books came about.
During this time of sheltering in place, many friends have asked me what to read. I came up with a short list of some of my all-time favorite books from some truly beloved authors.
It’s been fun hearing from you about your own favorite reads and I’ve been adding them to my “must read” list, which keeps growing. Also, when you click the link to purchase, you help support an independent bookstore, so thank you!
And as usual, there’s another crop of good May reads coming out to take our minds off the anxiety and uncertainty of the looming question, “how does this end?”
Summer Longing by Jamie Brenner
Set in the tight-knit community of Provincetown with a colorful cast of characters, something about this book was not a typical beach read. Ruth, a hard-charging cosmetics company founder, has sold her business and is looking to remake her life at the tip of Cape Cod. The reason becomes clear further into the book, but I was taken by her introspection at the choices she’d made, the complications of being a workaholic, the difficulties of mother-daughter relationships and the dreams lost or subverted in marriage that led to divorce. When a newborn is left on the doorstep of her rental house, a mystery and a devastating secret is set in motion. Ruth’s ex-husband and daughter end up in town for an extended stay and the pieces begin to fall into place. If you’re tired of books that keep swinging back and forth in first person or ambiguous narrators and tragic endings, tuck this feel-good read in your beach bag for summer.
Best Behavior by Wendy Francis
If you’re looking for an entertaining and breezy pre-summer read, this lively novel plunges into the beating heart of family tension, parenting, relationships, blended families and second spouses. It’s graduation weekend for twins Cody and Dawn at their small, elite Boston-area college. Their mother Meredith is feeling unmoored as she wakes that morning, fighting the blues about sending them out-of-state to their first jobs when the weekend ends. As she and second husband Joel pack up for graduation weekend festivities, she braces herself to face her ex-husband and his peppy young wife, as well as both of their extended families. From the wilting temperatures to her jangled nerves, things are “off” from the moment they check into the hotel. With a diploma in jeopardy, a damning mystery text, clashing parenting styles, jealousy and a hospital visit, the story unfurls over one weekend. There’s just enough mystery, drama, stink-eye and yes, love, to keep you reading to the absolute end. In short, there’s something in this story that relates to every family.
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
When Maggie’s mother Iris dies unexpectedly in a car crash, she must confront how they have drifted in the past few years. She has never really felt as if her mother has accepted her sexuality when she came out to her. Now in her 20s and in a solid relationship, Maggie has lost the chance to repair things and grow back together. Arriving home to California from the Mid-West, she finds her brother unable to cope with the loss and her father completely devastated. Her mother’s will stipulates that the family mail five sealed letters (each to a different man) upon her death. Maggie decides to deliver each one personally, as a way to better understand her mother and the secrets she kept. That road trip forms the heart of the story as the daughter tries to uncover a better picture of who her mother really was.
The author skillfully exhumes many familial issues, from grief and loss, sexuality and the secrets we keep, the complexity of parent/child relationships and how we protect and hurt the ones we love.
The Library of Legends by Janie Chang
In 1937, when the bombs begin to fall on Nanking, the students at China’s Minghua University are ordered to flee. Housed at the school is a priceless treasure, a 500-year old collection of Chinese myths and folklore known as “The Library of Legends.” Hu Lian and her classmates have been entrusted with caring for this treasure and as they carry out their duty to safeguard the library, they begin the thousand-mile walk with faculty, staff and students to get to safety. As the ancient books travel across China, unexpected bonds and relationships are formed. But after a classmate is murdered and another arrested, Lian must break away from the group and find her way back to Shanghai and her family. The book weaves the story of a real, historic journey that will ultimately change the country’s fate.
Daughter of the Reich by Louise Fein
Many WW2 books have examined the Nazi regime from the perspective of the resistance, but few have taken a sympathetic look at the complexities of life and love from the Nazi perspective. Fein, whose Jewish father escaped Nazi Germany for England, originally thought she would write from the Jewish experience, but decided it would be more instructive to understand the mindset of the Nazis. Hetty, the daughter of a high-ranking Nazi officer is falling in love with Walter, who is Jewish. As they fall in love, the rising tide of anti-Semitism clashes with the dark forces of Hetty’s universe. Can love triumph over evil? What bold steps will the couple need to take to stay together? This well researched novel shows us the power of love and reminds us that the past cannot be forgotten.
And Then They Stopped Talking to Me – Making Sense of Middle School by Judith Warner
As someone who hasn’t had a middle schooler for many years, I expected to flip and skip through this book, but instead read it cover to cover. A rewarding combination of narrative, memoir and journalism, the book offers something for all students and/or parents who survived (or will) one of the most pivotal and tumultuous periods in life. With more than 125 interviews from a wide variety of students, parents, educators and experts, Warner digs into the hellish years between elementary and high school to explain the perfect storm of physical, psychological and social changes children undergo as hormones rage. Some of the hurt, exclusion and anxiety is inevitable. But the interesting part of this book lies in the complicity of the parents, who in many cases are righting their own middle school wrongs, and overly involved and concerned with status and achievement. The parents often experience some of the depression and anxiety navigating through these years as well. The book is a handbook to all parents concerning how to be moral role models, creating more empathetic, caring and resilient human beings.
The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe
Moe is a master at gallows humor with his successful podcast of the same name. In his new book, he tackles a serious subject in an incredibly clever, personal and refreshingly honest way. Part memoir, part story-telling exercise and part journalistic look through interviews with high profile celebrities, this book gives us permission to laugh about an illness that we are only now coming to understand. If David Sedaris wrote a book about depression, this would be his take.
*These are books I genuinely love and am thrilled to recommend to my friends. These are Bookshop.org affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Alternately, if you prefer to rent books at your local library or buy from your local bookstore, I very much support that!
Lee Woodruff Speaker-Author-Executive Media Trainer