Category Archives: novels

Top 14 Books of 2014

Dearest ones! It’s that time of year again–to FREAK THE F OUT BECAUSE YOU STILL NEED PRESENTS FOR PEOPLE ON YOUR EVER-LOVIN’ LIST! Never fear, stressed Santas. You may have heard that #BooksMakeGreatGifts, and since you no doubt do not have time to sit down and read a bunch of them right this very second, I will recommend some for you, with Cliff Notes. Also luckily, 2014 was a terrific year for reading! So many astonishingly good books by debut and esteemed authors. Put these in your sack, and if you have time, enjoy before giving (just make sure not to eat chocolate while reading. Those fingerprints will give you away every time).

#FridayReads: THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA by Mary Miller

Dear Readers:

You know a novel has to be good when it can overcome my traditional aversion to teenaged narrators–Holden Caulfield, Katniss Everdeen, Gabriela from Iris Gomez’s TRY TO REMEMBER, and Karen Thompson Walker’s Julia from THE AGE OF MIRACLES excepted. To that company I’m adding Jess, the heroine of debut novel & Indiebound pick THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA, who tells this story of a Rapture-bound road trip with her family that starts in a Waffle House en route from Alabama to California (where the world will naturally end).
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#FridayReads: 10 More Books That Have Stayed With Me



Here are ten more books that I have loved reading, that have stayed with me and that inform my writing and thought process every day!

The House of Sand & Fog by Andre Dubus III
Affliction by Russell Banks
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
A Map Of The World by Jane Hamilton
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

What books have stayed with you? What books do you think about every day, and why?

Friday Reads: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY by Jay McInerney

When you read BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY in college, it seemed to you both deeply personal and the pinnacle of sophistication. You got the novel, first of all, because you’d grown up in New Jersey and spent weekends in New York, initially with your parents getting your braces tightened and going to Broadway plays, then with friends going to clubs like Nell’s and MK. In 1988, you wore petticoats that required you turning sideways to get through doors and smoked Capris because you thought they looked like joints. Your hair on either side of your head was bigger than your face itself, fanned out and crispy with hairspray, and you had a handcuff belt and a collection of asymmetrical earrings.

Friday Reads: AN UNSEEMLY WIFE, by E.B. Moore

Dear Readers,

Every once in a while you come across a book that contains a scene so memorable that it elevates the story from being a good read to great literature. An event so haunting you reread the story for years to come just to read that scene, because you know it’s coming, even as you wince in foreknowledge for the poor characters. A scene that makes you think, “Oh no, she DIDN’T!” at the writer because what she just did to her people was so terrible yet true, because he was brave enough to do it.

I’m thinking of Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” for instance, when the Misfit takes the family into the woods.

Friday Reads: THE POSSIBILITIES by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Dear Readers,

Remember George Clooney? (Just wanted to see if you were awake.) Remember a movie George Clooney was in called “The Descendents”? (It was a great movie, as most Alexander Payne movies are; if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. You’re welcome.) “The Descendents” was based on a debut novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

I read THE DESCENDENTS after I saw the movie and thought it was a terrific novel–about what happens when a Hawaiian native (played in the film by foxy George) discovers while his wife is in a coma that she was cheating on him. What effect does this have on him and his two daughters? What does he do? What happens to all of them? What happens to his comatose wife?

Friday Reads: STARTER HOUSE, by Sonja Condit

Dear Readers,

This week’s #FridayReads: another gripping debut novel! STARTER HOUSE, by Sonja Condit.

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I found this novel in an airport bookstore–Barbara’s Books in O’Hare, to be exact. THIS is precisely why we must continue to support our real bookstores–because it helps us discover books and authors we love! I hadn’t heard of STARTER HOUSE before finding it while browsing, but here’s how it worked:

1. The cover pulled me in. (Yes, we do judge books by their covers!) And I loved the title, which reminded me of “House Hunters” on HGTV, to which I am addicted.

Friday Reads: ALL FALL DOWN, by Jennifer Weiner

Dear Readers,

Five-star #FridayReads this week: ALL FALL DOWN, by Jennifer Weiner.

ALL FALL DOWN by Jennifer Weiner

I always buy super-bestseller Jennifer Weiner’s novels as soon as they come out because their heroines are smart, funny, warm and realistic–no surprise when you consider that two of Ms. Weiner’s literary idols are Nora Ephron and Susan Isaacs, queens of the narrators-who-sound-like-they’re-dishing-with-you-in-your-kitchen-over-coffee-&-danish realm.

But I especially loved and recommend ALL FALL DOWN because in her latest novel, Ms. Weiner marries her accesible kaffee-klatsch style with a serious topic: addiction. So for me, ALL FALL DOWN has unusual focus and gravitas, catapulting it onto my Most Meaningful Novels list. I know I’ll read this one again and again.

Friday Reads: THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, by Cristina HenríQuez

Dear Readers,

This week’s #FridayReads is yet another superb novel: THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS by Cristina HenríQuez.

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Set in an apartment complex in Delaware, THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS reads like a novel-in-stories, introducing us to one emigrant after another from different countries in Latin America and subtly, smartly weaving their stories together. Henríquez’s writing is so clear and eloquent that she makes each first-person narrator feel both easy and real–a huge task to pull off–and I was so won over by the freshness of every new voice and his/ her experience in the U.S. that I felt ashamed for a little while I wasn’t myself an emigrant to this country. Then I remembered: my ancestors must have felt like this once, just speaking in different languages from HenríQuez’s characters. THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS is more than an excellent, engaging read (which in itself is rare)–it reminds us that we are or were all, once, unknown Americans, and it holds a mirror up to us to remind us of our responsibilities and privileges in this country.

Friday Reads: 10 Books That Have Stayed With Me

Dear Readers,

There’s a Facebook conversation making the rounds asking readers & writers to name 10 books that have stayed with them. Part of me cries, “Only 10?” while another part of me immediately blanks out, like when I used to go to the video store and stand in front of the racks trying to remember the must-see movie list I’d made before I’d left the house.

However, part of the 10 Books Round Robin is to list those books without getting too thinky about it, so here, off the top of my head, are mine: