The sun is shining. The grass is growing greener. Buds are sprouting on the trees. I think summer might actually come this year. Nothing else I've counted on lately has happened as the coronavirus pandemic has upended any semblance of normalcy and predictability, but I think I can count on summer.
If summer is coming, that means so are these amazing books. I can't wait to crack them open, even if I'm doing so from my couch instead of a beach towel. My state might not reopen in time, but I'm still opening these.
"Want" by Lynn Steger Strong
Elizabeth has a husband, two children, two jobs, a Ph.D. and is filing for bankruptcy. Life in New York just isn't panning out the way she'd hoped. Her only recourse is to wake early to run in the cold. Elizabeth reconnects with a childhood friend, Sasha, who is also going through a difficult time. These women's intersecting stories highlight the costs of wanting itself -- and the violence that can accompany those desires.
"You Exist Too Much" by Zaina Arafat
This novel about a Palestinian American girl turned DJ takes place in New York, a treatment center called The Ledge and in the Middle East. It reads so much like a memoir that I had to keep checking to make sure it was fiction! When the narrator tells her mother that she is "queer," her mother storms out of a restaurant and tells her daughter that she "exists too much." This story about love, identity, gender and family is brilliantly written and questions the effects of maternal love.
"Friends and Strangers" by J. Courtney Sullivan
The latest novel from bestselling author J. Courtney Sullivan tackles motherhood, friendship, family and betrayal. When Elisabeth moves to the suburbs as a new mom and accomplished journalist, she confronts her newfound loneliness by immersing herself in Facebook groups, scouting her Instagram influencer sister's account and then by hiring a babysitter. Sam, the sitter, is deep in student loan debt, and finds not only employment but also a kinship with Elisabeth. Yet when Sam's relationship with Elisabeth's father-in-law heads to murky territory, the women have to deal with the fracture in their imbalanced relationship and examine what, exactly, motherhood means.
"The Wife Stalker" by Liv Constantine
The latest book by the Reese's Book Club bestselling sister/author team, Lynne and Valerie Constantine, "The Wife Stalker" tracks the life of Joanna, a mother in Westport, Connecticut, who has been trying to pull her husband, Leo, out of his depression. Suddenly Joanna must deal with the new girl in town, wellness guru Piper, who also has her sights set on Leo. This psychological thriller told from multiple viewpoints had me gasping in surprise.
"Age of Consent" by Amanda Brainerd
This novel about close high school friends takes place in the early 1980s. It follows two girls from their posh Connecticut boarding school to the super cool streets of Soho in Manhattan. As the teens engage with older men and try to parse out their identities amid the art scene, they have to cope with their parents and their own coming-of-age in an alternative, gripping way that will make you want to blast some David Bowie -- and hold your own teens tight.
"Curse of the Night Witch: Emblem Island Book One" by Alex Aster
This type of fantasy novel is not normally my jam, but Alex Aster's story, which she wrote as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, is a compelling feat of collegiate productivity that expertly tackles questions of fate and predetermination. Are we really in control of what happens in life? (It doesn't feel like it these days.) Aster has also recently emerged as a pop singer to watch with 2 million downloads of her song "Divine" while in quarantine. This debut novel, about a culture that brands fate in tattoos on each person, is thought-provoking in a "Sliding Doors" way.
"Before You Go" by Tommy Butler
What does it all really mean? Elliot Chance struggles to make sense of the world -- as so many of us are doing right now -- and joins a support group to cope with what he feels is a hole in his heart. This thought-provoking, quick, soulful read is like having a philosophical heart-to-heart in your college cafeteria.
"The Lions of Fifth Avenue" by Fiona Davis
The latest historical novel from bestselling author Fiona Davis starts in 1913 at the New York Public Library and features its superintendent and his family. Laura Lyons, the wife and mother, applies to journalism school at Columbia and ends up dipping into a downtown bohemian scene that has her questioning her entire identity. Eighty years later, Laura's granddaughter, Sadie, uncovers details about her grandmother's life as books keep disappearing from the library, a crime Sadie is determined to solve. She ends up uncovering a hidden tragedy among other discoveries in the stacks.
"Florence Adler Swims Forever" by Rachel Beanland
If someone in your family died, would you be able to keep it a secret to protect someone else you loved? This is the central question at the heart of this thought-provoking, lyrical debut novel about a family that has to make sense of the drowning of one of its own and what happens to the rest of the family that holds its secrets close.
"The Second Home" by Christina Clancy
A Cape Cod summer story, "The Second Home" follows sisters Ann and Poppy and their adopted brother Michael back to their family home 15 years after a summer incident that changed their lives. After the death of their parents, the siblings are left to sort through the past and the present with this second chance at forming a true family.
"The Last Flight" by Julie Clark
Claire Cook, the wife of a powerful Kennedy-esque abusive man, plots her escape from their high-profile marriage and ends up swapping plane tickets last minute with another woman at the airport. When the flight Claire was supposed to be on crashes, she must hide her identity while uncovering secrets she never imagined existed.
"The Chicken Sisters" by KJ Dell'Antonia
KJ Dell'Antonia, the former Motherlode editor at The New York Times and author of "How to Be a Happier Parent," wrote her first novel, "The Chicken Sisters," about a family that owns a chicken business in Kansas. Their lives are upended when one daughter enters a reality TV contest in the fictitious "Food Wars," and the sisters have to come together -- or not -- to save their coop.
"Adult Conversation" by Brandy Ferner
April is a mom of two who is struggling with the middle-class motherhood issues that are so prevalent in today's society. She turns to a therapist for help who ends up encouraging her to get back into clothing design. But then, the therapist unexpectedly ends up colluding with April when her own marriage falls apart. The two of them head to Vegas for a trip that will change everything and definitely puts their patient/therapist relationship in jeopardy.
"Mother Land" by Leah Franqui
Rachel Meyer, a 30-something newlywed foodie from New York, moves to Mumbai with her Indian-born husband only to have his mother, newly single, move in with them. When Rachel's husband leaves for a work trip, the two women face off over running the home, a period of time that calls into question everything they both thought they knew. An international mother-in-law tale for the ages!
"The Paris Hours" by Alex George
Four stories intersect in acclaimed novelist and independent bookstore owner Alex George's latest novel that takes place over the course of one day in Paris in 1927. One character, Marcel Proust's maid, has saved one of her former employer's notebooks. A down-on-his-luck artist suddenly welcomes Gertrude Stein into his studio. A puppeteer from Armenia riffs on fairy tales. A journalist takes cover in other's stories. Their four lives converge in this page-turning blend of fact and fiction.
"Happy & You Know It" by Laura Hankin
A failed musician takes on a gig as a Mommy & Me performer for a chichi playgroup in a private home on Manhattan's Upper East Side in debut novelist (and former playgroup musician!) Laura Hankin's book. She reluctantly becomes a part of the group and uncovers some of many secrets these perfect-on-the-outside moms are hiding. Everything is definitely not as it appears.
"Beach Read" by Emily Henry
This is so meta! A beach-read author settles into her recently deceased father's secret love shack for the summer to crank out her next book yet confronts the worst case of writer's block of her career. She realizes that her next-door neighbor is actually her college nemesis, a literary fiction author who frowns on the likes of her commercial "chick lit." When they decide to switch genres as a dare, suddenly all sorts of words, thoughts and feelings pour out on the pages of their two books -- and in Emily's!
"You Again" by Debra Jo Immergut
A 46-year-old woman starts seeing the 22-year-old version of herself all over New York City. She wonders if she's hallucinating as time goes by and the appearances don't ease up. Meanwhile, her life in middle age is falling apart as her marriage hits a rough spot, her teenage son veers off course and she struggles to maintain her sanity. How far will she go to track down her younger self and see if this alternate version is reality or not? Written by Edgar Award nominee Debra Jo Immergut, "You Again" will have you rethinking everything.
"The Boys' Club" by Erica Katz
Alex Vogel is a typical overachiever: former star athlete, college whiz, Harvard Law grad and prestigious law firm ingénue in mergers and acquisitions. Yet, as she settles into her new role at the firm, she discovers the stark truth about how women are treated. As she navigates a tempting relationship with a co-worker and tries to learn the ropes, Alex questions a woman's role in the workplace -- and if she's willing to put her lifetime of achievement on the line to reveal what's really happening in the boardroom.
"Grown Ups" by Marian Keyes
The No. 1 bestselling author does it again with "Grown Ups," Marian Keyes' latest delicious novel. While the Caseys seem like the perfect family -- three grown sons and their perfect wives -- the truth starts to come out of the cracks when one of the wives gets a concussion and starts inadvertently revealing family secrets. What happens afterward has them all wondering if perhaps it's finally time to grow up.
"We Came Here to Shine" by Susie Orman Schnall
Set during the 1939 New York World Fair, two young women from different coasts -- an aspiring actress and an aspiring journalist -- cross paths and form a friendship that will teach them both to cling to what matters most in life and work long after the fair ends.
"Musical Chairs" by Amy Poeppel
Bridget is an aging musician whose complicated relationships with her former Julliard colleagues follow her throughout her life. When her boyfriend breaks up with her over email and her twin 20-somethings move home to their Connecticut home unannounced, Bridget has to deal with them in addition to her aging father suddenly getting remarried. This story of reinvention has just the right tone for a musical elegy to one family's journey.
"Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing" by Allison Winn Scotch
Politician and single mother Cleo McDougal has her sights set on the White House until an estranged childhood friend tells the world in an op-ed that Cleo isn't a good person. As a result, Cleo forms a "regrets list" of 233 items and decides to start making amends with the top 10. What follows is a heartfelt tale of hypocrisy, ambition, love and more.
"Rodham" by Curtis Sittenfeld
What if Bill and Hillary Clinton hadn't gotten married? That is the premise for New York Times bestselling author Curtis Sittenfeld's latest "what if?" novel. Imagining not only the impact on both Clintons but on the entire political sphere, Sittenfeld's "Rodham" is an immersive, escapist read that many will find incredibly welcome, especially now.
"Exile Music" by Jennifer Steil
Told from the point-of-view of a young Viennese daughter of an opera singer and distinguished philharmonic viola player, "Exile Music" vividly recounts what happens to a well-to-do Austrian family when the Nazis' influence invades. Tracking their journey alongside historical events, the family travels to Bolivia and rebuilds. This story is a true coming-of-age tale with longings, friendship, loyalty and family ties tested, told in a refreshingly new way by a bisexual, international author.