Reunited at last. Ten years after Elizabeth Strout won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, she has put the band in Crosby, Maine back together with Olive, Again — and it feels so good. Mostly. A touch unsatisfactory only because I wanted more. More of Olive and less of other characters. More of a novel and less of short story collection. But, still, it was a fantastic visit with an old friend. Best paired with a glass of white wine and a lobster roll.
When I turned the last page of this book I took a deep breath, let out a sigh and sat there in awe of the storytelling talent that is Donna Tartt. The Secret History is one of my favorite books of all time and now The Goldfinch is too. I already miss broken, dislocated Theo Decker and his wild, soulful Russian best friend Boris. Read this when you are in the mood for a coming-of-age adventure and suspense thriller and fantastic piece of prose all wrapped up in one 771-page novel. It is David Copperfield by Charles Dickens meets The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Best Paired with a split of champagne, truffled eggs and caviar, a fruit salad, a plate of smoked salmon, a slab of pate, and half a dozen dishes of sauce, cornichons, capers, condiments and pickled onions. XO, Tara
The Most Fun We Ever Had is one of the strongest debut novels I’ve read in the past few years. This multigenerational family saga transported me to my childhood and watching my mother meticulously fold laundry and eating tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden and making out with my high school boyfriend on the couch and college and marriage and nesting and pregnancy and motherhood and saying goodbye to my father at the end of his life.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
Which made me wonder: which character would you most like Claire Lombardo to feature in a sequel? I’ll go first. Wendy.
Best paired with granola bars with chocolate chips and fresh pineapple in clear plastic vats of juice and non-gluten-free pretzels.
Yesterday I ate scones with jam and clotted cream at our local bookstore, and as I sipped hot tea we discussed Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Someone pinch me. I must be dreaming. Get it? “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Pun one hundred percent intended. I love Aesop’s Fable in Holliston, MA and now I love this haunting novel too. Read Rebecca when you are in the mood for a story about a love triangle between a dashing husband, his exquisite dead wife and her young impressionable replacement, all set in a secretive mansion. Best paired with piping scones, a clutch of eggs, glass dishes of honey, jam and marmalade, a bowl of peaches, a cluster of purple grapes with the bloom upon them still, hot from the greenhouse.
House of Salt and Sorrows is a liberal retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” by the Brothers Grimm. One part gothic romance, one part whodunit murder mystery, and one part gorgeous secluded maritime setting. Read this when you are in the mood for a dark, dazzling story about a Cinderella-esque heroine who falls down a rabbit hole and lands in a fantasy world full of weird, wonderful characters. This is an August #yasofthemonth, and my seventh grader and I both loved this one. It is Caraval by Stephanie Garber meets Circe by Madeline Miller with The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware vibes. Best paired with cups of cinnamon tea, plates of lemon cookies and gingered scones slathered with butter.
Two oh so perfect book recommendations for the last few weeks of summer. Nina Hill is a modern-day Mary Tyler Moore who works in a bookstore and Evvie Drake is a young widow who gets her groove back with the help of a former Major League Baseball pitcher. Both novels are FUN & FLIRTY because IT’S NOT THAT DEEP, BOO. Yes. I just quoted a Peloton instructor in a book review and it’s all Cody Rigsby’s fault. Best paired with an iced coffee and chocolate croissant for breakfast and bourbon with Pringles for dinner.
Cue Girl Crush by Little Big Town. If Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson had a baby, and that baby grew up to be an actress, and that actress wrote an authentic and candid memoir, yeah, that’s This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps. Read this when you are in the mood for a wine-fueled conversation with your richer and better-looking girlfriend about everything from marriage to body image to men in the workplace to mortifying memories from adolescence. Oh, and the hot pink book spine is an added bonus. It is Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen meets Brave by Rose McGowan. Best paired with cigarettes, tequila, chips and salsa.
The excitement about this book in the publishing world and across bookstagram (it debuted at number one on the NYT nonfiction bestseller list this week) is palpable and totally deserved. Read Three Women by Lisa Tadeo when you are in the mood for an honest and judgement-free look at female sexuality and desire today. It is narrative nonfiction and investigative journalism at its best. A feminist, contemporary version of All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Imagine a dinner party with Kim Cattrall from Sex and the City, Diane Lane in Unfaithful and Jodie Foster in The Accused. Best paired with a whole black sea bass with Chinese long beans in a viscous black bean sauce followed by chocolate mousse and gingersnap cookies, with a sake berry sauce. XO, Tara
He did it again. Recursion by Blake Crouch is a mind-bending, time-altering, reality-twisting science fiction thriller set in NYC. Read this when you are in the mood for high-octane entertainment with intelligence, philosophical musings and notes of romance. It is The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum meets The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Best paired with a pot of coffee and black beans, three eggs over-easy, drizzled with ketchup. XO, Tara
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is one of the most talked about novels of the summer, and I devoured it by the pool with a hard seltzer in hand. Read this when you are in the mood for a bold and unforgettable dysfunctional family drama about two neighboring families in a suburb of New York. The Gleesons and The Stanhopes are decent people who love deeply, get lost, fail spectacularly and forgive when they can’t forget. It is Commonwealth by Ann Patchett meets Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Best paired with beer, burgers, hot dogs and foil-wrapped corn on the cob. XO, Tara
Ignore the mixed reviews and try this one out. If you don’t love it by page 50, put it down. But you just might love it. I did. Read this when you are in the mood for the constant angsty tension of two millennials coming of age and falling in and out of love with each other. It is Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Best paired with salty orange soup, a bread roll with a square of butter wrapped in foil, then a piece of meat in gravy and some kind of wet sugary cake for dessert. XO, Tara
Meet my favorite book of 2019 so far. Tara Conklin’s highlighter-worthy sentences in The Last Romantics tell the story of four siblings—Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona—who come of age in the eighties. Read this when you are in the mood for a completely absorbing character-driven love story with just enough plot twists to keep you turning the pages. It is Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman meets Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Best paired with cans of Coca Cola and bowls of green grapes and Chex Mix and hard butterscotch candies.
I wanted to show this backlist title some love. Pick up a copy of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah when you are in the mood for a tender romance threaded through a story about a dysfunctional family set in the Alaskan wilderness. It is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens meets Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Best paired with Eskimo ice cream made of snow, Crisco, blueberries and sugar.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will come to be seen as a classic of our times. It is a novel that will change the way you look at race, class, culture, assimilation and community. At its core it is also a love story about childhood sweethearts, and I am totally here for that. Read this when you are in the mood for a sweeping saga with a headstrong heroine set against the backdrop of the immigration experience. Americanah is to Nigeria what Pachinko by Min Jee Lee is to Korea or The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne is to Ireland. Best paired with garri and soup, slices of mango glistening on pie and small brown cakes swelling with raisins.
OK, this is arguably one of the best titles and book covers of 2018. I'm just going to go on record and say that. Read this when you are in the mood for a dark, twisty comedy that mixes crime, romance and the complexity of sibling rivalry. It is The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith meets Sunburn by Laura Lippman. Best paired with tea and pineapple upside-down cake, soft and sweet.
Tracey Garvis Graves latest novel, The Girl He Used to Know, begins when Annika Rose, a woman on the autism spectrum, bumps into her old lover, Jonathan Hoffman, in a grocery store. The scene is inspired by the song Same Auld Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg and a sweet, sexy story of rekindled love ensues. Read this when you are in the mood for a heartwarming romance with fun flashbacks and unexpected plot twists. It is The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang meets the move Splash. Best paired with a cherry Italian soda and a piece of cheesecake.
Mary Laura Philpott is a real-life Carrie Bradshaw and I Miss You When I Blink is her collection of autobiographical essays. Philpott uses her X-ray vision in life’s ordinary moments to make wry observations, and in the process she shares unintentional advice about everything from marriage and work to motherhood and fulfillment. Read this when you are in the mood for warm, candid conversation with a best friend while sitting around the kitchen table and sipping wine late into the night. It is Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell meets Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis with more than a little Nora Ephron. Best paired with chicken potpie and milkshakes. XO, Tara
Imagine that you are a novelist and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wants to acquire your manuscript. That is the premise of Steven Rowling’s second novel, The Editor. It is about unlikely friendship and healing old wounds. Read this when you are in the mood to be totally charmed by the fictional journey of an author publishing his very first novel under the tutelage of the iconic former first lady. It is a more benevolent Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne meets Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Best paired with daiquiris made with ice, a healthy pour of rum distilled from molasses, a conservative amount of simple syrup, fresh lime juice and a splash of soda.
Read this when you are in the mood for a year in the life of a single Jamaican Brit who is a bit self destructive as she learns (the hard way) about love and friendship. It is Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding meets Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin, but so much less Anglo-Saxon. Best paired with a pair of fish fingers, baked beans and fried plantains. XO, Tara
Mary Beth Latham, the narrator of Anna Quindlen’s sixth novel, is quite literally “Every Last One” of us. Her busy, amiable life in an idyllic New England town revolves around her happy marriage, thriving career and three spirited teenage children. First inflammatory secrets and family dynamics simmer beneath the surface. Then life-altering catastrophe ensues. If you’re in the mood to open your heart, gasp for air, collapse on the floor and wail, read this. This book is not for the faint of heart but it is absolutely one of the most soul-crushing and gut-wrenching stories I’ve ever read. And that, to me, is worth it. It is Little Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng and This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel meets A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold. Best paired with chicken tetrazzini without the mushrooms and a big plate of brownies. XO, Tara