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
Robin Sloan's second novel, Sourdough, is the charming and somewhat nerdy story of Lois Clary, a young robotics engineer, and the two immigrant brothers who run her favorite takeout restaurant. When the brothers are deported, Lois receives their sourdough starter as a gift (because she is their number one eater) and sets off on an adventure of baking bread that involves robots, books and a secret society of hipster foodies. Sloan uses food to explore the boundary between science and art, human and machine. Read this when you are in the mood for a novel steeped in whimsy and philosophy. It is a meditation of sorts on authenticity and happiness. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Best paired with spicy soup and a slab of sourdough bread slathered with butter and glittering with a crust of flaky salt.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is back with her sixth book, Daisy Jones and The Six, and what a guilty pleasure it is. Told entirely through transcribed interviews, the novel is about the rise and fall of a fictional 1970s California rock band and reads like a Rolling Stone documentary. The artistic and sexual tension between lead singer Billy Dunne, recovering addict and family man, and singer-songwriter Daisy Jones, everyone’s favorite sexy bad girl, is simply delicious. Read this when you are in the mood for a romantic, tempermental and heartbreaking story about broken, beautiful people. It is the author’s own The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo meets A Star is Born. Best paired with the perfect amount of coke, perfectly timed pills and just enough champagne to keep you bubbly. XO, Tara
Special thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for an electronic advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed it so much that I chose it as my March Book of the Month.
You know what makes me giddy? Finding an author I love and then realizing she is very prolific. A Fatal Grace is the second of fourteen (so far) mysteries in Louise Penny’s adored Inspector Gamache series. This time the murder victim is a dreadful socialite who is electrocuted on a frozen pond in front of an unsuspecting crowd. Read this when you are in the mood for a classic murder mystery set in a quaint, storybook village among endearing neighbors with quirky imperfections. It is the book equivalent of Murder, She Wrote set in a Canadian Stars Hollow. Best paired with strawberry jam on fresh croissants and strong, hot coffee.
The Bear and The Nightingale—the first book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy—is a fairy tale set in feudal Russia. Here, in a storybook cabin concealed in the thick, snowy northern woods—you will find a kindhearted father, an evil stepmother, a strong daughter and a handful of magical creatures. It is a tactile experience you will want to have right in front of a fire to warm your cold bones. Read this when you are in the mood to be transported from this world to another by words on a page. It is A Wrinkle in Time meets Game of Thrones. Meg Murry and The Night’s Watch. Winter is coming to Camazotz! Okay, I’m done. Best paired with a loaf of black bread smelling of rye and anise, boar crusted with herbs, and hot honey-wine.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie—longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and winner of the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction—is an absolutely gorgeous work of literary fiction. It is a novel about two Muslim sisters and the brother who has been recruited by ISIS. It is told from different points of view in present day Massachusetts, London and the Middle East; and it is hauntingly beautiful. Read this when you are in the mood for a timeless and universal story of family, betrayal, grief, forgiveness, faith, love. It is a Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza meets An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Best paired with cherries and gelato and a glass of Pimm’s.
I adore young adult fiction and, boy, did Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli—the sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—deliver everything I love about the genre. Especially cynical, talented, confident one minute and socially awkward an hour later Leah Burke. Read this when you are in the mood for teenage angst, after school special plot lines, and characters you would have been fast friends with in high school. It is Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell meets the John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Note: the audiobook is narrated by Shannon Purser of Stranger Things, Riverdale and Sierra Burgess is a Loser fame; and it is pure awesomeness. Best paired with a Coke and twenty shit-tons of M&Ms.
Arthur Less is in a bit of a slump. The critics describe his novel as spoony and his ex-boyfriend is getting married. To make matters worse, he is about to turn 50 so, muddled and slightly unmoored, Arthur accepts a series of invitations to literary events abroad that no one in their right mind would willingly attend. Such is the premise of Andrew Sean Greer’s comic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Less. Read this when you are in the mood for a hero brimming with quirky charm who takes a whimsical trip around the world only to discover that there’s no place like home. It is Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller meets It’s a Small World at Disneyland. Best paired with grilled harlequin fish and a bottle of cold champagne.
I devoured A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne as if the pages were made of dark chocolate sea salt caramel. It is a terrifically-conceived and masterfully-executed psychological thriller about a handsome and manipulative sociopath named Maurice Swift who wants to be a famous novelist. The problem, you see, is that Maurice has no imagination, so he has to steal his story ideas and he does this in the most twisted and depraved ways possible. Read this when you’re in the mood for an addictive, chilling satire of toxic ambition in the publishing world. It is Less by Andrew Sean Greer meets You by Caroline Kepnes. Best paired with seven pints of beer, two double whiskeys, a single malt and a glass of Baileys.
Nina Riggs died of metastatic breast cancer at the age of 39, and The Bright Hour is the poetic memoir that chronicles the last two years of her life. It is the bittersweet perspective of a dying wife and mother of two young sons. Read this when you’re in the mood for a book crammed with life’s big questions. Nina’s explorations into spirituality, truth, music and literature will prompt you to consider what it means to be human. It is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi meets Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan. Best paired with a kilo of rib eye, cooked sanglant, as they say: bloody.
Kya is an abandoned child in the remote marshlands of North Carolina, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is her fictional coming-of-age story. She survives by eating mussels-in-grits, befriending the gulls and boating into town for essentials. You can tell this novel is written by a wildlife scientist; it is a celebration of nature. Then Kya’s private world is disturbed—first by a love triangle, then by a murder mystery. Read this when you’re in the mood for a book with very strong sense of place and a refreshingly straightforward approach to crime fiction. It is Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel meets To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Best paired with chicken-fried steak, mash and gravy, turnips, coleslaw, biscuits, pecan pie with ice cream. Amen.
It is the 1920s and Aiden Bishop has been invited to a masquerade ball at a decaying mansion in the English countryside. A murder will occur there and he will have eight chances to solve it. Only he wakes up in a forest with no memory of who or where he is. So begins The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle—the twisty-turny, mind-boggling debut novel from Stuart Turton. Read this when you’re in the mood for what the author calls a “time-travel, body-hopping murder mystery”. It is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch meets the board game Clue. Agatha Christie meets the late 90s television show Quantum Leap. Hansel and Gretel meets Downtown Abbey. Best paired with a pot of tea and a tray of scones with butter melting off the side.
Ten-year-old Daniel Sempere visits the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and discovers the last surviving copy of a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. This singular event launches a decades-long bold adventure to uncover the secrets and tragedies in Carax’s life. It is a labyrinth of a main plot jam packed with rich side stories and supporting characters. Read this when you’re in the mood for a slow burn, devilish literary mystery set in Barcelona during the twentieth century. The perfect October read, it is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield meets The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Best paired with a well-endowed omelette sandwich, a chocolate bar and a triple coffee heavily laced with rum and sugar.
Yejide and Akin are a young happily married couple in Nigeria who swear off polygamy until infertility strikes and a second wife is forced on them. Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s unforgettable debut novel Stay With Me examines a marriage as it deteriorates in the presence of secrets, jealousy, betrayal and grief. Read this when you are in the mood for a heartbreaking story of love, sacrifice and hope told in spare and shimmering prose. It is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison meets American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Best paired with rice cooked in earan leaves and topped with bits of smoked fish and cowhide in a palm oil stew.
Kate DiCamillo is back! Her latest novel begins with twelve-year-old Louisiana and her granny heading north in the middle of the night, leaving Florida and her friends and a cat and Buddy the one-eyed dog behind without telling any of them good-bye. Louisiana’s Way Home (due out October 2) tackles the most complex of issues such as abandonment and loneliness with DiCamillo’s signature humor and tenderness. Read this when you are the mood for a modern-day fairy tale with a plucky heroine and great cast of supporting characters including a motel owner with hair perpetually in curlers, a church organ player who smells like unshared caramel candy and a small town boy with a pet crow named Clarence. It is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White meets Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson. A heartbreakingly irresistible read aloud that you will enjoy as much as your kids do. Best paired with bologna and orange cheese and mayonnaise on white bread with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert.