Summer Reading Guide Greatest Hits

In a season where every suspense novel is expected to have a "shocking plot twist!" this tightly-crafted novel makes your jaw drop time and again, without feeling gimmicky or manipulative. I was stunned as I slowly came to see that the story wasn't about what I thought it was about at all. On a dark, rainy night, a mother lets go of her son's hand for just an instant. The devastating accident sets the plot in motion. Part police procedural, part domestic suspense, with the ring of authenticity, no doubt thanks to Mackintosh's own 12 years as a police officer. This is an emotional roller coaster of a book. (Sensitive themes ahead, so mind your triggers.)
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The Whiskey Robber is Attilla Ambrus, a gentleman thief who couldn’t quite make ends meet, so he turned to robbing banks to supplement his income in 1990s Hungary, all while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest. His brazen crime spree goes on for years, which would be unbelievable if he weren’t up against a police team that’s almost too incompetent to be true.
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Rules of Civility dazzled with its glittering, glamorous depiction of New York circa 1938 and characters whose lives turn on one impulsive decision. Towles's Gatsby-esque novel surprised with shocking plot twists, including the unforgettable ending. Eve in Hollywood picks up exactly where Rules left off (and if you haven't read it yet, start there). In this novella—a series of short takes, each in a different voice—we see how Eve impacts everyone she meets in Old Hollywood, in potentially life-changing encounters. Fast, fun, and incredibly well-written. (This novella has been removed from digital distribution but you may be able to find a print copy at Shakespeare & Co in NYC.)
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One of the most recommended books on the What Should I Read Next podcast, this novel-in-stories tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. Chatting with the author for the MMD Book Club only heightened my appreciation for the story.
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If you’ve reached your thirties and haven’t found your calling, take heart: Olmsted found his vocation relatively late in life, becoming the world’s premier landscape architect at a time when there was no such thing. He fell into the work by happenstance, and turned out to be a genius at it. His legacy reflects his conviction that ordinary people need beautiful landscapes: he designed Central Park (remarkably, his first commission), Boston’s Back Bay Fens, the campus of Stanford University, Biltmore Estate, and many other public and private parks. Surprisingly absorbing: an outstanding account of an incredible life.
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This inspirational memoir's epigraph bears quotes from Maya Angelou and Christina from Grey's Anatomy, which gives you a good idea of what you'll find inside. Rhimes is the queen of Thursday night tv, creating and producing smash hits like Grey's and Scandal. This time she's telling her own story of how her sister issued her a six-word wake-up call—You never say yes to anything—and the year of YES that followed. I saw parts of myself all over this and absolutely loved the last chapter when the author discovers what her big year was really about. Heads up for audio lovers: Rhimes reads her own work for the audio version. Published November 10 2015.
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“Lydia is dead, but they don’t know this yet.” That’s not a spoiler, that’s the opening line of Ng’s stunning debut. When this unexpected loss is discovered, the family begins to fall apart, and as they struggle to understand why it happened, they realize they don’t know their daughter at all. Ng’s use of the omniscient narrator is brilliant: she reveals what’s going on in her characters hearts and minds, allowing the reader to learn the truth of the tragedy, even if the family never does. An exploration of love and belonging, fraught with racial and gender issues. This is one that will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Powerful, believable, utterly absorbing.
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"You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. Imagine an Australian Tana French, and you've got this stellar debut about right. (Psst—we're talking with the author in the MMD Book Club this summer.) Publication date: January 10.
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Who really wrote Pride and Prejudice? That mystery drives this literary thriller, which plunges the reader into the world of first editions, secondhand books, and zealous collectors. When a young librarian discovers a document that casts doubt on Austen’s authorship of Pride and Prejudice, she struggles to clear her beloved author of plagiarist charges before it’s too late. Lovett flips back and forth between the time when Jane was writing her best-known story and today’s desperate race to prove her innocence. Lovett’s love of books permeates every page. Farfetched? Of course, but piles (stacks?) of fun for booklovers. If you love this, go back and read Lovett's fantastic debut The Bookman's Tale.
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Each book in the YA fantasy series The Lunar Chronicles puts a new spin on an old fairy tale. In this first installment, Cinderella becomes a kickass mechanic, despised by her mother and stepsisters because she’s a cyborg. Though it’s clear where the story is headed, spotting the imaginative ways Meyer reinvents the old fairy tale keeps the reader turning the pages. Fresh, fun, surprising, and compulsively readable.
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The book begins with an accident. It was just a fender-bender, and it wasn't their fault, but after two years in Jordan as an Army wife, Cass has learned it doesn't matter—as Americans, they're always the guilty party. Newly arrived Margaret, whose husband is also stationed at the Embassy, chafes at these local "customs," and all the other cultural pressures she feels as an American living in a country that's becoming increasingly dangerous. But Margaret determines to go pay the "guilt tax" anyway, and asks Cass to babysit her child while she tends to her quick errand. When Margaret doesn't return, Cass becomes annoyed, then increasingly worried.... as it dawns on Cass that she never understood her friend at all. This close look at two women, two marriages, and two worlds is dark and broody in the best kind of way. Publication date: June 27.
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This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio.
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This book, set in the rarefied world of professional ballet, is unlike anything I’ve never read in form and content. Spanning 30 years, told from four different viewpoints, this novel sweeps you into the world of classical ballet—a world you didn’t know you’d been longing to enter. Some of the flashbacks are wobblier than others, but the richly drawn characters and powerful storytelling keep you turning the pages, The Times hated it, but nevermind that. (A warning: check all your preconceptions about good girl ballerinas. There’s lots of language, and so much cocaine.)
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In Alexander's words: "The story seems to begin with catastrophe but in fact began earlier and is not a tragedy but rather a love story." The author's husband died just four days after his fiftieth birthday. A few years later, Alexander looks back on their life together, their love, and the impact of that loss in her life. The author is a poetry professor at Yale, which is obvious in the story's richness and language. Her source material is fantastic: Alexander is an American, born in Harlem. Her husband was born in Eritrea, in East Africa, and came to New Haven as a refugee from war. Both were artists—that’s his painting on the cover of the book—and their home sounds like this amazing, vibrant, multicultural extravaganza with food and friends and music and art. I could barely put this down, and while sad, it exudes joy. Heads up for audiophiles: Alexander's narration of her own work is magnificent. Published April 15 2015.
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I NEVER would have read this if a trusted bookseller hadn't pressed it into my hands and said READ IT: the plot summary would have made me put it right down. But it's one of my favorites of the year. I went into this novel knowing nothing and I liked it that way, so I'll just say Wood explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guiness Book of World Records. Perfect for fans of The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove.
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A year after getting divorced, Helen Carpenter needs a do-over, so she signs up for a notoriously tough wilderness survival course to prove that she can make it on her own. But then she finds out her kid brother’s best friend is joining her on the trip, wrecking her plans before she even gets to the mountains. Once there, Helen confronts a summer blizzard, a group of sorority girls, rutting season for the elk, and spin-the-bottle—yet she also discovers what it really means to be brave. A fun and light read that still manages to tackle some serious topics. If you love this, go back and read The Lost Husband.
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I can't do better than my bookstore-owning friend Holland to sum this one up: Imagine The Help meets Comic Con, and you've got this story about right. Talented graphic novelist Leia finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after a drunken one-night-stand at a comic book convention. She doesn't know the father's name, but he looked awfully cute in his Batman suit. As Leia absorbs the knowledge that she'll soon be a mother to a biracial baby, she is summoned home to Alabama to do what she can for her struggling family—her stepsister's unraveling marriage, her grandmother's worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. This is a fast-reading, big-hearted novel that tackles Serious Issues really, really well—while spinning a terrific story.
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In 1970s Johannesburg, race is everything, yet two people who are completely incompatible in apartheid-ruled South Africa are thrown together following the 1976 Soweto Uprising. After white police open fire on peacefully protesting black schoolchildren, 9-year-old Robin Conrad's life is shattered when her parents are killed in the backlash. Meanwhile, Beauty Mbali's daughter goes missing, and Beauty's search for her coincidentally lands her a job as Robin's caretaker. As time stretches on, Beauty grows to care deeply for this child she is being paid to "love," and Robin, while fiercely possessive of Beauty, is keenly aware her parents wouldn't approve of this relationship. Readers, take note: this didn’t grab me when I tried to read it on the Little League sidelines, but at home with a cup of tea it was engrossing. Publication date: July 11.
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