Best Beach Bag Books
Seriously, You’re on the Beach and Looking for a Satisfying, Feel-Good Read In Paperback or Kindle…
The Bird Sisters
Lian’s Note: Of course, we start with a book about sisters! This novel feeds my “I wish I had grown up in Wisconsin” fantasies and is satisfying on all levels. Great writing, moving and funny situations, real emotions.
From Publisher’s Weekly: Rasmussen’s debut novel begins like a typical coming-of-age story, but reveals itself to be a singular portrayal of familial sacrifice and loss. As elderly women, sisters Twiss and Milly live alone in the house where they grew up in Spring Green, Wis. They spend their days tending to injured birds and roaming their land, lost in memories. For Milly, there is the constant reminder of what could have been. Twiss spent her childhood happily trailing behind their golf-pro father, but Milly dreamed about a family and children that never happened. There was hope for a young Milly, until an accident strips their father of his golfing abilities and sets in motion a series of events that rips apart the already unstable family. Dad retreats to the barn, and mom bemoans her choice to marry for love, leaving behind her wealthy family; a cousin who was thought to be a friend becomes an unexpected rival; and the sisters are left with only each other. As young women, and as old ones, they learn that their relationship is rewarding, but not without consequence. Achingly authentic and almost completely character driven, the story of the sisters depicts the endlessly binding ties of family.
Lian’s note: I’ve been asked a lot recently about my favorite authors and I put Joanna Trollope ona short list of contemporary writers who go deep and true when writing about domestic situations. Plus, she’s British, so the characters always have far more common sense than their American counterparts my have.
From Publisher’s Weekly: Short on plot but long on emotion, Trollope’s latest (after The Other Family) is a straightforward take on the ways we shape and reshape our idea of family. Though her three sons are grown and married, Rachel is unwilling to let go of her role at the center of their lives, much to the dismay of her daughters-in-law. Responsible Edward, the eldest, feels the burden of being the good son, but his consuming roles as son and brother are jeopardizing his relationship with his own wife, Sigrid, who sacrificed her relationship with her family in Sweden to build a life with him. Rachel and her husband coddled their middle son, Ralph, even matchmaking him with fragile Petra, whose marriage is made uneasy by the large role Ralph’s family has in their life. And willful Charlotte quickly finds herself at odds with Rachel after her marriage to youngest son Luke, when Charlotte challenges Rachel’s hold on the family’s habits. Though genuinely caring, the characters slight each other as they tumble toward individual crises. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a decent fix for family drama addicts.
Lian’s Note: Need a little inspiration to get your mojo going this summer if “re-invent myself” is on your To Do List? Then this warm, witty novel is just the thing to put in your carry-on bag!
Synopsis: Kelly Johnson becomes restless in her thirty-ninth year. An appetite for more forces her to take stock of her middling middle-American existence and her neighbors’ seemingly perfect lives. Her marriage to a successful attorney has settled into a comfortable routine, and being the mother of two adorable sons has been rewarding. But Kelly’s own passions lie wasted. She eyes with envy the lives of her two best friends, Kathryn and Charlotte, both beautiful, successful businesswomen who seem to have it all. Kelly takes charge of her life, devising a midlife makeover plan. Readers will need to keep the tissue box handy, too, as Kelly repairs the damage she inflicted on a high school friend; realizes how deeply her husband, Patrick, understands and loves her; and ultimately grows into a woman empowered by her own blend of home and career.
Helen of Pasadena
Lian’s Note: Yes, it’s my book! But it’s perfect for the beach, n’est-ce pas?
From Publisher’s Weekly: In Dolan’s debut novel, Helen Fairchild finds her life turned upside-down after her husband leaves her for another woman and promptly dies in a freak accident during Pasadena’s famed Rose Parade. To make matters worse, Helen discovers that they were on the verge of bankruptcy and she’s forced to sell their beautiful home and find a job in order to pay her son Aiden’s private school tuition. This makes Helen re-examine the choices she’s made, noting “I happily traded in my grad-student status for membership in the young mothers’ club of Pasadena.” Helen finds employment with Dr. Patrick O’Neill, a Pasadena archeologist studying the journals of an excavator of Troy. He also happens to be handsome, charming, and unattached. In addition to her role as research assistant, Helen must help Patrick navigate the Pasadena social scene, which includes a bevy of beauties all trying to get their hands on him. Dolan (of Public Radio’s popular Satellite Sisters) has created a compelling narrative and a memorable cast ideal for the woman who enjoys a quick read, likeable characters, and frequent descriptions of what everyone is wearing.
You’re taking a High-minded European Art Vacation and want a Book to Satisfy the Art and Literature Lover in You…
Leaving Van Gogh
Lian’s Note: This novel comes from a former neighbor of the Dolan sisters and someone who saw us in our braces. We are happy to extend a little Southport Love to Carol Wallace, author of The Official Preppy Handbook (!), for this ambitious, well-written and thoroughly enjoyable book.
From Publisher’s Weekly: With several middle-grade books behind her, Wallace makes her adult fiction debut with an intense look at the last months of Vincent van Gogh through the eyes of Paul Gachet, a doctor specializing in mental illness. In the spring of 1890 Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s younger brother, approaches Gachet with a request. Vincent was moving to Auvres, France, to paint and seek peace in the countryside. Theo wants Gachet, who once lived in the region, to supervise his brother. Gachet, a known patron of the arts and an amateur artist himself, agrees and is immediately drawn to van Gogh’s luminous work. As the seasons pass he bears witness to the painter’s mental anguish and struggles to determine what maladies so consume him. As he watches the artist’s troubling downfall, Gachet must determine how best to care for van Gogh—and the family his death would leave in need. Tapping a deep well of research, Wallace paints a portrait of how madness can both make and break a man. But by making the clinical Gachet his narrator, the author pushes readers away, rather than giving them a chance to get to know the haunted figure behind the canvas. (Apr.)
A Novel Bookstore
Lian’s Note: Going to Paris? Ever wanted to open a book store? Like to get into long-winded discussion about the form of the novel? On top of all that, do you enjoy murder mysteries? Yup! Then this terrific book is for you. I admit, I bought it for the cover but I stayed for the story.
From Publisher’s Weekly: The founding of a unique Paris bookstore triggers jealousies and threats in Cossé’s intriguing follow-up to The Corner of the Veil (1999). Former comic-book seller Ivan “Van” Georg and stylish Francesca Aldo-Valbelli team to establish the Good Novel, a bookshop that will stock only masterpieces in fiction, which are selected by a secret committee of writers. At first, the warm welcome of the bookstore results in soaring sales. Then attacks in the press, the opening of rival bookstores, and attempts against the lives of committee members by persons unknown sour the atmosphere for the Good Novel’s community of readers and writers. Cossé poignantly depicts characters who have turned to literature for solace against the pain in their lives, creates ongoing speculation as to the shadowy first-person narrator, and furnishes sly commentary about gatekeeping in the literary world. Though purists may be disappointed with the solution to the mystery, there’s plenty of food for thought.
Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
Lian’s Note: Classical Art and Archaeology Geeks Unite! Yes, our very own, fast-moving tale of big money, intrigue and barely dressed sculpted goddesses! No, not the Kardashian Sisters, people! Think Dan Brown- meets- Two Pulitzer Prize-nominated Journalists that can actually write! Read all about The Getty Museums shenanigans under the eye of indicted curator, and master manipulator, Marion True. I loved reading the journalists’s pieces in the LA Times as they emerged in real time. You will never look at a museum collection in quite the same way.
Publisher’s Weekly: Starred Review. In an authoritative account, two reporters who led a Los Angeles Times investigation, reveal the details of the Getty Museum’s illicit purchases, from smugglers and fences, of looted Greek and Roman antiquities. In 2005, the Italians indicted former Getty curator Marion True for trafficking in looted antiquities, and by 2007, after protracted negotiations, the Getty agreed to return 40 of 46 artifacts demanded by the Italian government; Italy in turn agreed to loan the Getty comparable objects. One of the major pieces lost by the Getty was an Aphrodite statue purchased by True to put the Getty on the map. But still eluding the Italians is the Getty Bronze, a statue of an athlete hauled out of international waters in 1964 by Italian fishermen; it was the prized acquisition of the Getty’s first antiquities curator, Jiri Frel, who brought thousands more looted antiquities into the museum through a tax-fraud scheme. The authors offer an excellent recap of the museum’s misdeeds, brimming with tasty details of the scandal that motivated several of America’s leading art museums to voluntarily return to Italy and Greece some 100 classical antiquities worth more than half a billion dollars!
You wish you could be 12 again and reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women again for the First Time…
The Wilder Life
Lian’s Note: I had so many people recommend this book to me that I couldn’t NOT read it. I will admit, I’m not a memoir fan usually ( gasp!) but Wendy McClure made me one with her humor and self-depreciating sensibilities. For Little House fans everywhere– and I know we have a LOT of them in the Satellite Sisterhood.
Publisher’s Weekly: Starred Review. Obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books about an 1880s pioneer family, children’s book editor and memoirist McClure (I’m Not the New Me) attempts to recapture her childhood vision of “Laura World.” Her wacky quest includes hand-grinding wheat for bread, buying an authentic churn, and traveling to sites where the Ingalls family attempted to wrest a living from the prairie. Discovering that butter she churned herself was “just butter,” McClure admits she “felt like a genius and a complete idiot at the same time.” Viewing a one-room dugout the Ingallses occupied that was “smaller than a freight elevator” prompted McClure to admit that “the actual past and the Little House world had different properties.” McClure finally tells her boyfriend, “I’m home,” after recognizing that her travels stemmed from her reaction to the recent death of her mother. Readers don’t need to be Wilder fans to enjoy this funny and thoughtful guide to a romanticized version of the American expansion west.
The Little Women Letters
Lian’s Note: This one got me at the bookstore. A fresh take on Little Women using faux letters from Louisa May Alcott and setting them again contemporary London with a whole new generation of sisters? Count me in. It took me a while to understand the premise –that Little Women was never published—but once I got that, I loved this book.
Synopisis: Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants—three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March. As uplifting and essential as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Gabrielle Donnelly’s novel will speak to anyone who’s ever fought with a sister, fallen in love with a fabulous pair of shoes, or wondered what on earth life had in store for her.
With her older sister, Emma, planning a wedding and her younger sister, Sophie, preparing to launch a career on the London stage, Lulu can’t help but feel like the failure of the Atwater family. Lulu loves her sisters dearly and wants nothing but the best for them, but she finds herself stuck in a rut, working dead-end jobs with no romantic prospects in sight. When her mother asks her to find a cache of old family recipes in the attic of her childhood home, Lulu stumbles across a collection of letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. In her letters, Jo writes in detail about every aspect of her life: her older sister, Meg’s, new home and family; her younger sister Amy’s many admirers; Beth’s illness and the family’s shared grief over losing her too soon; and the butterflies she feels when she meets a handsome young German. As Lulu delves deeper into the lives and secrets of the March sisters, she finds solace and guidance, but can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu find a place for herself in a world so different from the one Jo knew?
Solid Gold Satellite Sisters Summer Reading from Go-To Authors who Keep Delivering the Goods
Emily & Einstein
Linda Francis Lee
Lian’s note: Linda Francis Lee knows how to write about the sticky situation that women find themselves in ( The Ex-Dubutante and The Devil in the Junior League). In the case of Emily & Einstein, she breaks down a lot of relationships like solid sister/flakey sister, mother-in-law/daughter-in-law and woman/dog with her trademark observational humor. A summertime treat.
Synopsis: Emily and her husband Sandy Portman seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building. But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident. The funeral isn’t even over before Emily learns she is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. But worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.
Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was . . . all the while feeling that somehow he isn’t really gone. Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein. But is Einstein’s seemingly odd determination that she save herself enough to make Emily confront her own past? Can he help her find a future—even after she meets a new man?
Best Staged Plans
Lian’s Note: We heart Claire Cook here at Satellite Sisters! What could be better on a beach vacation in a charming coastal cottage than a Claire Cook book that features a home stager? Humor, relationships, decorative pillows. Seriously, people, it’s like watching HGTV and, um, reading HGTV, too! Indulge! It’s summer.
Synopsis: As a professional home stager, Sandy Sullivan is an expert at transforming cluttered rooms into attractive houses ready for sale. If only reinventing her life were as easy as choosing the perfect paint color. She’s eager to put her family’s suburban Boston home on the market, to downsize, and to simplify her own life. But she must first deal with her foot-dragging husband and her grown son, who has moved back home after college to inhabit the basement “bat cave.”
After reading them the riot act, Sandy takes a job staging a boutique hotel in Atlanta recently acquired by her best friend’s boyfriend. The good news is that she can spend time with her recently married daughter, Shannon, in Atlanta. The bad news is that Shannon finds herself heading to Boston for job training, leaving Sandy and her southern son-in-law, Chance, as reluctant roommates. If that’s not complicated enough, Sandy begins to suspect that her best friend’s boyfriend may be seeing another woman on the side.
Filled with characters who are fresh and original, yet recognizable enough to live in your neighborhood–plus plenty of great tips and tricks for fixing up houses, and lives–this is a wise and witty story of letting go and moving on. Best Staged Plans is Claire Cook at her most humorous and heartfelt.
If you are Literally Sitting on a Beach Sipping a Fruity Drink or Diet Coke
The Seven Year Switch by Claire Cook This book actually has a picture of a woman in a beach chair on the cover, so already we’re in. Or maybe it’s the fact that Claire Cook is one of 8 siblings (like us) , wrote her first novel at 45 in her mini-van while waiting for her kids at practice (like Lian) or wrote “Must Love Dogs ” (Julie’s fave chickflick). We enjoy her breezy, funny, right-on the money characters that always manage to find themselves in the end, but make a lot of the same mistakes we do along the way. Like single mom Jill Murray, trying to navigate between the return of the ex and the unexpected potential of a new man and a new career. You’ll be rooting for re-invention while reapplying sunscreen.
The One that I Want by Allison Winn Scotch If you like a touch of magic in your fiction, you’ll appreciate the writing of Allison Winn Scotch. Not Harry Potter-type magic, but the old “go back in time” sort of shenanigans. In her latest book, her winning main character Tilly Farmer is given the gift of clarity by a fortune teller. Then, her perfect life starts to unravel. And leaves us all asking, would we really want to know what was going to happen in our own lives?
If it Rains on your Beach Vacation and you are Stuck Inside
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman This marvel of a novel is storytelling with a capital “S.” The action starts in a rare book store in Berkeley and takes us to the East and back again, with dynamic characters and insight into unexpected communities. The book centers around the story of two sisters, one a high-flying tech exec on the verge of an IPO and the other a poor philosophy grad student. The novel is set in 1999,– such another time , wasn’t it–but the themes of wanting and getting resonate today. An added bonus to the excellent writing is the book store setting. Who doesn’t love books about books?
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Maybe it needs to be raining really hard on your beach vacation to give yourself over to this tour-de-force by Jennifer Egan. Egan, a two-time guest on Satellite Sisters, is an amazing writer whose work constantly astonishes with its completeness, like her previous novels “Look at Me” and “The Keep.” Goon Squad shows off all her talents, using a series of short story -like anecdotes in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person to connect characters and plots. If you’ve been craving a novel with an aging punk rocker as the protagonist, Goon Squad is your book. Stick with this novel and you will be richly rewarded. And,you’ll have something to talk about at the end of your vacation besides your lack of tan.
If you are getting ready for the upcoming mini-series “Pillars of the Earth” and want a medieval fix
Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran This meticulous, beautifully written piece of historical fiction sucks you in right from the first few violent pages surrounding the birth of the main character, Auda, an albino mute. From there, we follow the winning Auda on her hero’s journey into the heart of medieval France and the Inquisition. Auda’s survival is dependent upon the glory of the written word: the art of papermaking she has learned from her father and her love of poetry. Another book that is a treat for booklovers!
If you are sorry the Spy Swap is over and want more International Intrigue
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman This comic novel centers around the demise of the newspaper business. Set in Rome, The Imperfectionists is about the topsy-turvy private lives of reporters, editors and executives at an English-language international newspaper. Light and quirky with an international twist that is alternately hilarious and heart-breaking. Almost like you are on an Italian holiday with very funny British relatives. A stunning debut novel.
If you are sorry the World Cup is over and want more stories about Africa
Little Bee by Chris Cleave This riveting novel set in Nigeria is now available in paperback. It begins violently with a beach vacation gone terribly wrong and intertwines the fates of a 16-year-old Nigerian orphan (who calls herself Little Bee) and a well-off British couple–journalists trying to repair their strained marriage with a free holiday–who should have stayed behind their resort’s walls. The tide of that event carries Little Bee back to their world, which she claims she couldn’t explain to the girls from her village because they’d have no context for its abundance and calm. But she shows us the infinite rifts in a globalized world, where any distance can be crossed in a day–with the right papers–and “no one likes each other, but everyone likes U2.”
If you are a House Guest and want to bring a truly delightful gift
Awkward Family Photos by Mike Bender and Doug Chernack Seriously, this collection of horrifying, inappropriate
family photos could not be more hilarious. Ho, ho, ho—you’ll laugh out loud at others people’s expense! And such a fantastic gift at any family beach house or lake home. There will be fights over who gets to troll through the pages first, looking for the worst/best photo.
We are s grateful not to see any of the Dolan Family photos– particularly Thanksgiving 1972- included in the book! For more, visit the Awkward Family Photos website.
Previous Recommended Reading:
Lian confesses that she has loved almost every syllable that Anna Quindlen has ever written (or said on her many visits to Satellite Sisters), so if you are hoping for some kind of stuffy, impersonal review, you’ve come to the wrong blog.
Quindlen has so nailed every nuanced detail of domestic life in this book, it’s hard to tell where the fiction ends and Lian’s life begins. She’s cooked those meals, picked up those back packs, weathered the same lousy filial attitude. But she’s never endured what the fictional mother Mary Beth Latham has endured in this shocking and chilling novel of suburban life.
Lian says she purposely stayed away from reviews on Every Last One because she did not want to know every last detail before reading the novel. So, we won’t endanger your experience of reading this thought-provoking , heart-breaking work by going into the plot. But we can tell you that both our mom and Lian spent a good deal of time ths past Mother’s Day talking about the lessons of Every Last One, as it touched them both in different ways.
For Anna Quindlen fans, a must. For those new to Anna Quindlen’s writing, a chance to discover a novel that encompasses every experience of the unexpected challenges of domestic life from love to loss to limbo.
A look at life in the ‘burbs with The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathy Schine. Here’s a book that
we had heard so much about, we almost didn’t dare pick it up because we were worried the good press couldn’t compare to the actual novel. But, no worries! The Three Weissmanns is inspired by Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility : a sophisticated mother and two grown daughters, impoverished by various tragi-comic circumstances, end up in the country, reliant upon the kindness of distant cousins.
The Three Weissmanns of Westport is set in suburban Westport, Connecticut, just miles from our childhood home (we loved the references to Compo Beach and the Greens Farm’s train station!)
Even though the storyline and the setting were overly familiar, Cathy Schine’s writing made us laugh and smile for the entire 292 pages. Schine has a great eye for the manners of today, plus up-to-the minute pop references, crisp dialogue, and enough plot twists so that is is not a complete S&S 2010 redux.
Lots of fun, with heart and humor. And, of course, a Martha Stewart joke.