When I posted my “Still Life” review back in March, I intended to suggest one book every month or so. Well, that didn’t happen. My mind is hard to tame these days, and concentrating on one thing is beyond me. But this week, my book club held its annual book selection meeting, and the dam broke. We each pitch three books, and at least one book from each member’s list is chosen. But everyone has wallflower books: the ones we loved and considered, but they didn’t make our final three. I cannot bear to ignore my wallflowers this year, so I’m pitching them to you. I think there’s something for everybody.
Still Life, by Sara Winman: still my favorite book of the year, and you can read about it in my March 2022 review.
Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
This book runs on two tracks: one is the story of Marian Graves: orphaned as a child, raised in Montana by an uncle with no clue how to parent, and besotted with flight. Many decades later, Marian’s ill-fated circumnavigation of the globe is being made into a film starring an actress determined to be more than what her public expects, on and off the screen. Both characters have long, complicated stories and lives, which ultimately intersect. It’s a slow start, but if you’re up for 650+ pages of adventure and character studies, you will love it.
This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub
Books that start with the “if I’d turned left instead of right” premise can be dicey and turn off some readers, but this one works. It’s thoughtful and poignant, and does not dwell only on the romantic “if only.” Rather, it incorporates the conceit into all the relationships of one woman’s life, with an emphasis on her relationship with her father. Straub is droll and observant, which brings her characters and her settings (NYC) to life. She has written a number of books and, of those I have read and loved, this one is a little more serious, but no less satisfying.
Portrait of a Thief, by Grace Li
This is the story of what happens when a group of whip-smart, bored twenty-somethings pool their socially unacceptable and largely illegal skills and set out to nick the looted art treasures of China now scattered in museums around the world. It’s a caper and heist tale, with a great cast of characters and some serious subtext about identity. The characters are beautifully drawn, and the travel to far off places was a treat during the months I was on lockdown. I could not put it down.
Monogamy, by Sue Miller
If you worry about what you might unwittingly leave behind if you suddenly die, this book will spur you into clean-up mode – of both your closets and your secrets. The book is set in Cambridge, and centered around the larger-than-life world of a long-married couple who are surrounded by friends and family. Much of the action takes place in a house that Miller describes to perfection, as well as an independent bookstore that will leave you longing to visit. One of her strengths as a writer is her sense of place, and she really scores here. I loved this heartbreaking story.
The World Below, by Sue Miller
Whenever I finish a Sue Miller book, I’m itching for the next one – which is why I’m offering this one on the heels of “Monogamy.” They could not be more different. Here, Miller delivers two quiet worlds, 100 years apart – a story of a grandmother with a painful and secretive life, and her granddaughter who moves into the grandmother’s home for a little emotional respite, only to unearth Granny’s long-held secrets. Wonderful characters and plot, coupled with Miller’s usual stunning sense of place, make this a great read.
Lucy by the Sea, by Elizabeth Strout
The beloved Lucy Barton is back – this time on a spit of land in Maine, during the pandemic, alone again with her long suffering and generous ex-husband, William. These two just can’t quit one another, and the reader is the beneficiary. As ever, Lucy fascinates me. I cannot quite decide if she is slightly autistic or just unfiltered, unnervingly blunt or just direct, or maybe just Lucy being Lucy. I’m prett sure I would not want her in my real life, but I adore her on the page. You will too.
American by Day, by Derek B Miller
I binge-read Derek Miller a few months ago, tearing through several of his books in about 10 days. This was my favorite. It is the third in a series featuring some recurring characters, but it’s great on its own. Miller is an incredibly smart, observant, and hilarious writer, who develops characters you cannot resist, and dialogue that is unparalleled. I cannot get enough of him. It’s worth looking him up on Wikipedia, as he has a fascinating background which he uses to great effect in his books. Read this. It’s wonderful.