Tuesday, June 5, 2012


The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff. I really enjoyed this story.  The book details the origin of the Church of Latter Day Saints, plural marriage and the abolishment of plural marriage by the church and the role of Ann Eliza Young. There are two stories, one playing out in the 18 hundreds and a contemporary story. Even more timely with Mitt Romney as the Rep. presidential candidate.”  Another contributor writes: “A riveting novel based on the real life ‘19th wife’ of Brigham Young and her break from her husband and her faith.  It goes back and forth with a contemporary polygamist in Utah and it is hard to put down.”

Angle of Repose (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) by Wallace Stegner.  One of our contributors reminded me of this gem, saying “I'm not sure why a book set mostly in mining towns in the West during 1880s appealed to me, but it did. It is the best book I've read!” Crossing to Safety, also by Stegner, has appeared on our list previously, one of my all-time favorites, and I think a good "beach classic." 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. “A quick read, but a very intense story about the 2nd world war. Told from the point of view of death.”

The Broad Highway by Jeffrey Farnol.  So old it’s FREE (on Kindle, at least - it's pre-copyright).  This book was a runaway bestseller in its day.  It was written in the early 20th century but takes place in regency England (early 1800s).  A young gentleman finds he has not, as he'd expected, been left money by a wealthy relative.  He embarks on a walking tour through England, seeking to make his way in the world.  This despite his being a gentleman and a scholar (a breed not really meant for work back then).  He has entertaining, implausible adventure after entertaining implausible adventure.  Love and kissing and duels and fights galore.  Themes of honor and great old fashioned stuff.  And did I mention it’s free? 

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.  This was nearly a top pick last year and is still getting mentioned.  “Another great story by Ms. Brooks. She always gives good historical fiction -- this time American Indians, Martha's Vineyard and Harvard.”

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  This was a top pick (in 2010, I think).  It's still a huge seller and still getting votes from our contributors.  “A story that weaves rich characters from Ethiopia, India, England and the U.S. -- with a complicated story of twin boys adopted by two doctors after their mother (a nurse and nun!) dies in childbirth.” 

Deenie by Judy Blume.  “Yes, I went back and started re-reading some of the books from middle school, just to see if they held up.  I know I'm not the only one out there who wanted a back brace because Deenie had one.  I can tell I've matured because I no longer want to have scoliosis... However, I now want to go re-read every Judy Blume book.  Sigh...”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbury.  This was a top pick a couple of years ago that continues to get mentioned.  Lots of great discussion of philosophy interwoven, which (if you are on a beach and can't muster the energy) you can skim.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This often appears on people's favorite reread lists. A contributor writes, “There's a reason it’s a classic. I read it last summer and was blown away (pardon the dust bowl pun).”

The Gravedigger's Daughter (P.S.) by Joyce Carol Oates. “Almost anything by JCO is outstanding, this novel included. Great story-- vivid imagery.” (Ed: I agree about Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve previously mentioned We Were the Mulvaneys as a great beach read. And her others, too. I don’t know why, but I feel like she gets short shrift.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. “Shaffer's niece had to finish the book because Shaffer became ill.  It's about the invasion of Guernsey by the Nazis during World War II.  The story is told entirely through letters and I loved the characters.”      

Heart of Darkness (Dover Thrift Editions) by Joseph Conrad.  “A long short story.” (Short classic = beachy classic).

Henry and Clara: A Novel by Thomas Mallon.  “My all time favorite.  Set in DC - a wonderful work of historical fiction about the other couple in the box with the Lincolns when the President was assassinated and the impact  it had on the rest of their lives.”

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet: A Novel by Jamie Ford.  “This book is a bit of a sleeper -- it takes a while to grab ahold of your imagination and draw you in, but then it does and the characters become very vivid and well-known.  It's a WWII story set in contemporary Seattle that bounces back in time to when Japanese were interned in camps during the war.  It's a love story, at its base, but also one of family bonds, expectations and how humans relate to each other.  It's compelling.”

Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilyn Robinson. “One of my favorites.”

How to Be Good by Nicholas Hornsby.  From Amazon: "Katie Carr is a good person. She recycles. She's against racism. She's a good doctor, a good mom, a good wife...well, maybe not that last one, considering she's having an affair and has just requested a divorce via cell phone. But who could blame her? For years her husband's been selfish, sarcastic, and underemployed. But now David's changed. He's become a good person, too—really good. He's found a spiritual leader. He has become kind, soft-spoken, and earnest. He's even got a homeless kid set up in the spare room. Katie isn't sure if this is a deeply-felt conversion, a brain tumor—or David's most brilliantly vicious manipulation yet. Because she's finding it more and more difficult to live with David - and with herself."

The Imperfectionists: A Novel by Tom Rachman.  “A very interesting array of characters, through whose eyes you experience the beginning and end of an American newspaper published in Rome, Italy. The story covers about 20-30 years.”

Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  People tend to love it or hate it, a metaphor about man, faith,  God, resiliency and hope.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson.  A top pick in 2010 is still popular.  “A great love story, fun, easy read.”    

The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McClain.  Everyone loves this!  “It's a great read about Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson, before and as he becomes famous. Packed with love affairs, hard-living and betrayal, it is perfect for the beach.”

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy.  A contributor sent this in as one of her all-time favorites.  It’s one of mine, too.  

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham.  From Amazon:  Larry Darrell is a young American in search of the absolute. The progress of his spiritual odyssey involves him with some of Maugham's most brilliant characters - his fiancée Isabel whose choice between love and wealth have lifelong repercussions, and Elliott Templeton, her uncle, a classic expatriate American snob. Maugham himself wanders in and out of the story, to observe his characters struggling with their fates.”

Room by Emma Donoghue. Another top pick from last year with staying power. “Amazing. Story about a little boy whose first years are spent locked in an 11x11 room. Not as creepy or disturbing as it sounds. Great character development."

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay.  “Easy, interesting read for the beach.”  (Ed:  Great read, but SAD.  And devolves into a bad romance, as I think I said when we reviewed it before. BUT … I read it in about 48 hours.  So … good beachitude).

Snobs or Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes.  We’ve reviewed these before, but they deserve a repeat because Fellowes wrote the screenplay for Downton Abbey.  One contributor said:  Fellowes “writes wonderful breezy beach reads about the dying English class system. Very plot driven and fun, with terrific observations about  snobby nobility  and their motivations.”  (Ed: If you want to pick one or the other, pick Snobs).

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar.  Another book that was on a previous list:  “Set in India about a wealthy woman and her downtrodden servant and their parallel and crossecting lives. I liked the idea of two completely different Indias running side by side - and of course that age old idea that money doesn't buy you happiness.”

Still Alice by Lisa Genova.  “This book is a beautifully written, harrowing tale of a brilliant Harvard professor's descent into early onset Alzheimer's.  It is a heartbreaking to read but if you know anyone suffering from this brutal disease, it explores the disease from inside the victim's head.”

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon.  Top pick last year (or maybe it was nearly a top pick – can’t recall).  “Wow. This one is sad but worth the emotional investment. Great character development.”

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.  This was on our fiction list in 2008, but deserves a bump. “BEAUTIFULLY written, loved this book, although a bit tragic/dark like her other books.”

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shiver.  “Just read it. Then we'll talk about it. Get ready to examine yourself, judge the characters and, maybe, be haunted by this story.”

White Oleander by Janet Fitch.  About a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and what happens to her daughter in foster homes, etc.

Wicked by Gregory McGuire.  We really only got Dorothy's side of the story in the Wizard of Oz.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  "Who knew one could feel sympathy towards Oliver Cromwell?  If you love the Tudor age and no detail is too much, this is the book for you.  The writing style bugged friends of mine, I think they found it pompous, but it didn't bother me.  I loved the book and enjoyed the different twist on an old and well-known storyline.”  [Ed:  this is the book that drove me crazy with the uncertain use of “he.”]"

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