Still Life – Sarah Winman

Ms. Winman writes inspired novels (When God Was a Rabbit, A Year of Marvellous Ways, Tin Man). Her new book is a love letter to Florence and to Italian life in general. There is love of art, great food and wine, and love between humans with all its complications. The lives of diverse English people are detailed beautifully over 35 years, from 1944-2009. There are some remarkably eccentric characters that constitute an extended family. This is a “must read” book.

Amy adds: one of my favourites of the year so far – she’s a favourite author.

All Adults Here – Emma Straub

This charming book is about complex family relationships – the good, bad and ugly. Astrid has three children and three grandchildren, and lives in the Hudson Valley in New York state. Astrid is somewhat closed and flinty: “She believed pets were useful only in teaching young children about death. She knew this was an unpopular opinion”. This multi-generational story is about delayed adolescence with some persistent poor decision making, but also about love and resilience. Finally, there are some inspired comic situations – highly recommended.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Fredrik Backman

Elsa is a precocious almost 8-year-old who is perceived as different and thus bullied at school. Thankfully, she has a very close relationship with her 77-year-old grandmother who tells her mythical stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake. When Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa receives a series of apology letters that she is directed to deliver, and so Elsa learns about her grandmother’s incredible back story. This is a brilliant book about life and death, with inspired comic moments and deeply sentimental sad situations, so both laughs and tears abound.

The Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett

A re-read of Ms. Patchett’s first novel published 30 years ago was just so satisfying. When Rose learns she is pregnant, she flees a loveless marriage in California for St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Kentucky. The important context to this story is time, the 60s-70s. Rose is mysterious, someone who does exactly what she wants. A key element in this wonderful book are complex mother-daughter relationships. Highly recommended.

These Precious Days – Ann Patchett

Ms. Patchett is one of my favourite novelists (The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto) but she also writes essays that previously were collected into the wonderful book This is a Story of a Happy Marriage. This is her second book of essays, some published previously in Harpers and the Atlantic. All are insightful glimpses into her life, from childhood to the current time. A favourite for me is the first essay about her three fathers, all different experiences, all with positive and negatives. Her writing is clear, focused, and honest – highly recommended.

(Amy seconds all of this!)

Mirrrorland – Carole Johnstone

 A psychological thriller that reminds me of Gone Girl. Two estranged identical twin sisters are living with repressed memories that have been replaced by childhood imagination. There is a sinister gothic family home in Edinburgh, a missing person, and many devious plot twists driven in part by clues from a mysterious source. What is real and what is imagined? Overall, a deeply satisfying story.

Fight Club – Miriam Toews

Another tour-de-fore novel by a wonderful storyteller. A remarkable feature of this book is its literary style which is completely different from Toews’ previous books. This is a story of three generations of women. The principal character is Swiv (age unspecified, as is the origin of her name) who has a pregnant and unstable mother and an eccentric grandmother. The wisdom of the grandmother, namely that you must fight to survive, drives the story. The place is Toronto with an extraordinary and hilarious road trip to Fresno for Swiv and Elvira, her grandmother. This is epic storytelling about unusual family relationships – highly recommended.

Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead

This is a very different book from Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. The setting is Harlem in the early 1960s, so a time of change in the racial dynamics of New York City. The principal character, Ray Carney, sells furniture but also occasionally sells or disposes of stolen items. On page 31, it is stated that “Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”. However, his ne’er-do-well cousin Freddie involves him in some serious criminal activity, so the story is enriched by gangsters, crooked cops and corrupt bankers. Ultimately this is a heist and crime story within the cultural context of Harlem. Overall, brilliant writing, as always. Thanks Amy, for giving me this fantastic book.

Humans of New York City Stories – Brandon Stanton

This is a remarkable book of street photography coupled with brief but insightful narratives from interviews with the subjects. The photos are outstanding but the narratives, the comments, are sometimes astonishingly candid. Comments range from the unbridled optimism of children to introspective insights from adults regarding loneliness and isolation that may include mental illness. This is a riveting book for NY-philes. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.