Micah Mortimer, 43, likes his routines. He goes for a run every morning before breakfast, then cleans his basement apartment before beginning work as superintendent in a Baltimore apartment building and making house calls for technical support as the Tech Hermit. Occasionally he sees his woman friend Cassia, but fails to empathize when her landlord learns she has a cat and she could get evicted. Micah’s mainly solitary world is upended when Brink, the 18-year-old son of his college girlfriend, shows up on his doorstep. Later, a gathering with his large, chaotic family has him wondering if they like Cassia, a fourth grade teacher, better than him. A bittersweet and yet heartwarming story of a man reluctantly learning to change his point of view. I’d like to see what Micah does next, and hope he makes some changes in his minimalist apartment. At 177 pages, this shorter book is a good introduction to the author of Clock Dance and many other acclaimed novels.
Reading this fantasy novel about an orphanage for magical youth is as comforting as a warm hug. Scrupulously honest Linus Baker is a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. After work, Linus retreats to his small house, listening to records and talking to Calliope, his grumpy cat, while dreaming of a sunny day by the sea. After being summoned by Extremely Upper Management, Linus is sent to inspect an island orphanage for especially dangerous magical children. After a long train ride (with Calliope the cat, of course), he meets the children, their charming caretaker Arthur, and island local Zoe. After getting acquainted with the children, then encountering prejudice in a nearby village, Linus finally finds his voice. The six children are unique, and I can’t pick a favorite. They include eager Chauncey, who wants to be a bellhop, Talia the fierce gardening gnome, and a scary six-year-old boy nicknamed Lucy. Linus evens gets to dance with Arthur, once, before returning home to file his final report. Readalikes include Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, and the Tom Hanks movie Joe Versus the Volcano.
This is the most unusual book I’ve read this year, and one of the most memorable. Lillian Breaker, 28, works at two grocery stores and smokes pot in her indifferent mother’s attic. She has some college credits, but is definitely an underachiever. In her teens, Lillian won a scholarship to a nearby boarding school, and became friends with wealthy, beautiful Madison. Then Madison screwed up and let Lillian take the blame; they’ve kept in touch with letters ever since (this book is set about 20 years ago). Now Madison is offering Lillian a summer job as a nanny to her stepkids in Tennessee, but of course, there’s a catch.
Bessie and Roland, 10, have recently lost their mother and have been spoiled by their grandparents. Not surprising, as when the twins get upset, they often burst into flame. They’re completely unharmed, but their clothes and anything around them are toast. Lillian has no experience with kids, but is willing to try and the trio spend time in the pool, and eat lots of junk food. Then Lillian teaches Bessie and Roland to play basketball, arranges a visit to the local library, and they practice some calming techniques. The children’s father is a politician who’s being considered for a cabinet post; flaming children would not help his chances. Whimsical, touching, funny, and full of heart, this is a beautifully written novel about a misfit who finds her tribe and will go to great lengths to protect them.
Cellist Bridget Stratton plans to spend the summer in her large, shabby house in Connecticut with her boyfriend. The boyfriend bails, but her house fills up with family and her oldest friend, Will. Pianist Will and Bridget are the founding members of the Forsythe Trio, and find themselves short a violinist. They end up inviting their original violinist, Gavin, to a reunion and plan to play at the upcoming wedding of famous composer Edward Stratton, Bridget’s father. Between home and barn repairs and landscaping aided by sheep and chickens, Bridget has little time to worry about the hilariously unfortunate outfit sent by her future stepmother, an old family friend. Full of family, humor and drama, music, home repairs and falling in love, this funny novel with a large cast of notable characters is engaging and entertaining, just the book I was looking for this fall. Readalikes include books by Katie Fforde and Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes.
Fans of the long running Virgin River series or the new television series will rejoice with the publication of this book. Virgin River is a tiny town set in Humboldt County in Northern California. Suspense novelist Kaylee Sloan, struggling with writer’s block while grieving her mother’s recent death, rents a house from family friends, only to suddenly need a new place to stay. Kaylee, finding a warm welcome at Jack’s Bar, the local gathering place, winds up at the guest house owned by local artist Landry Moore. Kaylee brings her laptop to Jack’s Bar most days, but gets little writing done there, so she starts a second book, a romance featuring a version of herself. Kaylee, with the help of friends new and old, finds her own happy ending, and finishes her books. Favorite characters from past books reappear, leaving fans satisfied yet still hoping for more books in the series. Readers who enjoy heartwarming contemporary romance set in small towns will also enjoy. Start anywhere in the series, or with the first book, Virgin River.
This compelling memoir of an astrophysicist who searches for exoplanets is one of the best, most memorable books I’ve read this year. Sara is an accomplished, pioneering scientist whose career achievements alone could easily fill a book, However, it’s her remarkable personal story that has reviewers describing this book as luminous, insightful, and extraordinary. As a girl in Ontario, Sarah fell in love with the stars. She earned college degrees from the University of Toronto and Harvard, kayaked with her future husband Michael, and started a family, then began a journey through grief after her husband died of cancer. Sara reinvents herself with the help of the Widows of Concord, juggling work, single parenting, traveling, and dating, and learns that she is autistic. The Smallest Lights in the Universe will be published on August 18. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren is a good readalike.
A road trip with nine other Los Angeles area families to visit East Coast colleges could be a perfect chance for mother-daughter bonding for Jessica and Emily. Busy lawyer Jessica spends so much time taking calls and texts for work that she misses a whole day of the tour. 16-year-old Emily is worried about a scandal at her private high school, and has no clue where she’d like to attend college or what she wants to study. A couple of joint sessions with a college counselor might have made the whole trip unnecessary, but then the reader would miss out on a very funny and heartwarming mother-daughter relationship. Emily is the most interesting character, but visits with her mother’s college friends reveal more of Jessica’s personality. There’s also cute, geeky Will and his attractive father to make their free time in Philadelphia, New York City, and Rhinebeck, New York even more appealing. This witty novel is sure to appeal to readers of Waxman’s novels The Garden of Small Beginnings and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
After moving from New York City to Mumbai, India, Rachel’s husband Dhruv is happy with his job, while Rachel isn’t sure what to do next. When Dhruv’s mother Swati shows up for an unannounced visit, Dhruv is sent on a long business trip and will stay with his father in Kolkata. The two women struggle to connect, and it’s fun to see Rachel from Swati’s point of view. Rachel shows only the positive side of life in Mumbai on her social media posts, not sharing her struggles, except with other expats. When Rachel gets a job doing voice over work for a soap opera, Swati is fascinated. The author is from Philadelphia and lives in Mumbai; the city is vividly described. Another fine armchair travel book for summer, this is for readers who prefer character-focused stories. Mother Land will be published in July. The author’s first book is America for Beginners, and I’m looking forward to her next book.
In Emily Ford’s eyes, Lila Vasquez is Princess Lila, after they meet when Lila’s wearing a pink ball gown at a banquet. Six-year-old Emily, who has cochlear implants, gets to pick out a service puppy with Lila’s help, then spend several weeks learning to work with Jeeves, a cockapoo. Emily’s father Ford, an illustrator, is quickly smitten by Lila, who is used to the role of serious older sister, yet is willing to dress like a princess for Emily during puppy training. In a mostly lighthearted humorous romance, Ford’s neighbors and young Emily are the holiday matchmakers, especially during a memorable pirate-themed party. Humor, relatable characters, and puppies make for a quick, appealing read.
Nina Hill is funny, smart, anxious, organized, and loves books. She’s also excellent company in this novel about a bookstore clerk in Los Angeles who finds out that her previously unknown father has mentioned her in his will and discovers a big, complicated family. When she’s not at a book club or competing in a trivia contest, Nina would rather be home, reading. Her other favorite activities include avoiding yoga class and planning her week, even if she doesn’t always follow her plan and scolds herself when she runs out of toilet paper. There is a cute guy on a rival trivia team, but it might be hard to work a date into her schedule, especially with new relatives to meet. Nina is also intense and likes to share random facts; this has gotten her trivia club in trouble. Numerous funny scenes add to the book’s appeal, including a woman trying to return a Jane Austen novel, her kids book club, and an ice cream fight outside the bookstore. Witty and heartwarming, I wanted the book to be longer, even after a satisfying conclusion. Her first book, The Garden of Small Beginnings, is also a good read, if not quite as funny.