The Smallest Lights in the Universe

The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager

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.

Brenda

Dear Edward

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

What does it mean to start over at age twelve, having lost everything important, but suddenly famous? Eddie Adler is flying from New York City to Los Angeles with his older brother Jordan and his parents. His mother is in first class, working on a television script. Their flight is doomed, and Eddie will be the only survivor. The stories of several passengers and a flight attendant alternate with Eddie’s recovery. Eddie, now Edward, struggles with the burden of being the sole survivor. He lives with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey and is befriended by next-door neighbor Shay. What finally gives Edward a purpose is a cache of letters Shay and Edward find hidden in the garage, written to him by the families and friends of the other passengers. Although it’s hard to put down, this is not a thriller but rather a moving and melancholy coming-of-age story written with compassion, insight, and a glimmer of hope.
Brenda

America for Beginners

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel about a Bengali widow who takes a cross-country trip from New York City to Los Angeles with a young Bangladeshi guide and a struggling actress as her companion. The trio stay at basic chain hotels and eat a lot of mediocre Indian food, visiting all the usual tourist sites. Pival has lost contact with her son, who may be in Los Angeles, and wants to confront his partner Jake. This is her first time away from Kolkata, India and I enjoyed seeing the country through Pival’s point of view. Rebecca, when not acting or picking up men in bars, works at a map store in New York City while young Satya is on his first tour outside the city, and is always hungry. This is a poignant, heartwarming, and occasionally funny character-driven story about outer and inner journeys. I’m looking forward to the author’s next novel, set in Mumbai, India.
Brenda

 

Paris by the Book

Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan

Leah and Robert are raising their daughters Ellie and Daphne in Milwaukee. Leah, once a film student, is a speechwriter at a university. Robert writes books for children and teens, and often disappears for days to write, simply leaving a note. One time he doesn’t return. Leah finds tickets for a long-promised trip to Paris, and takes the girls, 12 and 14, to France. Daphne speaks fluent French, Ellie and Leah only a little. With unexpected ease, they end up running an English language bookstore in the Marais district, living in an apartment upstairs, and taking care of young British twins. Robert and Leah connected over the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans and Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon. Leah and the girls looks for clues all over Paris, hoping for a glimpse of Robert, while the police back home think he may be dead. The main focus of the story is about Leah, Ellie, and Daphne and how they adapt to life in Paris while dealing in their own ways with the mystery of Robert’s disappearance. This is a good choice for readers who enjoy contemporary novels about parenting, books about Americans abroad, lovers of Paris, or fans of Madeline.

Brenda

Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Except for weekly breakfasts with best friend Andy, young widow Evvie mostly stays in her house. Andy encourages Evvie to consider renting the apartment attached to her house to his friend Dean, a former major league pitcher. Evvie and Dean are attracted to each other, and I really enjoyed their interactions, complete with laugh-out-loud dialogue, especially when Evvie describes a cereal box race at the local minor league baseball park in coastal Maine and when Dean buys an old pinball game. Evvie wallows in misery a bit too much, especially as she was planning to leave her husband the day he died. Dean’s struggles to figure out what happened to his pitching career lead to an interesting agreement with Evvie: she won’t ask about his arm and he won’t ask about her husband. Overall, a charming first novel that’s full of heart and humor, not too predictable, and is a great summer read.
Brenda

Grace After Henry

Grace After Henry by Eithne Shortall

Grace and Henry are buying a house together in Dublin when Henry is killed in an accident. Grace eventually moves into their new home, goes back to work at a café and spends time with the three wise men at Glasnevin Cemetery, widowers who tell jokes and garden. Poignant and moving, this novel also has a lot of comic relief and a strong sense of place. Grace spends time walking through Phoenix Park remembering Henry, and plays television bingo with her new neighbor Betty. When a man comes to repair her boiler, Grace is stunned to meet Henry’s double. Andy turns out to be Henry’s twin brother, adopted and raised in Australia, in Ireland looking for information on his birth mother. Andy wonders what his life would have been like growing up in Ireland, while Grace gets to tell Andy funny memories about Henry. Grace is reluctant to tell her parents or best friend Aoife about Andy, even though she shares other news. While it deals with grief, this novel is also an enjoyable page-turner, and is a good readalike for The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman.
Brenda

Meet Me at the Museum

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Tina lives on a farm in East Anglia where she cooks, does bookkeeping, and enjoys her young grandchildren. She writes a letter to the author of a book about  prehistoric Tollund Man. The author has died, but her letter is answered by Anders, a widowed Danish museum curator. Tina had always planned to visit the Tollund Man exhibit with her friend Bella. Life got in the way, and Bella has recently died. The pair continue to exchange letters, then emails, and the reader learns about their lives and recent losses. Bittersweet and utterly charming, I didn’t want this book to end. Readalikes include Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole and Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.

Brenda

Grief Cottage

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

This atmospheric novel focuses on a pivotal summer for eleven-year-old Marcus on a South Carolina barrier island, living with his artist aunt, helping guard a sea turtle nest, and becoming fascinated with a ruined cottage. Locally known as Grief Cottage, a family staying there may have died in a long ago hurricane. Charlotte frequently paints the cottage, and Marcus likes to visit it, wondering if it’s haunted. Having lost his best friend and his mother, Marcus is unsure if his eccentric, reclusive Aunt Charlotte really wants him to stay. He visits with an elderly neighbor and gets good advice from Charlotte’s friend Lachicotte Hayes when not riding his bike, checking on the turtle nest, and unpacking boxes and memories from his last apartment with his mother. Young Marcus is good company in this melancholy, leisurely read. A fairly lengthy epilogue makes for a satisfying resolution, tying up some loose ends on a hopeful note.

Brenda

Option B

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

After Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave died, she worried that her two children wouldn’t have a happy childhood. Part memoir and part self-help book, co-authored with psychology professor and author Adam Grant, this book is full of case studies of people who’ve experienced great loss and how they’ve recovered and become more resilient. Raw and intimate, Sandberg’s account of her husband’s sudden death and the aftermath is moving. Facebook executive Sandberg admits she never appreciated the difficulty of being a single parent, although she has a large network of family and friends, a supportive boss, and is very wealthy. I’m not sure that someone who’s just lost a family member would find comfort in this book, but those who are wondering when and how they’ll recover might, along with people who want to support them. Sandberg appreciated when people asked, “How are you today?” and didn’t avoid talking about her loss. Sandberg talks about what she learned about grief and resilience, and how she and the kids got through their first year without Dave.
Brenda

The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

I was not expecting a novel about a widow with two young girls to be laugh-out-loud funny. Lillian’s husband died suddenly three years ago. She fell apart, but her sister Rachel helped pick up the pieces. Lillian is a textbook illustrator, and her daughters Annabel and Clare are now five and seven. A new work assignment has the whole family taking a gardening class, led by a Dutch master gardener. The class bonds over pizza and gardening, and a couple of romances have potential. Though conversations are very frank, especially when Lillian’s sister-in-law comes to visit, there are no sex scenes. The characterization is top notch and the witty dialogue, both spoken and internal, is great. It will not surprise the reader to learn that the author has three kids and several pets, as Annabel, Clare, and their new friend Bash often steal the scene. This first novel was a delight to read. More, please!

Brenda