One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

Having briefly traveled to the future with In Five Years, Serle here gives Katy Silver a glimpse into the past, during a vacation to gorgeous Positano, Italy. Katy is mourning the recent death of her mother, Carol, and takes the trip they had planned together, leaving her father and husband Eric behind. At almost 30, Katy’s re-evaluating her life and her marriage, ignoring often cited advice to not make big decisions while grieving. Part of the book is a perfect beach read; armchair travel on the Amalfi Coast with amazing food and views. Katy is staying at family-owned Hotel Poseidon, which has very kind and helpful hotel staff. Adam, a fellow hotel guest, is clearly interested in a fling with Katy, and they enjoy meals and sightseeing together. The book takes an interesting turn when Katy meets 30-year-old Carol, who is happy to befriend her. Katy instantly recognizes Carol from early photos of her mother, yet never questions her presence, or why she has trouble connecting with Eric from her cell phone. A mix of grief, travel, and a little romance makes for a hard to put down weekend read.

 

Brenda

From Scratch

From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke

This memoir is about love, family estrangement and reconciliation, cancer, a little girl, Sicily, and food.

Tembi Locke was studying in Florence, Italy, when she met Saro, a Sicilian chef. They later married and lived in New York City, before moving to Los Angeles for her career as an actor. Tembi’s Black Texan family embraced Saro, but Saro’s parents and sister wouldn’t attend their wedding in Florence. Years later, the family reconciled and welcomed Tembi and Saro’s daughter, Zoela. Saro’s long illness further reconnected the families. After Saro’s death from cancer, Tembi and young Zoela spent parts of three summers with Nonna, Saro’s mother, in tiny Aliminusa, Sicily. Nonna was a wonderful cook, and the memoir finishes with a number of Sicilian recipes. This summary doesn’t begin to convey the love, the struggles of caregiving, or the pain and joys of family connections.

The summers in Sicily are the most vibrant and memorable parts of this memoir, with a wonderful sense of place, history, and, of course, the wonderful food. The author has a helpful website for those who are caregiving, grieving, and their friends: thekitchenwidow.com. The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager is a readalike.

Brenda

The Guncle

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Patrick O’Hara, a former sitcom star, leaves Palm Springs for Connecticut when his good friend and sister-in-law dies of cancer. Unexpectedly, Patrick’s brother Greg asks him to look after his kids for the summer. Back in Palm Springs, where the kids are delighted he has a swimming pool, Gay Uncle Patrick, aka GUP or Guncle, makes several rules to help Maisie, 9, and Grant, 6, settle in. With help from part-time housekeeper Rosa, Patrick and kids deal with their grief, have lots of fun, and Patrick gradually figures out what the next chapter in life will look like. Poignant, with some hilarious dialogue, this is a memorable and charming novel. Maisie, Grant, and Patrick just might steal your heart. Readalikes include The Family Man by Elinor Lipman and Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Brenda

The Switch

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Workaholic Londoner Leena Cotton has a panic attack at work, and takes two months off. She ends up switching places with her grandmother Eileen, and moves to her cottage in a small Yorkshire village. The Cotton women even exchange phones and laptops so Leena won’t be tempted to work. Eileen, 79, is pretty happy but is having trouble finding romance in her small town. At Leena’s London flat, with two quirky roommates, she organizes a social club for seniors and has a fling or two, while also spying on Leena’s London boyfriend. Back in Hamleigh-in-Harksdale, Leena ends up on the May festival committee, befriending her grandmother’s grumpy neighbor Arnold, and plays Easter Bunny with the help of former classmate Jackson’s little girl. Both women have challenges adjusting to their new environments and neighbors, but relish their new projects and Leena learns to re-connect with her mother Marian, and start dealing with her grief over her sister’s recent death. Mixed grief and humor, with a strong sense of place and appealing, quirky characters. Grandmother Eileen is especially appealing, embracing life and love in London at 79. A light feel-good story that makes for an absorbing, enjoyable read.

Brenda

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