Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (2004)

40signsCharley Quibler works part-time as a Senate environmental aid, which gives him plenty of time to bond with toddler son Joe, and wife Anne continues her career as a department head at the NSF.

When Anne meets the newly arrived envoy from the island nation of Khembalung (in the Bay of Bengal), she invites them to dinner to talk to Charley about flooding problems on their island. Charley arranges a meeting with a senator to discuss their concerns about the rising sea levels but to no avail. Soon the rains do come, underscoring all the Khembalung’s concerns with problems close to the Quiblers and all the Washingtonians.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain treats us to an enjoyable visit with the engaging Quibler family and raises questions of how our nation may deal with some of the very wet problems of climate change. Check out other books in the series.

We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley (2016)

bebeautifulThis psychological spellbinder introduces Catherine West, a wealthy woman who wants for nothing and trusts no one. She has fine art on her walls, runs her own business, buys anything she desires, has a masseuse on call, and many, many wealthy friends but trusts no one.

Catherine is in her 40s desiring a husband and child, and when a very rugged handsome man approaches her at an art gallery, she keeps telling herself it is all too good to be true. Maybe it is? Check out We Could Be Beautiful and read this twisty, intoxicating, unsettling story by Swan Huntley today!

Leave Me by Gayle Forman (2016)

leavemeWhen 44-year-old New Yorker Maribeth Klein has a heart attack, she realizes she needs to slow down—but with working full-time and being the mother to preschool-aged twins, she is finding it hard to do. Her husband, Jason, and mother, Evelyn, seem unable to take over most of the tasks of running a household so Maribeth can rest and get better. Fed up, Maribeth, leaves her family and moves to Pittsburgh to recover. Pittsburgh is also the city she was born in, and Maribeth, an adoptee, would like to find her birth mother. Will living there anonymously help her find her way home?

Leave Me is very enjoyable novel full of heart and memorable characters. Gayle Forman’s book is a perfect read-alike for readers of Katherine Center and Mouse-Proof Kitchen by Saira Shah. O Magazine compared the book to Anne Tyler…a good match.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (2015)

boyblacksuitThey always say, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s hard not to do so sometimes. My eyes were first drawn to The Boy in the Black Suit because of the crinkled look that reminded me of a photo that had been passed around often without protection. All I wanted to do was smooth it out. I was warned that it was kind of a sad book, but I loved it.

I think many of us can relate to Matt who quietly faces the struggle of losing a loved one—that feeling of loneliness when nobody can relate, and they’re not sure how to act around you. He ends up working as a pallbearer at the local funeral home. Most people turn to work to keep their mind off the grief, but Matt slowly finds comfort from his job, which allows him to sneak into funerals and listen to people who he can relate to in loss.

The novel also explores his imperfect budding romantic relationship with Lovey, plus his interactions with his boss Mr. Ray and his best friend Chris.

Jason Reynolds did a great job of making Matt a relatable character—he didn’t have special powers, he wasn’t super attractive or talented, he was just a regular kid living in real life. That’s what this book was about: real life with all the ups, downs, and those little moments that make it all worth it.

The Muse by Jessie Burton (2016)

museAlternating between 1930s Spain and 1960s London, The Muse is a compelling story with its threads tied together by a painting and its artist. In the months leading up to the Spanish Civil War, teenager Olive Schloss struggles with identity, relationships, and artistry. In 1967 England, Trinidadian writer Odelle faces similar challenges. Early on in Jessie Burton‘s sophomore novel (after The Miniaturist), it’s obvious that a mystery in the plots of the parallel narratives will be resolved; the surprise (and joy) is in how Burton accomplishes it.

This novel is for fans of historical fiction and art-related novels such as The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, and That Summer by Lauren Willig. Plus, check out our book list featuring Art & Artists.

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis (2015)

deathmrpickwickSome reviewers were suffocated by Stephen Jarvis’ 800+ novel aiming to show it was the illustrator, Richard Seymour, not Dickens who had the original ideas for The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club. Although I had to renew the book, I enjoyed following Mr. Indelicate and Inscriptino (Scripty), the present day investigators, as they searched 19th century evidence for Mr. Pickwick’s origins.

Death and Mr. Pickwick provides many amusing stories and interesting facts about 19th century publishing. I was amazed at the reported great popularity of The Pickwick Papers as originally published in serial form and then as a novel. As I followed the investigation to the very end, I continued to hope Mr. Dickens and the publishers would show more kindness towards Seymour. After all, Mr. Dickens was no stranger to generosity as seen in his later works e.g. A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities.

Check out reviews in The New York Times and The Atlantic.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan (2016)

cornerbookshopWhen librarian Nina is made redundant, she decides to follow her dream of owning a bookstore. With a gift for connecting people to the right book, she buys a van, which she christens “Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After.” However, making her business work is not an easy task. With limited resources, she moves from where she lives in Birmingham to northern Scotland, because it seems that the people there have a real need for a bookstore and her mobile one is even a better idea, because she can travel to lots of small towns. Soon, she finds herself becoming part of a community–and maybe even finding love.

Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner is a charming novel filled with quirky characters, friendship, and romance.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes (2015)

yearofyesA lot of things are going well for Shonda Rhimes—she is, after all, Shonda Rhimes, the woman who rules Thursday night, the woman behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. She gets invited to award ceremonies, presidential dinners, and talk shows—but as her sister points out one Thanksgiving, she never actually does any of these things. She gets invited and she talks about them, but Shonda never, ever says yes. Her sister’s words sit with her for months until suddenly she wakes up on her birthday and realizes she wants to finally do something. Shonda decides, for one year, she will start saying yes to everything that scares her.

Year of Yes is about that journey. It’s partially a memoir of her time in show business, but more than that, Year of Yes is about how saying “yes” changed her life, not just in that she was suddenly making college commencement speeches and losing weight, but also in how she began to think about the world and connect with her family. This short read makes for an excellent self-help book for anyone who has ever felt stuck in their lives and wanted to do more, but was never sure how. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and most of all, fun.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (2016)

commonwealthThis is being labelled a “domestic drama,” but I think it is probably a common story in this day and time. It concerns 4 adults and 6 children, marriages coming apart, and families being joined. The story spans over 50 years and shares the children’s disillusionment with their parents and the affection that grows between the children. The way Commonwealth is written is almost like a puzzle being put together. Ann Patchett’s latest novel is great storytelling.