Summer has finally arrived in Chicago! It’s time to don the sunscreen, head to some open water and get lost in the hottest books of the season from favorite ‘chick-lit’ authors…
The day after the official start of summer, I attended a ‘bubbly and books’ event in the West Loop neighborhood that featured a panel of five top-selling authors, Jen Lancaster (Twisted Sisters), Stacey Ballis (Out to Lunch), Sarah Jio (Goodnight June), Amy Hatvany (Safe with Me) and Sarah Pekkanen (Catching Air). Seated on the panel shoulder to shoulder, the sisterhood among these women writers was evident as they laughed, shared stories and talked about supporting each other in their author-eat-author publishing industry. The panel also doled out invaluable insider advice and genuine encouragement to the room full of aspiring women (and men) writers.
The biggest treat for the audience was a list from each panelist of her top five summer reading recommendations, which I now share with you lest you show up poolside empty-handed. It’s a long and diverse list with something for everyone. Tell your beach tote I said, “you’re welcome.”
Jen Lancaster’s Top Five List
The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller – Family secrets are unveiled in this novel involving two strong-willed and big-hearted sisters who reunite one summer in New York during a time when one is trying to figure out the unexplained chill in her marriage and the other has just returned out of the blue after a two-decade silence. As the sisters reestablish forgotten bonds and dig deeper into some long-held family secrets, they confront the question of whether it’s worth sacrificing your relationships with others in order to find yourself?
The Vacationers by Emma Straub - This novel involves family secrets, joys and jealousies that rise to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca. Intended to be an escape from the tensions at home in Manhattan, the plans for a tranquil trip go awry when secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface and ancient wounds are ripped open.
I Like You Just The Way I Am: Stories About Me and Some Other People by Jenny Mollen - An actress, writer and funny woman, Ms. Mollen liberates her inner crazy-person in this outrageous, hysterical memoir of acting on impulse, plotting elaborate hoaxes – like stalking her therapist and hiding in the back seat while her husband drives her best friend home - and refusing to acknowledge boundaries in any form. Fasten your seatbelt for a wild ride.
Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke – In their co-written debut, real lifelong ‘besties’ Liz and Lisa explore what would happen if two best friends trade bodies overnight. Casey, a workaholic host of the hit show Gossip TV, and Rachel, a stay-at-home mom with serious husband issues, wake up after their 20th high school reunion to find that their lives have been mysteriously swapped. What follows is a novel about love, responsibility and the friendships that we thought we knew so well, only to find out otherwise.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman - A mesmerizing novel about the electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the early twentieth century. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a boardwalk freakshow of performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, a 100 year-old turtle and the Mermaid, the sinister impresario’s daughter who falls in love with a Russian immigrant run-away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community. Rich with colorful crowds of heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character in the novel.
Stacey Ballis’ Top Five List
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser - For non-fiction lovers, writer, critic and biographer, Mr. Moser gives you the poignant life and times of Clarice Lispector, a stunning Brazilian beauty said to be the most important Jewish writer since Franz Kafka. Lispector is acclaimed internationally for her short stories and innovative novels, including her masterpiece, Água Viva.
The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin - The final book in Mr. Maupin’s 9-novel series, Tales of the City, that richly chronicles the lives of a colorful cast of some of the most indelible characters in literature living in San Francisco, most notably Anna Madrigal, the transgender landlady of 28 Barbary Lane. This book follows Anna’s move to Nevada and takes place at the annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert and Winnemucca, the town where she grew up (nee Andy) and now makes her return at age 93.
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl – The venerable food critics pens her first fiction tome about sisters, family ties and a young woman who, in the depths of isolation and unfulfillment, learns to let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts and her ability to open her heart to love.
Social Death: A Clyde Shaw Mystery by Tatiana Boncompagni – This thriller swirls around female protagonist, Clyde Shaw, and her quest to find the murderer of her best friend, a beautiful socialite, and uncover the scandalous secret she died trying to reveal. But will Clyde losing everything in the process, including her job, her reputation and even her life.
And The Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass – Protagonist Kit Noonan, a mid-life unemployed ex-art history professor who lives in the Jersey suburbs complete with wife and 9-year-old twins, is miserable, in debt and in a strained marriage. Accepting that his present dark state may be related to the mystery surrounding his paternity, Kit searches for the truth about his past so he and his family can have a chance at a future.
Amy Hatvany’s Top Five List
Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich – A satisfying beach read about finding love after loss for a 32-year old widow who, looking to shed the extra pounds she gained during her husband’s illness and death, gets more than she bargained for when she finds a strong connection with her handsome trainer.
The Humorist by Russell Kane – A real life comedian, Mr. Kane puts a unique satirical spin on murder fiction. His protagonist is a misanthropic stand-up comedian with a special gift: the capacity to make a joke that kills, literally.
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Ms. Reid’s breathtaking sophomore novel explores the modern marriage. Desperate to keep their marriage together, Lauren and Ryan decide to spend a year apart, without any rules except not to contact each other, in the hopes of making their hearts grow fonder and fall in love again. After I Do is a moving story of a couple struggling with what it means to be committed and searching for their road to happily ever after.
One Plus One by JoJo Moyes – Jess is juggling a lot. Abandoned by her husband and financially strapped, she’s responsible for her a teenage stepson who is being bullied and her math whiz daughter who needs to win the cash prize at Math Olympiad to afford the private school. Life looks overwhelming until she unexpectedly finds out that can lean on her boss, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. On their wild-ride of a road trip, Jess finds out that she’s not alone after all.
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf - An emotionally powerful story about the fortuitous life events that confront Ellen, a long-suffering social worker and devoted mother whose inadvertent actions one sweltering summer day shatter her world and mires her in the very system she works for, and Jenny, a 10-year old suddenly on her own and in the streets with only a few dollars and her wits to survive. Ellen’s and Jenny’s lives collide just as they’re falling apart, and just in time to help one another put the broken pieces back together.
Sarah Jio’s Top Five List
Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke - See Jen Lancaster’s Top Five List above.
The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams - Be transported between Manhattan, 1964 and Berlin, 1914, the two worlds of Vivian Schuyler and Violet Schuyler Grant, the aunt she never knew whose ultimate fate is shrouded in mystery. Prompted by the arrival of a bulky overseas parcel, Vivian investigates her aunt’s past, including Violet’s painful marriage to a philandering husband and her temptation to escape with someone from her past who may be her only chance to break free.
The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith – Ms. Smith’s brave and inspiring memoir that centers around the impact of her learning at 14 years old that both of her adoring parents have cancer. She struggles through the pain by overindulging in boys, alcohol and travel from big city to big city. After her parents go, she is full of pain and afraid to be alone in the world. What healed her was learning how to be alone and stop carrying around all the hurt and pain so she could be open and able to love again.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead – The beautiful yet brutal world of ballet sets the stage for this novel. Joan, a former American who had a pivotal affair with a famous Soviet dancer, thinks she has put her former dance life behind her in exchange for a suburban existence with her childhood beau and their son. But as her son grows into a dance prodigy, she is pulled back into her old world and forced to revisit the dreams of her past.
Grand Central Anthology - Some of the biggest names in women’s fiction, including The New York Times bestselling authors Karen White (The Time Between) and Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife), comes this anthology of original short stories of postwar love and reunion that all begin at New York’s Grand Central Terminal on the same day right after the end of World War II when the world was forever changed.
Sarah Pekkanen’s Top Five List
After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid - See Amy Hatvany’s Top Five List above.
One Plus One by JoJo Moyes - See Amy Hatvany’s Top Five List above.
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner – A story of a woman whose life seems picture-perfect – handsome husband, beautiful young daughter, great job and house in the suburbs, but her increasing use of prescription pills is only distorting the reality of her life – a strained marriage, a troubled child and ailing parents, and becoming harder to hide. Funny and tender, this is an encouraging tale of empowerment and redemption.
The Prey by Andrew Fukuda – The second book in Mr. Fukuda’s The Hunt series continues to follow Gene and the remaining humans on the run in the Vast, a barren wasteland devoid of life, still being hunted by a society of hungry vampire predators. They discover a refuge of exiled humans living high in the mountains led by a group of strict and secretive elders, but faced with severe punishments and the absence of young men, Gene begins to wonder if they have more to fear in the world they just entered as the one they fled.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio – A children’s novel fit for readers of all ages, Wonder was a #1 on The New York Times Best Seller list and has won numerous book awards and honors. It’s an inspiring story of August (Auggie) Pullman, who was born with a facial deformity and who, until now, has never attended mainstream school. He’s starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and with extraordinary courage and wisdom, he teaches his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite the obvious differences in appearances.