Books for Fall

Lisa writes: I love getting book recommendations from friends and we thought you might enjoy a few of ours. Now that fall has arrived, what can be better than curling up with a great new read, forgetting about the chilly weather to come?

reading, books


Books for Fall

People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

By Jen Mann. I need to start by saying that this is not my kind of book. But sometimes when an author is this good and the subject is this near and dear to my heart, well, life is about leaving your comfort zone. This book is for every suburban mom who has ever thought WTF. You know that day you received the third email on the color of the cupcake frosting for next week’s class party. Or the time that the team manager gave every parent a condescending lecture on healthy snacks. Or, perhaps, you had your moment when you looked at Pinterest and looked at your life and realized this Venn Diagram never had and never would have any overlap. If you want to laugh at parenting gone amuck there is no better satirist than Jen Mann to take you there. Be forewarned, you need to love sarcasm, biting humor and a touch of profanity to enjoy this riotous book. Here is the clip:

You Should Have Known

You Should Have KnownBy Jean Hanff Korelitz. I thought, by now, I would be getting sick of books where there is shock from a spouse who, by all accounts, lives an unremarkable life. After Gone Girl and The Silent Wife, I might have had enough, but l clearly not. When psychologist Grace Reinhart Sachs writes a book entitled “You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them,” suggesting to others that the unendurable flaws of their spouses were all there from the beginning if they had only chosen to look, it is not hard to guess where this is going. Despite the fact that her husband is a pediatric oncologist, embodying all that is good about humanity, the book is a smorgasbord of surprises. Yet I did not find anything about this book predictable and, although there were times when the main character is a bit cold for my taste, the books stayed compelling until the last page. If Gone Girl is successful in the theatres, expect You Should Have Known to follow close behind.


My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends

My Other Ex

Edited by Stephanie Springer with Author, Jessica Smock. My Other Ex is an anthology of essays about a painful topic so few of us want to talk about, the end of our relationship with a close female friend. Each essay touches on a painful break up, a moment when two women who shared so much, were no longer in each others’ lives. The reasons are myriad, and many of the stories harken back to childhood or tell of losses from adolescence that still haunt adult women. In each story, no matter how many years have passed, the pain is still startlingly real. If you have ever loved and lost a friendship that still tugs at your soul, you may well find your story here.


We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel

We are Not Ourselves

By Matthew Thomas. Usually when a review tells me that a book is a saga or will take me through the American Century or American experience…I am pretty much done reading. I don’t read fiction to be educated about history and more important books that make this claim, seems to me, to reduce their characters into clichés that represent the clichés we believe about our own past. Matthew Thomas does not fall prey to that trap. Ellen and Ed Leary live through the 20th century but they are never reduced to caricatures as the story of their very real marriage and lives unfolds. While this book did not have the page-turning pleasure of some of the others, this couple will stay with me for far longer than most things I have read. Anna Quindlen described it as, “A deeply felt and uncommonly insightful novel about the span of a woman’s life, from her early years in a hardscrabble household, to her ever changing marriage, to the maturity of her own only child. One of the best books of this year.” And I am pretty sure I cannot improve upon that.

Early Decision: A Novel

Early Decision

By Lacy Crawford. Early Decision: A Novel provided me with a personal challenge last year. I bought a copy just at the moment one of my sons was pushing the button on his early admission application. Terrified to open the book and, frankly, afraid to find a frightening portrait of some horrible mom who looked and sounded a whole lot like me, I waited until decision day had passed. I had an overnight flight and proceeded to read every word in this cannot-put-it-down book finding only traces of my very worst pushy mom self among the pages. If you ever applied to college, ever think you will have a kid applying to college or just want to know what all of the madness is about, then this is the book. Lacy has an insiders knowledge of the fight to the death college admissions process that make parents and their kids lose their minds yet her book is funny, enthralling and kept me turning the pages all the way to London. Now in paperback!

One Plus One: A Novel

One Plus One

By Jojo Moyes. If you fell in love with Jojo Moyes’ bestseller, Me Before You, her great follow-up, One Plus One, is for you. Jess Thomas is a struggling mom of two caring for her daughter, math prodigy Tanzie and her husband’s teenage son, the sullen Nick. Holding her blended family together without benefit of the children’s father (or his financial support) tests Jess’ optimism and resiliency daily. While cleaning houses during one of her two jobs, she meets Ed Nicholls, a sullen single man whose wealth and isolation are visible yet indecipherable. How Jess, Tanzie, Nicky and Norman, their big smelly black dog, find themselves on an extended road trip is a story that the always-great storyteller Moyes spins with great originality and heart.


Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila: A Novel

By Marilynne Robinson. She is the author of Home: A NovelGilead: A Novel and Housekeeping: A NovelLila looks at the some of the same characters as Home and Gilead (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) two of the greatest treats ever put between two covers.

Other books worth considering:

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: A Novel by Courtney Maum

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (though What Alice Forgot remains my favorite)

The Rosie Effect: A Novel by Graeme Simsion author of The Rosie Project: A Novel (Dec, 2014 available for pre-ordering)







Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone: The Wit and Wisdom of Becky Blades

Lisa writes: Mary Dell and I have read Becky Blades’ beautiful volume, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone,  and we love it. We don’t just love it because we have high school (and college!) graduates this year. We love it because it is the perfect gift of wit and wisdom for any girl/young woman, age 15-25, and because of the messages of empowerment, understanding and optimism Becky conveys.  It is a little manual for life, and who doesn’t need that?

Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone

But Becky’s book is even better with some of the back story. Her slender and beautifully illustrated volume is very much a “mom story” that so many of us can relate to, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her to hear  firsthand.

Interview With Author Becky Blades

Lisa: You say in the book that you wrote this as a reminder to oldest daughter before she headed off to Harvard? Why did she need reminding and why didn’t you just tell her what you had to say?

Becky: My firstborn, Taylor Kay, was a driven child, and busy, busy, busy. Every minute seemed so intense – with few of those hang-around-and-chat moments where topics just come up. When we WERE in the same room, I shared her attention with the crowd of people who were texting or Facebooking on her phone. Since she was working so hard, and I didn’t want every conversation to be an argument, I gave her a pass on that, and other things – like doing her laundry.

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Holiday Books: What to Read Next

Lisa writes: What do December and August have in common? Holiday Books.

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Summer reading, with toes dipped into a pool or backs pressed against warm sand, is a time for lazy reading. We look for books that can be discarded with the nearly empty bottles of suntan lotion, left in the bottom of a beach bag and easily forgotten. In the same way that we crave more substantive foods in the winter, we look for holiday books with more depth. Here are four works that can be mulled over again and again through the winter months as their characters stay with us long after we close the cover or turn off the Kindle.

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Amazon Kindle’s “Send Sample Chapter”

Amazon KindleLisa writes: Over the holidays I did some reading and caught up on your, our readers, book suggestions. One important caveat for my selection is that if it’s not on Amazon Kindle, I won’t read it.  All my life I have loved books, read them, wrote them, and even collected Modern First Editions, scouring used bookstores everywhere I went.  Now the walls of my house are lined with the fading cloth spines of books I will never touch again and my iPad is bursting with the titles of every book I love.

For me, turning a page feels like rolling down a car window, or dialing a phone, not something I am going to start doing again.  I have had this argument, book vs e-book, with many, many friends, and my own children who prefer paper, but I am pretty sure that time is on my side and here is why.

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Reading on Your Mind with these Best Books

Lisa writes: December is book month whether buying gifts for others or just looking for something to curl up with over the holidays.  So in the spirit of the season, here are a few titles that we want to share, ones we put in the category of “best books.”  Some are new, some are not.  There is fiction and fact and the only common ground is that we loved them all.


Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (2012)

I love small stories writ large, tiny worlds carefully constructed by truly gifted writers in which, as the reader, I can transplant myself.  Helen Simonson’s first outing gives us such a world and that rarity of rarities, a true midlife love story.  Major Pettigrew is stuffy old Britain, a man who finds it easier to show his love for his treasured Churchill rifles than his son.  Mrs Ali is the new Britain, worldly, industrious and passionate in her love of family. These two characters, the embodiment of two eras, bring out the very best in each other.  Simonson’s sense of humor  emerges in a very funny undercurrent as we see her American characters through very British eyes.  As an American who long lived in England, I did not know whether to blush or apologize. This is a book without artifice.  If you are tired of reading books of contrived youthful passion and instead want a tale of real adult love, Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali will not let you down.


Laine Moriarty

What Alice Forgot (2011)

This is a beach book, in the very best page-turning sense of the word, for reading even when there is no beach. Ever wondered what would happen if you could rewind the tape on your life and figure out where things went wrong? Ever wonder about friendships lost or marriages heading down the wrong path? Liane Moriarty’s Alice has settled into middle age.  She is tough on her kids and at the end of her rope with her husband.  And then, in that otherwise contrived twist that in fiction we readily accept, she hits her head and the rewind button. Alice is 39 but thinks she is 29 and is forced to look at the decisions she has made over that eventful decade.  For anyone who has ever wanted a do over, or just greater clarity for how life turned out like it did, this is your fantasy.


Sally Koslow

Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty-Nest (2012)

We featured Sally Koslow here because we love her and love her writing.  Mary Dell had the privilege of taking some of Sally’s superb writing courses (she works one on one in person and remotely if anyone wants to walk in Mary Dell’s shoes) and then later acting as an author’s assistant on this wonderful volume.  If you find that you have raised “adultescents,” young people seemingly caught in that limbo between adulthood and adolescence or fear that is who you are in the process of raising, Sally’s tale is for you.  She brings the hard nosed research of a journalist and the warm heart of a mother to her analysis of why our kids can’t/won’t grow up and what we should do about it. Sally is not afraid to pull punches with a generation of parents who have overindulged their offspring leaving them unable to move forward.  She gives us a verbal slap on the wrist with my favorite line directed at her fellow baby boomer parents, “Step away from the kid.”


Roger Rosenblatt

Making Toast (2008)

Roger Rosenblatt, writing professor, journalist, playwright and author of 14 titles, knows his way around a sentence and a story.  But this is his story, the story of the aftermath of the tragic loss of his daughter, a young mother and a pediatrician. While the sadness of that event never lifts, the story of how he and his wife step into their daughter’s household and help their grieving son- in-law and grandchildren is a tale of family love that will never leave you. In this short memoir Rosenblatt studies his own grief, belief in God, and bubbling anger. He returns to being a full time parent when he thought his parenting days were over.  If you love a wonderful memoir, there can be no better tale than this, but if you love exceptional writing, this is the art at its very best.  In his follow up book, Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief and Small Boats, Rosenblatt writes, “When you love someone, every moment is shadowed by the fear of loss, and when the loss occurs you feel more love than ever.” Making Toast is very much a love story of a man towards the daughter and family he holds so dear.


Will Schwalbe

The End of Your Life Book Club (2012)

Another family memoir, also beautifully written, but this time roles are reversed.  Will Schwalbe, publishing editor and food blogger, tells the story of his mother, the former director of Admissions at Harvard and a tireless advocate for refugees in far flung locales, and her battle with pancreatic cancer. Mother and son, lovers of literature both, meet for her chemo treatments and in the long hours of hospital waiting begin their own book club.  This is a world class reading list nestled inside the tale of what two avid readers learned about life and death from their love of books.  Spoiler alert: one of the reasons that I loved this heartfelt tale is that mother and son discuss three of my all time favorite books. Once the literary pair mentioned Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety (1987) Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004) and John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra (1934) they had me.   If you love reading then you cannot help but love an author who writes, “Reading isn’t the opposite of doing, it’s the opposite of dying.”


Lee Woodruff

Those We Love Most (2012)

If this title had not been written by Lee Woodruff, fellow Westchester-ite and well known philanthropist, journalist and advocate, I would not have touched it.  In this tale of family love and healing is the one topic I find almost impossible to read about, the death of a child. But Woodruff is determined that her book should not be seen as a “sad” book but rather the story of how families cause each other pain, endure grief, and grow from the experience and in this, she succeeds.  Her characters are like us, good people, flawed in their love for each other, all the while struggling to be better.  To my ear, she tells the story of midlife marriage, with its deep love and understanding and its tug of war of expectations and hopes in perfect pitch. Through her characters we see the entire arc of marriage and how different generations have lived through  the gleeful early days onto a midlife lull with its threat of infidelity and finally, hopefully, true love and understanding.


Please add to our list and tell us your favorite books below.

Books we love