Reading on Your Mind with these Best Books

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: A Novel

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.

What Alice Forgot

Laine Moriarty

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.

Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up

Sally Koslow

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.”

Making Toast: A Family Story

Roger Rosenblatt

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.

The End of Your Life Book Club

Will Schwalbe

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.”

Those We Love Most

Lee Woodruff

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.




  1. Ellen Schubert says

    Perfect timing – thank you ladies. I was looking for a little something to get my two sisters who I will be sharing Christmas with for the first time in many years. These are perfect gifts!

  2. Lisa Kaplin says

    Oooh, I love a good book list like this! My favorites from this year were The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman and American Devish by Ayad Akhtar. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • says

      And we love suggestions of books that we have never heard of, thanks for adding your favorites here.

  3. Cynthia Fine says

    I just finished The End of Your Life Book Club and loved it! I chose to read it because my oldest son and I have a similar book club. He gets to choose the book and listens to it on tape on the subway on his way to work in NYC. It gives us something to talk, text and email about other than “how is work going?” Just an idea for keeping connection with those older adult chidren!

    • says

      I am so jealous, what a wonderful thing to share with your son and as you say a special way to stay connected. How truly lovely.

  4. lisaweldon says

    Those We Love Most – loved it! So many wonderful life lessons in Lee’s book.

    • says

      And can we talk about how she wrote it while working and having kids at home…put me down as wildly impressed. Thought I would not be able to face the story, but she is so gentle on her readers that you know that you are in good hands.

  5. says

    Thank you for the ideas. The only one of these I’ve read is Mr. Pettigrew. I’m going to put The End of Your Life Book Club at the top of my Goodreads queue now.

    • says

      I am just getting ready to reread The End of Your Life Book Club and make a reading list for myself out of their suggestions. Enjoy.

  6. says

    Major Pettigrew and What Alice Forgot are both such entertaining and interesting books. Thanks for the other suggestions…now if I could just get off social media long enough to read!

  7. says

    I am often looking for something new to read! Thanks for the book suggestions.


  8. Carpool Goddess says

    Great list! My book club just suggested Where’d You Go Bernadette. Can’t wait to read it!

    • says

      Just read it and I bet you will love it. Thought about adding it to this list…maybe for an August list.

  9. Angela says

    Great suggestions! I’ll have to pick up a copy of “What Alice Forgot” before heading to the beach this Spring.

  10. says

    Awesome! I was just saying that after school ends for the semester (tomorrow – woo hoo!) I’m going to read books for pleasure!

  11. says

    My husband and I just completed a book from the NY Times Bestseller list called REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Excellent business principles written in very enjoyable fashion. Highly recommend.

    • says

      Pam that sounds great and although I have written business books, I rarely read them. But with an endorsement like that I will need to try.

  12. Caryn/The Mid Life Guru says

    I’m looking forward to checking out these titles. My favorite mid-life novel this year: Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cooke.

  13. says

    Thanks for the suggestions. Hard to choose my favorites this year–but recently I LOVED Where’d You Go, Bernadette and also loved Rules of Civility.

  14. Marilyn says

    Can’t wait for time to pass so I can re-read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. A charming read with lovely messages. Have given it as a gift several times. Always well received. Wish I could find another book comparable.

    • says

      Exactly how I feel. I cannot believe that she has only written one book. Have never heard of anyone being disappointed with this book.

  15. says

    Those all sound like great books. Major Pettigrew had been on my list for a long time. I’ll have to come back and look these over next time I need a book idea.

    • says

      Major Pettigrew is a great place to start. I check regularly to see if the author has a second book out, no luck yet.

  16. Anonymous says

    LOVED Major Pettigrew. Also recommend:
    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
    The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
    Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice

  17. Lois Alter Mark says

    Such a great list! What Alice Forgot is one of my favorites.

    • says

      Felt a little like a guilty read for some reason but I enjoyed every word. Got me thinking of the roads untraveled and the hows and whys of what I have done.

  18. says

    What an honor t o see Slouching Toward Adulthood included in this terrific list which is headed by one of my favorites: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand! Thanks, Lisa and Glown and Flown.

    • says

      Sally, thank you for everything, including showing some of us a new way to view parenting. Looking forward to your next title which I understand we will be seeing soon…

  19. says

    Love a book list! Love anything to do with books! I’ve read a couple of these, blogged about Slouching Toward Adulthood (loved that) and can’t wait to read a few of these. Won’t go near the death of a child book – can’t handle that either.

    • says

      We are leaders of the Sally Koslow fan club and it sounds like you are too. So happy if we suggested something new for you as well.

  20. Emily says

    These are fantastic suggestions and can’t wait to add them to my growing list of “must reads.” Thanks for sharing these!

    • says

      Think it was as much fun to write as it was to read the books. I know what you mean about that list…

  21. happyoutlook says

    Thanks so much for blogging about books – it’s always so great to hear what other people are reading and enjoying. I too enjoyed Major Pettigrew, The Fault in Our Stars, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Rules of Civility. Also, glad I read Joseph Kanon’s Instanbul Passage and am currently reading the National Book Award winner – Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House”.
    The book widget in the side column of the Grown and Flown website is great!

    • says

      Rules of Civility would have been another great add…need to look at Istanbul Passage. Thanks for the suggestions.

  22. says

    when my kids were small, the field trip in first grade at atlantic highlands elementary school was to the library to get their first library card. the enthusiasm of the teachers and the librarian made the kids come home as if they had the most wonderful possession in the world. “all those books, mommy. and they’re all free”. made lifetime readers of them all. two books i’ve read this year, very different from your list, but recommended by my kids:
    Reamde by Neil Stephenson-crazy paced thriller written around a video game but really worth the read (don’t let that discourage you). Wine and War by Don & Petie Kladstrup. The history of the French and their vineyards during times of war-the book about Champagne – the history of the region is also a grand read.

  23. says

    Thanks for this wonderful list – great suggestions and a great idea for a post (may have to copy you)! I highly recommend The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, a good old-fashioned, wise and wonderful novel that you will not want to end! And for a fun cozy winter night read for Jane Austen lovers, Death at Pemberly by PD James is a must.

  24. Lisa says

    I read 5 of the 6 books you recommended and enjoyed them all. Here are some others that I really liked this year:
    The Chaperone
    Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures
    Dan Gets a Minivan
    Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim
    The Lifeboat
    Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man
    The Longest Way Home
    Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity
    May We Be Forgiven
    My Heart is an Idiot
    In Between Days
    Love Bomb
    Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight
    Every Day
    The Fault in our Stars
    One Last Thing Before I Go
    The Hynotist’s Love Story
    Tiny Beautiful Things
    Drop Dead Healthy
    Father’s Day
    The Next Best Thing
    Gone Girl
    The Middlesteins
    Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    The Age of Miracles
    The Red Book
    I Couldn’t Love You More
    Four of a Kind
    Beautiful Ruins
    Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

    • says

      Amazing list. I hope everyone here can see it. The few of these I have also read, I thought were excellent.

  25. says

    Just finished Lee Woodruff’s book. Very hard to get through considering the course of events during the past week. Now on to the “Bernadette” book, and then Junot Diaz. Read some others on your list already, but will put the rest on my list for 2013. Thanks ladies!

  26. Jane de Beneducci says

    Love having some new book ideas, wish there was time to read them all. Enjoyed Major Pettigrew, very english. For me this year, Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies was my favourite book, quite long but beautifully written and followed on from Wolf Hall. Being over 50 means I can’t remember many of the titles I have read without checking my kindle!