Spring is finally here! I’m excited about warmer, longer days and reading next to the lake or under a tree in the park.
This year’s spring reads were plucked from my list of 100 books I’m reading in 2016. I’ll be picking up books I’ve been meaning to read for years, books that come highly recommended by fellow book lovers, and a new spring release.
Here’s a look at the 15 books I can’t wait to get into this spring…
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Diffenbaugh’s New York Times bestselling novel is way up there on my to-be-read list.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
Schwalbe’s memoir has been on my reading list for a long time. After my cancer diagnosis a few years ago, I avoided all cancer books (fiction and non-fiction). I’ve recently gotten over my fear of reading cancer books after racing through Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air. I’ve discovered that reading about cancer doesn’t affect me in the way I thought it would; it doesn’t leave me paralyzed with fear or keep me up at night. That’s a small victory.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Mary Anne Schwalbe was a renowned educator who filled such august positions as Director of Admissions at Harvard and Director of College Counseling at New York’s prestigious Dalton School. She also felt it incumbent upon herself to educate the less fortunate and spent the last 10 years of her life building libraries in Afghanistan. But her story here begins with a mocha, dispensed from a machine in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Over coffee, Will casually asks his mom what she’s been reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they mutually agree to read the same books and share them together as Mary Anne waits for her chemotherapy treatments. Their discussions reveal how books become increasingly important to the connection between a remarkable woman whose life is coming to a close, and a man becoming closer to his mom than ever before.
Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles, translated by Julie Wark
In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I spotted this romantic novel all over Instagram. Since reading my first book published in another language for the MMD 2015 Reading Challenge, I developed a deep love of translated books. Love in Lowercase is translated from Spanish and it looks like an utterly charming read.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When Samuel, a lonely linguistics lecturer, wakes up on New Year’s Day, he is convinced that the year ahead will bring nothing more than passive verbs and un-italicized moments—until an unexpected visitor slips into his Barcelona apartment and refuses to leave. The appearance of Mishima, a stray, brindle-furred cat, becomes the catalyst that leads Samuel from the comforts of his favorite books, foreign films, and classical music to places he’s never been (next door) and to people he might never have met (a neighbor with whom he’s never exchanged a word). Even better, the Catalan cat leads him back to the mysterious Gabriela, whom he thought he’d lost long before, and shows him, in this international bestseller for fans of The Rosie Project, The Solitude of Prime Numbers, and The Guest Cat, that sometimes love is hiding in the smallest characters.
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
Jewell’s New York Times bestselling novel has sat on my to-be-read list for about two years. This story of family and secrets strikes me as the perfect spring read.
Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Meet the picture-perfect Bird family: pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and towheaded twins Rory and Rhys, one an adventurous troublemaker, the other his slighter, more sensitive counterpart. Their father is a sweet, gangly man, but it’s their beautiful, free-spirited mother Lorelei who spins at the center. In those early years, Lorelei tries to freeze time by filling their simple brick house with precious mementos. Easter egg foils are her favorite. Craft supplies, too. She hangs all of the children’s art, to her husband’s chagrin.
Then one Easter weekend, a tragedy so devastating occurs that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass and the children have become adults, while Lorelei has become the county’s worst hoarder. She has alienated her husband and children and has been living as a recluse. But then something happens that beckons the Bird family back to the house they grew up in—to finally understand the events of that long-ago Easter weekend and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I started reading Ronson’s book last summer, but the timing just wasn’t right. Shaming on social media is something I’m pretty sure we can all relate to in some form or another. I think I’m in a better place to pick it up again.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us – people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they’re being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.
Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
I’ve never read any of Bloom’s novels and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Lucky Us. It sounds like the perfect book to read outdoors.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.
With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
Gabrielle Hamilton’s beloved memoir has been sitting on my shelf for months and I’m feeling the urge to dive right in.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House: Before Gabrielle Hamilton opened her acclaimed New York restaurant Prune, she spent twenty hard-living years trying to find purpose and meaning in her life. Blood, Bones & Butter follows an unconventional journey through the many kitchens Hamilton has inhabited through the years: the rural kitchen of her childhood, where her adored mother stood over the six-burner with an oily wooden spoon in hand; the kitchens of France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was often fed by complete strangers and learned the essence of hospitality; Hamilton’s own kitchen at Prune, with its many unexpected challenges; and the kitchen of her Italian mother-in-law, who serves as the link between Hamilton’s idyllic past and her own future family—the result of a prickly marriage that nonetheless yields lasting dividends. By turns epic and intimate, Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is told with uncommon honesty, grit, humor, and passion.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This one came highly recommended by my local librarian.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie–who is 600 miles away–because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories–flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband’s sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?
The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens
One of my 2016 reading goals is to read more Canadian authors. Lansens’ fast-paced thriller came highly recommended by one of my local librarians so I know it’s gonna be good!
Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Four lost hikers are about to discover they’re capable of something extraordinary.
Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed. Blonde, stick-thin Bridget is training for a triathalon. Vonn is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet, driven by family obligation and the urge to escape her mistakes. Still reeling from the tragic accident that robbed him of his best friend, Wolf Truly is the only experienced hiker among them, but he has come to the cliffs on his eighteenth birthday without food or supplies because he plans to take his own life.
When a series of missteps strands this unusual group together in the wilderness, they soon realize that their only defense against the brutality of nature is one another. As one day without rescue spirals dramatically into the next, and misadventure turns to nightmare, these four broken souls begin to form an inextricable bond, pushing themselves and one another further than they ever could have dreamed possible. The three who make it home alive will be forever changed by their harrowing days on the mountain.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls, The Mountain Story is a fast-paced, suspenseful adventure and a gorgeous tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Braving a landscape both unforgivingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, Nola, Bridget, Vonn, and Wolf find themselves faced with an impossible question: How much will they sacrifice for a stranger?
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams
Williams’ The Secret Life of Violet Grant was one of my absolute favourite reads in 2015 so I’m working my way through all her other books.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In the summer of 1966, Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle stands on the brink of a breathtaking future. Unlike her spirited sisters, Tiny was the consummate well-behaved debutant, poised and picture-perfect, raised to serve as a consort to a great man. Now, as her handsome husband, Frank, runs for a Massachusetts seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, that long-sought destiny lies nearly within reach.
But behind her glamorous facade, Tiny’s flawless life is cracking. She and Frank both have secrets in their pasts that could shatter their political ambitions and the intricate truce of their marriage. So when two unwelcome visitors arrive at the Hardcastle family’s Cape Cod estate—Frank’s cousin Caspian, a Vietnam war hero who knows a thing or two about Tiny’s hidden past, and an envelope containing incriminating photographs—Tiny is forced into a reckless gamble against a house that always, always wins…
The Accident by Chris Pavone
I became a huge Pavone fan after reading his debut thriller, The Expats last summer. I’ve been meaning to read his second novel for some time now.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House: As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.
Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril. The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.
The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
This novel has been on my radar since before its release last summer. I had every intention of getting to it before the year ended, but it just never happened. I added it to the list of 100 books I’ll be reading in 2016 to keep myself accountable.
Synopsis from Hachette Book Group: Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she’s the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It’s the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty–even when Prohibition kicks in–and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.
When the Great Depression hits, Mazie’s life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won’t help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.
Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it’s discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.
Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell’s classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg’s signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie’s rise to “sainthood”–and her irrepressible spirit–is unforgettable.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
This New York Times Notable Book is one of those books I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. It’s been recommended by so many people over the years and I’m glad I’ll finally be able to cross it off my list.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House: In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in twelve luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage—and a nation’s tumultuous journey.
Nightfall Over Shanghai by Daniel Kalla
Synopsis from Macmillan Publishers: It’s 1944 and the Japanese are losing the war, but Shanghai is more dangerous than ever, particularly for the Adler family. After fleeing Nazi Europe, Dr. Franz Adler and his daughter, Hannah, have adjusted to life in their strange adopted city, but they are now imprisoned in the Shanghai Ghetto for refugee Jews.
Franz is compelled to work as a surgeon for the hated Japanese military, while his beloved Eurasian wife, Sunny, is recruited into a spy ring, providing crucial information to the Allies about the city’s port. Inadvertently, Hannah is drawn into the perilous operation, just as she also becomes drawn to the controversial Zionism movement.
After the Japanese launch a major new offensive against the Chinese, Franz is forced into the unthinkable: he is sent inland to work as a field doctor on the frontlines. There, he must contend with his tangled loyalties, aerial bombings overhead, and his uncertain feelings for a vulnerable Canadian nurse.
In 1945, American B-52s bomb Shanghai in strategic raids. While the war seems to be winding down in the Far East, many questions remain unanswered for the Adlers. As the bombers circle ominously overhead, they must now struggle for more than simple safety. For the first time in many war-riven years, they face the challenge of re-envisioning their lives, and the prospect of forging a hopeful path forward for the future-if they can first survive.
Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
While hunting for books coming out in 2016, I came across this spring release from the award-winner author.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: New York, 1993. Alice Culvert is a caring wife, a doting new mother, a loyal friend, and a soulful artist—a fashion designer who wears a baby carrier and haute couture with equal aplomb. In their loft in Manhattan’s gritty Meatpacking District, Alice and her husband, Oliver, are raising their infant daughter, Doe, delighting in the wonders of early parenthood.
Their life together feels so vital and full of promise, which makes Alice’s sudden cancer diagnosis especially staggering. In the span of a single day, the couple’s focus narrows to the basic question of her survival. Though they do their best to remain brave, each faces enormous pressure: Oliver tries to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system and handle their mounting medical bills; Alice tries to be hopeful as her body turns against her. Bracing themselves for the unthinkable, they must confront the new realities of their marriage, their strengths as partners and flaws as people, how to nourish love against all odds, and what it means to truly care for another person.
What’s on your reading list this spring? I’d love to hear in the comments!