Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O’Farrell

instructions for heatwaveBook – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

cutting forBook – Cutting for Stone is a beautiful haunting epic story that will probably appeal to fans of The Kite RunnerSet in Ethiopia, the story is about conjoined twin boys Marion and Shiva Praise Stone who are born as a result of a secret love affair between a British surgeon and his surgical nurse and assistant, an Indian nun, both working at Missing Hospital near Addis Ababa. Tragically, the mother dies in childbirth and the devastated father disappears leaving the hospital and his newborn sons behind.  Hema and Ghosh, doctors from the same hospital, raise the boys as their own.  Though successfully separated at birth, the boys still have a very strong emotional bond to each other and their different personalities make them a complete soul.

The overthrow of the Ethiopian government disrupts their childhood and other events and personal choices result in the brothers drifting apart. Marion goes to the United States and becomes a resident at a hospital in the Bronx. He finds out that his biological father is a famous surgeon in the area. Shiva completes medical school in Addis Ababa and continues practicing medicine at Missing Hospital.  An event of life and death reunites the brothers with their father. The author, Abraham Verghese, was born in Ethiopia and started his medical training there.  He continues his medical career in the United States and has written other works based on his experiences.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

all girl filling stationBookThe All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion alternates between the present day story of Sookie Poole, a sweet, conservative wife of a dentist and mother of four who lives in Point Clear, Alabama and the 1940′s adventures of Fritzi Jurdabralinski, a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilot) from Pulaski, Wisconsin. Sookie receives a letter that brings unwelcome news and she discovers that the past holds secrets she never imagined. While she dodges her bossy, larger-than-life mother and fields questions from her friends and neighbors, she sets out to sort out the truth. Fritzi is a lively, determined young woman who dares to fly stunt planes, run the family service station with her sisters and train for military service. When the two stories weave together, Sookie learns that she’s braver and happier than she realized. I enjoyed learning about the WASPs and the musings of Sookie and her friends were sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Fannie Flagg has written several novels including Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, Standing in the Rainbow and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

husbands secretBook - Cecila Fitzpatrick’s husband John-Paul has a secret. And it’s a doozy. She finds a letter he has written “To be opened only in the event of my death.” What she discovers shatters her orderly life in Sydney, Australia as a Tupperware sales rep, mother of three daughters and school volunteer. Meanwhile, Tess and her son Liam arrive in town. Tess has also received some shocking news and has fled to her hometown to figure out the next step in her life. She meets a man from her past and begins to question her own role in her marriage troubles. What lengths will we go to protect our family? How well do we ever know another person? As both women confront these issues, their lives head toward a cataclysmic conclusion. This book was a quick read with many humorous moments despite the gravity of the decisions the women face. Liane Moriarty also wrote What Alice Forgot.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

still aliceBook – Fifty-year-old Alice Howland is an accomplished Harvard psychology professor. A published author, traveling lecturer and beloved teacher, she is content with her life and work. But she begins to worry about her forgetfulness. She loses things, forgets words and then, one day when she’s out for a run, she doesn’t know where she is or how to get home. A visit to the doctor results in a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice, her husband and three grown children must cope with the ravages of the disease. This book is told from Alice’s perspective and gave me a sense of her growing confusion, panic and sadness as the disease progressed. She tries to live in the moment, but also recognizes and mourns the loss of the life and memories that meant so much to her. Still Alice also deals with the varying reactions of her family, friends and colleagues as they struggle to address and accept the changes in Alice.

Defending Jacob

defending jacobBook – The unthinkable and disturbing has happened, a  14-year-old boy, has been brutally stabbed to death in the woods near a city park in a  small, middle-class Massachusetts town.  The boy turns out to be 14 year old Ben Rifkin, the classmate of Jacob Barber, son of Andy, who is the Assistant District Attorney. Andy focuses on a neighborhood pedophile as the chief suspect.  But soon Andy must face the unthinkable. Internet accusations posted on Facebook by Jacob’s friends and his bloody fingerprint on the victim’s clothes result in his son Jacob becoming the prime suspect.  Jacob also admits to showing off a knife to his friends. Andy finds the knife and immediately makes it disappear. But does he do it to protect his son’s innocence or hide his guilt?  Jacob’s mother, Laurie, struggles with the haunting suspicion that her son might be capable of such a horrific crime. As soon as Jacob is arrested, Andy Barber is taken off the case and suspended from his office.  He devotes himself and puts all of his resources into proving his son’s innocence.  This is a must read legal thriller and family saga.  The ending will rock your world. The author, Willam Landay, is a former DA turned writer.  His other books include Mission Flats and The Strangler. His books should appeal to fans of John Grisham and Scott Turow.  Defending Jacob is also a good selection for book clubs.

Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine

fin-ladyBook - Fin & Lady is a story about love and finding your family. When young Fin is orphaned, his free-spirited half-sister Lady becomes his legal guardian. Practical Fin and glamorous Lady have only spent a brief time together previously, but Fin adores her. They move to New York City and become part of the counter-culture of the sixties. Fin struggles to understand Lady’s turbulent relationships with several admirers and the new world around him. A cast of entertaining characters including the admirers, a spunky housemaid and a gentle dog move the story through many humorous situations. Lady is obsessed with being “free,” and this book explores what being “free” and loving someone really means. If you enjoy books by Elinor Lipman, you may enjoy this book centered on a family dealing with unconventional situations. I found this book to be a delightful read, with interesting dilemmas and some laugh-out-loud moments. Cathleen Schine also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Stoker (2013)

StokerMovie – It may not have anything supernatural about it, but Stoker is definitely a monster movie. It’s also a coming-of-age story, following eighteen-year-old India, played exquisitely by Mia Wasikowska. In the wake of her father’s death, India’s home is invaded by her father’s brother, Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), who is determined to make his new place in their home permanent, no matter what.

If you’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, this might sound a little familiar, and with good reason. The similarities extend beyond the plot as well. Director Park Chan-wook, an acclaimed Korean director who makes his English-language debut with Stoker, is a master at creating tension out of tiny things, and the whole film is made up of tiny things that slowly piece together to become one big, horrifying thing. This is a disturbing movie, definitely not for everyone, but fans of dark psychological horror should love it.

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The DinnerBook – When Paul and his wife Claire meet another couple for dinner at a fine restaurant in Amersterdam, tensions run high. As the meal and conversation progress, the reader is pulled into an undercurrent of old wounds and treacherous secrets about the couples and their children. The dark comedy that unfolds through the voice of the narrator contrasts sharply with the posh setting of the dinner. Social conventions, the justice system and family dynamics are probed during the courses and the discussion forces the reader to ask “How would I react in this situation?”  Fans of Gone Girl and Defending Jacob may enjoy this disturbing tale. This book is translated from the Dutch.