Us by David Nicholls

usBook – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

story hourBook – Lakshmi is an immigrant from India, married but desperately lonely. With no friends or family nearby and a husband who belittles or ignores her, she attempts suicide to end her pain. She ends up at a psychiatric unit, where she meets psychiatrist Maggie Bose. Lakshmi opens up to Maggie, who empathizes with her plight. As a condition of Lakshmi’s release, she must continue to have weekly sessions with Maggie. As the treatment continues, the lines become increasingly blurred between professional detachment and friendship, with unexpected confessions and repercussions.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Lakshmi and Maggie as they explore the themes of love, passion, forgiveness and friendship. This book is thought-provoking and I didn’t want to put it down. I loved the gentle wit, the confusion and compassion of the characters. Lakshmi, especially, is a character I’ll remember for a long time.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyouBook – Louisa Clark has lived in her small village all of her life with her younger sister, nephew and parents. She hasn’t explored much of life beyond her town in which the main object of interest is a tourist attraction castle. She works at a local café, has been dating her boyfriend for seven years and the most flamboyant thing about her is her fashion sense. When she loses her job, she desperately accepts a job as caretaker of a quadriplegic, Will Traynor, who lives on the castle grounds. The events that unfold change Louisa’s life in ways she never imagined. Moyes transported me into the lives of both a caretaker and a quadriplegic to examine the choices, heartache and stresses of their everyday lives. I liked these characters and the dilemmas they face are compelling and complex. While the story is often amusing, it brings serious issues to light and would be an interesting book for a discussion group.

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

oneBook – Jess is a single mother with a lot on her plate. Her adopted stepson is regularly beaten up by neighborhood thugs, who taunt him for wearing make-up and being a loner. Her young daughter, Tanzie, is a mathematical genius who has an opportunity to go to a special prep school that Jess cannot afford. Jess is estranged from her dead-beat husband, Marty, who lives with his mother and hasn’t supported the children financially or emotionally for two years. To make ends meet, Jess waitresses and cleans houses. One of her clients is the software billionaire, Ed. Although Jess doesn’t know it, Ed is being investigated for insider trading. Their paths cross unexpectedly as Jess sets out on a trip to secure scholarship money for Tanzie. It’s a fun and entertaining adventure as four eccentric and lonely people discover their strengths, vulnerabilities and their “tribes.” Moyes has written several other novels, including Me Before You.

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman

lookingBook – Teddi Overman owns an antique shop in Charleston, where she can fulfill her passion for restoring and selling antiques. She works with her two quirky employees, Albert and Inez. While her life is filled with her work, friends and caring for her Grammy Belle who lives nearby, she is haunted by her childhood and the family she left behind in rural Kentucky. She is estranged from her mother, who wanted her daughter to be a secretary and disapproves of her career and life choices. She also mourns the loss of her younger brother, Josh, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. As she tries to reconcile her present with her past, Teddi uncovers the secrets hidden beneath her family’s pain and comes to terms with their choices. Charming, hopeful and filled with eccentric characters, this book is an engaging summer read by the author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt.

The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand

matchmakerBook – Dabney Kimball Beech is the enthusiastic Director of Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. Married to a famous economist  and professor, she has built a full life promoting the island and making a home for her husband and daughter, Agnes. She also has a gift for matchmaking, as over forty couples can attest. She sees a mysterious pink haze for a loving match and a bilious green haze when trouble will follow. When Agnes falls for the rich and controlling CJ, she ignores her mother’s warnings against the match. Then, Dabney’s first love, Clendenin Hughes, arrives back on Nantucket after being gone for more than twenty years. Dabney is forced to confront feelings she thought were behind her, even as events around her begin to spiral out of control. This novel explores love, friendship and second chances. I enjoyed spending time with these characters. It’s a great book to bring to the beach. Hilderbrand has written several novels, including Beautiful Day and Silver Girl.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

discoveryBook – A Discovery of Witches begins in the heart of academia in Oxford’s Bodleian library, where a bright young scholar, Diana, is researching centuries-old manuscripts for a presentation on the origins of science. The author’s detailed descriptions of the atmospheric library and Oxford’s history laden campus set a very pleasant tone for this story of romance, magic, history, and suspense. Diana has suppressed all connections to her family’s involvement with magic and is therefore taken by surprise when her contact with an enchanted manuscript on alchemy in the Bodleian library attracts the unwanted attention of a diverse supernatural community. This community includes another professor, a vampire studying genetics, named Matthew. A tentative courtship between Diana and Matthew includes yoga classes, carefully planned meals, scholarly conversation, and the finest wines. The realistic details of these romantic engagements obviously draw deeply from the life of author Deborah Harkness, who is a history professor, recipient of numerous fellowships, and an award-winning wine blogger. Whether Matthew is trustworthy, or actually one of the numerous entities jeopardizing Diana, is a mystery to be revealed. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is even more a work of historical fiction, and reveals the author’s knowledge of Elizabethan England.

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

astonishBook – Joan has been studying ballet since she was a young girl. Her best friend in high school, Jacob Bintz, is in love with her, but Joan is intent on following her dreams of a dance career. She travels to Paris and becomes entranced with a Russian dancer named Arslan Rusakov when he performs during a rehearsal. They have a brief, intense affair and Joan evaluates her life and ambitions. As the story moves ahead, Joan’s future becomes entangled with her past in surprising ways. We get to know Joan’s family and friends and witness the complicated way relationships evolve and shift during their lives. I enjoyed this story as I learned more about the demands of ballet, the choices that performers may face and the way that talent can emerge and impact lives.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Book - The Storied Life of A.J. FikryA.J. Fikry is a curmudgeonly bookstore owner who lives on Alice Island. He recently has been widowed and is in a deep depression when he meets Amelia, the new sales rep from Knightley Press. He is curt with her during their first meeting and after she leaves, goes upstairs to his apartment, eats a frozen dinner and drinks until he passes out. When he awakens the next day, he discovers that the only item of value he possesses, a first edition book, has been stolen. Police Chief Lambiase takes the theft report and during the investigation, the men strike up a friendship. Lambiase is summoned back to the bookstore a short time later, because a toddler named Maya has been abandoned at the store. Fikry’s life is forever changed in the ensuing events, as he begins to discover things about himself and the people in his life. This is a charming tale, with a gentle humor, eccentric characters and observations about the unexpected paths our lives can take.   

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circusBook - Step into Le Cirque des Rêves, which has literally appeared overnight, and it will impact your senses, sight, sound, smell, and touch. As an audience member of The Night Circus, one does not perceive some of the subtle changes that are periodically impacting the surrounding environments of aesthetic wonder. These changes are the result of a long-standing competition between two young illusionists; yet, the duel was not of their making. Cecilia and Marco are pawns in a game constructed by the two powerful rivals, who are also the young contestants’ guardians. However, these controlling mentors do not control the feelings the young magicians develop for each other. Unanticipated, Celia and Marco’s romantic feelings may inevitably have dire consequences for all who inhabit and attend the circus. For the audio-book one of my favorite narrators, Jim Dale, award-winning narrator of the Harry Potter series, adds depth to the large cast of characters populating this turn-of-the-twentieth-century world. His idiosyncratic method of narration is well matched for this story set just outside of reality.