As summer kicks into high gear this month, don’t forget to take some time and unplug with a good book. Whether at the beach, at home, or on the road, these top pick books from N Magazine‘s resident bookworm Tim Ehrenberg have something for everyone.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
In the early 1900s, teenage Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant – and that her lover is married – she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations. Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty.
Tim says: A generational saga that follows one Korean family through the 1900’s all with the popular Japanese game of Pachinko (think Plinko on the Price is Right) as a metaphor for the uncertainty of life. I loved these characters and was swept away by the historical and cultural context in which their story unfolds.
*Book Signing on Tuesday, August 8 at Mitchell’s Book Corner from 10:30AM – 12:00PM.
Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Tim says: My guilty pleasure novel of the summer that I don’t feel that guilty about. A legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top, the risks she took, the loves she lost, and her secrets the public could never imagine. It may sound like light, fluffy fiction, but the story dives into deeper themes of self-acceptance, insecurity, and celebrity.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
Tim says: Magpie Murders is one of my favorite types of books. An ode to whodunnits everywhere, a locked room murder mystery that would stump Agatha Christie, a book within a book, a mystery within a mystery. Horowitz pays homage to classic British whodunnits, while at the same time creating something brand new.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Tim says: Sometimes plot is secondary when a character and voice is so memorable and humorous as Eleanor Oliphant’s. Luckily, she offers all the laughs with an equally good story that captivates and entertains. I loved Eleanor and she is much better than fine!
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
At last, Helena Pelletier has the life she deserves. A loving husband, two beautiful daughters, a business that fills her days. Then she catches an emergency news announcement and realizes she was a fool to think she could ever leave her worst days behind her. Helena has a secret: she is the product of an abduction. Her mother was kidnapped as a teenager by her father and kept in a remote cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. No electricity, no heat, no running water, not a single human beyond the three of them. Helena, born two years after the abduction, loved her home in nature – fishing, tracking, hunting. And despite her father’s odd temperament and sometimes brutal behavior, she loved him, too… until she learned precisely how savage a person he could be.
More than twenty years later, she has buried her past so soundly that even her husband doesn’t know the truth. But now her father has killed two guards, escaped from prison, and disappeared into the marshland he knows better than anyone else in the world. The police commence a manhunt, but Helena knows they don’t stand a chance. Knows that only one person has the skills to find the survivalist the world calls the Marsh King – because only one person was ever trained by him: his daughter.
Tim says: Suspense with a capital S! I dare you to read the first chapter and not finish the book in one sitting. Unlike some other suspenseful summer reads though, this one will stay with you for its main character and literary merit.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. Her relatives were shot and poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more and more members of the tribe began to die under mysterious circumstances. In this last remnant of the Wild West – where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed – many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations and the bureau badly bungled the case. In desperation, the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only American Indian agents in the bureau. The agents infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.
Tim says: I don’t want to give anything away of this “can’t believe this actually happened” book, but trust me when I say that you won’t put it down until the last page and even then you might have a book hangover continuing to think about it.
The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Nina Riggs was just thirty-seven years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer – one small spot. Within a year, the mother of two sons, ages seven and nine, and married sixteen years to her best friend, received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal. How does one live each day, “unattached to outcome”? How does one approach the moments, big and small, with both love and honesty? Exploring motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory, even as she wrestles with the legacy of her great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nina Riggs’s breathtaking memoir continues the urgent conversation that Paul Kalanithi began in his gorgeous When Breath Becomes Air. She asks, what makes a meaningful life when one has limited time?
Tim says: Special thanks to the author of “Books for Living” Will Schwalbe, who I met and chatted books with at the Nantucket Book Festival, for getting this in my hands this year. I cherished every turn of phrase and it continues to be there for me through a family crisis. Above all, it teaches us to live each day to its brightest and fullest even if tomorrow could be your last.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
In 1986, a shy and intelligent twenty-year-old named Christopher Knight left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the forest. He would not have a conversation with another human being until nearly three decades later, when he was arrested for stealing food. Living in a tent even through brutal winters, he had survived by his wits and courage, developing ingenious ways to store edibles and water, and to avoid freezing to death. He broke into nearby cottages for food, clothing, reading material, and other provisions, taking only what he needed but terrifying a community never able to solve the mysterious burglaries. Based on extensive interviews with Knight himself, this is a vividly detailed account of his secluded life – why did he leave? what did he learn? – as well as the challenges he has faced since returning to the world. It is a gripping story of survival that asks fundamental questions about solitude, community, and what makes a good life, and a deeply moving portrait of a man who was determined to live his own way, and succeeded.
Tim says: We all know the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” and that is proven in this fascinating account of the last true hermit. I am sure some of you readers have thought of escaping modern life from time to time, but Christopher Knight did just that and lived alone with no human contact for 27 years in the woods of Maine.