How do you choose your reading material? By the title? The author? The cover? Or through reading recommendations like ours? Personally, I use a combination of all those options, but while in the past I may have grabbed a book with a catchy title or cover, these days I almost never buy until I’ve read at least a couple of reader reviews. Here are a few recommendations from Literary Mama staff to set you (and me) off on the search for our next read.
Kim Ruff, Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant, shares this one: “To stay engaged with a book, we all need to find a connection to it in one way or another. The connection might be the story line that hooks us, what some call a page-turner, the vivid details that bring to life a setting, or a character that makes readers get lost in that moment. The first thing that catches my attention and helps me connect with a book is the voice of the narrator. If I can’t connect to that voice, then it’s over for me. I will immediately stop reading after the first chapter, no matter how much I want to love the story line, or the setting, or the characters. You could say that I’m particular when it comes to connecting to a book under this criterion. When I ‘hear’ the narrator’s voice, I want to feel like it’s someone who I can sit down with over a cup of coffee, or even a beer. Some of my favorite writers who have this voice in their books include Stephen King, Marion Winik, Ann Patchett, Jo Ann Beard, and others, and now I am happy to add Garth Stein to that list as well. The voice of the narrator in Stein’s book The Art of Racing in the Rain had me hooked from the first line: ‘Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature.’ The simple and concise poignancy of that line grabs me and keeps me reading because it is working in so many ways. For one, what is literally being said is itself a mystery—how can one only have gestures? This alone creates curiosity and keeps me engaged. What readers will learn as they continue to flip the pages is that the narrator deepens this persona through internalized thoughts and interactions with other characters to find that he is quick-witted and often sarcastic, and even a little raunchy at times too. This first line was the narrator’s way of setting the stage for what to expect from him throughout the story, but you can only know that if you continue reading. With two other books under Stein’s belt, you can be sure that I will be a return reader to discover if his other narrators can catch my attention.”
Colleen Kearney Rich, Fiction Editor, enjoyed these titles: “I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton and Anything Is Possible. I was encouraged to read them together and in that order by a friend in my book club, and it made a lot of sense. Both books involve the same characters, and I think you could consider Anything a sequel. My Name Is Lucy Barton tells the story of Lucy Barton who is in the hospital recovering from a lingering infection following an appendectomy. Her husband has returned to work, but he has flown her mother into town to keep her company. In the awkward conversations between the two women (they don’t have the best relationship), the reader learns about Lucy’s life and the challenges she has overcome. Lucy, the narrator, is obviously looking back on her life and the time in the hospital from a distant future where she is divorced and her daughters are grown. Anything Is Possible is a collection of short stories that focuses on Lucy’s hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and the many people living there, including Lucy’s brother. In fact, in Anything, Lucy has just published a memoir (maybe My Name Is Lucy Barton?), and these acquaintances of Lucy’s catch her on the morning TV shows promoting her book, and several even buy it at the local bookstore. I really enjoyed an in-depth look at this town and the ways people are interconnected. It is always a pleasure to read Strout and see her crafty approaches to storytelling.”
Jamie Sumner, Reviews Editor, raved about this book: “I have never read an historical novel that so completely puts you in that era. From the first sentence of Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach, I was immersed. And I mean that literally, as the main character, Anna, becomes the first woman diver during World War II. This book is full of gangsters, new money and old, and one character that I couldn’t help but picture as Jay Gatsby if he’d made it a little farther down the road. There is both darkness and light in Manhattan Beach, and in this way Egan captures a tumultuous time, as well as the diametrically opposite natures that live in all of us.”
Have you read a great book recently? Drop the title in the comments so we can check it out, or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.