In this engagingly readable mix of art, history, and biography, author Ross King details the later years of Claude Monet’s life. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Mad Enchantment documents Monet’s work on paintings both large and small as well as his life in Giverny, France (and his relationships with other artists such as Renoir and Rodin). The prolific artist, although hindered by grief and failing eyesight, produced the massive paintings found in l’Orangerie in Paris.
The Art Institute of Chicago plays a role in the book, too. Did you know its representatives tried to purchase the paintings that ended up in l’Orangerie? At least we have many other Monet works in Chicago. Whether you’re planning a trip to Paris or Chicago, or just want to learn more about one of the greats (who was not always admired during his lifetime), I recommend this book—I lost track of the number of times I thought, “I didn’t know that.”
I dare you not to fall in love with the delightfully quirky Eleanor Oliphant. She is charming, logical, and socially awkward. In her early 30s, Eleanor struggles with falling in love, making friends, and connecting with colleagues—and it is slowly revealed that Eleanor’s dark childhood may have stunted her social development.
A cross between The Language of Flowers and The Rosie Project, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine will tug at your heartstrings. Gail Honeyman’s debut novel is set in Scotland, which will be immediately apparent if you listen to the audiobook (the narration by Scottish actress Cathleen McCarron is spot on). You’ll laugh and cry as Eleanor’s orderly solitary life is turned upside down.
At turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Trevor Noah’s candid memoir is a powerful, moving story of his life as a mixed race child growing up during apartheid. Told in vignettes, Born a Crime documents his relationship with his mother, his childhood and teenage antics, and his struggle to fit into a world that considered him a crime (at the time of his birth, interracial relationships were illegal).
Perhaps best known as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, Noah does infuse humor into his stories, but this is not your typical comedian’s memoir. Listen to the audiobook: the author’s command of multiple languages and skill at impersonations shine in his engaging narration.
David Baldacci’s latest hero is quirky and troubled Amos Decker: he can’t forget anything thanks to a head injury in his first (and last) NFL game, and he abandons his career as a police detective following the murder of his wife and daughter. Sixteen months after the tragedy, a man unexpectedly confesses to that crime—but is he guilty?
In Memory Man, an introspective antihero is drawn back into police work by a school shooting. Is it somehow connected to his family’s murder? A gripping story and a memorable character. Intrigued? Check out The Last Mile and The Fix (just released last month) for more Amos Decker action.
FBI agents Jessica Harlow and John Shepherd didn’t exactly bond during their training six years ago. When they’re paired together for an undercover assignment, sparks fly and banter ensues. With charming characters and witty dialogue, Julie James pens another smart contemporary romance. If you enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips, try The Thing About Love.
In this charming romantic comedy, author Elinor Lipman writes lovable characters, smart dialogue, and zany situations. Thirty-something Faith Frankel returned to her small Massachusetts hometown after a stint in New York City. She spends her days writing thank you notes as a fundraiser for a local private school while her fiancé “finds himself” on a walk across America. Faith impulsively buys a semi-decrepit cottage, setting off a hilariously bizarre series of events (including a mystery). On Turpentine Lane is a gem, deserving of a read or listen (narrated beautifully by Mia Barron). I can’t wait to read more by Lipman.
Sophie Kinsella introduces another delightful character in Katie Brenner. In My Not So Perfect Life, country girl Katie is fulfilling her lifelong dream of living and working in London. According to her Instagram account, life is rosy. And yet, reality is quite different.
In this fast-paced witty novel, Kinsella covers workplace culture, social media “truth” vs. reality, and making assumptions/being quick to judge people. A fun yet thought-provoking look at life in the 21st century.
This book hit all the right notes: likable, interesting characters; gripping story told from multiple perspectives; and historical fiction blended with believable time travel. In 2048 England, students and professors at Oxford have mastered the art of time travel as a means to fill in the gaps in the historical record. Budding historian Kivrin plans to visit 1320 Oxford to learn more about everyday life in the Middle Ages; instead, she ends up in 1348 at the height of the Black Death. A mysterious epidemic in 2048 also creates chaos, preventing Dunworthy (Kivrin’s mentor) from bringing her home.
A compelling narrative, Doomsday Book will propel you forward, frantically turning to pages to discover the fate of those in past and future. My first foray into Connie Willis’ novels—but it won’t be my last!
Alternating between 1930s Spain and 1960s London, The Muse is a compelling story with its threads tied together by a painting and its artist. In the months leading up to the Spanish Civil War, teenager Olive Schloss struggles with identity, relationships, and artistry. In 1967 England, Trinidadian writer Odelle faces similar challenges. Early on in Jessie Burton‘s sophomore novel (after The Miniaturist), it’s obvious that a mystery in the plots of the parallel narratives will be resolved; the surprise (and joy) is in how Burton accomplishes it.
This novel is for fans of historical fiction and art-related novels such as The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro, and That Summer by Lauren Willig. Plus, check out our book list featuring Art & Artists.
Take one part Meg Cabot’s (of The Princess Diaries fame) brand of romantic comedy and one part modern epistolary novel and you get a delightfully endearing story. Told through phone chats, social media messages, journals, and emails, The Boy is Back follows high school sweethearts Becky and Reed as they reconnect after a decade apart. Mix in a wacky family, small town shenanigans, and a few misunderstandings for a sweet and breezy read.
And if you’re a fan of epistolary novels, check out our list.