Gayle's October 2014 Letter: Beach Reads

Gayle ShanksDear Bookstore Friends,

So, it's official. On October 11, our Phoenix store, which opened four months ago, is set to celebrate its official Grand Opening with our partners at The NewtonSouthern Rail, Southwest Gardener, and Christofolo||Schermer LLC. We have a day of fun, food and tours planned for you, and hope that you can join us.

The Newton
Grand Opening
The Newton

After working nearly every day for the past year to get the new store open and help keep the Tempe store running smoothly, I was exhausted by the time I got to Carlsbad for our beach vacation. For the first few days I did little more than sit on my beach chair and watch the waves. Soon, though, the waves and cool air revitalized me, and I started reading, walking, and of course eating and spending time with friends and family.

We had a large group of people reading with us this year, including my sister, my brother-in-law, my son and grandson from LA, and friends from Cave Creek and Phoenix. A few other drop-ins, too — a bookseller friend from Albuquerque, now retired, came with her husband, an extraordinary cook, as well as a friend / sales rep who lives in nearby Oceanside.

It was a full and happy time in a cool clime, walking four miles every morning, reading under our umbrellas on the sand, and watching the sunset from the rooftop deck after dinner. We had at least three dolphin sightings, one sandwich stolen by seagulls, and one happy six-year-old building castles in the sand and skipping carefully over jellyfish washed ashore.

For more years than I can count, I've shared with all of you, on my return, what we've read and which books we're recommending. Every year there are a few that were unanimously acclaimed by all who read them as they were passed from hand to hand, and this year was no exception. So, without further ado, here are this year's winners ...


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Our 2014 Beach Reads


EuphoriaEuphoria by Lily King
A fictional look at cultural anthropology in the 1930s inspired by three famous figures — Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson — who have three entirely different ways of studying the native peoples who they live with and observe. The novel explores not only the culture but the lives of the three who compete both professionally and personally with one another. Beautifully written, provocative and a stay up late page turner. I loved it. More »

The Children ActThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
Four of us read this at the beach this year and all loved it. McEwan's prose is exquisite — not a wasted word and some paragraphs so beautifully written you want to read them out loud to a friend. The story centers around a family law judge who makes life and death decisions in her professional life and whose own family life is in crisis. She is forced to decide if an underage boy should be forced to receive medical help against the wishes of his parents and church. In making the decision, she must also confront her own emotional issues and life choices. More »

Nora WebsterNora Webster by Colm Toibin
This is a quiet book. Toibin slowly creates a character that evolves, despairs, contemplates the meaning of life, and then ultimately blooms. But not without anguish and self examination. Nora's husband dies when she is only 40 and leaves her with little money, four children and a sense that the world she thought would always shelter her is in fact harsh and bleak. She must regroup, restore her children's faith — and her own — in the possibility of normalcy that only comes a glimpse at a time. Beautifully written, a joy to read and savor. More »

The Faulkes ChronicleThe Faulkes Chronicle by David Huddle
I'm not sure exactly how many children the dying mother in this beautiful novel gave birth to in her too-short life, but they range from under two years old to twenty, with few years between. This sweet, steadfast family takes a roadtrip to visit pieces of their parents' past, and in doing so they reveal themselves in a pithy and magical way. The writing is poetic (Huddle is a fine poet whom I've read for years), funny, and poignant. As the mother fades, her children and husband shine in their own reconstructed orbits. A family saga like none I've ever read. I loved it from beginning to end. More »

Lucky UsLucky Us by Amy Bloom
A crazy romp with a misconstrued family and various hangers on — a Mexican make-up artist, a daughter who learns to read tarot cards, another narcissistic daughter who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, a nightclub singer, and a father who steals from his children, pretends to be a butler and ultimately dies not knowing what he might have done to hold his family together. Bloom's story is told through letters, diary entries and several narrative perspectives, and it is up to readers to form their own opinion of the characters' lives. Fun, heartwarming and poignant. More »


Here are my sister's favorites:

The HeistThe Heist by Daniel Silva
I read The Heist while Israel and Hamas fought in Gaza, which heightened the tension Silva creates through his "insiders" look at the Israeli and Western intelligence services' battles against Islamic terrorists and their allies. Silva's heroes are ultimately heroic, and their antagonists purely evil — a great escape from the labyrinthine complexity of the real world. It's great fun to re-meet characters from previous novels. I couldn't put it down, but I would have loved more action scenes mixed in with the intelligent plot twists and character development. But I think Silva makes important statements here about how money means much more to political tyrants than the welfare of their people. More »

The BetrayersThe Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
The Betrayers invites us to live one tumultuous day in the shoes of Baruch Kotler, a Jewish survivor of the gulag of the former Soviet Union, turned Israeli political superstar, turned disgraced adulterer fleeing the press with his young lover. Bezmozgis packs many punches into those twenty-four hours, forcing Kotler (and us) to grapple with the themes of forgiveness, contemporary Zionist ideologies, love, and betrayal, to name just a few. More »

We Are All Completely Besides OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler

This novel grabbed me quickly and then just got better and better as I caught the flow of its quirky style and even quirkier, unpredictable plot-line. The book is a fabulous mix of humor and pathos, great characters, scientific theory reinforced and debunked, and human psychological truths revealed. Loved it! More »


The SilkwormThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
You know by now that Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling. If you've read the first in her mystery series, The Cuckoo's Calling, you also know that her gifts of creating brilliant characters and unexpected plot twists are undiminished from the Harry Potter days. If you haven't met the struggling but lovable detective and his shy but determined "temporary" office assistant, be forewarned that these books are an addictively delicious stew of humor, love, and suspense peppered with expletives throughout. More »

The Bully PulpitThe Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
by Doris Kearns Godwin

Roosevelt's and Taft's stories are expertly interwoven with those of the brilliant, dedicated muckraker journalists Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair. I don't read much history (bad experience in 5th grade) but the interviews on NPR led me to pick this up, and it turned out to be a non-stop read. Almost. It's 900+ pages so I had to take a few breaks, but it felt like reading a classic adventure novel with characters equaling Shakespeare's finest. More »

How About Never  —  Is Never Good for You?How About Never — Is Never Good for You?:
My Life in Cartoons
by Bob Mankoff

In his autobiography Manikoff, the New Yorker's cartoon editor has included a multitude of drawings, cartoons that made it into the magazine as well as rejects that were too edgy to publish. As each of us on the beach took turns with this book, laughter would erupt, often to tears. More »


Our friend Mike's picks:

The Hollow ManThe Hollow Man by Oliver Harris
This is definitely not your predictable cozy English mystery. The detective, Nick Beasly, introduces us to a world that he is weary of and is regularly trying to escape — London's back alleys, gory murders, mansions with hidden secret rooms, snipers, forbidden intrusions into the English upper crust and their international criminal chums. His puzzling personal activities and professionally effective detective skills draw you in, and I'm guessing that, like me, you won't be able to predict the villain or villains, or the surprise ending. More »

Children of the RevolutionChildren of the Revolution by Peter Robinson
For those familiar with the now famous Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, this novel offers a glimpse of his early years in 1960s England — rogue, not always in control, and, as always, searching for love with very young women. The dead man, an old college instructor, fomented revolution, read Marx, did lots of drugs, and either committed suicide or was murdered. He is an enigma to the detective who is determined to find out what happened. Even The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin get a mention! A truly enjoyable mystery. More »


My friend Fran's picks:

Some LuckSome Luck by Jane Smiley
This book tells the story of the Langdon family. Most of it takes place on the family farm in Iowa. This is the first book in a trilogy about the family and their dependents. It starts in 1920 and ends in 1952. An epic novel telling of the farming life, relationships, joys and disappointments of Walter and Rosanna. It is beautifully written and engaging. I can't wait to read the next two. More »

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
This was a fast, light, easy read with a lot of dark humor. It takes place across a decade starting in 1939. The story is about two half sisters, Iris and Eva, and the many characters that pepper their lives, together and alone. The story begins with Eva's mother taking her to the home of Eva's recently widowed father, where she meets her half sister Iris for the first time. It's during this visit that Eva's mother abandons her to start a new life. Iris and Eva begin their lives together as sisters. It was a good story, with a somewhat unrealistic happy ending. More »


The Disappearance BoyThe Disappearance Boy by Neil Bertlett
Reggie grew up in an English orphanage, where we meet him in 1953, a young man, working behind the scenes for a magician. His life changes when the magician hires a new assistant, Pamela Rose, and they are hired to perform at a theater in Brighton. We see Reggie grow into adulthood, developing a relationship with Pamela Rose and searching for a special person who disappeared from his life when he was young. Not only were the characters interesting, but I enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a magician's act. More »

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
This engrossing story is about two half sisters, Eva and Iris. It begins when Eva is 12 and Iris is a teenager and they are living in Chicago. They run away from their father so Iris can become a star in Hollywood, and Eva is there to support her. When their luck runs out in Hollywood, they move to Long Island where, over a period of years, they make new friends and eventually reconnect with their father. But, just like in real life, things do not always go as smoothly as one would hope. They do their best to cope with all the good and the bad, and the successes and the failures that are a part of being in a family and are a part of life. I highly recommend it. More »


Our friend Beverly's picks (full disclosure — she's a publishing sales representative and reads for a living too.)

The Girl Who Saved the King of SwedenThe Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden
by Jonas Jonasson

This spoof on contemporary international politics explores the outlandish premise that an intellectually gifted girl, who starts out as a latrine cleaner in Soweto, becomes a nuclear mastermind and behind-the-scenes advisor to a South African nuclear engineer charged with building six bombs. What does this have to do with Sweden and the Holger twins? Why is the Mossad trailing our heroine? It's a juicy tale with a nod to the Emperor's New Clothes and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And it's probably all true. More »

The VactionersThe Vacationers by Emma Straub
An urban New York City family works out their relationship wrinkles while vacationing with best friends in Mallorca. Straub thoughtfully explores infidelity, parenthood, and the slippery glue that binds families. The sunny Mallorcan landscape helps each character to smooth out the edges and provides the space to imagine their future in the best possible light. More »

The Vinter's DaughterThe Vinter's Daughter by Kristen Hamisch
In 1885, Sara Thibault's winemaker father dies in a freak accident on his way to find a buyer for his wine. After his death, Sara's sister becomes engaged to a neighboring Lemieux brother, a bully who wants to acquire the family vineyard in the Loire Valley. After a secret and violent confrontation with the bully brother, Sara and her pregnant sister travel to New York, where a French midwife, also from the Loire Valley, delivers her nephew. Bringing her vineyard connections full circle, eventually Sara makes her way to the Napa Valley wine country. More »

Beverly also recommends: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Windfallen by JoJo Moyes, Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod, and Her Beautiful Brain by Ann Hedreen.


Nancy's picks (she used to own Bookworks in Albuquerque and now gets to play and read!).

A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaA Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra

This first novel by Anthony Marra interweaves five days in the lives of two doctors, two sisters, and a child in warring Chechnya into a tale of love and hope in the midst of brutality. If you liked Everything is Illuminated, Corelli's Mandolin, and A City of Thieves, this book is for you. More »

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
In her funny, introspective collection of essays, Roxane Gay, a 30-something college professor and woman of color (her parents immigrated from Haiti), reflects on pop culture, feminist texts, and what it means to be a woman and a Girlfriend (meaning a woman's woman friend) in America today. More »

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Bookstore as maze, book as code, the virtual and the concrete intersecting to find the immortality of meaning; a mystery; a romance; friendship and the book, the text, the cipher, and the internet all swirling and intertwining on the San Francisco streets. More »



Our son Michael recommends:

ScatteredScattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It by Dr. Gabor Mate
As a person who has ADD, I'm always looking for a new twist on what might make my life easier. What I liked is that Dr. Mate first of all moves beyond the 'bad' aspects of the condition and focuses on the things we can control — changes in environment and family dynamics. The case studies that he talks about really brought my own issues into perspective for me. He draws heavily on his own experience with the disorder, and on possible treatments. More »


My brother-in-law Jamie recommends:

Another Side of Bob DylanAnother Side of Bob Dylan: A Personal History on the Road and Off the Tracks by Victor Maymudes
I loved reading this book! You are riding sidecar observing important and intimate moments in the life of Bob Dylan and those luminaries that helped form his persona. These are memories that Dylan would never ever tell us himself. And it is also a sweet, touching story of the author's father, a friend of Bob Dylan, who also had a very interesting life. More »

How About Never  —  Is Never Good For You?How About Never — Is Never Good for You?:
My Life in Cartoons
by Bob Mankoff

Imagine reading a book that is so consistently LOL funny that no matter where you go, people stare at you as howls of uncontrollable laughter come again and again. This man is that funny. Everyone will love this book. And while you're howling, the story of his life in cartoons entertains and informs you as to how Bob Mankoff became so funny and how he managed to make a decent living from it. I found it all fascinating. And all those who saw me laughing wrote down the name of this book to buy for themselves. Smart! More »


Our grandson Hayden loved these books:

Big Bad BubbleBig Bad Bubble by Adam Rubin
These monsters think bubbles are going to get them and they figure out that they can pop them and that they don't have to be afraid of them. Also, they don't have to listen to their friend who is scaring them with bad stories. I love the pictures of the monsters! More »

Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad DayAlexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Voirst
I have really bad days but not any as bad as Alexander's, I don't think. I don't like lima beans or kissing on TV either but I never got gum in my hair. This book makes me laugh but I also feel sorry for Alexander because everything goes wrong at once. More »

Miss Nelson is BackMiss Nelson is Back by Harry Allard
My dad told me this was one of his favorite books when he was little, and I love it, too. I like that Miss Nelson, the nice teacher, pretends to be Viola Swamp — the mean teacher who tells the kids if they act up they will never see their nice teacher again, only her. I wanted my dad to read it to me over and over again. More »
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