Lizza Bowen

Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Then Came You, opens with a scene her readers would expect from this best-selling author—but it unfolds unlike any other she’s ever written. In the first pages of Then Came You, a man walks over to a woman having lunch and asks to sit down. He compliments her, tries to buy her meal, and then, just when readers expect him to fish for her phone number, he poses a question: “How would you like to make twenty thousand dollars?” He’s talking about egg donation, and just like that, Then Came You instantly veers off the ordinary path and dives headlong into a very modern story of motherhood.

Beautiful and athletic Princeton grad Jules, courted by a rep from the fertility center, considers how the hefty reward could buy her father another much-needed round of rehab. Jules’ story intersects with Annie’s, a stay-at-home mom of two boys who is considering surrogacy to make ends meet. India, the newly wedded second wife of wealthy, older Marcus, needs both Jules and Annie to help her conceive a child.

Bettina, Marcus’ daughter, is incensed when she gets the news that she’ll have to graft a half-sister onto her fractured family tree. She does her best to expose India as a Botoxed, gold-digging phony. But Bettina grapples with her own insecurities, especially when it comes to making her life count for something outside of her work. Though India’s maternal instincts surface for seemingly obvious reasons—to secure her inheritance—her backstory is slowly revealed. By the book’s end, readers will discover her true motivation.

Weiner has a history of turning out lighthearted and romance-infused reads like Good In Bed and Best Friends Forever. Then Came You is something different for her, offering an eye-opening perspective on parenthood in an age where the family is ever evolving.

Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel, Then Came You, opens with a scene her readers would expect from this best-selling author—but it unfolds unlike any other she’s ever written. In the first pages of Then Came You, a man walks over to a woman having lunch and asks to sit down. He compliments her, tries to buy […]

Jean Thompson’s poignant The Year We Left Home chronicles life as it unfolds for the Erickson family over a span of 30 years. The book begins in Iowa circa 1973. The novel’s matriarch and patriarch are salt-of-the-earth folks, each of their four children “some gradation of blonde, long-boned Nordic-ness.” Servant-hearted and fiercely loyal to family who abide in the area, Mom and Dad are subtly written into the background as Thompson narrates the passing years.

As the parents gray with age and irrelevancy in the lives of their children, their progeny play more of a central role in the story. Readers become intimately acquainted with Ryan, Blake, Anita and Torrie as they experience all of life’s stages. Thompson’s nuanced prose echoes each of their distinct voices as she explores the most heartbreaking times in all four characters’ lives.

Ryan, endowed with good looks and brains, leaves the nest with aspirations outside the rural Midwestern perimeter. For most of the book, readers reside with him after he’s landed in Chicago. Ryan struggles with an undercurrent of guilt: He has lost connection to his roots since leaving home, and there are moral missteps, marital skirmishes and paternal responsibilities that weigh heavily on him.

Meanwhile Blake, a carpenter, Anita, a housewife, and the youngest, Torrie, who is forever changed after a tragic accident, remain close to their roots. Although they have the luxury of familial support, they only lean on one another in the worst times.

Thompson paints a compelling, realistic picture of four siblings slugging through issues such as alcoholism, infidelity and handicaps in The Year We Left Home. Thompson tackles the stuff of real life, and it’s clear that she has great compassion for her characters. Their gut-wrenching, honest inner monologues and resilience imbue them with humanity. Readers will undoubtedly see slivers of themselves in this flawed family, and while the content in The Year We Left Home may be heavy, it’s not without an occasional glimpse of a silver lining.

Jean Thompson’s poignant The Year We Left Home chronicles life as it unfolds for the Erickson family over a span of 30 years. The book begins in Iowa circa 1973. The novel’s matriarch and patriarch are salt-of-the-earth folks, each of their four children “some gradation of blonde, long-boned Nordic-ness.” Servant-hearted and fiercely loyal to family […]

Georgia Bottoms is the blond, beautiful Southern belle next door. As the central character in Mark Childress’ new novel, aptly titled for the aforementioned Georgia, she is the center of attention in Six Points, Alabama.

The vivacious Georgia grew up in the tiny town and, like everybody else there, she stayed put. Her best friend, Krystal, is the city’s mayor, her brother, “Brother,” is the municipal misfit, and her momma, plagued with dementia, is losing her mind.

The good Southern Baptist that she is, Georgia has occupied the same pew at church for as long as she can remember. Trouble is, lately she’s not coming to find forgiveness. Rather, Georgia Bottoms opens with Georgia feigning a fainting spell to keep the preacher from confessing from the pulpit. You see, he’s been spending his Saturday nights apart from his family and in Georgia’s arms. And he’s not the only guilty one singing hymns on Sunday mornings. But Georgia can’t risk letting his pious conscience get the best of him—she has too much at stake. The Bottoms family fortune is long gone, and Georgia has a long-kept secret for which she needs the cash flow. And it’s not just for her manicures or her Belk shopping sprees, either.

Childress, an Alabama native, brings the same humor and flair for drama to Georgia Bottoms that made his novel Crazy in Alabama such a hit. He is a master of penning dialect, especially when it’s uttered south of the Mason-Dixon line. Georgia’s Southern accent floats off the page, making Georgia Bottoms a quick, entertaining novel for Childress fans and new readers alike. If you’ve got Southern roots, this is a must-read, y’all.

Georgia Bottoms is the blond, beautiful Southern belle next door. As the central character in Mark Childress’ new novel, aptly titled for the aforementioned Georgia, she is the center of attention in Six Points, Alabama. The vivacious Georgia grew up in the tiny town and, like everybody else there, she stayed put. Her best friend, […]

Around the globe, the words “coffee house” conjure a fairly standard picture: steaming mugs of caffeinated refreshment, quality time with friends and intimate conversation over the buzz of an espresso machine. Author Deborah Rodriguez opens her first novel, A Cup of Friendship, in heart of the Afghan city Kabul. Here, at Sunny’s cafe, there are hot beverages and baristas. But there is also an armed guard at the door and a policy that patrons must check their guns before enjoying a latte. The shatterproof glass in the windows serves as a strong reminder of the threat of terrorism that Afghans face on a daily basis.

Though fictional, A Cup of Friendship was penned by a realist: The wayfaringRodriguez, whose best-selling memoir Kabul Beauty School drew on her own experiences living in the fickle Middle Eastern metropolis.

Readers meet several strong women from all walks of life in the novel. American ex-pat Sunny is struggling to run a business while navigating her feelings for two men: her longtime boyfriend Tommy flits in and out of her life while fighting the Taliban, while Jack, a regular at the café, begins to catch Sunny’s eye. The problem is, he’s already in a relationship.

At the book’s opening, the generous Sunny adds village girl Yazmina to her small staff and Sunny is drawn into a dangerous predicament that she’ll need both Tommy and Jack to help resolve. Yazmina harbors a secret that could endanger her life, but Sunny feels a moral obligation to engage despite the risk.

Isabel, an assertive British journalist working to expose the injustices against women in the country, is another memorable character. While her assertive manner is hard for Sunny to digest at first, Isabel’s heroics endear her to her coffee house compatriots forever.

Halajan, Sunny’s landlord, feels like the most authentic of Rodriguez’s characters. At almost 60, Halajan has lived through freer times: when women weren’t mandated to cover up in public or prohibited from keeping company with the opposite sex. Halajan’s feisty and insightful commentary on a nation torn between tradition, religion and change gives readers a truly unique and thought-provoking perspective.

Though A Cup of Friendship is light on page-turning action, the story here is more about the complexity and, ultimately, importance of bonds that transcend culture and circumstance. 

Around the globe, the words “coffee house” conjure a fairly standard picture: steaming mugs of caffeinated refreshment, quality time with friends and intimate conversation over the buzz of an espresso machine. Author Deborah Rodriguez opens her first novel, A Cup of Friendship, in heart of the Afghan city Kabul. Here, at Sunny’s cafe, there are hot […]

What’s it about?
Jan Karon’s second installment of the Father Tim series, In the Company of Others, whisks readers away to Ireland’s emerald shore with the beloved rector from Karon’s popular Mitford series. While most people take a vacation to unplug from their lives, Father Tim Kavanagh and wife Cynthia find themselves thrust into a story unfolding across the pond where personal convictions make it impossible for them to disengage. At a quaint fishing lodge called Broughadoon, the Kavanaghs are waylaid by a robbery at the lodge—and drawn into the complex and long-standing family drama of Broughadoon’s owners, Liam and Anna Conor.

Bestseller formula:
Beloved characters + Irish culture + unearthing painful family history

Favorite lines:
Four days. To walk the shores of Lough Arrow. To row to an island in the middle of the lake and picnic with Cynthia. To sit and stare—gaping, if need be—at nothing or everything.

It would be roughly in the spirit of their honeymoon by the lake in Maine, where their grandest amenity was a kerosene lamp. It had rained then, too. He remembered the sound of it on the tin roof of the camp, and the first sight of her in the white nightgown, her hair damp from the shower, and her eyes lit by an inner fire that was at once deeply familiar and strangely new. He hadn’t really known until then why he’d never before loved profoundly.

Worth the hype?
Readers have waited three long years since Jan Karon’s last book. The combination of much-missed characters and a vivid Irish setting will make for a hit.

What’s it about? Jan Karon’s second installment of the Father Tim series, In the Company of Others, whisks readers away to Ireland’s emerald shore with the beloved rector from Karon’s popular Mitford series. While most people take a vacation to unplug from their lives, Father Tim Kavanagh and wife Cynthia find themselves thrust into a […]

Middle-aged, mid-level Manhattan art dealer Peter Harris is desperately seeking promise from every facet of his ordinary life. In the trifecta of work, marriage and family, Peter—the central character in Michael Cunningham’s new novel By Nightfall—is unfulfilled and quietly flailing.

Cunningham’s unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize for his 1988 release The Hours, captures Peter’s internal struggle. Most of the novel’s drama unfolds in Peter’s head. Readers are privy to his most intimate, and often disconcerting, ruminations.

In his career, Peter longs to find the artist: one whose art is beautiful and inspired, yet who will also spur collectors to open their checkbooks. He is on the cusp of signing such an artist, but only due to the misfortune of his good friend and colleague who, due to illness, has to let the artist go.

Peter’s collapsing marriage, however, is the focus of the plot. His wife Rebecca, editor for an arts publication, is attractive, smart and successful. But his feelings for her are waning. When her younger brother Ethan enters the picture, the real breakage begins.

Known as Mizzy, “the mistake,” Ethan is charming but deceitful. A former drug addict, he comes to crash at Peter and Rebecca’s apartment while attempting to gain some direction in his life. When he tells Peter that a career in the arts could interest him, Peter warily agrees to mentor him. But then Peter learns a secret about Mizzy—and fails to share the news with Rebecca—thus instantly complicating matters and bonding the men to one another.

With strong feelings and physical attraction surfacing for Mizzy, and Mizzy seemingly reciprocating Peter’s affection, Peter is forced to examine the parameters of love and lust. By Nightfall is the deeply felt story of the conflicted Peter, who ultimately discovers what he is willing to sacrifice for happiness.

Middle-aged, mid-level Manhattan art dealer Peter Harris is desperately seeking promise from every facet of his ordinary life. In the trifecta of work, marriage and family, Peter—the central character in Michael Cunningham’s new novel By Nightfall—is unfulfilled and quietly flailing. Cunningham’s unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness style of writing, which garnered the Pulitzer Prize for his 1988 release […]

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