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All Popular Fiction Coverage

Bestselling author Rebecca Serle’s stirring novel One Italian Summer (6.5 hours) follows a young woman’s journey of discovery, acceptance and forgiveness. The audiobook is read by “Gilmore Girls” actor Lauren Graham, who brings sincere tenderness to the heartwarming tale.

Katy is shattered after the death of her mother and best friend, Carol, and Graham captures Katy’s numbness and grief through deliberate pacing and a voice that often breaks with emotion. Feeling lost in life and in her marriage, Katy decides to take a pilgrimage of sorts, traveling to Italy’s Amalfi Coast on the trip that her mother had planned to take for years. Katy is shocked when, upon arriving in beautiful Positano, she meets a vibrant woman who seems to be a younger version of Carol. In her moving performance, Graham evokes Katy’s conflicted emotions surrounding her mother and her marriage, drawing readers into the process of rediscovering her most important relationships.

Read our review of the print edition of ‘One Italian Summer.’

Actor Lauren Graham brings sincere tenderness to the audiobook edition of Rebecca Serle’s heartwarming novel One Italian Summer.

In bestselling author Sarah Jio’s novel With Love From London (11.5 hours), a recently divorced Seattle librarian named Valentina heads to London to settle the estate of her late, estranged mother, Eloise. Valentina is unsure about both the inheritance and her feelings toward Eloise, but she gets drawn in by the quaint bookstore her mother owned in Primrose Hill, her mother’s friends and neighbors, and a scavenger hunt arranged by Eloise that references both points around London and literary works beloved by Valentina and her mother.

In chapters that alternate between Valentina’s experiences in 2013 and Eloise’s life from the 1960s to the ’90s, voice actors Brittany Pressley (Valentina) and Gabrielle Glaister (Eloise) animate daughter and mother with equal warmth and exuberance. Their American and British accents lead listeners into a cozy world that’s alive with intrigue, female camaraderie and the fellowship of book lovers. Eloise’s scavenger hunt not only directs the suspenseful plot but also points to the message at the heart of With Love From London: Books can act as portals to the human soul.

As Valentina finds a fulfilled life in Primrose Hill, readers find a retreat from a harried world.

In the audiobook With Love From London, voice actors Brittany Pressley and Gabrielle Glaister animate daughter and mother with equal warmth and exuberance.

What’s worse than being stood up on Valentine’s Day? Siobhan’s morning coffee date with her standing hookup was supposed to test the waters of them becoming more than just a good time. Miranda’s fancy lunch with her new beau was supposed to reinforce the seriousness of their relationship. And Jane’s date—well, Jane’s date was with a friend who agreed to play the part of her boyfriend at a social event so her nosy co-workers would stop matchmaking. The man hurts all three women with his absence. Yes, man, singular. Because the guy who ditches them all is the same person, one Joseph Carter.

It sounds like a premise for a French farce. In fact, anyone familiar with the play Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti—or the movie adaptation with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis—might think they know where the story is going. But if you’re expecting an absurdist comedy in which everything is played for laughs, you’re in for a surprise. While Beth O’Leary’s The No-Show is frequently funny and playful, it’s never silly or frothy. O’Leary digs deep into the stories of these women: They’re three-dimensional, thoughtful, challenging people dealing with real problems and real feelings that are absolutely no joking matter. They also have great friends, who are fleshed out and fantastic characters in their own right, giving the story not just a sense of place and community but a genuine feeling of warmth. Each woman gets only a third of the book to herself, but O’Leary manages to convey intimate knowledge of each woman and her loved ones . . . with one exception. Joseph remains something of a cipher. O’Leary never steps inside his head to understand what he’s thinking or feeling.

O’Leary cleverly uses literary smoke and mirrors to keep Joseph’s motivations mysterious, and to keep the reader invested regardless. But the fact that such a pivotal piece is missing for most of the novel may leave readers cold, especially those looking for a more traditional love story. Siobhan, Miranda and Jane are painted so vividly that it’s frustrating to have their mutual love interest merely sketched in. When the romances aren’t center stage, The No-Show is a terrific read, filled with people who are enjoyable company even when the story goes to dark places, including struggles with doubt and insecurity and past traumas involving sexual manipulation and a miscarriage. O’Leary is a great storyteller, with keen insight into all the phases of romance, even falling out of love.

The No-Show is sweeter and sadder and deeper and lovelier than I expected, and I enjoyed reading it. But I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t constantly been questioning “whydunnit.”

The No-Show is a terrific read, with keen insight into all the phases of romance and three very compelling female characters.

The doctor is in the house. With her direct and diverting bedside manner, Dr. Madi Sinha (The White Coat Diaries) gets straight to her thought-provoking points on women and work in her second novel, At Least You Have Your Health, a compassionate portrait of a young doctor trying to make a difference in the lives of those around her.

Thirty-six-year-old Maya Rao juggles her roles as a devoted wife, tireless mother of three children and dedicated junior doctor in Philadelphia General Hospital’s obstetrics and gynecology department. She endures the hospital administration’s regulations and bureaucracy, an especially difficult task after the rejection of her proposal for a program to help women better understand their bodies. But when the hospital threatens to suspend Maya following a negative interaction with the chief financial officer’s wife, Maya decides to accept an unusual job as a concierge gynecologist at a boutique women’s medical practice. But more money and a flexible schedule with an exclusive clientele may not be the solution to Maya’s desire to truly help others . . . or herself.

A few of the many enjoyable moments of Sinha’s novel include a precocious 4-year-old who uses no euphemisms for body parts, car wash chaos, a crystal monument misplaced in a client’s nether regions and various other medical emergencies. Amid scenes capable of eliciting tears of joy, angst or frustration, Sinha incorporates questions of work-life balance, racial prejudice, gender inequality, cultural differences and female empowerment. She tackles each topic with a blend of sensitivity and straightforwardness that will leave readers entertained and more enlightened about female anatomy and the business side of medicine.

With a cheer-worthy protagonist, At Least You Have Your Health is a delicious dose of heartwarming characters and good humor.

Madi Sinha’s direct and diverting bedside manner gets straight to her thought-provoking points on women and work in her second novel.

It can be hard to remember just how important paper maps used to be. More than just a way of assisting travel from point A to B, a map was meant to depict the world, revealing a location’s form and significance to anyone who gazed upon it. But what if, rather than being mere reflections of what already exists, maps had the power to shape the world they represented? This intriguing idea forms the foundation of Peng Shepherd’s ingenious and exhilarating second novel, The Cartographers.

Cartographer Nell Young is called in to the New York Public Library after her estranged father is found dead in his office in the map division. While looking through his desk, she finds a secret compartment containing a tatty dime-a-dozen gas station map—the same map that sparked a fiery argument between the two of them several years previously. He dismissed the map as worthless, and their disagreement ended with Nell being branded an outcast in the world of cartography.

Nell can’t begin to understand why her father would have held onto the map he sabotaged her career over, but it soon becomes frighteningly clear that things are not quite as they seem. Despite the map’s unremarkable provenance, it’s actually incredibly rare and highly coveted. In her attempt to understand why, Nell finds herself ensnared in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game, one that could turn deadly if the other party hunting for the map finds Nell before she uncovers its secrets.

As fans of Shepherd’s 2018 debut novel, The Book of M, would expect, The Cartographers is wildly imaginative and totally mind-bending in the best possible way. Shepherd has crafted a juicy mystery masquerading as a grown-up scavenger hunt filled with astonishing twists and revelations. The result is a romp that’s pure pleasure to read and will keep readers guessing—and gasping—as the map’s true power and beguiling history are brought to light.

Fans of Peng Shepherd’s 2018 debut novel, The Book of M, will love The Cartographers, a juicy mystery masquerading as a grown-up scavenger hunt.

Set in England during World War II, Jennifer Ryan’s The Kitchen Front follows four very different women as they compete in a cooking contest sponsored by “The Kitchen Front,” a BBC radio program. The winner will earn a slot as the first ever female co-host of the show. The contestants include war widow Audrey; her sister, Gwendoline, the wife of a wealthy older man; kitchen maid Nell; and Zelda, a skilled chef. Ryan’s excellent use of historical detail and gifts for character and plot development will draw readers in, and after they finish this heartwarming novel, they’ll be able to discuss engaging topics such as female agency and women’s roles during wartime.

Focusing on life at the fictional Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant is a sly, compassionate portrayal of the culinary world. Owner Jimmy Han, whose father made the Duck House a success, is making plans to move on to a flashier restaurant. The novel’s intricate plot involves members of Jimmy’s extended family, as well as a wide range of Duck House staff. Love affairs, back-of-house drama and a restaurant fire all figure into the entertaining proceedings, and questions concerning community, identity and class will inspire great reading group dialogue.

Donia Bijan’s The Last Days of Café Leila tells the story of Noor, who goes home to Iran after spending many years in America. In Tehran, her father, Zod, runs the family business, Café Leila. The return compels Noor to come to terms with her troubled marriage and reassess her life. At the heart of the novel lies Café Leila and the comfort it provides through food and camaraderie. Bijan’s nuanced depiction of modern-day Iran offers abundant subjects for book club discussion, including family ties, immigration and Iranian history.

In The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Vérant, talented chef Sophie Valroux works hard in hopes of one day heading up a world-class restaurant. But when her culinary career falls apart and her beloved grandmother in France has a stroke, Sophie is forced to reevaluate her life, her values and her love for cooking. Brimming with delicious recipes, Vérant’s novel is a compelling tribute to food and family. Themes of female independence, foodie culture and the nature of the restaurant business make this a sensational selection for book groups.

Reading groups will savor these delectable food-themed novels.

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