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The Weekly Read: What’s New in Books

Andrew McCarthy’s life-changing trek through Spain, Elin Hilderbrand is just about done with her Nantucket books and Tom Hanks has written a darn-good novel

spinner image left book cover walking with sam by andrew mccarthy right author andrew mccarthy
Grand Central Publishing / Jesse Dittmar

Andrew McCarthy — who’s not a brat! — on ‘Walking With Sam’

Remember the Brat Pack, those hot young actors of 1980s coming-of-age films like Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire? Turns out they are no longer bratty (if they ever even were) — or at least Andrew McCarthy isn’t. Now 60, he was friendly and thoughtful when I talked with him recently about his new book Walking With Sam: A Father, a Son and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain (May 9). It’s his story about an epic five-week bonding adventure he shared with his 19-year-old son, Sam, walking the famous Spanish pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago.

McCarthy — who does a mix of acting, writing and directing these days — candidly describes his insecurities and various tensions with Sam during the often grueling, life-changing trip, which we discussed along with what he’s reading (lots of nonfiction about spies, for one) and a documentary he’s filming about the Brat Pack. You can read more from the interview on Members Only Access.

Picks of the Week: Tom Hanks’ book for movie buffs, caregiving concerns and a life-affirming new novel

spinner image from left to right book covers the making of another major motion picture masterpiece by tom hanks then who cares by emily kenway then the collected regrets of clover by mikki brammer
Knopf / Seal Press / St. Martin's Press / Getty
  • The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece by Tom Hanks (May 9). Turns out  Hanks isn’t just a stellar actor. He’s also a darn-good writer. His first novel is a wonderful, often humorous story that jumps from 1947 to 1970 and on to the present-day creation of a splashy superhero movie based on an old comic book. Film lovers will eat it up. (Read my review here.)
  • Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It by Emily Kenway (May 9). Beginning with a wrenching description of Kenway’s exhausting (emotionally and physically) experience caring for her mother as she’s dying of cancer, the author argues that we are on the brink of a caregiving crisis, with people living longer, and urgently need to address it. Her words will ring true for family caregivers — which so many of us are, have been, or will be.
  • The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer (May 9). This is a warm-hearted novel that’s also (sort of) about caregiving. Its focus is on Clover Brooks, an antisocial death doula who — since her beloved grandfather’s death — has been devoted to making sure that others’ dying journey is peaceful, yet does nothing to focus on her own happiness. Then she meets Claudia, an older woman who, in a roundabout way, inspires her to open her heart and embrace life. Kirkus calls it “a beautiful tale” that “walks the edge of sentimentality with poignant success.”
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Elin Hilderbrand’s (almost) last Nantucket novel

spinner image left author elin hilderbrand right the book cover for the five star weekend by elin hilderbrand
Nina Subin / Little, Brown and Company

Summer’s coming, which means it’s time to start thinking about beach reads, people! And few authors are more beachy than the beloved Elin Hilderbrand, 53, who’s been writing her Nantucket-set novels for more than 20 years. Her next one, The Five-Star Weekend, comes out on June 13, and her fans will want to savor it because there will only be one more to come. As she told me in a recent interview (check it out on next month), her last summery Nantucket island tale will be published in 2024.

Why stop now? “I am just flat out running out of ideas,” Hilderbrand said. “I’m at the top of my game right now, and I don’t want the quality of the books to fail — so I’m doing everybody a favor.”

She added that she’s not retiring from writing altogether, but is eager to focus more on her true love: reading other authors’ novels. A few of her recent favorites: I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld and Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson.

Picks of the week (May 2 edition)

spinner image From left to right book covers the Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese, Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan, Camera Girl by Carl Sferrazza Anthony
Grove Press / Random House / Gallery Books / Getty

If you’ve got ample reading time, you won’t regret diving into the weighty The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (May 2), known for his 2009 bestseller Cutting for Stone. It’s 715 pages long but absolutely absorbing and a likely award contender this year. Verghese weaves multiple storylines throughout — including that of a family in Kerala, on south India’s Malabar Coast, with what appears to be a kind of curse: Someone from every generation dies by drowning. The audiobook version is narrated by the author.  

For lighter reading, check out Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan (May 2), a charming debut about an Indian American family shaken up when the parents divorce 36 years into their arranged marriage and enter the wild world of dating — surprising their two adult children, who have their own share of problems in the love department.

Also of note is Camera Girl: The Coming of Age of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy by Carl Sferrazza Anthony (May 2), who describes the icon’s life in Paris and other adventures — such as covering Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as a writer for the Washington Times-Herald — from her formative years (1949-1953), through her marriage to John F. Kennedy at age 24.

Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte, before she became the talk of the town

spinner image Left Queen Charlotte an upcoming Bridgerton Story by Netflix, right actress Golda Rosheuvel
Netflix / Photo by Steven Simione/FilmMagic

Guilty pleasure alert: Netflix’s Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story premiered on May 4. It’s a spin-off/prequel to the streaming service’s often-steamy Regency-era romance series from Shonda Rhimes, based on the novels by Julia Quinn (fun reads, as I discovered during a romance novel binge a few pandemic summers ago).

An accompanying book cowritten by Quinn and Rhimes is also out now. As fans know from the previous Bridgerton novels and/or the two seasons of the show that have aired, Queen Charlotte — played by Golda Rosheuvel, 53, on TV — is an imperious power broker responsible for choosing one lucky young lady as the most desirable, the “diamond,” among the ton (fashionable society) every season.

The prequel, billed by publisher Avon Books as “the diamond of this season’s publishing offerings,” focuses on the arranged marriage and subsequent romance between the young German Princess Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and King George III. The novel begins, amusingly, with the princess at age 17, uncomfortably squeezed into a corset on her way to meet her betrothed — and royally displeased by the prospect.

Beyond books: More reasons to love libraries

spinner image A paperback book full of wildflowers
Getty Images

How awesome are libraries? Books galore, available to all, for free. And many libraries offer a range of other freebies, as explained in this story. They include not only workshops, internet access and conference room space, but unexpected perks such as passes to state parks: Nevada State Parks recently launched the Library Park Pass, which you can check out at any branch to get a day pass allowing free entry to its 27 parks; Connecticut has a similar deal called the No Child Left Inside day pass (for all ages).

You can also get — who knew? — free plant seeds. A growing number of libraries, from Delavan, Wisconsin, to Boulder, Colorado, allow people to “check out” seeds to grow flowers, vegetables and more. Programs vary, but some libraries suggest that seed takers later return seeds from their sprouted plants, to replenish the library’s stock.

Picks of the week (April 25 edition)

spinner image from left to right book covers saturday night at the lakeside supper club by j ryan stradal then small mercies by dennis lahane then simply lies by david baldacci
Pamela Dorman Books / Harper / Grand Central Publishing / Getty
  • I loved Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club, by J. Ryan Stradal (April 18), who again offers a warmhearted, multigenerational story, as he did in his previous novels Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota. The focus here is on a young couple from two Minnesota restaurant families — one of them longtime owners of an old-school supper club — who feel the weight of their legacies, but then a tragic accident leads them in new directions.
  • In Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane (April 25) — author of, among other hits, Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone — a teenage girl goes missing and a young Black man is killed by a subway train on one hot night during the summer of 1974, when Bostonians are already steamed up over plans to desegregate the schools. (See our interview with Lehane on AARP’s Members Only Access.)
  • Psychological thriller fans are already snapping up David Baldacci’s action-packed Simply Lies (April 18), featuring two female characters, a detective — single mother Mickey Gibson — and a con artist, facing off. Among other trials, Gibson is framed for murder and finds herself in a race against time to prove her innocence

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Books From Lucinda Williams, Chita Rivera and Mother-Daughter duo Laura Dern and Diane Ladd

spinner image from left to right book covers dont tell anybody the secrets i told you by lucinda williams then chita by chita rivera then honey baby mine by laura dern and diane ladd
Three big celebrity memoirs arrived on April 25:  
  • Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, by Lucinda Williams: The three-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and musician, 70, opens up about her unstable upbringing in the Deep South (she lived in 12 towns by the time she turned 18) and the stories that inspired her wonderfully evocative songs. She told me about the book, her difficult, ongoing recovery from a stroke, and more in a recent interview.
  • Chita, by Chita Rivera (with Patrick Pacheco): The Broadway legend, 90, recalls her famous role as Anita in the first production of West Side Story — where she met and married a fellow dancer (a Jet!), Tony Mordente — and more from her remarkable career. (You can read AARP’s discussion with Rivera here.)
  • Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding), by Diane Ladd and Laura Dern: The two actresses, ages 87 and 56, offer up a series of conversations about big topics, plus anecdotes from their lives, family photos and recipes. Check out some highlights

Gretchen Rubin wants you to stop and smell the flowers

spinner image left book cover life in five senses by gretchen rubin right gretchen rubin portrait
Crown / Austin Walsh

In Life in Five Senses: How Exploring the Senses Got Me Out of My Head and Into the World, by Gretchen Rubin (April 18), the author of the mega-bestselling The Happiness Project (2020) explores touching, tasting and other sensory pleasures as a way to engage with the world and live more fully — a topic that began to interest her when she had eye problems and considered what life would be like without vision.

Rubin’s website includes a related quiz to help you determine your most neglected sense (“the sense that you least often turn to for pleasure or comfort”). She tells AARP that hers is taste. Mine is smell, according to the quiz, which offered suggestions for awakening my olfactory sense, including, “Find some scratch-n-sniff stickers or a scratch-n-sniff book” and “Visit a fragrance counter and sample five scents.” A bit silly, but loads of evidence show that cultivating mindfulness — however you choose to do so — can boost mood and lower anxiety. So maybe I'll start sniffing around a bit.     

In Brief: ‘Tiny Beautiful Things,’ Pen/Faulkner’s Fiction Winner, Revisiting Judy Blume

spinner image left author cheryl strayed center author judy blume right book cover of the book of goose by yiyun li
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic / Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images / Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • The limited series Tiny Beautiful Things, starring Kathryn Hahn, is now playing on Hulu. It’s adapted from the memoir/self-help book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed, an advice columnist known as Dear Sugar and author of the best-selling 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (made into a film starring Reese Witherspoon). The new show stars Kathryn Hahn as a writer with loads of personal problems who nonetheless tries her darndest to offer wisdom and compassion to others. AARP’s Members Only Access has an interview with Strayed.
  • The PEN/Faulkner Foundation has announced the winner of its prestigious 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, chosen by three fiction writers (this year they are Christopher Bollen, R.O. Kwon and Tiphanie Yanique) from among 512 novels and short story collections. The prize goes to The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li, a story centered on two teenage girls in rural post-World War II France who perpetrate a kind of literary hoax. The judges praised it as “a dazzling, conventions-defying, nuanced novel.”
  • Judy Blume’s books captivated my generation of adolescents; it was like she understood us, with all of our awkwardness and insecurities. Her impact is explored in a new documentary, Judy Blume Forever, which premiered on Amazon Prime Video on April 21. It’s all just in time for the film adaptation of Blume’s classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, now in theaters.

Picks of the week (April 11 edition)

spinner image left book cover my fathers brain by sandeep jauhar then the trackers by charles frazier
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Ecco / Getty
  • Sandeep Jauhar — author of 2018’s The Heart: A History — is a practicing physician, but that didn’t prepare him for the emotionally wrenching experience of watching his dad’s gradual cognitive and physical decline from Alzheimer’s, described in his new book My Father’s Brain: Life in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s (April 11). Anyone who’s been a family caregiver, or has a loved one with the disease, will relate to Jauhar, who describes his family’s journey with compassion and candor (“I loved him, cared for him, and hated him, too,” he writes).
  • For fiction lovers, there’s The Trackers by Charles Frazier (April 11), author of the National Book Award-winning Cold Mountain (1997). Frazier’s latest focuses on a New Deal-funded painter, Val Welch, who’s hired to paint a mural in rural Wyoming, where he’s hosted by a wealthy couple, Eve and John Long. Val ends up on a cross-country hunt for the enigmatic Eve, who’s stolen a Renoir painting from her husband. The book’s publisher, Ecco, says the idea for the story came to the author years ago, when he “was struck by a photograph of two muralists at work, observed by a well-dressed couple, while researching Depression-era public art programs. To Frazier, the ‘photograph felt like an implied narrative, a hidden story.’” 

When you love them so much, it hurts

spinner image left book cover it goes so fast by mary louise kelly right portrait of mary louise kelly
Henry Holt and Co. / Mike Morgan / Getty

In It. Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs by Mary Louise Kelly (April 11), cohost of NPR’s All Things Considered, Kelly writes beautifully about the emotional, pivotal year before her elder son, James, left for college. After years of missing his soccer games and other events because of her demanding radio job, it was a time to soak up the months she had left with James at home, while contemplating, “What now?”

The book ends around his high school graduation and James is now wrapping up his first year away, so I was curious about how she’s handled the separation — particularly since my own son heads off to college this fall, and I’m already feeling the heartache.

Her answer to my emailed question was wonderful: “Every time I walk past my son’s bedroom — his bizarrely tidy, quiet and empty bedroom, in total contrast to the prior 18 years — my heart both sings and breaks. Sings, because this was the whole goal: We raise our kids to be independent, and to go out and have adventures in the world! But breaks because I miss him with an intensity that some days nearly knocks me down, even months into him being away at college. It’s a funny thing to return to the days when your phone rings, and you leap across the room to answer, because you’re hoping it’s a certain guy calling, and that guy is ... your son.”

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 21, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new information. 

Please share your own favorite new (or old) books, upcoming releases you’re excited about, or anything book related in the comments section.

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