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Delicious Books About Family Three Ways, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:42am

In pursuit of understanding how to write genre fiction, I have read very much of it these past few years. I now know that I like any fiction, as long as it’s well written. Give me an ordinary tale well told over an extraordinary tale poorly done, any day. I also now know that books about families are a thing unto themselves.

Here are three books I’ve read and liked recently, from found family to extended nuclear, from robustly commercial to memorably literary (defined in my own particular taxonomy by how much of the experienced story and meaning is on the page, and how much is off). Commercial=On the Page. Literary=Off. Which raises the question of exactly where the meaning of literary fiction resides, but for today we’ll leave that to professors.

Between Us, by Mhairi McFarlane, upcoming

How many of you have read McFarlane? Some people say she writes rom-coms, others would say contemporary women’s fiction with a romantic element. Either way, she’s a master of the good read. Her families are found, groups of late 20s/early 30s British friends who play pub trivia, live in flats, and have regular jobs. Not princesses, in other words, and devoted to each other. Her books often, maybe always, involve a best friend relationship with bumps, a bad actor ex, and a not-so-bad new chance at romance. The stories aren’t just about the romance though, they are driven by the growth of the female main character.

Between Us is McFarlane’s latest, available now by pre-order. I read it via NetGalley, a site where you request to read books pre-publication, and was really excited we were approved for this one. I say we, because I’m assuming the publishers like you all as readers. I will just tell you that the book opens with all the friends going to spend a weekend at a stately home, courtesy of one of them having won a lot of money on a reality show. Such a fun twist on the English country weekend that I only wish they stayed longer. My only other reservation about the book is that the final relationship bump for the eventual new romance felt unnecessary, but otherwise, every time I put this down I was excited to pick it back up again. On Goodreads, here.

The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo, 2019

This book is really long, like 500 pages in hardback. Which, as I loved it, was a good thing. You have to come to know seven characters, at least–two parents, four adult daughters, one grandson and maybe one or two others as love interests. The joy of the story, for me, was an author who believes in what she was doing, who is willing to use great skill in the service of small domestic histories and the multi-threaded tensions and happinesses of family. Lombardo is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and teaches creative writing, and I imagine I could feel that.

The plot in some ways doesn’t matter. The mother and father have been married for a very long time, and still love and desire each other. The four daughters are all quite different; all struggle. One of the daughters has given a child up for adoption, and that child has been reintroduced to the family. Then everybody makes their way and lives their lives. And you feel somehow expanded for having loaned space to their history. On Goodreads, here.

Love Marriage, by Monica Ali, 2022

This plot matters enormously, as the characters behave against expectations and I think that’s one of the points. Set in London, in brief, the daughter of a Pakistani family becomes engaged to an intellectual, upper-class English scion. The engaged couple are both doctors, as is the father of the daughter. The mother of the scion is a Bloomsbury sort. Someone in the story has a same-sex love affair, I won’t tell you whom. Someone in the story goes to a therapist and I won’t tell you whom. Someone has a baby, and, you guessed it, I won’t tell you whom.

Not a story one can forget, and leaves unvoiced questions in its wake, but also is completely entertaining and quirky and fun. On Goodreads, here. You may notice, all these books I love have a Goodreads score in the high 3s. Make of that what you will, and share any thoughts if you’re so inclined.

Books for summer! Here’s to an excellent weekend of reading.


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15 Responses

  1. I wanted you to know, that I woke up at around 1am last night, and thought “it’s Saturday, Lisa will have a new blog post today!” and happily went back to sleep. I will absolutely take a look at these books, although I am again, deep into psychological thrillers. I’ve always been sort of curious what draws people to a certain genre. Frances of Materfamilias is the most well rounded reader I know of, and I’m envious…Anyone have any ideas?

    1. K this must be one of the top 5 compliments I’ve ever gotten about anything, thank you! If I can help anyone sleep happily after those middle of the night wakes I have served my purpose on earth:), I hope someone might chime in with a thriller for you. And Frances IS or at least was a professor, and her reading is so elevated and wonderful and multi-lingual.

  2. I have read and enjoyed Monica Ali’s books…
    Am reading a book that was recommended to me but it’s a departure from what I usually read. It’s called Outlander by Gil Adamson it was an Amazon First Novel award winner…sometimes we need to stretch ourselves and read something different.
    I would love to read your book(s) as a follower from way back :-))

    Hostess of the Humble Bungalow

    1. Leslie, so I should try her other books? Good to know! And I still remember that first email you sent me. And appreciate it:). The Outland sounds like a fascinating and compelling read.

  3. Thanks for reminding me about Monica Ali’s writing — I very much enjoyed Brick Lane quite a few years ago, but somehow she dropped off my radar. Time to remedy that (but Oh, the TBR list is so long!)

  4. Thank you for the suggestions – I’m always on the lookout for a good read. I think I’ll start at the end of your list rather than the beginning. You might enjoy reading We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman. (And apologies if you recommended this sometime back.) It’s about a woman whose dearest friend is in hospice care. That sounds depressing, but instead the book is both touching and funny, as it is not (only) about death but about family, friendship, and love.

    1. You’re welcome. Monica Ali’s book is really smart and original and also just a jolly good read. I will try We All Want Impossible Things.

  5. Apparently I need to spend more time on NetGalley! I love Mhairi McFarlane (with the exception of a couple of her earliest books), and I have been waiting impatiently for this one to release. She and Beth O’Leary are very high on my list of authors right now. Romance but with actual substance, not just rom-com fluff. (Which I also enjoy, don’t get me wrong.) But they both do it so well. I need to check out the other 2 authors you mentioned!

    1. I love Beth O’Leary. Romance with some smarts and heart. Emily Henry too, although she steps closer to the full romance path.

  6. Excellent suggestions — thank you!
    I also enjoyed “The Most Fun We Ever Had.” Claire Lombardo writes with insight & clarity.

    1. You are so welcome! Lombardo’s good, I agree. I am looking forward to her next book.

  7. Thank you so much for the recommendations! I had not heard of Mhairi McFarlane, and I love her fun, romantic style. I am going to work my way through all of her books!

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