Remarkably Bright Creatures

By Shelby Van Pelt — Ecco, 2022

Tova is a widow in her 70s, coping with the mysterious loss of her teen son, Erik. To distract herself from her losses, Tova takes a job as a cleaner in the local aquarium, where she communes with the creatures housed there. She becomes particularly fond of Marcellus, an aging, giant Pacific octopus, rescued and rehabilitated there. She knows he escapes and visits the other tanks, sometimes for a social call and other times for a snack. Tova keeps his secrets; Marcellus is grateful. When 30-year-old Cameron arrives, looking for the father he never knew, he takes a part-time job at the aquarium, where Tova makes him into a passable employee. While Cam settles into what feels like home for the first time, the intelligent and erudite Marcellus pieces together what happened to Tova’s son. Can the old octopus give Tova the peace she seeks before he dies? Narrated by both Marcellus and Tova, this charming story will have you longing for a trip to the nearest aquarium. 

Everything Must Go

By Camille Pagán Lake Union Publishing, 2022

Laine Francis is a professional organizer who, since childhood, has wanted to put things in order. When Laine’s own life becomes her next organizing challenge, she faces it head-on. She returns to her family home in Brooklyn from Michigan. The timing is right; she feels she can no longer stay with the baby-averse husband adored by her family; she just bade farewell to her beloved dog. Both of Laine’s sisters confide that they’ve become concerned that their mother, Sally, is slipping into dementia. Sally’s been seen going to the store in a negligee, frequently forgetting significant things, making excuses and denying her decline. The sisters confront the possibility of losing their mother to Alzheimer’s and the immense, complex care that she’ll need going forward. It’s these heartfelt conversations that make the Francis sisters endearing. They are credible characters: kind, loving and afraid for their mother’s future. Sally enjoys having Laine nearby; this closeness brings significant unburdening between mother and daughter. Sally tells Laine the truth about her marriage, and Laine realizes she had made an incorrect assumption that she held against her mother for decades. Knowing the truth allows Laine to see her mother in a positive light. When Sally finally accepts that she’ll need help, it’s another successful outcome for our organizer.

The Old Woman with the Knife: A Novel

By Gu Byeong-mo — Hanover Square Press, 2022

It seems ageism in the workplace is rampant, even for contract killers like Horn Claw. At 65, Horn Claw knows she’s not as spry as she once was, but she still gets the job done, even as her co-workers dismiss or even bully her. Born in a small town in South Korea, then abandoned by her birth family, who couldn’t afford another child to raise, Horn Claw has little opportunity to earn a legal income, and she struggles to survive in a society that is cruel to the poor and female. When we meet her, she calls herself a “disease control specialist,” but the vermin she eliminates aren’t rats but unlucky humans, dispatched with a poison-tipped knife. She has lost a hand due to the job but keeps working; she has no friends or social life. Her work is all she knows. With her advancing years, she’s slowing down, is less accurate and is softening. An uncharacteristic sentimental act is a mistake that could prove fatal to this assassin. Will she prevail? We hope so. Gu Byeong-mo is an award-winning, South Korean author. Old Woman with the Knife is her first novel translated into English.

 

Oh William!: A Novel

By Elizabeth Strout—Random House, 2021 

Elizabeth Strout is a favorite of ours. We loved Olive Kitteridge (2008) and My Name is Lucy Barton (2016); now we rejoin Lucy in Oh William!. Newly widowed and a successful writer in her 60s, Lucy has retained an amicable relationship with her first husband, the father of her two daughters. She accepts him now, warts and all, and the warts are not insignificant. But despite Lucy’s investigative nature, she’s yet to fully understand what makes WIlliam tick. The story develops from a newlyweds’ love through Lucy and WIlliam’s divorce over his serial philandering, to Lucy’s satisfying marriage to her second husband, while WIlliam is married and divorced twice more. Yet it’s Lucy whom William asks to join him on a road trip to Maine to investigate his vague ancestry. On the road together, both feeling vulnerable and alone, they have a chance to understand each other on new levels. Their journey is the heart of the novel—a story of regret, reflection, revelation of some surprising family secrets and, ultimately, the way love matures over time.

The Reading List

By Sara Nisha Adams–WIlliam Morrow, 2021

Aleisha is a disaffected 17-year-old, whose life consists of caring for her mentally ill mother and working at a small library, even though she’s never been much of a reader herself. When she happens upon a scrap of paper listing book titles, “just in case you need it,” she decides to work her way through the suggestions. Weighed down by her own issues, Aleisha is rude to a library patron, Mukesh Patel, a lonely widower living in a London suburb, simply going through the motions of daily life. A dressing down by her supervisor propels Aleisha to apologize to Mukesh and make a recommendation from this secret list. The books’ magic sparks a friendship. Mukesh shares his concerns about his granddaughter Priya’s solitary life, so Aleisha suggests ways for the two to bond, including sharing the book list. But when tragedy strikes Aleisha’s family, she pulls away from the Patels and from reading altogether. Can Mukesh use the life lessons gleaned in the shared pages to bring Aleisha back from despair? The Reading List is a true, book-lover’s book. 

Good Eggs: A Novel

By Rebecca Hardiman—Atria Books, 2021

Reading Good Eggs felt like listening to an Irish auntie spin a story: a bit of blarney, with the facts sometimes lost in the details. Since her husband died, 83-year-old Millie Gogarty has been living alone. She relies heavily on her unemployed son, Kevin, who is adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad to his four active children, one a real handful. A phone call from the local police interrupts Kevin’s rare escape to the pub; could it be his rebellious teen, AIdeen? No, Millie’s been caught shoplifting—again. Millie’s release is contingent on her accepting the help of a part-time caregiver, something she’s fought tooth and nail. The story takes unexpected, often hilarious turns as these characters hope for second chances. Millie is a spunky piece of work, for certain, but she’s smart, strong-willed and cunning. This is a feel-good story to curl up with. You’ll end up rooting for the whole Gogarty family.

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed

By Helene Tursten – Soho Crime, 2021 

Add Swedish crime novelist Helene Tursten to your list of go-to Scandinavian authors alongside Fredrik Backman and Jonas Jonasson, both of whom have written books recommended in our reviews. The eponymous elderly lady is our old friend Maud, whom we met in An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good (2018). Maud’s simple desire is to live her life her way, in peace. Surely, at 88, she’s earned that. Yet Maud, known to resolve disputes by eliminating her adversaries, is followed by misfortune—and the body count around her continues to rise. One simply should not cross Maud, nor underestimate her, nor make assumptions based on her advanced years. Is she really hard of hearing and confused, or is it part of an act to evade the police? That walking stick? It may seem to aid her mobility, but she uses it to bash anyone who gets in her way, which they continually do, at their peril. In this book, Maud is avoiding the police as she heads off on a luxury vacation to South Africa. Her vigilante spirit is revived when she witnesses the assault of a young girl in an alley. Her actions play out in six connected, comical vignettes that expose Maud as a serial killer with a diabolical mind, who will leave you asking yourself if it’s so wrong to root for the bad guy. 

 

The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman: A Novel

By Julietta Henderson—MIRA, 2021

There’s so very much to love about this uplifting, character-driven tale. Norman, age 12, has lost his best friend, Jax, who has died. His adoring mother, Sadie, and her coworker, Leonard, embark on a quest to help Norman fulfill his and Jax’s dream to compete at the country’s premier comedy competition, the Edinburgh Fringe. Friendless without Jax, Norman also decides he needs to find the father he never knew—but his mom isn’t even sure who he is. Sadie, a wounded soul with her own grief, is determined to help Norman process his monumental loss, but it’s only when 80-something Leonard agrees to join the quest that the threesome heads off. Leonard is the brains behind the trip; he brings the common sense, the computer savvy and a lifetime of useful skills, upon which Sadie and Norman draw time and time again. Leonard is the reason we recommend this book; he works as a custodian and bore the brunt of every ageist joke the boss could spew. There’s more to Leonard than meets the eye, but can he find a missing father? Nothing goes strictly according to plan, but throughout the odyssey, Norman Foreman, the “Little Big Man of Comedy,” gets a chance to shine.

Should We Stay or Should We Go: A Novel

By Lionel Shriver – Harper, 2021

In their 50s, Kay and Cyril both work in health care and have just watched the decade-long, agonizing demise of Kay’s once-brilliant father to Alzheimer’s. With firsthand professional and personal experience of the indignities of aging, they know the sacrifices families make as they stand by helplessly and watch a person die slowly. They make a pact to end their lives, together, at the age of 80. The next three decades pass and, lo, they’re at their use-by date. What happens next is revealed in a dozen different possibilities, brilliantly thought out. In one alternate universe, they end up in residential care where they’re neglected and forgotten; in another, at a posh facility where they’re treated like royalty. In yet another scenario, they choose cryogenics with return when they would be free of disease. But this is not a morbid collection of “what ifs.” It’s a thought-provoking, often humorous read on how we approach death and the choices we make. In other words, perfect for your book club.

The Book of Two Ways: A Novel

By Jodi Picoult – Ballantine Books, 2020

Death has always been a part of Dawn Edelstein’s life. It began with an early fascination with how ancient Egyptians embraced dying as a part of living. As a grad student in Egyptology, she met Wyatt Armstrong. They shared a passion for The Book of Two Ways, a series of hieroglyphics inscribed inside certain Egyptian coffins that mapped the path of the afterlife. That fervor brought them together romantically, and Dawn felt her life was becoming what it was meant to be. But when she was called to her mother’s death bed, Dawn abruptly found herself taking a different path. 

Fifteen years later, she is married to a quantum physicist named Brian, raising a teenage daughter and working as a death doula. She guides clients through the process of dying, easing the transition from life, helping with everything from physical care to last wishes. She loves the work and she loves her family, but a strong connection with a new client stirs up buried memories and desires. She is torn between “what is” and “what if.” What if, after her mother’s death, she’d found a way to rejoin Wyatt in Egypt and resume both her career and their love affair?

The book begins with Dawn surviving a plane crash and questioning her mortality. She knows so much about dying—she just isn’t sure she’s an expert on living, and the time has come to take a good, long look at what is most important in her world. Sprinkled with snippets about Egyptian hieroglyphs and history, this novel will take you deep into the burial chambers of ancient kings and up into the mysteries of death. It will make you think about the path you are on now, and how you’ll feel about your choices when you face the inevitable.

Exit

By Belinda Bauer – Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020

Death is usually a grim subject, but Belinda Bauer’s new mystery is quite funny. Felix Pink, the protagonist of Exit (2020), volunteers as an Exiteer: he’s part of an underground organization that supports people who are terminally ill and have decided to take their own lives. Strictly speaking, nothing Felix does is illegal. He simply sits with clients as they wait to die. They use a painless method suggested by his organization, and he keeps them company so their families will know they’re not alone. Once they’re gone, he spirits away the evidence of suicide. Felix is a 75-year-old widower. He’s kind, conscientious, a neatnik and rule-follower. Most readers will be completely on his side as he goes on one of his missions, only to discover afterward that he’s sat with the wrong person and is implicated in a death that may be a mistake—or a murder. Bauer’s typically twisty mystery provokes lots of chuckles, thanks to her delightfully skewed point of view. And as older readers become privy to Felix’s thoughts about aging, they may wonder if Bauer has been reading their minds. 

The Thursday Murder Club: A Novel 

By Richard Osman – Pamela Dorman Books, 2020

Every Thursday, four amateur sleuths meet to rehash unsolved crimes. They are an unlikely and quirky foursome: a nurse, a spy, a psychiatrist and a union activist, all residents of the Coopers Chase Retirement Village. Their differences are the strengths they bring to their detective work. To their utter delight, someone is murdered in their midst, a contractor with designs on expanding the community. The Murder Club has a real case! The police underestimate them and, careless about sharing their own knowledge of the crime, are bested by the club members at every turn. This witty whodunnit’s author—a British television celebrity—has depicted the protagonists, all 80 or nearing so, as intelligent and credible, not a feeble, frail or pitiable one among them. This story closes with plenty of room for the Thursday Murder Club to return. Let’s hope someone else gets killed. 

The Big Finish

By Brooke Fossey – Penguin Random House, 2020

In a complete reversal of the grandparent-escapes-care-facility theme, 19-year-old Josie breaks into Centennial, the assisted living facility where her grandfather, Carl, resides. No one is more surprised than his roommate, Duffy, a self-proclaimed “ass,” who believed he and Carl had no secrets. Except for a daughter and now a granddaughter living nearby? But there are more secrets, and Josie needs the help of these octogenarians. Josie arrives shoeless and reeking of alcohol, with only the clothes on her back and a black eye. She wants them to hide her for a week while she sorts things out. After years of stuffing his feelings of guilt and shame, Carl is willing to do anything to win Josie over, but Duffy knows they run the risk of getting caught and evicted to the dreadful nursing home down the street. As a recovered alcoholic himself, he’s been in Josie’s shoes—out of friends, out of options. With Duffy as reluctant leader, some of Centennial’s residents and staff conspire to detox Josie and give her recently departed mother a proper funeral. This is a big-hearted story of hijinks, unlikely friendships and the realization that we must face our truths and right our wrongs, no matter our age.   

All Adults Here: A Novel

By Emma Straub – Riverhead Books, 2020

In this saga of a family laden with secrets, Astrid, a 68-year-old widow, is the matriarch, living in the idyllic, upscale town of Clapham, NY. She’s opinionated and self-centered, but as she ages, she’s softening. Astrid witnesses a neighbor (she admits she never liked her) accidentally struck down and killed by a bus. The event dislodges a long-suppressed memory, which kick-starts her desire to come clean on a secret she’s been keeping from her three grown children. In Astrid’s wildly chaotic life, the secrets revealed are what make Astrid more fully actualized as a human being, not “simply” a wife, widow and mother. The siblings believe themselves to be close, but when secrets are confessed, one son reveals he felt he never measured up to Astrid’s expectations. The other son feels ill-equipped to raise his 13-year-old daughter after an incident at school and so sends her to live with Astrid. And the adult daughter, who raises goats nearby, is hiding the fact that she is pregnant by a donor. The truths make them come together as a more authentic version of their family. This is a delightful read, a reminder that it’s OK to become an adult in later life.

Allie and Bea: A Novel

By Catherine Ryan Hyde – Lake Union Publishing, 2017

This is the story of a friendship. Allie is a 15-year-old whose parents have just been jailed for tax fraud. Bea is an aging-into-poverty widow who’s lost what little she had left to a telephone scam. Bea is running scams of her own now just to stay afloat financially and keep gas in the van where she lives with her cat, and Allie runs away from a group home, only to find she is woefully unprepared to live outside the life of privilege she once knew. When their paths cross, trust is nonexistent, but they each have something to teach the other. As they travel the Pacific Coast Highway in the van, they use their street smarts to navigate the journey. As the kind people they meet along the way restore their faith in humanity, Allie and Bea forge a new sense of family. This novel would be a wonderful choice for a mother-daughter book club. 

The Last Trial

By Scott Turow – Grand Central Publishing, 2020

Loyal fans of Scott Turow will remember meeting attorney Sandy Stern 34 years ago in Presumed Innocent (1986), a novel that launched Turow’s career and, some claim, created the genre that we now call “legal thrillers.” 

Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, now 85, has decided to retire. For his final case, his client is a long-time friend, Kiril Pafko, a 78-year-old, Nobel Prize-winning doctor who discovered the very drug, g-Livia, that put Stern’s own cancer in remission. But some patients developed a fatal reaction, and the Feds accused Pafko of a range of crimes, from insider trading to murder.

Turow, 71,  a practicing attorney who takes mostly pro bono cases himself, explains the courtroom drama for laymen, but in The Last Trial what he does best is show a character who was once in total command of the courtroom accepting both the good and bad of his own aging. Stern has an occasional blip of memory loss and a fatigue that isn’t about sleep. He works alongside his accomplished daughter, Marta. Recognizing her father’s shortcomings, she silently signals him if he’s veering off the mark. Marta decides this will be her last trial as well, which likely makes it a little easier for her father, although they both want to retire with a win. 

Readers are introduced to another family member. Despite a prolonged and confounding adolescence, Stern’s granddaughter, Pinky, shows real promise as a private investigator, leaving us to think court may not be adjourned after all.

The Love Story of Missy Carmichael

By Beth Morrey – G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020

Millicent “Missy” Carmichael is struggling with loneliness and lacks a sense of self-worth. She wasn’t always so glum; she earned an underutilized degree in Classics from Cambridge, married an academic revered in his field and raised two children. She lives alone at 79, estranged from her daughter for an argument she now regrets, and her son and beloved grandchild live a continent away. She rarely leaves her big, bland house—she’s got her books and her sherry, after all. But she forces herself to a daily walk in the park near her home and is surprised to find she’s soon recognized by some of the regulars. Her cynicism for life is overpowered by the kindness shown by a woman with a child the same age as her grandson, and Missy is embraced by the woman’s park friends. This is further enhanced when Missy reluctantly agrees to foster a mongrel named Bobby. Beyond simple companionship (Bobby is a good listener), Missy is forced to go out regularly to walk and finds the dog to be a social lubricant, if only to explain why a female dog was named Bobby in the first place. Each of the characters plays a role in making Missy see her true value as a human being and gives her a sense of purpose and belonging long absent from her life. Filled with wry laughter and deep insights, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael is a story that shows us it’s never too late to forgive yourself and, just as important, that we should never discount the power of community.

 

How the Penguins Saved Veronica

By Hazel Prior – Berkley, 2020

Veronica McCreedy is a fussy, opinionated, 85-year-old woman living in Scotland in a multimillion-dollar home with her carer, Eileen. She’s convinced herself she likes the solitude when, in fact, she’s quite lonely. One of her few escapes is television documentaries, particularly one about a colony of penguins and their researchers in Antarctica. As Veronica obsesses, Eileen finds a box of nearly forgotten diaries that remind Veronica of the secrets she has kept locked away for most of her adult life—not the least of which is that she had a son, who, in turn, had a son. Eileen helps Veronica find and meet grandson Patrick, who never knew his grandmother existed.

Still, Veronica is much more interested in the penguins than in Patrick; she informs the research crew (buttering them up with promises of inheritance) that she’s coming to stay with them. Once on the ice, she becomes keenly aware of not only the penguins but of the environmental impact of climate change on their habitat. After reading Veronica’s diaries, Patrick joins her in Antarctica. Through their shared history and time spent together with the penguins, the pair finally forge a relationship and a possible future as a family.

This is the story of a woman who chases her sense of purpose and her family ties while never misplacing her independence or her personal desire to leave the world a better place. We need more Veronicas right now.

Have You Seen Luis Velez?

By Catherine Ryan Hyde – Lake Union Publishing, 2019

Raymond is an untethered, lonely 16-year-old. His parents divorced and each remarried, leaving him feeling like an outsider. He’s biracial and feels neither Black enough nor white enough. His only friend from school has moved, and the feral cat he sees on the streets is unreliable. One day a neighbor he has seen but doesn’t know emerges from her apartment and forlornly asks, “Have you seen Luis Velez?” This neighbor is Mildred Gutterman, who is 92 and blind. She lives alone and has been relying on the kindness of Luis Velez to keep her living in her apartment. Now Luis has stopped coming around and Mildred is down to her last meal.

Mildred and Raymond start a conversation that leads to a most unusual friendship. Raymond gingerly steps into the role of helpmate and decides to find Luis Velez for Mildred, a choice so out of his comfort zone that it challenges not only his shyness but his belief that people are unkind and unsympathetic. The lovely, intergenerational friendship between the pair is bolstered by how Raymond learns to see what Mildred sees despite her blindness. This is a feel-good story, simple yet deep, and just the uplift we all need right now.

Akin

By Emma Donoghue – Little, Brown and Company, 2019

Emma Donoghue follows her best seller Room (2011) with this absolute gem. Approaching his 80th birthday, widower Noah is preparing for a trip to France when a telephone call changes everything. Noah learns he’s the closest relative of Michael, his 11-year-old great-nephew whom he has never met, and who is in immediate need of a place to live to stay out of foster care. Life with a tween is as foreign to Noah as the South of France is to Michael. The two have lives so far removed from one another’s that it’s hard to imagine the gap can be bridged. We’re drawn to Noah and his struggle to do the right thing; he decides to take Michael to Nice. Noah’s internal dialogue is touching and real; his consultations with his late wife are bittersweet. Michael, displaced and now grieving multiple losses, can be exasperating. At times, Noah’s patience seems downright heroic, but it’s when he loses his composure with this troubled boy that he’s most relatable. They need to learn to trust each other to get to a place of acceptance. It’s not a straight line, but it’s a helluva trip, and we readers love traveling along with them. 

 

Olive, Again

By Elizabeth Strout – Random House, 2019

Welcome back, Olive Kitteridge! It’s been over a decade since Elizabeth Strout introduced us to the most incorrigible resident of Crosby, Maine. Olive Kitteridge (2008) won the Pulitzer Prize, became a New York Times bestseller and was later adapted for an HBO miniseries. Yet Strout tells the New Yorker that she never intended to bring Olive back, saying she believed, “I was done with her, and she with me.” We are so glad that didn’t stick. 

We rejoin Olive at age 73. She’s widowed now, lonely but still acerbic and off-putting to those she encounters. She finds neighbor Jack Kennison—a retired professor she and her husband felt was entitled and arrogant—incapacitated on a path, helps him up and learns they are both widowed and are somewhat estranged from their only children. Soon, Olive and Jack are married, and neither of their adult children understands it. And so it goes, each chapter a vignette that reveals Olive evolving. In some ways so dreadful, Olive becomes a woman we believe redeemable. She holds onto old ideas but starts to make room for the possibility there could be another way to see the truth. It’s inspiring to see the retired teacher become the student, and empathy takes hold of her, if transiently. Gradually, she becomes the person we hope to be in later life when confronted with the grow-or-die circumstances life throws at us. You don’t have to read the original Olive Kitteridge to enjoy Olive, Again, but I think you’ll want to. We’re so glad Strout brought Olive back and we join the fans hoping for a prequel: Olive, Before?

 

When All is Said: Five Toasts, Five people, One Lifetime

By Anne Griffin – Thomas Dunne Books, 2019

In something like a farewell address to his son, 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan sits by himself in a hotel bar, recalling his personal history, with a toast to each of the five most important people in his long and successful, if imperfect, life. In five distinct stories, he tells his son, Kevin, how his experiences and relationships made him the man he is at the later end of his life. He admits he still longs for the reassurance of his older brother, long deceased, and that the spirit of his stillborn baby daughter remains throughout his adult life. He drinks to his late sister-in-law and what he learned from his relationship with this fragile woman. He drinks to his son, examining his own shortcomings as a father who didn’t understand Kevin’s need for separateness. Finally, he toasts his late wife, whom he adored, but who was often a target for his frustrations. With each drink, more of Maurice is revealed. His grief is palpable; his candor, remarkable. He’s owning, without excusing, his failures as a husband and father. Now, he’s left with wealth and little more, and he wants to set the record straight in a way that might right the wrongs, old and new. 

We come to understand that Maurice plans to join his recently departed wife in the ever-after later that night, but the story isn’t grim. Rather, his disclosures leave you thinking about the people in your own life who’ve made all the difference. If you’re a sucker for an Irish brogue, you’ll be absolutely mesmerized by the audio version of this novel. We can only assume it’s equally good to read. Either way, this debut novel is worth every second of your time.

 

What Rose Forgot

By Nevada Barr – Minotaur Books, 2019

Imagine that you’re trapped in a locked, memory care unit in a nursing home. You can’t remember anything about the last few months of your life, but you know who you are, and you’re pretty sure you’re being drugged and held against your will—especially after you overhear an administrator predict that you won’t make it through the week. That’s Rose’s situation at the start of this nail-biter of a thriller. Once she escapes the nursing home, Rose is a highly satisfactory protagonist. She’s 68 and she’s no superhero, but she’s smart and resourceful, crusty but vulnerable. As she’s hunted by the police and the unknown individuals who had her locked away, her stalwart 13-year-old granddaughter, Mel, becomes her confederate. The story is fast-moving, intense but often quite funny, and the relationship between Rose and Mel will warm your heart.

My Ex-Life: A Novel

By Stephen McCauley – Flatiron Books, 2018

Julie and David each face an impossible situation. They are both confronting midlife, are single and losing their homes; he, in San Francisco, she, on the coast of Massachusetts. They used to be married to one another, but when David came out to Julie, they divorced. Julie remarried and had a daughter and divorced again; she is struggling to reinvent herself as an innkeeper while raising her college-bound (or not) teen. David works as a college advisor to the privileged and entitled, not earning enough to maintain his lifestyle, and his recent ex has set his sights on the grand carriage house David rents for a pittance. Though they haven’t spoken in decades, when Julie reaches out to David to help her daughter, Mandy, he comes east with nothing to lose. Their friendship rekindles in the satisfying way a mature pairing can, though not without pitfalls. They know each other intimately, and together they discover that his yin to her yang makes them a forceful duo. She has no business savvy, he’s organized with an eye for detail. Laced with witty dialogue and well-developed characters, this is a modern story of friendship and family. 

 

Mornings with Rosemary 

By Libby Page – Simon and Schuster (2018)

Editor’s note: This book was previously published as The Lido.

To some, the town of Brixton in south London would be just another storybook enclave. To widowed, 86-year-old Rosemary, it’s her world. And her world is changing. For the longest time, she knew everyone’s name, every shop and every shop owner. But a pub took the place of the grocery, and the library where she used to work is now closed. Her one constant is the lido. It’s the rec center and pool where she swims every day to escape and reminisce. It’s where she met her husband, married him and built their satisfying life. Now the lido is threatened as well; developers want to turn it into a health club. 

Kate, a friendless, fledgling journalist in her 20s, gets a small job at a small newspaper in the small town of Brixton. Often paralyzed by depression and anxiety, she wants her lifestyle stories to make a difference, to give her life meaning. When she hears about an effort to “save the lido,” she finds Rosemary, who agrees to meet with Kate only if she’ll agree to swim. Not a swimmer, Kate finds it surprisingly therapeutic. Both lonely and lacking a sense of purpose that knows no age, Rosemary and Kate join forces to keep the lido afloat and, in doing so, rescue one another. This is a buoyant tale of friendship borne of resisting the changes that come from “progress.” 

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good

By Helene Tursten – Soho Crime, 2018

What a romp! Don’t let this sweet face fool you, or you’ll be taken in by Maud. Imagine an innocent-looking older woman who is also a serial killer. Naughty doesn’t begin to describe her and the antics she’s involved in. At 88, Maud has no friends or family and seems to like it that way. She has no tolerance for fools and no qualms about expressing her opinion nor acting on impulse. Wily, crafty Maud isn’t above feigning feeblemindedness to get what she wants. Will the authorities never learn? Told in short vignettes laced with subtle, black humor, the chapters are best savored one at a time. This tiny gem of a book—184 pages—is for anyone who has been underestimated and prevailed.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel

By J. Ryan Stradal – Pamela Dorman Books (2019)

Thirsty for a feel-good, intergenerational, family saga? This is a story of love, hardship and pure Minnesotan can-do. Estranged for 50 years, sisters Edith and Helen are both aging into poverty—one, financial, and one, emotional. Edith has spent her life struggling to make ends meet, never quite able to explore her own dreams. Helen has scrapped and schemed to make her lifelong dream of brewing beer a success, but the end of that road has turned out differently than she expected. Then there’s Diana, Edith’s granddaughter, who lurches her way through a childhood clouded by grief and delinquency into a career she never expected. When Diana is unable to nurture her fledgling brewery, Edith and her friends (all over 60) step in. None has ever brewed beer; some of them don’t even like it. None of them blink an eye. And here’s the best part: no one tells these women that they are too old to do it. Along the way, the women all learn a bit more about themselves and what they want to do with their lives (including making beers they would actually want to drink). Edith, Helen and Diana’s stories intertwine with interesting facts about beer and with what it’s like to grow up and grow old. This is a refreshing story that all can enjoy, even if your preferred brew is tea.

 

Don’t Ever Get Old: A Mystery

By Daniel Friedman–Minotaur Books, 2013

This really hits the high notes for being a clever crime novel that’s also an honest portrayal of an aging, opinionated gumshoe. Long retired at 87, Buck Schatz had a decorated career with the Memphis police department. He’s known as a no-nonsense detective who still holds the record for killing the most suspects. (Buck has no regrets, they deserved it.) A Jewish veteran of World War II, Buck endured incarceration in a Nazi prison camp. Now he discovers that his torturer has escaped Germany and has been living in the United States. Buck enlists his grandson, Tequila, to teach him how to use technology to foil his nemesis. Soon Buck and Tequila are murder suspects themselves. Throughout their adventure, Buck grudgingly accepts his failing memory and deteriorating body (readers will appreciate his sense of humor about his mortality) while relying on his still-sharp intuition. Buck is a colorful character who doesn’t shy away from candid observations, often wickedly funny. Read this novel somewhere you can freely laugh out loud. And if you love it like we did, you’ll be happy to know there’s a sequel: Don’t Ever Look Back (2014).

Women in Sunlight

By Frances MayesCrown, 2018

If you were one of the millions of readers who dreamed of moving to a fixer-upper in Italy after reading Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun (1996), get ready to pack your bags because she’s done it again. In her new novel, three single women are considering the next chapter of their lives during an exploratory visit to an upscale retirement community. Camille, 69, Susan, 64, and Julia, 59, are each moving on after personal tragedies. Despite knowing each other just a very short time, they decide to rent an Italian villa together. They are conflicted about the commitment to full retirement; the trip will serve to sow some oats and get the wanderlust from their systems. This story revolves around the power of place, lush with description, and of mature and supportive friendships. Ahh, the menus, the wine, the shopping, the freedom. How lovely it is for our trio: they seem to eat without gaining weight and furnish a villa, buy art and tour the countryside with indifference to the cost. (It is fiction, after all, and a glorious escape.)

Love and Other Consolation Prizes: A Novel

By Jamie Ford — Ballantine Books, 2017

Ernest Young, a mixed-race, bastard child in the early 1900s, travels alone on a freighter from China to the United States, sent by his mother, who is desperate for him to escape certain poverty and famine. This well-researched work of historical fiction tells the story of Ernest’s journey: placed in an orphanage, auctioned off at the world’s fair; and of his life in a brothel and all the years after, until he’s an older man, when he is confronted by his daughter, who discovers pieces of the truth Ernest has never divulged. As he relives his memories, he wonders if looking at the past could help his wife, who has dementia. And would that be a good thing?

This novel is a story of a husband’s devotion to his beloved wife and the memories they’ve kept between them. It may make you question how you defend the decisions you have made in difficult times, or how you might choose to share the less-flattering pieces of your life with your children. In the end, do you think an uncomfortable truth should be a burden taken to the grave?

The Housekeeper and the Professor

By Yoko Ogawa — Picador, 2009

Translated from Japanese, so elegant and spare that it’s quite remarkable, this novella should not be missed. Neither main character is ever named. The housekeeper narrates the story of the professor, who retains his brilliant mind after a car accident but is left stuck in 1975 and can hold onto nothing new beyond the last 80 minutes. The housekeeper, a high school dropout with a 10-year-old son, must reintroduce herself at least once a day. Despite the difference in their academic backgrounds, they use mathematics to put systems in place for the professor to live with some autonomy. He bonds with her son, whom he calls Root for his flat head that resembles the square-root symbol. The two connect over a mutual love of baseball, which is, after all, a game of numbers. This story extolls the value and simplicity of living in the present and shows how we can unite with one another over common ground if we just slow down long enough to recognize it.

The Dollhouse: A Novel

By Fiona Davis — Dutton, 2017

Aspiring career women of the 1950s often left home to attend secretarial school or to seek jobs in New York City. The times called for young, unmarried women to live in supervised boarding houses to preserve their reputations, and the glamorous Barbizon Hotel was one such residence. The women experienced unfathomable sexism, yet they played as hard as they worked, with forbidden escorts and visits to jazz clubs in “bad” parts of town. This novel centers around the Barbizon, which was renovated to upscale condominiums in 1981. A few original tenants, now in their 80s, like Darby McLaughlin, were grandmothered in and still live on the fourth floor. New renter Rose Lewin, a journalist, is intrigued by an unsolved mystery from the ’50s and is determined to solve it with Darby’s help. Readers will enjoy this look at vintage Manhattan as the duo’s reconnaissance takes us back to the hotel’s heyday, illuminating the lives of residents and staff at that time in the city’s history.

The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel

By Elizabeth Berg – Random House, 2017

If it seems as though the bookshelves are full of crotchety-old-people stories, and you’re left aching to believe that all people don’t end up curmudgeons, Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv may be just what the doctor (or librarian) ordered. Every day, 85-year-old Arthur Moses leaves his garden, packs a lunch and takes the bus to the cemetery to talk to Nola, his late wife. His only other regular companion is Lucille, an 80-year-old neighbor who still pines over a lost love. In the cemetery, Maddie, an 18-year-old rebel with poor taste in suitors, avoids the bullies at school and a cold father at home. When she hears Arthur talking to Nola, she names him Truluv, and an unlikely friendship forms, a kinship of those who have loved and lost. Arthur is a found treasure in Maddie’s sad life, and ultimately she gives purpose to his. Soon Arthur and Lucille support Maddie and give her what she’s always craved, while Maddie helps them to live independently at home. The intergenerational piece of this story is moving and reminds us how we all crave acceptance and a listening ear. Read this one to restore your faith that aging won’t leave you grumpy.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old

By Hendrik Groen – Michael Joseph, 2016

Do you ever imagine a typical day in a care home? According to 83-year-old resident Hendrik Groen, there is no such thing. He’s keeping a diary of life in the North Amsterdam pensioners’ apartments, and no secret is unwritten, including what he wishes he could say aloud if he were not so unfailingly polite. Hendrik’s diary is fiction but reads like autobiography. Facing aging head on, Hendrik and friends find humor where they can, whether it be dumping cake in the aquarium or watching the “old biddies” loosen the salt shaker on an unsuspecting dining companion. That’s not to say the diary is all fluff. Hendrik labors over buying the right mobility scooter and ponders the ethics of euthanasia when friends are ill. We can learn a great deal from Hendrik; his contentment comes from the give-and-take of genuine friendship, having a sense of purpose and always having a plan to move forward. The book is so thoroughly delightful and big-hearted, I can’t wait to read the sequel, On the Bright Side (2018).

My Mrs. Brown: A Novel

By William Norwich – Simon and Schuster, 2016

Mrs. Brown is a drab and proper widow, living an invisible existence picking up after others in a small-town beauty shop, where she hears everything and says nothing. Staff and clients couldn’t care less about her in her thrift-shop clothes. An excellent seamstress with an eye for detail, she takes in sewing work to supplement her modest income. When the town’s society maven dies, Mrs. Brown helps clean out the mansion. In doing so, she spies an elegant, timeless Oscar de la Renta dress—and she knows she must have that dress, even though she cannot articulate why. This is a sweet story that takes you from pitying Mrs. B to cheering her on to get the dress. We’ve probably all had a have-to-have-it moment. Curiously, this was hers. It is in the pursuit of the dress that the real Mrs. Brown is awakened and appreciated. This little book, like Mrs. Brown herself, is not to be dismissed.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella

By Fredrik Backman — Atria, 2016

Just when you think you’ve read all of the books you’ll ever need on dementia and the long goodbye, along comes this glorious novella from Fredrik Backman, easily the best thing to come to the United States from Sweden since IKEA. Not initially intending to share, Backman wrote this to explore his feelings on familial love and loss. Readers familiar with his work (A Man Called Ove, Britt-Marie Was Here) will recognize his positive portrayals of older adults. Here, on a bench with his beloved grandson Noah, Grandfather realizes his memory is slipping and worries he’ll forget the loves of his life. Understanding what’s at stake, Noah tries to help his grandfather hold on to the happy times. Through a shared love of mathematics, the pair can face infinity and the concept of forever without fear. This gem is sprinkled with illustrations, but it’s the poetry of Backman’s words that create a visually memorable experience, to be read, reread and shared.

 

The One-in-a-Million Boy

By Monica Wood – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Quinn is a professional musician, perennially on the road, who feels remorse for missing so much of his sweet and unusual son’s too-short life. Now that it’s too late, as penance, he takes on a Boy Scout commitment his son had made and meets 104-year-old Ona Vitkus, a contrary, reclusive woman who has seen more than her share of well-intentioned Scouts. While filling Ona’s birdfeeders, Quinn learns that his son had endeared himself to Ona and had started a recording of her life for a school project. He also discovers his son was a savant, of sorts, when it came to the Guinness Book of World Records, and Quinn takes up the 8-year-old’s quest to get Ona into the record book. Sentimental without ever being sappy, this is a heartwarming, heartbreaking story of friendship and of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The Guts

By Roddy Doyle – Viking Adult, 2014

Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle reprises hero Jimmy Rabbitte in The Guts, a sequel to The Commitments (Vintage, 1989). Matured now, Rabbitte is a 50-something father with a wife who loves him and a mostly good relationship with his extended family, in particular his dad. Rabbitte just found out he has cancer. A once-popular musician himself, he now makes a living connecting people to the old music artists and albums they love. His work takes him across Ireland where he reconnects with a former bandmate and a long-ago love. Spurred by his health crisis, he also seeks to reunite with his estranged brother. This is an Irish tale of middle-age awakenings, driven in no small part by his diagnosis. You don’t need to read the original to enjoy this sequel. Doyle’s colorful language may turn off some readers but this novel is worth reading for anyone who enjoys a strong character and a good plot.

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance

By Jonathan Evison – Algonquin Books, 2016

Harriet Chance is a delightful 78-year-old who enjoys a drink and talking to her late husband, Bernard. When Harriet learns that Bernard won an Alaskan cruise, she consults with him about going—she’s not a traveler, after all—and decides to take the trip. Once on board, Harriet is joined by a tedious, estranged daughter and is confronted with the fact that most of her life has not been as it seemed to her.

The story is told in the format of the ’50s television program “This is Your Life,” complete with the slow reveal of the contestant’s lifetime of hits and misses. Author Evison’s third-person narration mimics a television host’s as Harriet is laid bare as a wife, mother and friend. This bittersweet novel is a story of regret, redemption and self-forgiveness, with humor and memorable characters. It’s fun and hopeful and very hard to put down.

The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted: And Other Small Acts of Liberation

By Elizabeth Berg – Random House, 2008

Award-winning writer Elizabeth Berg shines in this book of short stories, told as you would talk to a friend at the kitchen table. One poignant and touching story tells the tale of two women in their 80s, friends for 50 years, who have accepted without words that one has reached the end of her life. In another story, a defiant dieter goes AWOL for a day, eats what makes her happy, if not satisfied, and returns to Weight Watchers with no one the wiser. And in another, an unsolicited recipe for pie is delivered in a meandering letter from an old family friend. In voices—each different, yet familiar—these 13 stories touch on many issues of a woman’s life. You will want to curl up with tea and tissues to savor every one.