By Meda Kessler
We do enjoy tales of romance, but we’re not talking about your typical bodice ripper. There are talented writers out there who can craft tales of devotion and passion that defy traditional happily-ever-after endings. We want to laugh and cry and nod our head in acknowledgement of tales of endearment. Here are five books we think will capture your heart and mind.
LOVE AND DEATH
Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life Delia Ephron writes for a living, often about love. The talent runs in the family as her sister is the late Nora Ephron. Together, they wrote You’ve Got Mail, which became one of cinema’s quintessential rom-coms. When Delia’s husband of 32 years died in 2015, she wrote an essay for The New York Times about the hellish experience of disconnecting his phone. A man emailed her after reading the piece, and they gradually fell into a phone relationship (she lived in New York, he lived in California). She was 72 years old at the time. Shortly after they met in real life — the connection they had made via phone calls and email was real — Delia learned that she had an aggressive form of leukemia. Maybe life wasn’t like the movies after all. But when she went into remission, she got a second chance at love and life. In her new book, coming out in April, she writes about the experience — its highs and lows, tears and laughter — and the joy of having girlfriends as well as that unexpected man in her life.
A FOUR-LEGGED LOVE STORY
The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People This book came out last fall, but we’ve read it more than once. And cried each time. Rick Bragg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes about life in the South, from shrimp fishing to college football. Writing about Speck, a half-blind stray who was defiant, rolled in donkey manure and made poor decisions, was a challenge for even this esteemed scribe. Bragg says that’s because the dog “doesn’t give very good quotes.” Speck came into the writer’s life when Bragg had just been diagnosed with cancer and was enduring constant bouts of pneumonia and other physical ailments. The pup was in poor health, too, when the duo found each other. The healing process that followed was mutual.
LOVE ON THE RUN
The Crane Wife This book by CJ Hauser doesn’t come out until July, but we’re a fan of Hauser’s slightly irreverent writing and way of looking at the world. Plus, The Crane Wife is a series of essays, which suits our reading style these days. The topic of love in the modern world evolves from the fact that Hauser called off an engagement and — 10 days later — headed to Texas to study whooping cranes as research for a new novel. The week she spent in Corpus Christi left her dirty and tired, but happier than she had been in a long time. Her search continued, not for a new man but for a new life, a new way of living and looking at the world. The hunt takes her on interesting adventures, and mistakes are made along the way. Sometimes the journey is more interesting than the destination.
FOOD IS LOVE
To Asia, With Love: Everyday Asian Recipes and Stories from the Heart We received this book as a gift last year, and author Hetty Lui McKinnon’s vegetarian recipes have been a treat to prepare, especially her noodle dishes. But it’s the personal anecdotes and stories about her Chinese mother that make us laugh and smile: morning cooking rituals, discussing how to make perfect rice, how she remembers the aroma of fresh ginger on her mother’s hands. McKinnon grew up in Sydney, Australia, and was conflicted about her cultural identity, but she credits food with helping her overcome that: “It connects us to our past and creates pathways to our future.”
FOR THE LOVE OF FAMILY AND COUNTRY
Olga Dies Dreaming We don’t read much fiction but, one cold winter weekend, we warmed up to author Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel. The story is about Olga Acevedo, who aims to be the Puerto Rican Martha Stewart in Brooklyn. Her equally upwardly mobile brother, Prieto, is a congressman with conflicting interests. Their shiny public lives are a little darker behind closed doors. Olga’s personal life isn’t much to talk about until she meets a man who forces her to look at her family secrets. The story is set in the months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, forcing Olga’s mother, a social activist who abandoned her children when they were young, back into her daughter’s life. This is a book about race and politics, but also a love letter to Brooklyn and Puerto Rico, places dear to Gonzalez’s heart.