Mothers do so much for us—teach, love, nurture, give life (just the small stuff)—but ours have given us the added bonus of books, something that we’ll always be grateful for. We recommend books to them all year round, but this Mother’s Day, we’re letting them take the lead to prove that mother knows best. Here are 14 books that come highly recommended from the wonderful literary ladies who raised us. Thanks, Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!
This is the story of the Bergman clan, a large family that has always stuck together, with their matriarch, Joy, at the helm. After Joy’s husband passes, her children, Molly and Daniel, prepare themselves for sadness and grief, but what they don’t count on is their mother’s excitement at the idea of a new start. And when an old flame of hers reappears, hilarious complications ensue.
When Joy Bergman’s beloved husband dies, her children have no shortage of solutions for their elderly mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. THEY MAY NOT MEAN TO, BUT THEY DO is a wryly observed, heartfelt novel about aging, family, loneliness, and love.
In Shanghai, a young woman named Anna lives in wealth and comfort with her parents, until the Second World War begins and the family is separated. Anna and her mother return to California, while her father, Joseph, is forced to stay behind, thinking he will be protected by his connections. This gorgeous and emotional novel, which spans two generations and two continents, reconstructs Joseph’s fall from millionaire to prisoner through his journals and her memories to show the enduring love and bond of family.
Based on actual events, this historical thriller from Oscar winner Graham Moore (he won for the screenplay of The Imitation Game) takes place in 1888 New York, where a young lawyer named Paul Cravath is defending a client who has been sued by Thomas Edison over the creation of the light bulb. In an obsessive pursuit of victory, Cravath finds himself in the high-society world of parties and inventions, crossing paths with Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and famous opera singer Agnes Huntington—who are not as they seem.
If you haven’t read a Louise Penny mystery, you’re missing out! And my mom will be the first to tell you that. We both love this series of suspenseful, atmospheric novels set around the life of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in the charming fictional village of Three Pines, Quebec. Once you start reading, you’ll never want to stop.
A classic tale of the American West, Jim Fergus’s novel follows Mary Dodd, a high-society woman who has been committed to an asylum on the East Coast. Mary escapes the asylum and heads west as part of the “Brides for Indians” scheme, a secret government plan to pacify the Cherokee nation by supplying wives for their warriors. Told through fictional diaries, Mary’s story is one of a woman caught between two worlds (and two men) in a new and uncharted territory.
My grandmother devoured this entire series of mysteries set in the 1930s, about Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, who is thirty-fourth in line for the throne but completely broke. After fleeing from her greedy brother and fiancé in Scotland, Lady Victoria ends up in London, where she does some spying for the Queen and winds up solving all kinds of mysteries.
—Sarah Jane’s Grandmother
My mom describes Colson Whitehead’s THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD as “sad and amazing.” This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel chronicles the life of Cora, a young slave, and her attempts to reach freedom via the Underground Railroad—which, in Whitehead’s novel, is a fully actualized, functioning railroad, complete with its own boxcars, conductors, and tracks. This luminous novel will enable you to vividly reimagine a part of history you’ve always known in a completely new light.
One of Oprah’s 2016 selections, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South via the Underground Railroad.
An intricately layered historical novel that’s perfect for fans of ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE and CUTTING FOR STONE, Julie Orringer’s THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE begins in the late 1930s, when a young Hungarian-Jewish man named Andras Levi arrives in Paris to study architecture. There, he falls in love with a ballet teacher, but their relationship is cut short when his visa is revoked and he must return to Hungary for the labor service. As the war begins and anti-Semitism intensifies, his life—and the world—will be changed forever.
The course of a Hungarian-Jewish family’s history is forever altered when a secret comes to light. This novel of love, loss, loyalty, and luck is told across war-torn countries during World War II.
I don’t think anyone loves James Herriot as much as my mom does. For those of you who don’t know, James Herriot was a British veterinary surgeon and writer who used his experiences as fodder for a series of books about animals and their owners. His stories paint beautiful pictures of rolling English countryside and idyllic farm life.
One of the best-loved stories of all time, Harper Lee’s coming-of-age classic has been shared between family members for decades. A heart-wrenching, heart-warming, and eye-opening tale from the South led by one of the greatest heroines of all time, Scout Finch, it’s also a book about families and the lessons passed down from parent to child, and how those lessons shape our lives. It’s a book that everyone should read, and one that will be passed down for even more generations to come.
Wendy’s Fictional Dinner Party Guest: Atticus Finch
Perhaps it’s a cliché to want to have dinner with Atticus Finch—lawyer, father, all-around good man. Atticus is known for his conscience, grace, compassion, and morality. I suspect that his words would be full of insight and wisdom, and challenge me to sit straighter in my chair.
In 1948, a small stretch of Connecticut shoreline that has long been a summer getaway for Jewish families (aka “Bagel Beach”) serves as a meeting spot for sisters Ava, Vivie, and Bec. They are all different and have problems of their own, but when a terrible accident happens on their watch, their lives will be changed forever. Told through the eyes of Ada’s daughter Molly, a young girl who witnesses the accident, AS CLOSE TO US AS BREATHING is a story of grief, guilt, and the burdens of family.
Sisters Ada, Vivie, and Bec gather each summer at their family cottage in Connecticut at “Bagel Beach,” with children in tow and weekend-only husbands who arrive each Friday in time for the Sabbath meal. But a tragic accident the summer of 1948 irreparably alters the long-established family equilibrium. This debut novel is a beautiful meditation on grief, guilt, and the boundaries of identity and love.
Set in Burma over five decades, THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS is the story of Julia, a young woman whose father suddenly disappears, leaving behind no clues to his whereabouts except an old love letter written to a Burmese woman no one in her family has ever heard of. Determined to solve the mystery, she travels to the village named in the letter, where she uncovers a remarkable tale of loss, love, resilience, and passion.
I have my mom to thank for introducing me to THE GREAT GATSBY—a perfect novel—at the tender age of ten. It took me a while, but I eventually devoured F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece about the loss of the American dream, the deep divide between the classes, and the dangerous seduction of money. It took me several years to actually get the book, but I’m always grateful that my mom passed on her Fitzgerald phase to me.
Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.
Read the full review here.
I’m not sure who loves this book more: me or my mom. From New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell, THEN SHE WAS GONE is twisty, suspenseful novel about the lingering aftermath of a young girl’s disappearance and the ways we fail to recognize the truth even when it’s right in front of us. With heightened suspense, layered storytelling, and richly drawn characters, this is a book all moms—and readers—will enjoy.