After nearly seven months of hard-core social distancing, cancelled plans, and isolation, my memories of crowded bars and concert halls are feeling more and more distant. Just earlier this year I would sardine myself into a packed venue without question. Congested rooms, loud noises, and rowdy crowds were never something I thought I’d miss, yet here I am. And I would imagine many of you are feeling a similar sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be. If you too are reminiscing on our former days of parties, games, and public spaces, here are eight books to vicariously live through.
8 Books Full of Hustle & Bustle to Liven Up Your Shelf
Circus: What is more fun, chaotic, and crowded than a circus! In THE TRICK, the Great Zabbatini rises to fame in his traveling circus just as Europe descends into World War II. But when his Judaism is discovered, his bag of tricks and magic may just be his only means of protection. Seventy years later in Los Angeles, ten-year-old Max finds a scratched-up LP that captured Zabbatini performing his greatest illusions. Realizing he may be able to save his parent’s failing marriage with a spell from the great circus performer, Max seeks out the cynical and elderly magician. This novel is not just about the wild and crazy life of a circus magician, it is also a deeply moving story about a young boy in search of a miracle and a delusional old man seeking redemption.
Sweeping between Prague during World War II and modern-day Los Angeles, “The Trick is a lyrical, uplifting, and funny story that will tug at all of your heartstrings” (Armando Lucas Correa, bestselling author of The German Girl) that follows a young boy seeking out a cynical, old magician in the hopes that his spells might keep his family together.
In 1934, a rabbi’s son in Prague joins a traveling circus, becomes a magician, and rises to fame under the stage name the Great Zabbatini, just as Europe descends into World War II. When Zabbatini is discovered to be a Jew, his battered trunk full of magic tricks becomes his only hope for survival.
Seventy years later in Los Angeles, ten-year-old Max finds a scratched-up LP that captured Zabbatini performing his greatest illusions. But the track in which Zabbatini performs the spell of eternal love—the spell Max believes will keep his parents from getting divorced—is damaged beyond repair. Desperate for a solution, Max seeks out the now elderly, cynical magician and begs him for help.
With gentle wisdom and heartbreaking humor, this is an inventive, deeply moving story about a young boy who needs a miracle, and a disillusioned old man who needs redemption.
Concert: I can confidently say that listening to live music is the number one thing I miss about a pre-COVID life. For now, I must settle for novels about great musicians while blasting a compatible soundtrack in the background. Whether you’re a fan of rock ‘n’ roll or classical music, you’ll love EVERY NOTE PLAYED. This story follows Richard, an accomplished pianist. But when Richard contracts ALS, leaving his right arm paralyzed, his talent and will to live is lost. Unable to live on his own, Richard must go under the care of his ex-wife, Karina, who is just as reluctant to give care as Richard is to receive it. As Richard slowly withers away, the couple attempts to find peace with their past before it's too late.
“Unsparing in her depiction of the disease’s harrowing effects, neuroscientist Genova also celebrates humanity.” —People
“Sometimes it’s easier to tell truth in fiction…And she tells it with heart and hope.” —NPR
“Her juxtaposition of scientific detail with compassionate, heartfelt storytelling is unparalleled.” —Bookreporter
“Every Note Played will grip and gut you.” —The Boston Globe
From neuroscientist and New York Times bestselling author of Still Alice comes a powerful exploration of regret, forgiveness, freedom, and what it means to be alive.
An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.
Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.
He knows his left arm will go next.
Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.
When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.
Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.
Sporting Event: Sporting events, whether you’re an avid fan in the stands or a player on the field, have taken quite a hit without a roaring crowd on the sidelines. Fortunately, we have this electrifying and competitive novel to lean on. After training to be an Olympic gymnast, Avery Abrams takes a disastrous tumble that ends her athletic career. On top of that, Avery is recovering from a breakup with her football star boyfriend as she watches her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, fulfill her own dream of making it big. Returning to her hometown to recoup, Avery is offered to train a promising young gymnast. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.
Named a best beach/summer read by O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Parade, PopSugar, Marie Claire, Bustle, and more!
From the author of the Love at First Like and Playing with Matches, an electrifying rom-com set in the high stakes world of competitive gymnastics, full of Hannah Orenstein’s signature “charm, whimsy, and giddy romantic tension” (BuzzFeed).
The past seven years have been hard on Avery Abrams: After training her entire life to make the Olympic gymnastics team, a disastrous performance ended her athletic career for good. Her best friend and teammate, Jasmine, went on to become an Olympic champion, then committed the ultimate betrayal by marrying their emotionally abusive coach, Dimitri.
Now, reeling from a breakup with her football star boyfriend, Avery returns to her Massachusetts hometown, where new coach Ryan asks her to help him train a promising young gymnast with Olympic aspirations. Despite her misgivings and worries about the memories it will evoke, Avery agrees. Back in the gym, she’s surprised to find sparks flying with Ryan. But when a shocking scandal in the gymnastics world breaks, it has shattering effects not only for the sport but also for Avery and her old friend Jasmine.
Perfect for fans of Emily Giffin and Jasmine Guillory, Head Over Heels proves that no one “writes about modern relationships with more humor or insight than Hannah Orenstein” (Dana Schwartz, author of Choose Your Own Disaster).
Wedding: Weddings are enchanting, elegant, and definitely more fun with a crowd! In A LOW COUNTRY WEDDING, the Muir sisters run into a couple complications despite the scenic wedding backdrop of Sullivan’s Island. Carson loves Blake but struggles with giving up her independence. Harper questions if a prenuptial agreement will help or hurt the future of her marriage, and a newly unfettered Dora is uncertain whether or not she really wants to walk down the aisle again. To complicate the summer even further, a stranger arrives bearing long-held family secrets. Can the summer weddings sustain the stress of family drama?
Wedding season has arrived in New York Times bestselling author Mary Alice Monroe’s fourth novel in the “distinct, complex, and endearing” (Charleston Magazine) Lowcountry Summer series, set against the romantic, charming Carolina lowcountry.
Nothing could be more enchanting than a summer wedding—or two!—in storied Sullivan’s Island. A centuries-old plantation, an avenue of ancient oaks dripping moss, a sand dune at sunset… it’s all picture perfect, and half-sisters Dora, Carson, and Harper, and their grandmother Marietta “Mamaw” Muir couldn’t be more excited. Wedding dresses are picked, venues booked, and delectable cakes tasted. What could possibly go wrong?
The answer, the Muir clan is soon to find out, is everything. Carson loves Blake, but struggles with giving up her independence. Harper questions if a prenuptial agreement will help or hurt the future of her marriage, and a newly unfettered Dora is uncertain whether she really wants to walk down the aisle again. Just when it seems things couldn’t get more complicated for the Muir sisters, a stranger arrives bearing a long-held family secret that has the potential to upset even the most carefully laid-out wedding plans. With the weddings mere weeks away, the invitations sent out, and the family in tumult, Mamaw and her Summer Girls discover the enduring and powerful bonds of family, and realize that, no matter how different each bride might be, she can still have her perfect wedding.
City: There’s nothing like the hustle and bustle of city crowds. THE BIG CROWD tells the story of Charlie O’Kane, the American Dream come to life. As a poor Irish immigrant, Charlie worked his way up to mayor of New York City, complete with fame, power, and a glamorous wife. So when Charlie is accused of a shocking mob murder, his brother is determined to clear Charlie's name while harboring his own secret. Now, out of office, Charlie lives in a shoddy, Mexico City tourist hotel, eaten up with regrets and the fear of being indicted for murder. To uncover what really happened, his brother must confront stunning truths and the secret workings of the great city he loves.
Party: There’s nothing quite like an extravagant party. But the party in BIG LITTLE LIES is one you’ll be grateful not to have been at. . . . Single mother Jane is new to town and harbors secret doubts about her son. When two local women, Madeline and Celeste, take Jane under their wing, none of them realize how her arrival will affect them all. Was it a murder? Was it just an accident? One thing is for certain: someone is not telling the truth.
School: In-person school is one aspect of life that has been put on hold for many students. But who really misses the classroom when you can dive headfirst into the cliques and gossip through a book? In BUNNY, Samantha has been accepted into a highly selective MFA program, but she is utterly repelled by her classmates: a clique of rich girls who all call themselves “Bunny.” But when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies' "Smut Salon," she finds herself inexplicably drawn to their crowd—ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into their sinister world, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.
Protests: Crowded gatherings aren’t always fun and games. Sometimes, as a population, people are called to stand up for what they believe in. There is strength in numbers. DO NOT SAY WE HAVE NOTHING follows two Chinese generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. The story centers on Marie and Ai-Ming, and how both their parents were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns. The lasting consequences of their life decisions reverberate through generations to come.
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