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7 Books That Beautifully Blend Happy and Sad Moments

Karen Bellovich
January 19 2022
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Over the holiday season I found myself reading some amazing books that beautifully blend happiness and sadness. The stories in these books reflect experiences that are life-changing. In each unique story the characters share their struggles and expectations; their joys and sorrows; their journey to find answers. From a young musician out on her own for the first time, looking for where she belongs, to a daughter discovering a part of her mother’s life she never knew to a father and son reconnecting after a shared loss to a teenager sending out a message in hopes of someone hearing her and so much more, I invite you to discover for yourself these beautiful stories.

One Italian Summer
by Rebecca Serle

Mother and daughter Carol and Katy are best friends. In Katy’s eyes, Carol is perfect and always knows exactly what to do. But when Carol dies, Katy becomes unsure of everything—including her marriage to Eric and the life she has chosen. Before Carol’s death, Katy planned a mother-daughter trip to Italy: two weeks in Positano, going to the same places Carol visited before she was married, before she had Katy. Now Katy must go alone. Once she’s there, it doesn’t take Katy long to understand why Carol loved it so. Katy feels such a connection to Carol that when she actually sees her mother one day—not as she knew her in the last years of her life but young and vivacious—she can almost believe it. In this time spent with Carol, Katy realizes she may not be getting the mother-daughter vacation she dreamed of, but maybe she’s experiencing something better: one last chance to really know who her mother was, to see her through different eyes, to heal and say goodbye. I read this book through laughter and tears. Don’t miss this beautiful story, publishing on March 1, 2022.

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One Italian Summer
Rebecca Serle

The New York Times bestselling author of the “heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hard to put down” (Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author) modern classic In Five Years returns with a moving and unforgettable exploration of the powerful bond between mother and daughter set on the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.

When Katy’s mother dies, she is left reeling. Carol wasn’t just Katy’s mom, but her best friend and first phone call. She had all the answers and now, when Katy needs her the most, she is gone. To make matters worse, their planned mother-daughter trip of a lifetime looms: two weeks in Positano, the magical town Carol spent the summer right before she met Katy’s father. Katy has been waiting years for Carol to take her, and now she is faced with embarking on the adventure alone.

But as soon as she steps foot on the Amalfi Coast, Katy begins to feel her mother’s spirit. Buoyed by the stunning waters, beautiful cliffsides, delightful residents, and, of course, delectable food, Katy feels herself coming back to life.

And then Carol appears—in the flesh, healthy, sun-tanned, and thirty years old. Katy doesn’t understand what is happening, or how—all she can focus on is that she has somehow, impossibly, gotten her mother back. Over the course of one Italian summer, Katy gets to know Carol, not as her mother, but as the young woman before her. She is not exactly who Katy imagined she might be, however, and soon Katy must reconcile the mother who knew everything with the young woman who does not yet have a clue.

Rebecca Serle’s next great love story is here, and this time it’s between a mother and a daughter. With her signature “heartbreaking, redemptive, and authentic” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Serle has crafted a transcendent novel about how we move on after loss, and how the people we love never truly leave us.

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It Ends with Us
by Colleen Hoover

Lily Bloom is twenty-three and about to open her own flower shop. One constant in her life has been flowers: growing them, taking care of them, and now sharing them with her customers. Flowers are Lily’s joy. But there is also another constant in Lily’s life—as a child and a teenager, Lily watched as her father abused her mother repeatedly. Wanting to escape that pattern of abuse, Lily moved to Boston, where she meets Ryle, a thirty-year-old neurosurgeon. Lily believes Ryle is the one for her; he’s caring and passionate, but also stubborn and driven. All is perfect until a man named Atlas, a past love of Lily’s, shows up and causes a rift between Ryle and Lily. Soon Lily’s life starts to resemble her mother’s, and the cycle of abuse that Lily thought she’d left behind begins again. Lily must find the courage to end the cycle once and for all. A story of love, darkness, and courage.

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It Ends with Us
Colleen Hoover

In this “brave and heartbreaking novel that digs its claws into you and doesn’t let go, long after you’ve finished it” (Anna Todd, New York Times bestselling author) from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of All Your Perfects, a workaholic with a too-good-to-be-true romance can’t stop thinking about her first love.

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

An honest, evocative, and tender novel, It Ends with Us is “a glorious and touching read, a forever keeper. The kind of book that gets handed down” (USA TODAY).

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Bear Necessity
by James Gould-Bourn

Danny and his son, Will, are lost in grief. A whole year has passed since Liz, Danny’s wife and Will’s mother, died in an accident. Ever since that day, eleven-year-old Will has not spoken a word, and Danny has become overwhelmed dealing with debt and unpaid bills. Having lost his job, Danny is desperate to earn some money. After watching local street performers at a park, Danny is inspired to purchase a panda costume and become a dancing bear. One day, while performing, Danny sees Will being bullied by some school classmates and, dressed as the panda, chases them away. Soon, Will begins to open up to the man in the panda suit, not realizing that it’s his father. When Will finds out the truth, however, Danny will have to fight to keep the trust that has developed between father and son. At times heartbreaking and humorous, this story of a boy trying to find his voice and a father trying to find his way will touch your heart. It’s a story of love, loss, and healing.

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Bear Necessity
James Gould-Bourn

A “refreshing,” (Kirkus Reviews) unpretentious, and uplifting story about a father and son reconnecting and finding happiness in the most unlikely circumstances—for fans of Nick Hornby and The Rosie Project.

Danny’s life is falling apart. His eleven-year-old son, Will, hasn’t spoken since the death of his mother in a car crash a year earlier, and Danny has just been fired from his construction job. He’s behind on the rent and his nasty landlord is threatening to break his legs if he doesn’t pay soon. Danny needs money, and fast.

After observing street performers in a local park, Danny spends his last few dollars on a tattered panda costume, impulsively deciding to become a dancing bear. While performing one day, Danny spots his son being taunted by a group of older boys. Danny chases them off, and Will opens up for the first time since his mom died, unaware that the man in the panda costume is his father. Afraid of disclosing his true identity, Danny comforts his son. But will Danny lose Will’s trust once he reveals who he is? And will he be able to dance his way out of despair?

Filled with a delightful cast of characters, Bear Necessity is “a moving, sensitive story that is also very funny, and a perfect literary antidote to anxious, troubled times” (Shelf Awareness).

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The People We Keep
by Allison Larkin

Sixteen-year-old April Sawicki feels as run-down as the old motor home she lives in, the one her father won in a poker game. April’s mother left long ago, and her father is barely in her life. It isn’t until April “borrows” her neighbor’s car to go to an open-mic night at a local club, where she sings and plays guitar, that she begins to feel alive. After a fight with her father, April leaves her hometown and begins a journey, driving from gig to gig, that will take her from New York to Florida and back again. As she travels from town to town, April can’t rid herself of the loneliness she feels deep inside. Whenever she starts to feel at home, something happens, and she must always move on. April’s desire is to belong somewhere, to find her home, to find people who will stay, people who will be her family, people who are keepers in her life. Along her journey April experiences the joy of music, the pain of heartbreak, and the courage to find her way home.

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The People We Keep
Allison Larkin

“Raw, surprising and ultimately uplifting, Allison Larkin’s The People We Keep will break your heart a million different ways before putting it back together again.” —Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Be Frank with Me and Better Luck Next Time

The People We Keep is a “big-hearted and deeply moving novel” (Bruce Holsinger, author of The Gifted School) from the bestselling author of Stay and Swimming for Sunlight about a young songwriter longing to find a home in the world.

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

Driving without a chosen destination, she stops to rest in Ithaca. Her only plan is to survive, but as she looks for work, she finds a kindred sense of belonging at Cafe Decadence, the local coffee shop. Still, somehow, it doesn’t make sense to her that life could be this easy. The more she falls in love with her friends in Ithaca, the more she can’t shake the feeling that she’ll hurt them the way she’s been hurt.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

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For All Time
by Shanna Miles

This is an epic, time-traveling love story. When we first meet Tamar and Fayard, they’re seniors in high school in present-day Columbia, South Carolina. From the pandemic, Tamar has been left with damaged lungs, which could lead to her early death. Fayard is always there for Tamar, whatever she needs. She has only one treatment option left. This is just one of Tamar and Fayard’s stories, one of their many lives together. Over centuries, we get to know them as their love story goes from Gao, Mali, in 1325 to 1920s Philadelphia to Lunar Base Alpha 9 in 2260. Why do Tamar and Fayard keep finding each other across time? What’s the secret that will finally allow them to be together? This is the unforgettable story of a love that lasts forever.

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For All Time
Shanna Miles

“An unforgettable and artfully crafted romance right down to the very last page.” —Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’

“A romance for the ages. Fresh voices and original predicaments make this one perfect little novel.”
—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of The Downstairs Girl

The Sun Is Also a Star meets Outlander in this vivid, utterly romantic debut novel about two teens who relive their tragic love story over and over until they uncover what they must do to change their fate.

Tamar is a musician, a warrior, a survivor. Fayard? He’s a pioneer, a hustler, a hopeless romantic.

Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world build itself up from nothing only to tear itself down again in civil war. They’ve even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: their love and their fight to be together. One love story after another. Their only concern is they never get to see how their story ends. Until now.

When they finally discover what it will take to break the cycle, will they be able to make the sacrifice?

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Sweet Dreams
by Massimo Gramellini

Nine-year-old Massimo wakes on New Year’s Eve and can still smell the faint scent of his mother’s perfume. But when he sees his mother’s dressing gown at the foot of his bed and suddenly hears the sound of his father’s cries, he immediately knows something is wrong. Where is his mother, and why is his father crying? Massimo will soon find out about his mother’s death. This tragedy will take hold of him and follow him for most of his life as he tries to make peace with the last words he said to his mother. As an adult, Massimo becomes a journalist, and eventually a writer. It’s only when Massimo learns the truth behind his mother’s death that he begins to heal. This is a powerful story of a child’s love for his mother and the long journey to find the peace needed to move forward.

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Sweet Dreams
Massimo Gramellini

Already an international phenomenon, this utterly engaging novel tells the heart wrenching tale of a nine year old boy who loses his mother and embarks on a quest to understand her death as he grows older.

One snowy New Year’s Eve, nine-year-old Massimo wakes up to a long, anguished cry and the disconcerting image of his father being supported by two strangers. Inexplicably, his mother has disappeared, leaving only a vague trail of perfume in his room and her dressing gown bundled up at the foot of his bed. Where has she gone? Will she ever come back? And will Massimo be able to say he’s sorry after fighting with her the night before?

At turns poignant and funny, Sweet Dreams—already an international sensation—is both the story of a secret that has been kept hidden for forty years and the uplifting tale of a boy who, as he grows into an adult, has to gather the broken pieces of his life and realize that his mother was not the woman he thought she was.

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Dear Emmie Blue
by Lia Louis

One day at school, sixteen-year-old Emmie Blue releases a red balloon into the air, along with all her classmates. Unlike her other classmates, she has attached to the balloon not only her name and email address but a secret she carries that has cost her everything. Her friends and even her mother have abandoned her. Weeks after the balloon was released, sixteen-year-old Lucas Moreau and his brother, Eliot, find it on a beach in France. Lucas reaches out to Emmie, beginning a fourteen-year friendship. With Lucas, Emmie feels like she has found the home she’s longed for. As Emmie and Lucas approach their thirtieth birthdays, Lucas tells Emmie he wants to ask her something. Emmie believes with all her heart that Lucas is about to ask her to marry him. All her dreams are about to come true. When things don’t go as planned, Emmie’s heart is broken—but sometimes it takes a broken heart to see what was in front of you all along. A charming, enjoyable story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

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Dear Emmie Blue
Lia Louis

In this charming and poignant novel that “oozes charm and wit and speaks beautifully about friendship and love, and the differences between the two” (Laura Pearson, author of I Wanted You to Know), teenager Emmie Blue releases a balloon with her email address and a big secret into the sky, only to fall head-over-heels for the boy who finds it. But fourteen years later, everything Emmie has planned is up in the air.

At sixteen, Emmie Blue stood in the fields of her school and released a red balloon into the sky. Attached was her name, her email address…and a secret she desperately wanted to be free of. Weeks later, on a beach in France, Lucas Moreau discovered the balloon and immediately emailed the attached address, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens.

Now, fourteen years later, Emmie is hiding the fact that she’s desperately in love with Lucas. She has pinned all her hopes on him and waits patiently for him to finally admit that she’s the one for him. So dedicated to her love for Lucas, Emmie has all but neglected her life outside of this relationship—she’s given up the search for her absentee father, no longer tries to build bridges with her distant mother, and lives as a lodger to an old lady she barely knows after being laid off. And when Lucas tells Emmie he has a big question to ask her, she’s convinced this is the moment he’ll reveal his feelings for her. But nothing in life ever quite goes as planned, does it?

Filled with heart and humor, Dear Emmie Blue “beautifully captures the heartache and frustrations of carrying our teenaged selves with us wherever we go” (Anstey Harris, author of Goodbye Paris) that is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

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Photo credit: iStock / Emilija Randjelovic

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