The very best reads provoke strong emotions, both happy and sad, and frequently result in some tears along the way. These are the books that stay with you long after reading them and are the ones that I champion to people over and over again when asked for a book recommendation. Get ready to dive into some of the best tearjerker books (have some tissues handy before you start reading!).
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow remains one of the best books that I have ever read. Amor Towles’s tale is beautiful and at times heartbreaking as it follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov. Following the Russian Revolution, the Count is spared the death penalty and instead is sentenced to live out his days at the famed Metropol Hotel in Moscow. Towles writes so cleverly and lyrically, and I felt that I was at the Metropol with Rostov and his many friends. His use of footnotes and foreshadowing add so much to the tale, and his incorporation of details about life under Bolshevik and later Communist rule in Russia illuminates how completely isolating it must have been to live there following the revolution and how much truly changed for most Russian citizens (even those who were not enemies of the state). Count Alexander Rostov is one of my favorite protagonists of all time, and his exploits will enchant everyone.
The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan
Bijan’s story focuses on the impact of the Iranian Revolution on present-day Iran through her portrayal of everyday life at the fictional Café Leila. She effectively conveys what life is like for those still living there (many have sent their children abroad and often emigrated themselves) and the great loss of freedom and culture that those remaining experience. I truly cannot imagine living under those conditions, especially as a woman, with music, dancing and access to other cultures banned by the Islamic Republic. Bijan portrays the sadness felt by those who lived in Iran prior to the revolution who now truly mourn how much was lost when the Islamic Republic came into power. Her writing is magical and beautifully lyrical, and her characters are authentic and genuine. I was transported to Tehran and particularly Café Leila and its inhabitants, frequently feeling like I could visualize the café and its environs along with the Persian meals and foliage.
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
The Last Romantics is a stellar book from start to finish. Conklin traces the lives of four siblings across the decades alternating between a far-future year, 2079, and earlier moments in their lives and relationships. I enjoyed the futuristic time period which only plays a small part in the story, but what I loved the most was the perfectly paced development of the family’s story and dynamics. Their unusual upbringing left an indelible mark on each of them that plays out differently with each sibling. Conklin’s lyrical and poetic prose is captivating, and I frequently reread certain passages because they were so well written. The Last Romantics will stay with me for a very long time.
The Lido by Libby Page
This debut novel is a marvelous book celebrating the importance of community and relationships. The book tells the tale of Kate, a lonely 26-year-old suffering from anxiety, and Rosemary, an 86-year-old widow who swims daily at her local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center). The lido is targeted by a development company who wants to buy the land to build an expensive apartment complex, and working together, Kate and Rosemary rally the community to build support to save the lido while simultaneously learning the value of friendship and community. Page interweaves love, loss, aging and the value of relationships into a tale that will appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for the paperback version of this novel, it is entitled Mornings with Rosemary.
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Meet Me at the Museum is told solely through letters between Tina Hopgood, a farmer’s wife in England, and Anders Larsen, the curator at a Danish museum. As they continue to write back and forth to each other, their lives, loves and losses are unveiled to each other and the reader. I savored the book and the story trying not to rush through it because it is such a poignant and wonderful tale. Youngson’s writing is thoughtful and lyrical, and her reflections on life and the passage of time are captivating.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers is beautifully written and heartbreakingly sad. The book follows three characters starting in high school and progressing into their twenties. The story begins with a secret that, over time, impacts an entire community. Bennett focuses on the choices people make and their inability to move on from the results of these choices when everything does not work out as they intended or anticipated. She writes lyrically and thoughtfully and the inclusion of the Mothers in a Greek chorus role really adds to the storyline. I did not want to put the book down until I knew how it ended.
You Cannot Mess This Up: A True Story That Never Happened by Amy Weinland Daughters
Amy Weinland Daughters’s debut novel is thought-provoking, clever, highly personal and occasionally tear-inducing – You Cannot Mess This Up will keep readers entertained from beginning to end. The time period, the 1970s, will be an added bonus for those who lived through it originally – the references, the lack of cell phones and the general way of life are accurately and often hilariously depicted. While I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone, those individuals with strained familial relationships and dynamics will truly benefit from and take comfort in Daughters’ tale and the deconstruction of her upbringing on the rest of her life.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Monica Wood has written a stunning, complicated and emotionally riveting story about the effects and impact of developing human relationships. Before the book begins, Ona Vitkus, a 104-year-old woman, and an eccentric 11-year old boy (whose name we never learn), have become friends as the boy helps out weekly around Ona’s house as part of a Boy Scout project. When the story opens, the reader quickly learns that something has happened to the boy. Ona’s relationship with him is the first true relationship she has had in years, and she is deeply saddened by his fate. His father Quinn, who was rarely around and is now feeling guilty that he was a poor father, has agreed to complete the remaining seven weeks that the boy had with Ona to earn his badge. As Quinn begins his visits to help out around Ona’s house, he slowly gets to know the son he never felt comfortable with before. Wood has created a thing of beauty and wonder in the relationship between Ona and the boy. Both of them so clearly benefit from the other, and her writing of these passages is spectacular.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: A Novella by Fredrik Backman
As Backman mentions in his opening letter to the reader, many people fear getting older, particularly losing their memory, more than they fear dying. In his brief novella, Backman addresses both memory loss and the wonderful relationship that grandparents and grandchildren share. In this book, Grandpa and Noah are on a bench in a square that grows smaller day by day (as Grandpa’s memory is slowly fading). It is filled with the everyday items that represent all that they have shared such as their love of math and reciting the endless digits of pi, camping gear, strings of Christmas lights that decorate Grandpa’s shed and a stuffed animal Grandpa gave to Noah when he was young. As the story progresses, the two slowly learn to say goodbye as they revisit the many memories they have shared. Backman has managed to convey some sense of how a mind impacted by Alzheimer’s or dementia is operating as it is slowly shutting down. Numerous passages are so fabulously written and create such a vivid portrayal of how the mind is functioning when muddled by memory loss. Be prepared to use a lot of tissues.
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen
This book is one of the most touching and occasionally heartbreaking stories that I have read in a while. Groen resides in a state-funded nursing home in Amsterdam. At 83 years old, he decides to start writing in his diary to pass the time. Groen hilariously and poignantly chronicles daily life as an 83-year-old. When he begins writing in his diary, he has two people he counts as friends. The diary provides Groen an outlet for his frustrations about growing old and spurs him to make something of the life he has left. By the time the year is over, he has an entire group of friends, the Old-But-Not-Yet-Dead Club – loyal and kind individuals who work to help each other when illness or tragedy befalls a member. While Groen tells many funny tales, he also addresses some very important and pressing issues in today’s society, including funding and care for the aged, Alzheimer’s and euthanasia. He also reinforces the notion that the elderly deserve a great amount of respect and empathy; something that seems to be missing today. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for all walks of life – all ages can learn so much from the knowledge and insight he imparts.
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