Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell


Maggie O’Farrell has magnificently  tackled a little-known story. William Shakespeare’s eleven-year-old son Hamnet died of the plague in 1596 in Stratford, England.  He was survived by his mother, twin sister Judith, older sister, and his father, as well as various other members of his family. But nothing was ever spoken of this. Was kept  silent.  Until now, when O’Farrell brings forth with this marvelous new novel that shows the depth of grief and the strength of the human spirit.

The story begins with Hamnet finding his twin sister Judith has suddenly become very ill. He goes for help but his entire family seem to have vanished just when he needs them most. Judith lies on a pallet in an upstairs bedroom falling deeper into the throes of the bubonic plague. But they don’t know this at the time.

O’Farrell manages to introduce us to Hamnet’s mother Agnes ( pronounced Ann-yis ) as she tends to her bees in a field a mile away not knowing her child is desperately ill and needing her attention. She’s well-known as a healer and can even see into a person’s  future ……all the while you, the reader, find yourself tensing up and wishing to God she would hurry even as you know the outcome.

Although William Shakespeare is never named as such in this story, we know it is he who is Hamnet’s father.  And why the name Hamnet? It’s a variation of Hamlet. We are shown the life of the most famous play- rearight who was first a Latin tutor who married a free spirit and mostly lived in London.

Judith and Hamnet loved playing tricks on their family by swapping identities. This is a pretty common way for twins to have fun with people who think they know them so very well.  So when Judith is lying dying, Hamnet decides to trick the Gods by pretending to be his twin. It’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking.

As Agnes prepares her son’s body for burial any mother can not help but be brought to her knees with grief. And the thoughts that are careening through her head are brought to the page in a way that is so real it hurts. The grief, the guilt, the death.

I try to avoid books that deal with the death of a child. Too painful. And there are those of you who will avoid this book for that reason. But this story is one to wrap yourself up in. It’s important.  I believe this book is one of those that is bound for glory. It’s an OMG book.

About halfway through the book several pages are dedicated to the events that carry the pestilence to England and to the home of Judith and Hamnet.  These colorful pages, a dozen or so, will change the way you think about how disease is passed from person to person and from animal to animal.  Here we are going through a global pandemic of monumental proportions and I’m actually about the bubonic plague that took place four hundred years ago. Utterly up front and way too personal. I have read and reread these passages over and over. Amazing.

This is a book that will be widely read and should be on every bookclub list for discussion in the coming months.  I can almost smell a nod for Pulitzer or Man Booker or both.  Be sure to put it on your list.

You can purchase a copy of HAMNET from Copperfish Books. They are on the shelves right now and discounted 20%.  Just a heads’ up. Elaine Newton has read HAMNET and loved it!

Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is an Irish born writer who has many a great novel under her , however, this is her best!





Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy


MIGRATIONS, by Charlotte McConaghy, is certainly a novel for our times. In the not so distant future in a time of extreme climate change, a young woman named Franny Stone takes us on one of the harshest journeys any protagonist ever has. And so we begin.

THE ANIMALS ARE DYING. SOON WE WILL BE ALONE HERE.   This is the first line of the novel.  It was a total attention-getter for me. We begin in Greenland as Franny is hard at work tagging the tiny legs of arctic terns. You see, she’s bound and determined to follow what could very well be their last yearly migration from Greenland to Antarctica. Franny’s been out in the freezing cold and wet for six days before she finally decides its time to move on to the next step: finding a ship headed to sea . 

Who is Franny Stone? Nobody, really. She’s the wife of Niall who is a renowned ornithologist and we get to meet him throughout the book in spits and starts.  To say Franny is a lover of nature and birds in particular is a gross understatement. She’s totally infatuated.  To the Nth degree.  Niall has always had a special affinity toward the plight of the Arctic tern and so Franny is following his passion.  And she’s about to get the attention of a wild group of fisher people who spend the majority of their lives on the sea  and working in the most basic conditions.  Franny is able to coerce captain Ennis to take her on their journey by convincing him that she is his only ticket to finding  fish in these challenging times. Follow her terns, the fish  will appear.  And off they go; the most unlikely of  crews.

McConaghy shows us bits and pieces of Franny’s life over the chapters. And we come to slowly see where she came from. Abandoned by her mother at a young age, she spends the rest of her life trying to find her and who she was . This can’t help but affect how she lives her life and why she  can not stay anywhere for any length of time.  By the time Franny meets her husband it might just be too late for change…. And where is Niall anyway?

Every time I thought I knew all there was about Franny’s background, along some new reality would  bang down right in front of me smashing my thoughts to smithereens. This is a character I will never forget but I can’t say I liked her.

So, here we are, in a future so close we can almost touch it. Surrounded by desperate people doing mostly desperate things.  Climate change is a very real thing.  Animals are pretty much extinct in this novel and birds are going the same way.  Will people be next? I don’t usually read novels that are  apocalyptic. However, this story is so very important as well as not so very far in the future. I took a chance. It’s important. It’s timely.  It will move you and may change you forever.

McConaghy has written a haunting and visceral novel that is unbelievably ballsy and accomplished.  She’s a writer out of Australia who is writing  what we now call eco-fiction.  MIGRATIONS may remind some readers of STATIONS ELEVEN or FLIGHT BEHAVIOR.   Her attention to detail is second to none. Her sense of place is stunning.

I know I’ll be telling  everyone about this new novel for a long time. I feel it’s going to be one of the important books of the year!

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

We have copies of MIGRATIONS for sale at Copperfish Books right now and they are discounted 20% off.  My review copy came from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, one of the best books of the year!

The Second Home by Christina Clancy

The Second Home

Christina Clancy

Look at this cover. It screams “beach.” I’ve been waiting months for this novel to be available to you readers. I read it way back then in the middle of the winter when covid-19 was not even a thought yet.

We may not all be able to go to the beach this summer so we really need reading material that will take  us there… Literally. THE SECOND HOME already does that by just looking at the cover.

Just when you find yourself looking for the next great summer read along comes THE SECOND HOME and you’ve got your book. But what have you got? Is it a light summer read? Well, yeah, but it’s not light and fluffy like you might expect. Filled with beach aroma, beach activities, beach food, and lots of crazy summertime stuff, but this writer brings so much more to the feast. She’s got a page-turning adventure that is unlike any other. Perfect for this summer.

I grew up on the Eastern shore. All winter long I dreamt of going back to the beach, the place I loved more than any other. My happiest times growing up were spent at the beach. So I know what it’s like to look forward to going to the beach.

Ann and Poppy have always thrived during summers spent at their beat up cottage on the back bay in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. Their parents would load up the car and head on out for the coast from their home in Milwaukee.  Their home was nothing expansive and not on the ocean. It was on the back bay and practically falling apart. Still, it had been in their family for generations and they loved it.  Then, they decided to adopt a teenage boy named Michael. And he came to the beach with them that fateful summer fifteen years ago. And nothing was ever the same.

  • Second homes.
  • Second families.
  • Second chances. 

The story opens telling us that the parents have been killed in a tragic car accident. Ann is returning to the cottage to make arrangements to sell it. She thinks she wants no part of it anymore. After all, it’s where the secrets lie.  Now Ann and Poppy have to make some decisions.  All is going as planned until Michael resurfaces and lays claim to his share of the house and he does not want to sell it.

What actually happened that summer all those years ago hangs over your head throughout the novel. And it would keep you blowing through the pages on its own. But the writing and the characters are so compelling. Not to even mention the biggest character of all: the saltbox house.  Clancy beautifully evokes feelings of Cape Cod and the shore to the pages. The coolness of the sand filtering through your toes, the tangy aroma of the beach, and the laid back adventurous atmosphere that spells BEACH in capital letters.  It’s all here plus the drama of not knowing what caused the treacherous rift between the family members.

Christina Clancy

This might be Christina Clancy’s debut novel but, it’s not going to be her last. I know I’m already sitting on the edge of my reading seat waiting for her sophomore effort!

This novel is on the summer reading list for the Critic’s Choice Artis-Naples. You know you need it. We will have copies of THE SECOND HOME at Copperfish Books.  They will arrive this week. They will be discounted 20%.

My review copy was provided by St. Martin’s Publishing Group.  I can’t thank them enough. THE SECOND HOME is going to be one of the BIG summer reads this year! I loved this book.

Sea Wife by Gaige

Sea Wife

The cover alone drew me into this gripping and very emotionally exhausting new novel by Amity Gaige. But it’s the story that kept me reading. I just can not imagine doing what this young couple did.

Once upon a time in present day, a young father of two who has become disenchanted with his job in the business world, decides he wants to take a year off from his real life and buy a sailboat, and take his wife and two children along, all for the adventure of a lifetime. Wife is not excited about this. She is a stay-at-home mom who deals with bouts of depression in the best of times. After much pressure is put on her she caves in, she agrees to the trip. So off they go to Panama where they will pick up their forty-four foot yacht that they  purchased sight unseen. Boom!

My instinct told me this was just wrong, but a part of me was intrigued and looking forward to the ride.  A great marriage would be sorely tested by a challenge such as this. But an already troubled marriage is probably not going to make it.

The voyage begins well. This is all fresh and new at first. They revel in the uniqueness  and actually enjoy the adventure …..until they don’t. First of all I can’t for the life of me see taking a toddler on a sailing boat for any length of time.  That being said, things begin to deteriorate and then they begin unraveling until nothing is left.

There are moments in this novel during the at- sea segments when I could hardly read fast enough.  The weather does not always cooperate and these scenes are heart-stopping. I learned a lot about sailing and I knew next to nothing.  I do know, after reading this story, I am not interested in sailing for any length of time…. Period.  And certainly not to Cartagena, Colombia.

The structure seems odd at first. But once you see where the author is going you will have an easier time following along.  What you will get is a strong sense of Juliet’s depression immediately.  The beginning is confusing, but please don’t be deterred.

Gaige sure knows how to write about marriage woes and motherhood.  Secrets have been kept and by the time we find out why and what, a tragedy has occurred.

Let’s just say this novel does not end well, for anyone. But the writing and the scenes are so wonderful that you know  you are in the company of a great author.

Amity Gaige

Gaige wrote SCHRODER in 2013 and already has proven her expertise  in writing.  With SEA WIFE she has cemented her brilliance.

My review copy was provided by Knopf in exchange for an honest review.  It’s a literary triumph for sure. And I made sure it made it onto the summer reading list for Elaine Newton’s Critic’s Choice list. We call it just The List. Cheers!

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

SEA WIFE will be available for purchase on Tuesday, April 28th. You can order your copy from Copperfish Books.  They will be discounted 20%. It’s on The List so you know you want it….. Just saying.


Elaine Newton-Critic’s Choice 2020 Summer Reading List

  • Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
  • A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
  • Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
  • Lady Clementine by Marie  Benedict
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card
  • The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles ( Feb. 2021 )
  • The Second Home by Christina Clancy (6/2/20)
  • Dominica by Angie Cruz
  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
  • Akin by Emma Donahue
  • Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
  • A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
  • Sea Wife by Amity Gaige (4/28/20)
  • The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman
  • Writers & Lovers by Lily King
  • The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Deacon King Kong by James McBride
  • Apeirogon by Colum McCann
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
  • The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine
  • All Adults Here by Emma Straub (5/5/20)
  • Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
  • A Hundred Suns by Karin Tanabe
  • Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
  • Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

This list has changes in pub dates due to the pandemic. Please note the date in red. I will post more about this list soon.

Redhead On The Side Of The Road by Anne Tyler

The title seems to imply that there is a redheaded person somewhere on the side of this road. But there’s not.  So what’s this novel about?

First of all it’s slight. It’s almost more of a novella.  Micah lives alone in Baltimore in the basement apartment where he is the superintendent.  He is also what he calls a tech hermit. It sure fits the bill. He fixes mostly old people’s computers and he’s a stay-at-home kinda guy. Micah likes structure and routine. He runs in the morning and finds solace in sameness. He has a mundane relationship with his lady friend. That is until he dismisses her possible eviction  from her apartment with little more than a nod.

Anne Tyler


Anne Tyler

lives in Baltimore and has written about the city for years. She’s certainly got her fingers on the pulse of the city where I was born.  Setting her stories mostly in Baltimore is what she does. Baltimore people are mostly kind and gentle. She brings this to the page. Plus, she incorporates family angst that really takes the realness to the next level.

Tyler is one of the few female authors who can write convincingly in the voice of a male.  This is not a  small feat. She’s done a splendid job with the quirky character or Micah. And I totally enjoyed meeting his family. Real people.

So, here you are; a brand new Anne Tyler novel, ready for your summer reading pleasure. Brought to you by Knopf Publishing.

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

Copperfish Books has a limited number of copies in the store or they can arrange mailing anywhere in the U.S.A.  If you’re a Tyler fan like me, you know you want this one. And, Copperfish Books always discounts new hardcovers 20%. Free shipping with orders over $35.  You may want to toss a paperback into the mix to get the free shipping. May I suggest WINTER IN PARADISE by Elin Hilderbrand. It will sweep you away to the island of St. John and make you happy!

Elaine Newton-Critic’s Choice 2019-20

Critic’s Choice:2019:20

Here it is folks! This is what you’ve been waiting for. The six titles Elaine will be lecturing on this coming season are:

Washington Black

Beginning the lecture season is :

WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan ( Thursday, November 14 and Saturday, November 16.

Sigrid Nunez

The Friend


THE FRIEND by Sigrid Nenuz ( Thursday, December 5 and Saturday, December 7)



Sarah Blake

The Guest Book

THE GUEST BOOK by Sarah Blake ( Thursday, January 23 and Saturday, January 25)

Sarah Blake will join Elaine on stage.

Machines Like Me


MACHINES LIKE ME by Ian McEwan ( Thursday, February 13 and Saturday, February 15 )


Sally Rooney

Normal People


NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney ( Thursday, March 19 and Saturday, March 21 )

Flight Portfolio


Last but not least is THE FLIGHT PORTFOLIO by Julie Orringer ( Thursday, April 9 and Saturday, April 11 ) Julie will join Elaine on stage both days!

There you have it. Your upcoming seasonal lectures with Elaine Newton.


Searching For Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok

Searching For Sylvie Lee

What a great cover! And look at that blurb by Paula Hawkins!!

I’ve been following Jean Kwok since her first book, GIRL IN TRANSLATION. That novel  was the beginning of a stellar writing career. Now NYT bestselling author, Jean Kwok, brings us a novel set mostly in the enchanting Netherlands. She even takes us on a trip to Venice in this new book.

SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE is Kwok’s first thriller, and an International one at that.  She’s managed to pack this wonderful new novel with the immigrant experience, family secrets, and even race and culture.  It’s a real page-turner.

Amy Lee is living in a tiny apartment in Queens, New York with her parents who have immigrated from the Netherlands years ago but were initially from  China. She’s distraught because she discovers no one’s heard from her older sister Sylvie Lee. Sylvie was thought to be on her way home from a visit to the Netherlands where she had gone to see her grandmother who was dying. But now Sylvie has disappeared without a trace.

Years ago, Amy’s parents left the Netherlands. They also left their daughter Sylvie with relatives because they could not afford to take her with them. Amy was not yet born. When Sylvie was nine she came back  to live with her parents. But there’s always been a mystery hanging over this family.  Now, Amy who is almost painfully shy, is determined to get to the bottom of this disappearance and find her sister. Off she flies to the Netherlands to meet relatives she’s never met before. This is no small feat.

Told with lyrical prose and an acute sense of urgency, SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE, is the quintessential International thriller. It has so much to offer the reader. It’s nothing like Kwok’s former novels, and yet it is. I love the sense of place evoked.  Kwok brings so much to the table. She actually lives in the Netherlands and is able to transfer to the page the sense of place that helps make this novel so authentic. It sure made me feel as if I were right there in the midst of the city of canals. And, the story moves to Venice where the same attention to details prevail. I love that.

As Amy collects different pieces of this intricate puzzle I found myself so intrigued. So engrossed.  So enjoying the beautiful writing and the unique story.  So many questions. So few answers.

Jean knows the immigrant experience. She’s lived it. That’s what makes her rendition  so spot-on and special.

Photo of Jean Kwok by Mark Kohn

Photo of Jean Kwok by Mark Kohn

SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE is getting rave reviews from all over the world.  It even made it onto Elaine Newton’s Critic’s Choice summer reading list.  I’m adding my rave to the list. You simply must pick up a copy of this new novel for your summer bag.  I received a gorgeous finished hard copy of SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, it’s just super!

We have a stack of gorgeous copies of SEARCHING FOR SYVLIE LEE at Copperfish Books.

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

These lovelies are discounted 20% as are all other brand new hardcover books.  I hope you’ll come up to see me soon!


The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Sarah Blake

The Guest Book

Along comes a family saga of epic proportions, where emotions run wild, money speaks out loud, racism pushes to the forefront, and power is king. THE GUEST BOOK is an ambitious second novel by Sarah Blake who is the author of THE POSTMISTRESS.

It’s May, 1935. Kitty Milton is in the prime of her life.  She, quite simply, has everything any young woman could possibly desire.  She’s got wealth, a handsome and accomplished husband she loves, three healthy children,  and a bright future… What more could she want? But, as we know, everything can change in the blink of an eye.

When tragedy comes to live in the heart of Kitty Milton and her family, her husband Ogden is challenged to find a way to help bring Kitty back from the edge. So he buys her an island off the coast of Maine. Just a small one… This island becomes a main character in this novel. And I fell in love with it.

Sarah Blake

I love big family sagas. There is a lot of meat in this one.  So many secrets are buried just beneath  the surface. Blake does such a super job of keeping them just under wrap. Then easing them out so slowly, allowing us to percolate and speculate.  Sarah Blake was a good writer with POSTMISTRESS. She is a great author now with THE GUEST BOOK.  I so enjoyed the actual reading of this story. I found myself pausing, lying the book down,  allowing the reading to soak in. This is not a novel to “blow” through. This is one to savor.

Themes abound here. The Milton family is filthy rich and own much of the power in this country at the time.  On the surface their business practices seem above board. But are they? When a young Jewish man enters the picture in 1959 and begins working for the Miltons, he may be onto something. Something that is quite troublesome.  And then he falls for Joan, the daughter.  Do you think the Milton’s would ever admit a Jewish man inside their family?  Their business, sure. But, family?

The scenes on the island were entrancing.  Blake has an uncanny ability to draw you into her world.   Life on the island is slow.  This is the place where the Milton’s can be alone, or they can choose to be surrounded by friends and family. They all have a stake in this amazing part of their lives. The children grow up not ever knowing life without this haven that has become their oasis.

As the children become adults, marry and bring spouses and grandchildren to the island,  the family dynamic begins to change. The world is changing. Politics are changing, secrets are emerging, lives are lost, and just maybe the Island is losing its power. It’s certainly an expensive part of this family to sustain. In fact, too darn expensive. The new generation finds that the family money  that has been put in trust for this vacation spot has been all but stripped. And thus begins a big bone of contention amongst the family. To keep or not to keep?

Throughout all this is the memory of a young black man named Reg Pauling who came to visit the island one weekend years ago. He and his friend Len Levy were invited by a family member.  This visit completely changed the future of the family and the story. How can we ever be certain who we truly are?

Me showing off my review copy of THE GUEST BOOK at a Worthington Country Club this year.

I am proud to take this fine novel to my book lectures this season. It’s a real tour de force! My review copy was picked up at SIBA and  furnished by Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review. I am such a lucky reader! Yes, I loved it!  We put it high on the summer reading list for Critic’s Choice  in Naples. Psst! A big surprise is coming to Naples this coming season. Stay tuned.

THE GUEST BOOK by Sarah Blake will be available to purchase on Tuesday, May 7.

Punta Gorda

Copperfish Books

We will have them at Copperfish and they’ll be discounted 20%. We can’t  wait to see you and show off this amazing book. Come on up!

Elaine Newton-Critic’s Choice 2019 Summer Reading List

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (available October 10)
  • The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash
  • The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
  • Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin (available May21)
  • The Guest Book by Sarah Blake (available May7)
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
  • In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
  • Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • Promised Land by Martin Fletcher
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
  • Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley
  • The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
  • The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  • Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (available June 4)
  • Severance by Ling Ma
  • Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (available April 23)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer (available May 7)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney (available April 16)
  • The Editor by Steven Rowley (available April 2)
  • A Woman is no Man by Etaf Rum
  • The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (available July 16)
  • American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
  • The Border by Don Winslow