The best novels about families you wish were yours…and families you’re glad are not

Who am I?

I’m an eclectic reader and writer, happily moving from one interest to the next. My first published book was a travel guide to the wine country of Northern California. Then came The Recipe Club — a mostly epistolatory novel written with my friend Andrea Israel. My latest book (seeking representation! Agents, if you’re listening…) is hybrid literary fiction that takes you on a deep and steep rollercoaster ride, no seatbelts included. It’s a surprising loop-de-loop of what it means to be human, what it means to belong to family and to the world, and what it means to love.


I wrote...

The Recipe Club

By Nancy Garfinkel, Andrea Israel,

Book cover of The Recipe Club

What is my book about?

Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. In childhood, the girls form an exclusive “Recipe Club,” which continues for decades. Readers can cook along as Lilly and Val grow into complicated women who must face the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred.

No matter what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart, Lilly and Val always find their way back together through their Recipe Club…until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal. The Recipe Club is a “novel cookbook,” a pastiche of letters, emails, documents, illustrations, and more than 80 delicious recipes.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Living Sea of Waking Dreams

Nancy Garfinkel Why did I love this book?

This novel is challenging in all the best ways. It took me three tries to get into it…but once I “got it” I was hooked. The story follows Anna and her (kind of awful) siblings as they try (and largely fail) to deal with each other and their elderly mother’s decline and impending death. As if this subject were not hot enough, the novel takes place against the backdrop of the climate crisis. This is an original, serious, and existentially charged read that definitely takes the fun out of family dysfunction. Yet amazingly, the darker and more abstract this book trends, the more emotionally authentic and impactful it becomes. And the writing is simply stellar.

By Richard Flanagan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Living Sea of Waking Dreams as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Striking...brilliantly done' The Times

An ember storm of a novel, this is Booker Prize-winning novelist Richard Flanagan at his most moving-and astonishing-best.

Anna's aged mother is dying - if her three children would just allow it. Forced by their pity to stay alive, she increasingly escapes through her hospital window into visions of horror and delight.

When Anna's finger vanishes and a few months later her knee disappears, Anna too feels the pull of the window. She begins to see that all around her others are similarly vanishing, but no one else notices. All Anna can do is keep her…


Book cover of All the Light We Cannot See

Nancy Garfinkel Why did I love this book?

This epic, exceptional novel is about a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and Werner, a German orphan, whose lives intersect during World War II. To escape the Nazis, Marie-Laure’s father takes her to stay with her reclusive great uncle, whose home is inside the citadel walls of Saint-Malo. The novel is stunningly beautiful in all respects — not the least of which are the many loving and inventive ways Marie-Laure’s father teaches his daughter to recognize her own resourcefulness, courage, confidence, and independence. I loved this book so much.

By Anthony Doerr,

Why should I read it?

37 authors picked All the Light We Cannot See as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2015 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FOR FICTION

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.'

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic…


Book cover of Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

Nancy Garfinkel Why did I love this book?

Ada is the five-part fictional memoir of Dr. Van Veen — psychologist, professor of philosophy, and student of time — who chronicles his life-long love affair with his half-sister Ada. A deliberately falsified family tree prefaces the book, and the alternative title to Van’s memoir is Ardor: A Family Chronicle. Nabokov is my favorite writer and Ada is my favorite Nabokov: a long, complicated, totally original, and brilliant novel that takes explores the landscapes of Self, imagination, and consciousness, all through the lens of family. It’s not an easy read, but it is one I find infinitely inspiring. 

By Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ada, or Ardor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A great work of art, radiant and rapturous, affirming the power of love and imagination' The New York Times Book Review

Ada or Ardor is a romance that follows Ada from her first childhood meeting with Van Veen on his uncle's country estate, in a 'dream-bright' America, through eighty years of rapture, as they cross continents, are continually parted and reunited, come to learn the strange truth about their singular relationship and, decades later, put their extraordinary experiences into words.

Written in mischievous and magically flowing prose, Nabokov's longest, richest novel is a love story, but also a fairy tale,…


Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Nancy Garfinkel Why did I love this book?

This always re-readable classic is about a lot of things — racial injustice, class, gender roles, childhood, loss of innocence — but its beating heart belongs to the narrator’s father, Atticus Finch. No matter how wonderful your own father might be, everybody wishes Atticus were their father too.

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…


Book cover of The Color Purple

Nancy Garfinkel Why did I love this book?

Written as a series of undated letters, this novel spans decades and describes the love, pain, suffering, and faith of both Celie (who writes her letters to God) and her sister Nettie. It’s a profoundly felt story about endurance, forgiveness, and the re-shaping and repair of a broken family, one that is terribly distorted by historical racism, sexism, and social injustice. It’s powerful, sad, and ultimately uplifting. 

By Alice Walker,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Color Purple as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker's iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug…


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Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

Book cover of Oaky With a Hint of Murder

Dawn Brotherton

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York’s wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it’s time to dig into the details and see what ferments.

Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior’s disapproval of wineries growing legs? Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery’s reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the corner, Aury harvests more than she bargained for when the killer tries to bottle her up for good.

Oaky With a Hint of Murder

By Dawn Brotherton,

What is this book about?

Aury and Scott travel to the Finger Lakes in New York's wine country to get to the bottom of the mysterious happenings at the Songscape Winery. Disturbed furniture and curious noises are one thing, but when a customer winds up dead, it's time to dig into the details and see what ferments.


Is there any truth to the Native American legends that cluster near Seneca Lake? Is the warrior's disapproval of wineries growing legs?


Aury will need to pour over the clues to unearth the mystery before the winery's reputation is crushed. With the annual wine festival just around the…


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