Author Lisa See is known for her powerful, authentic, and poignant novels about Chinese culture, including her most recent release, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. She is also an avid reader who enjoys fiction and nonfiction and often makes recommendations of her favorite titles. If you’d like to know some of the books she loves, we’ve gathered a list of Lisa See book recommendations. Take a look at her suggestions below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.
Room by Emma Donoghue
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world…. It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.
Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating — a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.
See’s recommendation: “How Jack views our modern world is singular, and his voice is so fresh and unique that there were moments when I felt like I, too, was looking at the world anew.”
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
With the same narrative skills and evocative powers that made her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, a national bestseller, Tan now tells the story of Winnie Louie, an aging Chinese woman unfolding a life’s worth of secrets to her suspicious, Americanized daughter.
See’s recommendation: “The conversational and confessional tone reminds me of the women on the Chinese side of my family. It’s about happiness winning over bitterness and abandoning regrets to live free of sorrows.”
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship — and innocent love — that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.
Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice — words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.
See’s recommendation: “An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
See’s recommendation: “I loved this first novel.”
Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson
With extraordinary emotional power, Linda Olsson’s stunningly well-crafted debut novel recounts the unusual and unexpected friendship that develops between two women. Veronika, a young writer from New Zealand, rents a house in a small Swedish village as she tries to come to terms with a recent tragedy while also finishing a novel. Her arrival is silently observed by Astrid, an older, reclusive neighbor who slowly becomes a presence in Veronikas life, offering comfort in the form of companionship and lovingly prepared home-cooked meals. Set against a haunting Swedish landscape, Astrid & Veronika is a lyrical and meditative novel of love and loss, and a story that will remain with readers long after the characters secrets are revealed.
See’s recommendation: “I was a huge fan of Astrid and Veronika, and I recommended that book to everyone.”
The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr
Jun Nakayama was a silent film star in the early days of Hollywood, but by 1964, he is living in complete obscurity — until a young writer, Nick Bellinger, reveals that he has written a screenplay with Nakayama in mind. Jun is intrigued by the possibility of returning to movies, but he begins to worry that someone might delve too deeply into the past and uncover the events that led to the abrupt end of his career in 1922. These events include the changing racial tides in California and the unsolved murder of his favorite director, Ashley Bennett Tyler.
The Age of Dreaming is part historical novel, part mystery, and part unrequited love story.
See’s recommendation: “An amazing portrait of the silent film era, Los Angeles, and the strictures and lasting effects of prejudice… Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it.”
The Handyman by Carolyn See
The Handyman is the story of Bob Hampton, an aspiring young painter who has had to face the humbling fact that he doesn’t know what to paint. And how are you supposed to be an artist in this world if you don’t have a vision? Bob trades in his artist’s palette for a minivan full of house paints, hammers, and nails, and sets about earning a little cash as a handyman.
Although he turns out to be very bad at fixing the things he’s hired to fix, Bob demonstrates quite a knack for fixing the lives of the people around him. In the midst of his jerry-built repairs and inspired home improvements, Bob meets an extraordinary cast of characters–rendered in all their delightful eccentricity and human frailty as only Carolyn See can-each of whom shows Bob the true scope of his own remarkable talent. There’s Angela Landry, a housewife with far too much time on her hands, a sexpot of a stepdaughter, and a son in need of attention; Jamie Walker, whose allergy-prone and ADD-afflicted children keep a menagerie of scaly pets that far exceed Jamie’s managerial skills; Valerie LeClerc, older, sadder, and certainly wiser than Bob; and Hank and Ben, who leave a narrow-minded Midwest only to find unremitting illness and isolation in the California of their dreams.
Replete with stunning images and all of Carolyn See’s trademark humor and wisdom, The Handyman depicts the countless ways in which our lives are intertwined and the profound effects we can have on one another. It is the kind of surprising and miraculously uplifting novel we have come to expect from the woman Diane Johnson has called “one of our most important writers.”
See’s recommendation: “My mother wrote many books, but this is my favorite. On the surface, it’s about a handyman and the adventures he has going house to house in various Los Angeles neighborhoods, but what it’s really about is how a person becomes an artist.”
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Based on thousands of pages from Leonardo’s astonishing notebooks and new discoveries about his life and work, Walter Isaacson weaves a narrative that connects his art to his science. He shows how Leonardo’s genius was based on skills we can improve in ourselves, such as passionate curiosity, careful observation, and an imagination so playful that it flirted with fantasy.
He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. But in his own mind, he was just as much a man of science and technology. With a passion that sometimes became obsessive, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry. His ability to stand at the crossroads of the humanities and the sciences, made iconic by his drawing of Vitruvian Man, made him history’s most creative genius.
His creativity, like that of other great innovators, came from having wide-ranging passions. He peeled flesh off the faces of cadavers, drew the muscles that move the lips, and then painted history’s most memorable smile. He explored the math of optics, showed how light rays strike the cornea, and produced illusions of changing perspectives in The Last Supper. Isaacson also describes how Leonardo’s lifelong enthusiasm for staging theatrical productions informed his paintings and inventions.
Leonardo’s delight at combining diverse passions remains the ultimate recipe for creativity. So, too, does his ease at being a bit of a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical. His life should remind us of the importance of instilling, both in ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it—to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.
See’s recommendation: “[Isaacson] is a fantastic writer. He’s… so knowledgeable about so many things.”
L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
L.A. Confidential is epic “noir,” a crime novel of astonishing detail and scope written by the bestselling author of The Black Dahlia. A horrific mass murder invades the lives of victims and victimizers on both sides of the law. And three lawmen are caught in a deadly spiral, a nightmare that tests loyalty and courage, and offers no mercy, grants no survivors.
See’s recommendation: “I love, love, love this novel. Set in Los Angeles, it’s got romance, mystery, corruption, and violence, and cracking great language, because James Ellroy is a genius…”
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
When Jon Krakauer reached the summit of Mt. Everest in the early afternoon of May 10,1996, he hadn’t slept in fifty-seven hours and was reeling from the brain-altering effects of oxygen depletion. As he turned to begin the perilous descent from 29,028 feet (roughly the cruising altitude of an Airbus jetliner), twenty other climbers were still pushing doggedly to the top, unaware that the sky had begun to roil with clouds…
Into Thin Air is the definitive account of the deadliest season in the history of Everest by the acclaimed Outside journalist and author of the bestselling Into the Wild. Taking the reader step by step from Katmandu to the mountain’s deadly pinnacle, Krakauer has his readers shaking on the edge of their seat. Beyond the terrors of this account, however, he also peers deeply into the myth of the world’s tallest mountain. What is it about Everest that has compelled so many people–including himself–to throw caution to the wind, ignore the concerns of loved ones, and willingly subject themselves to such risk, hardship, and expense?
Written with emotional clarity and supported by his unimpeachable reporting, Krakauer’s eyewitness account of what happened on the roof of the world is a singular achievement.
See’s recommendation: “Yes, I know everyone is familiar with this story of the ill-fated Everest expedition, but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary.”
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Set on the Nebraska prairie where Willa Cather (1873-1947) grew up, this powerful early novel tells the story of the young Alexandra Bergson, whose dying father leaves her in charge of the family and of the lands they have struggled to farm. In Alexandra’s long flight to survive and succeed, O Pioneers! relates an important chapter in the history of the American frontier.
Evoking the harsh grandeur of the prairie, this landmark of American fiction unfurls a saga of love, greed, murder, failed dreams, and hard-won triumph. In the fateful interaction of her characters, Willa Cather compares with keen insight the experiences of Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants in the United States. And in her absorbing narrative, she displays the virtuoso storytelling skills that have made her one of the most admired masters of the American novel.
See’s recommendation: “Cather isn’t read much these days, but she should be. She forged new trails for American women writers.”
Flesh and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma
From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a seductive, dazzling, atmospheric story of family, class, and deception set against the mesmerizing backdrops of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River, and London.
André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belem, a jungle city on the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rainforest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the family apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.
Three decades later, and now a successful surgeon himself, André is a middle-aged father, living in London, and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.
In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports readers to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.
See’s recommendation: “Luiza Sauma’s first novel, Flesh and Bone and Water, is lush and evocative. The secret at the center came as a shocking surprise, and the characters were as haunted as I was.”
The Girl at the Baggage Claim by Gish Jen
A provocative and important study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business.
Never have East and West come as close as they are today, yet we are still baffled by one another. Is our mantra “To thine own self be true”? Or do we believe we belong to something larger than ourselves — a family, a religion, a troop — that claims our first allegiance? Gish Jen — drawing on a treasure trove of stories and personal anecdotes, as well as cutting-edge research in cultural psychology — reveals how this difference shapes what we perceive and remember, what we say and do and make — how it shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba. As engaging as it is illuminating, this is a book that stands to profoundly enrich our understanding of ourselves and of our world.
See’s recommendation: “This is shaping up to be China’s century, which makes this book both timely and extremely important.”
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
A love story, an adventure, and an epic of the frontier, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, Lonesome Dove, the third book in the Lonesome Dove tetralogy, is the grandest novel ever written about the last defiant wilderness of America. Journey to the dusty little Texas town of Lonesome Dove and meet an unforgettable assortment of heroes and outlaws, whores and ladies, Indians and settlers. Richly authentic, beautifully written, always dramatic, Lonesome Dove is a book to make us laugh, weep, dream, and remember.
See’s recommendation: “You can’t go wrong here. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize, after all… It’s a masterpiece, and I return to it often.”
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.
When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry.
Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian JetSet; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
See’s recommendation: “I so loved this. The humor. The insight.”
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
In her award-winning book The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston created an entirely new form — an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its innovative portrayal of multiple and intersecting identities — immigrant, female, Chinese, American.
As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present.
See’s recommendation: “The Woman Warrior launched the publication of all subsequent novels about the Chinese American experience. It captures so many themes that are important to me as a writer…”
The Chinchilla Farm by Judith Freeman
Verna Flake is fleeing Utah, a failed marriage (her husband has left her for a former beauty queen named Pinky), and the constricted yet reliable Mormon way of life. Seemingly naive but also gifted with an almost second sight for the emotional heart of things, Verna relates her adventures on the road, in Los Angeles, and eventually in Mexico, as she confronts her future and muses over her past. Reading group guide included.
See’s recommendation: “Freeman’s approach to her eccentric characters is big, generous, and open.”
River Town by Peter Hessler
In the heart of China’s Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. Hessler taught English and American literature at the local college, but it was his students who taught him about the complex processes of understanding that take place when one is immersed in a radically different society.
Poignant, thoughtful, funny, and enormously compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.
See’s recommendation: “Peter Hessler went over to China as an English teacher and lived in a little river town along the Yangtze. The book he wrote about it, River Town, is charming…”
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, as well as six other awards, The Sympathizer is the breakthrough novel of the year. With the pace and suspense of a thriller and prose that has been compared to Graham Greene and Saul Bellow, The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.
See’s recommendation: In 2016, See named The Sympathizer as the best book she’d read in the last six months.
The Midnight Line by Lee Child
#1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child returns with a gripping new powerhouse thriller featuring Jack Reacher, “one of this century’s most original, tantalizing pop-fiction heroes” (The Washington Post).
Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?
So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.
The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.
See’s recommendation: “If you have friends… who love thrillers, this would be a great book for that person.”
Which of these books would you like to read? Share in the comments!