Recent Reading, Spring 2023

Book recs for spring

I Have Some Questions for You, Rebecca Makkai

One of spring’s big books (along with Ann Napolitano’s Hello, Beautiful, the 100th Oprah Book Club pick), so maybe you’ve heard of it? Set in New Hampshire, I Have Some Questions… is part boarding-school novel, part literary murder mystery, and gets at some social issues, like our true-crime obsession, racism, sexism, and #metoo. It’s set at a fictional boarding school in New Hampshire (I can’t be the only one who pondered the real NH counterparts and some of the similarities), and it seems informed in part by the way St. Paul’s School handled its sexual assault incidents from about ten years ago. I really enjoyed this one, and was intrigued by the novel’s structure and by the way Makkai gave us the character of narrator Bodie Kane. It’s a big departure from her previous novel, The Great Believers. (literary fiction, listerary suspense)

Weyward, Emilia Hart

This big debut novel from British write Emilia Hart follows three women in three distinct timelines: Kate Ayres, in 2019, runs away from London to escape an abusive boyfriend; Violet Ayres (Kate’s aunt), who in 1943 is a lonely teen who senses that she has a strange connection to the natural world, and is missing her mother, who died suddenly when Violet was little; and Altha, Kate’s and Violet’s ancestor, who in 1619 is being tried for witchcraft. I reviewed it for BookPage. If you enjoyed Sarah Penner’s The Lost Apothecaries, you’ll love Weyward. Also it has the most beautiful cover art I’ve seen this year. (historical fiction, commercial fiction)

In Memoriam, Alice Winn

Another debut novel from a young British novelist. I loved this novel–one of my top reads of 2023. It’s a World War I novel, following two young men, Gaunt and Ellsworth, best friends from public school (boarding school) who can’t admit that they’re gay and that they love each other. (I was expecting to slog through it, dreading all the WWI stuff, but I was so wrong!) The men’s school, Preshute, is almost a character, because novel intersperces its scenes with articles from the school newspaper The Preshutian, particularly its In Memoriam column listing the dead and wounded, all impossibly young. Yes, there are some gruesome battle scenes, and there’s shell shock and a lot of loss. But it’s also both a tender novel and love story, and a gripping read–kind of an amazing balance. (literary fiction, historical fiction)

The Farewell Tour, Stephanie Clifford

I reviewed The Farewell Tour for BookPage. It’s the dual-timeline story of Lillian Waters, a washed-up country singer, who’s trying to make one last comeback, at age 57. The story moves back and forth between the summer of 1980, and key episodes in Lillian’s past–Lillian has a lot to come to terms with. Clifford must have done tons of research to create Lillian’s story, and the novel is packed with country-music lore and history, as Lillian bounces around from Spokane to Fresno to Nashville. Sometimes I wanted to shake Lillian, who often can’t get out of her own way, but loved the story’s redemptive ending. (historical fiction)

My Last Innocent Year, Daisy Florin

I’m in the middle of this debut novel, which is set at a fictional college in New Hampshire, Wilder College, in the late 90s. Main character Isabel navigates her senior year, getting into an affair with her English professor. It’s an evocative campus novel that’s also beautifully paced. I’m catching echoes of Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife and Joan Didion. More on this one when I finish. (literary fiction)

The Rachel Incident, Caroline O’Donoghue

This one’s not out until June, but keep an eye out for it. It’s a funny and bittersweet coming-of-age story; Rachel Murray is haphazardly getting through her last year of university in Cork, Ireland in 2009, during the Great Recession. A story of first love, heartbreak, and platonic love. It will get compared to Sally Rooney’s novels about Millenials, but there’s more than a hint of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, although The Rachel Incident gets in more sharp commentary on a more repressive Ireland and its misogynistic policies. (literary fiction)

Endpapers, Jennifer Savran Kelly

A moody, evocative LGBTQIA coming-of-age story set in Brooklyn of the early 2000s. Here’s the beginning of my review for Bookpage: As Jennifer Savran Kelly’s debut novel, Endpapers, opens, main character Dawn Levit has stalled. She’s in her mid-20s, dissatisfied with her art (she designs, prints and binds handmade books) and unable to make anything new. She’s also feeling stuck in her relationship with Lukas, whom Dawn is pretty sure would love her more if she were a man. Dawn has been exploring her own gender and sexual identities since high school, taking tentative steps to find her way, but she’s still doubting her instincts and herself. Lately, she and Lukas have found comfort in “slipping back into the closet,” where neither has to worry about feeling accepted. But neither of them is content, either… (literary fiction)

Enchantment, Katherine May

Katherine May’s essay collection Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age offers similar meditative pleasures as her previous collection, Wintering, though you don’t need to have read Wintering  to enjoy Enchantment. “When I want to describe how I feel right now, the word I reach for the most is discombobulated,” she writes, going on to chart the losses, burnout and anxieties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and of this era. “Time has looped and gathered, and I sometimes worry that I could skip through decades like this, standing in my bathroom, until I am suddenly old.” I loved this book–I think it will resonate with a lot of us. I reviewed it for BookPage. (memoir)

Life B, Bethanne Patrick

Publishing May 16. A candid, life-affirming memoir about Patrick’s struggle with depression (in her 50s, she learns that she has double depression, in which a person cycles between a more ongoing, ordinary low, and more extreme lows). It’s a quick read; more on this one after it publishes. (memoir)