What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

Welcome to Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month.  

Readers, we reached a 2021 Summer Reading Guide milestone this week! I’m sorting book titles on index cards into possible categories across my kitchen counter, which gives me both immense satisfaction and a bit of a headache. (It’s so hard to decide!) In between buzzy upcoming books for the guide, I’m making time to read a little nonfiction, a few recommendations from friends, and an evergreen favorite.  

This is just a sampling of the books I’ve read since our last round of Quick Lit. If you’re interested in hearing more about my recent reads, I highly recommend tuning into my podcast What Should I Read Next. In a show about books, I can’t help but discuss my current reading. 

I can’t wait to hear about your recent reads in comments. 

What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I'm currently reading this for the fourth or fifth time since it's our April flight pick for the MMD Book Club, and it's even better than I remembered. Totally worthy of the "modern classic" label, I can't believe it's been out for 25 years now. Anne Lamott writes personal-yet-practical advice for writing and living in this inspiring guide for writers. Even if you don't consider yourself a writer, you're sure to get something out of her pithy and poignant collection of advice. The title comes from a moment in Anne's childhood, when her brother was trying to write a school report on birds. Completely overwhelmed and near tears, he sat at the table with his writing supplies and books all around him. Her father, a professional writer, hugged him and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird." More info →
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Brood: A Novel

Brood: A Novel

I picked up this new release after a few friends declared it their "best book of the year." Though it didn't rank that high for me, I did underline many passages and learned a TON about taking care of chickens. Will and I thought about getting chickens for years but never went for it, and it turns out chickens are really hard to keep alive. The nameless main character manages to care for her brood of four chickens through a Minnesota winter, a summer tornado, and the random ailments that strike chickens down without explanation or warning. While pouring herself into her new hobby, she's also coping with heavy grief and disappointment due to a recent miscarriage and the possibility of a cross-country move. If you're in the mood for a quiet, introspective book that's on the shorter side, this might be right for you. More info →
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A Place Like Mississippi: A Journey Through a Real and Imagined Literary Landscape

A Place Like Mississippi: A Journey Through a Real and Imagined Literary Landscape

I downloaded this on a whim from Libro.fm, and what a lovely surprise! Having just read and researched Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance, I enjoyed catching all of the references in this expansive-yet-accessible exploration of Southern literary history. Eubanks connects the contributions of giants past and present—from William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright all the way up to contemporary authors like Jesmyn Ward and Natasha Trethewey—to Mississippi's culture, landscape and history. I enjoyed learning more about authors I've read and getting to know authors that were unfamiliar to me, and vicariously exploring a state I've only visited once. While I loved the audiobook narrated by James Shippey, the hardcover has gorgeous photos that surely enhance the reading experience. More info →
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Sorrow and Bliss

Sorrow and Bliss

Think Where'd You Go Bernadette meets Fleabag, with a dash of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Since "a bomb went off in her brain" when she was a teenager, 40-year-old Martha has been coping with an unnamed mental illness. She can be cutting and rude, and completely lacks a filter, wreaking emotional havoc on those around her. Avoiding a heavy tone, Mason explores the nuances of severe mental illness, providing an interior perspective of how it might feel to live within its grasp. While Mason's subject matter is often bleak, I found her inner narrative to be often hilarious. (When Martha teams up with her saucy sister Ingrid, prepare for side-splitting shenanigans.) I also appreciated the hopeful ending. The charming, colorful cover doesn't indicate some of the triggering content inside, so be mindful when you pick this one up. More info →
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Second First Impressions

Second First Impressions

I adore a good enemies-to-lovers romance with plenty of banter and tension, so Sally Thorne's first two books were big wins for me, especially her first. This brand-new release features a sweet heroine and made for a pleasant reading experience, but I was hoping for a little more zing. While working at the Providence Luxury Retirement Villa, earnest and responsible Ruthie meets immature party boy Teddy. Both need a little change, and a lot of growing up—and their romance serves to make them both better. The side characters in the retirement community add needed sparkle and humor. Previous fans of Thorne's contemporary romance novels will find plenty to appreciate in Ruthie and Teddy's love story. More info →
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A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload

This wasn't high on my spring reading list, but I'm so glad I picked this one up! Newport starts with the history of email, showing us just how we got to our current collective predicament. There's nothing wrong with email itself, he argues, but the way we now use it is destructive to productivity, clear communication, and our very quality of life. I came away resolved to test out a few of his strategies, and since reading this book I've been checking my email less often, something I know makes me feel better and less frazzled on busy days. Like in his previous work, I wish more of his examples were drawn from women's lives—and while the book focuses on corporate email communication, I would LOVE to show him my cluttered inbox, packed with emails from four different schools for my four children. More info →
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What have YOU been reading lately? Tell us about your recent reads—or share the link to a blog or instagram post about them—in comments. 

P.S. Give your reading life a boost with a short novella, try introspective literary fiction on audio, or enjoy a fresh and flirty contemporary romance novel.


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    • Myra says:

      Funny we should ALL be talking about Bird By Bird. I, too, am reading it for the third or fourth time, and it gets better each time…and so do I. This book is such a gift!

  1. Ahhh I’m so excited for the summer reading guide and cannot wait!!
    “Bird by Bird” is sitting on my stack waiting for me to pick up soon. Thanks for the review and rec of “Brood”, as a MN person who wants chickens I just added it to my TBR.

    Here’s what I (and my family) have been reading lately, including “One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston, “Kent State” on audio by Deborah Wiles (incredible!), Rachel Lynn Solomon’s backlist, and a new favorite graphic novel.


  2. Lisa notes says:

    I need to do a re-read of Bird by Bird; such a great book! I didn’t know Cal Newport has a new book. I’ll have to check into it (although I can’t imagine a world without email). lol.

    Here are 7 books I recommend, including a video review of “Caste” (I finally read it!).


    I include “Meet Me at the Museum” but I confess I have mixed feelings about the ending.

    • Carol says:

      I read Caste with Oprah’s Book Club. I thought it was jaw-dropping.I think this book should be read in schools. I plan on reading The Warmth of Other Suns this year.

    • Hi Jordan, I was trying to reply on your blog, but it kept saying I am a suspected bot, haha.
      I cannot wait to introduce Anne to my son. I think there is enough spunkiness and humor for him to enjoy her and relate to her when he’s older (he is 1.5 years old now, so it may be a wee bit early, haha).

  3. Susan says:

    Jane Harper’s Survivors is my new favorite of hers; a tremendous classic & book club read – and discussion with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; my favorite book last year, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a re-read. Bird by Bird is definitely on my TBR, but so is Sorrow and Bliss, as I’ve read several books over the past couple of months navigating mental health and loved them.

    • Beth, I am not finding your comment button on your blog, so I will reply here. I LOVED your post! So many of those titles are among my favorites, including Atomic Habits, The Total Money Makeover, The 5 Love Languages, The Road Back to You, The Power of a Praying Wife, Women of the Word, One Thousand Gifts, The Hiding Place, and Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Hannah Coulter, and Redeeming Love. I am current reading Love and Respect. A great list of powerful books!

  4. Aimee says:

    My recent favorites are Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez (note: I did not like her previous books and am glad I didn’t realize they were the same author as I wouldn’t have picked up the book which would have been a huge miss – loved this one); The Restoration of Celia Fairchild (my Goodreads review: Charleston charm, sweet tea, low country cuisine, quirky, loyal friends, and so much heart. I loved it.); The Daughter’s Tale; The Pioneers by David McCullough (audio version and sooo good!); and Shipped by Angie Hockman (cute, modern, enemies to lovers). Two that others have loved but I…did not feel the same: Stay with Me and The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

  5. Carolyn says:

    I really enjoyed The Good House by Ann Leary on audiobook. Like many have said, Mary Beth Hurt is perfect in her delivery of this book. I also recently finished The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall, which was thought provoking, and
    Paris is Always a Good Idea by Jenn McKinlay, which was a quick and fun light romance. I’m currently listening to When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner on audio (love her!) and finally started reading The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.

  6. Katie says:

    Years ago a friend of mine suggested Bird by Bird with such high praise. I read it, and enjoyed it immensely. It was not something I normally would have reached for, so it was a delightful surprise. I am not one to reread a book- I have SO many waiting in the wings…but after reading today’s post…I’m thinking a re-read might be in order. 🙂

  7. I much prefer the “friends become more” trope than the “enemies realize they don’t really hate each other” trope!

    I feel like I read widely (within the genres I already know I like) this month! Historical fiction, contemporary fiction, books about minimalism and zero waste, graphic novel, middle grade, and Duchess fashion! It feels good when I read a good variety! Here’s my Quick Lit!

  8. “Bird by Bird” is one of my favorite books on writing and I’m excited to check out Sally Thorne’s new book!

    My book choices have taken an interesting turn so far in April. I read the graphic novel “Will & Whit” by Laura Lee Gulledge and caught up on a few comic series like “Saga” and “Lumberjanes”. I also listened to a couple middle grade audiobooks, “Palace of Stone” by Shannon Hale and “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander.


  9. Cassie says:

    I finished The Knitting In The City series, and it was wonderful. I’ve also recently read (and loved) instant karma (it was like a hug) and in a book club far away.

  10. Julie says:

    I loved Brood and Sorrow and Bliss. Waiting eagerly for the new Katherine Heiny. I have been reading lots of lighter things this year, mysteries and chick lit and YA and that is really working for me. More on my reading insta: @nursebeanreads. Julie

  11. Martha Friend says:

    I agree and disagree with Brood being enjoyable. Yes, there are lots of tips and tricks about keeping chickens, but it read like a manual to me. And I have chickens!

    I am now reading The Book of Lost Names and I am liking it.

  12. Amapola says:

    Recent reads:
    The Survivors, Jane Harper: the Australian landscape is again a fearsome character.

    A Man Lay Dead, Ngaio Marsh: not the great mystery I was hoping for, but good for a rainy day.

    We Run the Tides, Vida Vendela: a fast read about coming of age and adolescence in CA.

    Moonflower Murders, Anthony Horowitz: it was not as good as Magpie Murders.

    A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’engle in audiobook

    Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, Cho Nam Joo: a combination of feminism, social critique and drama.

    Unorthodox, Deborah Feldman: The memoir is very different from the tv show and I couldn’t put it down.

    The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng: set in Malaysia after WWII, the first part of this long book is more interesting than the second, and I ended up skipping some paragraphs when the plot was not moving forward. But the language is beautiful.

    The Break, Katherina Vermette: this book begins slow, but then it’s hard to put it down, though it covers difficult topics. A good book for readers looking for more First Peoples and women’s stories.

  13. Some good, some not so much. Here’s my book list for April read and reviewed. https://frommycarolinahome.com/2021/04/06/books-books-and-more-books/
    I just finished The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson, and loved it. It is an extraordinary story of the psychological fracturing of a woman’s mind by grief. Her alternate reality in the dream world is a means of coping, yet when details from one life merge with the other, it becomes difficult for her to determine what is real. Neither life is perfect, both have their challenges, and choosing one to hope is real is impossible. As she begins to cope with the loss and heal from the trauma in her mind, she is able to reach out to those she loves, and find her true reality. Highly recommend!

  14. It’s so fun to see everyone’s recommendations!

    I just did an audio reread of Pride & Prejudice and then designed this collection of wall art. https://www.etsy.com/shop/thejourneyofbooks/

    It was so great to hear it again. I love the theme of humility and being willing to admit our own sins that is explored in so many of the characters. The audio version read by Rosamund Pike (she plays Jane in the Kiera Knightly movie) is really wonderful!

  15. Carol Raynor says:

    A well researched historical fiction – “Louisa” by Elizabeth Dubois. First of a series. Hard to put it down! Available at Amazon

  16. Bird by Bird is excellent! I’ve been thinking recently about her advice to (when you don’t know what to write about) write about school lunches–in the past, I’ve found this a helpful topic when I’m making conversation with someone I don’t know very well. I expect that when social distancing is over, a lot of people will find in-person conversation awkward as we’ve forgotten how to do it, so this could be a useful idea at least when talking with parents: “How did you handle lunches during distance learning?”

    I recently finished reading a book about 100 ways to save our planet, as well as some novels set in different times and places, reminding me that the reason to save the planet is so that human lives can keep unfolding so interestingly!

  17. Betsy says:

    I just finished reading Ohio by Stephen Markley. Wow! I was drawn to pick it up after reading reviews that it mirrored the broken characters in The Big Chill. The book centers on four former high school classmates and the ways the actions of their youth affected them as adults. No spoilers here, but each vignette/back story was riveting and the way in which he ties them all together at the end is masterful! Worth the read.

  18. Caryl Kane says:

    Hello Anne,

    I recently read “The Beirut Protocol” by Joel C. Rosenberg. His political thrillers I devour in one sitting. I’m currently reading “The Painted Castle” by Kristy Cambron.

    Have a lovely day!

  19. Anna says:

    I’ve been reading books that I should have read ages ago, but never did. A Wrinkle In Time, The Night Circus, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society among them. I’ve been craving short and sweet books, or ones that I’m unable to put down!

  20. Jackie says:

    I just started “Bird by Bird” & have “Brood” on hold at the library. I’m currently reading “The Code Breaker” by Walter Isaacson. I’m reading it 15-20 pages at a time because the science is a lot for my brain to take in at one time! But I’m finding it very fascinating.

    I recently finished “Writers & Lovers” which I thought was great – 4 stars. And I’ve just picked up Niall Williams “This is Happiness” to continue my journey through modern Irish writers.

  21. Carol blunier says:

    I read Kate Quinn’s The Rose Code and loved it. I also just read (on audio) Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and really enjoyed it, too. It’s an odd, dark fantasy, but so well written.

    • Melanie says:

      I’m about 50 pages from finishing The Rose Code and am loving it! I’ve been recommending it to patrons of our local bookstore! I think I’ll need to try The Huntress by her as well. The Alice Network was a favorite a couple of years ago. Bird by Bird and HelpThanksWow by Anne Lamott are two “ keepers” on my shelf.

  22. Tracey says:

    It wasn’t my best reading month, most of what I read was just okay, but the one exception to that, which I loved, was Good Talk by Mira Jacob. So thoughtful and the look and feel of this graphic memoir was a little different than anything I’ve read before!

  23. Suzy says:

    I just picked up “Bird by Bird” at Goodwill! So excited!
    The best two books I’ve read this month are “The Rosie Result”, third in the Rosie series and a really good one (back to cheerful, after the depressing second book), and “The Pull of the Stars” about a maternity ward in Ireland during the Spanish Flu! That book was a doozy and needs more attention!
    I haven’t read “Brood” (yet) but I just want to say that in my experience chickens really aren’t that hard to keep alive. When we moved to the frigid Adirondacks, my city-bred parents embarked on chicken raising, starting with a Rhode Island Red that came walking down the street (literally). We were clueless. A neighbor added 7 Bantams to our brood. Eventually, we bought boxes of chicks and raised both egg layers and fryers, and sure, occasionally a chicken died, but mostly they were survivors! If we could do it, anybody could!

  24. I also just finished Newport’s book on email. Very thought-provoking. Currently reading The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford. Loads of clever fun for young teens. (it’s a companion to The Greenglass House)

  25. Tara L. says:

    I’m trying to clean up my TBR list as I prepare for the Summer Reading Guide! (Anyone else doing that?) I’m currently reading (and liking all of them!)- We Begin at the End, These Violent Delights, and Jennifer Weiner’s upcoming That Summer. Up next is The Plot and Project Hail Mary.
    I was wondering what book you were going to recommend but went another way to this week’s WSIRN guest? It was a Shakespeare crime novel. I like to do some themed reading and April is always Shakespeare month.

  26. Jacqueline Seybold says:

    I recently finished The Midnight Library by Matt Haig for my book club – it felt very “Elinor Oliphant” at first – very sad but funny. I also found it thought provoking and I used loads of book darts (always a good sign). I finished The Likeness by Tana French – Hmmm… not a fave. I found the plot a bit 🤨 and the outcome predictable. I am trying very hard to like Tana French novels but I’m struggling with the characters in Into the Woods and The Likeness. Any suggestions on her best work? and do I need to read them in order? I listened to Never Have I Ever by Joshlyn Jackson – which was a fun listen filled with twists and turns. I enjoyed J.J’s narration. Looking forward to Bird by Bird and Brood! Happy Reading!

  27. Sara says:

    So interested in the Cal Newport book!

    I read mostly Christian books. I’m currently reading Karen Kingsbury (new to me) and Love Lives Here by Maria Goff, a nonfiction I saw recommended for Enneagram 9s… I keep crying because I feel so SEEN and KNOWN!

    I also always share books I love on The Christian Bookworm Podcast :]

  28. Carril Karr says:

    Enjoyed reading the reviews. I looked back on what I read in March to find a lot of mysteries. Enjoyed several books by Anne Cleeves and Peter May. But the blockbuster was Falling Freely, As if in a Dream by Leif G. W. Persson. Initially I thought I might not bother with it, it is very long and the action was often slow and laborious. Not so, this fictional secret investigation in 2007 into the real life assassination of Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme in 1987 just kept me mesmerised right to the bittersweet ending.
    For my important fantasy or science fiction fix I reread a favourite ‘space opera’ volume of three short novels ‘The Dragon Variation’ by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. Two of the books are love stories setting up the background for the huge ‘Liaden Universe’ series.

  29. Ann says:

    I just finished What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster & recommended by ReadwithJenna. It was good. The story wraps up nicely at the end. I am reading the Gilead series by Marilynne Robinson; following along with Oprah’s book club. Gilead was very good. Surprisingly, I’d never read these before. The books are short, so while I follow Oprah’s suggested schedule, I read another book as well. I’m in the middle of Jane Harper’s The Survivors & liking it! So as you can see I read back to back and sometimes two things simultaneously. So, Anne Lamott sounds so familiar, but scanning through her titles; I do not believe I have ever read anything of hers. I may have forgotten. It’s happened before. I may pick up a book, only to realize a few sentences in: oops, I’ve already read this!! So I may give Bird by Bird a shot. My TBRs from Book of the Month club are: Good Company, Fire Keeper’s Daughter & People We Meet on Vacation. Also, I’ve just ordered a signed copy of Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone/Diana Gabaldon’s 9th book in her Outlander series, coming out in November. I love the title and cannot wait for more Adventures of Jamie and Claire!!!!

  30. Ooo, I didn’t know that Cal Newport had something new out! I have read his other 3 books and quite enjoyed them, so I’ll have to see if this latest one is worth picking up. Was there enough new stuff in it to make it worth your time, or was a lot of it a rehash of what was said in Digital Minimalism and Deep Work? Just curious.

    My reading life has slooooowed down a ton this year because we ended up taking the plunge and going for a dream I’ve had for a long time, which is starting a flower farm. Although I still make time to read every day, I’ve only managed to finish one book in the past month—The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah. Being the Great Depression era junkie that I am, I quite enjoyed it, though it was definitely sad. I’m looking forward to your summer reading list as always so that I can find some lighter reads to follow it up with!

  31. Patricia Connelly says:

    Recently read Becomming Dutchass Goldblatt. It was one of those books that I finish and immediately want to reread.

  32. Cheryl says:

    Anne Lamott’s new Dusk Night Dawn hit the spot for me this month, along with John Meacham’s Soul of America and Becoming Wise by Krista Tippet.
    I also read and laughed aloud with literary fiction that is newly-published, The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams!
    Continued laughing with another Agatha Raisin saga!
    A backlist choice from my TBR shelf, Isabelle Allende’s The Japanese Lover, was wonderful and romantic!
    Now I’m reading some historical fiction about the Dutch recommended by my town librarian, The Coffee Trader by David Liss.

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