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

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.

I’ve had a great reading month. My family spent the beginning of August at the beach, a trip for which my family packs a milk crate full of good reading material and I typically read a book a day. (It’s glorious.) This year I only read four books on our trip, but I’m okay with that. Two of them were REALLY LONG (including the new Amor Towles, which I can’t wait to tell you about when the time is right), plus I spent much of my regular afternoon reading time riding bikes with my kids instead. I love to read, but that was a trade-off I was happy to make.

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 also share what I’m currently reading in our weekly podcast newsletter: if you aren’t already signed up, click here to get on the list.)

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

Short and sweet reviews of what I’ve been reading lately

Evidence of the Affair

Evidence of the Affair

I thought I'd read everything by Taylor Jenkins Reid ... until our team member Shannan gushed about how much she loved this very short (just 86 pages) 2019 release, and told me she thought I'd love it, too. (She advised me to opt for the audiobook narrated by some of my favorites: Julia Whelan, George Newbern, James Daniels, and Dara Rosenberg.) In this epistolary novel, two strangers strike up a correspondence about the tie that binds them together: their respective spouses, who are having an affair—with each other. In every letter, a little more is revealed, until each couple is forced to decide what they ultimately want for their future. This little book worked for me. (Props to TJR for sliding in an effortless Daisy Jones reference.) More info →
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Address Unknown

Address Unknown

This is another short epistolary novel—but while it might be slender, it's anything but lightweight. In it, two German friends exchange a series of letters discussing Hitler's increasing power and changing sentiments in Germany. One friend is a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco; the other is his business partner, who returns with his family to Munich. The tone of their letters quickly changes as each grapples with current events in their native Germany. Reading this story now, it's breathtaking to know it was first published in 1938. I'm grateful for the recent reissue that put this old book on my radar. More info →
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This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind

Author:
I've been meaning to read Ivan Doig for many years, as he's often compared to personal favorite novelists like Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry. I wasn't sure where to begin with his work, but then I remembered that Jim Mustich said he thought I'd enjoy this book, a memoir and his debut, in episode 165 of What Should I Read Next. Doig wanted to tell the story of his father's extraordinary life, and his simple and stirring prose is well-suited to the task. This may be a story of one man's life, but he reads like a meditation on family, forgiveness, and survival. (I do wish I'd known that his father's slow death from emphysema occupies the last forty pages; I'm glad I read to the end, but it was tough to get there.) More info →
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The Eighth Life

The Eighth Life

I recently gushed about this to the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club, choosing it as my best book of summer (so far) for our Best Books of the Summer 2021 event. I was reluctant to dive in (because it's 1000 pages), but I'm so glad I did. This family saga spans one hundred years, beginning in Tbilisi, Georgia in the years just before the 1917 revolution, and carrying almost to the present day, unfolding the story of each new generation. I was reluctant to dive in, but then I couldn't read fast enough to satisfy my need to discover what would happen next: I couldn't wait to find out where the story would carry each character. The book also has a touch of magic, thanks to the family's closely-guarded chocolate recipe that has strong effects on those who consume it. This book is a commitment but I'm so glad I read it. If you're considering picking it up, please know broad content warnings apply: if you're a sensitive reader, please do your due diligence before diving in. More info →
Totally Folked: A Small Town Romance Folktale retelling (Good Folk: Modern Folktales Book 1)

Totally Folked: A Small Town Romance Folktale retelling (Good Folk: Modern Folktales Book 1)

Author:
I picked up this romance novel—the first in a new series from Winston Brothers author Penny Reid—to give me some breathing room between a long run of heavier literary novels and memoirs. It was definitely a fun one, but the prominent themes of identity, family, and belonging weren't exactly lighthearted. The action unfolds in Green Valley, Tennessee—a world that will be familiar to Reid's readers—and this time deputy Sheriff Jackson James takes center stage as he seeks to find real love like his parents have and strives to repair his reputation after the playboy days of his youth that he's come to regret. I really liked the female protagonist Rae, an actor friend of Sienna's who's decided she needs to find just one thing in her life that isn't fake. A word about the title: it's cute, but after reading I still have no idea what it means for the story. Just know that past readers of Reid's romance will find much to enjoy here. (Heads up for a few open door scenes.) More info →
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A Town Called Solace

A Town Called Solace

Author:
Mary Lawson is a new favorite author of mine; I found her work through my husband Will, who just happened to pick up her award-winning debut Crow Lake at our favorite local used book sale. He loved it, and passed it to me. Now I'm making my way through everything she's written—and was thus delighted to discover that not only does she have a new book out, but it was longlisted for the Booker Prize! This short novel examines disappointed hopes and disappointing families, and ponders how through love, forgiveness, and friendship we might patch together a meaningful life and grasp a glimmer of redemption. Highly recommended for fans of Ordinary Grace. More info →
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Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

Author:
As a rule, I'm hesitant to pick up cancer books—but so many trusted friends with great taste recommended this I tentatively give it a try. I'm glad I did, though I'll confess to heavily skimming in places. The author was diagnosed with leukemia just after graduating from college; this book details her road to diagnosis and inexpressibly awful treatment, and her shockingly (to her) difficult struggle to resume some kind of normal existence in the kingdom of the well. I found this book relatable in ways I didn't expect, and deeply appreciate how Jaouad put words to some experiences I've been struggling to articulate for decades. 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. Don’t miss these 12 narrative nonfiction books to satisfy your sense of adventure, 20 book to screen adaptations on my “To Be Watched” list, and 33 historical fiction books avid readers can’t get enough of.

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82 comments | Comment

82 comments

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  1. Janna says:

    I’m about to finish the audio version of Simon The Fiddler and I’ve loved it so far! Every Last One was a “can’t put down book!” I also enjoyed the Rose Code. I get so many great suggestions from your blog, newsletters, etc.! Thank you!

  2. MARYLOU LYNN says:

    I just finished a new release I loved, The Reading List. It is an homage to the power of books to comfort and empower us. It does deal with some difficult topics but is ultimately hopeful.

  3. Stephanie says:

    So sad that my library (in a major US city no less) doesn’t have a single one of these books! The Eighth Life looks very good. Looks like I may just have to buy it.

    • Jen says:

      Most libraries have an easy process to request books for them to carry. Might be worth checking out? I requested four from the Summer Reading Guide from my library.

      • Ann Perrigo says:

        And most libraries don’t actually get new books on their shelves as soon as they are published. The ordering and processing can take awhile. And, yes, hearing about books from patrons is likely to speed that process up!

  4. Sandy says:

    Just finished Clint Watts’ Messing with the Enemy, and am starting two novels, The One-in-a=Million Boy and The Jane Austen Society.

    • Beverly J Wrigglesworth says:

      Dial A for Aunties in on my TBR, and The Last Thing He Told Me I have on hold from my public library. Can’t wait to get it.

  5. Janice Hoaglin says:

    I love many of Ivan Doig’s books, but probably my favorite is English Creek, which is a coming of age story set in Montana, of course. It is the first in a trilogy, and all three are great reads.

  6. Tracey says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Mary Lawson for a long time and will bump her up my TBR and got some other great tips here too! Thanks!
    My highlights of the past month were:
    -Anxious People by Fredrick Backman. I don’t always love tons of characters with lots of coincidences but this one worked for me and was a great combo of humour and depth. The audiobook is excellent.
    -All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu is a beautifully written novel set in Uganda and the US. Content warnings re: war and racism. I think I liked his The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears more but this was really good.
    -Syllabus by Lynda Barry – she’s just fun and makes cartooning and playing around with drawing so accessible and enticing. I’ve had a much more regular journal practice in the weeks since reading this and using one of her methods
    -How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams is a romance novel I breezed through and really enjoyed on audio. Content warning re: domestic violence

  7. Amanda says:

    I just finished Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold and loved every page. I can’t believe it has been sitting on my shelf for nearly a decade! Highly recommend to fans of Michael Chabon, magic, and the 1920s.

  8. Ann says:

    The Taylor Jenkins Reid and Mary Lawson books look good!

    I am currently reading The Bass Rock. I saw where it was recommended by Once There Were Wolves author Charlotte McConaghy. It is written by Evie Wyld who has an Australian connection with McConaghy.

    I am loving the stories and the writing. It follows the lives of 3 women at different periods of time, so it is taking me a moment to follow; but at the same time I think that is what I am enjoying about the book. This makes it more interesting!

    I was reading The Personal Librarian, but ditched it. I made it almost to page 300, but honestly the main character was not very admirable in her behavior.

    I have a copy of The Husbands from my local library, so I need to get cracking, because I know I will not be able to recheck it for now.

    On the verge of sending my youngest off to college/I am sure I am not the only one out there/and all the worries and excitement that brings, I cannot be more grateful for books to distract my mind. I sometimes pop awake at 4 a.m. I keep my books close!!!!

    I am currently suffering from a mild case of dry eyes. Maybe too much reading 🤔 🧐 🤓

  9. Megan says:

    I have less than two hours to go on the audio of Big Summer and just started reading The Push last night. I’m obsessed with them both! I just ordered A Town Called Solace on Kindle when Anne posted it’s price of $1.99 on her Instagram stories, so that might be my next book.

  10. Kathleen Robertson says:

    Haven’t read any of the books on your Quick Lit list. Thanks for some great recommendations. I have recently read: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell; Then She was Gone by Lisa Jewell; A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza; The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley; The Midnight Library by Matt Haig; Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile and Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon.

  11. Maria Ontiveros says:

    Just ordered Solace and Affair. In the last 30 days, I read 4 books. Loved Never Have I Ever; enjoyed Dread Nation; hated Hour of the Witch and still digesting American Gods (so good!!!).

  12. Janet says:

    Recently I have read and enjoyed The Push, Longbourn, Shuggie Bain, We Begin at the End, The Falcon Thief (non-fiction) and just started Project Hail Mary (by Andy Weir), and am intrigued…. 🙂

    I am SO glad our public libraries are allowing in-person browsing! The branch near me is tiny, but I ventured out to the bigger branch recently and was in heaven!

  13. Phyllis Evans says:

    Anne,
    The Ivan Doig book you must read is “The Last Bus to Wisdom.” I’ve read a few of Doig’s books, and enjoyed them all, but this one really shines. Told from the point of view of an endearingly innocent 11 year-old boy in 1951 who reminds me of a 20th century Huck Finn, this is a road trip with many twists and turns. It’s a feel-good novel with nail-biting adventures, memorable characters, and lucky coincidences that cause everything to turn out well in the end.

  14. Amy says:

    My first TJR was Maybe, In Another Life which I believe was a recommendation from WSIRN. Since it was on kindle, I received a notice about Evidence of the Affair and from there I was hooked. I just love all the different ways TJR tells a story. My reading is pretty much non-existent. New job has not left much time for anything. Hoping the coming month will be better.

  15. Katie says:

    I LOVE epistolary novels and I’m always looking for more – so please to see these two new to me recommendations on your list. I read and couldn’t put down Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (LOVED it) and just started Chasing the Thrill based on your recommendation – really enjoying it so far. I also read Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard (translated from French) – which I picked up for the title alone, and really enjoyed. Did that rec come from MMD? I can’t recall, but its a wonderful book that imagines if Michaelangelo spent time in Constantinople designing a bridge. Not for me – If We Were Villains – I didn’t find the plot had enough tension to hold my interest.

  16. Allie says:

    Just finished listening to two rather heavy books, or at least they had triggers for me: You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (which I learned about one of your posts). I’m in the middle of reading The Plot. I think for my next book I need to find something light and funny!

  17. Janice Cunning says:

    My book club loved Road Ends by Mary Lawson. A rare time we all loved the book. Her book led to such an interesting discussion about the choices women have had to make in the past.

  18. My recently read books didn’t all hit the mark for me, but the variety in both setting and genre kept it interesting: Malibu in the 1980s, crime fiction in northern Sweden, thriller off the coast of Italy, and insight into a Palestinian community in Brooklyn, NY. Can you guess what they were?
    http://www.avikinginla.com/2021/08/what-ive-been-reading-lately-july-2021/
    I recommend the audiobook of The Eighth Life narrated by Tavia Gilbert. I’m currently listening to it and am engrossed.

  19. Kathy says:

    I am interested in reading The Eighth Life. I can’t find out anything about the content warnings you mentioned. Can anyone share them, please?

  20. Suzanne Harley says:

    I recently finished “Malibu Rising” by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Hearing Anne talk about it on her One Great Book podcast helped me enjoy the book even more. Then, I heard the author interviewed on the Friends and Fiction podcast. The interview helped me learn things about the book that I had not really thought of and provided some terrific insights.

  21. Suzanne Lambremont says:

    My book club chose Sparks Like Stars
    by Nadia Hashimi last month for our next read. Knowing that US withdrawal from Afghanistan was imminent, we thought it would be good for discussion. There were very many recommendations for Sparks from reading podcasts and printed lists. Our Zoom meeting is tomorrow. We’re scattered around southeast Texas and southern Oklahoma so zoom is our meeting mode. The book may be my favorite we’ve read this year; so well-written. In light of the past week’s awful news about what’s taking place throughout Afghanistan, I know we will have lots to say and pray about. This group is composed of female Episcopal deacons and a few supporting lay girlfriends. Social justice and women’s rights is a frequent topic, though not always.

  22. Susan says:

    I adored Between Two Kingdoms. I was 28 when I received a cancer diagnosis and I so connected with this author. Her writing is so accessible that one doesn’t have to have a cancer experience to appreciate her story.

  23. Beverly J Wrigglesworth says:

    In August, I have been reading:
    Aunt Dimity #5: Aunt Dimity’s Christmas by Nancy Atherton: A cozy mystery series in which Aunt Dimity has passed away, but she still communicates with Lori through a blue journal. Together they solve mysteries.
    Mimi Lee Gets a Clue by Jennifer Chow: Another cozy in which half Malaysian/half white Mimi tries to clear herself as a suspect in a murder. Pretty formulaic, but lots of humor, and a business owner who spends more time investigating than attending to her business.
    A Willing Murder by Jude Devereaux. I read this mystery for my Mystery Book Club. It is an interesting and very readable cold case murder mystery with romance thrown in.
    Trelian #3: The Mage of Trelian, which follows “The Dragon of Trelian” and “The Princess of Trelian.” The trilogy’s main plot is that mages and non-magical folk are trying to prevent a very powerful, evil mage from taking over their world. Lots of other stuff happens, also, and the series includes a pretty awesome dragon. (Middle Grade fantasy fiction)
    Matt Cruse #2: Skybreaker, second in the trilogy that includes “Airborn” and “Starclimber.” This fantasy/science fiction young adult series takes place in an alternate earth and has sort of a steam punk feel. Matt Cruse is a young man who, in “Airborn” was a crew member on a passenger cruise airship. In “Skybreaker,” Matt is a student in an academy for those who want to fly airships. But he joins a group of other people to help recover the Hyperion, an airship that was lost decades ago and may contain fabulous treasure.
    God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace: A cold case detective offers proofs of design in the universe, leading to the conclusion that there must be an all-powerful, all-knowledgeable Designer.
    Elana #1: Enchantress from the Stars: This young adult science fiction book won an Newbery Honor in 1971. I am about half-way through this enchanting story about three levels of civilization on one planet. The indigenous people are about at the level of medieval Earth. There is a space-faring civilization that plans to colonize their world, disregarding the presence of other humans inhabiting it. Then there are three individuals from an even higher civilization, that must stop the space-faring invaders by using the indigenous people to stop them, without revealing their true identities.

    • Suzy says:

      Hey, I was tickled to see your mention of Enchantress from the Stars, a childhood favorite of mine! I still have my (now musty) copy of it! I seem to remember there was a sequel. I LOVED it, and have saved it all these years.

  24. I read Crow Lake many years ago for book club and remember that we all loved it. I’m adding her new one right now. I also love epistolary novels, so am checking those out too. I’m on the hold list for Between Two Kingdoms already through Libby. My list includes 4 books I listened to on audio and one physical book that is getting TONS of books and rightly so.
    https://www.sincerelystacie.com/2021/08/quick-lit-mini-reviews-of-my-recent-reads-august-2021-edition/

  25. Amy says:

    I’ve enjoyed a couple great books this past month and both recommended by your blog at some point! Loved “Sparks like Stars” by Nadia Hashimi. It seems more timely now, but liked reading the perspective of a young girl from a prominent family close to the President of Afghanistan who escapes a coup attempt on her family and later on in life tries to piece together unanswered questions from that time. Also, ever since reading and loving “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig earlier this year, I have periodically been picking up other novels he’s written. Really enjoyed “How to stop time”, which is similar to “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” which I also loved earlier this year. Excited to see it’s being made into a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch!

  26. Carolyn says:

    I finished two of the Summer Reading Lists books this month, and both were hits for me. I enjoyed all the twists of Who Is Maud Dixon and the Moroccan setting. I loved The Plot even though I figured out who was sending the messages early on in the story. Finlay Donovan is Killing It and Dial A for Aunties were quick and enjoyable reads. Just meh for me this month: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill ( really wanted to like this one but didn’t care for Nina) and Summer of ‘69.

  27. Valerie Pratt says:

    I just finished “Who Is Maud Dixon”, “Stay With Me”, “The Midnight Library”, and “When We Left Cuba”.

  28. Nancy Binder says:

    Read a few pages of The House on the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune to dip in as I was reading and enjoying Crazy Rich Asians. I cannot put it down it is so good!!

  29. Sharon says:

    I just finished The Whispering House and am now listening to Northanger Abbey. The free full cast audio on audible is fantastic! I am also finishing up Palm Beach which is a great read. I also read Did I Just Say That Out Loud? It was a great read filled with essays by the former editor of Real Simple who is documents her life as a mom of teen to young adult kids. I laughed out loud at parts. Highly recommend as well.

  30. Suzy says:

    I am excited for the epistolary novels, and I found that Evidence of the Affair was free on Amazon Prime today! I also heartily concur about Ivan Doig, and if you’ve only read his memoir, Anne, I hope you will check out his Montana homesteading series! And Mary Lawson sounds like my kind of author, I am excited to try her out, I have Crow Lake coming from paperbackswap as we speak!
    I’ve had a good month, catching up with The Stationary Shop (so-so), The Plot (great!), The Good Sister (more than it appears, still resonating) Parnassus on Wheels (? can’t decide ?), re-listened to Celine (stupendous) listening now (having read once) The One in a Million Boy (just mesmerized all over again!), My Name is Lucy Barton was frankly amazing writing (Eliz Strout, hooray!) I’ll be Your Blue Sky (heartwarming and good), One Thousand White Women (eye-opening, thought provoking, horrifying, and at times, fun!) as well as Every Vow You Break, which I thought was AWESOME, but apparently my fellow Goodreads reviewers don’t agree!

  31. Lisa Root says:

    I am currently reading an interesting memoir: Everything I Have is Yours: a Marriage, by Eleanor Henderson.
    Part medical mystery, part story of the highs and lows of a marriage that is beyond stressed by the mysterious malady of Henderson’s ill husband, the writing manages to be beautiful.

  32. I’m late to the party, but here’s what I’ve been reading lately (including finally reading Kendra Adachi’s book):

    https://www.toloveandtolearn.com/2021/08/17/loving-and-learning-lately-37/

    I’ll admit that many of the books on your list this month sound great, Anne, but I’m having a hard time picking up anything heavy right now! I do appreciate that you left content warnings on those with heavier themes—I’m putting some on my TBR, but making a mental note to read them at a later time when I’m ready to start reading more serious stuff again.

  33. Pat says:

    The last 2 books I have read are The Firekeeper’s Daughter and A Place For Us. Both are very good. A Place For Us is, probably, the best book I have read all year! I loved it so much and had such real compassion for each character. The writing is beautiful and so aware of the hearts and minds of humans. I can’t say enough good things about it.
    I am reading Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line now.

    • Christina says:

      Who is the author for A Place for Us? When I looked the title up on Goodreads, there were several options. But when someone says it’s their top book of the year, I’m interested to take a look!

  34. Christina says:

    I’m a week late on sharing my recent reads, but here they are: https://alookatabook.com/2021/08/21/august-2021-recent-reads/

    My reading this month was a lot less than normal, since I moved and started a new job. I did enjoy the Midnight Cafe (which Anne recommended last month) and When the Men Were Gone – an historical fiction based on a true story about a woman who coached a high school football team during WWII because she wanted them to have a reason to stay in school rather than enlist. It was good!

  35. Kristin says:

    I am so glad you have read The Eighth Life and enjoyed it! It was my top novel from last year. I recommend it to anyone who is willing to commit to the length, which flew by for me.

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