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.

I’ve had a great reading month: over Christmas vacation, I spent hours and hours sitting around reading. It was lovely. Today I’m sharing five noteworthy newer books and two noteworthy older ones that I’ve read lately.

Series: Quick Lit January 2018
The Last Ballad

The Last Ballad

Author:
Finally, my first Wiley Cash novel! I've been meaning to read him for too long, and after this, I intend to read more. This story is a fictionalized account of the 1929 Loray Mill strike in Gastonia, especially folk hero and ballad singer Ella Mae Wiggins, and was partly inspired by Appalachian mining town backgrounds of Cash's own grandparents. Though set nearly a hundred years ago, Cash's story sizzles with life. Don't skip the acknowledgements. More info →
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Author:
I love Dan Pink's work, and have been eagerly awaiting this brand new release that's all about good timing. If most books in this genre are "how-to" books, Pink says to think of this as a "when-to" book. He examines how and why timing matters, whether it's what time of day to schedule certain tasks, what time of life to change jobs, or what difference it makes to sync up with others time-wise. Full of fascinating insights and practical implications, especially for the day-to-day. More info →
Plainsong

Plainsong

Author:
I've been working my way through Kent Haruf's back catalog and enjoying it so much—if that's the right word. I found this to be well done, and a really beautiful book, in the end—but the rest of it is hard. In this small-town Colorado story, Haruf weaves three families together in surprising ways. This is one of those books that begs to be discussed: it would be an excellent book club pick. (Heads up, readers: triggers abound.) More info →
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs

Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs

I actually read this before our current Quick Lit window, but I haven't yet given it the attention it deserves here on the blog, and it's such a gem I wanted to make sure it was on your radar for the 2018 Reading Challenge, perhaps as "a book you can read in a day", or "a memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction." These 52 "micro-memoirs" are by turns quirky, witty, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, and so different from pretty much anything else I've ever read. More info →
Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

Author:
I really wanted to like this one, and it was ... fine. The story opens with Anna Kerrigan, twelve years old, accompanying her father to visit an important man on Brooklyn's Manhattan Beach. As a teen, her father disappears without a trace. Years later, her path again crosses with this man, a successful (and shady) nightclub owner, and she realizes he may be connected to her father's mysterious disappearance. If you've read The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, the story itself feels similar to me—a man vanishes without a trace, in 1930ish New York City—but the way it's told is completely different. More info →
The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven

Author:
I finally read this 1971 science fiction classic as "a book you can finish in a day" (just 176 pages!) for the 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. The book is set in a dystopian 2002 Portland (so, 40 years in the future at the time of writing, which was VERY interesting to read in 2017!), and focuses on a man whose terrible dreams actually come true, a power-hungry psychiatrist who wants to harness those dreams to improve the world, and the attorney he begs to intervene (who is perhaps the most interesting character). It's a short story, with incredible depth, and I'm so glad I finally read it. More info →
The Last Mrs. Parrish

The Last Mrs. Parrish

Author:
I picked this up because the reviews are great and it was the December pick for Reese Witherspoon's book club, and I really like her picks about half the time. I read this quickly—it's definitely a page-turner—and appreciated the three different points of view. But I think I've already read enough domestic noir to last me a good long while. If YOU enjoy the genre, this is a solid pick, especially if you enjoyed The Wife Between Us. More info →

What have YOU been reading lately? Link up your post below, or tell us all about it in comments!

70 comments

  1. I LOVED Heating & Cooling! I read it in an evening when I was sick of pretty much everything I’d been reading. It was exactly the pick-me-up/jumpstart I needed.
    I also want to read some Haruf backlist after loving Our Souls at Night. I’m not afraid of hard topics and triggers, so maybe I’ll try Plainsong at some point.
    I’m posting a round-up of all my January 2018 books on Thursday, so will link up a couple days late 🙂

  2. Lori says:

    Heating and Cooling looks great and the perfect antidote to Exit West, which I’m halfway through. It’s beautiful, enlightening, and magical and so very sad that it’s difficult to read to close to bedtime. I need a cushion. Thank you for all of these mini-reviews.

  3. I read Haruf’s Our Souls at Night this year and loved it. I’m eager to read more of his work. We did The Lathe of Heaven in our book club a number of years ago — that was a fascinating book and discussion!

  4. MISSY says:

    Reading your book Reading People which I picked up during my week off after Christmas. Think I was typed wrong last time I took the MBTI as you were so it’s been really enlightening. Also reading Pack of Two which someone mentioned on your podcast and reading Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin on my Kindle before I fall asleep at night. Anyone else only read fiction on their Kindle? I find it drives me crazy to read non-fiction on there because I always want to mark up the book and flip back to things.

    • Brandyn says:

      I had Plainsong on my TBR for quite a while and now I can’t remember why I took it off (probably cause I find the cover boring). I need to add it back.
      I probably won’t get a blog post up today because I read so few books at the end of 2017, but here are my few.
      The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – excellent sophomore novel. If her third book holds up she’ll be an autoread author for me.
      The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – pretty solid first novel. It felt a little like a cross between The Hunger Games and Leigh Bardulo’s Grishaverse, but very readable. Unfortunately, there are 5 books in this series and I don’t know if I liked it enough for that kind of commitment. Positive note, it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.
      The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – I’m not finished – I’m 60% done, but I’m losing steam. I don’t have a problem DNFing prior to halfway, but once I’m past the midpoint I feel like I should stick it out. I want to know where the story goes from here, but its getting harder and harder to pick back up.

  5. Dianne says:

    The One Man by Andrew Gross. Not a light read. But very good if you are interested in a thriller in a Nazi concentration camp.

  6. Tina says:

    I’m really into the timing book- such an interesting phenomenon! Good to hear your take on Manhattan Beach- it’s been on my list awhile, but I’ve heard mixed things so I don’t think it’ll get to the to the top of my pile anytime soon. Also- random question- is that photo at the top from The Novel Neighbor? I totally recognize that bookcase lol.

  7. Beth says:

    I’m reading The Bastard of Istanbul. It’s about two families-one Turkish, one Armenian. Well written and I’m learning about what happened to Armenians after the Ottoman empire.

  8. Monica Gardner says:

    I just finished the Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen which was sad, funny and wonderful. I couldn’t put it down. I am now reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska as one of my books for the reading challenge. Its a YA book but I am thoroughly engrossed in it. Also on the nightstand, The Likeness by Tana French and Killers of the Flower Moon:the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

  9. Jimi says:

    I’m finally reading Glass Houses after having it on my shelf for months (those darn library holds with their due dates). I’ve recently finished Our Souls at Night (my choice for the book you can read in a day category), Same Kind of Different as Me (book club pick) and The Heart’s Invisible Furies. 2017 was an incredible year of reading for me. Hoping 2018 measures up.

  10. Karen says:

    If you are interested, The Hallmark Hall of Fame series has a movie called “Plainsong.” I saw it years ago. I didn’t know at that time there was a book!

  11. Susan in TX says:

    “Fine” is very generous for Manhattan Beach, in my opinion. I didn’t care for it at all – it was one of those books that was promoted as something very different from the reality between the two covers. And it has been WAY over-hyped. I definitely think it is one to skip altogether if anyone is on the fence about it. I did notice similarities to The Wife, The Maid, and the Mistress. Honestly, it was my biggest regret of December and fell into my year-end assessment categories of “book you expected to like, but didn’t,” and “most surprising in a bad way.”

  12. Janet says:

    Manhattan Beach was fine, didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
    Also The Alice Network
    Sing Unburied Sing!
    The Other Alcott
    Prairie Fires
    Instead of a Letter
    At school I am reading The Tale of Despereaux to 2nd Grade, James and the Giant Peach to 3rd Grade and Because of Winn Dixie to 4th.
    To the person getting bogged down in The Goldfinch, keep going!!

      • Diane Lee says:

        I thought the Goldfinch was far too long and the middle section dragged interminably..
        It felt like there was a good book in there fighting to get out and it really needed a good editor to help prune it.
        It’s a shame because she’s a really good writer…
        I think it’s a Marmite kind of a book-no-one’s indifferent to it…
        Good luck with finishing it but I’m not sure I found it a worthwhile experience in the end

        • Missy says:

          I had to finish the Goldfinch to our. Glad I did but I can’t say I liked it. The beginning of that book was so much better than the rest of it.

  13. Suzanne says:

    I am so comforted to hear all of your comments regarding Manhattan Beach. I found it boring and put it down. I no longer feel guilty. It still remains at the top of the Bestsellers List. Why?

    • Jennifer N. says:

      I didn’t make it all the way through this one, either. I may still pick it back up again, since I own it now, but I have other books calling a bit louder.

  14. Susan says:

    Cannot stress enough how really wonderful Home Fire by Kamila Shamie is. Exquisite writing. Long listed for the Booker. Do not miss.

  15. I love The Lathe of Heaven! I first encountered the story when the TV movie aired on PBS; I think I was 6 or 7 years old, and it fascinated me. My mother is a huge LeGuin fan and had the book on her shelf, but I didn’t read it until my late teens. I’ve read it at least 3 more times since, and every time I get something different out of it.

    • Jennifer N. says:

      I loved this one, too! I picked it up as a Kindle deal last year and got sucked right into it. I haven’t read anymore LeGuin since, but she’s on my list of authors to continue to read.

  16. Becky says:

    Hi I just finished The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin which is a fictional account of the friendship between Mary Pickford and Frances Marion during the very beginning of Hollywood.

  17. Amanda Medlin says:

    After devouring and loving everything written by Louise Penny and Tana French (based on your suggestions), I am now enjoying J.T. Ellison after reading her new release Lie to Me and also her first book in the Samantha Owens series. I am also currently reading Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes and about to start Dreamland Burning. By the way, thank you so much for your Kindle Deal emails! On a sidenote: I hated The Last Mrs. Parrish! The plot was fine, but the writing was very amateurish in my opinion. The characters had no depth and the dialogue was very basic. Reading it felt like watching a cheesy soap opera. I am very surprised it has gotten good reviews and was picked by Reese for her book club.

    • Marci says:

      I literally just finished The Last Mrs. Parrish this afternoon and I thought it was terrible! Exactly what you said. One dimensional soap opera characters. Bad dialogue. So many eye rolling moments.

  18. Marion says:

    I have finished reading South of the Border, West by the Sun by Haruki Murakami and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor to start off my reading year in 2018. I liked both books and recommend them.

  19. Annette Silveira says:

    So far this month I’ve finished A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, which was a reread and Year Of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub. I’ve given up sweet treats and reading Year Of No Sugar really reinforced my resolve.

  20. Debi Morton says:

    Oh Anne! I love these monthly Quick Lits, and always add more to my TBR from them than I should. In fact, I truly like everything you write, and wouldn’t consider posting this comment if I weren’t so familiar with your wonderful sense of humor. But, unfortunately, I am one of those people who mentally corrects everyone’s grammar without even realizing I’m doing it. So I must admit I did a double take and had to reread the “Manhattan Beach” review a couple of times when I read the sentence, “As a teen, her father disappears without a trace.” Finally, I blinked my eyes, shook my head, and told myself, “No. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her father who was the teen.”
    Please tell me you’re laughing now.
    And other MMD readers, someone else out there, please tell me I’m not the only one who noticed this or I’m going to think I’m a total weirdo!

  21. K says:

    I’m not surprised about Manhattan Beach. Jennifer Egan is such a pretentious writer – A Visit from the Goon Squad was the worst book I’ve ever read.

    • Lindsay says:

      I almost feel like I have to read one of her books simply because of this review! I kind of have the sense that she’s a darling of the critics, and that’s maybe where it ends…

      • K says:

        Yes, I agree! I’m not sure why the critics like her so much. But hey, sometimes reading bad books makes us appreciate the good ones even more 🙂

  22. Emma Simmons says:

    Such a slow beginning for my reading in 2018. Finished reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson which is my 33rd read from TIME magazine’s Top 100 English-speaking novels since 1923 – I’ve been reading from this list for probably three years… My second January book was Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. Have no idea where I acquired this book (this happens a lot), had never heard of it, but I zipped through it over two days and continue to think about that group of people whose lives intertwined. I was SO impressed with this book.

  23. Jennifer N. says:

    Currently I am reading Never Let Me Go, which I misplaced for about a week, so I am also in the middle of Murder on the Orient Express (I typically only read one book at a time.) I’m also listening to Insurgent, book 2 of the Divergent Trilogy. The only books I’ve finished since the New Year are audiobooks: Troublemaker, Leah Remini’s memoir (4 stars!), and Silver Sparrow, which I liked but had some issues with the narration.

  24. Sarah says:

    Currently working my way though Ken Follett’s latest, Column of Fire, the third books in his Kingsbridge series, and LOVING it! Pillars of the Earth is the first book I read by him, and while the second book in the series didn’t hold my attention, I really am enjoying this third installment!

  25. I listened to Plainsong on audio many years ago during my commute to work (pre-kids!) and it was one of my favorite audiobooks of all time. I don’t think the narrator is the same on Audible, though, sadly. I remember being very upset that the sequel (Eventide) had a different narrator and just didn’t hit home as hard for me. I love Haruf’s style so much.

  26. Elizabeth Brink says:

    I’m reading an English novel called South Riding by Winifred Holtby. I just heard of it in the last month and somehow already picked it up. It’s a fascinating story of a poor area in Yorkshire in north England in 1932/1933. I realized I had been reading a lot of fiction with upper middle class characters in southern England in between the wars (authors like Angela Thirkell and P.G. Wodehouse), so it’s been eye-opening to read about poor communities during that same time period. The book wrestles with big topics like local government, self interest v. selfless interest, the role of education, family planning, etc. The individuals characters are compelling. I love it so far. I’m about halfway through. Thanks everyone for sharing what you’re reading! It’s so fun to read.

  27. Faith Raider says:

    This year I’m attempting to finish more books. So instead of starting three books this month and finishing none I have just been reading “Braving the Wilderness” by Brenè Brown and it has been very very good. Rising Strong is still my favorite but this one is very timely.

  28. Lindsay says:

    I will shamelessly admit that I have read FOUR Elin Hilderbrand novels this month. 3 of which were from her Winter Street series. I am not even a big reader of this genre.. but sometimes a good book binge is just what the doctor ordered 🙂

  29. Donna says:

    I always look forward to your Quick Lit posts! I read Benediction by Kent Haruf back in 2015 and
    fell in love with his writing. So spare and beautiful! I also absolutely loved Our Souls at Night which I read in a day. And I just picked up Plain Song over the weekend and I am loving it. It’s my pick for a book by a favourite author for the MMD challenge!
    Two nights ago, I finished The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. It’s definitely one of the best historical novels I’ve read in ages. I was so caught up in the story and didn’t want it to end!
    I am also reading Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly. It is such a fascinating and beautifully-written memoir!
    Back in December, I started your book, Reading People. I am taking my time with it. After each chapter, I step away for a bit and go over the concepts in my mind. I am sooooo fascinated!
    Last night, I picked up The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani, translated from French by Sam Taylor (currently 40% off at my bookstore). I am reading it for the book in translation category! I can’t put it down!

    Happy reading! 🤗

  30. Amelia says:

    I love everything Wiley Cash has written. I read his first book (A Land More Kind Than Home) for a fiction writing class in college when he came to do a reading on our campus and speak to our writing department. He grew up in my hometown, and it’s so exciting to read books about the place I grew up. Gastonia is so small that no one ever really writes about it, but Cash brings it to life, and I just love it. The Last Ballad covers a pretty nasty part of our local history that no one ever talks about; I lived in Gastonia my whole life and had never heard of Ella Mae Wiggins or the strikes. It isn’t taught in schools as part of the local history unit. I grew up going to church about 3 miles from the old mills, and the first school I taught at was in that part of town…and no one ever mentioned the strikes or the violence or any of this history. But now is the perfect time to start talking about it, since it bears so many parallels to current events.

    The reading life of a high school English teacher is complicated…I only get to read for myself over breaks, because while school is in session, I’m reading what my students are reading (3 different books with 3 different groups of students). For myself, I’m currently reading Brown Girl Dreaming, The Hate U Give, and Between the World and Me; I have a tendency to read very WASP-y male MFA pretentious literary fiction on my own, but I teach in a very diverse school and need to be able to recommend more books that meet my students’ reading levels and feature characters they can connect with, so I’m trying to branch out. I have Dear Martin, All-American Boys, and Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter stacked on my table to read next, and I want to find some books that feature Pakistan, Syria, Vietnam, and refugee/immigrant stories in general after that. I just reread A Thousand Splendid Suns with my students and reread Anthem (Ayn Rand) on my own to prepare for teaching it. I recently finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and really loved that one. I started Reconstructing Amelia about 2 months ago but didn’t have time to read it, so I loaned it to a student and just got it back; I’ll probably try to finish that one soon too.

    • Amelia says:

      Oh, and I just finished A Darker Shade of Magic on Audible. I enjoyed the story but wasn’t crazy about the audio performance.

  31. Birgitta Qvarnström Frykner says:

    I got a new book from i think book bub by The Garment makers daughter, after one side i was hooked up Hillare Stern is the author,
    another more “famous” book is the Fire and Fury by Michel Wolff, well i was not that suprised, everything you have heard on news is in a way confirmed. Holly and Mistletoe by Brenda Hyatt , Barbara Hamleys biogrofy of Mrs Lincoln, the emancipators wife. These are some of the books i have read since christmas, but i could list 10 more, these are the best

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