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, the 2021 Summer Reading Guide is almost here—which means that after months of reading primarily brand new and forthcoming novels, my personal book selections are swinging towards the backlist.

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 my current reads 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 on what I’ve been reading lately

The Unseen World

The Unseen World

You may recognize Moore’s name from her newer release Long Bright River. I bought the audiobook of this older title years ago—and finally listened this month! The story follows a young girl whose world collapses when her single father’s undisclosed Alzheimer’s begins disrupting the happy pair's peaceful existence. David is a brilliant scientist, but as he comes to terms with his encroaching illness, he begins to plan for Ada's future without him. But he runs out of time, and never gets to tell his daughter the truth about his own identity—and why he isn't the person he'd always claimed to be. Years later, a visit from a long-lost friend prompts Ada to investigate her father's history, relying on everything he'd taught her about computers and coding to decrypt the clues he left for her years ago. Wonderful on audio, as narrated by Lisa Flanagan. More info →
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After reading A Place Like Mississippi, I was inspired to learn more about Margaret Walker, who spent her early years in New Orleans and went on to become a prominent writer of the Chicago Black Renaissance. Walker was a prolific poet; Jubilee is her only novel. The sweeping story follows a slave named Vyry through the antebellum era, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, focusing on her struggles and suffering, the men she loved, the children she bore, and her constant yearning for freedom. Walker modeled her protagonist after her own great-grandmother. I read the 50th anniversary edition and loved poet Nikki Giovanni’s foreword. (Sensitive readers, be aware of a handful of difficult scenes involving beating, lynching, racism, and cruelty.) More info →
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The Downstairs Girl

The Downstairs Girl

I loved this when I first read it on audio, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, and I'm rereading in print to prep for our Book Club conversation with Stacey Lee later this month. Set in Gilded Age Atlanta, our May 2021 MMD Book Club pick features a strong teenage heroine who gets herself into hot water when her anonymous advice column soars in popularity. Chinese American Jo works as a lady’s maid for the grumpy, privileged daughter of a wealthy white family. But in her scarce free time, she writes an anonymous advice column called Dear Miss Sweetie. Pretty soon Jo's sassy column is the talk of the town, and the fussy society ladies yearn to know Miss Sweetie's true identity, never suspecting the peril that would put Jo and her family in. This engaging novel shone a light on little-known historical events, something I always love in this genre. More info →
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Philosophy for Polar Explorers

Philosophy for Polar Explorers

After enjoying Walking: One Step at a Time, which I wrote about in January’s edition of Quick Lit, I was eager to read more from Norwegian author and explorer Kagge. This short and compact book is part philosophy, part grand adventure, and part survival tale. Kagge was the first person to visit all three poles by foot, trekking the North Pole, South Pole, and Mt. Everest. He records his adventures in this small volume, along with philosophical musings prompted by his journeys. The stunning photos from his polar expeditions and related illustrations upped my appreciation for the stories recounted in these pages. Translated by Kenneth Stevens. More info →
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About the Author: A Novel

About the Author: A Novel

Jennifer Weiner first put this book on my radar when she mentioned it as an all-time favorite in WSIRN Episode 234: The Recipe for a Delicious Summer Read. This twisty 2002 novel features a wannabe author who, despite his pretensions, can't write anything worth publishing. But then his studious roommate dies in a tragic accident, leaving behind a brilliant manuscript that's not only ready for publication, but based heavily on the wannabe author's own life. He lands a literary agent, publishes "his" masterpiece," zooms to the top of the bestseller's list—and only then finds out he's not the only one who knew about his roommate's manuscript. If you like the sound of this one, keep an eye out in the 2021 Summer Reading Guide, which features several thrillers about authors behaving badly. More info →
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The Great Fire

The Great Fire

Anne Helen Peterson recommended this 2003 National Book Award winner on an upcoming episode of What Should I Read Next, describing it as a story of longing (her favorite!) and impossible love. The story opens in 1947 with British War hero Aldred Leith arriving in Japan on official business: he's tasked with documenting the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing, and while on assignment falls in love with Helen Driscoll, a woman 15 years his junior, who is just 16 when they meet. While the story is compelling, what I really loved in this novel was Hazzard's introspective style and carefully crafted structure. I love discovering hidden backlist gems like these through WSIRN podcast guests, and I can’t wait for you to hear the episode. 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. 8 calming nonfiction books to read when you’re stressed, a few notable spring reads, and 13 excellent YA historical novels for readers at any age.


Leave A Comment
  1. Lis Moriarty says:

    I’m so excited for The Downstairs Girl – I’ve been waiting for my library hold to come up, but I might just give audio a try instead! and loved the teaser in there about a category in the Summer Reading Guide – the countdown is really on!!

    I’ve been reading (and loving) a bit of everything including The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen (historical fiction), Hana Khan Carries On (so good!), listening to One Two Three by Laurie Frankel and just finished The Guncle which totally took me by surprise in the best possible way. Some of my husband’s and children’s reads are also in my quick lit…


    • Kara says:

      I enjoyed your list of recommendations! When it comes to time management, I also like the work of Laura Vanderkam. Thanks for sharing!

    • What a fantastic list of books! I wouldn’t have thought some of them were similar to Anne until I read your post! I think I read 3/4 of the books on the list and loved them all! I think I would also add Heidi as well since she is an orphan who makes the best out of a hard situation and has a sweet, wholesome character.

  2. Nicole Eitzen says:

    I am currently listening to The Lost Apothecary. Just finished paperback The Opposite of Love which was a quick read that I loved. Right now reading Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson which is powerful!

  3. This month I’ve been catching up on some backlist hits I missed the first time around like “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett and “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng and finally enjoying a reread of a favorite series – The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer! I’m also currently reading “The Cruelest Month” by Louise Penny and “Cribsheet” by Emily Oster.


  4. Sara F. says:

    This month I read The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley (3 stars from me) and KatherineParr: the Sixth Wife by Alison Weir (4 stars from me). Both were historical, so I am now going into the future with sci fi—The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. Would love to hear another WSIRN with a die hard sci fi fan.

  5. Kasia says:

    At the moment I’m reading When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O‘Neal and This Navy Doctor Came Ashore by Charles Read.
    Yesterday I finished Nazi Wives by James Wyllie. 😊

  6. Carolyn says:

    I’m currently listening to “Decluttering at the Speed of Life.” While My clutter isn’t hoarding level, the author really speaks to me. Such a great audiobook. I also recently read and listened to “Too Much Us Not Enough”by Andrew Rannells. I love that he focuses on the years before he got his big break. The latest Maisie Dobbs book was wonderful (“The Consequences of Fear”by Jacqueline Winspear) while “Dear Mrs. Bird” by AJ Pearce was just okay.

    • Rita says:

      Have you read Jacqueline Winspear’s memoir? It’s so good. The title is This Time Next Year we’ll Be Laughing. It’s so good and you learn where so much of her Maisie Dobb’s series comes from.

  7. Tracey says:

    The two big highlights of my reading this month are:
    -We, Jane by Aimee Wall about women working to protect access to reproductive rights in rural Newfoundland, Canada. The style reminded me very much of Sally Rooney’s writing.
    I also loved Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I bought it, back in 2019, because it had come up a few times on WSIRN and it sounded great. But I only read it now and ended up reading her second book first. It was so great!

  8. Leslie says:

    This month has had a lot more downs than ups. I spent a large portion of the month so far reading fairy tale re-tellings by Melanie Cellier as a way to escape. I also read the extremely lovely House in the Cerulean Sea. I have just begun the book Wintering by Katherine May. So far it is everything I thought it would be, and more,

  9. Carol Blunier says:

    I recently read The Underground Airlines, by Ben Winters and it was excellent as an audio book. It takes place in a present day USA but in this book, the Civil War never happened and there is still slavery in some states. It is an interesting look at racism and the issue of slavery. It’s a bit controversial because the author is white, but I didn’t realize he was white until after I read it.I thought the way people in power tried to make themselves feel better (less culpable) about a really horrible situation was very accurate.
    On a lighter note, Eileen Garvin’s The Music of Bees was a heartwarming book about healing and creating family from strangers.

  10. About the Author sounds like a ride! I read The Downstairs Girl in the last year—so fun that you get to chat with the author. I can’t remember–was this her first novel?

    My reading life has been a little all over the place lately because we went for my years-in-the-making dream this spring of starting a flower farm. With how heavily my reads in the past months have been about flower farming and flower arranging and the flower world in general, I’m looking forward to your Summer Reading Guide so I can maybe lean towards something else for awhile!

    Here’s what I’ve been reading the past couple months:


  11. Jackie says:

    I recently finished the new John Grisham, Sooley, and thought it was great. I’ve made it to book 7 of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series and just started the fifth book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series. I usually listen to both series on audio. I loved The Downstairs Girl and am looking forward to the author chat. And, I’m going to start The Phone Booth at The Edge of The World today.

  12. Marcia says:

    Our University Club book group will be reading The Downstairs Girl which I am looking forward to, also like the cover. Just finished The Paris Apartment which was a page turner. I also really enjoyed the historical novel, The Paris Library. I am always taken with the covers of books, seem to be reading about Paris or WW 2. Need to break this cycle!

    • Diane says:

      I also just finished The Paris Library and found it so interesting. I was unaware theU.S. had a library there and it just celebrated 100 years. There were many true and brave events in this book. I was only interested in Odiles story and not Lily’s.

  13. Maria Ontiveros says:

    Highly recommend Winter Counts – hard boiled crime thriller set on a Lakota reservation – great characters and lots of interesting insight into indigenous spirituality and food. Pretty violent; recommended for fans of Longmire, CJ Box and Bosch.
    Also listened to Girl, Woman, Other and loved it. Interrelated short stories of Black women in Great Britain that won the Booker Prize.

  14. Margaret says:

    Just finished The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner and Carnegies Maid by Marie Benedict. I’m listening to The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Thank you to everyone for sharing their recommendations 😊

  15. Jennifer Geisler says:

    I am about 100 pages into Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir and REALLY enjoying it. (Weir wrote The Martian, which was also excellent.) It’s the well written story of one man’s efforts to save the world (in a space ship that has taken him to another galaxy), and has quiet humor throughout. I find myself drawn to science fiction these days, especially the books that focus on combining ideas and forces to solve problems. AND, I’m delightedly working my way through Eeboo’s Jane Austen’s Book Club 1000 piece puzzle! Gorgeous colors and a challenge.

  16. I’ve found myself unintentionally reading the world. Last wrap-up I had visited South Korea, Norway, and the USA through my books. In this month’s wrap-up, I had returned to the USA and also visited the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. And it’s continuing with my current reads. I may need to add Erling Kagge’s book mentioned by Anne to my TBR!

    Here’s what I’ve been reading lately: http://www.avikinginla.com/2021/05/what-ive-been-reading-lately-april-2021/

  17. Pam says:

    I’m currently reading and enjoying Deacon King Kong. Recently finished The Lost Girls by Heather Young and Child 44.

  18. Will add Downstairs Girl and Polar Explorers to my TBR. And the misbehaving author.
    Recently read and enjoyed:
    To Save a King by Rachel Hauck
    Under The Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey
    Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

  19. Bobbi Dover says:

    Writers and Loversby Lily King was wonderful. Started slow and was so well done, I found the references to authers and books wonderful. Her depiction of grieg, love and life was inspring and not “kitchy”. It felt real.
    10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak is a book I will not soon forget. I chose it for our book group after having read one Honor, one of her many other books. Shafak was born in Turkey and writes in both english and her native language. The book s breathtaking, sad, honest and pays homage to those on the “outskirts’ of life. The book tells the story of a woman who has been killed and in her last few minutes of consciousness remembers her life and her friends. The story is breathtaking and Shafak once again reminds us about humanity in all it’s forms.

  20. Bobbi Dover says:

    Writers and Lovers by Lily King was wonderful. Started slow and was so well done, I found the references to writers and books wonderful. Her depiction of grief, love and life was inspring and not “kitchy”. It felt real.
    10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak is a book I will not soon forget. I chose it for our book group after having read Honor, one of her many other books. Shafak was born in Turkey and writes in both English and her native language. The book s breathtaking, sad, honest and pays homage to those on the “outskirts’ of life. The book tells the story of a woman who has been killed and in her last few minutes of consciousness remembers her life and her friends. Shafak once again reminds us about humanity in all it’s forms.

  21. Gayle Lawrence says:

    I’m reading “Fifty Words for Rain” by Asha Lemmie. The story is a powerful one of loss, love, and finding strength despite terrible hardship. The multigenerational story is set in post WWII Japan and follows the life Nori, a mixed race child who is hidden away in an attic by her cruel grandparents. I’m loving it!

  22. Jennice says:

    My mother passed away a week ago so I haven’t been up to reading much. I am getting back into a ARC I’ve had for months,Let’s Get Back To The Party by Zak Salih. I’m also restarting Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom In Howard Hughes’s Hollywood by Karina Longworth ( if you love Old Hollywood stories and movies check out her podcast, You Must Remember This). Here’s the last book I reviewed:


  23. Betsy says:

    I’ve added The Great Fire to my TBR! I just finished “Who is Maude Dixon?” By Alexandra Andrews. Great read that I consumed in 2 days! If you liked “Talented Mr Ripley” and “Writers and Lovers”, this is your next best read!

  24. Rita Morgan says:

    Just finished Dancing in the Mosque. It’s a memoir/ letter to her son and it s so good. Mostly set in Afghanistan, I viewed a world I know so little about.

  25. Micaela says:

    I LOVED The Unseen World. I want to recommend it to everyone because it was a random library find for me a few years ago and I think it’s so good. Jubilee was required reading in High School and I was always 100 pages ahead of the class because I was so invested. I keep meaning to revisit it.

    Lately I’ve been reading YA, which is unusual for me. I just finished and loved With The Fire On High and It’s Kind of A Cheesy Love Story.

  26. Jaime says:

    Just Started: Disability edited by Alice Wong – enjoying it so far!

    Just Finished: Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin – such a great read! Thank you to Anne for introducing this author to me in the 2019 (I think?) Summer Reading Guide. I loved Ayesha at Last!

    Currently Reading: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi &
    The Connected Parent by Karyn Purvis

  27. Tammy says:

    I’ve read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, which was terrific and one of my top reads of the year so far, and Detransition, Baby. Starting Bel Canto, I’ve heard great things about this one!

  28. Molly says:

    I just checked out The Unseen World on audio book from my library. My current Kindle read is Eleanor Roosevelt’s You Learn by Living. I just started reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern in print.

  29. Katie says:

    I’ve bookmarked a couple of these books to read… Man, my TBR is really getting out of hand these days!

    I just finished Underland by Robert Macfarlane, which was a mesmerizing nonfiction read about underground spaces.

  30. Margaret Malcolm says:

    Just finished reading How Lucky by Will Leitch. It was so inspiring and also very funny. So, so good!

  31. Brianna says:

    I’m so excited for this year’s summer reading guide. I signed up for Patreon to get it early – I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend the unboxing (work is nutty right now), but I’m excited to get some new books in the TBR pile.

  32. Ellen Zimmerman says:

    Just finished “Boy Swallows Universe” by Trent Dalton. Couldn’t put it down! Another of my fav for 2021 (so far) is “We Begin at the End” by Chris Whitaker. So many good books, so little time ….

  33. Dee says:

    I just finished The Final Revival of Opal and Nev, and I reread The Prince of Tides. Now I’m reading Long Bright River.

    But I came here to say hello to Daisy! What a great picture!

  34. Verna says:

    Thank you so so much for recommending The Downstairs Girl! I listened to it over two days and still have happy tears! All the stars 💗💗💗
    Added bonus: the 🐎 🐎 🐎!

  35. Sarah says:

    My BIL’s pick for book club is “Sometimes a Great Notion” by Ken Kesey. I’ve been working through it on audiobook, which took a minute to get oriented in because the narrative flows wildly from person to person, often switching perspective and voice rapidly. However, once I got settled in, I can really appreciate the different strong character’s he’s able to create. The tale revolves around the complex Stamper family, loggers in Oregon in the 60’s, particularly the strained relationship between two brothers. I’m a bit partial to the title since I love the song Goodnight Irene, whence the line comes.

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