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 been re-reading a great deal lately, as you’ll see, but that’s about to change—would you believe it’s almost time to start vetting books for the 2020 Summer Reading Guide?

I hope you’ve read some good stuff lately. Please tell us all about your recent reads in comments!

Quick Lit November 2019
The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession

The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this in preparation for my chat with its author, Charlie Lovett, at a live event in Winston-Salem last month; this literary mystery is tailor-made for bibliophiles, beginning in 1995 Hay-on-Wye, and then traveling back in time, first to Victorian England, and then to Shakespeare’s time, in pursuit of the bookish truth. Charlie and I had a wonderful time discussing the enduring power of books and stories, how books connect people of all ages and times, the art of literary forgery, marginalia, symbolism, and much much more. If you’re thinking I wish I could have been there, you can listen in on the podcast,What Should I Read Next episode 208, "The under-appreciated art of literary forgery." More info →
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The Dutch House: A Novel

The Dutch House: A Novel

When I talked about this in our Fall Book Preview, I mentioned that I already wanted to read this one again—and then I did. For my second run through The Dutch House, I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Tom Hanks. (It was great.) Some critics are calling this Patchett’s “masterpiece.” I need time to decide if I agree, but I certainly loved it; it's an excellent pick for any reader who loves dysfunctional family stories or any kind of family saga, books that track people and relationships over decades, or stories of love and betrayal and forgiveness. If you like a character-driven novel that doesn’t sacrifice plot—what I’d call “compulsively readable literary fiction,” this belongs on your TBR. More info →
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Miracles and Other Reasonable Things

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things

I've been eagerly awaiting this new spiritual memoir, which Sarah has repeatedly described as "a bit weird"—and I am here for that—as well as "one part memoir, one part a theological exploration of the ideas, hopes, and devastations of miracles or the lack thereof." This is the story of the devastating car accident that triggered the crippling fibromyalgia that caused a spiritual seeker to see the landscape in a new way. I loved the combination of the quotidian and the miraculous, the earnest search for answers that remain incomplete, plus the writing here is absolutely lovely. More info →
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Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace

William Kent Krueger is a fairly new addition to my literary radar; this backlist title was ardently recommended by readers with great taste. In small town Minnesota, 1961, a 13-year-old boy is suddenly brought face to face with death, and it ushers him into a very adult world of love and loss and all their complications. Five people in his community die that year, Frank tells us in the opening pages, and this is his account of what happens, what it meant then, and what it means to him now. Recommended for Louise Penny fans, yes, and also those who enjoyed Snow Falling on Cedars and this year's Summer Reading Guide pick The Current. More info →
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The Family Upstairs: A Novel

The Family Upstairs: A Novel

Lisa Jewell has a gift for coming up with intriguing premises, and her new novel is no exception. Shortly after Libby turns 25, she gets a letter from the trust attorneys. She’s been expecting the letter her whole life; her biological parents died when she was young, and she knew about the trust. But the contents of the letter shock her: Libby didn’t expect to inherit much, but she’s suddenly the owner of a mansion on the finest street in Chelsea. She soon discovers the house has a tragic past, and she is intimately tied to the tragedy. And what’s more, she learns she has a family out there somewhere—one she hasn’t seen in 25 years. A spine-tingling mystery. More info →
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What have YOU been reading lately? Tell us about your recent reads—or link up a blog or instagram post about them—in comments. 

P.S. 16 books recommended by indie booksellers and 4 authors that take you to plot school with intricately-plotted mysteries.

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Leave A Comment
  1. Susan in TX says:

    We overlap with a few here! I, too, recently read Ordinary Grace and the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking it reminded me of the 1986 movie Stand By Me (which I haven’t seen since it came out in 1986, so I have NO IDEA why my brain was making that connection — my memory for plot/details is never great). But, it’s made me wonder if people with better memories, or someone who may have seen that movie more recently felt similarly?
    I enjoyed the Dutch House more than I thought I would — I’m getting better about enjoying slow, quiet books vs. plot driven. Also read The Lovely War that you featured last time and really enjoyed it!

  2. Emily Murphy says:

    In the last month I’ve read several books, but the standouts are as follows:
    The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan – the movie is on hold for me at the library and I can’t wait. I usually like movies starring Woody Harrelson, though sometimes they are a bit too rough for me
    The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – this was my first Agatha Christie book and I’ll certainly be back for more!
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – found this one on your podcast, of course, and can’t say enough good things about it.
    I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – read with my kiddos and we all shared some giggles. So cute
    Can’t wait to see what November holds for this reader!

  3. Gwen says:

    I’m reading The Library of the Unwritten right now, and loving it. Great for book-lovers. In the last month I’ve read a bunch of great books, I’m on a roll. Olive, Again (loved it), The Stationery Shop (loved it), Queenie, Flash Count Diary, Thick, Lanny, Thirteen Doorways Wolves Behind Them All (how could I resist that title?!), The Water Dancer, Inland…seriously, the last month has been the best reading month of the year for me.

  4. Lizabeth Snell says:

    I so agree about The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and performed by Tom Hanks.. just loved his voice talking to me. And loved story & characters…
    Also a bit obsessed by Penny Ried’s Knitting series.. these women have back stories that shape how they see the world.. and then things happen to change the stories.. they’re light and a bit corny and just a very fine diversionary read.. I’ve read the first 2 and will undoubtedly finish the series over time..
    The Code Talker, by Chester Nez was totally fascinating and interesting to me… memoir of one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers. Well told.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I’m so happy you read, and loved, Ordinary Grace. It was one of my favorites I read in 2018!
    I am listening to The Dutch House now and loving it but also reading The Secret Place by Tana French.

    • Emily Johnson says:

      I’ve never read Ann Patchett either, so you are not alone Caroline! I just put myself on the library’s hold list for “The Dutch House” though. Hopefully, it’s not too long of a wait!

  6. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve not heard of any of these.

    I read:

    Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell (a lady botanist in he 1850s is pressured to leave the profession and get married)

    Moby Dick by Herman Melville (the whale wins…)

    The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay (a young lawyer inherits her aunt’s bookshop)

    Jessie’s Hope by Jennifer Hallmark (a young woman in a wheelchair is about to be married and tries to contact her estranged father).

    I enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

  7. Pina says:

    So I am about to read The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell. I just need to finish The Huntress first.
    Recently completed reads:
    Three Women – Lisa Taddeo
    Wild Game – Adrienne Brodeur
    A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

    My TBR list is HUGE and perfect for Winter:
    -Bel Canto
    -I capture the Castle
    – The Hearts Invisible Furies
    – No Exit
    – Before we Visited the Goddess
    And many many more.
    Happy reading !

  8. A couple titles on here that I’m eagerly awaiting from my library (Dutch House and Ordinary Grace)! While I wait, I’m also trying to dive into more backlist titles–I finally picked up Parnassus on Wheels at your recommendation (love), and have actually made a whole backlist challenge for myself this winter to keep me on my toes.

    As for what I’ve been reading lately, I’ve had some good ones! Inheritance, The Testaments, Obama’s Becoming (finally), The Dearly Beloved, and Digital Minimalism. I’m trying to cram in a bunch of reading now before my 3rd baby comes in the next month or so!


    • Lis M says:

      “It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories” looks super good and I haven’t seen it before – thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  9. Julie says:

    I loved The Dutch House and am currently reading The Dearly Beloved which I am also really enjoying but my favorite recent read surprised me. I knew I would like it but was surprised by how much I loved it. Link to blog post below for that title and other things I have been up to. Julie

  10. Kathy b says:

    Over the Edge, Death in the Grand Canyon……..fascinating book.
    IF you love the National Parks it is a great read. A dear friend’s husband just got into trouble in the Grand Canyone. He’s’ fine but he should have read this book first

  11. Janet says:

    I loved Olive,Again! I think I may be Olive. Or will be one day!

    Just finished The Overstory by Richard Powers and it was excellent. Am working on Akin by Emma Donoghue and so far am really liking it.

    My public library branch had The Dutch House on its Lucky Day shelf but I had to skip it this time because those books can’t be renewed and I didn’t want to rush through it…perhaps the book gods will be with me next time.

    I have also been in a re-reading mood, and am halfway through the Outlander series for the 2nd time. It’s keeping me extra-excited for my upcoming Scotland trip!!

  12. I already have THE FAMLY UPSTAIRS in my TBR pile – looking forward to it!

    And I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s NINTH HOUSE. It’s not my usual genre, but I’d heard so many good things about it and the author’s other work that I had to give it a try – so glad I did! 🙂

  13. Glen day says:

    I’ve been rereading some old books I discovered on my TBR shelves. (I know I put them there, but when?) One was Stewart Holbrook “Far Corner”, a historical look at the Northwest, written in 1954 or thereabouts. I remember reading it before, and seems like I reread it not too long ago, but it was still very interesting, and led me to look up many of the areas he talks of just to see what it looked like today. So much changes! And now I’m rereading “Watership Down” for reasons I don’t remember, tho the book wrapper does imply it’s also a political story, as well as an adventure, and in that regard it is very interesting, and reminds one of Ben Franklins saying about liberties and safety. And tho I’m not very politically minded, I’ll keep reading!

  14. I read these titles this month:
    * How to Treat People: A Nurse’s Notes, by Molly Case- more about literal patient care than I expected; I was looking to find more metaphorical relevance than I did.
    * The Unhoneymooners, by Christina Lauren- a fun, page-turning, hate-to-love romance read.
    * The Dearly Beloved, by Cara Wall- *the* most thought-provoking fiction I’ve read since Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. There is so much here philosophically and spiritually, but the characters and plot pull it off.
    * The Confusion of Languages, by Siobhan Fallon- didn’t love. The best parts were the epigram (worth looking up: Yahia Lababidi’s poem “What is to Give Light”) and the food descriptions.
    And I’m currently reading Don’t You Forget About Me, by Mhairi McFarlane.

  15. Glen says:

    An addendum….I also recently read A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Very enjoyable, and now I need to buy my very own copy! There are many recipes included that I want to make, but I didn’t want to cook with the library’s copy; I know how that ends! Thanks for recommending it (at least I think you did!)

  16. Mary Taylor says:

    Just finished The Lost Book of the Grail.Have always love king Arthur stories,and loved how Lovett wrote a modern story but integrated history, legend and faith,too.

  17. Lauren D says:

    I read most of my books via audio, but currently flew through the physical copy of “The Truffle Underground” when I couldn’t borrow the audio version through my library. As you said in the most recent podcast, Anne, it was amazing how I was able to “find” multiple hours to read the “tree book.” It was THAT good!

  18. Kim says:

    I just finished “Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keanu.. It’s definitely a page turner. Thanks for recommending. I also finally read “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. It was at a library sale so I picked it up. This will be one of my favorites of the year even if it’s an “old” book. I’m pretty sure I will be rereading this one every so often and now I can see the movie!

    • Sue says:

      If you haven’t read Lisa Genova’s other books, please run and get them!! Every Note Played is powerful and gave me a real understanding of ALS. And, “Left Neglected” is fascinating, as well as ending on a hopeful note!! So well written and interesting, every page, every minute. I am so glad to have insight into these dreadful diseases.

  19. Brittany says:

    I read A Bookman’s Tale (which had been on my physical bookshelf for years now) after listening to your conversation with Charlie Lovett, and I can’t believe it took me this long to pick it up! I read it in just a few days and loved it. I also recently read A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas and have the third book in the series downloaded to my kindle.

  20. Rissie Lundberg says:

    I just read “A Long Day in November” by Ernest J. Gaines and it was beautiful! The story of a little boy and his observations of his parents and their relationship. I would highly recommend this for a quick, cozy November read.

  21. Tami Gandt says:

    I posted to Instagram my stack that I have read through in October and November. They are all part of my 2019 reading goal which most have come from suggestions on the various posts of Modern Mrs. Darcy! This year I have been introduced to many new authors that I probably would never have come across if not for this wonderful “bookish” life found on this site!
    One book that I received from a publisher for free was “The Hunger” by Alma Katsu. A truly gripping supernatural horror story and different take on the misfortune of the Donner Party. I read Agatha Christie for the first time with “Absent in the Spring” and Kristin Hannah “The Great Alone” and absolutely was taken by “A Cup of Tea” by Amy Ephron, such a love tragedy. Lastly I have almost completed all of Elizabeth Strout’s books whom has become one of my favorite authors. I will save “Olive Again” when it comes out in paperback. The is the second year I have participated in this reading challenge 25 books the first year, and 35 books this year. This year I used the type of literature suggestions from this bookclub and it has really challenged me to open myself to all kinds of authors, ideas, triumphs and tragedies. I can’t wait for the 2020 reading challenge. Half the fun was finding a book or books for each category!

  22. Mary Ann Frontz says:

    I have just finished Book Two of the Louise Penney Gammache Series and am ready to read Book Three. I am also currently reading Cutting For Stone and I’m really enjoying it.
    My book clubs will discuss A Woman in the Window next week (I loved this book!)and The Lost Girls of Paris the next week.

  23. Pamela Hall says:

    I finished Miracles and other Reasonable Things this last weekend. I truly loved it. Having been through my own journey with chronic pain following a car accident and chronic health issues and the questions that raises, I related deeply to this book. She explores deep questions and finds truth and meaning and not pat, simplistic answers. I too, choose LIFE.

    Think I need to add the Dutch House to my TBR

    And here is a pick none of you have likely heard of: Molly of the Mall: Literary Lass and Purveyor of Fine Footwear. So good! Based in my city of Edmonton with West Edmonton Mall feature and my Alma mater, the University of Alberta, it features so many nerdy literary references to Moll Flanders, Jane Austen, Robert Burns and the infamous Norton anthology. I wasn’t an English major, but I can appreciate a good nerd out! Very fun.

  24. Helen says:

    I’m feeling happy to be reading something fun for a change- “Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson. It’s about a woman who is hired to be a nanny for two 10 year olds who, when upset, will burst into flames. That’s all I can say, but it’s not what you would expect! Engaging, bright and heartwarming story.

  25. Angela in NC says:

    I loved The Bookman’s Tale and felt meh about The Shadow of the Wind. I am almost finished with Celine and am slowly working my way through Oliver’s A History of Scotland. I also reread Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and fell in love with it all over again.

  26. Margie says:

    Some good books this month:
    The Bookish Life of Nina Hill—Abbi Waxman ( light easy read)
    Celine–Peter Heller ( liked this so much more than The River)
    Shelter– Jung Yun ( family dysfunction at its best, such a page turner)
    A Single Thread– Tracy Chevalier ( reminded me of The Gown)

    And help, I still have a few books to read on the 2019 Summer Reading Guide!

  27. Ginger G says:

    I’m reading I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – so fascinating! I’ve been in a reading rut so it’s good to get back to my favorite genre: memoir.

    Thanks for the reminder about The Dutch House. I feel like this is a good season for family stories.

  28. Teresa Taylor says:

    I’ve had a busy and enjoyable reading month I read Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout and loved it.I hadn’t read Olive Kitteridge so I went back and read that and loved that as well. I also read 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff after hearing about it on WSIRN.Loved Loved. It fit perfectly into my readings about books and bookstores.

  29. Tamara says:

    I recently finished The Vatican Pimpernel by Brian Fleming. It’s about a network of people helping Jews and Allied POWs in Rome. Their leader was a Vatican monsignor. It inspired me to pick up The Forgotten 500, another true WWII story.

    I also finally got to The Unhoneymooners and started Anne’s Reading People.

  30. Peggy Kressin says:

    I am currently reading Bad Blood. As a laboratory professional, I am totally blown away by this book. Of course she, we were keeping up with Theranos at the time, however, I had no idea about the high level people Elizabeth Holmes had sucked in to her scheme. It’s a fascinating read. I hope to finish it this weekend.

  31. Jennifer says:

    I am re-reading Gone with the Wind! I also was skim-reading The Scarlett Letters-letters by Margaret Mitchell about the making of the movie.

  32. Lydia says:

    Hi! Has anyone else noticed that once Anne mentions a book on her podcast or on this list, those books become IMPOSSIBLE to get at the library (I’m talking about 8-10 week wait at least) :)? LOL In all seriousness, I do appreciate this awesome forum of literary critique and banter. Although we need more people who disagree with the books though – you can still be literate and not agree with Anne 🙂
    Happy Reading!

  33. Carole says:

    I’ve been loving the books I’ve read recently: The Water Dancer, The Dutch House, The Secrets We Kept, Nothing To See Here.
    I’m re-reading Celine because book club. I thought it was ok when I read it 2 years ago – but I’m liking it much better now.

  34. Roberta Witbeck says:

    Several books going at once always characterizes my reading style. I am in the very middle of DUCKS, NEWBURYPORT, finished a re-re-read of BLACK AND BLUE for book club last night and began another re-read of ANNA KARENINA. The most startling book of these last two weeks was AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN. It was a world and attitude foreign to me.
    I think I will continue ANNA and read some short stories while on book club Christmas hiatus.

  35. Diane Armijo says:

    I also enjoyed The Bookman’s Tale in October. Watched your interview with Charlie and listened to the podcast – made me love the book more!
    I read Isaac’s Storm before a planned trip to the National Weather Service center in Norman, OK.
    Currently reading Celine for MMD Book Club.

  36. Debra B says:

    Busy month of reading and bookish events. Finished Bookman’s Tale before seeing Anne and Charlie in Winston – LOVED that event. Then listened to Dutch House before seeing Ann PAtchett in person in Asheville. Her chat added several books to my TBR including that I read the middle grade The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – so adorable, sortof an updated and longer version of Velveteen Rabbit. Finished The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan as we were visiting the Biltmore. Didn’t love it. She did a lot of research, but most of the house information I had gotten on the tour and was looking for more insight on the family. Her writing style is very journalistic but also disjointed. Finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Now, this one was again reporting facts and telling multiple stories but felt insightful and seamless. Also finished Educated on audio. We have been listening to this for several months. I cannot say that I liked it. Her writing is lyrical, but the story was hard and unbelievable. I believe people live like that, but there was not enough detail to help me understand how she got from no education to a Ph.D. That said, I commend her strength.

  37. Marion says:

    The Dutch House looks interesting. I’ve only read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and enjoyed it.

    I have finished 2 historical fiction novels set during the Italian Renaissance that I really enjoyed. 1) The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli is a prodigal son type of story about a young man from a gondola making family and how his life changed after the family’s business goes belly up.

    2) The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King. An interesting novel of famed chef Bartolomeo Scappi in 16th century Italy. Scappi’s nephew inherits the famed chef’s remaining posessions and come across his journal. The journal reveals a lot about Scappi’s life that was not known. If you are foodie, then you will The Chef’s Secret.

  38. Bookertalk says:

    Anything described as compulsively readable literary fiction,” has to go into my wish list, not that I needed much persuasion to add Ann Patchett. Just hoping I can get it in reasonable time frame from the library. I suspect there might be quite a queue

  39. Peggy Joyner says:

    I have just added The Night Circus to my top 5 favs of all time! I adored every single character and the storyline was compelling.
    Twenty was interesting but open-ended and that’s my least favorite ending – although probably good book club reading.
    Currently reading Shadows of Foxworth by VC Andrews – I always enjoy her novels! Love it so far!
    Happy reading everyone!

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