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 lovely, if unusual, reading month: on a whim, I embarked on a personal literary project, and it’s greatly impacted what I picked up these last two months. And yet I’ve still managed to read some new, lots of old, and a handful of poetry collections. Today’s round-up reflects that variety.

My favorite part of my reading month is this: I read TWO books where I got to the end and immediately flipped back to the beginning to begin again. That doesn’t happen often, but I so love it when a book provokes that kind of reaction.

Of course, 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

Doctors and Friends

Doctors and Friends

Author:
In late February 2020, Kimmery visited my local bookstore to speak about her then-new book The Antidote to Everything. When asked what she was working on next, she told the audience a little about her next book: a novel about seven female physician friends, and one particular doctor navigating impossible choices in the midst of a global pandemic. In February 2020! We all know what happened next, but in Kimmery's fictional version, it's a deadly artiovirus that sweeps the globe. I know some readers are avoiding pandemic reading at all costs right now, but I loved reading this story right now for the same reasons I love a good classic retelling: I get to enjoy the story on the page, of course, plus scrutinizing how Kimmery's imagined pandemic does and doesn't resemble our own adds another layer of readerly satisfaction (one that I know is not for everybody). I inhaled this book, and appreciated its well-developed female friendships every bit as much as the medical plot line. More info →
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Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle

For those who've only read The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, Whitehead's new novel is going to feel like a huge departure; this is more like Sag Harbor, his 2009 novel set in 1980s New York City. (As you can see, Whitehead has range.) At the center of the story sits Ray Carney, a man caught between two worlds: he wants to be a respectable family man, but can't seem evade the pull of the crime scene of 1960s Harlem, and its profits. This has been often described as a heist novel—and it is—but please know going in that it is carefully-constructed and slow-building, with rich character development and a sly sense of humor. Excellent on audio, as narrated by Dion Graham. More info →
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The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus

Author:
What to say about this book? For the first 75 pages, I was bored to tears. I could not keep the characters straight. I did not understand what Hazzard was up to. But by the end, I thought it to be one of the best books I'd ever read, with a spectacular—if devastating—ending. And then I flipped to the beginning to start again. I knew going in that Hazzard's husband once remarked that no one should have to read this book for the first time; read it and you'll see why. First-time readers should know that Hazzard knows what she's about, that it takes her ten years to write novels because each sentence is constructed with care, that this story, ostensibly about love and family, is every bit as much about power. More info →
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Kyrie: Poems

Kyrie: Poems

I just told you I picked up Doctors and Friends knowing full well it was a pandemic novel. I picked up Kyrie at the suggestion of an author friend who told me it was simply stunning and I had to read it—but when I began I had NO IDEA this collection of blank verse sonnets was about the 1918 influenza pandemic. The dedication, drawn from Alfred Crosby's book America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, reads, "Nothing else—no infection, no war, no famine—has ever killed so many in as short a period." I'm glad I read this, but emotionally, it was a tough go, with lines like, "The weeks of fewer cases were a tease" and "How we survived: we locked the doors and let nobody in." Published in 1995, this is already a modern classic, and I expect readers will be returning to this collection for decades to come. More info →
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Zorrie

Zorrie

Author:
I picked this new-this-year historical novel up at the urging of Wild Geese Bookshop's owner Tiffany Phillips (not realizing it's a National Book Award finalist). It runs just 161 pages, but that's room enough for Hunt to lay out the life story of Zorrie: orphaned young, heads north to flirts with big city living, finds precious work during the Depression as a radium girl, and eventually puts down roots in a tiny Indiana farming town, where she lives out the rest of her days. This is beautifully written, with strong Wendell Berry and Kent Haruf vibes, yet lacking the strong sense of redemption of those authors' stories. It's so sad. That being said, if you like stories that stick with a character over decades, even their whole lifetime, and grapple with longing, love, and loss, this is a good pick. More info →
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After You’d Gone

After You’d Gone

This was another book where I read the final paragraph and turned back to the beginning to read it again. I'm working my way through Maggie O'Farrell's backlist, and this, her 2000 debut, may be my favorite of her older works. Told from multiple points of view, in multiple timelines, it took me a few chapters to find my footing, but once I did I blew through this compelling mix of love story, mystery, and compelling family saga. You should know that terrible, seemingly random tragedies beset characters in O'Farrell's novels, yet in her plots these surprising turns don't feel cheap, but all too true to our own real life experiences. (As one character muses, "Why isn't life better designed so it warns you when terrible things are about to happen?") You'll see this again on my Best of the Year list. More info →
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Once Upon a Wardrobe

Once Upon a Wardrobe

Author:
Fans of The Chronicles of Narnia and Becoming Mrs. Lewis, take note: Patti's new book tells the story behind the story of Narnia. In alternating timelines, we meet a young Jack Lewis, whose life was largely emptied of love after his mother died. And we meet another 8-year-old boy, chronically ill and fated to die young, whose greatest joy might come from a book: the recently published novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Despite the sorrow inherent to the premise, the book is full of joy: I don't use the word "charming" a lot, but it certainly applies here. I listened to the audio version on Libro.fm; Fiona Hardingham's narration is lovely. 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. My new reading journal is now out in the world and available for purchase wherever new books are sold. This weekend I signed a giant stack at my local indie Carmichael’s Bookstore: place your order now if you’d like one.

P.P.S. Speaking of My Reading Life: that top photo shows the habit tracker found on pages 12-13! It’s designed so you can shade in one diamond for each day you read of a given month, but it’s also designed to be flexible: because I read 363 days a year, I’m using it to track how many books I read every month instead. To hear more about book journaling and the My Reading Life journal in particular, don’t miss What Should I Read Next Episode 305: Read yourself like a book.

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85 comments | Comment

85 comments

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  1. I’ve loved Kimmery Martin’s other two books so I know I”ll be reading this one as well. I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s new one that comes out at the end of the month, also based on a global pandemic.

    I’m sharing two books today, one recommended by Anne a while ago and recently realized our library had it. Plus another YA that I absolutely loved.

    https://www.sincerelystacie.com/2021/11/quick-lit-mini-reviews-of-some-recent-reads-november-2021-edition/

  2. Beth Gross says:

    I’m waiting impatiently to get my hands on a copy of Once Upon a Wardrobe. I love Narnia and Patti Callahan’s books.

    Right now I’m in the middle of Lisa Wingate’s Book of Lost Friends. I just read one of her backlist titles, Lone Star Cafe, and feel like she’s leveled up significantly in her recent novels compared to her older ones.

    The Book of Lost Friends switches back and forth between two story threads in two different centuries. Sometimes that literary device feels like a lazy way to keep the reader’s attention, but I feel like it works here.

    And maybe it’s not the writer’s fault that we continue to shorten our attention spans with constant social media scrolling and it takes more movement in a novel to keep a reader’s focus.

    On another note, I posted a list on my blog of Books Like Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. The depth and insight of Lysa Terkuerst’s book took me by surprise, so I analyzed what I liked so much and went looking for similar books.

    https://purplecrayonyourworld.com/more-books-like-forgiving-what-you-cant-forget/

    • I couldn’t find where to comment, so I will do it here… Beth, SO many great books on that list! The Hiding Place, Women of the Word, Love Does, Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, The 5 Love Languages, The Power of a Praying Wife, Life Together, and One Thousand Gifts all shaped in life-changing ways! It sounds like I need to check out Forgiving What YoU Can’t Forget!

      • Susan V says:

        Dear Elena and Beth, I agree with that list of AMAZING list! I own and have read all but 2 of those!! I should read the Lysa TerKeurst book too!! Going back to Lisa Wingate, the first ones I read by her were the series that starts with The Prayer Box, the Carolina Chronicles books.

    • Amy says:

      I love this series. I read Clan of the Cave Bear in High School and have revisited the series several times. I put off reading the last book, Land of Painted Caves, for many years due to poor reviews. But at the end of 2019 I reread all the books and then that one. It will forever be one of my favorites. I really liked the second book, Valley of the Horses but my favorite of the series is the third, the Mammoth Hunters.

  3. Jelan says:

    Just finished Bewilderment by Richard Powers. What an amazing book! I filled up the “quotes” section of My Reading Life in the first 30 pages. Such wonderful prose. And a beautiful, heart-breaking story. I definitely need to head to his backlist.

  4. Emily says:

    I’m so happy The Transit of Venus has been re-issued. I read it in the early 80’s when it was a new buzzy book, and it was one I passed on to many friends. The title featured in a hilarious game of charades, where the poor guy giving the clues had to think of something that “sounds like” Venus and pointed to a body part – you can imagine.

  5. ClaraB says:

    How much did I love The Transit of Venus? There’s not enough space here to tell you. I appreciate that it may not be to everyone’s taste, but, still, I can’t help recommending it to everyone. Hazzard packs so much into every sentence that the book benefits from being read slowly, but as you discovered, Anne, it’s well worth the effort. Your post reminded me that I’ve been wanting to read it again, so thanks for that!

  6. Gayle Lawrence says:

    I’m reading Doctors and Friends, too, and wish I could spend the rest of the morning reading. I’ve read a lot of pandemic books since the beginning of 2020 and, like Anne, I like to compare the similarities and differences to what we are experiencing in real life. I don’t think I’ve read anything that compares to the Covid cultural wars we’ve experienced. But, people react in unusual and sometimes radical ways in real life and in fiction when they’re faced with a global crisis like a pandemic.

  7. Becky says:

    I recently finished The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. Wow was it good! I read the 592 page book in one week. It’s in my top ten all time favorites along with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

  8. Lynn says:

    I just got both Doctors and Friends and Once Upon A Wardrobe and am so excited to read them. I have heard great things about both books. I have read multiple nonfiction books about pandemics this year so I am really looking forward to reading Doctors and Friends to see how a doctor writes a fiction version. My daughter loves poetry, so I might have to get her the poetry book that you mentioned. For my backlist book challenge, I recently read a historical fiction book that I loved and a nonfiction memoir that I also loved. https://fromourbookshelf.com/backlist-books-challenge-september-and-october-reads/

  9. Sandy says:

    I remember The Transit of Venus fondly! I just finished Fredrick Backman’s Anxious People, and am halfway through Richard Powers’ Bewilderment.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I just finished Matrix by Lauren Groff, who know a story about a nunnery in 1100’s England could be so compelling! I could not put it down.

    Adding The Transit of Venus to my TBR.

  11. njbrit says:

    Louise Penny always comes through. Her latest is timely and this one makes you think about our world. Thank you Louise for: The Madness of Crowds.

  12. Cat Connell says:

    Anne, I couldn’t agree more about After You’d Gone; it’s brilliant. The scene in the first chapter that sets up the action, I can’t describe the feeling I had while I was reading it. I was sucked in, yet terrified by what the character was experiencing – how just living can be its own horror sometimes.

    I just finished Cloud Cuckoo Land – I thought it soared. Lovely, and hard.

    Thank you for this wonderful and broad range of books to add to my TBR!

    • Anne says:

      I’m so glad to hear your thoughts about After You’d Gone, because I can’t find anyone else I know who’s read it yet! Thank you for sharing.

      And I’m thrilled you enjoyed Cloud Cuckoo Land! “Soared” is a wonderful description.

  13. Mia@MiaTheReader says:

    Okay, If I don’t read Once Upon a Wardrobe by Christmas this year, I’ll eat my hat. You’ve totally convinced me to read it, and also to finally get into Maggie O’Farrell. My recent reads are on the blog today, too, and I’ve just been surprisingly delighted with most everything I’ve picked up lately. It’s a November miracle!

  14. Mary says:

    After you recommended This Must be the Place, (LOVED it!) I have also been reading O’Farrell’s backlist, so far The Hand that First Held Mine and Instructions for a Heatwave. Loved them both and have been raving about her to my friends. I hadn’t heard of her until she received such praise for “Hamnet”. I had been “saving” that listen but your recommendation of “Place” has led me to her earlier works and I will continue to save “Hamnet” for last. Thank you so much, I just love her work!

  15. Casey Martin says:

    I enjoyed Kimmery Martin’s first book – this one sounds great too!
    I just finished Nemesis Games, the fifth novel in The Expanse series. Finishing that series is my literary project for the next several months.
    I also finished Broken in the best Possible Way by Jenny Lawson and How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis. Both are excellent reading in the mental health realm.
    Next up is Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, part of the Vorkosigan Saga. I guess I have *two* sci fi series going as long-term lit projects!

  16. Cheryl says:

    I just recently finished Beautiful Country by Wang. She painted a powerful picture of immigration and poverty that gave me a much needed understanding of that experience. I loved her use of a child’s voice.

  17. Kasia says:

    I’m reading – If he had been with me by Laura Nowlin. I think it’s actually set in Louisville. That’s my slow book. Then my faster book is „The Residence“ by Kate Andersen Brower

  18. So many books in this roundup that I’ve never heard of by well-known authors to me! I read As Bright as Heaven at the beginning of the pandemic last year, and I found it oddly comforting, but then when I tried to reread it for my book club this month, I no longer found it as enjoyable. I’m curious as to how I’d feel reading that first one on your list.

    Here’s what I’ve been reading lately, including Crying in H Mart, Lovely War (finally), and some nonfiction picks.

    https://www.toloveandtolearn.com/2021/11/15/loving-and-learning-lately-39/

  19. Kristy says:

    I have been choosing randomly from my book pile and am truly enjoying an older book, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Her writing is so lyrical and the story is a love song to nature.

  20. Carrie Padgett says:

    I just started Hamnet and will definitely look for After You’d Gone. I’ve been on a Beatriz Williams kick. I listened to the first two in her Wicked City trio, The Wicked City and The Wicked Redhead. The Wicked Widow is up soon. I loved her One Hundred Summers and The Secret Life of Violet Gordon. I just finished The Invisible Husband of Frick Island and enjoyed it a lot

  21. Janna says:

    I am almost finished listening to Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner and I’ve loved it–war is a horrible, horrible thing and for some reason this book has really gotten to me–the way we treated citizens of the US, the innocent people lost in fighting they had nothing to do with, the concentration camps, war is horrible. I also just finished News of the World by Paulette Jiles which at times I also found hard to read–why are people so evil and mean. And I just started The President’s Daughter–snagged a copy at my tiny local library at our winter home in Arizona.

  22. Lisa says:

    I just completed a book pairing of an old title and a relatively new one: Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and The Midnight Library. The themes are not identical but very complementary. I am not a big King reader, but I loved this long book.

  23. Nancy says:

    I am a fan of Kate DiCamillo’s books for middle grade and/or YA readers, and her newest book The Beatryce Prophecy is lovely. I’d call it a cross between a morality tale and a fable with enough layers that I am planning to reread it soon to see what I missed. Her writing is spot on, and her focus on words and reading and human kindness resonated with me.

  24. Claire Long says:

    So glad to hear you have read and loved “The Transit of Venus” – still my #1 favourite book after 5+ reads, and 30 years of knowing it. Be warned – the ending still gets to you every single re-read, which is surely a sign of a true classic. This is a staple on Australian literature courses and much beloved as well as praised in Australian literary circles.

    • Anne says:

      I happened to sit next to her at an event in NC last month! She was lovely in person. (I always enjoy discovering that the authors who write books I enjoy reading are wonderful humans in real life as well.)

  25. Marion says:

    I have started to read Christmas books. One book I found in my closet. It was purchased many years ago. It is a Victorian Christmas, the stories were quite interesting. I am now reading A Christmas In Winter Hill by Melody Carlson. I just finished An Amish Christmas Club trilogy.
    Marion

  26. Marilyn says:

    I have one more book to read in The Everstone Chronicles by Dawn Crandall. I finished the first nine books in The Mitford series. I am now reading a Christmas mystery Mrs. Jeffers and The Three Wise Women. I finished an Amish Christmas book,Triplets For Christmas.
    Marilyn

  27. Wow, two pandemic-related books in one month! My son recently brought home a new hardcover book he got for free at school that looks like a well-written serious history of COVID-19 in the United States up to the time of vaccine deployment…but none of us feels like reading that!

    I recently read two nonfiction books and also the final volume of Ramona Quimby’s saga!
    https://articles.earthlingshandbook.org/2021/11/07/growing-sustainable-together-ramonas-world-and-the-vagina-bible-book-reviews/

  28. Candace says:

    I remember “discovering” Maggie O’Farrel through picking up “The Secret Life of Esme Lennox” after browsing at the book store (how I used to find most of the books I read back then) and immediately thinking I needed to read everything she wrote after that. “After You’d Gone” was the next one I picked up because it was the only other one available in the U.S. at the time, and I “made” everyone in my department at work read it right after. I DID get bossy about it too haha. I have been considering re-reading it lately, and now I just might have to do it next.

    • Anne says:

      Candace, we just might be kindred spirits. (It took me quite a bit of work to track down her second novel My Lover’s Lover, but I’m so glad I did!)

  29. I just devoured The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood. Very enjoyable! I’m adding Doctors and Friends to my TBR list now. Kimmery Martin is such a talented author. I love her writing style. As always, thanks for the wonderful book recs.

  30. Ann says:

    Thanks for bringing the Maggie O’Farrell backlist to our attention.

    I only knew her for Hamnet, which I loved.

    I’m currently read The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak & enjoying it so far.

    I just voted on some of the genres on Goodreads for books of the year & of course that made me realize there are still so many good books I’ve missed this year.

    I will complete my goal of 50! Last year I overextended my self and could not make 100. So this year I have been more humble & 50 feels perfect.

  31. Caroline says:

    Just finished reading “The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned From a Remarkable Bird” by Tom Mitchell.

    Presently reading “Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein. Loving it so far! Both books well worth reading.

  32. Penelope Witthauer says:

    “Jaber Crow” on audio! OMG! And just finished from the library “The Personal Librarian” by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (four stars for me) and “Brood” by Jackie Pollen (not my cup of tea but made for an interesting book club discussion). Next up – “Pride” and “Shiner”. I just reminded my husband to bury my TBR list with me as I’ll never live long enough to finish it.

  33. Suzanne Harley says:

    After hearing about it on the “What Should I Read Next” 300th episode, I decided to read books about all of the US Presidents. And I started with George Washington. I have read two books, both of which I have really enjoyed: “You Never Forget Your First” by Alexis Coe and “Travels with George” by Nathaniel Philbrick. Both are so good and I learned so many new things about our first president. I am currently reading “Snow” by John Banville. He’s a wonderful writer but the characters in this book are just unpleasant. The book is both a mystery and a story of a dysfunctional family. It’s given me much to ponder.

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