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.

When I pulled out my reading journal to compile today’s collection of titles, I was surprised by what I found—a wider variety of genres and publication dates than I had remembered. (This is why it’s worthwhile to track your reading, friends!)

Today I’m sharing several new releases, a poetry collection, and a lifetime favorite book I inhaled on a re-read.

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

This Must Be the Place

This Must Be the Place

This is one of my lifetime favorite novels. I picked it up two weeks ago to read "just a few pages" and ended up devouring the whole thing, for the sixth or seventh time. You know I'm a sucker for an interesting structure: This portrait of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared is told in interlocking scenes from numerous viewpoints, spanning 1944 to 2016, and appearing out of order. I love its intricate plotting, nuanced characters, true-to-life feel, and ultimate hopefulness. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Bookshop
White Smoke

White Smoke

This is the scariest book on our recent horror novels for wimps post. The publisher describes this as The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out, and that is spot on. Marigold is looking for a fresh start when her newly blended family moves to Cedarville. This move is supposed to give them a fresh start, but Mari can’t help but get the sense that they’re not wanted in Cedarville—and on top of that, her new home gives her the creeps. FOR GOOD REASON. If you have a bed bug or basement phobia, stay far away—but if you can go there you may, as I did, find this YA haunted house story to be good spooky fun. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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When Ghosts Come Home

When Ghosts Come Home

Author:
North Carolina writer Wiley Cash's latest strikes me as a bit of a departure for him, and I am here for it. The story unfolds over just four days; the setting is Oak Island, 1984. I was hooked from the first scene: when the local sheriff is jolted awake by a loud noise in the middle of the night, he heads to the small airport to investigate, where he discovers a crashed plane, stripped bare, and a dead body. The sheriff's ensuing probe uncovers old grievances and rawer, fresher crises in the small community. The audio version narrated by J.D. Jackson is superb, and I could talk for hours about the ending—which means this would be an excellent pick for your next book club discussion. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
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Buy from Bookshop
How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

Author:
In his first full-length nonfiction work, poet and journalist Smith explores the legacy of slavery in the United States, and to do so he takes his readers on a tour of sorts, visiting nine physical monuments crucial to that history, like Jefferson's Monticello, the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, Angola Prison, New York City, and finally Senegal's Gorée Island. Each visit is packed with stories from both past and present, as Smith examines the site's history and explores what that means for us today. It's always dangerous to go into a book with sky-high expectations, as I did thanks to numerous rave reviews from trusted readers, but I needn't have feared: this is a stunner. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
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Buy from Bookshop
Goldenrod: Poems

Goldenrod: Poems

Author:
I've been reading more poetry lately; I picked up this new work because I so enjoyed Smith's 2020 essay collection Keep Moving. It was easy to fly through this new work; in fact I had to consciously make myself slow down so I could properly appreciate it. Smith conjures vivid images with just the right metaphors, and I noticed how this particular collection is brimming with those of the literary variety, e.g., "What is home but a book we write, then / read again & again, each time dog-earing / different pages." More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Apples Never Fall

Apples Never Fall

Author:
Moriarty's latest domestic drama features—to my great delight—a Sydney family of tennis superstars. I played competitively as a teen and relished the details of the Delaney family's world. In the early pages, the 69-year-old mother disappears, the father is the main suspect, and the children are scrambling to find better answers than the authorities can provide—which means all kinds of old skeletons are about to be dragged out of the closet. On the surface this looks like a murder mystery, but the layers beneath are equally important to the story: Moriarty smartly probes questions of how well we can ever know those we love, and how familial relationships shape us. These themes unite for a surprising and satisfying final reveal. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
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Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
We Are Not Like Them

We Are Not Like Them

In this collaboration between Summer Reading Guide author Jo Piazza (The Knockoff) and veteran book editor and Cup of Jo columnist Christine Pride, a longtime friendship between a white woman and a Black Journalist is threatened by tragedy. While the inciting incident in this timely read is a police shooting, the real anchor of the story is the strong female friendship between two well-developed characters. Listen to this week's new episode of What Should I Read Next ("Books you can believe in") to hear Jo and Christine talk more about cowriting this book and their own reading lives. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
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Buy from Bookshop

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. To get a signed copy, order from my local indie Carmichael’s Bookstore.

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74 comments | Comment

74 comments

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    • Cynthia says:

      Absolutely loving The Lincoln Highway! I would also recommend Towles’ other two novels, The Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. Wow.

      • Michele says:

        I just attended an author interview with Amor Towles as part of a Minnesota Public Radio series and he was wonderful! I’ve only read A Gentleman in Moscow but plan on picking up his other books. If you have a chance to see him, go. He’s a great speaker.

  1. This Must Be the Place is one of my all-time favorites. It might be time for a reread for me too! I’m reading Apples Never Fall now; I’m only 20% in so far but am definitely hooked.

    In my October Quick Lit, I’m sharing reviews of some light women’s fiction, a few chilling novels, and two middle grade titles I enjoyed with my 6-year-old. It’s a wide-ranging assortment of titles, and my impressions were just as varied!

    https://kendranicole.net/october-2021-quick-lit-fiction/

    • Suzy says:

      There’s controversy surrounding “American Dirt” but I don’t care: It’s a GREAT STORY!!! Isn’t that what it’s all about?

      • Ann says:

        I loved American Dirt!

        I think the controversy was that it was written by a “white” woman, but I think it still brings attention to the circumstances.

    • Ann says:

      Kara, the movie version of The Haunting of Hill House, “The Haunting,” was one of my favorite black and white films as a child. I just recorded it on my DVR when I saw it was on the other day.

      Julie Harris plays Eleanor & she is just perfection. She really makes the movie.

      This is a 1963 version. Not to be confused with a later, not as good version with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

      My mother, little brother & I watched this multiple times.

      I know I am off topic, but another good scary film (not book) is the old Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte with Bette Davis. Fantastic supporting cast.

  2. Nanette says:

    I’m in the thick of The Eighth Life (nearly done with book five). This is the longest book I’ve read/listened to in several years and I love it. Also making my way back through Louise Penny’s Gamache series (currently on book 9) and wrapping up Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman. And I’m working on my reading plan for 2022 – planning to read the books by Kristin Hannah that I haven’t read yet and possibly tackling James Baldwin’s works (I loved If Beale Street Could Talk earlier this year).

  3. Tracey says:

    I’ve still never read Maggie O’Farrell so will get on that soonish and How the Word is Passed sounds great too!!
    My five star reads this month are: Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney (I just LOVE her writing) And The Guncle which I read at exactly the right time and am loving (I am in the last 15 pages so am counting it as this month!).
    Some great four star (for me) reads were:
    Buses Are A Comin by Charles Person
    The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
    Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
    I was surprised to just feel kind of meh (3 stars so not terrible) about Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro and Greenwood by Michael Christie and Breath by James Nestor. I’d heard great things about them!

  4. Alison says:

    I’m recovering from major surgery and imagined I’d be able to read more than I have, though I’m starting to feel my mental energy returning. The two books that broke through this to engage my mind were I Let You Go (for its page turning writing style and surprise twist) and Gish Jen’s short story collection Who’s Irish?. A Korean American friend loaned me three books by Asian or Asian American authors. Who’s Irish? is a beautiful exploration of Asian and American cultures, how they do and don’t come together for immigrants, how that is different across generations of immigrants, what it is like to go “home” to a culture you never knew only imagined in a mythological way. it’s fantastic. Up next is a recommendation from a British friend, The Crossing Places, book 1 of Elly Smith’s mystery series. I just added How The Word Is Passed to my digital library holds. Thanks! This Must Be the Place sounds good but, apparently unlike the rest of reading Americans, I really dislike books that jump around. They strike me as lazy writing. I suspect contemporary writers resort to clever structure because it is harder to build and sustain character, momentum and meaning in a traditional narrative. And those books pull me out of the story to instead decipher and admire their structure. That’s just me.

    • Stephanie says:

      Best wishes for a quick recovery from your surgery! I had a major surgery about 6 years ago and also found that I couldn’t read right away. I spent a lot of time in bed watching (or sometimes sleep-watching or just listening) to shows on Netflix or Prime. I think I started Downton Abbey 3 or 4 times before I was in a place where I could pay attention long enough to get through a whole episode. And reading was the same. I know painkillers had something to do with it at first, but even after weaning off the medication I remember it still being difficult to read for a bit. One of those things that you don’t really consider until you’re in the thick of it!

    • Beth Gross says:

      I agree with your opinion about books that jump around. Maybe not every one, but a lot of them. Older classics that don’t use that structure are better known for character development and beautiful prose.

  5. Karin Westbrook says:

    After hearing that you have read This Must Be The Place, by Maggie O’Farrell, I immediately downloaded it on audio. In my opinion, this not the best way to enjoy the book, it’s so confusing, yet, I know at its core it is an amazing story. I will finish listening to it, with the full intent to read the hard copy very soon.

  6. Dad says:

    Finished God of Small Things for a seminar, listening to audio and then going back over each chapter in print.

    Will begin rereading A Gentleman in Moscow when my copy arrives.

  7. Oh, the Wiley Cash novel sounds intriguing. I do love Oak Island. I’ll have to add that one to my TBR list. I just finished listening to Susan Mallery’s new novel, The Christmas Wedding Guest. It’s delightful.

  8. Ruth O says:

    I am a total wimp about horror! Thanks for the caution there.
    This month I finished Every Deep-Drawn Breath…by Dr E Wesley Ely, non-fiction (rest of title: a critical care doctor on healing, recovery, and transforming medicine in the ICU). Very well-written and very interesting, with many resources to help families of those who have been in the ICU. Also finished Long Bright River by Liz Moore, it was unputdownable. It does go back and forth between Then and Now.
    In the past I tried and gave up This Must Be the Place, too much jumping around. I did read I Am, I Am, I Am: 17 Brushes With Death by Maggie O’Farrell and liked it.
    I had no idea there was a mystery about Oak Island! That has been my very favorite vacation destination for several visits in October! Will have to add to TBR.
    On my current stack is The Curator’s Daughter by Melanie Dobson, and a reread, The Shell Seekers, by Rosamund Pilcher, and non-fiction The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling.

  9. Lisa says:

    I just finished Colson Whitehead’s new one, Harlem Shuffle, and followed it up with very light seasonal reading: The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling (aka Rachel Hawkins). Now I’m in the middle of Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo and enjoying both the plot and the protagonist who’s close to my age (a rarity — I’m nearly 50). Also reading Ring Shout by P. Djélì-Clark. My wimpy self is cringing through the horror because the concept is irresistibly brilliant: KKK members as actual demons.

    • Kae says:

      I recently finished reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I decided to stick with the vampire theme for October and read Dracula The Undead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt. These are two very different books, but I enjoyed both. Kostova’s work is literary and complex, told in epistolary form, rich with detail, varied international settings, shifting narrators, and nonlinear storylines. Stoker & Holt’s novel is the sequel to the iconic Dracula (who knew!?), written by Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew. It is a quick read, with a fast-paced, uncomplicated plot. If, like me, you long to know what happened with Mina and Jonathon, Van Helsing, and the rest of the company after they defeated Dracula, you may be well-entertained by this continuation of the story.

    • Ann says:

      I really liked Sankofa and was honestly not expecting it to be as good as it was. Enjoy!

      I follow Reese’s book club, but more often than not, am not nuts about her choices. Many are DNFs for me, or I might not even bother.

      But lately, I’ve enjoyed a few. I liked The Paper Palace.

  10. I adore Maggie O’Farrell as an author. Have loved “This Must Be the Place,” Hamnet” and “I Am, I Am, I Am.” I just finished “The Wizard’s Butler” by Nathan Lowell. It’s a gem of a book, like a warm blanket. I’m half way through “Sparks Like Stars” by Nadia Hashimi and can hardly put it down. It’s a real page turner and is already one of my favorites. Of course I’m tracking my books in Anne’s new journal!

  11. Ann says:

    I’ve read L.A. Weather, The Turnout, Once There We’re Wolves, Forever Young (Hayley Mills Bio), The Night She Disappeared and Sankofa. So after being on quite a roll, I’ve hit that awkward “what to read next phase” where I pick up several books and they are not quite doing it for me.

    I think I’ve spoiled myself reading shorter “easier” books.

    I’d intended to read The Lincoln Highway and actually purchased a copy. It is a total about face after Sankofa though. Long, slow chapters. I enjoyed the very beginning of the story, but may just need a breather.

    Then I also have The Secret History. I started it and put it down.

    So I feel as if I am cheating now, bc I picked up Mary Kay Andrew’s slim book: The Santa Suit and before you know it, I am already on chapter 6. You see what I mean!

    I’d never read Lisa Jewell before and although I enjoyed it well enough, I also felt like I knew who done it or I should say who was gonna do it, too early on in the book.

    The Turnout was a ReadwithJenna pick; but IMO a very uncharacteristic one. I was late reading it in October, after having read the really good memoir Beautiful Country. The Turnout was quite frankly a horror of a book. Kinda gross.

    If Y’all are Hayley Mills fans, her new bio Forever Young is a must. I’m a true child of the 60s and absolutely loved it. I especially enjoyed hearing about the early Disney aspect of her career. I love her early movies. Totally off topic, but she mentions a couple of murders in her book that I’d never heard about here in America, but were big in Britain and worth reading up on: The Moors Murders and Lord Lucan. The second was a very interesting case and there are recent developments.

    My last completed book Sankofa was so good. It was an easy page turner. I loved the writing and had not previously read anything by Chibundu Onuzo. This was a Reese’s book club pick. Again, not so typical for her.

    Once There Were Wolves was okay.
    As was L.A. Weather. I feel like the L.A. Weather author is capable of more. Her first language is Spanish, so it left me wondering if the fact that this was written in English somehow hampered the writing.

    So, after I finish The Santa Suit, which will be quick. I think I am doing a bit of a back list and plan on possibly reading: Ask Again, Yes and The Plot, which I missed before.

    Also I wanted to get my hands on a copy of The Lighthouse Witches before October is over, but I think the whole supply chain thing has finally hit my local library.

  12. Sandy Hoenecke says:

    The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin is my latest favourite read. I love how fiction can open my eyes to new ways of thinking.

  13. Debbie says:

    Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favorite authors and This Must Be The Place is a wonderful book! I finished reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson last night and I started reading Matrix by Lauren Groff.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I am looking forward listening to We are Not Like Them authors on the podcast! That must have been such an interesting process to write together.

  15. Ann says:

    Anne, thank you so much for the recommendation!!

    I ended up swinging by a different branch of my county library & picking up both This Must Be The Place & The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.

    I had only ever read Hamnet (which I loved!). Who knew?!

    Also picked up something called Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke. That was one that just jumped out at me. Or as we say here in TX: If it’d been a snake it woulda bit me 🤣

    So I am set for the weekend 😊

    • Ann says:

      P.S. Just have to add, our local libraries have only recently opened their doors back open.

      We were doing curbside pickup for a long while.

      I am like a kid in a candy store!!!!!! 🤗

      Nothing beats browsing the stacks.

  16. Paul Weiss says:

    Here is a great book for anyone with anxiety (and I think that is all of us right now):

    The Anxiety Sisters’ Survival Guide

    It helped me a lot.

  17. Beth Gross says:

    I just finished The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a book that wasn’t for me.

    What I liked about it: It’s the twistiest book I’ve ever read, the premise was intriguing, it has the vibe of a whodunnit on steroids.

    What I didn’t like: It was hard to keep track of all the characters (I didn’t want to work at it), it was too dark for me, it felt too focused on depravity without enough redemption.

    I’ve read The Lazy Genius Way a couple of times since it was published. I’m a huge fan. Even though I think it’s in a class by itself, I put some thought into why I liked it so much and what other books are similar.
    https://purplecrayonyourworld.com/books-like-the-lazy-genius-way/

  18. Debra Benton says:

    @Anne, love the idea of reading poetry but I really struggle with it. Perhaps it would be a good Book School topic in 2022? Help those of us with less mind for imagery learn to read poetry and appreciate it.

  19. Mary says:

    I am enjoying stories from Agatha Christie’s THE LAST SEANCE. Good short stories a pleasant break after some intense reading, including THE ROSE CODE. Also, just reserved a copy of THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, thank you for the recommendation.

  20. Sheryl Esau says:

    I was so excited to see you played competitive tennis in your younger years! After playing a bit in high school I started again in my 30’s and had a great time on USTA teams. I loved “Apples Never Fall” for the tennis and for the story and felt like Liane Moriarty was back in her groove of writing quirky family stories with more to them than you initially expect.

  21. Diana says:

    I was at the Bookmarks festival a few weekends ago with my mom (Loved seeing and hearing you speak Anne!!) I picked up the Matrix and When the Ghosts come home. I can’t seem to get into the Matrix. Starting When the Ghosts come Home now!!!

    Apples Never Fall was a great halloweenish read too, a bit of spook for those that don’t like spook all that much 🙂 I am hesitant to pull the trigger on White Smoke. I am not a huge YA fan!

    Currently reading We are Not Like them, and LOVING IT!

  22. Jennifer Riales says:

    I just finished Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, which hit home even more for me. The setting of the inciting incident is Memphis, TN where I grew up. Such a good book, but such a heartbreaking story!

  23. Susan says:

    My two top books in the past 30 days were
    A Gentleman in Moscow and on audio, Open Book by Jessica Simpson. Thanks for the recommendations, I’ve added When the ghosts come home to my TBR.

  24. Katie B says:

    Just wrapped up Mexican Gothic. Letting that one settle for a few days before jumping into the next book on my shelf. Not typically my genre of choice, but I really enjoyed it, especially as a foggy fall read.

  25. Suzanne Banfield says:

    Anne- I just started This Must Be The Place and I’m already drawn in. I was absolutely gutted when I read Hamnet. Looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds. As always- thank you for the great recommendation.

  26. Carolyn says:

    I’ve recently discovered your blog and am appreciating your book recommendations. I think the Ballad of the Whisky Robber and Sleeping Giants were a couple of your suggestions. I tend to like fiction over non fiction, but find that non-fiction written more like a story is often quite compelling and a great read to devour. Do you have a list of non-fiction stories that you’d recommend (like the Whisky Robber) that are good stories based on a true events? They don’t have to be the latest and greatest.

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