What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable

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Welcome to Quick Lit, where we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month. (Or the 14th, if the 15th happens to be podcast day.)

I have piles of good-looking new releases I’m excited to read soon, but as you’ll see I’m making myself lean towards backlist titles right now. The 2021 Summer Reading Guide just came out a few weeks ago, and because I read sooo many brand-new books to put that together, I need to balance out my reading life with older books for a bit.

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 on what I’ve been reading lately

Author: Octavia Butler
I revisited this modern classic for the first time in over a decade this month! I’m stunned once again by how modern Butler’s 1993 dystopian novel feels today. This series—a planned trilogy that was never completed—is the most realist of Butler’s fiction. The setting is California, 2026, where a Black teenager named Lauren struggles for survival in a world gone to pieces, ravaged by climate change and drug abuse of epidemic proportions. Despite the overwhelming and terrifying obstacles she faces, Lauren isn’t ready to give up yet, and bands together with a group of fellow travelers to head north in search of rumored safety, with the hopes of founding a colony for her Earthseed religion. Utterly gripping, and a great introduction to Butler’s work. More info →
Author: Alexandre Dumas
I’m elated to finally cross this off my To Be Read list! Over the years I’ve been floored by the superlatives readers use to describe this behemoth of a novel—epic, thrilling, the best book they’ve ever read. Recent What Should I Read Next guest Ahtoosa Dale gave me a well-timed nudge and a hot tip: to read the audiobook, specifically the version narrated by John Lee. Forty-seven hours later, I finally understand why readers love this tale of a man thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit and his long quest for retribution. This was wonderful on audio, but I did turn to SparkNotes on a half-dozen occasions for clarity on plot twists. This was A LONG BOOK, and while it won’t go down as one of my lifetime favorites, I’m glad I read it. More info →
Author: Lily King
I LOVED Lily King’s most recent book Writers and Lovers, and enjoyed our conversation with her about it this spring in the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club! Afterward I was eager to pick up more of her work—and while this 2010 novel was highly praised when it came out, I wasn’t familiar with it until I stumbled upon an intriguing interview with the author. This is the story of a deeply dysfunctional Boston-area family, centering on daughter Daley and her charming alcoholic father, whose orbit she cannot escape. I love a book with an interesting structure, and I enjoyed King’s choice to tell the story in three sequential sections: we hear from Daley at age 11, in 1972, then years later when she is 29, and finally in her 40s. While much of the content is emotionally difficult, I found the resolution to be satisfying. More info →
Author: Joshua Henkin
I read this months ago for possible inclusion in the 2021 Summer Reading Guide, and while it would have been right at home in the “Generational Sagas and Family Stories” category there wasn’t quite enough room. The book opens in the early 1970s at Columbia University (oddly, this was one of three books in a row I read this spring prominently featuring the school), when a 22-year-old student falls in love with her professor, an esteemed Shakespeare scholar. It’s love, and it’s meant to last—and the novel follows the couple over the course of the next four decades. Ambitious student Pru’s career aspirations are derailed when she gets pregnant shortly after marriage, but the couple is happy enough—until her husband begins developing symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s, at the age of 57. The heart of the story is how each of them, but especially Pru, struggle to cope with his illness; while there are glimmers of hope, this is ultimately a tragedy, sensitively told. More info →
De Kerangal’s new novel Painting Time is one of my favorite reads of 2021 so far (don’t miss it in this year’s Summer Reading Guide!). I closed that book eager to read more of her work, and decided on this award-winning 2017 novel. I purposely chose this edition with the same translator from the French, Jessica Moore, but it’s also available in a different translation with the title The Heart.) This is the story of 20-year-old surfer Simon Limbeau—or, more precisely, the story of his heart, and the numerous people affected when the family decides to donate Simon’s organs after he dies in a tragic accident: his family and girlfriend, the surgeons involved in the harvest and transplant, the hospital staff, the recipient, and her family and friends. I found this to be moving and deeply fascinating—and also heartbreaking. Given the storyline that’s obvious in hindsight, but I was caught off guard by how desperately sad some sections were. More info →
Author: Brina Starler
This has been on my radar for YEARS at this point! Longtime blog readers know I’m a soft touch when it comes to classic retellings; and even though numerous readers I trust gave it three stars I couldn’t resist seeing for myself. In this Anne of Green Gables update set at Manhattan’s fictional Redmond College, Anne is shocked when her old nemesis Gilbert Blythe appears in her class on the first day of school. She didn’t know he’d transferred from Berkley to be closer to his ailing father after his cancer diagnosis—and if he gets to pick up where he left off with his longtime redheaded crush, so much the better. I enjoyed seeing how Starler updated these familiar characters for the 21st century (a heavily-tattooed Fred Wright was a character I wanted more of!), but I’d hoped for a more robust plot. I listened to the audio version, which was highly listenable as narrated by Carly Robins. More info →
I recently got to be part of an actual bookstore event for the first time in over a year for this book’s launch! (Click here to watch.) This YA debut with serious Glass Castle vibes tells the story of Phoenix, a teen who’s been on the run with her mother Nina for many years. The two subsist by stealing food, clothes, and anything else they may need to get by, and move frequently from place to place in their ongoing efforts to evade Phoenix’s father. But after Nina make a startling discovery, mother and daughter set out on a mission: to extract revenge on the man who ruined Nina’s life. This small town coming of age story features two great villains; I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Phoenix and her family. The author is a local bookseller; that personal connection made my reading experience even more enjoyable. More info →
Author: Brandi Carlile
I’ve long enjoyed Brandi Carlile’s music but knew nothing about her personal life (unless the simple fact that she’s one of The Highwomen counts). I was on the fence about trying this one, but I’m so glad I did: the audio was superb. Each chapter flows beautifully into a song—or more often, two. Because Carlile draws heavily from her life experience when writing lyrics, this format works beautifully: her stories leave you hungry to hear the music, which often captures the experience she just wrote about in prose. After talking to numerous friends and fellow readers, I’d be inclined to pass this up in print, but the audio version was exceptional. So you know what to expect: the last 90 minutes of the audiobook consists of all those songs together, as a bonus chapter. More info →

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.

The post What I’ve been reading lately: the new and the notable appeared first on Modern Mrs Darcy.

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