The Night Watchman (Louise Erdrich) — Based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, who worked at a factory near the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota and battled for the rights of Native Americans during the 1950s, The Night Watchman will captivate you and take you to another time and place.
My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell) — Seriously creepy — but I couldn’t put it down. The topic is an abusive relationship between a high school student and a teacher. Read the excellent New York Times review, which explains why fiction sometimes is the best avenue for getting at the truth: “Fiction, good fiction at least, goes for the singular, the conflicting, the impossible to pin down or reduce.” I can’t imagine a better book club selection.
The Glass Hotel (Emily St. John Mandel) — Mandel’s Station Eleven is one of my all-time favorite books, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend reading it now. (It’s about a pandemic called the Georgian Flu that wipes out 99% of the earth’s population.) The Glass Hotel (to be published on March 24) is about a Madoff-type Ponzi scheme and how it affects a variety of people, who are interconnected in surprising ways. It’s a really unusual and creative book, peopled with interesting characters — including several from Station Eleven. I read an advance copy two weeks ago on a lounge chair by the pool in Florida, which seems like a lifetime ago.
A Good Neighborhood (Theresa Anne Fowler) — Kiley Reid (Such a Fun Age) panned A Good Neighborhood in the New York Times Book Review, which seemed very odd to me — the books are very similar, both focusing on issues of race and class. Reid found Fowler’s black characters to “lack depth and accessibility.” Made me wonder what Fowler would have to say about Reid’s novel!
Privilege (Mary Adkins) — As soon as I finished this book, I grabbed a copy of the author’s first book. I love her readable, assured writing style. Focusing on a date rape incident at a small liberal arts college, Privilege is a great crossover book for teenagers.
The Girl in White Gloves (Kerri Maher) — One of my guilty pleasures (if there is such a thing) is light biographical fiction. It’s such a fun way to learn more about a person’s life and times, without wading through a dense biography with more details than I need. Maher’s novel about Grace Kelly is one of the best of this type of entertaining, informative fiction.
Lady Clementine (Marie Benedict) — Benedict excels at biographical fiction. I loved her last book, The Only Woman in the Room (about Hedy Lamarr), and Lady Clementine, about Winston Churchill’s wife, who was a fascinating and powerful person in her own right, is just as good.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and the Conspiracy to Protect Predators (Ronan Farrow) — The audio version of this book, masterfully read by the author, kept my husband and me riveted for eleven hours on a recent road trip. Ronan Farrow (the son of Woody Allen, from whom he is estranged), broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the New Yorker (along with New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor) after his employer, NBC News, fired him and killed the story.
The Choice (Edith Eva Eger) — Everyone should read this book, written by a concentration camp survivor who became a psychotherapist after arriving in the United States as a penniless refugee after World War II. Without diminishing her painful experiences, Eger shows how it’s possible to make the choice to forgive, without forgetting: “You can live to avenge the past, or you can live to enrich the present.”
The Braid — Ostensibly about three women (one Canadian, one Indian, and one Italian) connected by the human hair industry, this disappointing and simplistic novel fails to tie the three stories together in the satisfying way I was expecting.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Jenn Shapland) — As you might guess from the title, this is an unusual literary biography; it focuses on the author’s journey of self-discovery as she researched Carson McCullers. I found myself more interested in the sections about Carson McCullers, skimming the parts about Jenn Shapland.
When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains (Ariana Neumann) — Born and raised in Venezuela, Ariana Neumann knew very little about her family’s past until after her father died, when she found some letters and artifacts. For years, she researched her family’s history, discovering through diaries, interviews, and photos a story of survival against incredible odds and learning who her complicated father really was. I know some readers have World War II fatigue, but don’t miss this one — it’s amazing.
Writers and Lovers (Lily King) — Just about every sentence is perfect in this lovely book, which captures the experience of writing better than any book I’ve read. Emma Straub’s blurb makes me laugh: “If you loved The Friend but wish it had had more sex and waitressing, get ready for Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. Delicious.” I did love The Friend — and the waitressing scenes in Writers and Lovers are pitch-perfect. I’ve adored every one of King’s novels; if you haven’t discovered her, I recommend her four earlier books as well.
Saint X (Alexis Schaitkin) — A Connecticut family of four vacations at an idyllic Caribbean island, and Alison, the eighteen-year-old daughter, is murdered. Saint X is much more than a whodunit, although it’s a well-crafted mystery. It’s a character-driven story, focusing on Claire, Alison’s younger sister, as she navigates life in the wake of her sister’s death, and Clive, the local resort employee suspected of murdering Alison. It’s the kind of book you read in a day, and don’t forget.
Dear Edward (Ann Napolitano) — I couldn’t love a book more than Dear Edward, which is a beautiful and hopeful story of a young boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash. The chapters alternate between Edward’s journey from a grief-stricken child to a functioning young adult and the minute-by-minute situation on the plane as it heads towards disaster.
Long Bright River (Liz Moore) — The opioid crisis gets personal in a gritty neighborhood in Philadelphia, where one sister is a police officer cracking down on the drug trade, and the other sister is an opioid addict and prostitute who’s disappeared. If I made a list of books I couldn’t put down, this one would be in the top ten. It’s an edge-of-your-seat page-turner, but also a moving family story and an examination of society. Don’t miss it!
American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) — By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the controversy surrounding this book. My advice is to ignore it and read the book. I defy anyone to stop reading after the first page. I read American Dirt before it was published, and immediately thought it was one of the best page-turners I’d read in years — while calling attention to the human stories behind the faceless migrants we