April Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
Updated: May 4
My very favorite books from April!
In no particular order, here's the gist of each of the books I most loved reading during the past month:
When the Stars Go Dark, Paula McLain's newest, about a missing persons detective who experiences a personal tragedy and dives into solving the disappearances of young women in her hometown;
The Book of Delights, Ross Gay's joyful, playful, mischievous, and never cloyingly sweet book of essays about joy and wonder;
The Survivors, Jane Harper's newest Australia-set, character-driven mystery, in which a past accident and a new tragedy haunt a tightly knit community;
A Deadly Education, the first in Naomi Novik's series about a dark, magical school with two routes out: a grueling path to graduation and beyond, or death;
Normal People, Sally Rooney's popular book (now a TV show) about two young people in Ireland and their instinctual, sometimes confused, always heart-wrenching connection;
The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey's sci-fi book about betrayal and complicated, unexpected loyalty; and
What Beauty There Is, Cory Anderson's debut, a young adult story about darkness, desperation, and brave young characters cobbling together hope.
What are some of your recent favorite reads--or books you've read recently that weren't for you? Let's do some Bossy book talking!
01 When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Anna is a San Francisco missing persons detective in denial about the fact that her job has overtaken her personal life for years. When she experiences a personal tragedy, she flees to the Northern California of her childhood--a place she's avoided since her teens.
She arrives hoping for anonymity and an escape to the woods to grieve and be alone, but she quickly finds out that a young local woman has gone missing.
Old friends resurface, pulling Anna out of herself, and when other young girls go missing, the draw of finding the girls is irresistible to her.
McLain is also the author of Circling the Sun (a captivating account of the real-life Beryl Markham's adventures as an aviator in 1920s Kenya) and The Paris Wife (which somehow I still haven't read).
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of Random House and NetGalley. For my full review of this book, please see When the Stars Go Dark.
02 The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Ross Gay resolved to write about a joy or delight, large or small, every day for a year, beginning on his birthday, and he pulls together the highlights of these experiences as The Book of Delights. It's a sunshiny set of thoughts and examinations, yet it's not overly earnest, and it's never corny.
Gay reflects on human nature, recognizes the intense delights of food and love and friendship, shines a light on small moments, and considers everything in between.
He's wonderfully joyful and mischievous. I found myself smiling repeatedly while listening to the audiobook and going about daily tasks. I just loved it.
My BFF Neha mentioned this one, and I'm so glad she did! This was my first Ross Gay book, and I really like how his mind works, so I'm in for all of his books now.
For my full review of this book, please see The Book of Delights.
03 The Survivors by Jane Harper
I'm a big Jane Harper fan. Her mysteries are set in Australia, and she makes me care about her characters while keeping me guessing through twists and turns, without any of it feeling manipulative.
In The Survivors, Kieran and Mia are back for a visit to their small coastal hometown. But as with every visit home, Kieran is reminded of a careless mistake he made as a teenager that led to the death of his brother and another friend in a terrible storm.
No one's forgotten the heartbreak of that day, nor has there been very much healing from the pain of a young woman's disappearance that occurred at the same time. Some members of the town haven't forgiven, either, and they blame Kieran. This all makes for a visit fraught with emotion and enormous tensions hearkening back to the long-ago tragedy.
The Survivors is my favorite Harper book yet. Set on the coast of Tasmania, the story centers around a tightly knit community, complicated expressions of loss and grief, and attempts to uncover what truly happened on that fateful day years earlier. When a fresh tragedy occurs, it brings the pain and terrible mystery of years past swirling back to wreak more havoc.
For my full review of this book, please see The Survivors.
04 Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
A Deadly Education is the first in Novik's Scholomance series, which is set at a magical school with two routes out: a grueling path to graduation and beyond or, just as likely, death. Danger and darkness lurk around every corner.
I looooooved the wonderful dark humor and unexpected details, and the exchanges between El and Orion (and El and everyone) were fantastic--El is a grumpy, powerful, smart, straightforward character I was obsessed with, and I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.
I loved that Novik began putting more of the school's fate in the hands of her young characters, and I gleefully tore through the book to find out what they'd do with their power. And I love love LOVED the ending scenes (wall of mortal flame! annoyance at hand-holding! the promise of friendship and magic and bonds to come!). Love!
Novik also wrote the fantastic Spinning Silver and Uprooted, both of which appear on the Greedy Reading List Six Magical Fairy Tales Grown-Ups Will Love.
The dark humor in this book reminded me of another book I also loved, Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots.
The Last Graduate, the second book in this series, is slated for publication in June 2021.
For my full review of this book, please see Deadly Education.
05 Normal People by Sally Rooney
Marianne, a solitary young woman living in a large house outside of town, and Connell, a popular athlete whose mother cleans Marianne's house, grew up together in small-town Ireland but were essentially strangers. Toward the end of high school they begin to hesitantly connect. This intersection of their lives leads to broken hearts, self-realization, true love, devastating misunderstandings, betrayals, and a strongly forged link between them.
Marianne and Connell's bond and the roots of their relationship aren't straightforward or simple, but their draw to each other becomes essential to each of them in feeling like their true selves. Toward the end of the book, Marianne reflects on a potential fracture in their situation--it isn't clear whether it's a temporary break or permanent--yet she is able to sit within the feeling that Connell and their years together (and apart) are an anchor of sorts, regardless of their status:
“He brought her goodness, like a gift, and now it belongs to her.”
The connection between Marianne and Connell is the beautiful, haunting, swirling source of misery, heartache, and joy and fulfillment in the book. Their link promises more than it ultimately delivers on the page, as they spend long period apart and confused, lonely or hurt, yet are deeply tied to one another. The ending is ambiguous but Rooney manages to convey peace within it.
For my full review of this book, see Normal People.
06 The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Evelyn Caldwell is a brilliant scientist married to a scientist. She's winning awards and well-deserved international attention for her incredible genetic cloning advancements--but people have noticed that her husband has recently been mysteriously absent from her side as she collects her many honors. This sci-fi thriller is about the forces that drive apart a husband and wife, but it's not the other-woman story you might expect.
The story is about betrayal and revenge, but I hadn't read the premise before I started reading, and I almost dropped the book when I realized what was going on, I was so shocked by the setup--it's not your usual cheating-husband situation.
There are loops and layers to Gailey's story that have to do with identity, autonomy, freedom, shaping others to suit your expectations and desires--and recognizing how you're shaped by others in turn. I loved the characters' unanticipated loyalty to unlikely parties and their hard-won emotional growth.
I was hooked on this one and couldn't wait to find out what happened. I'd love to watch this in movie form.
For my full review of this book, see Echo Wife.
07 What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson
In the young adult novel What Beauty There Is, Jack and his brother are painfully poor and living alone in rural Idaho. It's winter, it's cold, and it's tough to simply survive.
But if Jack can't find the drug money his father stole before heading to prison, things will get worse: his younger brother will be sent into foster care. There's no real choice to make--Jack would never allow his brother to go. So now he just needs to do some dangerous digging into matters that seem to generally end up sending others to jail...or resulting in death.
What Beauty There Is is a story about darkness, desperation, unlikely loyalty, and, ultimately, brave young characters in tough spots trying to cobble together something close to hope.
The main protagonists are young, but their concerns are weighty. Anderson's beautifully spare writing about the brutal winter and the pressing crises of hunger, cold, and danger from nefarious forces kept me on the edge of my seat. The brothers' relationship was a heartbreaking joy to read. And I'm mesmerized by this gorgeous cover art.
I received a prepublication edition of What Beauty There Is courtesy of Roaring Brook Press and NetGalley. For my full review of this book, please see What Beauty There Is.