April Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite Bossy April reads!
Here are the books I most loved reading in April:
Exiles, the third in Jane Harper's Australian Aaron Falk mystery series;
Curtis Sittenfeld's focus on skit comedy and an unlikely romance that I adored, Romantic Comedy (this was my favorite read of the month!);
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith's beautiful memoir about divorce and life;
Go As a River, Shelley Read's debut historical fiction set in mid-century rural Colorado;
Illuminations, Mary Sharratt's historical fiction about a walled-in medieval anchorite mystic who becomes a Benedictine abbess; and
American Mermaid, Julia Langbein's playful story within a story with magical realism elements and a struggle to stay true to one's self.
If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Exiles (Aaron Falk #3) by Jane Harper
The third in Jane Harper's Aaron Falk series offers procedural detail, a lush Australian setting, and character development I found heartwarming and immensely satisfying.
I love Aaron Falk stories and I loved the twisty interconnectedness of the characters in Exiles. Harper allows for Falk to develop more fully as a character--as a friend, a romantic interest, a father figure, and a detective. Yet she allows for new opportunities for him that felt real and possible, which I again loved.
I wasn't ever sure who was responsible for the multiple tragedies at the heart of the story, and the resolutions make sense. Meanwhile Harper explores loyalty, procedural details related to the past and near past, beginnings and endings, and looooove.
I'm in for all Jane Harper and all Aaron Falk stories! Exiles was the right mystery at the right time for me.
For my full review, check out Exiles.
02 Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
This was my favorite read of the month!
Sittenfeld's funny and sweet take on an unlikely romance sparked by a longtime SNL-type weekly skit show immediately had me hooked, never felt too easy, and charmed me throughout.
I love Curtis Sittenfeld's books, and in Romantic Comedy she offers an outstanding premise: Sally Milz is a sketch writer for a late-night comedy show, and she's sworn off love. That is, until she pokes fun at her fellow writer in a sketch about talented but average-looking men dating gorgeous women...and then gorgeous pop sensation and serial model-dater Noah Brewster hosts the show and turns his attentions on Sally.
I was delighted to find that much of the book is focused on the behind-the-scenes making of the SNL-like Saturday night sketch comedy show in the book, The Night Owls, and I was fascinated by this aspect.
Romantic Comedy offers lots of funny, funny dialogue that delighted me. This was the right book at the right time for me, and I loved everything about it.
03 You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith
Poet Maggie Smith's memoir traces the end of her marriage, weaving in the history and the future while she acknowledges that any story is only one person's reality and experience.
Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.
In You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith recounts her painful, prolonged divorce and her marriage, which was ending as she wrote this memoir.
The book is made up of many short sections, and much of Smith's exploration is focused on the way in which she chooses to write about and present her situation--both of which seem fitting for a writer and poet.
Smith deliberately presents the book not as a "tell-all" but a "tell-mine," repeatedly acknowledging that she can only tell her side of the story, built upon facts but only those she chooses to share; built on feelings, but only her feelings; built on resulting repercussions, but only those she chooses to acknowledge and share.
The author mentions much of the music she finds powerful and inspiring or comforting, and she references other poets' work and her own. I found myself noting and saving much of this gorgeousness.
Click here for my full review of You Could Make This Place Beautiful.
04 Go As a River by Shelley Read
Read's debut novel is gorgeously written, with vivid details of mid-century Colorado, moments that change everything, impossible decision-making, heartbreak, and hope.
Victoria is the last surviving female in a family of difficult men, living on a rural Colorado peach farm--its existence in that place and time a miracle and a testament to her father's creative farming and skill.
Wilson Moon is a drifter displaced from his tribal lands, and a chance meeting between Wil and Victoria shifts the paths of their lives forever.
Driven by instinct and survival, Victoria responds to the challenges of the wilderness, unforgiving weather, and seesawing temperatures. She realizes she must make an impossible choice--one with heartbreaking repercussions.
Much of the book is about putting one foot in front of the other despite unimaginable devastation; finding the strength to go on despite few options; and the surprise of new determination and hope after years of pain and loss.
Read brings Go As a River to life through the sights, sounds, and wildlife in the high Colorado forest; the grip of a farming lifestyle along the churning Gunnison River; and the rhythm of life dictated by the peach orchard.
The planned-flooding aspect of the novel is based on the true story of the destruction of the town of Iola, Colorado, in the 1960s.
I loved the immersive details of Victoria's life, her stalwart manner, her strength, and her perseverance. Please click here for my full review of Go As a River.
05 Illuminations by Mary Sharratt
Sharratt's carefully researched, richly detailed historical fiction is based on the life of the medieval mystic who long served as an unwilling anchorite, walled into a monastery cell. Her rise to freedom and power is built upon visions and feminism.
Mary Sharratt offers an exhaustively researched, fascinating historical fiction account of the life of the 12th century mystic who later spearheaded the building of a convent and became a Benedectine abbess.
Sharratt begins the book with an aged Hildegard who has emerged from the monastery cell of her childhood. Because of this structure, I was relieved to know that she ultimately escapes her forced isolation. This made it bearable to read Sharratt's account of Hildegard's claustrophobic, dark years behind a dank, damp wall--finding spots of joy and inspiration where she is able.
I read Illuminations with a group of women over a period of months, and we were captivated by the details of the Middle Ages setting; the satisfying, subversive feminism Sharratt inserts throughout; and Hildegard's ability to reinvent her situation so dramatically. There's relatively little page time spent on the later years of Hildegard's life at the abbey.
Mary Sharratt also wrote Revelations, historical fiction about the life of Margery of Kempe, a mother of fourteen whose radiant visions led her to stun medieval British society with her vow of celibacy and ambitious pilgrimage halfway around the world.
For my full review, please check out Illuminations.
06 American Mermaid by Julia Langbein
This story within a story is playful and satirical while providing deep issues to contemplate. It's different and captivating and silly and sobering.
Penelope Schleeman is an English teacher struggling to make ends meet when her feminist novel American Mermaid becomes a bestseller. Penny is hooked on the promise of a big payday and leaves her teaching position in Connecticut to move to Los Angeles and turn her novel into a script.
But others' visions for the story involve her eco-warrior main character morphing into a teen beauty wearing a clamshell bra, wiping away her complex hero's dark motivations, and erasing much of what makes the story worth telling.
Then mysterious threats and unexplained feminist changes begin appearing within the script, aimed at the writers who know how to make a shallow, profitable movie--but who are picking apart what made her novel sing in the first place.
The excerpts from the book within a book of American Mermaid show glimpses of the novel that is the basis for Penny's trajectory--while digging into themes of climate change, greed, and dangerous assumptions about ability and motivation. The story culminates in tragedy or triumph, depending on your point of view.
For my full review, please check out American Mermaid.