March Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
Ta-da! My very favorite books from March!
Here are the books I most loved reading during the past month:
a beautiful story of heartbreak and searches for redemption;
short stories that pack a punch and offer depth and lots to consider;
a wonderfully offbeat feminist Western;
a captivating multigenerational family story told through two timelines;
the final book in a darkly playful young adult fantasy series;
a quirky, campy mystery and revenge fantasy; and
a young adult thriller with outlandish circumstances and yearnings for intimacy that feel real.
What are some of your recent favorite reads--or books that weren't for you? Let's do some Bossy book talking!
01 We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Whitaker's story builds into a tale of heartbreak and desperate hopes for redemption; it folds back upon itself with unexpected turns and considerable depth.
Walk is the chief of police in the small coastal California town where he grew up. Decades earlier his account of a terrible event sent his best friend Vincent to prison. Vincent has tried to make his own suffering as great as possible behind bars by eschewing distraction and comfort, and now he's about to be released.
Duchess is a thirteen-year-old girl trying to keep her family together. Her mother Star is old friends with Walk and Vincent, and when Vincent reappears, the tenuous peace and calm Duchess and her steady family friend Walk have been able to secure for her household are disrupted.
Can Walk and Duchess somehow prevent Vincent and Star from destroying themselves and everyone who cares about them, or are Walk and Duchess inadvertently adding to the collapse?
Whitaker's story builds into a tale of heartbreak and desperate hopes for redemption that folded back upon itself with unexpected turns and considerable depth. There are mysterious forces and machinations, many of which remain unclear to the reader until late in the book, when major unraveling occurs.
For my full review of this book, please see We Begin at the End.
02 The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
There's so much to unpack here; Evans's story themes are often haunting, always powerful, and wonderfully nuanced.
In The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans offers short stories centering around themes of race, relationships, identity, the fallibility of those shaping historical "fact," grief, and loss. She beautifully and powerfully illustrates essential, deep truths by tracing moments in her characters' everyday lives.
In the longest story in the book, at approximately 100 pages, "The Office of Historical Corrections," a black student from Washington, DC, finds herself involved in unraveling a complicated historical mystery that extends over generations, involves her closest friendship, and shakes the basis of her career. Evans explores what is accepted as truth, as fact, and as history, as well as who has the power to shift that narrative--and at what cost.
The themes here are often haunting, always powerful, and wonderfully nuanced, even when the scenes (the artist's exhibition, the actual on-the-spot printed and posted corrections of "fact," and others) stretch metaphors to their limits.
For my full review of this book, please see The Office of Historical Corrections.
03 Outlawed by Anna North
North provides intrigue, an exploration of gender and power roles, tales of unconventional friendship, and enough shoot-outs and danger to make this a feminist Western I couldn't stop reading.
Ada, suspected of being a witch, flees to a convent, then, through an unlikely convent-to-outlaw pipeline, joins up with The Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of outlaws led by a larger-than-life local legend, The Kid.
Ada serves as the motley crew's healer, learns to shoot, takes part in various schemes--some ill-fated--and begins to understand that the group's intention is to effect sweeping change by wielding its power for good. But grandiose plans don't always go off as planned, and making any change in a society so entrenched in prejudice and superstition is going to be tricky, if it's possible at all.
North provides intrigue, an exploration of gender and power roles, tales of unconventional friendship, and enough shoot-outs and danger to make this a feminist Western I couldn't stop reading. Plus: I love this cover!
For my full review of this book, please see Outlawed.
04 The Arsonists' City by Hala Alyan
Characters cope with lost dreams and find ways to (often clumsily) come together through their shared pain. The vibrancy of Beirut is celebrated throughout.
Alyan provides a multigenerational story with plenty of secrets, messy interpersonal family interactions, love, and loss--all set against a background of Beirut, a city shaped by and "smoldering with the legacy of war," as well as the refugee camps and life in Damascus.
The story is told in two timelines, one as young Idris and Mazna are brought together by tragedy and build their life together upon secrets, and the second during the family's imperfect reunion in Beirut. There are tragic lies and lies of omission, mistakes, missed chances, and moments that drastically change the fates of multiple families and generations.
Characters cope with lost dreams, fading possibilities, boredom, and disappointment, but they also clumsily come together, fighting through pain, working through misunderstanding, and forgiving each other for terrible offenses. There are funny, tangled, heartwarming exchanges. The vibrancy of Beirut is especially present throughout--the story celebrates the city's music, art, and love.
For my full review of this book, please see The Arsonists' City.
05 The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
In this satisfying final book in the trilogy, Black's characters show dark humor and trade biting remarks, and creatures of all types jostle for power, snipe, battle, and fall in love.
The Queen of Nothing is the final book in Black's Folk of the Air trilogy (I mentioned the series in the Greedy Reading List Six Royally Magical Young Adult Series).
As always, Black's characters show dark humor and trade biting remarks, and creatures of all types interact, jostle for power, snipe, battle, and fall in love.
I loved having more time with my favorite minor character, the plain-speaking, tough, brutal but fair Grima Mog, and witnessing her ascendance. I feared any Vivi and Heather resolution would be unsatisfying, but it felt just right.
I love the tone of this trilogy: playful, otherworldly, and with faulted, greedy, scared, strong, angry, passionate, complex creatures. Black offers wonderfully twisted humor, various satisfying endings (including regarding Jude and Cardan) that did justice to the series, plus the series ending I didn’t even know I wanted.
For my full review of this book, please see The Queen of Nothing.
06 Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
Cosimano's mystery has a wonderfully quirky setup and campy tone, and Finlay's missteps add to the darkly playful feeling of the book.
Finlay Donovan is an author and a recently single mom, divorced from a cheating man (side note: he and his gloating fiancé are both in need of a major reckoning). She's struggling both emotionally and financially as she tries to support her two young children.
After a series of almost slapstick misunderstandings, Finlay is left a mysterious note implying that she is involved in something sinister--and which offers her a hit job.
Cosimano's mystery has a wonderfully quirky setup and campy tone. There are absurd disguises, spur-of-the-moment plans (both successful and disastrous), and, in light of recent morally and legally questionable events and Finlay's tendency to become entangled in them, extremely inconvenient levels of intimacy with her sister the cop as well as the cute police officer she introduces Finlay to. All of this makes the book feel darkly playful.
And that ending! Cosimano perfectly sets the scene for the next book in the series.
For my full review of this book, please see Finlay Donovan Is Killing It.
07 She's Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard
Heard's young adult thriller was a lightning-fast read, and there's a yearning for connection between the two main protagonists that feels real and true.
Heard's young adult thriller follows the twists and turns at the intersection of the lives of three volatile young people--bored photographer Veronica; her best friend, mischievous performance art rebel Nico; and their new friend, Mick, who hasn't quite found her place in the world outside of being a competitive swimmer.
This was a lightning-fast read for me. The stakes quickly ratchet up up up in She's Too Pretty to Burn so that the characters find themselves making life-and-death decisions, and their missteps aren't without serious consequences.
While the young people's circumstances build to be almost outlandishly complicated and disastrous, Heard presents what feels like a true yearning for connection between the two main protagonists, and that kept me hooked for anything else she threw at me.
For my full review of this book, please see She's Too Pretty to Burn.