March Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from March!
Here are my six favorite reads of the past month, in no particular order. If you read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
Our Woman in Moscow, Beatriz Williams's historical fiction mystery, based on real-life double agents in the Cambridge Spy Ring (spoiler: this was my favorite read of the month);
How High We Go in the Dark, Sequoia Nagamatsu's fascinating, disturbing, strange exploration of a post-plague world, coping with death, and how to live in the face of constant loss;
You Can't Be Serious, actor Kal Penn's memoir, which explores life in Hollywood as a minority as well as his passion for and involvement in politics at the White House and beyond;
Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, the first in a series of girl-power adventures with depth and the exploration of duty and identity--and dragons;
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton's fictionalized history of a 1960s music duo that is both broken up by and bound together by tragedy;
Quantum Girl Theory, Erin Kate Ryan's historical fiction-mystery-speculative fiction work about missing girls and the exploration of the futures that might have been.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams
This was my favorite read of the month!
Williams's historical fiction mystery--based on real-life double agents in the Cambridge Spy Ring--is vividly set in Europe and Russia and was a rare five-star read for me.
In Beatriz Williams's historical fiction, Our Woman in Moscow, it's 1948, and Iris Digby, her American diplomat husband Sasha, and their two children have disappeared overnight. Those who knew and worked with them are shocked. Were the Digbys abducted by Soviet agents...or did they make their way by choice behind the Iron Curtain with a suitcase of American secrets to trade?
I loved this. Every heart-stopping moment; every exquisite detail; the characters' growth, emotional distance, and unforeseen connections to each other; the trick of teasing out what was actually happening; the characterization; the machinations--all of it.
I loved Williams's immersive story so much, I was in for all of Our Woman in Moscow's elements: Russia, family, spies, crossing/double-crossing, finding common ground, bravery, and illogical and irresistible love.
For my full review, check out Our Woman in Moscow.
02 How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Nagamatsu's science fiction centers around a resurgence of an ancient Arctic plague. These interconnected stories are odd, fascinating, and sometimes panic-inducing, yet they offer glimmers of hope. I was intrigued by all of it.
It's 2030, and an archaeologist in the Arctic Circle discovers a body perfectly preserved in the permafrost.
His personal situation is complicated by his grief for his recently deceased daughter, and he aims to continue the research work she began.
But the young woman he has found may have died of an ancient virus, and thawing the body for study could unleash the long-eradicated illness all over again.
The stories that make up How High We Go in the Dark are steeped in death and in coming to terms with mortality while fighting for answers. Yet deep connections are forged--in life-or-death moments throughout the book, as well as within the collective goal of saving humanity--and in some cases these bonds feel deeper than marriages or long-held relationships.
As the virus passes like a whirlwind through societies and nations around the globe, Nagamatsu's How High We Go in the Dark highlights interpersonal connections spanning centuries--and extending as far as the stars.
Click here for my full review of How High We Go in the Dark.
03 You Can't Be Serious by Kal Penn
Penn's thoughtful memoir explores serious issues yet also made me laugh out loud. You Can't Be Serious is both thoughtful and playful, and I loved the audiobook.
Kal Penn's smart, fun You Can't Be Serious explores his early struggles to make it in Hollywood as he straddles humorous roles and dramatic opportunities; attempts to deflect racism from casting heads and writers; and digs in to try to be one of what he hopes will be an ever-increasing number of diverse faces on television and movie screens.
He takes the reader through his discovery of his passion for acting, his immigrant parents' early, practical resistance (they urge him, "at least get a real estate license"), the various early road bumps he encountered, and his dogged determination--which was admittedly shaken after landing very few and consistently stereotypical roles.
Penn pulls his memoir into another gear when he adds the fascinating layer of accidental political activism that becomes a passion and, ultimately, a career, one for which he takes a sabbatical from his steady acting job at the time, his role on House.
I laughed out loud multiple times; Kal is funny without trying too hard, and his tone is accessible even as he takes the reader deep into worlds most won't have experience with, Hollywood and the White House.
Click here for my full review of You Can't Be Serious.
04 Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman
Rachel Hartman's young adult story follows irresistible, hardheaded, wonderfully faulted Tess as she breaks from rigid medieval gender roles in favor of adventure and discovery. It's captivating, sometimes weighty, often playful, and never silly.
In Hartman's Tess of the Road, Tess doesn't fit the mold of an obedient, quiet young woman in her medieval kingdom of Goredd.
Without airing out all of the family's dirty laundry, let's just say that this time Tess has really taken things too far for fine society, and she's not a young lady who can be subdued. So Tess's family decides to send her to a nunnery. But Tess has other plans.
On the day she's scheduled to report for the beginning of her cloistered life, she cuts her hair, pulls on walking boots, and runs away, determined to craft a life for herself outside of the narrow parameters set upon her. Tess's long-held ability to get into trouble leads her on an adventure of a lifetime.
Tess of the Road zigzags in an appealing way through phases of Tess's young explorations. The tale is full of captivating discoveries of all kinds while it also addresses deep issues about gender, power, and possibility. It digs into avenues for female empowerment within the frustrating constraints of the time, laying out some hopeful, plausible baby steps toward progress. I'm excited to read the sequel.
For my full review of Tess of the Road, please click here.
05 The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a fictional account of an interracial music duo's rise to success (and their famous split), a story in which race and gender issues loomed larger for me than the musical framework.
In Dawnie Walton's novel, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton shapes an oral history of two music idols, tracing their family lives, youthful experiences, how they met each other, and their creative expression. Opal's taking a stand for her beliefs (and a concurrent, horrific tragedy) ended their music partnership in dramatic fashion. Music lovers' passion for Opal and Nev grew into a cult following for the duo and their music
Decades later, as Opal considers reconciling with Nev for a set of reunion performances, truths from the past come to light and threaten to upend any hope of getting the two musical talents back together.
Reporter Sunny's connection to the two performers and their past was intriguing, and I very much enjoyed watching events unfold as this connection became more important to the story.
For my full review, check out The Final Revival of Opal & Nev.
06 Quantum Girl Theory by Erin Kate Ryan
In Erin Kate Ryan's historical fiction mystery, she uses a fascinating story structure to explore different potential paths for interlinked young women in the Jim Crow South.
Mary Garrett focuses on finding missing girls, and she keeps her own past, her secrets, and her emotions about all of it penned up tightly.
When she arrives in the Jim Crow South to investigate a girl who has disappeared, she finds that two Black girls have gone missing as well, but local law enforcement didn't put resources into finding them.
As Mary's search for all three girls intensifies, we find that Mary herself was a "missing girl," Paula Jean Welden, who vanished one night in 1946. Ryan explores various alternate histories and life tracks for Paula Jean while "Mary" digs more deeply into the circumstances surrounding the modern-day disappearances of the Southern girls.
I was hooked on this book and fascinated by what felt like multiple genres in one story, with unexpectedly deep dives into Quantum Girl Theory's various characters. Mary was a captivating main protagonist--alternately desperate and hopeful, but always dogged in her search, even as it threatened to destroy her.
For my full review, check out Quantum Girl Theory.