May Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from May!
In no particular order, here's the gist of each of the books I most loved reading during the past month:
The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher, based upon the diaries she kept as a young woman while stumbling into her iconic lifetime role as Princess Leia;
The Invisible Woman, World War II historical fiction by Erika Robuck based on the real-life spy Virginia Hall, a courageous, idealistic, determined, and imperfect heroine I was intrigued by;
Great Circle, my favorite read of the month: Maggie Shipstead's interconnected stories about two independent, defiant, appealingly strong young women split by time;
Hour of the Witch, Chris Bohjalian's historical thriller with rich details of life in 1662 Boston, strong female characters, and an infuriating witch trial;
Who Is Maud Dixon? Alexandra Andrews's twisty-turny mystery about a reclusive author and the ambitious assistant she takes under her wing;
An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor's book about finding faith, moments of reflection, and meaning in the natural world and in everyday tasks;
The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré's story about a young Nigerian woman determined to have her say in the world and emerge from her oppressive situation; and
The Forgotten Kingdom, the second great book in Signe Pike's Lost Queen trilogy, which is set in sixth century Scotland.
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 The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
In The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher considers the phenomenon of Star Wars, which drew her into its unprecedented whirlwind when she was just nineteen; her middle-aged embracing of Comic-Con, her passionate fans, and the odd familiarity they feel with her because of their love for Leia; and her youthful obsession and affair with the gruff (and married) Harrison Ford.
Fisher is candid, funny, charmingly offbeat, and she's mastered the art of honest self-examination. I loved listening to her fantastically raspy voice as she read her memoir in audiobook form and feel like listening to this one is the only way to go.
I laughed out loud repeatedly at Fisher's good-natured, self-deprecating, and confidently oddball views and contemplations.
For my full review of this book, please see The Princess Diarist.
02 The Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck
The Invisible Woman is historical fiction about the real-life World War II-era spy Virginia Hall. Erika Robuck makes Hall appealingly realistic, with faults, desires, idealism, and an astounding baseline level of bravery that leads to realistically messy, sometimes tragic situations--and occasionally glorious victories.
Hall, an American working for the UK, was a trainer in the French Resistance despite the physical limitations caused by her prosthetic leg (which she gained following a shooting accident). She's entrenched in enemy territory sending coded messages and drumming up supporters for the cause for longer than most agents manage to survive, so she has a persistent feeling of living on borrowed time.
Robuck shaped the real-life figure of Virginia Hall into a courageous, idealistic, determined, and imperfect heroine I was intrigued by.
For my full review of this book, please see The Invisible Woman.
03 Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Great Circle was my favorite read of the month!
Maggie Shipstead's story spans the wilds of Prohibition-era Montana, the blustery Pacific Northwest, the unforgiving chill of Alaska, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the movie-making business, and the stark, brutal dangers of Antarctica, from the early twentieth century to modern day.
In interconnected stories--which felt equally compelling to me--Shipstead brings to life these disparate places and times and focuses on various colorful characters within them.
The author has created two independent, defiant, appealingly strong young women split by time (and, secondarily, created complex male characters they each love as family or romantic partners).
Shipstead is a wonderful writer, and I loved every word of this. Both of the timelines had me hooked.
I received a prepublication copy of Great Circle courtesy of Knopf Publishing Group and NetGalley.
For my full review of this book, please see Great Circle.
04 Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
Hour of the Witch is a thoroughly researched historical thriller with rich details of life in 1662 Boston. Mary Deerfield is a twenty-four-year-old, faithful Puritan wife trying to escape her violent, often drunk husband, who is a widower twice her age. Then Mary finds herself embroiled in a witch trial.
Bohjalian traces infuriating injustices perpetuated against the book's female characters--who, like the real-life women of the time, are largely powerless and often not considered autonomous beings. Mary's foul treatment by her husband--and the community's unwillingness to protect her--may have you roiling with rage, but just know that Mary has a fiery spirit and some tricks up her sleeve, and she doesn't intend to go quietly.
I received a prepublication copy of this book courtesy of Doubleday Books and NetGalley.
If you like stories about witches, you might like the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Wonderfully Witchy Stories to Charm You.
For my full review of this book, please see Hour of the Witch.
05 Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
When young, ambitious Florence implodes her burgeoning publishing career during a destructive whim, then lucks into a position as a personal assistant to the reclusive, anonymous, bestselling author with the pen name of Maud Dixon, she can't believe it--everything is starting to fall into place.
"Maud" strikes Florence as an oddball genius, and Florence is just trying to soak up all the culture and knowledge she can as she plans to write her own bestseller. That is, until it becomes clear that things with Maud--and with Maud's professional and private situation--aren't at all what they seem.
Maud Dixon has clever twists and turns that I didn't see coming and offers interesting gray areas regarding the roles of hero and villain.
For my full review of this book, please see Who Is Maud Dixon?
06 An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
After leaving her position as a pastor and writing a book, Leaving Church, about the experience, Taylor here explores finding faith, moments of reflection, and meaning in the world around her in An Altar in the World.
Through exploring everyday chores--practices as simple as walking, washing, praying, or bestowing simple blessings--Taylor explores the ways she grounds herself in everyday life while connecting with deeper meaning. I love Taylor's voice and am in for all of her books.
Taylor also wrote the wonderful book Holy Envy, which I read with the same group as I did this book.
I adore spending time with this author. She's wise but unassuming, knowledgeable and open to new experiences, funny and self-deprecating.
For my full review of this book, please see An Altar in the World.
07 The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Adunni is a young teen growing up in a rural Nigerian village where girls are often married off by age fourteen and are frequently made to stop attending school even earlier in life.
She's curious, talkative, joyful, and full of song. Her difficult young life threatens to break her, but she persists in trying to find her voice and finding a voice for other women.
Adunni experiences tremendous emotional, physical, familial, and societal hardships, yet she keeps her sights set on getting back into school and escaping the grim, constricting situations she's been forced into. She's a tough young woman determined to have her say in the world and emerge from her oppressive situation, and she's wonderfully dogged, creative, and spirited.
My friend Kirstan recommended this book, and I listened to it as an audiobook, which I adored.
For my full review of this book, please see The Girl with the Louding Voice.
08 The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike
This is Pike's second book in The Lost Queen trilogy. Set in sixth century Scotland, The Forgotten Kingdom traces the story of Languoreth, a strong, imprisoned queen; her twin brother Lailoken (who eventually becomes the legendary character of Merlin); and the complicating factors of bloodthirsty vengeance and war between Languoreth's husband and his allies and Lailoken's master and his own allies.
This is epic. It's captivating without being melodramatic, romantic without any overdone elements, and wonderfully steeped in legend. I loved Pike's first novel in this series, The Lost Queen, and this book reminded me of The Mists of Avalon and Outlander.
This book was right down my alley in tone, character development, and detail.
For my full review of this book, please see The Forgotten Kingdom.