May Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite books from May!
Here are my six favorite reads of the past month, which include contemporary fiction, suspense, nonfiction, science fiction, and historical fiction titles. If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett
In Unlikely Animals, Hartnett's irresistible, oddball tragicomedy with heart, characters explore the limits and solidity of friendship and family loyalty, show mistakes and imperfections, and cling to hope.
Emma Starling is a former natural healer whose abilities have disappeared, and she's also a recent med-school dropout.
Emma returns to small-town New Hampshire to care for her father Clive, who is dying. He's also vividly hallucinating small animals and the speaking specter of a long-dead local naturalist, Ernest Harold Baynes, who is advising Clive about how to spend his final days, sometimes through making daring and eccentric decisions.
I was hooked, witnessing Hartnett's delightfully faulted, oddball characters making their way in a messy world. Father and daughter, brother and sister, and mother and father find their way back together after hurting each other, making mistakes, misunderstanding intentions, and losing their individual paths. The characters insist on hope, allow for reinvention, and leave room for the inexplicable and the wondrous.
For my full review, check out Unlikely Animals.
02 Wingwalkers by Taylor Brown
Brown's signature immersive details and wonderfully imagined, rich characters bring Depression-era scenes to life against an irresistible backdrop of swooping, soaring, daring aviation in Wingwalkers.
What is it about aviation stories and my being so in love with them?
In Taylor Brown's recently published historical fiction novel Wingwalkers, Zeno, a former World War I ace pilot, and Della, his daring wingwalking wife, travel Depression-era America, wowing audiences and inspiring hope in a dark, sober time.
Zeno and Della are vagabonds, putting on shows for small bills and change, scrambling to make enough to fuel their plane, feed their dog, and to hopefully have enough left over to eat meager meals, just enough to keep them going. They're daring, sometimes haunted, broken, in love, and irresistible to read about.
Wingwalkers swoops and soars yet grounds the reader in wonderfully imagined (and researched) details that bring the story to life. I loved this book!
Taylor is also the author of Gods of Howl Mountain, a book I loved and gave five stars, Pride of Eden (a book still on my to-read list that looks wonderful), and Fallen Land, a title I loved and included in the Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories about the Civil War. (If you’re not on the Taylor Brown train yet, may I strongly suggest you join me?)
Click here for my full review of Wingwalkers.
03 Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
In this nested story that spans centuries, Mandel explores a pandemic, moon colonization, the universal connection of music, the temptation to change the past, portals and time loops, loyalty, fear, love, and wonder.
In this science fiction novel, Mandel plays with time and time travel as well as mysteries surrounding what may be a portal linking individuals through time. Mandel explores an emerging pandemic in a future with a colonized moon, considers the universal connection of music, and digs into the difficulty and danger in changing the past.
But all of these players and times feel mainly to be in place to serve as a structure for our true main protagonist, Gaspary, and we see the most depth and development and change; loyalty and love and grief; wonder and danger; resignation and hope in his portion of the story. This was where I was captivated and delighted and emotionally engaged.
Do you like books that play with time? You might like the books I list on the Greedy Reading Lists Six Second-Chance, Do-Over, Reliving-Life Stories or Six Riveting Time-Travel Escapes or these Bossy reviews of books that play with time.
04 The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones
“In exposing our nation’s troubled roots, the 1619 Project challenges us to think about a country whose exceptionalism we treat as the unquestioned truth. It asks us to consider who sets and shapes our shared national memory and what and who gets left out..."
In this hefty expansion of the 1619 Project, which was spearheaded by Nikole Hannah-Jones at The New York Times Magazine, an array of contributors reframe the history of the United States, putting enslaved people and their work and contributions at the center of our past.
By expanding the Project into book length, contributors explore how enslaved people's labor and unwilling efforts laid the groundwork for our nation's economy, past and present, racial real estate divide, and disparities in wealth, among other elements.
The 1619 Project highlights tragic, uncomfortable aspects of our nation's history in an important work of nonfiction about race. Hannah-Jones aims to better shape how we recognize and address our country's past wrongs and how we might begin to address these travesties in order to move forward.
For my full review of The 1619 Project, please click here.
05 The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh
In The Love of My Life, Rosie Walsh offers a contemporary fiction thriller with twists that centers around a fascinating cast of characters, their heartbreak, and their hope.
Emma is a marine biologist who's devoted to her husband Leo and their young daughter Ruby. Emma finds herself fighting aggressive lymphoma, and Leo, an obituary writer, privately copes with his pain by writing about Emma.
Emma is recovering. But as Leo continues to dig into his wife's past to confirm details, he finds that the facts his beloved wife has told him don't add up. He doesn't want to upset Emma, so he does something he's never done: he goes behind her back, speaking to people from her past who can fill in the gaps. And he finds that almost everything Emma has ever told him about herself has been a lie.
The tone of this is more toward contemporary fiction, and the book offers satisfying character development, but The Love of My Life is also a psychological thriller with twists and turns. Without melodrama or a manipulative-feeling big reveal, Walsh surprised me with the real story and the reasons Emma kept her secrets. This wonderfully wrought page-turner is heartbreaking, hopeful, and masterfully crafted.
For my full review, check out The Love of My Life.
06 Revelations by Mary Sharratt
Sharratt offers vivid historical fiction details of the everyday 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.
In Revelations, Sharratt offers an immersive historical fiction novel that includes thoroughly researched, fascinating details of medieval life. The story is built upon the framework of facts from the lives of Julian of Norwich and what is known of the life of our main protagonist, Margery Kempe.
Our main protagonist puzzles and angers those around her by challenging the limitations of what women might do or say in the year 1400, and the Church is particularly galled and upset by the audacity of such a woman to have blindingly beautiful visions of Christ and to speak of Jesus's love.
Sharratt injects an undercurrent of what feels like modern feminism in her first-person story. I underlined many, many meaningful passages in Revelations, and I found exploring this time through Margery's imagined point of view to be fascinating, particularly the everyday details of life at the time.
For my full review, check out Revelations.