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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six More Novels I Loved Reading Last Year



Six More Bossy Favorite Reads

So far in 2024 I've been posting Friday Greedy Reading Lists of some of my favorite reads of last year by genre; for my all-around favorites of last year, you can check out My Very Favorite Bossy 2023 Reads.

You can find my first list of novels I loved reading last year here. Today's list is made up of more fiction I've loved in the recent-ish past, whether quirky, poignant, or attention-grabbing.

If you've read any of these titles, I'd love to hear what you think! I'd also love to hear: what are some of your favorite reads, whether you loved them last year or more recently?


 

01 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.


 

02 Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful explores family bonds, broken connections, forging through pain, allowing for unconventional routes to happiness, and finding forgiveness.

William grew up in a family broken by tragedy, the darkness and trauma of which shaped his childhood and overshadowed everything. He is emotionally closed off and only reliant upon himself.

When he meets driven, plan-focused Julia in his freshman year of college, she pulls him into her high-spirited, joy-filled, energetic orbit--and into her loving family, which includes her volatile and no-nonsense mother, her beloved and romantic father, and her three charming sisters, who have always felt like interconnected pieces of a whole.

When William's painful history resurfaces, it shakes the entire family with its repercussions. It's not clear whether he and Julia can go on--or if her family will ever be the same.

I didn't expect the ways in which various characters redefine their bonds and reconsider their places in the world when they make choices that separate them from each other. The ways in which the family members reconvene were not neat or without pain, but were intriguing.

Napolitano is also the author of Dear Edward, a book I adored.

For my full review, please check out Hello Beautiful.


 

03 Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

This darkly funny story made me cringe while staying riveted by the main protagonist's deeply faulted reasoning, criminal actions, and bumbling through the publishing industry of Kuang's Yellowface.

Juniper Song is a bestselling author. But she isn't simply a hardworking writer overcoming sluggish first-book attention and sales, emerging with an enormous hit (and new pen name) overnight, as she would have others believe.

Juniper is a longtime Yale acquaintance of Athena Liu--the Athena Liu, publishing's darling, with multiple critically acclaimed and celebrated titles--and the focus of June's years-long envy.

When June witnesses Athena's death and then mysteriously comes up with a story about Chinese laborers during World War I, she covers her tracks to avoid anyone's asking: But wasn't Athena working on a similar story before her untimely end?


As June navigates the cutthroat, sometimes superficial, often silly publishing world Kuang puts forth here, she wavers between attempting to justify her compounded, ethically devastating actions to Yellowface readers and panicking at the idea that the origins of and true credit for the story (Athena) will become clear.

I listened to R. F. Kuang's Yellowface as an audiobook.

Click here for my full review of Yellowface.


 

04 The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

Rowley brings humor to this heartwarming--but never cloying--exploration of friendship, connection, messy relationships, heartbreak, and life and death.

To think about life is to contemplate death--it's what makes living so valuable. Our time here is limited, gone in the blink of an eye.

The Celebrants centers around college friends who made a pact after Alec, one of the original six, died before their 1995 graduation: if any of them is going through a crisis and needs to know they are loved more than they love themselves, they can call upon the others to assemble, no questions asked--for affection, support, and the sharing of sentiments typically reserved for after a loved one is gone.

The members of the group may have grown apart, but in the decades to come, when one of them feels adrift and lost, they come together in sassy, funny, imperfect, loving support.

Rowley doesn't smooth over realistically tangled, messy, intriguing conflicts or sober themes, yet he doesn't position the friendships in such a way that their existences magically solve life's deepest problems.

You can check out my full review of The Guncle here. Rowley's husband Byron Lane wrote another book I loved, A Star Is Bored. You can find my review of that book here.

If you're intrigued by books about facing mortality, you might be interested in the books on my Greedy Reading List Six Powerful Memoirs about Facing Mortality and Six More Powerful Books about Facing Mortality.

For my full review, please check out The Celebrants.


 

05 A Play for the End of the World by Jai Chakrabarti

Chakrabarti offers characters with complex struggles, hopes, and haunting memories who work to form deep, heartwarming connections in this luminously written debut novel.

"For family you must fight like a tiger," Misha once told him.

Chakrabarti's A Play for the End of the World takes place in 1970s New York and in rural India, with key characters dipping into each disparate world--and finding to their surprise that they have connected with a place, with its pace, and with the patterns of its people.

When Jaryk learns that his like-a-brother friend Misha from his childhood World War II-era orphanage has died under mysterious circumstances while in India (on a trip he had wanted Jaryk to accompany him on), Jaryk travels there to collect his ashes.

He becomes drawn into a bare-bones yet complicated Indian production of a play--the same play his orphanage director and father figure once put on with the children in the Warsaw Ghetto in an effort to introduce the concept of death before the tragic end he foresaw.

The unlikely Jaryk-Lucy connection captured my heart, the Misha-Jaryk friendship was fantastic, and Chakrabarti's writing--about New York's bustle, small-town Indian life, the power of music and art, and a yearning for love and acceptance while fearing rejection and not feeling worthy--is luminous.

Click here for my full review of A Play for the End of the World. You might also like some of the other books with Indian settings I've reviewed on this Bossy site.


 

06 Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

In Signal Fires, Dani Shapiro offers characters and consequences that connect through time and in unexpected ways. The loss and redemption here are tragic and beautiful.

Signal Fires begins with three teenagers drinking in 1985, a car accident, a young doctor Ben Wilf, who comes upon the wreck and whose family is involved, and a haunting secret.

Time passes, and a young family moves onto Division Street. Their astronomy-obsessed young son Waldo befriends the retired Dr. Wilf, whose wife is losing her memories at the same time vivid memories of past events come rushing back to Ben with uncomfortable impact.

“If only time could be seen whole, then you could see the past remaining intact, instead of vanishing in the rearview mirror.”

Signal Fires is about brokenness and the consequences of secrets and mistakes. But it is also largely about overcoming thwarted emotional connection and forging new ways of coming together through and after tragedy.

I love Shapiro's writing and how she conveys the tragic beauty of human weakness and the relentless, if sometimes seemingly ill-advised, nature of hope. I adored the way the character of Waldo served as an unlikely conduit to wonder and how he bridges enormous barriers of all kinds.

I listened to Signal Fires as an audiobook.

Click here for my full review of Signal Fires. I mentioned Dani Shapiro's fascinating memoir Inheritance in the Greedy Reading List Six More Illuminating Memoirs to Lose Yourself In.

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