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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Six Novels I Loved Reading Last Year



Six More Bossy Favorite Reads

I've been posting lists of some of my favorite reads of last year by genre; for my all-around favorites, check out My Very Favorite Bossy 2023 Reads.

This list is made up of more fiction I've loved, 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 Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Keegan's slim book may seem cozy and quiet at first, but she beautifully illuminates tiny moments alongside momentous decisions and explores how together, they form a person and make up a whole life.

When Bill, a good-hearted coal merchant, discovers something shocking while making his regular delivery to the local convent, he must decide whether to carry on his way or to consider the uncomfortable implications of the Catholic church's deep influence on the community.

Similarly, when he stumbles onto a truth about his own mysterious heritage--a mystery he felt he had made peace with--he must decide whether it changes his feelings about his childhood and his identity. The two issues are intertwined, and it's a joy to watch the manner in which Bill copes with both instances.

The story comes alive through the little moments Keegan highlights; while she explores decisions often determined by instinctual black-and-white, right-and-wrong judgments, she also digs into the intense struggle involved in reaching out from comfortable safety and taking a risk in order to do what feels right.

Keegan takes the small moments, impulses, generosities, omissions, and aversions that make up a day, a week, and a month and lays them alongside Big Moments of Realization--which often require grace and forgiveness, other times action and defiance--and with all of this in hand, she paints a picture full of the nuances choices, self-reflection, and possibilities that form the basis of a life.

Please click here for my full review of Small Things Like These. Keegan is also the author of the short story collection Antarctica and the novel Foster, which was one of my all-around favorite reads last year.


 

02 Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Patchett's Tom Lake is a heartwarming, poignant Covid-era bonding session between a mother and her three grown daughters as Lara recounts the surprisingly layered story of her youthful romance with an actor who later became famous.

In Ann Patchett's novel Tom Lake, Lara's three young-adult daughters reunite at the family's Northern Michigan orchard. Covid-19 has struck, and the family is experiencing more togetherness than they ever thought they'd have again.

Lara, her husband Joe, and the girls work feverishly to harvest the cherry crop without the usual support of workers due to the virus, and to make the time pass, the girls beg Lara to share the story of her youthful romance and acting job alongside the then-unknown, later-famous Peter Duke at the theater company Tom Lake.

But when Lara shares aspects of a life lived before her children existed, her daughters are led to consider their own paths and choices, as well as life's twists and turns, evolving dreams and desires, their relationship with their mother, and their parents' bond.

All of the characters seem affected by the truths that emerge in Lara's telling about Lara herself, Duke, her young life, her path to her husband Joe, and the unexpected ways her future shifted and changed.

For my full review, please see Tom Lake.


 

03 Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Sutanto's Vera Wong is playful, brusque, bossy, and connects an unlikely cast of characters, all murder suspects, into a heartwarming friendship that feels like family.

Vera Wong is running a largely unvisited tea house, lamenting her grown son's lack of time for her, and grumbling about the new "French" bakery that's just opened down the street in Chinatown.

When a dead body shows up in her tea house, Vera takes charge of the investigation of what only she is certain is a murder.

Marshall, the deceased, was a petty, obnoxious, verbally abusive, selfish, belittling jackass. As the truth comes out about Marshall's activities and his final evening, it becomes clear that each character has a possible motivation for having offed Marshall, so to Vera, each is a potential killer. She throws dinner parties and facilitates get-together to study her subjects.

And along the way, Vera's brusque truth-telling inspires an unlikely group of friends to form a special bond that's more like that of a family. This was absolutely my favorite part of the book.

This was a fast read (listen), and while the denouement didn't completely hold together for me and the loose ends were tied up with extreeeeeemely tidy bows, the story was really about the relationships and Vera's coming into her own, and I adored these aspects.

Click here for my full review of Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers.


 

04 North Woods by Daniel Mason

Mason's novel isn't simply a historical fiction story linked through timelines. The book builds to be an often-sinister, Gothic-feeling story with various interconnected repercussions, discoveries, and punishments; ghosts able to enact revenge; and, in the end, for select characters, a surprising and hopeful opportunity for a new start.

Mason's newest novel tells the story of a New England house in the woods by tracking those who live in it over the centuries.

But North Woods isn't a charming historical fiction novel. While Mason's various timelines and myriad inhabitants show the interconnectedness of us all and celebrate the wonders of the wild world surrounding us, they do so with a significant, dark undercurrent that grows in prominence as the story progresses.

North Woods explores cycles of nature and human behavior. The tone is spooky and the story moves at a measured pace. I was interested in the ultimate connections and outcomes and I appreciated the story and particularly Mason's gorgeous writing (the final chapter is a particular knockout), but I did take a long time to get through this one.

Click here for my full review of North Woods.


 

05 Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Jen Beagin's literary fiction novel is consistently bizarre, at times base, and often darkly funny as her characters alternately dive into and avoid facing the implications of their past traumas, stunted emotional states, vulnerabilities, lies, and sexual exploration.

Greta sits in her 1700s Dutch farmhouse in Hudson, New York transcribing sessions for a local New Age sex coach (his credentials are suspect) who calls himself Om.

She begins to fall for a stoic female client Greta affectionately thinks of as Big Swiss (Greta gathers from Om's awkwardly admiring chatter that the client is tall and originally from Switzerland).

When Greta recognizes Big Swiss's voice at the dog park and the two accidentally meet, Greta panics and lies about her name and her profession, and the two begin a passionate affair.

The dialogue is witty, odd, and often both cringe-inducing and darkly funny. Some of the metaphors felt heavily hammered home, but I didn't mind. I was intrigued by the intersection of the women's personalities and lives, and Beagin kept me consistently hooked with this offbeat novel.

Click here for my full review of Big Swiss.


 

06 A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

Joella's lovely exploration of three characters' loss and grief allows for deep human connection, the forging of messy paths forward, and unlikely, powerful sparks of hope within their interconnected lives.

Maybe that is love. Maybe loving someone so deeply means accepting the fact that they occupy a specific, clear place in you. You accept that there will be a hole if you lose them- the same way a painting or a photograph will leave its shadows on the wall after it's gone, the way a tree will leave a crater where the roots and stump were.

A Quiet Life centers around three characters, their unlikely connections, and their growing importance to each other over the course of a winter in a suburban community.

Through the very different but interconnected storylines and the varied, complicated set of characters' influences and motivations, Joella explores the crushing blow of grief, the power of human caring, and unlikely avenues that seem to lead toward hope.

A Quiet Life was lovely and heartwarming but didn't feel too easy and was never cloying.

Please click here for my full review of A Quiet Life.

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