"Books, the good ones, the ones you hold on to and come back to, they never disappoint. They're the best kind of escape because, instead of leading you away from yourself, they end up circling you back to yourself, nice and easy, helping you see things not just as they are, but as you are too." - Sally Franson
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave: I first read Chris Cleave nearly a decade ago when I studied in London, and I remember being stricken to the core by the brutality and beauty with which he wrote. This latest offering is no exception - a gut-wrenchingly lovely, painful, breath-stealing World War II love/friendship/hate/endurance story that I could not put down, even through the haze of NyQuil. Absolutely gorgeous, a true must-read for anyone who appreciates being simultaneously warmed and burned by literature.
Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel, Val Emmich: Oh my god they turned one of my favorite musicals into a novel, and I adored it. Honestly, this isn’t writing that’s going to set the world on fire or win a Pulitzer - I loved it moreso for the expansion of the characters’ backstories, for the glimpses into the motivations, causes and effects that just can’t be illustrated in a musical. Definitely recommend for fans of the musical, for young adults, for anyone really. (Bonus: it’s an incredibly fast read - at under 300 pages, I finished it in about 3 hours with breaks!)
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was SUCH a charming read - mashing up aspects of Marilyn Monroe’s film career and Liz Taylor’s myriad marriages, this story of Hollywood’s golden age and a movie star who played the game better than anyone was a quick, unique and delightful read.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han: I had to read it after the Netflix movie-fication became the breakout hit of August. It was charming, sweet, undemanding young-adult chick lit, with a good female role model and well-drawn love interests and supporting characters. Sweet.
P.S. I Still Love You, Jenny Han: Who knew this was a trilogy? Pretty much more of the same - I would have loved this series a decade-plus ago.
Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Jenny Han: In which our characters finish senior year and prepare to go to college. Again - written SO for teenage Lizzie it’s not even funny.
Three Wishes, Liane Moriarty: I’ve always been a fan of Liane Moriarty’s particular universe of writing - it’s different and interesting while simultaneously unchallenging and quirky and kind of escapist good fun. This offering wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I enjoyed the story of three adult triplets seeking their own identities while dealing with myriad personal and familial demands and complications.
Wideacre, Philippa Gregory: A sort of Georgian horror/mystery/murder/insanity novel chronicling the lengths to which a young gentlewoman will go in order to inherit/keep her family’s estate. Lots of grisly incest-y murdery darkness - it fucked with my head quite intensely and I can’t say I loved it.
The Favored Child, Philippa Gregory: The next generation of the Wideacre story - again, more incest, murder, insanity, screwiness. A good suspenseful read, but it really messed with me.
Meridon, Philippa Gregory: I preferred this to the first two installments of the Wideacre trilogy - the third generation, and the only one with a happy ending.
A Simple Favor, Darcey Bell: I read this because I haven’t yet managed to see the Blake Lively-Anna Kendrick moviefication of the book, and it was DARK, campers. Twisty and rife with plot points I didn’t see coming, and yet at the same time, somehow not actually that well-written. I feel like it was kind of a cheap rip-off of “Gone Girl” and its ilk…hmm.
The Confession of Katherine Howard, Suzannah Dunn: Eh - this was terribly insipid. I read it in the thick of my Tudor phase, and it hammered home how much more masterful Tudor experts like Philippa Gregory, Jean Plaidy, and Hilary Mantel are at painting a vivid (albeit slightly historically inaccurate) world.
After my little delve into the world of well-written YA literature, I revisited a favorite YA writer, Emery Lord, who I’ve followed for nearly a decade (she used to write on a blog I read, and was one of the few original and lovely voices there). Her books are just beautiful YA lit - complex characters, unafraid to tackle weightier issues, and deeply textured and specific and place-aware, if that makes sense.
Open Road Summer, Emery Lord: Two best friends on a concert tour deal with their demons.
The Start of Me and You, Emery Lord: A junior in high school works her way back to being okay after her boyfriend’s death.
When We Collided, Emery Lord: Bipolar disorder and depression in a coastal town in Northern California - beautifully handed.
The Names They Gave Us, Emery Lord: Crises of faith and stage 4 cancer. I’m aware I’m making these books sound really uplifting, but I think that’s one of the really great things about YA lit - when it can take things that teenagers actually do face and deal with, and make them both relatable and…tolerably packaged? I always really did well when books captured and distilled a particular intersection of my angst and inability to express myself, essentially doing that work for me. I think Emery Lord is a master (mistress) of that and that’s why I would recommend her highly, whether you’re a young-adult reader or not.
I also continued on my binge of Philippa Gregory in chronological historical order and finished out:
The Boleyn Inheritance: Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and nasty Jane Boleyn - one of my favorites.
The Taming of the Queen: Katherine Parr, and another of my favorites.
The Queen’s Fool: Judaism, the reign of Mary I, and the loss of Calais.
The Virgin’s Lover: the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, very Robert Dudley-heavy.
The Last Tudor: Eh, I re-read it to complete the cycle and regret that - this story of the three Grey sisters is just as insipid the second time around.