Powered By Blogger

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Most Compelling Books of 2023

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

It’s the time of year for my annual list of the Most Compelling Books I read in 2023. These are books that I still think about long after I finish reading them, with characters I care about in fascinating storylines.

Two of the books are current releases, first up is Alice McDermott’s novel Absolution. Unlike most of McDermott’s books that are set in New York or Ireland, this one tracks an Irish-American newlywed woman as she follows her engineer husband to Saigon, Vietnam, at the beginning of the U.S. involvement in the war. The writing is gorgeous, and it reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

Lauren Grodstein’s historical fiction We Must Not Think of Ourselves also recently published. Adam is young widowed Jewish teacher living in Warsaw in 1940 when the Nazis have forced Jewish residents to leave their homes and move into ghettos. He ends up living with two other families in a small apartment, and we watch as their lives deteriorate daily. This powerful book resonates today as we see how people struggle to keep their humanity while they are being treated inhumanely. 

Family stories are always a favorite and Tracey Lange’s The Connellys of County Down tells the story of the three adult Connelly siblings after their youngest sister is released from prison for a drug charge. She moves back in with her siblings and tries to rebuild her life as we see how what happened to her changed everyone’s life. 

J. Ryan Stradahl’s Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club takes us to Minnesota as four generations of women of a family own and operate a popular supper club through the years. Some of them take to the business, others feel confined by it. The sense of place is so strong, you’ll want to go there to eat at the restaurant. 

Michiko Aoyama’s novel, What You Are Looking For Is In The Library is a translated Japanese novel that intersects the lives of a group of people who are each at a crossroads in their lives. When they meet a special librarian, she gives advice that helps them. This one restores your faith in humanity.

We go to India for Parini Shroff’s terrific debut novel The Bandit Queens. When a young woman in their village is falsely suspected of killing her no-good husband, other women secretly seek her assistance in taking care of their rotten husbands.

Jesse Q. Sutanto has written young adult books, romance novels, and now turns to mysteries with Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers. Vera is a 60 year-old widow owner of a tea shop in Chinatown. When she finds a dead body in her shop, she decides to investigate on her own since the police seem uninterested. Vera is a hoot, one of the best characters I’ve seen in a long time. 

Matthew Norman’s Baltimore-set novel Charm City Rocks is about a music teacher whose teenage son thinks he’s helping dad by conning a rock star his dad had a crush on years ago to come to Baltimore in the hopes that sparks fly. It’s funny and sweet and you’ll want to visit Baltimore after reading this one. 

Jane L. Rosen’s On Fire Island takes readers to that vacation community as a young widower struggles to deal with his grief with the help of an older widower neighbor and a teenage boy. The characters in this heartwarming story one are wonderful, especially Shep, the older neighbor. 

The Leftover Woman by Jean Kwok deals with two women, one a young mother from China who travels to New York to search for the  daughter she was told died at birth. Her story intersects with a wealthy executive who struggles with her publishing career and raising her young daughter. 

On the nonfiction front, Helen Ellis’s book of essays, Kiss Me In the Coral Lounge recounts her loving marriage to her husband and how they survived the pandemic in a New York apartment. It’s hilarious and heartfelt, every married couple should read it.

Maggie Smith’s memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful is the flip side, describing how she dealt with her marriage falling apart and raising her young children during this time. Smith is a brilliant poet and each word hits emotionally. 

Bonus pick- Ann Patchett's novel Tom Lake. Lara recounts to her adult daughters the story of when she dated a famous actor while working in a summer theater years ago. Set during the pandemic, the writing is perfection and Patchett never hits a false note. 

Out of the 110 books I read this year, these are the 12 books that affected me the most. What did you read that you loved?

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor

The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor
Published by Park Row ISBN 9780778334187
Trade paperback, $17.99, 304 pages

I am a big fan of novels that retell or reframe a classic- Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful (Little Women) and Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible (Pride & Prejudice) are two of my favorites- so when I heard that Jillian Cantor's new novel The Fiction Writer paid homage to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, I was intrigued.

Writer Olivia Fitzgerald is having a bad year. After the success of her first novel, her second novel (a retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca) doesn't sell well at all. Her live-in boyfriend moves out, and her editor is not excited about her next effort.

Her editor says that billionaire and People's Sexiest Man Alive Ash Asherwood has requested that Olivia ghost-write a book with him about his grandmother and her relationship with Daphne du Maurier. The money is too good to turn down, so off Olivia goes to Malibu.

Ash is a widower, his wife perished in a car accident (was it an accident?) and he is reclusive. His housekeeper seems to be very attached to him and is hostile to Olivia.

While Olivia is becoming accustomed to life in Ash's beautiful ocean front home, Ash is pulling her more into his orbit. But when Olivia tries to get down to work discovering what exactly his grandmother and Daphne du Maurier's secret is, Ash becomes cagey and puts her off.

Olivia decides to investigate on her own, and discovers that Ash has not been truthful with her. What is he hiding and what is his real purpose for bringing Olivia to Malibu? 

Fans of Rebecca will enjoy The Fiction Writer on a deeper level, and the controversy around Daphne du Maurier's novel (other people claimed that she stole their story) adds an interesting aspect to the story. Pairing a nice copy of Rebecca with The Fiction Writer would make a great gift for the classic literature lover on your holiday list.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2023 Blog Tours.