Hello and happy spring! One of the worst things (among a large amount of worsts) about adulthood is that real life doesn't come with a spring break. But fancy high schools do! You might consider teaching as a career option if you want to make the most of your March. OR go a step better and marry a teacher, so you can reap all the benefits without, you know, having to be responsible for the futures of a bunch of hormonal youths. Bri-guy always gets off the last two weeks of March and we try to sneak in a little (or huge!) getaway every year to take advantage. This year, the Hotts are headed to Charleston, SC for a few days and I can't WAIT. We jet out tomorrow AM and we're going to eat so much food. We have a pretty solid list of reccos, but if you have any to share, hit me. I'll find the room.
We're starting the trip with a few days downtown with another couple, our first couples' getaway! So adult! Don't worry, somebodyyy already had to go and make it weird by saying "just confirming, this isn't turning into some kind of swinger thing, right?"
I'll bet you could never in a million years guess who that somebodyyy was??
We're then going out to my Aunt's house at the beach just outside of the city. We got lucky this year that Brian's break just so happens to straddle Easter, one whole side of my family is flying down the spend the holiday together (including my BFFFF), so we're getting the best of everything: friends, family and fried chicken. It's fixing to be a pretty perfect getaway.
Of course, what would a vacation be without books?! Literally nothing! Why even live. I'm planning to use this opportunity to catch up on some Pat Conroy, who just passed away. I've only read one of his novels, South of Broad (recommended) but just picked up The Prince of Tides, now seems like the right moment.
As for YOU my friend! Even if you can't physically get a spring break, you can always go on an adventure of literature!!!
Yes that isthe cheesiest thing I've ever said, thanks for noticing!.
For real, tho. Take a look, it's in a book and here are a few I recently read and loved and hope you will too. As always, all book reccos are stored under the hottreads tab riiiiight up there. This list is long, I've been on a tear, so I'll do all I can to keep it brief. (LOL, sure.)
A completely charming, relatable, grown-up love story between Allison, an aspiring actress living in NYC and Kyle, her long-term love who she left behind in Cincinnati. The novel unfolds over a number of years, as their paths cross and diverge, as Allison's star begins to rise and Kyle's complex Catholic faith keeps him rooted in Ohio, not always to his pleasure. It's smart, sexy, sophisticated and hard to put down.
Elisabeth Egan, a writer I admire, hit the nail on the head in her review for the New York Times Book Review, praising: "Theresa Rebeck’s tale of two star-crossed Midwesterners passed my screen test with flying colors. You know the one — you have a little pocket of time (15 minutes in the eye doctor’s waiting room, three minutes while waiting for the coffee to perk), and you have a choice: You can check your phone or dip into a book. When you pick the book, you know you’re reading a winner."
I don't think I realized that was my test, too, until she put it into words and this novel absolutely hits the spot. I read it on a trip to Philly to visit my sister, devouring the first half on the way down, and found myself actually looking forward to getting back on a bus - A BUS - to return home, because it meant I could dive back into I'm Glad About You.
Two thumbs, way up.
Recommended for: People who miss that show Smash (Rebek was the creator!), rom-com aficionados, anyone (else!) who is randomly obsessed with Cincinnati, lapsed Catholics, Midwesterners.
The Nest (fresh on stands today!) is one of the buzziest books of the season and meets the hype. Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, it's the story of four adult siblings on the cusp of earning a generous inheritance until the eldest brother, Leo, finds himself in a hot-hot mess that even he, generally charmed, can't pull them out of. The author is fascinating, this is her first novel, at 55! Her maturity comes through in her writing - the characters are real, their struggles feel earned and she beautifully conveys the delicate balance of family : obligation, guilt, loyalty and alternately loving and deeply loathing someone at the same time. I adored!
This book weirdly reminded me of that Netflix show Bloodline, with Coach Taylor, a show I thought was kind of horrible but did involve complicated sibling bonds. Also murder. This has no murder and is not horrible, but there is never a wrong time or place to fantasize about Coach Taylor, friends. NEVER.
Recommended for: Fans of Jonathan Tropper & Meg Wolitzer, people who watched that Netflix show Bloodline, with Coach Taylor, and thought: "I wish this was better and funnier and had less murder!", anyone with many siblings or a complex family sitch, trendies who like to be in the know on the latest & hottest releases.
I don't know what to say about this slim, riotous, deranged little story collection except to say that Helen Ellis is my goddess. Move it or lose it, Beyonce. There is a new kween in town.
Ellis herself is also utterly fascinating (read this or this or follow her on twitter if you don't believe me!) Like many writers, she landed in NYC at 22 with a suitcase and a dream, published her first novel to mild success, got married, and didn't publish again for years, instead leapt headfirst into the role of Upper East Side Housewife...and national poker champion.
The stories in American Housewife are darkly funny, oft satirical glimpses into the inner anxieties of the modern woman, packed with a zany brand of retro feminism and oft informed by Ellis's own experiences. We've got murdered doormen and beauty queens and reality TV and failed novels and nefarious book clubs and oh my stars, y'all (I can say that here, the author's orig from Alabama and brings a hefty dose of Southern charm...and barbs) I adore this book. I want to read it over and over and over and savor it forever.
Like all of my favorite books, American Housewife made me cry on the subway. Except this time, I was crying with laughter, not sadness. Perhaps the ultimate proof of a winner?
Recommended for: all mah ladies who like their humor prickly, their wine chilled, their bras expertly fitted and thier wainscoting installed just so. Avid readers of anything in the realm of The Toast or The Awl or McSweeney's or Shouts and Murmurs. People who want to be my best friend.
Veering very far in another direction, Salt to the Sea is a YA novel about WWII so it did make me cry on the subway, but for the other, standard reason. The lives of four young people converge in East Prussia in an imagining of the true story of the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff, which was meant to carry refugees to safety but instead sunk, becoming the largest maritime disaster in history, the details of which are sadly known by very few. Sepetys, who also wrote the wonderful novel Between Shades of Grey (and has a hilarious story about being mistaken for EL James on an airplane), is of Lithuanian descent and lost many family members during WWII. In both books, she shares stories that are not covered in traditional history classes, beyond Germany and Poland (which are, to be true, horrible in their own right!).
I'm generally not a YA reader and there are some tropes of the genre present which I personally don't love (I'm such a cranky old crone, I roll my eyes at teen romances. Is that terrible of me?), but don't let that keep you away. Her writing is vivid, plotting is suspenseful and the depth of her characters goes beyond what you'd expect to be aimed at teenagers. She doesn't dumb down the realities of the situation for a younger crowd and knowing the inevitable ending - that all of these people you're travelling along with are going to end up on a sinking ship - adds a heartbreaking intensity to the book.
The novel left me in tears, thinking of the fictional characters but also the real people they represent and all of the horror stories of war that go unremembered. LIFE IS SAD GUYS.
Recommended for: adult fans of YA (no shame!), high school teachers or parents' of teens to share with the youths in their lives, fans of The Book Thief, The Nightingale and other WWII literature, people ready to weep.
Switching tacks again, this slim novel in translation by a young Brazilian writer is CREEPY, caps intentional. The protagonist, I suppose we might call him that, Teo, is a medical student and oh, an anti-social psychopath. He meets Clarice, an aspiring screenwriter working on a film about a road trip across Brazil and proceeds to kidnap her and take her along the course of the trip in her script...as you do.
Montes sets the eerie tone from the beginning and slowly escalating the stakes and the twists until a point of no return. There is one moment that haunted me, literally, keeping me awake all night and still makes my skin crawl when I think about it.
Ultimately the creepiest thing about this novel - like reading any great psychological thriller with the bad guy at the center - is how you find yourself unintentionally stepping into the shoes of Teo. Not necessarily rooting for him, per se, but seeing into his mind, nodding along at his decisions, waiting for his rationale to his behaviors. He gets under your skin in a way that's so bad, it's good.
Perhaps the scariest plot twist in the novel is the final line in the author bio that reads "Montes was born in 1990...". KEWL. 1990! That's the thing about hot young writers. We get older, they stay the same age.
Recommended for: people with a high threshold for horror, anyone who doesn't need sleep at night, psychopaths, Brazilians.
I absolutely devoured this book during Winter Storm Jonas Brothers back in January (#neverforget). Set in the Colorado wilderness, Breaking Wild alternates between two female narrators: Amy Raye, a hunter who goes missing while out trailing an elk, and Pru, a park ranger who refuses to believe that Amy Raye can't - or doesn't want to - be found. The novel spins out like a great thriller as it digs deeper into the psychology of these two very complex women. I initially deemed this a "modern, feminist Hatchet" and I stand by that judgement.
I LOVE reading about women found outside of traditional "feminine spheres" (duh) and Amy Raye and Pru bring that in spades, their version of "having it all" involves slaughtering an elk in a blizzard while also balancing family and love. Les Becquets has a deep appreciation for the power of nature and her reverence brings the book beyond an adventure narrative. I highly suggest listening to this tremendous NPR interview, which gave me some insight onto what it's like to be a woman hunter, to understand why a person could love animals and yet desire to kill them, to see how cleansing the great outdoors can be.
Recommended for: badass feminist ladies, anyone who loves the great outdoors, hunters, people who think hunting is weird but want to understand it a little better, anyone who loves a great tale of adventure and wilderness, Gary Paulson fans all grown up.
And there you have it, friends! That should keep you occupied at least until beach reads season. Happy spring, beloveds, and happy reading!
xoxo Liz Hott