Here it is: The best of what I’ve been reading these last few months. Summer is winding down, which makes me a bit said; but the good news is that the first book on my list has yet to be published – something to look forward to!
The Ways We Hide by Kristina McMorris (September 6, 2022)
— This just might be my favorite fiction title this year. I was lucky enough to snag a pre-pub copy at the Public Library Association (PLA) Conference in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year. — Fenna Vos is a survivor of a traumatic childhood in Michigan’s copper country. Orphaned at a young age, she is taken in by a local family. But when things get too complicated at home, she disappears from their lives, eventually finding her place performing onstage as the assistant to an escape artist. Then one night she is noticed by a scout for MI9 – a branch of British military intelligence that provides escape and evasion support. Fenna’s harrowing journey into Nazi-occupied territory will keep readers up late!
Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles
First off, I’m a true crime junkie, but the genre so often leaves the reader feeling kind of icky – like a voyeur of the absolute worst moment of a person’s life. Miles’ Trailed is different. It asks hard questions such as: How often do police rush to judgment? Was the sexual orientation of the women a detraction for the investigation? Are we safe in our natural parks? And are women safe to explore the wild on their own?
Ma and Me: A Memoir by Putsata Reang
If you liked Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, you are going to love Ma and Me. Reang was just a baby when her family fled Cambodia on a ship. Her mother resisted the captain’s orders to throw her sickly baby overboard – a story her mother doesn’t let her forget. Reang enjoys a closeness with her mother throughout her childhood as she strives to be the perfect Khmer daughter. But when she comes out to her mother while in her 20s, their close bond is severed, and Reang must choose between living her life as a gay woman or acquiescing to her mother’s cultural expectations. This book is about the choices we make and the deep, abiding love of family.
The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin
This was another book I picked up at PLA Portland where Willy Vlautin was signing books, hardbacks no less! He was incredibly kind and took the time to speak with everyone. I wasn’t familiar with his work, but the woman in line behind me told me he was her favorite author, describing his every word as “perfect.” I don’t know about perfect, but I so appreciated this book and wished I would have read it before meeting him. In The Night Always Comes, Vlautin deftly tackles the lives of the working poor and the problems that gentrification brings to communities. After finishing this book, I went back and read Don’t Skip Out on Me. If you haven’t read Vlautin, I suggest you do.
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
Based on real-life female Soviet sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, The Diamond Eye is probably one of the most fascinating books of historical fiction I’ve read recently. Mila was a single mother, for all intents and purposes, and history student at Kyiv University when Nazi forces invaded the Ukraine and Russia in 1941. She was among the first volunteers to enlist in the Red Army and became a sniper earning the nickname “Lady Death” with 309 kills to her credit. Mila’s story is one of grit and resolve where she finds love on the Russian front amidst the death and destruction. I won’t give away the additional plot line of Mila’s tour of the U.S. in 1942. Author Quinn provides notes on her research and recommended sources for more information on the life of Lyudmila Pavlichenko at the end of the book.
Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans by Janisse Ray
I had wondered if I’d finally tired of Janisse Ray. I own all of her books. Most of them are signed. I bought Wild Spectacle not long after it was published last fall and let it sit for a while. (My “to read” pile is sky high.) I pulled it off the shelf this summer and read it while lounging on a raft in the pool. It was absolutely magical reading Ray’s prose while dragonflies swirled around me, one landing on the top edge of the book. So no, I have not tired of Janisse Ray. Her exploration of the wild transported me back to my own experiences as a child and reminded me that as adults we can still – and should – experience the wonder of nature. For an immersive experience, I highly recommend reading this book outside.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
One of the great things about public libraries, especially when it comes to fiction, is the depth of our collections. Of course, we purchase the blockbusters (think John Grisham and James Patterson), but we also purchase generously from the mid-list, which tends to be my happy place. Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ debut novel from 2018 takes place during the height of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s influence in Colombia. Chula and her older sister Cassandra live in a gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and violence from paramilitaries and guerrilla armies lurks just beyond their secluded neighborhood. Petrona, a teenager from the slums who is taken in by the family as a maid, finds herself an unwilling player in the paramilitary’s efforts to terrorize Chula’s family. Author Contreras’ experiences growing up in Bogotá inspired the novel. For more information, read her interview with NPR.