Here's the latest installment of my periodic (but maybe not reliably scheduled) twice-yearly book recommendations list. I'm thrilled to share these titles, and hope they bring joy in the midst of stay-at-home reading time!
I'm going to list them in alphabetical order by author:
Lian Dolan's The Sweeney Sisters:
This book is near and dear to my heart for many reasons. The author is a total sweetheart, and I was a developmental editor for this book when Lian was drafting it. It's a book about sisters; Lian has four; I have three. It's absolutely beautifully written, and even if you're not a sister, you will find this riveting. The elevator pitch: you learn after your father passes that your next door neighbor is actually your "sister from another plot-twister!" (that could be a thing, right?) My favorite story about this book is that my eldest sister texted me that she was reading a book about sisters that she wanted me to read because it was so good--and then she finished it and saw my name in the acknowledgments. Small world! Plus: this is honestly one of the best covers I've seen.
Gini Grossenbacher's Madam of the Silk:
This is the second in Gini's series about madams (yes, the prostitutional kind!) I attended Gini's book launch and it was a really fun and informative event. I haven't yet read this, but I know it'll be a thoughtful read, based on all the research she talked about at the launch. The elevator pitch: it's about real-life historical San Francisco madam Ah Toy. Gini and I belong to the same Historical Novels Society group, and she is always fun to catch up with!
Anara Guard's Hand on My Heart:
This is a poetry collection by another friend IRL. And speaking of sisters, she did a book tour before the pandemic with her sister, who had also brought out a book. Very sweet to think of doing that with a sister. The poems in this collection are strong and remind me of how much I love poetry. Anara's also a great fiction writer. Watch for more from her!
Sands Halls's Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology:
This is a memoir that caught my eye because Sands was recommended to me and the other directors of the Gold Rush Writers Conference as a possible presenter (and yes: she will be one of our headliners at the conference, rescheduled from right now to October 2-4. It's Saturday, May 2, as I type this in the evening: we would be eating dinner and literally listening to her keynote THIS VERY MINUTE. Wild!) In other small-world wonderfulnesses, soon after we scheduled her, she and I were both presenters at the Sierra Writers Conference which took place in January before all the madness descended, and so we got to meet in person and attend each other's presentations. Her book is so well written and disturbing. The elevator pitch: an earnest, smart young woman falls into and out of the grip of Scientology, Sands's own story.
Greer McAllister's Woman 99:
I don't know Greer in real life, but we've had some great interactions online, and when she launched this book, she did a wonderful series of blog postings with 99 other authors invited to recommend another woman's book. How cool is that?! It was an ambitious project with the hashtag #read99women. She kindly hosted me for one of those. I'm a 99 woman! Click through to see what I recommended (and then come back). I really loved Greer's book The Magician's Lie, and was thrilled to jump into Woman 99. The elevator pitch: a woman gets herself committed to an insane asylum to rescue her sister there.
Anna-Marie McLemore's Dark and Deepest Red:
Anna-Marie is the queen/king/mermaid/merlad of brooding magical realism, and you will love their latest, which is about the real-life "dancing plague" of medieval Strasburg. An amazing person in real life, Anna-Marie and I are both members of the aforementioned Historical Novels Society group (as is the next author in this list) and I was so happy to attend their launch at a local bookstore seemingly just moments before the shelter in place mandate was announced. I'm also proud I got to interview them for this Washington Post article about how the pronoun "they" will have the same staying power as the similarly originally-conflicted title Ms. Elevator pitch: Dark and Deepest Red is also a sideways retelling of the Brothers Grimm "The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces" or "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." Don't miss this beautiful novel!
Gina Mulligan's Remember the Ladies:
Gina's novel was traditionally published in hard cover by Five Star and she recently got the rights back and released an ebook version. This is a fantastic look at the fight for suffrage, which hello!, this year is the centennial of. Can you believe U.S. woman have only been voting for 100 years? (Well, in places like California and a few other states, suffrage passed earlier: 1911 here). Elevator pitch: this is the novel to read to get a good look at what it was like to lobby for suffrage. And plus: Gina in real life is a true and genuine friend. Check out her other novel From Across the Room as well (same situation with getting rights back and releasing an ebook), an epistolary masterpiece with a total kicker of an O'Henry at the end.
Rebecca Pittman's The History and Haunting of Lizzie Borden:
Rebecca is a devoted researcher of paranormal spots, and her books sell incredibly well. I was so excited to read this book about Lizzie Borden, especially since I know she found out a shocking new theory about who might've been there that fateful day of August 4, 1892. Elevator pitch: a thorough and innovative look at a historical double-murder case that continues to haunt us today. Rebecca and I planned to put our heads together on a book project just before Coronavirus came to town, and I hope that when the world is back to normal we can resume! In the meantime, check out her oeuvre, and most especially this book! I've got just a tiny hint: let's play balllllll.
Lisa Redfern's Phases of Gage:
I couldn't help but be drawn to this story. Elevator pitch: a novelization of the true-life morbid case of Phineas P. Gage, a medical curiosity in the 1800s whose skull was punctured by a 13 pound iron rod...he continued to live and be studied by neurologists. Today his skull resides in a Harvard museum. Lisa's a kindred spirit and I know you'll enjoy this look at a very strange life.
Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl's Rad American History A-Z:
Yes yes yes yes yes, you need this book, and you need to buy copies for the young readers in your life too! Elevator pitch: this is the latest in a series of books celebrating rad women, with Kate's great text and Miriam's amazing illustrations. I did a minor bit of invited brainstorming along with others, and am proud as PUNCH to be in the acknowledgements because of that. Seriously, buy this book and others in the series both for yourself, and as gifts for the young people in your lives. Get the word out about the powerful accomplishments of rad women! I couldn't love these books more. They are the equivalent of those old wonderful orange biographies of women that some readers will remember from their childhoods.
Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation:
Exactly my kind of book. That is all.
Next in line to be purchased:
- Ed Skoog's poetry volume Travelers Leaving for the City,
- Meredith Arthur's Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World, and
- Nanea Hoffman's The Anxiety Blob: Comfort and Encouragement Journal.
. . . . .