What I've Been Reading in March
March played out wayyyyy differently than I had planned. My plan was to focus on springtime vibes. My plan was to enjoy a little staycation reading while everyone else enjoyed in-person Spring Break destinations. My plan was to breeze through the March books for the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge (Get the free downloadable bookmark here.) and spend the rest of the month with my head down, enjoying a few novels on my TBR pile that have been calling my name.
Instead, what I experienced as I read my way through March mirrored the unpredictable spring weather:
- dark & dreary (winter)
- a bright spot (false spring)
- dark & dreary (again)
- finally true spring
It's an awkward analogy to explain, so why don't you check out What I've Been Reading in March. I think it will help it make sense.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Last year, my neighborhood book club chose to read This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger and since I had recently read (and fell in love with) John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, I was all in. A bonus for us was that this was the book that my entire city chose as the One Book to read as a community in 2021 culminating in a lecture given by the author last Fall. I loved the book. I loved listening to the author share during that lecture. I could not wait to get his previous book, Ordinary Grace, and I decided that I'd begin March with another adventure through the pages of this author's incredible writing.
Alas, Ordinary Grace was not that type of book. Even though The Tender Land was set in the depression, I truly enjoyed it. It was encouraging. Uplifting. Overcoming. Adventurous.
Like I said, Ordinary Grace is not that type of book. While it shared a few similarities (a trip into yesteryear, loss, the role faith plays in how we process loss), Ordinary Grace lacked the hopeful feel that I had expected based on my first Krueger novel. It is a novel of the (thankfully fictional) reminiscences of a grown man recounting a summer from his childhood that would send anyone to the therapist's couch. It started with the death of a child and reader, it got worse from there. I felt trapped in the darker side of small town America around the 1960s and I wanted out.
The best thing I can say about Ordinary Grace was that the epilogue wrapped up the novel in a perfect bow and was the best part of the book, in my opinion.
I feel like I would be remiss if I did not share that this could be a potentially triggering book for someone that has experienced a lot of trauma. If you are looking for an adventure, I suggest you read This Tender Land instead.
Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie)
Since I am reading my way through 2022 with a little more purpose thanks to the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge, I wanted my March book that takes place in the Spring to be a selection that at the same time came from a classic female writer. Since I love Agatha Christie, I was so excited to find that she'd written a book with spring in the title and quickly added Absent in the Spring to my Amazon cart and checked out - without reading the synopsis. (I can feel you face-palming as I type.)
It arrived awash with promise and the pastel hues of spring on the cover and I excitedly began reading with high hopes for this novel serving as a palate cleanser from my disappointed experience with Ordinary Grace.
I cannot for the life of me figure out why Agatha Christie would want to write a novel like this decidedly UN-springlike one (though I can hazard a guess why she would write it under a pen name). Absent in the Spring, in short, is a (thankfully) short novel about a woman's mid-life crisis. At parts it read like I was kidnapped and along for the ride as the main character (the thoroughly unlikeable, unrelatable Joan) descended into madness while stranded for a few days at a hotel in the middle of the desert (while the staff cooked all her meals and took care of her, I want to add).
Ironically, during the train ride at the beginning of the novel, Joan casually comments about having an extended time of doing nothing and that is exactly what the author supplied her with - a few days with nothing to do that would divert her attention. When Joan gets what she wants, she wants nothing more than to escape the deep thinking that the time supplied - and I found myself wanting the same. Reading Absent in the Spring made me feel like a prisoner inside the cell of someone else's head, reliving her past, obsessively viewing it from new angles, and concluding that life has been depressingly hopeless up to this point and believing that it is likely unredeemable moving forward.
The only spring-like aspect of Absent in the Spring was that deep thinking can lead to a spring cleaning of the mind - if you let it. I recommend reading this particular novel when you are down for some serious introspection - Joan's, and yours! - because this is not a lighthearted spring read.
The Last Tribe by Brad Manuel
I could not have been introduced to Brad Manuel's first novel at a better time. After the dismal-feel of the first two books I read in March, The Last Tribe delivered the perfect adventure for spring (and summer/fall/winter).
That says a lot since it happens to be a post-apocalyptic novel.
(If you rolled your eyes as you read the words post-apocalyptic novel, I implore you to keep reading because The Last Tribe is not just any post-apocalyptic book.)
It seems most novels, movies, or tv shows in this genre focus on the de-evolution of mankind when a catastrophic event occurs. A "dog-eat-dog" ideology quickly overrides civilization as we know it and the worst of mankind become the sole survivors. Not so with The Last Tribe.
The Last Tribe is actually the first post-apocalyptic setting in which I could actually picture myself living as a member of the society. It was a version of an end-game scenario imbued with hope and I was feeling that. It was a world where a positive spotlight was shone on the vital part that community (whether that is your family, or your tribe) plays in society, with everyone working toward the good of that community (rather than just themselves).
Unlike an Andy Weir novel where the hero happens to have a technical skill or expertise that is the sole reason for his survival, I would describe The Last Tribe as a layman's version of a worst-case scenario full of practicality, improvisation, planning, and problem-solving with a nod to the idea that "what I don't know, I can learn through reading."
If you've ever pondered what you'd do if you were stranded on a desert island, you will love The Last Tribe.
If you need a good popcorn novel to cleanse the mental palate, The Last Tribe is for you.
If you want to get lost in a setting and enjoy excellent escapism through the pages of a book, you've found your people in The Last Tribe.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
Last month my sister and I met for lunch and some bookstore browsing halfway between where we live. When we were in the bookstore, pointing out favorites alongside books we're interested in reading, my sister directed her finger toward Amor Towles' The Lincoln Highway. I began seeing it everywhere I looked, so I decided to use my Audible credit for the month and downloaded it to listen to while I unwound after work. I want to be perfectly clear that I sometimes struggle with a book when it follows a novel that I really loved and, sadly, that was the case with The Lincoln Highway.
Following The Last Tribe (the first really great book I read this month), The Lincoln Highway fought an uphill battle in my grey cells and sadly lost. It is hard to tell whether I disliked this title because of the narration (which I did not enjoy), or if it was the storyline proper, but at no time did I feel like I connected with any of the characters. And that was rough.
The Lincoln Highway was, in summary, a literary mashup between the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (sans the humor), This Tender Land (sans the relatable characters), and the Boxcar Children series (sans the characters you would root for). So, if you're Jonesing for a book about some hooligans on a boys' road trip, you might want to check out The Lincoln Highway.
But skip the audiobook. Get the hard copy.
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Lest I lead you to believe that all of my books this month went from bad to worse, I want to encourage you that there is nothing but good vibes from The Island of Sea Women forward. This title was my librarian recommended book from the 22 in '22 Reading Challenge and my girl in the fiction section did me a solid by recommending this particular Lisa See novel (an author I hadn't previously read). Perhaps I should point out that the librarian recommended two titles by Lisa See and after reading the first page of both, I went with The Island of Sea Women because it hooked me from the first page.
The Island of Sea Women is a work of fiction that reads like the memoir of one of the diving women on the Korean island of Jeju set around the division of Korea in 1945 and is the first book I remember ever reading set exclusively in an Asian culture. I am hooked now, by the way - both on Lisa See, and on novels set in Asian cultures.
- intergenerational relationships seen through the lens of a different culture
- a peek behind the curtain into a different religious belief
- survivor's guilt
- honor-shame worldview
- community-wide reading
- the power of perspective
- the power (and harm) of rumors
One of the most memorable parts of reading The Island of Sea Women for me, however, was reading it while Russia invaded Ukraine in real time. Reading the islanders thoughts on their own Russian invaders and how the Americans eventually liberated them (which felt like exchanging one invader for another to the islanders) really was eye-opening to me.
If you'd like to read a book by an amazing female author that writes about unbelievable women that is guaranteed to give you a much needed punch of perspective, you've found that book in The Island of Sea Women.
A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
I was unaware that the movie classic by the same title (which I have yet to see) was based on a classic novel by E. M. Forster until recently. I loved it so much that I have since re-read it two more times and since it got better with each re-read, it became an obvious choice for March's book inside The Classics Community. A Room With a View follows a young, British lady as she experiences all the firsts of young adulthood - first international experiences as she travels abroad, first time away from her parents' watchful gaze, first time to interpret the world through her own eyes...
The novel first meets Miss Honeychurch as she travels abroad, then again as she travels the equally unfamiliar terrain of courtship when she returns to her family's estate in England. A Room With a View has it all - music and murder, the love of literature, female friendships, family relationships, characters so memorable that they bring to mind some of the funniest and well-written people you've met in other beloved novels, and the blossoming of sweet love.
It is quite easily a perfect-for-springtime classic and one that I look forward to re-reading seasonally.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
During Pretty Literate's Virtual Book Club (which meets via Zoom on the Third Thursday of every month at 7pm Central) last month, someone raved about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it. I was excited to find a hardbound edition a few days later in the clearance section of my favorite used bookstore for $2 (sans the dust jacket). When I finally began reading it last weekend, it quickly became one of those books I just could not put down. Within 24 hours I turned the last page, sighed deeply, and knew I would look for more books by Gail Honeyman. Why?
Because there are elements of some of my favorite shows and novels written into this beautiful story of a woman who was muddling along in life as a worker in the annex part of The Office (cue the music in your head).
I keep writing and deleting what to share because I do not want to give anything away. It was in the masterful way that the author unfolded the story that I know I could not do justice in attempting to abbreviate the experience. What I can say is that this book contains a great many topics that may be triggering (like abuse & mental illness), so read with caution. If you do pick it up, you will form a friendship with Eleanor that will bless you deep down and possibly help you see your own complicated past in a healthier light.
And hopefully, you will seek to be a better friend. A dependable friend. An inclusive friend. Because this novel beautifully demonstrates the difference just one person can make in the life of another and how a simple thing like friendship can become a lifeline.
This month has been filled with some awesome (and not so awesome) books for me. What I shared above, I shared as my perspective. If you've read any of the books I read this month, I would love to read your perspective. We all connect with books in different ways, after all. I'd love to hear how you connected (or didn't) in the comments below.