If I had an abysmal reading year up until now, I made up for it this last month by reading six books in just as many weeks. And for those of you heading to the beach this week, I figured I’d give you a quick fall break reading list for your journey. After all, “less news, more fiction” is my motto for the rest of this year!
If you are traveling by car, now might be a good time to test out an Audible subscription, which is a free trial for 30 days. And if you need even more book recommendations, here’s my last post on what I read this summer.
American Royals by Katharine McGee
Given the lackluster performance of other fictional reads in the “royals” genre (e.g. The Royal We), I didn’t have high hopes for this one, so was more than pleasantly surprised when I sped through it because it was such an indulgent delight. Set in present day, American Royals reimagines our U.S. government as a monarchy and poses the question: “What if America had a royal family?” Following 20-something Princess Beatrice in her ascension to the crown, the writing is smart and not trite, the book is told from the perspective of four different female narrators—Bea, her troubled younger sister Samantha, her brother Jefferson’s ex-girlfriend Daphne and a commoner Nina whose mother works for the crown—and, overall, it’s a nice escape from reality. After reading a lot of heavy news and World War II historical fiction this summer, this was exactly the escape I needed. The sequel, Majesty, dropped last month, and I’m eagerly waiting for it to hit my borrow list at the Nashville library.
Bunny by Mona Awad
What. Did. I. Just. Read?! I finished this wild journey a month ago and am still unsure, Bunny. Was it a dark comedy? A perverted piece of horror? Not a clue. It had such glowing endorsements from other bloggers and authors I love, like Margaret Atwood, that I picked it up without having knowing what it was about. And after 320 pages, I honestly couldn’t tell you (and summaries won’t get you so far either, as you truly have to immerse yourself into this one to figure out what the Hell people are talking about). It’s as if The Heathers and Mean Girls and Donnie Darko and all of Stanley Kubrick’s films had a baby and spat out Bunny. The best I can tell you is that it’s satire of a MFA program at an Ivy League school, and the protagonist—who may or may not be a reliable narrator, we don’t know—falls into a cult-like group of classmates who dabble in extremely odd extracurriculars. Would I recommend it? Eh. Only if you have a very dark side and like your hobby reading with a side of sick and twisted.
Rebel Spy by Veronica Rossi
On the flip side, I quite liked Rebel Spy! This was recommended to me by readers based on my love of historical fiction, so I added it to my library loans without doing my due diligence of reading the fine print. I assumed it was set in World War I or II, but nope—the Revolutionary War instead. I’m typically not overly wild about novels that take place in the 1700s, but this one was different: The writing was fast, the heroine Frannie Tasker whip-smart and the setting in redcoat territory. It’s the story of a woman who breaks free from the chains of her past in the islands (namely, poverty and an abusive stepfather) to assume a false identity among the elite in New York; there, she falls into an unlikely companionship with the rebels. The book was inspired by the story of “355,” a female spy who was partially responsible in the takedown of Benedict Arnold. Hamilton fan? You’ll likely enjoy this look at the Revolutionary War told from those fighting for their lives in the British-occupied colonies.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis
Another historical fiction delight, The Lions of Fifth Avenue straddles two timeframes: the turbulent teens of the 1900s right before the first world war and the 1990s. Laura Lyons and her family move back into the city when her husband takes over as superintendent for the New York Public Library; in fact, the Lyons live in the apartment deep within the bowels of this historic building. As many women of her time, Laura has been condemned to life as a homemaker, but wants more for herself: She winds up getting accepted into Columbia’s first master’s program in journalism that allows women and falls into a group of free thinkers.
Simultaneously, we are introduced to 30-something Sadie Donovan who, 80 years later, is curator of the library’s collections. When pieces of a very important upcoming exhibit start to disappear from the Berg Collection, she begins digging into who may be the culprit and learns of her shocking ties to the Lyons’ family from decades before. This was my first read by Fiona Davis, but not my last; I’m a fan of her writing and plan to devour the rest of her body of work. This book was of particular interest to me given that it takes place toward the end of the women’s suffrage movement—and features many of those female heroines fighting for equality a century ago—right as we were executing our own tribute to the 19th Amendment through murals.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Remember how much I despised Conversation with Friends? I almost didn’t even bother with Normal People, only it hit my library inbox one day when we were dealing with an equipment malfunction on a painting job and I was left sitting in a parking lot for four hours with nothing to do and no laptop on me. Instead, I read almost the entire book in one setting. While, sure, Sally Rooney has a habit of creating characters you loathe, I had a lot more sympathy for Marianne and Connell in this book that can only be described as a coming-of-age tale, much as I cringe at typing out that cliche.
As the name suggests, there’s nothing particularly special about the main characters who grew up in the same small town in rural Ireland and strike up an unlikely friendship toward the end of their high school years that carries them through college in Dublin. There’s not really a plot either, but I think I appreciated this one as we’ve all been in an on-again, off-again relationship like Marianne and Connell’s in our youth, and I could definitely relate to so much of what she went through. I also watched the entire BBC series based on the novel (streaming on Hulu) this past week, too, and was shocked how it stuck 100% to the book. Would you enjoy the TV series without reading it? Maybe—my mom and sister both did. But I think reading the book and then watching the show is the way to go in this instance.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collier
This prequel to the Hunger Games franchise goes back 64 years to a decade after the war when the Hunger Games is celebrating its 10th year and attempting to make the games more attractive to a wider audience. To do so, the Gamemakers enlist the help of 24 student mentors, one of whom is Coriolanus Snow (better known later on as President Snow). Just 18 in this book and a senior at the Academy, Snow has weathered the death of both parents as a child and the pending loss of his home due to the poverty that’s befallen his grandmother, his cousin and him. We learn of the events that turn Snow into the monster he later becomes, as well as get deeper insight into the districts as the last of three parts in this book is set in none other than District 12 (and once you’re done, I suggest Googling how Katniss Everdeen is likely related to the Covey characters who play a part in the third section).
Collier’s writing is always tight and lyrical, descriptive and engaging. This book, however, felt really long to me (it is 459 pages long, I suppose). While I devour most novels in a couple of nights, this one took me the better part of two weeks. I do highly recommend it for all fans of the franchise, particularly as a movie has already been announced. Collier very much leaves the ending with a cliffhanger, so I wouldn’t rule out her turning Snow’s story into another trilogy (nor would I hate it). It’s also technically young adult, so completely appropriate for kiddos (i.e. no sex, lewd language, etc.), though it is plenty violent like the originals.
I’m going to the beach at the end of the month after our TEDx event is complete, and I’ve already got The Glass Hotel, Beach Read, Red, White & Royal Blue, All Adults Here and The Wife Stalker downloaded for the occasion.
What are you reading over your fall break?
I am so glad you mentioned American Spy! I screenshot your story about it but lost the photo so I was going to ask because I want to read that one! I enjoyed American Royals and Majesty they were a nice break!