Lost and Wanted
With the recent photographic evidence of a black hole, you might be especially interested in Nell Freudenberger’s third novel, which centers around the mysteries of the cosmos. Helen has tenure as a physics professor at MIT, a son she adores, and an ex-boyfriend and colleague who’s poised to win the next Nobel. But her story really starts when her best friend, Charlie, dies of Lupus. Since Charlie died, Helen has suddenly been in much more communication with her: Charlie keeps texting, her widower doesn’t know where her phone is, and Helen’s beginning to question the clear-cut knowledge she’s always accepted.
When We Left Cuba
Beatriz is a socialite in 1960s Palm Beach. But for all her social graces, she’s seething with rage after the new Cuban government seized her father’s lands. Having fled for the U.S., Beatriz’s parents are eager to marry her off, but she has other plans, which become ever-more plausible when she’s recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle. Of course, espionage is never a simple endeavor. Especially tricky is Beatriz’s romance with political aspirant, Nicholas. Will she blow the whole thing? Is romance worth it? And is it ever possible to turn back the clock on a revolution?
Martha Hall Kelly
A prequel to her bestselling debut, Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly’s second novel takes us back to World War I and Eliza Ferriday (mother of Lilac Girls heroine, Caroline). Eliza and her friend Sofya travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, Sofya’s homeland. But when war breaks out in 1914, Eliza returns to the U.S. while Sofya remains, still in denial about the threat she’s under as a cousin of the Romanovs. Sofya’s family decamps to the country, where they hire local girl Varinka, not knowing she’s involved with revolutionaries. Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka must face the developing war alone, even as they try to reach out for help.
In Wish You Were Here and Emily, Alone, Stewart O’Nan’s characters mourned the loss of father and husband Henry Maxwell. In O’Nan’s newest book, Henry speaks for himself. It’s 1998, and Henry is deeply entrenched in his routines. But at 74, he’s aware that the clock is ticking, and he’s starting to ask big questions. Has he lived well? Has he loved right? And, most difficult of all, what’s left to discover, to hope for, to live for? This novel doesn’t reach for philosophy but grounds itself here on earth, in the little things that make a life worth living.
A Good Enough Mother
Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist, a job that requires her focus. That’s why she hasn’t told anyone at work about her son Tom’s disappearance over a year ago. She doesn’t want anyone doubting her ability to do her job, the one thing she’s confident she can manage. Until, that is, a difficult case comes in. Dan is a young man who looks strikingly like Tom, and he’s an erratic, enigmatic patient. Ruth can’t help but compare Dan to Tom, and Dan manipulates her into revealing more of herself. Who is he? How will Ruth get through to him? And will she ever forgive herself?
All That You Leave Behind
Erin Lee Carr
Erin Lee Carr is a documentary filmmaker, and in her new memoir she turns her cinematic vision to her father, New York Times columnist David Carr, who died suddenly in 2015 at age 58. Carr began to trace her communication with her father over the years, trying to find his voice through the words they exchanged. This exercise led to the memoir, which discusses her early childhood as a daughter of a drug addict, her own struggles with alcohol dependency, and the practical career advice her father gave her. An homage to a parent who looms large, this memoir is honest and unsentimental.
In Sarah Blake’s debut, Noah’s wife—from the Book of Genesis—gets a name and voice. Naamah is a conflicted woman, frustrated with God for destroying her beloved earth with His flood, rendering her the stewardess of the Ark. She wonders why they were chosen to survive; she wonders how her daughters-in-law can stand to bear children and repopulate the earth; she wonders how to resist the angelic voice inviting her to join another world. Secretly, she’s mourning a lover left behind. Moving through dreams, reality, and visions, Naamah is larger than life while also being a deeply human character.
Southern Lady Code
Helen Ellis is back with a raucous essay collection that will have you in stitches. Southern Lady Codes, which Alabama-raised Ellis is well-trained in, include the subtle art of being both honest and tactful. For instance, saying “if it happens, it happens,” is how to tell people you don’t actually want kids. In 23 brief essays, Ellis mocks various cultural trends, such as tidying, while also falling prey to the trends herself (she loves the Container Store); shares hilarious tips for maintaining a fun-loving marriage; and irreverently keeps her Southern attitudes alive even as she lives in the urban jungle of New York City.
In journalist Sarah Rose’s thrilling new book, we’re introduced to three women who were members of a resistance during World War II. In 1942, as Britain’s Special Operations Executive was running out of men, it turned to recruiting women. Three of them, Andrée Borrel, Odette Sansom, and Lise de Baissac, were Frenchwomen who’d ended up in England while their country was occupied by the Germans. Many resistance fighters died doing this work, but these three spies worked right up to D-Day, helping to seed chaos among the Nazi forces. A riveting account of women who defied expectations of their day.
In a small Irish town, Connell and Marianne share a school and not much else. Connell is popular, an ace football player, while Marianne is quiet, proud, and private. Still, when Connell picks up his mother from her housecleaning job at Marianne’s, the teenagers feel a spark between them. As they embark on a semi-romance that fluctuates over time, they also find their roles reversing once they move on to Trinity College. There, Marianne’s social life blossoms while Connell feels increasingly isolated. Themes of class and gender expectations run through the book even as it keeps close to the characters’ intense inner lives.
In 1990s New York City, a young gay novelist with little hope for selling his debut is surprised to discover that former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—Ms. Onassis, as she prefers to be called at work—has fallen in love with his autobiographical novel, but she thinks the ending needs work. As James’s new editor, Ms. Onassis insists that he return home and find some closure with his estranged mother. Of course, all is not as it appears at home, and there are secrets that James never learned. What will be the fate of his book? And what of his family?
Jennifer Cody Epstein
Ava has never understood her mother, Ilse, who abandoned Ava in a German orphanage during the final months of WWII. Years earlier, Ilse becomes increasingly indoctrinated by the Nazi party while participating in the girls’ division of the Hitler Youth. Ilse’s once-best friend Renata, meanwhile, is exposed as half-Jewish, though her mother is a model Aryan citizen and her father has long considered himself Lutheran despite his Jewish heritage. Ilse and Renata’s paths divide, and the power dynamics of Germany shift further, while in the future, Ava finds Ilse’s unsent letters to Renata and tries to reckon with her mother’s past.
Lights All Night Long
When 15-year-old Ilya arrives as a Russian exchange student in Leffie, Louisiana, he’s awed by the opulence. But that doesn’t stop him from worrying about home, where his older brother Vladimir has confessed to the murders of three women. Ilya is convinced that Vladimir’s innocent and is willing to spend his precious time in the U.S. on a computer, web-sleuthing for information that might exonerate Vladimir. Helping him is his host family’s eldest daughter, Sadie, the only one of the three girls who seems to get Ilya. As they share secrets and work together, they also forge an unlikely friendship.
Sabrina & Corina
In Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, the systems working against people—here, especially Latinas of Indigenous descent—are laid bare, while the people themselves are as human as human can be, full of love, lust, despair, anger, ambivalence, courage, and all the messy emotions that make for full-throated characters. In the title story, two cousins’ lives take drastically different routes and they come together only in death, when the one who lives must prepare the body of the one who died. Painting the landscape of the American West and the women so often left out of national conversations, Fajardo-Anstine’s debut leaves us hungry for her next book.
In the third installment of her Seasonal Quartet, Ali Smith brings us to the changeable nature of springtime. In 2018, Richard mourns the death of his longtime friend, Paddy, and heads to Kingussie (kin-you-see), where he contemplates suicide. Alongside his narrative is Alda’s, a coffeeless coffee-van driver; a strange tween named Florence; and Brittany, a guard at an immigrant detention center in England. As their paths intersect, Smith critiques the contemporary treatment of immigrants, while her characters gesture toward the hope evoked in Smith’s books: that art can change the world, or at least the stories we pay attention to.
The Hill to Die On
In The Hill to Die On, Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer gain access to a host of Congress members and explore some of the fights that have occurred on the Hill since the 2016 election. From prominent political figures (including Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi) to lesser-known figures who don’t make the papers as often (such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy), the inside scoop and analysis will satisfy political junkies and those just trying to get a grip on the issues. The power struggles afoot are almost Shakespearean, and the authors draw out both the drama and the real-life consequences.
Novelist and memoirist Anna Quindlen recounts her adventures as a new grandmother and all the sweet and bittersweet joy. As she watches her son and daughter-in-law make parenting decisions, she understands that her new role is not to be the central caregiver but to offer support when required and advice when asked. It’s not always easy for Quindlen to bite her tongue. After all, becoming a grandparent means she successfully parented, right? But she learns to relinquish control and watches her son with pride as he, too—like she did before him—finds that he loves his baby more than anyone before.
The Killer in Me
All is not right in Dublin, but Detective Frankie Sheehan doesn’t know how deep the rot goes. Frankie’s sister-in-law asked her to take a look at the case of Seán Hennessey, who years ago was convicted of killing his parents and attempting to kill his sister. An Innocence Project-like group believes he may have been wrongfully convicted, which is wonderful news for the documentary crew following Seán when he’s released from prison. Frankie agrees to help with Seán’s exoneration, but her attention is pulled as a new set of bodies appears in the same suburb where Seán’s alleged crime occurred.
Progressive politician Selahattin Demirtaş has been imprisoned by the Turkish state since November 2016. Still politically active, Demirtaş has also been artistically so, and in this collection of short stories, he shares his hopes and fears for his region through the heartache and resilience of his characters. From a child attempting to flee the violence in Syria with her mother to imprisoned men who see the endless rotation of the yard as a kind of infinity, these stories expose systems of oppression that have been normalized and point to the brutality—and sometimes absurdity—of living in such a reality.
The Book of Dreams
Former war correspondent Henri has fallen into a coma. His son, Sam, a genius and synesthete, has never known Henri well, but he visits the hospital daily. Henri’s mind shifts between memories and dreams, and though Sam can’t access this, the son feels that he’s finally starting to understand his father. Another visitor appears, a woman named Eddie who once loved Henri, while another coma patient, a girl who’s the sole survivor of an accident that killed her family, also draws Sam’s sympathetic attention. Will Henri wake up? Will the girl? And what will Sam and Eddie do if so?
Happy National Poetry Month! Here at Read It Forward, we’ve been recommending poetry in the past few weeks (check out our lists of must-read Black poets and essential queer poetry). For our monthly favorites, we’re sticking with prose—which can still be poetic! Below you’ll find our newest loves, ranging from the existential to the life-affirming. Some of these writers are making debuts (Kali Fajardo-Anstine and Sarah Blake) while others are old favorites (Anna Quindlen, anyone?), and their voices, stories, and plots range widely. Take a peek, take your pick, and come back next month for a whole new batch.