RIF’s Favorite Reads of March 2018

Helping you sort out the best from the rest published this month.

best books of march

March Madness is upon us, and while I admit to knowing very little about what that actually means (it has to do with basketball, right?), I do know it’s important. The Ides of March is also a thing that happens in this month, though the significance of that is even more lost on me. Let’s be real—the only thing I really know about March this year is that there’s a huge number of incredible books being released. I also know we don’t have the space to cover all of them, so we’re picking our favorite March books and sharing our thoughts on them so you can get to reading even quicker. If you need a break from basketball, brackets, and ancient Roman religious rites—or, if you’re just a reader like we are—you’ll certainly enjoy our favorites of the month.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles

Cameron Harris is a disabled veteran living back in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi, and trying to get used to civilian life without the use of his legs. Except that one day, outside a convenience store, Cameron gets up and begins to walk. The religious community hails his recovery as a miracle, and a shrine is erected at the store as the Vatican sends someone to see whether the miracle was for real. The scientific community wants to figure out how he recovered. But what was at the root of Cameron’s inability to walk? Was he really injured in Afghanistan when an old Soviet mine went off? What does Cameron know about his own body and injury that no one else does? A riveting, intelligent read that will keep you guessing. (Hogarth)

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Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

In an Indian village, two girls sit together, weaving saris and friendship. Poornima is 16, and her mother has recently died; Savitha is 17, and sitting at the loom is better than hunting through the garbage for things she can sell to support her family. The bond the girls weave is stronger than any cloth, and when Savitha is driven away by a terrible act of violence, Poornima isn’t willing to give her up. These young women’s love for each other and their friendship is the hope that keeps them together through trials and tribulations that take them through India and eventually all the way to an apartment in Seattle. Their alternating voices and storylines progress beautifully, as their different but equally courageous journeys unfold. (Flatiron Books)

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

Pinch has grown up under his father’s elusive shadow. Bear is a brilliant and much-lauded artist, and though he cavorts about the European continent, he doesn’t settle, taking himself wherever his muse wishes to go—and damn whoever he hurts on the way there. But even though Bear abandoned Pinch and his mother, Pinch is still very much his father’s son and wishes more than anything to be like him. When Bear spurns Pinch’s art and sabotages Pinch’s attempt to find love, the son finds himself teaching Italian at a school in London, humbled and frustrated. But the world of art is fickle, and as Bear recedes from the limelight, Pinch finds his own power growing in comparison, and he hatches a plan to secure his father’s legacy—after all, Bear has 17 children who would gladly receive his inheritance—and maybe get back at his wayward dad to boot. A complex father-son relationship that will leave you both laughing and crying. (Viking)

The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Faves of March 2018

In the most timely of novels—and an instance of art imitating life imitating art—Sarah Henstra’s novel The Red Word deals with the issue of campus rape in an almost Shakespearean way. The fraternity Gamma Beta Chi and the feminist collective Raghurst share a backyard: two houses alike in dignity (but are they?), they’re also warring forces. GBC, nicknamed Gang Bang Central, has a terrible reputation among campus women, yet Karen finds herself dating one of the frat brothers, even after waking up from a GBC rager with the barest memory of who she had sex with the night before. Yet Karen is also lured by the intelligent feminists living in Raghurst and moves in with them. As the Raghurst folk launch a plan to expose GBC in all its awfulness, Karen finds herself stuck between these houses, wondering where her loyalties and agency lie. (Grove Press/Black Cat)

Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead

A fantastic book for fans of Gilmore Girls and other mother-daughter duos, Kate Greathead’s debut novel, Laura & Emma, takes on the trope with new verve. Laura may have tried to drift away from her blue-blood upbringing among the New York crowd, but when she finds herself pregnant and single in her mid-30s, she returns to the fold. As Emma grows up going to private schools and watching her mother’s progressive values only go so far, she begins to question her surroundings and her privilege in a way her mother never could. Will Laura learn something from Emma, or will Emma find that her own new ideas aren’t so easy to live out? (Simon & Schuster)

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen

In New York City, parking spaces are hard to come by. No—make that more like impossible. Even the outdoor parking lots are tough to get spaces in, but Nora and Charlie Nolan live on a dead-end block with a lot at the corner, and they have a chance of getting that coveted spot. But just how much is it worth to get a darn parking spot? A lot, it turns out, as the Nolans discover when one of their neighbors beats a handyman with a golf club for blocking the parking lot with his van. The crime rocks the block’s tranquility, and the cracks in its perfection begin to show: Nora and Charlie’s marriage, Nora’s job, and the meaning of upper-crust New York living are all suddenly fallible and have the potential to collapse at any minute. Both humorous and astute, there’s a serious undercurrent here that points to the usual emotional intelligence found in Quindlen’s writing. (Random House)

The Day She Disappeared by Christobel Kent

Every sleepy English town has its pub, and in this town, the best barmaids are Beth and Natalie. It’s common knowledge that Beth is impulsive and impetuous, a party girl really, and so when she disappears, they nod and smile and say it’s just like her. But Natalie, who’s also Beth’s best friend, knows that’s not right. Beth might be flighty, but she wouldn’t just leave without telling Natalie. She wouldn’t, in other words, just disappear. Victor, one of the best patrons of the bar, knows it too—he’s in the hospital after an apparent fall, but memories are slowly starting to come back to him. Too slowly. What will happen to Beth while Natalie and Victor try to find her? And what if they’re too late? (Sarah Crichton Books)

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

Retiring to Sicily isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—at least, that’s what a certain Auntie Poldi finds out in this delightful new novel. Sixty, newly retired and wishing to simply while away her coming years with good wine, fantastic food, and a beautiful view, Auntie Poldi finds herself instead involved in a murder investigation. Her handyman, a young and good-looking one at that, is found dead, and Poldi isn’t simply about to let a thing like that slide. As she begins to ask more and more questions, she accidentally-on-purpose gets entangled with the hottie police inspector and his ongoing investigation. We all know she’ll come through it all right, but the fun is in the journey, and in watching a feisty and intelligent woman of a certain age have her day in the sun. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Alice and Lucy were roommates, both orphans of very different socioeconomic backgrounds who became best friends during their time at Bennington. But something…happened. Alice was certain she’d never see Lucy again and was really quite okay with it. Now Alice is married, recently immigrated to Morocco with her new husband, and she’s finding it hard to adjust to life in the bustling city. When Lucy shows up on her doorstep, Alice is stunned—what on earth is she doing here, and why does she seem so at home among the markets and local customs? Alice is befuddled, but begins to go along with her once-friend for old time’s sake, and finds herself loosening up. But when Alice’s husband goes missing and Lucy’s old patterns reemerge and begin to stifle Alice…well, let’s just say there’s a reason Alice was relieved to see Lucy’s back after graduation—and she’s going to have to figure out how to get rid of her this time, too. (Ecco)

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Some girls just don’t know when to shut up—even after they’re dead. At least, that’s the sort of thing the young women who are sent to Idlewild Hall boarding school are told: they’re too loud, too brash, or too smart for their own good. In 1950, these girls just don’t fit in, except with one another. But 60 years later, journalist Fiona is still hearing the call of her older sister’s voice—her older sister who once attended Idlewild Hall, and whose remains were found a quarter century later in the ruins of that once formidable school. But what did Fiona’s sister go through at Idlewild? What about the girl who’d disappeared there once? Why can’t Fiona let it go? Discover the secrets of Idlewild along with Fiona as she tries to track down what really happened over the decades. (Berkley)

Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

The family you’re born into isn’t always the family you end up wanting to stick around. At least, that’s what Andrea Morales comes to realize when she leaves her Midwestern home and Catholic upbringing for the artistic and queer world of the lesbian underground scene in Portland, Oregon. But she’s not lucky in love, and she “strays” into the camp of the enemy—that is, sleeps with a dude—and finds herself dealing with more than the cheap thrill she’d bargained for: nine months later, a baby is born. But Andrea isn’t going to cave into straight-dom just because of a child. No, years later, she’s living with her partner Beatriz, who’s also the love of her life, and her daughter, Lucia. When Lucia starts wondering about her biological father, a journey into Andrea’s past begins. (Custom House)

Census by Jesse Ball

When a widowed doctor discovers that he’s to follow his dead wife sooner than expected due to a heart condition, he decides that he must see the world before he goes. He worries about his son, a young man with Down syndrome, and takes him along for the ride. But he doesn’t go about his adventure in any ordinary way—instead, the doctor signs up to be a census taker for a government agency that remains mysterious and unnamed. This is no ordinary census, though: each person whose details are collected is tattooed along the ribs afterwards, and the areas the doctor visits are designated alphabetically, A through Z. As he nears the end of his journey, the doctor needs to reckon with his life, the census, his son, and the wife he so loved. An evocative and philosophical book. (Ecco)

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

In Nafkote Tamirat’s excellent debut, the power of teenage infatuation and how it can be manipulated shines through. The unnamed narrator has recently arrived on an unnamed island with her father, who intends to settle them in a commune there. Before this they lived in Boston, amidst but not part of a tight-knit Ethiopian community. Although the narrator and her father are also Ethiopian immigrants, he liked to keep his daughter close and wasn’t much of a community man. The narrator, though, becomes entangled with a man named Ayale, who is apparently a parking lot attendant in the busy city. But as her fascination with his charm grows, he trusts her with more and more information and ropes her into his various business schemes, until she finds herself far deeper in his seedy world than she ever intended to go. (Henry Holt & Co.)

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

It’s so common to drift away from our childhood friendships, but the reunions should be good ones when they occur. Instead, Mikey finds his pals again at the funeral of someone they all called a friend once. Sally was Mikey’s very first friend, and she and the others became close over their childhood years in sleepy Lackawanna. They nicknamed themselves The Gunners and remained tight-knit for years, and they kept in touch even after they all—except for Mikey—left town. Now, though, that Sally has committed suicide, the friends need to reckon with their past, and with that strange time when they were 16 and Sally decided to stop being friends with them. What happened then, and what secrets are being cradled among these friends? Warm, wonderful, and gorgeously quiet, this book has all the friendship feels. (Counterpoint)

Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

Particularly relevant perhaps, due to the recent death of renowned scientist Stephen Hawking, Lisa Genova’s newest book surrounds another extremely talented man who is diagnosed with ALS. Richard’s a pianist, renowned in his world, and much lauded for both his practical skill and his ability to bring true emotion to the music he plays. But he’s now lost the use of his right arm, and he knows the rest of him will follow soon enough. Richard’s biggest regrets aren’t just the loss of his ability to play, which is tragic because it was his first and biggest love, but also the loss of his wife and daughter, both of whom have been driven away by his single-minded focus on his career. In the time he has left, he needs to try to forgive and be forgiven by the people he loves most. (Gallery/Scout Press)

Awayland by Ramona Ausubel

A new collection of incredible stories from Ramona Ausubel, Awayland looks at the various forms of escapes we find for ourselves. In one story, a couple decides to try to surgically exchange hands so that if one of them dies before the other, they’ll retain a piece of the beloved. In another story, a woman begins to fade out of reality even though she’s finally returned home to Beirut, the place of her birth. Throughout the stories, there’s a sense of both the ability for escape and the futility of trying to get away. With touches of magic and fabulism, this is Ausubel at her finest. (Riverhead)

Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

In central Florida, a teenager named Pearl is growing up in a trailer park. Well, near a trailer park. And not in a trailer, even, but rather in her mother’s old Mercury. Still, Pearl’s mom manages to teach her about life and love in that small space and creates a family for her with the oddball cast of characters who occupy the trailer park. But this isn’t a sanitized or idealized version of poverty—no, the dangers and losses around Pearl are real. Real, too, are the number of guns that belong to folks living nearby, from those who own them to hunt alligators to those who have them to protect their home, to those who have them in order to be menacing to others. When a gunrunner with designs on Pearl’s mom arrives, things take a turn for the worst, and Pearl needs to figure out how to maintain the goodness of the world she and her mother built together. (Hogarth)

Exhibit Alexandra by Natasha Bell

In this gripping, intensely fascinating thriller, Natasha Bell paints a picture of a woman both in love with what she has and yearning for so much more. Alexandra has had a wonderful marriage to Marc for over a dozen years now, and when she goes missing, he’s desperate for her. She knows—because she narrates the novel from within a closed room where she’s being held captive. She tells us what Marc is up to even though she can’t possibly know everything that’s going on with him, but her conjectures are convincing because she knows him so well. As the novel progresses, we learn about a performance artist friend of Alexandra’s who seems to love her, and we begin to sense that maybe there’s more going on here than we can even imagine—but still, you won’t expect the ending when it rushes at you. (Crown)

All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church

Ruby Wilde was once Lily Decker, a child whose whole family was killed in a car crash. Lily was taken in by her aunt and uncle, who were horrible in a host of ways, and mostly showed Lily that she’d never be able to rely on anyone but herself. Except…there is one more person: the person who killed her family. Mr. Stirling and Lily form a strange bond as she finds that he won’t ask of her things she doesn’t want to give. In fact, he becomes the only one she trusts besides herself, and when she leaves home for Vegas, he’s the only one who knows where she’s gone. Renaming herself Ruby Wilde, she turns her love of dancing into a lucrative career as a showgirl, eventually jet-setting all over the world with her troupe of performers. But will Lily-Ruby find love and connection after the childhood she had? And what will stand in her way? (Ballantine)

The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser

Full of a variety of characters, Michelle de Krester’s new novel is woven together by an observer who moves in and out of the lives of all the others. Pippa is a writer, and she fears that she’s already missed everything she should have done to achieve success. But she’s also watchful, and the rest of the characters are perhaps both hers and de Kretser’s creations. There’s the Sri Lankan woman brought to Australia with a childhood friend, who’s trying to get past the boredom of her new job. There’s a translator, Céleste, who wishes her married Parisian lover would love her back. There’s Cassie and her partner, Ash, who’s a Scottish and Sri Lankan scholar in Sydney. Pippa weaves their stories together, even as they stand alone quite well. (Catapult)

Featured images: Sergio Speroni

About Ilana Masad

ILANA MASAD is a queer writer of fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, an interview podcast featuring fiction writers, and is currently a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her debut novel, All My Mother’s Lovers, comes out May 2020.

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