I recently shared my to-read pile of books on Instagram, and one of the comments I received in response was “wow!” The pile is so large that it couldn’t stay stacked on the floor near my bed for fear of toppling over. I moved it to the top of a dresser where it keeps expanding, book-by-book, day-by-day. I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. It is truly such a wonderful challenge to have so many great books to choose from. Today, I thought I’d give you a run-down of four of my recent reads—all written by women. I have a bit of everything—non-fiction, historical fiction, and literary fiction. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
“Marriage is like grafting a limb onto a tree trunk. You have the limb, freshly sliced, dripping sap, and smelling of springtime, and then you have the mother tree stripped of her protective bark, gouged and ready to receive this new addition. Some years ago, my father performed this surgery on a dogwood tree in the side yard. He tied a pink-blooming limb stolen from the woods to my mother’s white-blooming tree secured from a nursery lot. It took yards of burlap and twine and two years for the plants to join. Even now, all these years later, there’s something not quite natural about the tree, even in its amazing two-tone glory.”
I could quote line after line of An American Marriage, the deeply felt novel by Tayari Jones. There is so much artistry in the cadence and tone of Jones’ writing. This is in direct contrast to the devastating story she tells in An American Marriage. She examines the unfair burdens carried by black men in today’s America, the lasting tentacles of racist policies that incarcerate black men at a rate faster than any other segment of our population, and the impact of those prison sentences on the families and loved ones they leave behind. This novel—a 2018 Oprah Book Club selection—lives up to the glowing reviews. It is poetic, heartbreaking, and important. I couldn’t put it down.
An American Marriage is narrated by Roy, a young man incarcerated for a crime he did not commit; Celestial, his artist wife who is left without him; and Andre, their neighbor and friend. Jones skillfully inhabits each of their voices, and the resulting novel is a must-read. I found that I carried this story around inside of me long after I finished it. An American Marriage is a kind of love story, but a tragic one, as it is a tale of how love can suffer from outside forces. It is a reminder, too, of the ways injustice interrupts lives, ending relationships, preventing families from growing, and stopping communities from thriving.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Recommendation: If you haven’t yet read An American Marriage, add it to your Kindle now. (Add Jones’ other novels, too.) Read this book with your book club, and do what I did—stay up late, way past bedtime, to read one more page, one more chapter, until the very end. And then wish there was more.
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King
I spied this novel in the bookstore of the last month’s Muse and the Marketplace, Grub Street’s annual writing conference. I immediately added it to my to-read list, and Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome deserved to rocket to the top of my reading pile.
The novel, based in the lives of real people who lived under the reign of Caesar during the Roman Empire, focuses on Thrasius, the talented chef and slave of Marcus Gavius Apicius, a wealthy man aiming to be the gastronomic adviser to the emperor. Apicius’ legacy is one of outrageous luxury, and he is linked to a cookbook from the time period that still exists today.
Feast of Sorrow provides an excellent window into life in the Roman Empire. Crystal King, the author, meticulously researched the time period, and the result is a story that immediately transports the reader thousands of years. You can taste the dishes Thrasius creates, feel the fabric of the toga between his fingers, and sense the foreboding those around Apicius share as he moves ever more recklessly toward his goal.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Recommendation: A match for historical fiction lovers and those seeking to learn more about the Roman Empire. A Feast of Sorrows is also a spot-on read for food lovers who will become immersed in the cuisine of the time while falling in love with the page-turning tale.
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
Oh, I loved this novel! This is a sweet story about a woman without a home or family who finds community and connection in a small town in Vermont. Louise Miller, the novel’s author, so accurately dreams up the town featured in the novel that by the end, you’ll Google the inn in which the main character works in the hopes you can plan a visit. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living is filled with rich characters, memorable music, the pain of lost love, and the beauty of the Vermont countryside.
I attended a session at the Muse and the Marketplace, led by Miller, and found her to be lovely and warm—just like the book. Also, in a delightful (and yummy!) twist, Miller, a pastry chef as well as a writer, creates a main character who is also a pastry chef. The book as a result is filled with delicious desserts and I found myself completely hungry by the last page.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Recommendation: Slide The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living into your bag on your summer vacation. Be sure to copy the apple pie recipe at the end of the book (I did!) and try to recreate Miller’s mouthwatering treats at home. And, keep an eye out for Miller’s next book—The Late Bloomers’ Club: A Novel—due out this July.
The Heart is a Shifting Sea by Elizabeth Flock
A few years ago, I had a business trip to India, traveling to Mumbai and New Delhi, with a side trip to Agra to see the sites, including the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal. What a remember most about India—what has stayed with me—is that it’s a country of contrasts: extreme beauty and devastating poverty, forward-looking while still embracing the past. I remember the kind people I met, the hustle of Delhi’s streets, and the heat of Mumbai. It was an extraordinary place to visit, yet I left with only the briefest of looks into this dynamic country.
In The Heart Is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai, Elizabeth Flock, the author, examines the changing values and culture of modern-day India, told through the marriages of three couples in Mumbai, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, where the population tops 20 million. The three couples—real people Flock followed for a decade—opened their relationships and homes to her, and the result is a fascinating portrait of the ways in which both Indian society and family shape and change marriage.
Flock, a journalist, wisely chose three very different couples to profile. Their contrasts—in religion, education, and socio economic status—illustrate a country of significant differences and important commonalities, where women are slowly embracing their independence in an environment of great uncertainty. I couldn’t put this book down, finding the stories so fascinating and Flock’s writing style straightforward and accessible. She does a terrific job capturing a particular time in India, and this book is well-worth reading for those interested in learning more about the country—told from a foreigner’s point of view—and the many ways marriage is interpreted.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Recommendation: I suggest The Heart is a Shifting Sea for travelers heading to India, and those wishing to understand more about the country. Pair it with Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta to get an even deeper view of India and its largest metropolis.
Have any book suggestions for me? Please share them in the comments!
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