As a writer, I am a constant reader… even though all my posts so far have been TV and female icon forward. To balance that, here are three books that will transport and delight you – as all the best ones do.
I just finished this little charmer and I LOVED it. This is Baltimore in the 70s, as 14-year-old Mary Jane Dillard has the summer of her life, nannying in a household that includes a rehabbing rock star and his movie star wife. I was 14 years old in the 70s and the words “terry cloth onesie” brought it all back!
Mary Jane and the world are still innocent, and life has many fewer options than your current Netflix menu, in part because if you didn’t leave your neighbourhood, you didn’t know anything else existed. Literally. Remember those days? And this is a fond backward glance, a simple – yet not simplistic – coming of age story.
Being exposed to a lifestyle completely opposite to all she’s ever known – rules, order, homecooked meals – allows Mary Jane to flourish in what is freely offered – affection, attention and self-expression. Parents and how they shape their children is a primary theme but not in a judgy way.
There is no cliched ending of Mary Jane completely rejecting her beloved, if rigid, mother and running off to be a love child. Instead, there’s just different POVs and you’re able to take them all in… except maybe Mary Jane’s respectable and racist father. But even he is an accurate representation.
With vivid and engaging characters, Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau tells of a time that will not come around again. You’ll be immediately immersed then reluctant to turn the last page. Who could ask for more?
This is not your usual female murdery, unreliable narrator ramble, thank goodness. Those cram every shelf at my beloved library, and not in a good way. Instead, Fabian Nicieza, the co-creator of Deadpool, has given us a sharp, witty and intelligent story with an able protagonist to carry it out.
Andrea Stern, pregnant with her 5th child, stumbles onto a bloody crime scene in her New Jersey burg. Like Marge from Fargo – LOVE! – she has a planet-sized brain trapped in an unwieldy body, and she cannot stop herself from investigating.
Her FBI profiler background puts her waaayyy ahead of anyone else involved, including her partner – an unlikeable yet relatable writer looking to redeem himself, big time.
Racism, gender divide, what we give up for marriage and kids, police corruption and more are delivered within a darkly comic snapshot of suburbia – a terrifying underbelly covered with a thin layer of what we’re constantly being sold as the American dream of success. Ugh.
I have a penchant for mysteries that are on the caustically clever side. The Spellman series by Lisa Lutz, anyone? Anyone? Kudos to Mr. Nicieza for creating such a strong female lead, who is obsessed and ambitious, and setting her loose in a little town of horrors. I cannot wait to join Andrea’s next forensically formed adventure, and I know you will feel the same. Get this book.
I also have an intense love of stories set in WWII Britain; add a subset of Bletchley Park intrigue and I’m in!
Okay, are my niches fun or just weird? Asking for a friend…
Therefore, my last 2022 recommendation is The Rose Code, a mystery by Kate Quinn. This novel shifts between 1940, in a code breaking frenzy, and 1947, just before the royal wedding madness of the Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip nuptials.
Osla the debutante, Mab the East End girl, and Beth the village spinster share a covert past that destroyed their friendship and is now poised to endanger their futures. What happened and what’s happening is spun out over 600 pages – yay for door stoppers!
Thoughtful character development and captivating historical details, which constantly enrich the narrative, make for a really satisfying read. I did not try to solve the whodunnit ahead of time – I never do – I just accepted every red herring along the way. Because, more fun.
As always. I’m fascinated by how integral the class system is to every British story. It’s all about the accent you have or haven’t, the type of schools you attend or don’t, that dictate so much of your path… It’s no different in The Rose Code, and it just adds to the enjoyment.
Finally, women were an integral part of the victory over the Nazis, in the factories as well as in the Park, but are not always recognized as such. Kate Quinn is a hero for focusing on this oversight. I also loved The Alice Network by this author as well. Please get both if you have a hankering for a great novel x2.
In a slow reading year – only two books a week – with a lot of comforting rereads, these three disparate choices stood out to me. They made me think and laugh and feel and they are all led by substantial women. I will definitely be rereading each of these in a few years’ time, let’s put it that way.
As an author myself, I have nothing but admiration for writers who craft a memorable narrative built from love and imagination to share with their readers. For as long as it takes to finish their tale, we live in their world. What a gift!
PS: That is my cat Bill Murray, looking cerebral with Suburban Dicks. He is actually just wondering when dinner is.
Are you a reader? Have you read any of these gems? What are your favourite books of 2022? I would love to add to my never-ending list! And happy New Year! Wishing everyone a 2022 filled with unicorns, kittens and rainbows.