Spring forecast: Take your pick of good reads
March is packed with too many lovely new books for this space, but here are a few to consider.
The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie comes out March 14.
This book has my name all over it, as I love odd characters with problems. Penny Rush is such a character, complete with lots of baggage. Her marriage is kaput and so is her job. Her father is mentally unbalanced. Her grandmother, Dr. Pincer, keeps experiments in the fridge and more stuff in the woodshed, and she is being investigated by a detective.
Penny can’t turn to her mom for comfort, because she and her stepdad went missing five years ago in the Australian Outback. So, Penny packs her van and sets out in search of a fresh start.
Along the way, she comes across a dog, toupee-wearing brothers and other characters as unusual as the ones she left behind. Who knows where the road will take her, but I’ll be along for that ride.
For other books with quirky characters, I recommend Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
Fans of Dear Edward will be thrilled about the new release by Ann Napolitano, also on March 14. Hello Beautiful is about William Waters, who grows up in a tragedy-filled house with parents incapable of loving him.
When he goes to college, he meets effervescent Julia Padavano and is immediately smitten. Julia comes with a lively family that includes three devoted sisters.
She plans a life with William, but when his dark past surfaces, that bright future is jeopardized and so is Julia’s bond with her sisters. The family is ripped apart, and the division changes all their lives for generations.
Another March release is Salman Rushdie’s newest work, Victory City. Rushdie is a newsmaker for many reasons. In 1988, his book The Satanic Verses led to death threats. And last August, as he was preparing to give a lecture in New York, he was attacked by a man who rushed the stage and stabbed him in the neck and abdomen. A long recuperation followed.
Because Victory City, which was finished before Rushdie was attacked, has been trumpeted as one of the most anticipated books of 2023, I downloaded a sample and was immediately charmed.
Victory City is reminiscent of an ancient fable and kissed with magic. It’s the story of Pampa Kampana, a 9-year-old girl in 14th-century India who has a divine encounter — a history-changing meeting — with a goddess. The goddess promises the girl amazing powers, but Pampa must first complete a difficult task.
She receives a sack of magic beans. When she sows them, Victory City grows. She whispers its people into existence and over the next 250 years, she tries to complete that bedeviling task for the goddess.
Victory City has been called a storyteller’s tale, and there is an age-old feeling to the early pages. It’s easy to imagine ancient people gathered around a night fire eager to hear this story, expecting entertainment as well as wisdom.
I’m still deep into a February release, This Other Eden by Paul Harding. It’s an interesting and beautifully written bit of historical fiction inspired by the true story of a tiny island off Maine’s coast that may have been the nation’s first racially integrated community.
Harding starts his story in 1792 with a former Black slave and his Irish wife settling on the island. They share 41 acres with a few Native Americans, but as time passes, others join them. The islanders become a mix of races. They are destitute, but their isolation frees them from the disapproval of those on the mainland.
In the summer of 1912, a schoolteacher-turned-missionary decides to educate the island children. Suddenly, mainland authorities, some of whom embrace the then-popular philosophy of eugenics, set their sights on the island.
In short order, the authorities forcibly evacuate the island, burn the houses, label the islanders “simple minded” and institutionalize many of them. That done, they begin exploring ways to develop the island into a vacation spot.
Harding has created memorable characters and breathed life into the dry bones of a particular history, and I’m enjoying the journey of them all.
Mary Rogers is a Fort Worth-based freelance writer. Reach her with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.