Category: Fiction

  • Pitch Dark by Renata Adler

    The last two books I read before Pitch Dark were both narratively-straightforward romances—very different in style and from very different times, but they were both the kind of book where the central couple gets a happily-ever-after ending and the reader gets warm and fuzzy feelings. Pitch Dark is not that kind of book at all.…

  • The Nanny by Lana Ferguson

    This was a book club read for me, and I wasn’t necessarily expecting to like it as much as I did. I mean – bonking the nanny is such a stereotypical trope, and even with the twist (this nanny used to perform on OnlyFans, and her new employer turns out to have been someone she…

  • The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

    At the start of The Blue Castle we meet Valancy Stirling, who’s 29 and single, in a time and place “where the unmarried are simply those who have failed to get a man.” Her family looks down on her because of her timid nature and her “hopeless old maidenhood” and her lack of conventional good…

  • The Red and the Black by StendhalTranslated by Roger Gard

    Roger Gard’s introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of The Red and the Black describes the book as “a thrilling double love story” and also as “satirical and sharp,” a “picture of corruption, grossness, illiberality and deceit in municipality, Church and state” and of “a tottering reactionary monarchy.” All of which I maybe would have…

  • Heir of Uncertain Magic by Charlie N. Holmberg

    This book, which is the sequel to Keeper of Enchanted Rooms, was perfect for my current reading mood: I wanted something plot-driven that would keep my attention and distract me from some minor physical annoyances (the end of a case of poison sumac, plus some kind of blepharitis) and it did its job admirably. We…

  • Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules VerneTranslated by Robert Baldick

    At the start of Journey to the Centre of the Earth we meet Axel, our narrator, who’s in his late teens at the point when the story opens in Hamburg in May 1863. His parents are dead, and in the “dual capacity of nephew and orphan” he lives with his uncle, one Professor Lidenbrock, and…

  • The Black Tulip by Alexandre DumasTranslated by Robin Buss

    I started this book knowing very little about 1600s Dutch history, so I was grateful for Robin Buss’s introduction and the background it gave about the real-life characters Cornelius and Johan de Witt, who were killed by an angry mob in 1672 after Cornelius was accused of an assassination plot against William of Orange. In…

  • Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

    As the inside cover blurb puts it, this is a novel about “eight friends, one country house, four romances, and six months in isolation.” It’s Boccaccio meets Chekov in the Hudson Valley in 2020, and it’s precise and funny and tragic and I liked it a whole lot. The conceit—which is that a Shteyngart-like writer…

  • Keeper of Enchanted Rooms by Charlie N. Holmberg

    While the plot is predictable, and the setting (a fictional island in the very real Narragansett Bay, with some excursions to Portsmouth and Boston) didn’t have as much of a strong sense of place as I wanted/expected, and the characters talk like they’re from now, not 1846, I was still charmed by this book, which…

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    I somehow never had to read this book in junior high, high school, or college, so I don’t know if I would have disliked it as much as Tom Perrotta (who wrote the foreword to the edition I read) did when he first read it. Perrotta talks about how he “found the book strange and…