By Deborah Goodrich Royce  

Author of Finding Mrs. Ford, Ruby Falls and—coming January ‘23—Reef Road

 

These Precious Days, Essays by Ann Patchett 

These essays touched me deeply. Ann Patchett, in her spare and elegant prose, expresses thoughts that many of us experience but don’t always take the time to put into words. In the salvo essay, she nails it when she describes how writers become obsessed with death (our own) when we are deep in the process of writing a book. I thought I was the only person who emailed copies of an unfinished manuscript to a special person—asking her to please make sure it gets published should I die in the crashing plane or capsizing boat before finishing it! Apparently, though, this is a thing that ALL writers go through, and I cannot tell you how much more normal I felt on learning this.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Amor Towles’s newest novel—a sprawling twentieth-century reimagining of the great classic epics (think The Odyssey in Middle America)—is peopled with a cast of characters you won’t soon forget. The lost, the forlorn, the broken—both children and adults—join forces to hit the road—the Lincoln Highway, to be specific—each in the quest of something different—a disappeared mother, a disappeared fortune, a disappeared self.  This is a long book, but it is very much worth the time.

Two-Part Invention, The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle

Originally published in 1988, this book caught my attention many years ago. First, I was intrigued when I was the story editor at Miramax Films and was working on the film script adaptation of Ms. L’Engle’s children’s masterpiece, A Wrinkle In Time. Secondly, because I had been an actress on the soap opera, All My Children, and had worked with Ms. L’Engle’s husband, Hugh Franklin. This beautiful memoir (part of a series called The Crosswicks Journal, named for the tiny corner of Connecticut where she and her husband raised their children and ran a store) details the ebbs and flows of a marriage. L’Engle and Franklin lived their lives both in and out of the public eye, but she recounts their marriage in a candid and tender way that most people who have been married for more than a short while will recognize.

The Mayfair Bookshop, by Eliza Knight

Because I am a devoted fan of the novels of Nancy Mitford—most notably Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate—I am really enjoying Ms. Knight’s novel that pairs a storyline of a modern-day woman who travels to London to do research on Ms. Mitford, and a historical fiction storyline of Ms. Mitford and a mysterious friendship back in World War II. This book comes out on April 12, 2022 but you can pre-order now and catch up with all things Mitford while you wait for it!

Vanderbilt, The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty, by Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper’s examination of the famous clan from which he hails is irresistible reading. Rightly described as a book about the greatest fortune ever squandered, I suspect you’ll feel a lot better about the money your forebears did not hand down to you when you read about all the money the Vanderbilts managed to spend in roughly a hundred years. In our current era of fortunes large enough to rival those of the Gilded Age robber barons, we can forget that “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is a maxim reminding us that we really don’t build terribly long-running-multi-generational dynasties in America.  And the Vanderbilts are no exception.

Sisters of Night and Fog, by Erika Robuck

Ms. Robuck’s latest work of historical fiction will come out on March 1 and I consider myself very privileged to have an advance reader copy to curl up with in front of the fire. Based on the true stories of Virginia d’Albert’Lake, an American socialite living in France, and Violette Szabo, a British secret agent, and how they courageously navigated resistance against the Nazis in the darkest days of World War II.

The Long Drop, by Denise Mina

Because my next novel, Reef Road, contains a fictionalized version of a real murder, I am steeping myself in other fictionalizations of true crimes. Here, Ms. Mina slowly and chillingly unpeels the onion of what really happened—or did not happen—on a notorious night in 1950s Glasgow, Scotland, when a man’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law were murdered at home. Did he do it? Or did another man who knows far too many details of the night in question do it? Read the book and find out!

The Great, television series created by Tony McNamara

This satirical look at the life and loves of Catherine the Great of Russia is a wild ride filled with murder, lust, gluttony, greed, revenge and a fair amount of scatological humor. Starring Elle Fanning as Catherine and Nicholas Hoult as her husband, Emperor Peter III, this series—which is airing its second season now—is a fantastic romp through the palaces and countryside of Imperial Russia. It is high on humor and maybe a little low on facts. So don’t take it as gospel. But it is loads of fun!

West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg

I simply loved this version of the classic-play-turned film, which, in turn, was based on Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare. A reminder that there are no new stories! Put on your mask and run—don’t walk—to the nearest cinema to see this beauty on the big screen. The choreography is dazzling, the cast is wonderful, the modernization is just the right note to encompass our current understanding of how hard it was to be a resident of a poor neighborhood that was being bulldozed in the name of the public good. And the romance between the two young stars—Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort—reminds us of the innocence and purity of young love, even in a world that is not innocent at all.

My next novel, Reef Road will come out January 10, 2023  

Inspired by the real-life unsolved murder of my mother’s best friend in Pittsburgh in 1948, and the indelible effect it has had on my mother and me, Reef Road is both a plot-driven thriller and a deep examination of the dark stain a single act of violence leaves on individuals other than the victim.  A serpentine dual narrative set in Palm Beach during the pandemic shut-down of 2020, Reef Road follows two women: a lonely writer obsessed with the unsolved murder of her mother’s best friend — and with murder in general; and a younger woman, whose Argentine husband and two young children are last seen masked and slipping out of the country on a plane for Buenos Aires.

Photo Credit:  ChiChi Ubiña.