It’s been a minute! I’m back with three great summer reads.
The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn
I have a weakness for fiction set in WWII-era England, and this fits the bill so well it’s like it was dreamed up in a lab. In 1940, three young women find themselves working at Bletchley Park, the British government’s codebreaking site outside of London. Osla (a socialite who is dating Prince Philip of Greece), Mab (an East Ender determined to better herself and marry up), and Beth (a local girl working to get out from under the thumb of her domineering mother) become friends, carry out high-pressure assignments at Bletchley and see their relationships tested by their life-and-death wartime work. That story alternates with a 1947 timeline: As the country recovers from the war and prepares for the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip (it’s not a spoiler to say he doesn’t end up with Osla), one of the three Bletchley Park alumnae rots unjustly in an asylum, trying to identify the traitor who put her there before she is forced to undergo a devastating surgery. Don’t skip the author’s note, which reveals the real-life inspirations for many of the characters. (Among the book’s minor characters: Kate Middleton’s grandmother, who really did work at Bletchley during the war.)
Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead
I basically checked out of all but the most pressing obligations while ripping through this sprawling, propulsive novel. The main story belongs to Marian Graves, who in 1914 is rescued with her twin infant brother from a sinking ship captained by their father. As a child in Montana, raised by her uncle, Marian becomes fascinated with aviation, and eventually strikes a devil’s bargain with a rich bootlegger to pursue her passion for flying. In one of my favorite sections, she ferries warplanes from place to place in England during WWII -- the only role available for female pilots -- befriending a married couple who will individually play very important roles in her life. In 1950, she sets off on her life’s goal of circumnavigating the globe over the North and South poles. A secondary storyline follows Hadley Baxter, the modern-day actress who has been cast to play Marian in a biopic after blowing up her life with a romantic scandal, and whose research for the role will shed light on the mystery of what happened to Marian during her pioneering flight. There’s a lot of plot and characters in this almost 600-page book, but I was invested in all of it; the end is beautiful and satisfying and I’ve read it several times over. This will certainly be one of my favorite books of the year.
The Other Black Girl, by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Nella Rogers is slogging it out as an editorial assistant at book publisher Wagner, trying to negotiate office politics and advance as the company’s only career-track Black employee. That includes gritting her teeth and smiling in the face of a lot of inanity and cringeworthy ignorance about race from her white colleagues. Then the other Black girl of the title, a new hire named Hazel-May McCall, shows up. At first this development seems great – a colleague who gets it! – but soon Nella starts to feel like Hazel is outmaneuvering and unseating her in the office hierarchy. And someone is leaving her anonymous notes telling her to leave the company. WTF is going on? Nella works to find out, and the weird, unsettling answer is slowly revealed, helped by sections set in the 1980s that focus on a former Black editor at Wagner. The book has been characterized as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “Get Out,” but without giving too much away, it leans more in the direction of the latter. You will want to discuss the twisty ending, so tell a friend to read it, too.