The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Knopf. $25.
Years ago, driving to Ashland to take in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I happened to switch on an audiobook recording of The Great Gatsby, which I hadn’t read since high school. From the opening line I was mesmerized with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s smart, observant prose and caustic view of America’s soulless rich. For years after I “read” Gatsby in the car each year on my way to and from OSF. It’s the only novel I’ve ever wanted to reread on a regular basis — until now. Recently a friend posted on Facebook that she reread Donna Tartt’s The Secret History every three years. I happened to have read it three years ago. How could I resist? Secret History is a murder mystery told backwards. We start with the crime, the murder of one of their classmates by a group of entitled classics students at a small, elite college; the only mystery is exactly why and how they did it. It’s an amazing first novel by Tartt, who became better known in 2013 for her Pulitzer Prize-winning thriller The Goldfinch. Perhaps coincidentally, any of the murderous students in Secret History could be friends of Gatsby’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan, had Tartt’s story taken place a century earlier. They also share character flaws with Dostoevsky’s student-killer Raskolnikov. OSF may be shut down by COVID-19, but I’m feeling the urge to reread Gatsby one more time — and I’ve already put Secret History on my calendar for 2023. — Bob Keefer
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis. Random House Publishing, $17.99.
This engaging novel is great for anyone who loves stories about feminists in New York City in the early 20th century. That seems like a niche genre, but there is something empowering and exciting about women doing radical things at a time when they couldn’t even vote, even if it’s fiction. The book follows Laura Lyons, who attends Columbia Journalism School. As she travels around the city she comes across a radical group in Greenwich Village, where she learns women’s rights. The story parallels her granddaughter’s in 1993, who works for the New York Public Library and unravels a mystery about her heritage when manuscripts and books from the library’s collection start to disappear. This story is great escapism for this year because it’s easy to read and fairly dramatic. The plot, albeit very predictable, is a great way to take the mind off of, say, a global pandemic. — Taylor Perse
Best Laid Plans by Gwen Florio. Severn House, $28.99.
Nora Best is about to embark on a great adventure with her husband, traveling the country in their brand new Airstream trailer. But he’s a dick and cheats on her — which she discovers at their going away party. Luckily, Airstreams are pretty easy to tow (I know; I have one) because Nora jumps in the truck and heads off for a hangover and an adventure sans hubby. Her travels come to an abrupt halt at a campground in Wyoming when she finds herself accused of murder. I have been reading Gwen Florio’s novels since I met her at a writer’s group years ago, and each time get sucked in by her flawed and funny heroines. Florio’s attention to detail likely comes from her years as a journalist, and it’s that attention that makes for the best fiction reading. — Camilla Mortensen