You Can’t Wait to Get Back to Concerts

Loved "The Westing Game" or want to better understand stolen art collections

Hi friends,

I can’t believe it’s the last week of April. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t really believe we ever left March 2020.

Anyway, as expected, I bought way too many books on Independent Bookstore Day — including Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart, my upcoming book club picks and a pre-order of Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau. I loved seeing so many posts on social media of people shopping at indies and, in some cases, waiting in lines that wrapped around a block to enter the store.

As a reminder, I’m raffling off a $25 gift certificate to the indie book shop of the winner’s choice. To enter, complete this quick survey and make sure you’re a newsletter subscriber. Your answers will help me give you better book recommendations. Thanks to everyone who already filled it out — it has been great to read your responses, and I’m already working on some new ideas.

And, now, what to read if …

You Really Miss Live Music

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is — so far — one of my favorite books of the year. It’s an oral history of a ’70s rock band, à la Daisy Jones and the Six, that I have not stopped raving about since I finished it last week. The book’s concert scenes capture the feeling of being at a show, sing-screaming along with the band and dancing wildly in a way that made me nostalgic for my pre-pandemic life.

The Final Revival opens with the editor of the “oral history,” S. Sunny Shelton, disclosing that her father, Opal & Nev’s drummer, was killed at one of their shows. Sunny seeks to understand the forces that led to her dad’s death and how Opal & Nev’s two albums became so important to her. It features well-drawn characters with distinct voices — and a twist that caused me to gasp out loud.

The audiobook, with a full cast recording (also a Daisy Jones parallel), is a particular treat. It brings the oral history structure alive. I laid in my bed late at night listening to it, knowing I should turn it off, but always deciding to listen to just one more chapter.

The Westing Game is One of Your Favorites

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, a middle-grade mystery, was one of my favorite books as a kid. I re-read it a few years ago and was delighted to discover it holds up as an adult reader. I credit The Westing Game for sparking my life-long love of mysteries.

YA author Maureen Johnson clearly shares my love of The Westing Game. Her Truly Devious series includes winks at the beloved classic and a similar vibe. The three-book series follows teen sleuth Stevie Bell, as she attempts to solve a mystery that has haunted her elite boarding school, Ellingham Academy, since its founding 75 years earlier. Shortly after Ellingham Academy opened its doors, the school president’s wife and daughter disappeared. The only clue in the kidnapping is a chilling letter signed “Truly Devious.”

Last summer, I binged the series in a three-night reading marathon, needing to know how Johnson would tie up all the narrative threads. Stevie is a delightful heroine — a 21st-century Nancy Drew who’s obsessed with true crime podcasts. (I wrote about the use of “true crime” in Truly Devious and other novels for Best Evidence last week.) I’m excited for the fourth installment, due out this summer, which will bring Stevie and her friends to a summer camp with a shadowy past.

Love this newsletter? Click the heart at the top or bottom of this page or share it with a friend.

Share

You Went Down a Rabbit Hole on Stolen Art Last Week

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor

The U.S. government returned nearly $2 million worth of art to the Afghan government last week. The antiquities, some 1,800 years old, were part of the collection of a disgraced art dealer. Since August, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has helped to return 338 stolen art objects to countries including Egypt, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. After coming across a news story about the antiquities return, I ended up reading a dozen more articles about the ethics (or lack there-of) surrounding stolen art.

The saga reminded me of Anne-Marie O’Connor’s blockbuster book The Lady in Gold. O’Connor tells the real-life tale of Maria Altmann, a Jewish refugee fighting to get the Austrian government to return a painting the Nazis stole from her family. The Lady in Gold uses Altmann’s decades-long crusade to illustrate the broader issue of Nazi art plunder, showing how it was part of a systematic effort to destroy Jewish wealth and how the Austrian government refused to acknowledge its role.

The Lady in Gold is nearly ten years old — and was adapted into a 2015 movie starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds — but if you haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s a great read. O’Connor deftly weaves together a complex story in a riveting book.


That’s all for me! Remember to fill out the survey for a chance to win a gift certificate.

Let me know what you think of this week’s picks.

Leave a comment


What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.

If you’re reading this on Substack or were forwarded this email, and you’d like to subscribe, click the button below.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.