Morning Buzz

Five picks for April

Cindy Burnett
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WHAT TO READ This month’s picks include a heartwarming and hilarious contemporary story, a twisty and entertaining thriller by a Houston author, two epic historical-fiction titles, and a historical mystery inspired by the author’s own family history. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently or soon-to-be released titles.

Dust Child by Nguyn Phan Quế Mai (historical fiction) – In this stunning tale set in 1969, sisters Trang and Quỳnh leave their village in an effort to help their parents pay off debts and travel to Sài Gòn to become “bar girls,” women who, for a fee, drink and keep company with American GIs. Against her better judgment, Trang gets involved with Dan, an American helicopter pilot. Many years later, Dan, with his wife Linda, decides to return to Vietnam in an effort to make peace with his past. Meanwhile, Phong, the son of a Vietnamese woman and a Black American soldier, sets out on a journey to locate his parents and find a way to escape Vietnam. Abandoned as a baby, Phong grew up ostracized from his peers, called “the dust of life.” Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s amazing gift is her ability to portray the legacy of war from a very human standpoint – she compels readers to understand the long-lasting effects of conflict on both the land and the thousands upon thousands of people impacted by war. This is a book I won’t soon forget.

Homecoming by Kate Morton (historical fiction) – In the South Australian town of Tambilla, a delivery driver discovers a dead body on Christmas Eve, 1959, on the grounds of a magnificent mansion. An investigation ensues surrounding the shocking and mysterious death. Six decades later, Jess, an unemployed journalist in London, is called back to Australia because her grandmother Nora has been sent to the hospital. While staying at her grandmother’s house, she stumbles across a book called the Turner Family Tragedy of Christmas Eve, 1959, that chronicles the police investigation into a long-ago murder. When she delves into the book, she is stunned to discover that her family may have a connection to the decades-old killing. Morton’s prose is stunning, and the book within a book made for such a compelling read. She brings Australia vividly to life, and I was sad to leave the setting and the characters when the book was over.

I Love It When You Lie by Kristen Bird (mystery) – Houstonian Kristen Bird’s clever new mystery stars the Williams sisters who are preparing to bury their grandmother after her unexpected passing. In the midst of their planning, the women are struggling with their own complicated issues and the messy men in their lives, one of whom they end up putting with the grandmother in her coffin. Told over the period of several days and toggling back and forth between characters and time, the story slowly unfolds as the reader tries to guess who has gone missing and why. This page turner is carefully and thoughtfully crafted, and I couldn’t wait to get to the end to see how it played out. I highly recommend it.

The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley (fiction) – This not-to-be-missed gem stars 21-year-old college dropout Tanner Quimby and 84-year-old Louise Wilt who are thrown together when Louise’s family decides she needs a live-in caregiver and Tanner’s family decides she needs to quit feeling sorry for herself. The two purposefully ignore each other initially, but Tanner begins to realize that something is amiss. The news keeps airing updates to an old jewelry heist and the wanted suspect looks a lot like Louise, and Louise keeps her garden shed under heavy lock and key. Then one evening, Louise wakes Tanner up and insists that they leave immediately (in a car Tanner didn’t even know existed) and head across the country. Over the course of their adventure, the two women begin to develop a friendship. Interspersed with the regular narrative are hilarious text exchanges between Louise’s children, interviews with the FBI, and more, which add a highly entertaining element to an already engaging story. This book is delightful from page one, and combined with the stellar ending makes this one of my favorite books that I have read this year. I wish I could take a road trip with Tanner and Louise.

Time’s Undoing by Cheryl A. Head (historical mystery) – This dual-timeline story focuses on 1929 Birmingham (known then as “Magic City”) during its heyday as a steel supplier. Master carpenter Robert Lee Harrington relocates his family to Birmingham for a job, and with its booming economy, the city is a great place to live – except for the fact that the Klan is very active there. In the 2019 timeline, Robert’s great-granddaughter, Meghan McKenzie, the youngest reporter at the Detroit Free Press, becomes interested in his murder and why his body was never found. So she travels to Birmingham to investigate, stirring up secrets that have been long buried and that someone does not want uncovered.

Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column at She hosts the award-winning Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.

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