Book Report: Quick Reviews of What I’ve Been Reading
How has your reading life been lately? I’ve heard from some people who are using the extra time at home to read more, and others who are finding it hard to concentrate.
I’ve actually found books to be a much-needed distraction right now. I’ve been reading books, reading about books, buying books, and basically doing all the bookish things. Following the lead of Modern Mrs. Darcy, I’m sharing some quick reviews of what I’ve read lately.
Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. More details here.
Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
I first read Tara Road 20 years ago this summer and I remember exactly where I was when I read it: on a beach in Gulf Shores, AL. My small book group chose this for last month’s discussion and I was happy to pull it out for a re-read as Maeve Binchy has long been one of my favorite authors and this is my favorite book of hers. The main character Ria is happily married and living in a dream house in Dublin with her many varied friends and family around her when her life takes a drastic turn. An unexpected opportunity to put some distance between herself and her troubles soon presents itself and Ria takes it, surprising no one more than herself. As with all of Maeve’s books, these characters are richly drawn and you become happily immersed in their world. Plus, I am always thrilled when a house (or in this case two houses) has a starring role in the story.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Several of Ann Patchett’s books have been on my TBR list for a while, so I was happy when a friend read this book and then dropped it off on my porch because she thought I would enjoy it. This collection of essays explores the things the author has committed to in her life, from the dog she “adopted” from a woman in a park, to her ailing grandmother to passing the entrance exam for the Los Angeles Police Academy (an unexpected but fascinating chapter). I loved this book so much that I ordered a signed copy from Nashville’s Parnassus Books (which is co-owned by Ann and which she writes about in this book) to have for myself. I didn’t know when I ordered it that another of the author’s books, The Dutch House was soon to be named a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
I don’t usually read true crime, but I was interested in this book because it tells two stories: the crimes of a serial rapist and murderer in 1970s and 80s California and the passion with which the author Michelle McNamara pursued the truth about them decades later. Sadly, the author passed away unexpectedly before the killer was captured (you may have read about that; she was the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt) so parts of the book are pieced together from her notes and interviews. Still, I was engrossed from beginning to end as the author takes us inside her process of piecing together the movements and actions of a killer who was responsible for so much violence and terror but went uncaptured for so many years. Note: Don’t pass over the introduction by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, who describes her admiration for the author and the dogged and humane way she pursued this story.
A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
The Whitman family builds a luxurious new house in an established North Carolina neighborhood that backs up to the home of single mom and ecology professor Valerie Alston-Holt and her teenage son Xavier. As 17-year-old Juniper Whitman and Xavier begin a secret relationship, it is discovered that the construction of the Whitmans’ house has killed the big, beloved oak tree in Valerie’s back yard. All of this plays out as Juniper wrestles with a dark family secret. I was immediately hooked by the premise of this book but found it to be a pretty surface treatment of some important issues, namely race and class differences in America. I was also distracted by the “neighborhood as narrator” writing technique, which I found strange, the dialogue from the teens, which didn’t ring true to me, and a particularly disturbing storyline. I normally wouldn’t finish a book that I had this many problems with but this was a quick read and I really did want to see how it turned out, so take that for what it’s worth.
A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen
At just 64 pages, this is truly a very short guide to a happy life, but with Anna Quindlen’s writing, you know it’s going to contain some gems. I read this on a Kindle and would recommend reading the actual book, as it’s illustrated with photographs that don’t translate well to an e-reader. My small book group felt like this could have been a commencement address, and while it doesn’t appear that it was, it would make a good graduation gift.
What have you been reading lately? Anything good?
I read Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life this winter and several years ago read Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. I didn’t know about this one, and unfortunately, our library doesn’t have it. But, I’ll keep my eyes open for it.
I got back from a trip to Nashville right as Covid was hitting the US. I went to Parnassus and purchased The Dutch House and her children’s book, Lambslide. Now, I’m wishing I had gotten this one, but our library has it, so I put myself on the hold list.
A good Neighborhood is on my shelf waiting for me to pick it up.
A trip to Parnassus is on my list! Unfortunately, I’ve only driven by it. Someday…when we can travel again.
Hi Julie… I’m dying to read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark… I saw a piece on TV talking about the case and the author. I got halfway through A Good Neighborhood and put it down. I just was not engaged. Hope you have a good weekend. Stay healthy, Julie!
Oh, I think you’ll really enjoy it, Katie!
I’ve read one book by Maeve Binchy, but I really liked it. I should do a re-read someday. I loved I’ll Be Gone in the Dark!
I love Ann Patchett and really enjoyed that essay collection as well. I started A Good Neighborhood on audiobook and couldn’t get into it (which I blamed on it being on audio… not my thing), but after this review it sounds like maybe I just skip it all together.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’d love it if you stopped by The Hungry Bookworm sometime 🙂
I *thought* I’d be reading more while I worked from home, but that has not turned out to be the case! And within the last week, well, it’s been hard to concentrate on anything, honestly. I don’t usually read true crime either (or maybe, ever?!), but I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was truly fascinating! I was so disappointed I didn’t make it to Ann’s bookshop when I was in Nashville, but hopefully I’ll get back there someday! And thanks to your review, I definitely want to read her memoir now!
I’m definitely not reading at my usual level. My concentration is off!
I’m really hoping to read The Dutch House at some point this year, but I’m adding This is the Story of a Happy Marriage to my list too– I usually don’t ready many short stories, but it definitely sounds interesting.
i was tearing through books in the beginning and now i’ve tapered off and nothing seems to be holding my attention. comes and goes i guess. i’ll be gone in the dark is on my list!
That’s awesome that you had a friend bring you a book. I really missed the library when it was closed for two months. It recently opened for drive through pickup and I am happy to be reading again!
Sounds like a good reading month 🙂 I think I read Tara Road years ago too. But I couldn’t tell you when I last read a Maeve Binchy book. Thanks for sharing and enjoy your month!