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.

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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?

P.S. An affair with a house and a Nashville trip report.