Once again, I was sure I'd done a book review post a month or two ago, but in fact the last one was in February. With a couple of exceptions, I feel like I've been on a lengthy streak of good books; most of what I've read in the past several months has been absorbing and smart, making every pocket of reading that I squeeze into my day that much more enjoyable. I hope my luck continues, and if you have anything to recommend, I am as always all ears.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. This book got a terrific amount of buzz before it came out, and Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap is one of the more memorable things I've read in the past five years, so I had pretty high expectations for this one. Plus, the main theme is something close to my own heart: what happens when one has potential (especially artistic potential), how that shapes you as a young person and then how it goes fulfilled or unfulfilled as life moves forward into adulthood. There's a lot in it about friendships and loyalty and marriage and aging, too, all of which are things I love to read about.
I really liked this book in most respects; some parts were especially close to home, and there was a comfortable familiarity to the writing and the characters. And yet, I can't put my finger on what was missing for me, but something kept it from being the completely meaningful, moving experience I had hoped for when I started the book. I don't want to undersell it, because it was a very worthwhile read, and I wouldn't say it was underwhelming, but it's sort of like when you go to a party and everyone's perfectly nice and you have some good conversations, but you go home feeling as if you never fully connected with anyone there.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I understand why this book was so lauded; it's difficult to fathom the emotional and professional commitment that Boo made to live in a slum in India, gain the trust of the people there, shadow them for years, and then put together a coherent narrative based upon her observations and research. I respect the book for all that went into it. But I also didn't love reading it. Not just because it's so crushing in so many ways, but...I don't know. I ended up skimming a lot of it and was glad when it was over.
Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Like everyone else, it seems, I thought this was a quick, fun, page-turner. It's smart and funny, and left me wanting more. Sometimes I thought the voices of the more villainous characters were so over the top that they rang a bit false, but maybe that was part of the point, as the whole thing is high melodrama/satire.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I was probably one of the last people to read this one, and again my review isn't going to add anything to the existing conversation about it. E&P is different and quirky, and draws you in until you're helpless against the pull of these characters and their sad trajectory. From the start, I knew the book was going to break my heart -- I just didn't know exactly how. Sure enough, the whole thing turned out to be a surprise, but in the best possible way. I cried when it was over.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I just loved this. I was a little concerned for the first bit that it would be formulaic and predictable, but soon enough I fell in love with the narrator and couldn't wait to visit with her every time I returned to the story. I also pictured her looking like Temerity Jane, which is maybe weird since I've never met TJ, but that is where my mind went from the get-go, so I ran with it. And the story ended up taking my breath away. I stayed up late one night to finish it, and then I was so sad that it was over.
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Theresa Anne Fowler. This book, like The Paris Wife before it, made me awfully glad I never married a booze-loving, self-absorbed up-and-coming writer in the 1920s. This book was fine, but it could have been better. I wished Amor Towles, who wrote the stunning Rules of Civility, had taken hold of it, to give it more depth and dress it up in more virtuosic writing. I love the time period and the real-life subjects couldn't be more interesting, but the fictional dialogue and such lacked the humanity that you want to feel when you're reading something like this. I didn't come away feeling like I'd gotten a glimpse of the inner workings of a celebrated marriage, like I'd read something that blurred the lines between fact and fiction.
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. I absolutely loved this book. Her writing is such a pleasure for me to read. It is just so real. I can picture every scene so vividly, and the characters are so richly drawn, without being overdone, that I close the book feeling like they are people I know. One of the focal points of this novel is the acute anxiety that comes with being a parent to small children -- the fierce protectiveness, the occasionally overwhelming sense of dread that something horrible could happen, and the daily rhythms that sometimes lull you into a false sense of security despite those lurking fears. I didn't know that Sittenfeld had had children since her last book came out, but as soon as I started reading this, I knew that she had (she has two young sons). She just gets it right, all of it.
This book had such moments of suspense that I almost had to flip ahead a few times to relieve my own panic about what was coming around the bend. I won't spoil anything, but the plot went in a direction that I didn't expect, yet somehow was entirely inevitable. I loved it. The only thing I didn't love was that the resolution seemed rushed to me. I wished the turning point had happened at the halfway mark of the book, and then we'd gotten to flesh out the afterwards for a lot longer. When I finished, I wanted to start over and read the whole thing again, just so it wouldn't be truly over.
Husband and Wife by Leah Stewart. I adored this book, too. Again, it's about marriage and parenting and motherhood and identity and WHOA. It knocked my socks off. Stewart is another one who nails everything so perfectly with her writing, and she writes about people you could swear you know. It's almost uncomfortably real. This would be an excellent book club book, because (and this isn't a spoiler, it's on the book jacket) the main plot point is about infidelity, and I think if you have a bunch of married or coupled people in your group, it would be fascinating to see everyone's reactions to how the book plays out, and what would you do if... and so on. Read this!
The History of Us by Leah Stewart. I was so glad she had another book out so I could read it right after the last one, because I wasn't ready to move on from her writing. This one was also good, but I didn't connect with it in quite the same way. But I did enjoy it. I think if you've ever been caught up in sibling/family drama, it would be especially pertinent and fun to read.
The Light Between Oceans by M.D. Stedman. Whoo. This book was so good. I cried more than once in this one. It was so intense at times that I almost had to put it down and take a break. This would be another great book for group discussion, because the pivotal moment is SO fraught with moral and ethical questions that only get more complicated as the action unfurls, and it's tough to imagine what would be entirely right or wrong in the situations that ensue. It made me uncomfortable a lot of times, but in the way that really good fiction does. Recommend!