The last few months have been a whirlwind. We sold almost everything we owned, tucked a few other things into storage and loaded everything else into our car then proceeded to drive across the United States and move to Ukraine. This is what normal people do on their summer vacations, right?
As such, I spent this summer finishing up lingering books I’ve been reading, and I also dove into my growing collection of long reads. I always have way more articles saved to read than time to read them all – sounds familiar, right? Two of my favorite long reads that I read were this investigative report from a journalist who worked as a private prison guard for four months and a piece on the Darien Gap.
Which leads me to my sad news about books: Even though I originally started off with a stack of 15 books I wanted to take to Ukraine with me, I had to settle on just four because they are just Too Dang Heavy. That means these are the last paper-and-ink books I’ll be reading for awhile. (Unless I can find a library in Kyiv with an English-language section. Does anyone have any leads?)
That said, both Cory and I bought new Kindle Fires, and I’m starting to dive into the world of e-books. I’m not going to lie: There has definitely been a learning cure (and some frustration) with checking digital books out from the library. But, it’s possible, and even though it’s not quite the same as holding actual books in my hands, at least I don’t have to starve my appetite of books altogether.
In any case, here are the books that have kept my attention the last few months. (And, hey! What are you reading? Let me know in the comments!)
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Three-line review: I have met and like Gretchen, so I really wanted to like The Happiness Project, which has been sitting on my bookshelf for way too long, but it got two out of five stars for me. Though I love the idea of setting goals and trying new tasks to achieve a happier lifestyle, I found many parts of her plan to be too self-serving and tedious. And, while I realize that someone like Gretchen leads a relatively charmed and privileged life (she’s a best-selling author, her husband is the son of the former Clinton administration treasury secretary), I was surprised and even annoyed by the petty things that made her unhappy in the first place.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Three-line review: This young adult novel follows the story of Allyson’s one day in Paris with Willem and then the year that follows as she tries to make sense of that one day and find Willem when he goes missing. Just One Day was very readable and kept me engaged, though there wasn’t anything overly complicated about it. Forman has also written Just One Year, which is supposed to follow Willem’s story over the course of this year, and I’m interested in reading it in order to close the loop on this two-part story.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Three-line review: Introverted, fan fiction writer Cather would rather remain in her comfortable, introverted and insular world whereas her twin sister is a wild child who lets loose when the two of them leave for college. This young adult novel follows their first year of college – and all of their ups and downs – and I felt connected to and interested in the characters. The reader of the audiobook was well chosen for this lighthearted but engaging story.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Three-line review: Cory and I read this book together, and when we closed the cover for the final time, we both agreed this was one of the best books either of us has read in a very, very long time. This book is not driven by a deep plot or complicated story line but rather well-written characters and exceptional word choices throughout. While reading aloud, we stopped several times to reread sentences and discuss the nuances that made the language so well written, and it really was a pleasure to read.
Favorite lines (and this was just in the first few pages … I had to stop marking soon after starting the book because so many of the sentences were so good):
Jules had graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and after a summer spent living with her mother in Underhill, where everything was the same as always but slightly different – the family-style Italian restaurant was now a nail salon; the Dress Cottage was also a nail salon; the Wanczyks next door were both dead of back-to-back heart attacks, and their house had been sold to an Iranian family – she had found an extremely cheap studio apartment in the West Village.
There was nothing aesthetically astute in Dennis, nothing all that subtle except for his bashfulness, which was lovely. He crashed quietly through the world.
The smells from breakfast had mostly faded, and would not return for a full year. Still now she could make out a trace of egg and some kind of natural cleaning fluid; but it was all muted and sad, dissipating quickly like skywriting, and the saddest part was the sight of Goodman Wolf sitting at a table by a window, his arms folded, his head half-leaning against the screen, as if in deep, moody thought.
He gave himself a perfunctory glance in the mirror on the morning of the first casual Spirit-in-the-Woods reunion, and with a razor he scraped the skimpy thing off, like a cartographer erasing a land mass from a nascent map.
Just The Way You Are by Barbara Freethy
Three-line review: I downloaded this book when it came up for free on Amazon, and while so many of the free e-books suck, I have hit gold with a few and this one got good rating on Goodreads so I went with it. Big mistake … I can only assume all of those five-star reviews are from people who received comped copies because it was such an underdeveloped, monotonous book. Take my word for it: Free or not, this one is not worth wasting your time.