Month Three and the shelter in place order has me pacing the cage. Through no fault of its own the house doubles as an echo chamber and there is no escaping the national news, which as you know has recently turned even more grievous.
Luckily Andy and I have a large yard that was once mostly patchy grass resigned to giving itself over to clover, dead soil, and wispy weeds. The yard demands attention and a substantial level of physical effort to reverse this sadness. I am happy for the yardwork; I feel as if I am making art and working science projects.
I also listen to books when I am working outdoors and with the hours I have been spending in the yard, the list of books that have kept me company has grown long.
My rule for listening to books this summer is they must be light and entertaining. I will not be catching up on Dostoyevsky as I stack the wheelbarrow high with weeds. Here are some books I would recommend listening to if your heart and mind would appreciate a little break from the apocalyptic bingo card that 2020 has become.
Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner. Daphne Berg is the novel’s heroine, she is a young plus-size social media influencer who is faced with the reappearance of her high school ex-bestie, Drue Cavanaugh. Drue is papered with old money and sports a cool heart and wicked tongue. She has reentered Daphne’s life years after high school to ask Daphne to be her bridesmaid. Drue’s upcoming wedding will be a sponsored Instagram romp destined to be the wedding of the summer on Cape Cod. The story also gives the reader a look back at Daphne’s and Drue’s youthful friendship and the treachery that broke them apart. ‘Poor little rich girl’ themes run throughout the past and present storylines that culminate in a murder on the Cape hours before the wedding. Yet even with a death the story does not take a dark turn. Daphne accompanies the reader throughout the book and narrates the story in a witty and self-aware millennial voice.
The Islanders by Meg Mitchell. This story takes place on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. Block Island is a real place and it sounds like 100% summer fun. The Islanders is propped up by three well-developed protagonists who are strangers on the outset of summer but eventually become entwined in one another’s lives. The three build a shared but complicated friendship that of course stumbles a few times due to the peripheral characters in each of the protagonists’ lives.
The sole male protagonist is Anthony Puckett, an ascending literary star who also happens to be the son of a famous writer. But a big bad something happened to Anthony when he was ready to publish his second novel and now he is hiding out on the island licking his wounds in a borrowed run-down beach house and using a pseudonym as he presents himself around the island.
Then there is Joy Sousa who owns the island’s slightly famous whoopie pie bakery. Joy has a charming daughter with a penchant for cheesy tee-shirts (ala: ‘space travel is out of this world’). Joy and her daughter have settled into the island and made it their home but now her business is threatened by a new food truck from New York and the local rising rents.
Lu Trusdale is the third protagonist and she is taking her summer break in a sunny beach house with her two young sons. It sounds idyllic but the house is being paid for by a not-so-nice mother-in-law and Lu’s husband is seldom home to run interference because he works long doctoring shifts on the mainland. On the summer’s outset Lu is regretting a deal she and her husband made where they agreed Lu would quit her job and stay home with the boys and try for their third child. Lu realizes she is not wild about mothering and absolutely doesn’t want a third child. In the meantime, she is engaging her heart and mind in a secret money-making project under a different identity.
This well-written book is about the rewards of building friendships even when we are well into adulthood and even when there is an abundance of baggage to bring to the relationships. Big thumbs up on this gentle summery novel.
All Adults Here is Emma Straub’s fifth book. This is a book of timelines and paths (as in everyone has their own — a timeline and path that is). It is a well-worn concept of course but All Adults Here is a refreshing spin on the ways in which we all grow up in our own time and in our own way.
The book opens as Astrid Strick, who is the 68-year-old matriarch of a large busy family, witnesses a school bus accident in the center of her idyllic town. As a result of seeing the accident, a repressed memory is kicked loose and further sparks a decision about living life more truthfully and exhibiting more compassion.
Astrid decides the best way to walk her new path is to reconnect honestly with her family and make amends for mistakes she may have made. She also plans to tell her grown children about the person she loves and hopes to marry -it’s been a long-kept secret.
All Adults Here is filled with characters that include Astrid’s 3 grown children, the children of Astrid’s children, and a juicy handful of characters who live in Astrid’s town. The story touches on everyone’s diverse storylines about characters’ burgeoning sexuality, high school bullying, secret love affairs, parades, and trysts in the barn with goats looking on, and so on.
By the end of the novel Straub is able to get her key characters across a finish line with their own well-wrapped endings. I was captured by everyone’s journey in All Adults Here, it is sweet story that manages to spot the best in everyone, well… almost everyone
Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall. This is the first in a series of four books featuring Lou Norton, an LAPD detective. In this initial story Lou and her partner are assigned a case that involves the death of a young woman found strangled in a partially constructed condo. Norton’s new partner, a white cop recently moved from Colorado, thinks the victim killed herself. Lou disagrees and senses it may be tied to her sister’s death, even though that death was over 30 years ago. This book is a straight up procedural but offers more because of Norton’s fierce personality and the well-formulated mystery. I am looking forward to reading or listening to more Lou Norton.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. This book was originally published in Sweden and is read in English translation by the actor J.K. Simmons. I didn’t know who specifically was reading when I listened, but I recognized the voice. Turns out Simmons has a perfect-fit voice for this book, which is an endearing story about an old curmudgeon. You can probably anticipate the arc of the story and you would be mostly right. The book weaves together Ove’s back-story in alternating chapters with current day narration. The chapters that focus on Ove’s history illustrate his development into the massive grump he became. Chapters about present day-to-day events are gently funny and involve a misfit group of people who somehow manage to find good in Ove. It is a book that a friend of mine loved; I agree.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson. This YA book uses a favorite trope of mine, Girl Detective. The star of the story is Pip Fitz-Amobi who is a stellar student and has elected to take on an extraordinary senior project: investigating a local murder that has been closed for 5 years. Everyone in town believes an ex-boyfriend killed the girl, but Pip isn’t convinced and she is whip smart. My money was on Pip from the get-go but I got a little worried about ¾ of the way through the book when bad news began to stalk Pip – and at that point I didn’t realize this book was the start of a series. This book on tape used a few fancy techniques in its delivery, there were various actors readings characters’ lines and some sound effects. It made listening to this story a little more like hearing a radio play but not overly so. I am all for following Pip right into her next adventure, Good Girl/Bad Blood, which is out now.
There is a sit-in tonight down the street from us for George Floyd, it is being held on the banks of the Willamette. I don’t think I could bear the sorrow. So for now I am medicating with yard work, sunny books, and the occasional dose of medicinal weed. How are you taking care of yourselves now Scramblers? Please take care and peace out.