I apologize for the delay since last posting, but I have been debating for a while whether it makes more sense to group a few books into one “round-up” review, as I did when I first started this blog, or to review individually; I’ve come to the conclusion that if there’s a particularly exceptional book that also happens to be new, I’ll review it on it’s own, but otherwise would prefer to stick to the round-up format. That being said, one of the books I’m going to review below was one I would file under exceptional and deserving of a solo shout-out, but I’m going to include it here because if I don’t this “round-up” post will be a sad 2-3 book situation. Without further ado, your definitive [probably not, but I can flatter myself] fall reading list, based on what I’ve read, and a few recommendations that you can expect to hear more about in upcoming reviews:
A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan
I am going to start this brief synopsis out by declaring that—since I am neither married, nor living in the suburbs, nor the working mother of three children—I am not the target demographic for this book. That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy it. It was released in August, and I read it on my Labor Day vacation, so it’s technically a “late summer” read, but that’s neither her nor there.
This book tells the story of Alice Pearse, a woman living in a charming New Jersey suburb [contrary to what Bravo, a network determined to undo all the work the New Jersey Tourism Board has ever done with its number of unflattering franchises, there are charming parts of the Garden State] with her lawyer husband and three children. Her husband is on the path to becoming partner at his firm until—spoiler alert—he gets passed over for the position, and the family’s finances are suddenly unstable. Alice decides to leave her cushy part-time position at a women’s magazine in favor of a fast-growing start-up that lives under the umbrella of a Midwestern business empire. The start-up’s premise is actually something that should exist—it’s called Scroll, and their business model is to set up luxury “reading lounges” across the country with e-readers connected to each chair, a curated selection of titles both classic and contemporary, all complimented by beverages and a [gluten-free, duh] menu. But there’s a twist—Alice’s best friend owns an independent bookstore, and her new company threatens to compromise her entire livelihood. It’s an interesting book about conflicts of interest when it comes to work, family, and success, and I think readers will enjoy it regardless of age.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida
This is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Written entirely in the second person [which is kind of weird at first, but you get used to it], this book describes a nameless narrator [actually, I think you learn her name at the end, but the book is so heavy on the second person that it’s easy to forget] who, in an attempt to escape a depressing home situation—one which isn’t revealed until the very end of the book, but is worth waiting for—travels alone to Casablanca. Almost immediately upon arrival, her backpack, which holds all of her forms of identification and all of her money, is stolen. When she goes to the police station to retrieve her things, they give her the wrong backpack, and ignore her when she tries to protest. Instead of clearing up the situation at the embassy, she decides to assume the woman’s identity. She’s unsure of how she’ll ever rectify the situation, until she meets a famous American actress shooting a film at a nearby Casablanca hotel—her stand-in has to leave for personal reasons, and, as she is a height match, she is fortuitously selected as her replacement. Yes, this all sounds nonsensical as I type it, but Vida is such a skilled storyteller that I never questioned the narrator’s veracity. This book sounds weird, but it is honestly amazing—and not particularly long. If you read one book this fall, make it this one.
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, Anna North
This is a weird book, which I probably found weirder than most would, since the weird protagonist and I happen to share a name. Weird, right? Moving on. Despite making me uncomfortable at frequent intervals, this book was fascinating. It tells the story of a young filmmaker’s rise from amateur to acclaimed to disgraced—and she never once narrates the story; instead, those close to her [the subject of her first film, a college basketball star she was obsessed with; her husband; her girlfriend; her brother; the producer she works with on her first big-budget film, and a few more I may have missed] tell the tale, interspersed with reviews of each of her films from a film critic, who’s journey mirrors hers—he begins as an amateur, writing for his college newspaper, and ends as the prestigious New York Star head film critic—and who ultimately decides her fate, which is fairly evident from the beginning of the book, considering the title. North weaves it all together seamlessly—there are little nods to the previous narrators and their fates in subsequent chapters, which I always love—and I found the chapter narrated by Daniel, the former jock, particularly moving. You won’t be comfortable, but you will be riveted.
Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling
I don’t have enough good things to say about Mindy Kaling, and I find the number of haters and people who choose to comment on her appearance [for the record, I think she’s pretty and stylish] instead of her killer sense of humor, impressive work ethic and obvious intelligence upsetting. However, she doesn’t seem to let it get to her, as her second book, Why Not Me, is just as funny—if not funnier—than her first, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns [yeah, she had FOMO before FOMO was FOMO. Futuristic.]. Everyone around me can attest to this fact, as I was laughing out loud during the entire book, which I devoured in a day. The book ranges from interesting—her photo-documentation of a day in her life [by the way, she works from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., alternating between acting, writing, and editing her show, so maybe none of us should ever complain about work again]—to hilarious, with a few poignant undertones—her titular essay on confidence is a must-read for all women. If you like her, you’ve probably already read this, but if you don’t, read it and let her charm change your mind.
Bittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whitmore
I’m only about 30 pages into this book, as I had to scramble for something new after finishing Kaling’s book in a single sitting. This book was released last summer and earned a spot on a number of “must read” lists, next to books I loved like I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, The Vacationers and The Arsonist. So far, the book certainly isn’t on that level; I’ve already found a number of typos, and I don’t even own the first print edition [I find them in almost every book I read, which is why I think I’d make a great copy editor if the idea of being a copy editor didn’t reduce me to tears of boredom]. However, I do love a good Embarrassment of the Riches tale [Everybody Rise, Sense & Sensibility, The Chocolate Money], and this one seems to be just that, with a gothic twist, which I also love. It’s about a poor girl on scholarship at a prestigious New England college, who gets paired with a high-society heiress. I’m only about as far in as the “obligatory philanthropic event displaying the rich girl’s impossible privilege”—in this case, a Degas donation to the college’s art museum, because—gasp—she refused to donate to the Met—but as I understand, the protagonist ultimately gets invited to the rich girl’s [her name is Genevra, way off as far as “Waspy New England Heiress” names go, but her nickname, Ev, seems to hit mark] family compound, and she uncovers a horrible family secret—or something. I’m sure I’ll finish this one in the next few days; it’s a page-turner, but so far it hasn’t done much to move me, and I doubt it will. For fans of We Were Liars, since it has almost exactly the same plot.
The Last Love Song, Joan Didion
I mention Joan D in about 70% of my blog posts, so it’s probably fairly obvious by now that I love her writing. Not only is she immensely talented and incredibly cool, but she’s also lived a very tough life [her daughter and husband passed away within a year of each other, and she hasn’t remarried]. Additionally, this is an unauthorized biography, so I’m expecting some revelatory gossip.
Slade House, David Mitchell
I’m so excited to review Slade House, David Mitchell’s latest collection, as it’s marketed as something of a follow-up to The Bone Clocks, which I reviewed this summer. The difference, however, is that Slade House is only 230-odd pages to the Bone Clock’s 630, which makes me think it will have lots of the token Mitchell action and fantasy mixture which I so enjoyed last time—I’m only hoping he doesn’t cut out too much of the British academia elements [Hugo Lamb, the Bone Clocks main character, was an Oxford boy—and his experience was very Brideshead Revisited, which I loved].
Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
Everyone wants to read this; it’s supposed to be the book of the fall. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, I’m not even quite sure I know what it’s about. #Professional.
Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie
I love Salman Rushdie, or at least, I loved Haroun and the Sea of Stories when I read it in fifth grade. It’s been a while, but I’m excited to see whether he’s as good as my ten year-old self has preserved him as being.