If you're looking for a book for a road trip or long hours spent pool side or on the beach, here are a few I read recently that you might enjoy:
Grange House: A Novel. Earlier this year, I read The Postmistress by Sarah Blakeand really enjoyed it, and that's why I sought out her lesser known first novel. This book is quite different, a richly atmospheric Victorian novel that combines romance, the supernatural, and suspense. Maisie Thomas is a young woman from New York who has spent every summer of her life in Maine, staying at Grange House, a mansion turned small inn on the edge of a harbor. The inn's staff and the regular guests are like extended family, sharing summer after summer and years of history.
When Maisie returns to Maine her 17th summer, she's unsettled. A thinker and keen observer, she's arrived at the place and time in her life where she is being pushed and pulled toward marriage and a future she's not sure she can embrace.
Maybe this is why she's fascinated with Miss Grange, the elderly spinster owner of the inn where she stays each summer. Maisie has a sense that the story of Miss Grange and Grange House will help her make sense of her restlessness and yearnings. A drowning, a ghost, a secret, and a mysterious grave set the stage for suspense, while the rites of Victorian courtship unfold in an orderly manner.
This reminded me of a Bronte novel. It took me a chapter or two to get hooked, but then I was completely taken in. The writing and the story are rich, multi-layered experiences, true to the Victorian time period.
Henny on the Couch is a book I picked up in a downtown bookstore. It's the story of Kara Caine, an urban mother and successful business owner juggling three children and a shop in New York City while continuing to come to terms with the dark underbelly of her childhood. Kara is light years away from her past--or so she thinks. As her daughter struggles in school, her marriage frays a bit around the edges, her best friend asks her to keep hard secrets, and an old flame reappears on the fringe of her life, she's forced to confront unresolved isses from the past to make sense of her present and plot her future.
This novel deftly weaves multiple story lines into a big picture look at a middle-aged woman's life: her choices, relationships, regrets, and the dreams accomplished and deferred. The characters are complex and evolve in ways that feel accurate and organic. Soodak doesn't take any shortcuts to push the story or her characters along. It's clear to see what motivates and haunts Kara, and I was committed to finding out how she worked through her "midlife crisis." Elements of her struggles really resonated with me.
I remember discovering Anna Quindlen's syndicated column when I was in my 20s and feeling as if I were looking in a mirror. Her essays about life, feminism, the Catholic church, family, loss, and journalism felt like they came straight from my own head. We came from the same type of family, experienced life changing losses at the same age, had a similar writing style, and honed our perspective through the same filters. When I read A Short Guide to a Happy Life, I looked at my husband and said, "My God, this is MY STORY. All of it. I could have written this myself!" (And before I'm accused of being presumptuous for daring to compare my writing to Anna Qundlen's, let me say emphatically that the length, productivity, and stature of her career and the fact that she can write bestselling NOVELS clearly puts us in vastly different categories, but her essays continue to feel like my own.)
My admiration for her high-powered and prolific career drove me to buy Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake as soon as I saw it in my local bookstore. I snatched up the pricey hardcover edition immediately: Anna Quindlen's memoir! I couldn't wait to mine the details of her life and her experiences. I was slightly disappointed because the book was not a true memoir but a collection of essays exploring broad themes and her evolving thoughts on them at different stages of life. Nestled in the essays are anecdotes from her upbringing, career, and choices, but these provide just glimpses into her life. If you're looking for The Story of Anna Quindlen and Her Remarkable Life and Career, this isn't it.
However, if, like me, you're a huge fan of her intelligent, personal, and incisive take on life and living, you'll enjoy this immensely. Each chapter can stand alone on its own merits. She explores marriage, motherhood, friendship, loss, mortality, religion, aging, the generation gap, careers, and retirement. Wise, funny, insightful--her words never fail me and her accomplishments astound me. She's inspiring and thoughtful at every age and stage.
Have you read any good books lately? Tell me what you like and why.