Joan is Okay by Weike Wang

A quick read and very enjoyable. Joan is a very smart, very good doctor in Manhattan. Being a doctor is her whole life, in fact she describes it as “coming home.” Her actual home is a completely barren apartment prompting someone to say it looked like she’d been robbed or hadn’t moved in yet.  Joan is possibly on the spectrum? (It seems like every book I’ve read this year features someone who is slightly on the autism spectrum.) When her father dies in China she goes there for the funeral, immediately returns, and heads back to work.  Joan is an endearing character. The pandemic is woven in, but it’s not a book about the pandemic, more about identity and grief and family. That all sounds pretty gloomy but I found many moments of quiet humor and found this to be a quick and satisfying book. Nicely written.

The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell

Apparently I only gave this 3 stars, but I am remembering it more fondly than that. Perhaps it was a 3.5 star type book.

The duchess in question has been raised in society but due to financial ruin and scandal is being married off to a revolting old man (as happens.) After the wedding she sees an opportunity in a mistaken identity at a train station and goes off with a nice man allowing him to continue to believe she is a famous botanist with whom he has had a lengthy correspondence. Off they go on a plant hunting expedition with her trying to keep up the ruse. I found the entire plant hunter/nurseries of England aspect absolutely fascinating. That was actually probably more interesting to me than their romance and steamy sex on the English moors.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

I absolutely LOVED this (and finished it this morning* and this afternoon began watching the Amazon Prime series, which is amazing). There were so so many sentences I wanted to read aloud to anyone who happened to be standing nearby. Mitford’s voice is just so funny. I found it hilarious, especially any descriptions about raging Uncle Matthew, the cold house, etc. I remarked to my husband while I was reading the chapter about them growing up that it sounded like a Wes Anderson movie.
Near the halfway point of the book I felt like things really stepped up and Mitford did that style of writing that I feel like I shouldn’t like but I actually love-just very briskly and matter of factly stating the action.

*That was back in February. Sadly I have not kept this up and am about 45 books behind. Some of these posts will be the small ones I did on Goodreads.

Side note: the end of this post originally said I was immediately moving on book #2, Love in a Cold Climate, but in fact I still haven’t read that!

Norah Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan

This was the second great book I brought on vacation (I foolishly only brought 3 and this and The Very Nice Box were so good I zoomed right through them and then I didn’t like the third. What was I thinking? Of course I should have brought more! Fortunately I grabbed an Anne Tyler from a Little Free Library, though I ended up spending more time reading the amazing vintage 1963 McCalls Cookbook that was in the cabin.)

This was the perfect fun summer book. Is it pretty much a fairytale? Yes. Do we like reading about outrageously wealthy people? Yes. Do we like to imagine ourselves somehow accidentally ending up mingling with the rich and famous? Yes. Though honestly, in this case, our main character isn’t exactly like regular old us to start with. She’s a writer of Hallmark channel romance movies. So she is accustomed to writing scripts and then one of them is getting made into a feature film AND it’s being filmed at her house (because the script is basically based on her own terrible marriage to a selfish guy. )

Anyway, sparks fly between her and the A list star who ends up staying at her house and inserting himself into her very ordinary life. (She has two kids and I think she was too perfect and wonderful a mother, and the kids too perfect and adorable and charming, but that made it fun.)

I really enjoyed this!

The Very Nice Box by Laura Blackett & Eve Gleichman

Here we go with another character who seems to be on the spectrum-is very blunt, takes everything literally, is happiest when engaged with focused work. Her work is a senior engineer for an IKEA like Swedish design company. Presently she’s working on her best project yet-the Very Nice Box. It’s a perfect box. One of the reasons Ava enjoys her focused work is because it allows her to try not to think about the great tragedy in her life several years. And it truly is a tragedy. And then a new guy, Matt, arrives at work and he shakes things up everywhere.

There were so many things I loved about this book: All the capitalized letters and names of the objects/furnishings, the corporate wellness indulgences, everything. Ava is fairly peculiar but immediately likable. I honestly found this hard to put down.

Vacationland by Meg Mitchell Moore

ooh, I loved this. Very reminiscent of other stories focused on multi generations at a family Maine summer home. I really enjoyed the changing p.o.v. from chapter to chapter and the writing in general was great. Certain sentences were just beautifully crafted, capturing feelings and moments that went straight to your heart.

When I talked about this with Melissa there was something I liked about it that was a turnoff to her. That was that I found none of the characters to be terrible people or wonderful people. Everyone was a real person and consequently I didn’t find any real heightened drama. (As opposed to Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.) (We both agreed though that we found it annoying that one person didn’t want to tell someone else something. Just tell him already.)

For myself in the future: this is the Maine book where an adult woman and her children go every summer and she grew up every summer there, too. Her father is a retired judge and has dementia now. She loves being there, though is having some marital woes-her podcasting husband isn’t joining them. Meanwhile, a young woman from Pennsylvania comes to town and is spying on them. This “mystery” is very quickly revealed. Lots of questions of haves and have nots, growing up with a safety net and money.

Every Summer After by Carley Fortune

I was excited to read this and it got a lot of buzz, but honestly I didn’t  love it. I gave it a weak three stars on Goodreads (that’s as opposed to a strong 3 stars, which might indicate more like a 3.5. This book was more like a 2.75)

A successful magazine editor (of course) returns to a quaint little lake town that she used to summer at. She hasn’t been back since some big split with the love of her life, who was the boy next door in this little town. Chapters alternate between the summers they were teens, becoming best friends, and eventually a couple, and now when they are two adults trying to maybe bridge their mysterious rift.

I liked the teen chapters better because I felt annoyed by her as an adult. Also, I loved the descriptions of summers at the lake. But then I was grossed out that the explicit sex scenes were when they were teens. Ew.  I also thought their rift that caused them to be apart for so many years was extremely predictable and annoying.

Off Course by Michelle Huneven

This was a slow read for me, though I wasn’t bored by it.

A young-ish woman goes to her family’s cabin in a remote area to finish her thesis. The sense of time and place practically felt otherwordly. Early 80s? But so remote it feels longer ago. Every time she went back to a city it was jarring and I think Huneven did such a good job of creating that feeling-as if the city were too bright and noisy and modern. The small town that her cabin is in is very remote and the townspeople all know each other. They seem all able to practically live off the land.

The pace picked up in the second half of the book. I wanted to jump into the book and tell many of the characters they were making terrible choices and straighten out their lives for them.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

Call this the Pass Along Feel Good book. Melissa told me about it. I loved it and told Jenn about it. We all loved it. It’s heartwarming and wonderful.

The story opens from Iona’s p.o.v. She commutes on a particular train every day. She has names for all the other people on the train car though she doesn’t talk to them. Iona is striking, bossy, and fabulous. And emergency makes her talk to some of these other characters and the ice is broken. Each chapter changes points of view so you see how the other people view Iona and get a fuller picture of them. Unlikely friendships, romance, personal growth and change, Oh my God it was just wonderful. You might have some tears. It was absolutely charming. Very reminiscent of the Secret Life of Albert Entwhistle.