Five Books for Retired Reading

Retirement has given me more time for reading. Here are five books I’ve finished so far this year (with links to Goodreads in case you want more than just my opinion).

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman was the first book I finished this year. Ok, it was before I officially retired but who’s keeping track? I’ve loved every Backman book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. I also love to read on airplanes, but I can’t read any Backman book on a plane because I don’t want to cry in front of that many people. The crying comes on without warning, as you come across one of his many heartbreaking passages. His descriptions bring up strikingly vivid images, and I love how he creates the most flawed characters that turn out to have wonderful, redeeming human qualities, shown in very small ways. He highlights all of the good that is in people.

This book is about a bank robbery gone bad, and it’s about so much more than that. It’s about a group of people who all have something tragic in their past that has made them who they are, and how much we all need each other. Backman hits you with moments of surprise, profound sadness that cause you to have a deeper understanding of the characters. I found this one a little simpler than “A Man Called Ove” in some ways, and also a little sweeter in some ways. I also love that the book gives numbers for Suicide Prevention at the end.

My second read was A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet. The book starts off with a group of parents and children on a holiday retreat. I was a little put off by the initial portrayal of the parents, with comments about descending into a long decrepitude – being well into that descent myself. Was this book going to be one long repetition of “OK Boomer”? My initial take on the parents was that they were only awful in the minds of their children. Then in response to a disaster the parents do become truly awful and what started out as a tale about snarky teenagers quickly shifts into darker territory.

The portrayal of the apocalyptic nightmare the kids are thrown into is interesting for a while, but once they are rescued from immediate danger I felt the story started wandering again. The message about climate change at the center of this book is important. However I didn’t really like any of the characters, the parents or the children. Most of the kids came across to me as self centered brats (except the youngest two). An interesting book and a quick read, I liked it though can’t say I loved it.

Third up was Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. I was excited to read a book by an Irish writer set in Hong Kong. So what was this book about? Honestly even after reading it I can’t say I’m sure. To me it was a meandering exploration of the inner mind of Ava, the narrator, as she navigates through two relationships. I liked it immediately, Dolan’s well crafted writing definitely drew me in. I liked the voice of the narrator, Ava, at first. Then about a quarter of the way in I started to get bored of Ava. Or maybe I just got bored of her relationship with Julien, or bored of who she became when she was with Julien. The novel seemed to become about whiny privileged people taking advantage of each other.

I just wanted the plot to move along somewhere else. Then the plot shifted to her relationship with Edith and I became interested again, at least for a little while. I liked who Ava was with Edith better than who Ava was with Julian. Still, when my husband Dennis asked me how I was enjoying the book I told him it was a bit of a slog – it took me nearly a month to finish it. I also wasn’t crazy about the dangling ending, although it did allow me to imagine Ava eventually had a happy life. Overall the book had some well written sentences that were interesting to read, but the story was lacking.

Send For Me by Lauren Fox was next. I read this one because the book blurb said it was similar to “All the Light We Cannot See”, one of my all time favorite books. This book is about a woman that immigrates to the US from Germany to escape persecution, having to leave her parents behind. While it’s very well written and I found the characters generally likable, it just didn’t have the depth of feeling that I was hoping for. I may have liked it more if I hadn’t had the comparison with “All the Light” in the back of my mind.

I kept expecting something heartbreaking to happen, and while there is sadness it’s a much quieter sadness than other WW2 historical fiction I’ve read. The book does do an excellent job of portraying a variety of mother-daughter relationships across three generations. That, as well as the beautiful writing, makes it a book I’d recommend if you’re a fan of historical fiction.

After all those books filled with sadness and heartbreak, I wanted a light and easy read. Attracted by the bright cover that screams “beach read”, I checked out The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward. I miss travel, so I thought I’d enjoy a travel themed book. The story is about a woman who wins a cruise for her and her family, and it did do a good job of taking me back to the various places the ship visits. It also succeeds in highlighting the drama and secrets all families have. It tries to get serious in places, tackling challenging topics around depression, alcoholism and infidelity.

However because the general tone of the book reads so lightly, I felt those topics didn’t hit home as hard as they might have been intended. For me, that was the book’s main problem. I couldn’t tell what it was trying to be. Was it the light, fluffy comedic beach read I was expecting when I chose it? Or a serious look at how dark family secrets can create depressed and dysfunctional adults? All in all I did enjoy it, it was an easy read and generally entertaining.

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