In August, I set myself a challenge to only read the books languishing on my TBR bookshelf. And to read as many as possible.
What’s a TBR bookshelf you ask? Well, I have a bit of a book buying habit. I pick up books all the time with no real plan of when I’ll get to them. Those books go to live on a small two-shelf white bookcase that lives in my office. Meanwhile, I get books from the library and buy other books that I read right away. Leaving some books unread, sometimes for years.
I needed to make a dent in the shelves on this little bookshelf before I ran out of space…and so I could continue buying more books, let’s be honest.
Here’s what I was able to clear off my TBR bookshelf this August:
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
Ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, Leena escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Newly single and about to turn eighty, Eileen would like a second chance at love. But her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen… So Leena proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love, and Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire.
A genuine and absolute delight! This book follows Eileen Cotton and her granddaughter Leena as they switch places for two months – Eileen moves into Leena’s posh warehouse flat in London and Leena takes up residence at Eileen’s cottage in the Yorkshire Dales. The story is told in dual POVs and because of that we have two whole casts of characters to fall in love with – each of them unique and fully realized. If you like found family, Gilmore Girls vibes, or wacky British village shenanigans – pick this one up!
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both.
Danya Kukafka writes beautifully. Unfortunately, for me, this particular story was just super slow and not that memorable.
The Round House Louise Erdrich
One of the most revered novelists of our time – a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life – Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.
It’s 1988 on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota and 13-year-old Joe’s world is turned upside down when his mother is sexually assaulted. Sadly, she doesn’t know exactly where she was when the attack occurred, making it difficult to determine whose jurisdiction the case falls under – state, federal, or tribal. This sets up the mystery at the heart of the novel. Joe and his friends, as well as his father, are trying to figure out the perpetrator – and once they do, they grapple with how justice will be served and by whom.
While the book is set in the 80s, Erdrich notes in the afterword that, at the time of writing, a third of Native women will be raped in her lifetime; 86% of sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted. The story is a commentary on the need to restore sovereign justice and ensure safety for Native women, and it is beautifully done.
The plot is exciting and well-developed. The characters are well-drawn. But my favorite part was the strong sense of place. I highly recommend this to any literary fiction lovers, especially if you like books about family dynamics or are interested in reading about Native issues from an own voices perspective.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.
This collection of short stories is beautifully written. Lahiri is a master of her craft. Her book ‘The Namesake’ is one of my favorites so I was excited to give her short form prose a go – and it did not disappoint! Most of her stories focus on the Indian immigrant experience, and even more specifically – the experience of immigrating shortly after an arranged marriage to work at a university in the Greater Boston area. Even with this niche subject matter, each of the stories holds universal appeal. Lahiri shows us a lighthearted and hopeful side of the human spirit, even as her characters face challenges, which makes for a very readable little book. Pick this one up!
Atonement by Ian McEwan
On a summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.
I found the middle third to be a bit slow-going, but well worth pushing through to get to the latter part of the book. Really enjoyed this one!
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
Franny Banks is a struggling actress in New York City, with just six months left of the three-year deadline she gave herself to succeed. But so far, all she has to show for her efforts is a single line in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters and a degrading waitressing job. She lives in Brooklyn with two roommates – Jane, her best friend from college, and Dan, a sci-fi writer, who is very definitely not boyfriend material – and is struggling with her feelings for a suspiciously charming guy in her acting class, all while trying to find a hair-product cocktail that actually works.
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a sweet rom-com full of the smart, fast-paced dialogue style Lauren Graham is known for in her shows (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) and lots of fun NYC settings. I also have a weird love of books that take place in 1995. It’s just a great year
Throughout the book, we get to see pages from our main character’s Filofax. I love seeing other people’s planners (even fictional people) so I thought this was a fun element. My nitpick is that the handwriting the pages are written in is really hard to read! Cool that the pages are realistic (I’m guessing it’s Lauren Graham’s actual writing?) but I was sad I couldn’t enjoy them more.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
The year is 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.
This may have been a me thing… This book just did NOT hold my attention! I am a self-proclaimed know-it-all so it pains me to say this, but I just didn’t “get it,” and the plot didn’t do enough to make up for the fact that I wasn’t vibing with the subject matter. On a sentence level, the writing is very nice. However, I’m happy to be done reading it.
Since She Went Away by David Bell
Three months earlier, Jenna Barton was supposed to meet her lifelong best friend Celia. But when Jenna arrived late, she found that Celia had disappeared—and hasn’t been seen again. Jenna has blamed herself for her friend’s disappearance every single day since then.
I knew this book was written by a Western Kentucky University professor but had no idea going in that it was actually SET in Kentucky. That was a welcome and fun surprise. Not a mind-blowing thriller but an enjoyable read with a couple unexpected moments/twists. Definitely want to pick up some of Bell’s newer titles now that I’ve read this one!
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The acclaimed, bestselling author—winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize—tells the enthralling story of how an unexpected romantic encounter irrevocably changes two families’ lives. One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.
I love this book so much. We follow the Cousins and Keating children from childhood to adulthood, starting with a kiss between the mother of one set of siblings and the father of another that sets into motion all the ways these two families will blend and disperse over the coming decades.
Patchett has written a pitch perfect family saga that explores divorce in full – beginning to end, an entire cast of blended family characters represented and fully realized. Each character in this tender narrative searches for connection while grappling with the damages of loss. They all share a bond that’s simultaneously painful and powerful. This is a truly brilliant, touching story.
The Round House and Commonwealth were real stand outs this month and I’m so happy that this challenge brought them to me!
I can’t wait to do this challenge again in the future. (I think I’ve decided that I’m going to make it a biannual occurrence.) But for now, it’s on to my FALL TBR!
What was the best book you read in August? xoxo
P.S. If you’re planning your “spooky season” reading, check out – 3 Spooking Books to Read this Halloween.