Our main computer is currently under repair which has given me an excuse to fall behind with some of the blog posts that I had scheduled for this month, including this one.
At the end of March/start of April we traveled to the Philippines for a last minute getaway and to celebrate Sly’s birthday. I brought two books with me: one that I thought was going to be a thriller (His Bloody Project – reviewed last month) , and another end-of-the-world sort of guilty pleasure (The Last One), and read them over the course of several nights while laying in a dimly lit room under a tented mosquito net. When we returned from our trip, my sister came to visit for a couple weeks. In between all of our excursions, late nights watching crappy tv and eating buckets of Korean fried chicken, I managed to squeeze in time to read a few books. I didn’t read as much this April as I have in previous months, but I would say that this amount of books is more indicative of what I read on an average monthly basis, with or without visitors and travel plans.
The Last One | Alexandra Oliva | What happens when the world ends while you’re filming a reality survival show? How do you know what’s real and what’s not? End of the world stories are probably not good novels to read while traveling and staying on a remote part of an island so I guess it was a good thing this book never delved too deep into the psychological aspect of the questions posed above.
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) | Nora McInerny Purmort | I have only recently heard of popular podcaster and blogger, Nora McInerny Purmort, so I had no backstory going into this book. I listened to IOTLCICT as an audio book read by the author and found myself relating to pretty much everything she said within the first five minutes of runtime. The book reads as a series of essays tied around the loss of her dad, husband, and miscarried child all within a two month timespan. Some essays were a bit too overtly superhero girl power for me (and I’m saying this as someone who considers herself a pretty hardcore feminist), others were a bit self-indulgent, a few actually made me laugh out loud, but the ones on grief were some of the best, most honest pieces on grief and loss I’ve ever read.
The Best We Could Do | Thi Bui | A beautifully drawn and haunting memoir that tells the story of author’s family’s life in war-torn Vietnam, their escape after the fall, re-building a life as refugees in a new country, and forging ahead and hoping for better from the future. It’s a heartbreaking story that left me feeling gutted by the end, maybe even a bit misty-eyed because all I could think about was my mom and her family and what they must have endured both in VN and as unwelcome refugees. This makes a great companion book to The Sympathizer, which covers a similar topic but tells the story in a very different, more relatable (for me) way. One of best books I’ve read this year.
Exit West | Mohsin Hamid | Two lovers escape an un-named Syria-esque city under siege by finding a magical door that serves as a portal to another city/country. Like many refugees, the couple hopped from place to place trying each time to establish new roots and come to grips with feelings of identity in places and communities which for the large part, were less than welcoming. I think I was expecting a little bit more of a fantasy element, initially thinking the doors would lead to a magical realm where the couple could really escape instead of to another city, but instead the story is all too real.
Perfect Little World | Kevin Wilson | In the not so distant future, a group of new, financially strapped parents, agree to form a “community” whereby every child is raised collectively, without knowing his/her parents, until they turn five. This so-called perfect world is led by a well-meaning psychologist — who was also “experimented” on by his psychologist parents — and a team of researchers and funded by a rich old lady. I’m sure you can tell how the experiment goes. I’m kind of obsessed with anything cult-like and/or Stepford-y, but this book didn’t really indulge either of my curiosities. Instead, it took way too long to develop and then fell flat (and turned corny) at the end. Meh.
We Could Be Beautiful | Swan Huntley | I can barely remember this book, and it has only been a couple of weeks since I read it! Something about a fiance who wasn’t what he seemed and a socialite New Yorker who didn’t care as long as she kept up appearances of a “beautiful,” “perfect” life? I think that was the gist of it. Honestly, it was pretty dumb, but I didn’t mind reading it. This book and Shiny, Broken Pieces, which I read back to back, made me long for NYC to the point where I actually tried watching a few episodes of Real Housewives of New York City. I couldn’t get through an episode without cringing. (I’m a RHOA fan through and through.) Which is how I felt about the characters in this book. So, I guess that’s a plus in terms of an accurate portrayal of dysfunctional NYC trust funders?
Shiny Broken Pieces | Sona Charaipotra, Dhonielle Clayton | Catty ballerinas spend all their energy fighting and tormenting one another instead of practicing their ballet at NYC’s most prestigious ballet academy. This was the second and final book of a two-part series, the first book of which I mostly hate-read. Apparently I liked it enough to read the second book. And by “liked” I mean liked in the way that I still love watching the train wreck that is Teen Mom/TM2. It’s admittedly bad, but I can’t look away.
In the Darkroom | Susan Faludi | Our April book club pick was a bio on the extraordinary life of Susan Faludi’s (Jewish) father who survived persecution in WWII Hungary, became a renowned photographer in Brazil, attempted to live the American Dream, and eventually ends up undergoing sexual reassignment surgery. In the Darkroom gets weighed down by A LOT of painstakingly researched data that makes it feel at times like an impersonal Master’s thesis, and less a story about her own dad. The lack of photos, especially given her dad’s occupation, was also frustrating. But the moments when Faludi tells her dad’s story are the best, most compelling parts of this book.
The Woman Next Door | Yewande Omotoso | Now that summer is right around the corner, I’m gravitating towards beach/summer reads – tales of far off places, thrillers, YA dystopian books in a series, etc. Books that transport me to another place, time, or dimension and/or can be read quickly and without too much thought. This story of two neighbors in a Cape Town suburb with a life-long hatred for one another kind of seems like that kind of book.
The Idiot | Elif Batuman | This is one of the buzziest books of the season about an awkward college girl, an awkward boy, their awkward relationship, and a summer spent “coming-of-age” in Europe.
The Princess Saves Herself in This One | Amanda Lovelace | I don’t often read poetry books, or at least modern poetry, but I’m glad to see that several poetry collections have received book buzz in recent years. I couldn’t resist the title of this collection of poems about a princess, a damsel, and a queen. My spidey senses are tingling with this book — either it’s going to be awesome. Or it’s going to suck.
Here Comes the Sun | Nicole Dennis-Benn | May’s book club pick reveals the other, more sinister side, of a Jamaican resort. I’m hoping there’s a bit of escapism in the description of Jamaica, but I have a feeling this isn’t going to be that type of book.
My Husband’s Wife | Jane Corry | Dysfunctional relationships gone awry, plot twists and turns, psychologically thrilling, and an ending I’ll never see coming. Yup, all this in one book!
Universal Harvester | John Darnielle | The book description of this kind of makes it sound like a version of The Ring, but set in the 1990s. (OMG, The Ring came out 15 years ago???????) I’ve been reading his first book Wolf in a White Van, and it is strange, but strange in a good way that makes my brain work a little harder than when reading, say, a book on priveleged ballerinas. Given that I have yet to finish the author’s first book, and that said first book might be a let down, I may or may not actually read Universal Harvester.
The Lost City of the Monkey God | Douglas Preston | In 2012, the author and a team of scientists headed to the jungle to determine if the legend of The Lost City of the Monkey God is true. As someone who has always been obsessed with the idea of lost civilizations, I’m really looking forward to reading about this true-life adventure.
I have been reading a bunch of travel guides recently in an attempt to plan ahead for once. I never include these in my book round ups, because they don’t really count as book-books, but I have been doing a fair amount of travel guide reading lately. I tend to find most travel books to be terrible sources of information, but I still like to use them for the purposes of creating a rough trip outline and familiarizing myself with a country’s brief, condensed, history, most of which was (sadly) barely touched on in school. My faves are usually written and published by independent travelers/publishers, (actually, I think blogs and online forums have some of the best travel info out there) but I have been surprised from time to time by a stray Fodor’s or Frommer’s. I also recently discovered that you can export wikivoyage pages and create pdf booklets for the places you want to visit. How did I not know about this?
Do you have any favorite travel guides, books, blogs, or resources? Please share if you do!
In other book news: I hit my yearly reading goal of 50 books! I’m currently at 58…and counting… Can I make it to 100?