The Love Wife by Gish Jen
Took me quite a long time to get through. Didn’t connect with these characters as much as I did in Typical American or Mona in the Promised Land. Still good. In a lot of ways this book is more about a well-meaning white lady trying to best care for her multiracial family and how the family reacts when a mother-figure Chinese woman starts living with them. It was also a little bit (a lot?) sad.
Read this for a fictional but serious look at the complications that multiracial families can face and the power of feeling that you are “like” someone else.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I’ll be honest, even though I read the back, I quickly forgot that this was a book about a girl who lived her life with a chimp.
This is an easy-read, fun-to-read, easy-to-empathize with book. It also made me want to deeply research animals. I feel like this is a book that could turn a person into a PETA member. Or any kind of animal activist. It really taps into how human animals can be (and how animal humans are.)
Read this when you need something light-heavy – the kind of thing you might call “chick-lit” to entice a certain kind of person and “light-lit” to entice another. It’s a lovely look into family and what it means to be a person.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
This is a really gorgeous book. I think my only criticism is I could have easily spent a few hundred more pages with the main character. I wanted to more time spend with her coming to her own in America, the challenges that presents.
There’s a lot going on in this book, in a good way. Religion, poverty, apartheid, race, abuse, immigration, feminism… just to name a view. Bulawayo is sharp, and not-super-obvious. Darling (the main character) is a gorgeous insight into family and beliefs and getting what you wanted (…and then wondering if you really wanted it.)
Read this when you want to see the world through the eyes of someone who is probably rather different to you (unless you happen to be a Zimbabwean living in the U.S.)
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
You know… I liked this book. I enjoyed it as I read it. But now as I’m here typing, I don’t know what to tell you.
The basic plot is this: Ursula Todd was born and died. And then she was born again, and survived. This act is repeated throughout her life in the many ways she is killed, from falling out of a window to being victim to a bomb in WWII. Each time she comes back to life with anxiety around the situations she died in: sometimes they save her, sometimes they do not. They only linger as a sense of deja vu, never quite forming themselves into full memories.
Part of why it’s difficult to just talk about the book is that it’s “different” in many ways: the lead character is not a typical heroine, though the first pages open with her aiming a gun at Hitler. She’s not heroic, she has little control over her life or her experiences, she is more apt to think she is crazy than gifted. She is driven by love and anxiety and uncertainty.
I can’t tell you when or why or how you should read this. It’s meandering and strange and sometimes you think, Okay, did we really have to jump back? And yet somehow you get lost in the momentum and aimlessness of the book and come out on the other side glad you’ve read it.
So, I guess, here’s a book when you feel like meandering.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
I preferred this book to Gone Girl. It felt less trickster-y. In general, I think I really like Gillian Flynn’s writing. It’s detailed and strong and her sentences are packed with emotion. I like that. I’m not usually into the thriller genre but she makes me turn pages and read closely, and although I wouldn’t call her characters particularly fleshed-out, they are still more real than a lot of fictional characters out there.
This book is dark. It’s dark if you’ve ever been a cutter, it’s dark if you have parental issues, it’s dark if you’re particularly affected by murder, specifically of children. But… it’s good. It will keep you turning.
If I had to criticize it, I’d say the one moment that really stood out as unrealistic is the lack of reflection from the narrator when she finally figures out exactly who did it, especially with the emotional connection she had to the person who is murdered and the person who committed the murders. (Vague, because, spoilers!)
Also, it’s a little weird because of this recent case (don’t click unless you want to get spoiled/have already read the book… also, more dark) and it was on the top of my mind as I read.
Grab this book for a great escape when you don’t mind if things get a little dreary. Probably great if you like a little adrenaline before you fall asleep. (I mean… I watch Ghost Adventures before I pass out, so…)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
I picked this up at my local bookstore on a whim before a recent trip back to Boulder, CO. I started it on the plane, put it aside, and kept reading when I had a chance. I think that’s part of what’s wonderful about this book – I felt compelled to read it but not consumed by it, at least not in the way that the main character of this book, Ruth, is compelled by Nao’s diary. The all-consuming, can’t-think-of-anything-else kind of read.
The other thing I liked about this book? It’s equal parts a mystery, a writer’s musings and a buddhist’s musings. The author herself is a Zen Buddhist priest, which somehow made me even more invested in the book.
If you’re in the mood for a mystery-meditation, this is it. A young adult-focused fiction about choosing death and the things that make people weak and strong and the importance of the current moment. It’s a wonderful pool-side read or before-bed read or a weekend read. It’s casual but not vapid. Try it.