June Reviews

Summer is in full swing over here, clearly evident as I was able to get through seven books this month. Nap times by the pool and a few days of travel have definitely been factors and I'm most definitely not complaining. Some quick thoughts:

People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper
304 pages
This book was written by someone my husband used to work with a long time ago and when I heard that after many years of efforts she was being published I was interested in reading what did the trick. This story is about a young woman named Emily who decides to reinvent herself when the Twin Towers went down in 2001, leaving NYC for California. Emily's husband and family assumes she has died, unaware that she has begun a new life and ends up giving birth to a daughter. Emily, who changes her name to Connie, ends up being diagnosed with breast cancer, bringing to light a variety of new challenges when approaching both her and her daughter's futures.

Verdict: This was a quick, easy read that was often interesting and entertaining. I did think that the some of the dialogue was unnatural, and that the end was a bit predictable. 

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America by Rich Benjamin
368 pages
I saw a TED Talk by Rich Benjamin, an African American, a few months ago and thought his trek through the "whitest cities" in America was fascinating (he was also very humorous and articulate, so I figured a book by him would be a solid read). This nonfiction text looks at his time in places like St. George, Utah, and the Panhandle of Idaho, and describes how these extremely white communities handle those of other race (spoiler alert: not always very well). He also discussed New York City's racial politics, especially in places of wealth like Manhattan, and also demographics in general.

Verdict: I found many parts of this book really interesting, namely the times when he was actually discussing his experiences in specific communities. I have to admit that sections that focused on more of the sociological statistics of race and whatnot a little dated and a tad dry at times. Nonetheless, I thought this was a readable, educational text about racial inequality in the country.

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson 
304 pages
I've always admired the discipline of ballet dancers and have been interested in documentaries and movies on them, so when I saw that this book was out I knew I had to read it. This book's narration was split between young Mira and middle-aged Mira; young Mira was a talented dancer in New York City that developed an odd, inappropriate relationship with a patron of sorts named Maurice. Middle-aged Mira finds herself on the opposite end of the spectrum as a dance professor, allowing herself to become briefly involved with a student who then files a complaint against her. Mira heads back to New York City and between both narrative threads the culminations of both relationships are revealed.

Verdict: I really, really enjoyed this book, both in terms of the actual writing and the story. The climax wasn't really a shock, but it was delivered in such a way that this was acceptable. I will definitely be on the lookout for Wilson's sophomore novel. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 
256 pages
I wrote about this memoir here.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
272 pages
This novel begins with a famous Brazilian novelist, Beatriz Yagoda, climbing up a tree and then disappearing. Her American translator, Emma, feels compelled to fly south to help the writer's children locate her. While trying to find this woman she admires, Emma also works to find herself, along with the help of an affair she begins with grown son. They learn that Beatriz has lost a substantial amount of money in online gambling and have to actively avoid a loan shark's promise of dismemberment. Her editor also jumps aboard, using clues from her communications and old books to aid his own half-hearted search. 

Verdict: This book reminds me a lot of Where'd You Go, Bernadette in terms of the idea of a quirky, fast-paced search. I thought that it fell a bit flat during a few parts, but it was still decent. 

The Girls by Emma Cline
368 pages
What is it about cults that are just so darn interesting? This novel tells the story about Evie, a fourteen-year-old girl whose parents have recently divorced. She becomes fascinated with an older girl named Suzanne, who eventually leads her to their ranch, where Russell (think Charles Manson) holds court. Evie becomes more involved, stealing money for the group, allowing herself to be lent out to have sex with a musician they're trying to woo, and taking other emotional and physical risks. This book's narration is split between the present and 1969, when the group commits a heinous crime.

Verdict: This book definitely lived up to it's enthusiastic buzz. Cline is a very capable writer and she brilliantly captures the incredible insecurity that teenagers feel about pretty  much everything. It is a bit sexual, though, so if that offends you stay away. 

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
320 pages
Seven people come together in Mallorca, Spain for two weeks- seven people with secrets, desires and resentment. Sylvia wants to lose her virginity. Her parents, Jim and Fanny, struggle with Jim's recent affair and forced retirement. Their son, Bobby, comes with his girlfriend Carmen, who feels out of place with the family, but insists Bobby ask his parents for money to clear up the large debt he has accrued from his failed protein-powder business. Lawrence and Richard, family friends, wait not-so-patiently for news about an infant to adopt back in New York. Things get messy. But, they also eat some great food and lay by the pool a lot, so at least they get something out of the trip. Eventually, there's resolution for all.

Verdict: Back to that "resolution for all" bit- I tad unrealistic. But I still enjoyed the book; it was entertaining in a pretentious, Upper East Side, "I'm eighteen but don't know what debt means" sort of way. Basically, I got the same satisfaction I got from watching Gossip Girls from it; they were all a bit ridiculous, bit it was witty and scandalous enough to keep me going. I read a lot of this on the plane, which seemed fitting for a book about travel. 

2,192 pages 

1 comment:

  1. I've only read The Vacationers on this list and thought it was such a bore. I took it with me to Florida back before Christmas and it took me most of the two weeks we were there to get through it. Maybe the timing was just off for me. So many of my friends loved it.