My reading was all over the place in April (because I was reading way ahead for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide), so you’re getting a double dose of books this month!
In addition to my April and May 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of another April book, Circe by Madeline Miller (coming a week from today).
April and May 2018 Books to Read
Plot Summary: When Olivia’s Dad brings his new girlfriend on a family trip to India only months after her Mom’s death from cancer, Olivia has to figure out how to navigate her grief and get her life back on track.
My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Joanna Cantor’s debut novel is both! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. During the Prologue, I was wavering about whether or not to continue reading, then something completely unexpected and interesting happened that caused me to keep going…and I’m so glad I did. This element isn’t a huge focus of the plot, but it was the pivotal moment that got me engrossed in the book. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife.
When you knew what you wanted, everything became simpler, more streamlined.
Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.
My Thoughts: I’ve been on a streak lately with books about very serious topics that are handled in a light-hearted way…and that read like brain candy. Add How to Walk Away to that list (Alternative Remedies for Loss, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties). How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Admittedly, this is not the kind of book I normally enjoy (I usually like them extra dark and twisted), but all the unicorns and rainbows worked for me here. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). However, I could’ve done without the Epilogue. I have no idea why all these things I normally hate in books worked for me here, but they did and I no longer have to sheepishly admit I have nothing when people ask me for a “feel-good” book recommendation.
Needing to find reasons to live had forced me to build a life worth living. I would never say the accident was a good thing. I would never, ever claim that everything happens for a reason. Like all tragedies, it was senseless.
But I knew one thing for sure: The greater our capacity for sorrow becomes, the greater our capacity for joy.
So I went on, “That’s the thing you don’t know – that you can’t know until life has genuinely beaten the crap out of you: I am better for it all. I am better for being broken.”
Plot Summary: Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.
My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). She understandably has different views about many everyday things (e.g., camping, marriage, etc) that were shaped by her experience. The writing is simple and hard-hitting, which is my kind of writing and fit this story well, but the alternating timelines pulled me out of the story a bit. I’d admittedly not learned much about the various refugee crises around the world and this book started to change that.
It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.
My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing. I’ve only really loved two short story collections in my entire life (Beneath the Bonfire and Why They Run the Way They Do). I can now make that three because I adored this collection…it’s unquestionably 5 stars for me! The three collections I’ve loved all have one thing in common: the stories have something idiosyncratic in them, but are otherwise about mundane life. The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection!
Oh, our private habits, our private selves – how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.
April and May 2018 Books to Skip
I was very quick to DNF books over the past few months because I was trying to get through as many candidates for my Summer Reading Guide as possible. So, all my April and May skips are DNFs…
Campaign Widows by Aimee Agresti (May 22, 2018)
DNF at 6%
Honestly, I tried this so long ago and quit so early that I have zero memory of anything I did read or why I DNF’d it. Sorry!
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 27%
I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, but felt like I was slogging through Love and Ruin. Maybe it was because she went back to Hemingway a second time? I was reading it at the beach and that’s not the place you want to try to slog through a book!
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (May 8, 2018)
DNF at 48%
I thought I’d love this novel about a woman who adopts the child of her nanny after she dies during childbirth because two of my top recommendation sources (Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast and Tyler Goodson, Manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA) rated it 5 stars. Unfortunately, something felt off. I had trouble connecting with Rebecca (the main character), the observations about motherhood were kind of all over the map (maybe because it’s written by a man??), and I just couldn’t get fully immersed in it.
The High Season by Judy Blendell (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 20%
This novel was heavy on high society and museum board politics, which I found annoying and boring. Kind of like the mommy politics in Big Little Lies (my review) drove me crazy.
What are the best April or May 2018 book you’ve read so far?
Support Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon!
(and get personalized book recommendations and access to our private Facebook Group)