Rating the Books I Read on Vacation
Is there anything better than sitting on the beach and finishing a brand-new book?
This is, in my humble opinion, the greatest of vibes. I just got back from a week at the beach, and I spent a majority of my time reading books either at the beach or on the balcony. I have to admit, I'd gotten a few books behind on my annual reading goal, and I was absolutely determined to read non-stop on my recent trip to make up for lost time.
All in all, I finished 5 books + 1 audiobook during my trip. In full and complete disclosure, two of the five I started reading prior to the start of the trip, and it was just a matter of reading the second half or the final few chapters. The rest were brand-new, and all of them were thoroughly enjoyable. To help you discover your next great summer read, I'm recapping and rating these summer vacation books in today's post!
1) Project Hail Mary (4.5 stars)
Project Hail Mary begins when a teacher wakes up mid-flight, in the middle of space, with no memory. Oh, and the rest of the ship's crew is all dead. Slowly, his memories about the ship and its mission to save Earth begin to return. This book is full of shocking reveals and a surprising amount of emotion. Plus, a lot of science that's explained in ways that are utterly gripping and interesting instead of boring or confusing.
This book surprised me. I went in knowing next to nothing about the plot, and I highly recommend that strategy. You'll be compelled to read this story in one sitting, as each new memory recovered by the protagonist leave you with more questions and leads you to new destinations. I took off half a star because I felt like the ending was a little too conveniently tied together, but overall this was a fantastic read that I would highly recommend.
2) The Devil Comes Courting (5 stars)
In this instance, I'm begging you not to judge a book by its cover, because this cover makes this book look like absolute trash. It was actually my favorite of the books I read last week.
This book is set in the 1800s and follows Amelia Smith, a smart and creative young widow who was adopted from China as a baby by a British family. On the day she's set to meet with the mother of another prospective husband, she meets Captain Grayson Hunter who offers her the opportunity to return to China and help him develop the world's first language for sending telegrams in the Chinese language.
As you can tell by the cover, it is a romance novel. And speaking as someone who loves a love story, the romance was the least interesting part of this novel. I learned way more about the mechanics of setting up international telegram systems than I ever imagined, for starters. This book explores themes like identity and family in some really moving ways. I found myself even tearing up several times while reading. I normally would never even pick up a book like this, but it was recommended by a podcast host I trust, and I was completely surprised by this book.
3) A Person of Interest (4 stars)
This book was slow-paced and took me a little while to get fully into, but the writing was so gorgeous that it eventually pulled me into the plot as well. There were several pages of this book that I wanted to read over and over again, just because they were written so beautifully.
The story begins when Professor Lee, an aging, near-retirement professor at a small college, witnesses his office mate and fellow professor open a mail bomb. The other professor is killed, and almost immediately, Professor Lee becomes the person of interest
(at least among his colleagues, the community and the media.) Lee begins to suspect he's being haunted by a ghost from his past, as the story unfolds both in present day and in the past simultaneously.
I listen to a lot of true-crime podcasts, so this book fascinated me. How often are innocent people implicated in crimes, only to have their lives ruined forever? Beyond the true crime, this book tells a story full of love, loss, grief, affairs, revenge, parenthood, racism and much more.
4) All Things Reconsidered (4 stars)
I bought this book, written by Knox McCoy, because I'm a real big fan of his podcast with co-host, Jamie Golden, and I thoroughly enjoyed his first book, The Wondering Years.
While this book is, at times, laugh-out-loud funny and chock-full of Hamilton references, it's also incredibly powerful in one simple way. It gives you permission to reconsider. Whether it's something as small as LeBron James, or something as large as faith, this book offers up reconsideration of all of that and everything in between. I tend to cling to certainty and stability, and reconsidering the big things of life can feel scary and isolating. But what I love about this book, is that it brings a humor and companionship to reconsideration in some really lovely ways. If you've ever reconsidered anything you've once held tightly, I think this book is good for you.
5) Little Bee (3.5 stars)
I liked this book, but it was my least favorite book of the trip. It follows Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee, and Sarah, a recently widowed British woman. The book alternates between the two perspectives as it tells the unlikely story of how the two met years prior to the start of the book, and how their lives reconnected years later. The story reveals itself slowly, with a few twists and turns that keep you engaged.
Like I said, I liked this book, but it wasn't my favorite. Sometimes it's evident when a man is writing women, because something about it just doesn't ring true, and that was my experience with the two women in this story. Although, as I've written before, the refugee experience is close to my heart, and I thought this story did a good job of explaining the complicated factors of the immigration system and refugee-seeking that can sometimes lead to very tragic endings.
BONUS: The Mother-in-Law
I listened to this book using the Libby app on our drive home from the beach. It was so good it made the entire trip fly by. I love a good murder mystery, and this one was no exception.
Lucy, our protagonist, has a complicated relationship with her mother-in-law, whose approval she's always wanted after losing her own mother at a young age. One day, suddenly, her mother-in-law is dead of an apparent suicide, however, the police suspect foul play. The autopsy reveals she was murdered and, despite having claimed to be suffering from breast cancer, no trace of cancer or cancer treatment is found.
This book was another one that is told through multiple timelines - the past, the present, and the even farther back past. It explains itself slowly, and the more the mystery unfolds, the less convinced I was of the true perpetrator. There were a few loose ends I didn't feel were properly explained, and the ending was just slightly too convenient to feel realistic (just realized I have the same complaint about two books - maybe it's a me problem). But overall, I loved this book, and if you're a fan of complicated family dynamics and a good whodunit mystery, this book is for you. I highly recommend the audiobook version, as the narrator does an incredible job switching between various characters (I thought it was at least two separate narrators until the ending!)
That's it for my book review for this week. If you enjoyed this post, I'm working on recapping the rest of the books I've read this year for my subscribers only newsletter. Click here to subscribe, and you won't miss my upcoming reviews on a few more juicy novels.
Thanks for reading today's post! What's the best book you've read so far this year? Leave a comment and let me know, I'm always looking for good books to read!