We took a much-needed three days off this week to catch up on rest and just straight chill. And because “do nothing” is not in either of our vocabularies, we both got some serious reading in. For those of you looking for a little vacation weekend reading—whether you’re going on a socially-distanced beach break or just taking time off at your own house—here are the four books I read this month, all of which I highly recommend.
Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon
I’ve been on a big World War II kick lately—both my reading, but also my TV and movie viewing—and Code Name Hélène might be my favorite historical fiction read from the time period yet (yes, even above The Nightingale!). Smart-mouthed, red lipstick-wearing expat Nancy Wake moves away from her family in Australia as a teen, eventually landing in Paris at the age of 20 and becoming a freelance correspondent for Hearst publications; it’s through that work that she first interviews a newly-elected Adolf Hitler and witnesses atrocious pre-war crimes against Jewish citizens of Austria and Germany. This lights a fire in Wake, who has her mind set to change the course of history and winds up moving to Marseille where she becomes a socialite but also a key member of the French Resistance, moving refugees through the Spanish Pyrenees and up to safety in England and, later, saving troops by the thousands through German-occupied France.
The historical part of this book is not just the realistic depiction of the war and the torture and conditions the operatives like Nancy went through, but also the fact that Nancy Wake was very much a heavily-decorated war heroine. I’ve read everything I could find about her online—as well as watched plenty of YouTube interviews with her before she died just weeks shy of her 99th birthday in 2011—and I’m completely intrigued and blown away by the courage of this fellow journalist, who was just 20-something when she was recruited as a key spy for the British army. I can’t say had I lived then I would have signed up for a similar fate.
This is the first book I’ve read by Ariel Lawhon, who I recently found out is a Nashville area resident, too, and I absolutely plan to devour everything else she’s published over the coming summer.
The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
I read The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect when they each first came out years ago, immediately falling in love with Don Tillman—the scientist narrator who is both a certified genius and also undiagnosed autistic, putting himself in all sorts of hilarious scenarios as a result of his overly analytical approach to everything—as he sets out to find a wife in a highly scientific manner, winds up marrying here, then moves with her from Australia to New York. Somehow the finale to this trilogy quietly dropped last year, as I knew nothing about it until my mom read it last month. In The Rosie Effect, published in 2014, Don and Rosie find out they’ve having a baby, and much of that book centers on Don coming to grips with that and, in true Don fashion, researching what it takes to be a father; The Rosie Result picks up a decade later when the family moves back to Australia and that baby is now a 10-year-old boy who is bullied and experiencing social issues not unlike his father’s. Much of the book follows Don’s attempt to “fix” Hudson’s problems while coming to term with his own shortcomings.
This series is pure sweetness, laced with plenty of humor and awkward encounters; if you haven’t read The Rosie Project, start there and work your way through the trilogy. The first book has been in development to become a movie for years now, with Ryan Reynolds rumored to play Don, and I really hope that comes to fruition eventually.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
This sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is a must read for fans of the series and concludes with the satisfying ending we all need and deserve. It starts about 15 years after the last season of the series ends with Baby Nicole successfully in Canadian territory, her whereabouts unknown to all. If you’ve only read the first book, I must stop you here and insist you watch the series now.
This is an extremely unique situation in which Margaret Atwood published her initial novel in 1986 and, 30 years later, was able to flesh it out into a hit Hulu series—the fourth season of which will debut later this year–and then write a sequel that picks up 15 years down the road from where the current timeframe of the series stands. What a gift for an author to be able to gauge audience reaction and, after years of being asked what happened to Offred, finish her initial story about the crumbling of Gilead so many decades later. That’s all I can tell you without spoiling anything, though I’ll also add that the book bounces around three narrators: Aunt Lydia, a teen raised in Gilead by a Commander father and a teen raised in Canada by a pair of Mayday allies.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This is one of those books that has been on every book club and must-read list since it came out at the end of last year. This debut novel is well-written and fast-paced, so much so that I read it in a single sitting yesterday afternoon. It follows Emira, a black 25-year-old college grad who lacks direction in her life and is getting by on hourly jobs until she figures things out, and the challenges she faces working as a babysitter for a white privileged woman who runs her own media empire (I envision her as a less-severe Rachel Hollis) and desperately wants to befriend her employee, often to Emira’s detriment. It’s full of sharp commentary on class differences and what it’s like to be black in a very white and racist America. 10 out of 10 recommend; a great beach read for those of you going on vacation soon.
So there you have it: the books I’ve read the past two weeks, all four easily doable on a single vacation. I also have a list of 75 books you must read that I published during isolation if you need anymore recommendations.
As for me, these are books currently checked out from the library in hopes that SVV
gives me some time off I can read them over Memorial Day weekend:
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris