22 June 2013

Vacation Reading and Some Book Reviews

My physical book pile.
So today is our second full day in Anguilla and I'm already a little panicky: I have finished reading my third book.  What if I run out of things to read? As always, my husband and I check a suitcase full of books and gifts when we travel here, and this year I even loaded up my Kobo with e-galleys to be on the safe side.  But this afternoon I just finished my third book, so I'm starting to get a little antsy. I have 15 physical books and 13 e-books and 13 days left of my vacation, so I'm sure I won't actually run out of books to read, but I still fret.

Please be aware that some spoilers lie ahead.

Choosing one's airplane read is even more important than choosing one's vacation reads, which is why I test-drove every physical book that earned a place in my suitcase/backpack. This year I struck gold by taking Holly Black's forthcoming The Coldest Girl in Coldtown for my plane read.  It's immediately engaging and well-written, and clearly this is not your daughter's vampire novel.  True, it's a young adult book, but Holly wrote this book in homage to the great vampire works she read growing up.  If you think vampire books begin and end with Twilight and thus haven't given them a fair shake, give this one a go.

Tana lives in a slightly futuristic world where a rogue vampire decided to break all of the ritualist rules of Vampire Secrecy by infecting hundreds and hundreds of people with the Cold, and they, in turn, infected thousands and thousands and so on. This created worldwide havoc, but at least in the US there are a handful of Coldtowns, where vampires and humans live side by side in an uneasy alliance: humans allow vamps to feed on them just a little via IV tubes rather than by biting (which spreads the Coldness), and therefore the vamps' food source doesn't dry up (literally) and the humans can keep on being human and not Cold.

One day, Tana wakes up from an all night party to discover she is the only partygoer left alive from a mass vampire attack. When she discovers Aidan, an exboyfriend infected with the Cold, and Gavriel, a mysterious but insane vampire, chained up in a bedroom, her split decision to try to rescue them both by driving to the nearest Coldtown changes all of their lives. You'll find no romanticized notion of vampires, no helpless heroine, and no love triangles here.  Instead, you'll get a moral-but-complicated-heroine who often doesn't know what the right thing to do is, plus a vampire who is unhinged, secretive, and seductive. In other words, this book is thoroughly fun and refreshing.

NoViolet Bulawayo's debut novel, We Need New Names is decidedly not fun and refreshing.  Unless by "fun and refreshing" you mean "dark and disturbing, with a side of bleak." It's the story of a girl named Darling who grows up in Zimbabwe but later moves to America to live with her aunt. No matter where she lives, she is longing for the other country and unable to confront that longing head-on.

She and her best friends, Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, and Sbho, are only around 10-11 when the book opens, but already they inhabit dual worlds of innocence and worldliness that juxtapose sinisterly.  A scene in which the kids are sneaking off to Budapest (a wealthy neighborhood far from their shantytown) to steal guavas to assuage their hunger pangs but joking about breaking into the houses to steal other things, is echoed later in the book when an angry mob on a rampage destroys a house, drop-kicks a dog to its death, and drives away the wealthy white occupants--the kids watch in terror and then  pour into the emptied house to make their own brand of mischief.

Or when Darling, Sbho, and a new neighbor want to re-enact a scene from ER because they want to emulate the beautiful and successful doctors on TV, only to come dangerously close to inflicting real harm to pregnant Chipo with their wire hanger and herbs mixed with urine as abortants. Not to mention the scene when Chipo breaks her voluntary muteness to finally tell Darling how she got pregnant (raped by a family member), and Darling's response: "I watch her and she has this look I have never seen before, this look of pain. I want to laugh that her voice is back, but her face confuses me and I can also see she wants me to say something, something maybe important, so I say, Do you want to go and steal guavas?"

In other words, Bulawayo breaks your heart with these characters while she makes you want yell and scream at them, and then you remember that they're only children and your heart breaks all over again.  This is a strong debut but not a comfortable read. I definitely recommend it.

NB:  I read advance reading copies of each of these books, which were provided upon my request by my sales reps.  We Need New Names was published by Little, Brown in May 2013 and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown will be published in September 2013. 

14 comments:

  1. Ha! Don't we always feel like we'll never have enough books? Such a great pile! I'm dying to pick up my ARC of The Tilted World, but I need to get through some others first. Maybe you'll get to it while you're on your trip ;)

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    1. I hope so--I like both of those readers so much. I look forward to comparing notes when we're both finished.

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  2. Both of these sound like books I need to put on my wish list. Sounds like your vacation reading is off to a great start! Here's hoping you have more than enough books to last you. :)

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    1. Yeah, keep your fingers crossed for me, eh? :-)

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  3. Your book pile is calling to me...

    We Need New Names definitely sounds good, but I imagine it wasn't the best beach read.

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    1. No, it's not a typical beach read, but it's exactly the kind of book I like to read on the beach. ; )

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  4. We Need New Names is one my favorites of the year (so far) Whew, powerful stuff!

    I hope you don't run out of books ;)

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    1. I'm pretty sure that it was your review that prompted me to take a closer look at the book!

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  5. Aww I totally understand that fear of not having enough reading material with you. It's why I bring at first 4 books with me to work - am I going to finish all those books in a 12-hour shift? Probably not but hey you never know.

    The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sounds really interesting. I'm going to catch up True Blood this week and after that I may need something vampire-y to read.

    Enjoy the rest of your vacationnnn!!!! :)

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    1. I think bringing 4 books for a 12 hour shift is *eminently* reasonable. Though I don't envy the hours you pull, I do envy that you have a job where you can read for most of your shift.

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  6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown sounds like the perfect plane read. And it looks like you have a great pile of books to read through! Happy vacationing!

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  7. Oh, it sounds like I need to add that Holly Black to my must read list! I'll be waiting to see what you think of TILTED WORLD as well - I've got it in my TBR now.

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  8. Enjoyed having a snoop through your pile of books. The only one I've read is The Rosie Project which I think is a great holiday read, charming. light and funny. It made me laugh. I also noticed that "The Grapes of Wrath" was not in the pile. Did your husband choose something else for you?

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    1. I just finished The Rosie Project this morning, incidentally. I loved it and was going to recommend it to you, but I see you have me beat.

      The Steinbeck is at home; I don't have to read it on vacation but I do have to read it before the year is over, I'm afraid.

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