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Kingsolver to Lessons in Chemistry: The best and worst of my holiday reading

It has been quite a while since I posted, but during that time I have been busy travelling, then getting my life back in order after extended time away.

But I haven’t forgotten to write about how I went with all of the books I planned to read while I was away.

I really love how books that you read on holiday retain a link to that place in your mind. I remember reading Sorrow and Bliss while walking along Four Mile Beach in Far North Queensland, and tramping through the bush near Robinvale on the Murray River listening to The Redhead by the Roadside.

Now, I will associate Daisy Jones and the Six with Kensington Gardens and Demon Copperfield with northern Spain.

Here are my thoughts about the books I read while I was away.

Wild Abandon by Emily Bitto

This is my favourite book I read while on holidays. I absolutely loved Emily Bitto’s style of writing and I was surprised by the plot. In short, the novel is about a boy who travels from Melbourne to the US to heal his broken heart. The trip is spontaneous and even he finds it hard to explain to himself why he has travelled to the other side of the world. One of his reasons seems to be to have an adventure – a story to tell his friends on his return.

That certainly happens when he finds himself in the midst of an artistic clique in New York, and later in an extraordinary part of America where wild animals are kept as pets.

It is all strange but entirely convincing, and I found Wild Abandon to be the perfect holiday read.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead was another fabulous read. Having recently read Shuggie Bain, it was hard not to feel a little exhausted by the plight of neglected young boys, although this novel had a style and substance all its own.

A modern retelling of David Copperfield, it follows a boy who is navigating the foster care system in the US, and experiencing the worst of it.

It was a heartbreaking situation and I constantly found myself willing Demon (or more accurately, Damon) to make a better decision than that which seemed inevitable.

Despite the gloom and dread, there was plenty to be hopeful of in this book, and the ending was sweet.

Apples Never Fall by Lianne Moriarty

I knew that I’d have an enjoyable read with Apples Never Fall, and that’s what I got. Moriarty certainly knows how to spin a good yarn. Having said that, I didn’t love the characters – the mother at the centre of the story was kind of annoying, as was the girl who visits her and turns her life upside down.

The novel follows a family as they try to make sense of the absence of the family’s matriarch, and determine whether violence on the part of their father was the reason for his wife to go missing, and potentially dead.

A light, engrossing read without being amazing.

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

I remember liking Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House … but I can’t remember much about what happened. I’ve just Googled it to remind myself … which is actually quite funny as the whole book is about memory and consciousness.

In fact, it reminded my that The Candy House is a really clever dystopian novel about technology and how we are increasingly entrusting our stories to social media sites.

The main character, Bix Bouton has developed technology where people can upload their memories, which in turn gives them access to everyone else’s memories.

The idea is creepy, and unsurprising. I’ve got no idea how I forgot it so quickly …

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

I was a bit wary of this novel when even the author wrote a caveat that the book wasn’t one of his best. And it was true that, while I loved Brideshead Revisited, Vile Bodies seemed a bit … light.

From what I could gather, the novel is about a group of socialites in England behaving badly.

While it wasn’t the best book I read overseas, I always like to vary my reading between new and older novels, so this was a nice, short classic to break up the more modern books I took away with me.

Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes

I heard a lot about Marian Keyes when this novel was released, and I was intrigued by all the love she seemed to attract among both writers and readers. It turned out that Again, Rachel was an easy and satisfying read.

The novel centres on an addiction counsellor who was suffering from her own demons after the breakdown of her relationship years ago, and the stillbirth of their baby.

Like the best ‘beach reads’, it was clever enough to keep the story going, and easy enough to read in snatches between catching trains or in bed after long days travelling.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I’m afraid I didn’t get to finish Lessons in Chemistry – a book that has attracted SO much interest in the past year. In some bad planning, I forgot to renew the audiobook on the library website so it was returned, and then it’s out on loan for a few months.

However, to be honest, I wasn’t that disappointed. It might just have been the heavily accented and peppy reading of the audiobook, but I found the central character, Elisabeth Zoot, a little bit annoying. She was just so … stubborn and convinced of her own rightness.

Maybe the book is better in a different format, or with a different narrator, but for now, I’m happy that I didn’t spend much more time in Elisabeth’s company.

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