If April’s reading taught me anything, it is that if you’re a teenager invited to a secret party or wild vacation with a bunch of your friends, DO NOT GO. You will, at best, end up in a foreign jail on trial for murder.
1) Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas: Anna and her friends set off for a Spring Break in Aruba and what sounds like a week in paradise until her BFF Elise is found brutally murdered. Things get worse when Anna and her boyfriend are arrested for the crime and the rest of their friends turn on them one by one. On trial for her life, Anna must discover what really happened to Elise, but the truth might undo her.
2) Ten, by Gretchen McNeil: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is one of my all-time favorite books, so any retelling has its work cut out for it. If you’re unfamiliar, choose a dark, preferably stormy night, make some tea and settle in to be scared in a way that you didn’t think possible from a book.
In this YA version, ten Seattle-area teens take over a vacation home on a secluded island for a weekend of no-parents partying. But then a storm cuts them off from the mainland. And then the power goes out. And then a mysterious DVD labeled DO NOT WATCH promises vengeance. And then the bodies start piling up.
3) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: I am not a gamer, by any means. I don’t own an iPad and the idea of Google glasses makes me twitch. No one was more surprised than me, then, by how much I liked this book.
Things in 2044 are not great, leading many to turn to OASIS, a virtual utopia where anyone can be anything. Wade spends almost all of his time there, attending a virtual high school, interacting with virtual friends and searching for the mythical “eggs” left behind by the late creator of OASIS. The eggs, based on deep cut 80s trivia, lead to keys, which open gates, and whoever opens the third gate wins the OASIS fortune. But then Wade finds the first egg, making him a legend in the OASIS and a target in real life. In hiding online and off, he must find the remaining eggs and clear the gates before the competition finds him and ends the game.
It was strange reading about the 80s, the decade of my birth, from a view sixty years on, where pizza parlor arcade games are viewed like we see gramophones, but that’s what I liked about this. If you’ve seen Weird Science, if you’re familiar with the Holy Triumvirate, if you ever owned a Dungeonmaster’s Guide, give this one a shot.
4) The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, by Michael Booth: As a British expat living in Denmark, Booth has an insider view into the Scandinavian utopia. The countries in the north top list after list of various “highest quality of life” metrics, yet with high taxes, questionable weather and a gloomy countenance, he wonders how and why this can be. Arthur and I visited Helsinki a few years ago, and my all-time favorite piece of travel trivia may have been learning that in Finland, speeding tickets are tied to your salary so that everyone feels the impact equally. How cool is that? This book was filled with lots of other interesting facts and history, and for that reason alone I’d recommend it.
5) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie: Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation with his family, but chooses to attend an all-white school where, as the book jacket describes, “the only other Indian is the mascot.” This is a story about not fitting in, which is how most people feel as teenagers. It’s sad and funny and looks at a culture I don’t often hear much about. Thanks to my friend Erica Spangler Sage for recommending this one.
6) New York Stories: Landmark Writing From Four Decades of New York Magazine: Man, is there a city in the world as obsessed with itself as New York? Maybe Paris. I bet Paris is pretty self-involved. Despite my strong aversion to the concept that everything off of the island of Manhattan is somehow “lesser,” I enjoyed this collection of articles. I read about Truman Capote’s white party, the night Leonard Bernstein hosted a rally for the Black Panthers, Ed Koch’s experiences on the campaign trail, the stories that were the basis for Goodfellas, Saturday Night Fever, and Taxi, and many more. Just this once, New York. Just this once.
7) Three Wishes, by Laine Moriarty: After discovering her last August, I am sadly almost out of Laine Moriarty books. In this offering, a beautiful set of 33-year-old triplets struggle to live separate lives. It would be easy to say that each sister represents one facet of a complete personality, but Moriarty’s writing is too good for that. They do need each other to be whole, but each character is messy, complicated and interesting in her own right.
8) Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein: This is the companion novel to Code Name Verity, which you should go read right now (without risking any reviews, because spoilers here would be serious business). Rose is an American pilot who comes to England during WWII to help with the war effort. When her plane is forcibly escorted into Germany, she becomes a prisoner at Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp outside Berlin. Holocaust books, while always worth reading, have been done before, and so it’s easy to dismiss this as just another one on the pile. But Rose’s outsider view—non-Jewish, American, undrafted—makes this offering stand out.
9) Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline: If you are in a book club, it’s safe to say that you have already read this book. Molly, a teenage foster child agrees to work off her community service hours by helping a wealthy elderly woman named Vivian clean out her attic. It sucks, but Molly is out of strikes and needs this opportunity. As the boxes are unpacked, Vivian tells Molly about her own history as an Irish orphan from New York City sent west on the Orphan Train. Vivian’s story is one of loss and change that offers context for Molly’s own experiences.
10) Baltimore Blues, by Laura Lippman: When I want a quick, smart mystery, I always reach for a Laura Lippman novel (which she accommodatingly keeps cranking out for me). I’ve read almost all of her books, but none about her most famous character, Tess Monaghan. A former reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Sun, Tess is adrift. She isn’t ready to let go of her old career and doesn’t know how to start a new one. Then a prominent Baltimore attorney is murdered, with Tess’s close friend charged with the crime. When Tess applies her investigative skills and good, old-fashioned poor decision-making to clearing his name, she may have stumbled on a new line of work…
And the best thing I read this month…
11) The Remains of the Day, by Kazou Ishiguro: I’ve been studying up on unreliable narrators lately, and this book has the most interesting kind—the narrator who doesn’t recognize his own unreliability. Stevens has worked as a butler at Darlington Hall for thirty years when Lord Darlington passes away and a new owner buys the estate. This man—an American who wants a “real English butler” more as a prop than a servant—offers Stevens his automobile for a multiday trip through the countryside. As Stevens ventures out on his own for the first time, he reflects on his life and takes comfort in the fact that he has served a “great gentleman.” Then, through the benefit of hindsight and perspective, Stevens’ view of Lord Darlington is challenged.
This book is partly about how a man reconciles having devoted life to a dying, antiquated system while still trying to feel as though he has achieved something. It’s also about the boundaries of duty and how to define honor. What I liked best about it, though, what that it’s incredibly subtle. Stevens never comes out and tells you his true feelings. You have to read between the lines of his repressed professionalism and draw conclusions for yourself.