Home Travel What to Read on Your Summer Vacation: My Recent Reads

What to Read on Your Summer Vacation: My Recent Reads

by Krista

Sorry, I’m not suggesting that you read John Grisham on your summer holiday. Read these books I’ve suggested below instead!

I’ve been reading like crazy lately. I’ve been trying to do less of other things and reading is a great way to soak up the time. I’m also tired of being a slave to the IFE (that’s In Flight Entertainment) on long-haul flights, so being able to entertain myself with a good book is, well, good!! It’s funny the comments I get…strangers saying things like “Man, that must be really good” when I haven’t moved from my seat in ages. Yes it is good!! Books are good! We should all read more books!

You know what else is good? GOODREADS. I LOVE GOODREADS. So many books! So many books and so little time. I like stalking what my friends are reading and seeing where our tastes are the same or different. And I’ve discovered so many books I wouldn’t have read otherwise! I’ve also surprised myself by the breadth of what I’ve read lately — escaping from my usual fluffy beach read trash for more of my English major roots. So if you have a long flight coming up or are planning a summer holiday, here are some of my favorite reads in the last six-ish months, roughly in order of enjoyment within each genre but honestly, if it’s listed here, I enjoyed it. ENJOY!! (And tell me what else I should read please based on this list please.)

Historical Fiction (Generally, My Favorite Genre.)

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

I LOVED this super-interesting multi-generational story centered around a young girl who grows up in Korea during the Japanese occupation and later moves to Japan with her new husband and young son. She survives in so many clever, clever ways amidst terrible circumstances including racism and poverty.  It is a satisfyingly thick book that kept me engaged throughout. I learned so much about Japan and Korea during a very difficult stretch of  history. Interesting characters, interesting backdrops. (Also moves into modern fiction at the end.) Amazon US | Amazon UK

TransAtlantic, Colum McCann

SUCH an unusual novel. It’s almost like a series of short stories, but they all blend into each other. It starts with two Canadian aviators, attempting to cross the Atlantic for the first time. Then, there’s the great American abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass, who is in Ireland to raise money for the cause from the Irish, who lead their own complicated lives in a country on the brink of starvation. Later, there is the story of Senator George Mitchell and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. I won’t give away how all the stories are intertwined but when it all came together, I was very impressed. I deeply enjoyed this. It’s deep stuff. Serious stuff.  (And this was a Goodreads rec — a friend from many years ago read it and loved it so I added it to my to-read pile.) Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh

If you’ve been following my Myanmar posts, you know that I LOVED this book and it really gave me some good context for Burma’s last king and Burma in general from the 1880s to the 1990s. It is a fictional account of a young Indian boy who falls in love with a Burmese girl who serves the Burmese royal family. They eventually marry and lead a very interesting life together. This covers British colonialism, the rampage of war, family dynasties, and the life choices people make in unusual circumstances. This was a nice big fat book that I really never wanted to end. It’s a great story from start to finish. I hope it becomes a movie. Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingslover

This was so fascinating!! Whey didn’t I read this sooner?? It’s the book that Goodreads has been wanting me to read forever and I finally did and I found it so interesting! American missionaries move to the Congo in the 1950s and they are woefully unprepared for what they are about to encounter, both in their African village and in in terms of the political turmoil that is about to occur. They are also not very good about mixing with the locals (with one main exception). So fascinating!! Amazon US | Amazon UK

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi

Similar to TransAtlantic, this is a series of stories that all connect with each other and take us through the origins of slavery in Africa to modern times. The stories follow the descendants of two sisters — one sister stays in Africa, the other is sold into slavery in America — over 300 years. I was so glad I read this and TransAtlantic before visiting the African American History Museum in Washington DC the other week. Sobering tales with some glimmers of hope. Amazon US | Amazon UK

A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute

There are three parts to this book — an English part, a Malaysian part, and an Australian part. Truth be told, I found the Malaysian part the most interesting, but the Australian part has its moments. The book follows a young English woman who is taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II and is basically forced to march across Malaysia with a group of other expat prisoners — amazingly, she survives. She later moves to the Australian outback — there’s really not much there when she arrives — and cleverly contributes to its development. This was really enjoyable and interesting and I learned a lot about a part of WWII history I knew little about. This is not a new book, but it was new to me. Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Alice Network, Kate Quinn

I love a good female spy novel so was intrigued by the premise here of a group of female spies in France in World War I. It’s intertwined with the story of a young woman in the aftermath of World War II, looking for her cousin who disappeared during the war. This was just a good story and an enjoyable read, despite the terrible circumstances of war. (I also read this right before The Power, which later got me thinking later about how different wars would be if more women were involved.) This is the type of book you will read and then tell your mother and aunts to read. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Modern Fiction

Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie

This has been one of my bookclub’s all-time favorite reads and where I think we’ve had the most discussion. (If you knew your brother was a terrorist, would you report him?) Set it London, it’s the story of a British family of Pakistani origin who have jihadi ties. It’s a family drama and also, in some ways, a love story, but we fought about that too. (If I really loved you, would I hurt you or your family?) Super thought-provoking. Amazon US | Amazon UK

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

If there was ever a right time for a book, it’s now. Celestial and Roy are a newly married African-American couple in America’s south. During a trip to visit family, Roy is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and is incarcerated. Will the marriage survive?  Themes include racial prejudice and profiling, the prison system in the US, and most heavily, the complicated relationships married couples and families have with each other. This book kept surprising me — the characters are quite complicated and maddening! I haven’t stopped thinking about it since and strongly recommended it to my book club the other week — it’s our next read. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Girl at War, Sara Novic

This is my university’s summer virtual book club pick. I just finished  this as I was writing the post and man…the tears. This is the fictional story of a young girl growing up in Croatia in the former Yugoslavia as everything starts to change in the 1990s. I’ve been wanting to read more about this part of the world since my trip to Montenegro last year (when I inadvertently made two grown men cry with my questions) and wish I had found this sooner so I would have had more context. The American part of the story is not entirely exciting — although I suppose that’s the point.  Compelling and thought-provoking and written in a very realistic way. (Although there are a few plot foibles.) Also, I read this a few hours before going to bed last night and then finished it this morning — a quick read. Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Bone Sparrow, Zana Fraillon

Having just returned from Myanmar, the fate of the Rohingya Muslims of Northern Myanmar weighs heavily on my mind. I believe this book is billed as a young adult novel, but it’s quite heavy. It’s a fictional story of young Rohingya refugees in an Australian refugee camp and how they survive the repetitiveness of the day-to-day. There are moments of beautiful lightness that highlight the imaginations of children, but then there are also moments of incredible darkness that center on man’s inhumanity to man and the plight of the refugee. Another book that will get you thinking — note there’s some fantasy in here too. This was a relatively quick read. Sweet but sobering. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

Let me start by saying I almost didn’t finish this. I found the first third pretty boring. But all the reviews were so good and a number of my friends liked it, so I figured I should keep going. It’s an interesting story of a mother and daughter who move into a new neighborhood and the impact they have on their neighbors. I don’t want to give away too much here because while I had a feeling something was up, I didn’t totally see what was coming. This is one of those books that makes you think, “Man, people lead complicated lives.” This is not a fast moving story so keep it for a  day when you want a slow burn and you’re willing to persevere with something. Amazon US | Amazon UK


Dark Matter, Blake Crouch

This is a time-travel sci-fi thriller set in Chicago so I had to read it! (Although whether the author really knows Chicago well is debatable.) It’s one of those “flap of a butterfly’s wing” types of stories — how small decisions can alter the course of our lives. The main character is a  physicist who…I don’t want to tell you. Basically, let’s just say he walks out of a bar one day and his entire life changes. What happened? Why? This is a good beach read that you can do in a day. Both men and women will like this. Super fast and super easy. Not rocket science, but that’s okay. This will definitely be a movie. Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Power, Naomi Alderman

This is a great read right now, today, with everything that is going on with the #MeToo movement and stories like the Uber sexual harassment case. Imagine if women truly did have the power — if they controlled men, controlled sex, controlled politics and countries and armies. This is not an easy read because of its darkness, but it’s a thought-provoking one. You will alternately like and (strongly) dislike the main characters. But it’s one of those books that I’m still thinking about months later. Amazon US | Amazon UK


Red Notice, Bill Browder

With everything going on with Russia, I wanted to read something about Russia today and a friend of mine highly recommended Red Notice. I am so glad she did because this was AMAZING. Mr. Browder is an American hedge fund manager in Moscow who manages to piss off the Russians constantly and without even trying. Such a fascinating tale of financial crime, murder, corruption, and government control. And it’s all true!! Especially entertaining if you’ve ever worked in the investment management industry. This will make a GREAT movie. Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls

Most of my friends on Goodreads have read this one and liked it so I figured I would give it a whirl. And man, am I glad I did. This is the true story of a mother and father that I suppose could loosely be described as hippie and anti-establishment and how they raise their children as they roam across America from one town to the next. It’s a story of creativity and alcoholism and poverty and survival. The West Virginia part was my least favorite — mainly because it’s dark with uncomfortable themes — but it’s such an interesting family and story. I am not surprised that this has already been made into a movie. I need to watch it. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond

With everything going on in America these days, I’ve been trying to better understand cycles of poverty and addiction and a recommendation from Adventurous Kate led me to this chilling collection of true stories, most of which tie back to eviction and the role of American landlords and the failure of government in some way. All of the stories are upsetting in different ways, especially the terrible choices those living below the poverty line are forced to make. Not a fun read, but a meaningful one that will stay with you for a while. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

I didn’t know much about Mr. Noah before reading this and now you can count me as a fan. This book covers his childhood in Apartheid South Africa — he has a black mother from South Africa and a white father from Switzerland — and doesn’t really spend much time on his career as a comedian. (I imagine there will be another autobiography at some point.) This is such a compelling read about growing up when you really don’t fit in anywhere. It also provides useful context on South Africa if you, like me, know very little. I imagine I will shortly be looking for historical fiction about Apartheid South Africa so please send me any recommendations. Amazon US | Amazon UK

Goal: 30 Books by the End of 2018

I’m at 24 books now (I am basically reading about one book a week) but my time for reading is about to take a beating. What should I read next?? Note there were a number of other books I finished over the last six months that I didn’t really enjoy  so I haven’t listed them here. (Ready Player One or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine anyone??!)

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