#52Books: April Roundup

It’s June, so I might as well post about the books I read in April. THERE WERE A LOT. This is due partly to just choosing good books, and partly to choosing quick books. Also I listened to a lot of these on audio (every one of the celebrity memoirs was audio, and all were read by the author, and that was a really enjoyable experience), which definitely helped speed up the reading experience.

Going to be a little briefer than usual in my recaps this time, because if I’m not, I will probably never finish this post. My attention span lately is like that of an erratic squirrel.

Don’t expect a list NEARLY this long for May. My groove has slowed waaaaaay down, what with the end of school and just… life in general.

19. The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

As the daughter of a time traveler, Nix has spent sixteen years sweeping across the globe and through the centuries aboard her father’s ship. Modern-day New York City, nineteenth-century Hawaii, other lands seen only in myth and legend—Nix has been to them all.

But when her father gambles with her very existence, it all may be about to end. Rae Carson meets Outlander in this epic debut fantasy.

If there is a map, Nix’s father can sail his ship, The Temptation, to any place and any time. But now that he’s uncovered the one map he’s always sought—1868 Honolulu, the year before Nix’s mother died in childbirth—Nix’s life, her entire existence, is at stake. No one knows what will happen if her father changes the past. It could erase Nix’s future, her dreams, her adventures . . . her connection with the charming Persian thief, Kash, who’s been part of their crew for two years.

This was a really fun premise (a TIME TRAVELING PIRATE SHIP, yes please) and I enjoyed the diverse and spirited cast of characters as well as the time-bendy hijinx. I never got quite as deeply engaged emotionally as I would have liked to have been — I was more interested in the imaginative world than I was invested in the lives of the characters —  BUT it still kept me reading to the end, and entertained throughout.

20. Silence by Shusaku Endo

Seventeenth-century Japan: Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. Shusaku Endo is one of the most celebrated and well-known Japanese fiction writers of the twentieth century, and Silence is widely considered to be his great masterpiece.

This is probably the most challenging book I’ve read this year, due both to the subject matter and the sometimes rocky translation from the original Japanese. I had an extremely hard time connecting with the characters, which I believe was intentional, and as a story it’s just… really sad and depressing. Still, it was a deeply thought-provoking book and a hard look at a period of history I was previously ignorant of, so I’m absolutely glad I read it.

21. And I Darken by Kiersten White

NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.

This is historical fiction that reads like a fantasy, and I read it for two reasons: lots of strong buzz, and I really loved the narrator of the audiobook (she had previously narrated The Scorpio Races and the Ember in the Ashes books, which are among my favorite audiobooks ever). The writing and worldbuilding in this one was really strong, and I appreciated that every one of the main characters were markedly different from the archetypes we typically get in these sort of epic historical fantasies. I totally get all the glowing reviews. However, for me personally, I never really connected with this one, so this will probably be it for me with this series.

22. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

This was another book with a ton of early buzz, and one of the rare books I preordered without either knowing the author personally or reading any of her previous work (this is Angie Thomas’s debut). But wow, did it ever live up to the hype. This is the second of three books on racism and police brutality I’ve read this year (the last one will be in my May post), which is a hard subject both to engage with in life and to read about in fiction. But I thought this book did an excellent job unpacking its delicate subject matter, making me cry and laugh and above all, think. I loved it.

23. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.
 
But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.
 
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Everything, Everything will make you laugh, cry, and feel everything in between. It’s an innovative,  inspiring, and heartbreakingly romantic debut novel that unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, illustrations, and more.

This is a tricky one to review because my opinion of it is highly influenced by how it ends, and I don’t want to spoil anyone. So let me just say that it is beautifully written and easy to read, with endearing characters and an interesting premise, and I absolutely see why it’s a bestseller and a movie. That said, I wish it had made some different narrative choices, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

24. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”

At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.

With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

Enter Anna’s world and follow her rise from “scrappy little nobody” to somebody who dazzles on the stage, the screen, and now the page—with an electric, singular voice, at once familiar and surprising, sharp and sweet, funny and serious (well, not that serious).

This book does not contain any great insights or wisdom, and is pretty much the book-length equivalent of following Anna Kendrick on Twitter. That said, if you enjoy following Anna Kendrick on Twitter, this is a really fun, quick read, full of amusing anecdotes from Anna’s experiences on Broadway and in Hollywood.

25. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Do you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central’s Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy’s one-liners?

If your answer to these questions is “Yes Please!” then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon” and “The Robots Will Kill Us All” Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by.

Again, not a lot of huge life lessons or profound insight in this one, but it was really interesting hearing Amy Poehler talk about the journey that brought her to Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation. Amy has a sharp wit and is an engaging storyteller, and listening to this book made me want to rewatch Parks and Rec from the beginning, which is really never a wrong choice.

26. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Everything I said above about Amy Poehler’s book, just, ditto for this one, except substitute 30 Rock for Parks and Recreation. I’ve never watched 30 Rock beyond the pilot, which Tina says is terrible, but this book made me want to give it a try.

27. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”
 
Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!
 
In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

I was surprised that of all the Funny Lady Celebrity Memoirs I read this month, Mindy’s was actually the one I related to the most. Which was odd, since I don’t think she’s actually the one I would most easily be friends with in real life, should the opportunity present itself. (That would be Anna Kendrick. For the record.) But something about the way she talked about herself felt really familiar to me, even though I can’t quite put my finger on why. As with the above books, this one was funny, engaging, and quick, but not life-changing.

28. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times).

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.

“Honest, raw, and revelatory” (The Washington Post), this wildly candid and compulsively readable book reveals how the mega talented Shonda Rhimes finally achieved badassery worthy of a Shondaland character. Best of all, she “can help motivate even the most determined homebody to get out and try something new” (Chicago Tribune).

I am in a long-term committed relationship with Grey’s Anatomy. I have been faithful to that show for thirteen years, and fully plan to stick with it until one of us dies (preferably, the show will go first). So I was definitely expecting to like the book written by its creator, Shonda Rhimes, because I like her writing so much on television. However I was not prepared for just how inspired I felt after reading this. Not everything she talks about pertained to me, but it was just such an empowering and energizing read. I wanted to go build empires when I finished this book. And don’t worry, while she does talk about Grey’s some, watching thirteen seasons of the show is absolutely not a prerequisite for reading this book. It’s just a bonus.

29. As You Wish by Cary Elwes

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.

Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets and backstage stories.

With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.

The Princess Bride has been one of my favorite movies since I was itty bitty, and my favorite book since I first read it in high school. This was a really interesting look into the making of the movie, and the audio was a joy, with many individuals involved in its production, including Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner, Wallace Shawn, and Chris Sarandon, returning to share their memories of that time. I particularly enjoyed the stories Cary shared about Andre the Giant, who sounds like he would have been an absolutely delightful person to know. Highly recommend this one for anyone who treasures the movie as much as I do.

30. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.
 
In “How to Look Spectacular: A Starlet’s Confessions,” Kaling gives her tongue-in-cheek secrets for surefire on-camera beauty, (“Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.”) “Player” tells the story of Kaling being seduced and dumped by a female friend in L.A. (“I had been replaced by a younger model. And now they had matching bangs.”) In “Unlikely Leading Lady,” she muses on America’s fixation with the weight of actresses, (“Most women we see onscreen are either so thin that they’re walking clavicles or so huge that their only scenes involve them breaking furniture.”) And in “Soup Snakes,” Kaling spills some secrets on her relationship with her ex-boyfriend and close friend, B.J. Novak (“I will freely admit: my relationship with B.J. Novak is weird as hell.”)
 
Mindy turns the anxieties, the glamour, and the celebrations of her second coming-of-age into a laugh-out-loud funny collection of essays that anyone who’s ever been at a turning point in their life or career can relate to. And those who’ve never been at a turning point can skip to the parts where she talks about meeting Bradley Cooper.

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Mindy’s first book, and didn’t connect to her nearly as well this time, but it was still an enjoyable read. During some of her essays, which wandered far from her actual life to indulge in pages of “what if” scenarios, I found myself checking my metaphorical watch. But overall, it was quick and fun and entertaining, if not stellar.

31. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

I’m not normally one for books written in verse, or poetry in general, but once I settled into this one, it was lovely. Despite the author’s childhood looking very different from mine, there was much I could relate to in who she was as a person, and when I didn’t relate, her beautiful words made it easy to imagine. I still don’t think I’m going to gravitate towards books in verse, but I very much enjoyed this one, and am glad I read it.

32. Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

As the tomboy daughter of the town’s preacher, Billie McCaffrey has always struggled with fitting the mold of what everyone says she should be. She’d rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee.

But when Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she’s in love with Woods, Billie’s filled with a nagging sadness as she realizes that she is also in love with Woods…and maybe with Janie Lee, too.

Always considered “one of the guys,” Billie doesn’t want anyone slapping a label on her sexuality before she can understand it herself. So she keeps her conflicting feelings to herself, for fear of ruining the group dynamic. Except it’s not just about keeping the peace, it’s about understanding love on her terms—this thing that has always been defined as a boy and a girl falling in love and living happily ever after. For Billie—a box-defying dynamo—it’s not that simple.

Readers will be drawn to Billie as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship, in this John Hughes-esque exploration of sexual fluidity.

Courtney is a friend of mine, which was how I was able to get my hands on an early copy of her third novel, which will hit bookstores in August of this year. Something Courtney has excelled at in all of her books is writing them from a place of sincere honesty, even when it’s not pretty or neat. In Dress Codes, she takes a deep look at complex themes of friendship, love, family, gender, and sexuality, all in the context of a rural town and her main character’s own deep faith. I rarely see the subject of faith approached so frankly in YA, especially when tangled with sexuality, and loved Courtney’s empathetic and nuanced examination of both through her characters. If you’re a fan of contemporary YA narratives and complex, honest characters, definitely pick this one up in August.