April Book Reviews


Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui

As a constantly injured runner, I have been incorporating swimming into my routine more often. Going back to the sport I adored in my youth, now in my old-ish age feels like symmetry Bonnie Tsui would appreciate.

This book is filled with fascinating facts about how immersion in water affects the body and seemingly superhuman feats of strength explained by science, if that is your thing. It is also filled with thoughtful insights about meditation and mindfulness, if that is your thing. And it is chock full of lovely lyrical prose, if that is your thing.

My only critique would be that for type-A folks like myself that crave organization, the structure felt a little haphazard, making it hard for me to remember everything that I read. But, overall, this was a fascinating read that I absolutely recommend to everyone - especially my fellow swimmers. It is also excellent on audio!

Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon

Who am I, reading another World War II novel!? Alas, I’ve heard so many great things about this book, and you know it’s got to be good when the library hold queue still has almost 50 people waiting when the book has been out for over a year. No renewals for me, so it moved to the top of the pile!

This is the first novel I have read by Ariel Lawhon it was excellent. Code Name Helene is a fictional account of Nancy Wake, a member of Britain’s Special Operations Executive leading resistance fighters in France. It is one of those novels that sends you straight to google every few chapters, which I love.

Bringing a plucky heroine to life without seeming trite is a difficult needle to thread, and Lawhon really nails it. Helene is portrayed in absolute technicolor: fallible, relatable, endearing, funny, and I could understand all of her motivations. I loved the way the two very close timelines, of her meeting her husband before the war and of her time with the resistance just a few years later, come together. Little details that seem small become significant, and significant scenes gain clarity with small details. I just love a full circle moment, and Helene is rife with them.

The sections of the book detailing Nancy’s time during the war were quite dense in the beginning and I felt like I was being delivered facts and names through a fire hose. For some, that might not be as appealing as the timeline of her romantic drama before the war. But I was riveted by both and look forward to reading more of Lawhon's work!

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

Many thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for the advance copy - this was an amazing ride, and so hard to describe without giving away the mind blowing ending. My best attempt is say that it is like the masterpiece Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, but heavier on plot that includes an EXPLANATION of why these two characters can remember past lives.

The pacing of the story is like a boulder gathering speed as it careens down a hill. At first I was sucked in by each chapter, putting the same people together in different dynamics: coworkers, lovers, student/teacher, parent/child. As they begin to realize the nature of their existence, the tension mounts as they try to find a reason, to find meaning. And when the reason is revealed, it’s like falling off of cliff into an ending that took my breath away a few times over.

I absolutely love this kind of novel that straddles several genres and explores existential themes in an accessible, but not cloying, way. Also, I have an absolute favorite book series to recommend if you read and enjoyed this novel, but only once you’ve finished so as not to spoil the ending! So, so good! 

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

“Why does everyone hate change so much?“ I demanded.

“Because things could get worse.“

“Maybe. But do you know what I think?” My chest throbbed. “I think deep down, we’re afraid that things could get better. Afraid to find out that all the evil —all the suffering we ignore— could have been prevented. If only we had cared enough to try.”

Raybearer was so unique, lush, immersive and just really smart sci-fi/fantasy world building. The mythology and magic Ifueko creates is beyond clever and the characters leap from the page right into your heart. Not since The Hunger Games have I been awed by such a creative plot with a story of found family and a fierce, yet vulnerable, female lead.

Halfway through the book I put the sequel on hold at the library, and couldn’t believe there weren’t already hundreds ahead of me in the queue. Get on it, y’all! This feels destined to be a YA fantasy classic.

Parachutes by Kelly Yang

This was a solid YA story on a subject that I knew very little about: parachutes, aka - teenagers dropped off to live in private homes and study in the United States while their wealthy parents remain in Asia. I was filled with righteous anger reading this book, not only for the micro aggressions suffered by the Asian community, but young girls within the community and writ large. Definitely read if you want to get fired up about smashing the patriarchy. Be forewarned that every character suffers some sort of sexual abuse, and the author's note is a must read. Would be a good accompaniment to reading the current articles about Philip Roth and his biographers...

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

I guess all the books I read in April can’t be five star reads. Libertie is described as a coming of age story, and I suppose the main character comes of age, but the story doesn’t include any hallmarks of a Bildungsroman.

Libertie does not seem to have any grand self realizations, and goes through life vicariously, never finding her own calling. Inexplicably, the pace of the novel was very slow, while her life choices moved at warp speed. Each time another set of characters she encounters was introduced, I thought perhaps this is where things will dig deeper and I’ll get more character development as she finds her people. But, nope, the narrative moved quickly on, and yet another half dozen characters I’ll forget were introduced.

All of these interactions gave an interesting look at life during that time, for sure, but no real depth. I felt like someone watching a roller coaster ride at a theme park, but never able to actually get on board.