Books to Read in All Your – ahem – Free Time

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One thing I’ve discovered as a parent is that people, in general, are a bossy bunch. I’ve been told (by strangers) to cover Alice up with a blanket only to be chided several minutes later for making her too hot; to stop holding her on my shoulder because babies should always lie vertically; to stop feeding her blueberries because she was going to choke on them; to not let her eat Cheerios off the coffee shop floor (okay, that last one was probably valid). I was even reprimanded once by a man, who was talking to a telephone pole, for taking her out without a hat on, who then, adding insult to injury, congratulated me on my pregnancy and asked when I was due.

For the most part, I roll with it. People’s intentions are well-meaning and I understand that as a parent you want to impart your wisdom on someone – anyone – who might actually listen. But when people start telling me that I’m never going to read a book/see a movie/go out to dinner again, that’s when I put the proverbial foot down. My theory is you fit in what is really important to you and keeps you sane. For some friends it’s working out. For my sister it’s taking photos of her kids and then creating gorgeous photo books and cards, which she sends out on a regular basis underscoring the fact I still haven’t mailed out our Christmas cards (sadly, I’m still holding out hope).

For me, it’s reading. I don’t care how tired I am or how bad the kitchen is, I will always find time to read. Which means I’ve waded through a whole bunch of “meh” for you to find a couple of gems that are worth their weight in babysitting gold.

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

This is the best book I’ve read this year, hands-down.

And I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to tell you what it’s about and you’re going to say, “But I don’t want to read a book about teens dying of cancer!” And then I’m going to say, “No, you do! Because it’s actually hilarious and you’ll be laughing out loud and then crying and thinking about what it means to be alive and in love and then you’ll be writing down quotes from the book and making everyone you know read them as a way of forcing them to read the book because it’s that good.” And then you’ll say, “But, it’s a teen book and I’m, quite obviously, an adult.” And then I’ll say, “I promise you, it defies the genre of teen fiction.” And then you’ll say, “But I have a nightstand full of Janet Evonavich books I’ve got to get through!” And I’ll say, “Shut up and read it already.”

And then you will.

And then you’ll call me and say, “Thank you.” And I will very graciously say, “I TOLD YOU SO!”

Faithful Place by Tana French
I want to be able to write like Tana French for just, like, five minutes. To understand how to really make grammar work for your writing, to… Okay, maybe the grammar angle isn’t the best way to convince you to read her books, but, seriously, the woman knows to rock a semi-colon. And a plot. And character development. AHH, SHE IS SO GOOD!

Plus, she’s compulsively readable. If you like a meaty thriller that you can’t put down, Tana is your gal. Each of her books focusses on a different murder case and while you’re dying to rush to the end to find out who did it, she slows you down so you can see the why/how/who of the detectives solving the crime.  Without a doubt, she hits her stride with Faithful Place, but you should really go back and start at the beginning with In the Woods since each book subtly builds on the next one.

(More good news: she has a new one coming out this month! Which I may have already pre-ordered. You can borrow it when I’m done.)

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
I was feeling weird about including two thrillers on the list but then I remembered how much fun I had reading The Rook and decided to throw caution to the wind.

This book was one of those where you stay up waaaaaay past your bedtime because you keep reading “one more page” and then are so tired the next day you can barely shuffle through until, finally, it’s bedtime again when suddenly you find you’re wide awake because you must find out what happens. Yeah, that might have happened.

Where Faithful Place is dark and moody, The Rook is light and surprisingly funny. It moves really quickly and is just plain fun. The kind of book you might want to read after something like Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which is fascinating and important but may do your head in a bit. It’s such a good read that while I normally avoid fantasy like a week-old diaper pail this time I didn’t mind a bit.

Watermelon by Marian Keyes
All right, I’m going to admit it – I have a thing for good chick lit. And, honey, good chick lit is hard to find.  Most of it’s humorless, formulaic and uninspiring, which is why Marian Keyes is such a gift. Her books are well-written and easy-to-read, but the kind of easy you know is hard to do. And she doesn’t pander to her readers; instead she offers up fun, funny characters who, sure, have lots of men problems (it is chick lit after all), but also deal with darker issues like depression, substance abuse and loss.

Anyway, she’s the real deal. If you haven’t read her, I am so envious because you have so much fun ahead of you; I say start at the beginning with Watermelon and then head on home. If you have read her, never fear, she finally has a new book coming out this Fall. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Now I really, really want to know – what’s the best book you’ve read lately? My kitchen is way too clean right now…

  1. Shan says:

    The universe answered my latest query. Have been looking for GOOD books for a while, so will begin this list ASAP! The One thing I can NOT stop reading at the moment is Eglantine’s Cake. It’s Penni Rossun’s blog and her writing is truly breath taking. She writes a lot of poetry, and when I grow up I want to marry her. True story. Miss you.

    • Kara says:

      Yay! I’ll totally check out her blog, but I thought you were going to marry me when you grow up? And, Marian is all thanks to you, my darling.

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