I am often asked about what I’m reading or for book recommendations, so I thought I would experiment with a monthly series sharing thoughts and suggestions about books I’ve read that month. I’m not going to pretend I always read intellectual literary masterpieces. Sometimes it’s 4 in the morning, and you’re up breastfeeding, and you just need some lighthearted smut in your life. I don’t love everything I read either, so I’ve divided this into Read It! and Skip It…to help you to avoid my less enjoyable choices. I’ve also included a few of Xander’s favorites this month!
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
If you only read one book this year, let it be this one (But seriously, you should read more than one because books are awesome). Be prepared to read the whole thing without putting it down. It would be perfect for a flight. I was up until 3 in the morning reading it. You will almost certainly cry, and if cancer has touched or taken someone you love, be prepared to sob. Why read something that will leave tears streaming down your face? Because it will make you reevaluate life, death, medicine, and the point of it all. I read it a week ago, and I already feel I need to read it again.
Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old in his final year as a neurosurgery resident when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the book, he reflects on his journey through medical school and residency as well as sharing stories of the dozens of patients he had treated through terminal illness prior to his own diagnosis. It is fascinating and heartbreaking to experience the flip in perspective through his eyes.
The book is beautifully written by a man who clearly loved literature. Having recently finished writing a book myself, and being in the thick of the editing process now, I can’t imagine trying to write something so personal while I was dying. By the time it ends, you aren’t ready to let go of Kalanithi’s gentle wisdom. It leaves a haunting feeling that he had more to say…and he did. But that he took the time to say anything at all means he left this exceptional book behind as a gift to the rest of us. I could say much more, but just do yourself a favor and read it!
Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
If you are looking for a gift for an adolescent boy or girl, this would be perfect! It is an engaging thriller that revolves around a game devised by a visionary Indian CEO. The game is a competition for a few hundred bright teens from around the world that the reader gets caught up in as the characters compete.
I love that the cast of characters are an incredibly diverse group of teenagers, so there is someone that everyone should be able to relate to. My favorites were Cai (Painted Wolf), a Chinese blogger/activist and Rex, a Mexican-American coder. It is a fast paced, exciting read filled with mental puzzles. I also love that the subject matter gets kids engaged in coding and technological challenges. Without giving too much away, it leaves you wanting more!
It’s geared to a younger audience without talking down to them, and I think would get adolescents excited about reading. It would be a fun book to devour along with your kids to be able to get caught up in the excitement together. It’s a perfect YA summer read to keep kids doing something that stimulates them without feeling like a chore to get through. A great choice for 12 year olds and up!
The Truth by Neil Strauss
I’m a huge fan of Neil Strauss, so I would read just about anything he wrote, but I was particularly intrigued when I saw that he was writing a sequel of sorts to his massively successful (if controversial) memoir, The Game. When I was in an open relationship and working as a Dominatrix, I loved reading about his immersion into the world of Pick Up Artistry. So much of it mirrored things that I was experiencing, and I put his advice to good use when picking up women. Like it or not, it works.
But then I grew up, moved into a different chapter in my life, and left all of that behind. I couldn’t relate to it anymore.
It seems that Neil Strauss feels the same way. The Truth explores his attempts to be in an open relationship with multiple women, the nature of human relationships, and his complicated history with his parents. I don’t think I’m giving much away when I say that it ends with him married and committed to one partner. Since I had walked a relatively similar path and come to many of the same conclusions, I found it a really interesting read.
I’m not sure his approach to attempting polyamory offers a very fair look at it as a relationship style. He forced it and moved much too quickly without enough proper communication. I think some people make polyamory, in one form or another, work well, and this one example of failure shouldn’t deter people from exploring in their relationships if that’s what both partners want.
That being said, I found it strangely validating that Strauss and I had ended up in the same place. It was like my good old buddy I used to party with had grown up and “settled down” with me, and now we could be friends again, still feeling good about the path we both walked down to end up here.
Give it a read if you’re curious about what it would be like to explore an open relationship or you just like a well written memoir.
Game Maker Series by Kresley Cole
This is a three book erotic series that fucking smolders. It makes me sad that so many women wasted their time with a certain BDSM series that shall remain unnamed when they could have been reading these instead. They are formulaic, but Cole has found a formula that works, so no complaints here. I also read Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark Series (Paranormal Romance) and her Arcana Series (Paranormal YA), but for some reason I had held off on reading this series. I got it in my head they were novellas, and didn’t like the idea of something unsatisfyingly short. I was wrong, though. They’re all novel length…and offer full satisfaction. I ended up being excited that I had stalled because it let me read all three back to back instead of having to wait for each to come out.
The Professional is the first in the series, and features a Russian assassin, Aleksandr, as the male protagonist, and an American girl, Natalie, who was adopted from Russia as the female lead. At first I was worried Natalie was going to be the stereotypical romance novel virgin, but she is assertive and confident enough to hold her own as a character. Instead of Aleks leading her down the BDSM path, she has to push him to expose her to his naughtier interests. It’s a sexy, kinky Cinderella story with a Russian mafia twist.
The Master was my favorite of the three. Maksim (Aleks’s brother from the first book) is a Russian billionaire who only sleeps with prostitutes, and only ever once. Don’t worry…he’s not just a dick. He had a fucked up childhood. Cat is desperate for cash, so she fills in for a friend as a call girl and becomes Maksim’s client. I loved her as a character. She’s feisty and goes after what she wants, and is refreshingly comfortable with her sexuality. Both characters have emotional scars from their complicated pasts, but they’re believable and not over the top. Kresley Cole can write one helluva sex scene.
The Player is the third and final book in the series, featuring the third brother, mysterious billionaire, Dmitri and a Vegas grifter named Vice. These two are such different characters from anything I’ve seen in a romance novel before that it was a breath of fresh air. They are both victims in some ways and powerful in others. Vice appears to be playing Dmitri, but he still seems to have the upper hand. The ending is fun and unexpected. Well, not that unexpected…it’s a romance novel after all, but there might be a few twists before we get to the ending that is promised by virtue of its genre.
All three of these books are what I would describe as mental bubble gum. They’re not sophisticated or high brow, but they’re amusing, light reads. And they’ll get you all hot and bothered!
The Baby Led Weaning Cookbook by Gill Rapley and Tracy Murkett
A slight change of pace…this book is a practical guide to using the baby led weaning technique for introducing your baby to solid foods. The idea behind baby led weaning is that the baby feeds himself, learning about food by being tactile with it. This method skips purees and spoon feeding.
The book begins with practical instructions about how to start with this method and safety considerations. The rest of the book contains easy to follow recipes. The intro guide put me at ease, and the recipes so far have been tasty and easy to follow. If you’re considering using baby led weaning, I would highly recommend this book as a good place to start. I think it contains all of the pertinent information that is in the larger guidebook, but the recipes are more helpful than the additional (slightly repetitive) contents of the full guide.
The Beast by J. R. Ward
I love J. R. Ward. I was about to write that her Black Dagger Brotherhood series is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I don’t feel even a little bit guilty about it, so it’s just a pleasure. Ward’s vampires don’t glitter in the sunshine or mope. They kick serious ass in a war against an evil undead army. But they also drink scotch and banter delightfully with one another. This is the 14th book in the series that revisits the relationship between Rhage and Mary, who are the focus of the 2nd book. I love that we get to see how their relationship evolves, and that happily ever after doesn’t just happen. Again, mental bubble gum, but these books are an entertaining read. The first book in the series isn’t my favorite (the 3rd one is–I’ve read it an embarrassing number of times!), but it’s worth starting at the beginning if you’re going to invest the time in Ward’s world.
In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark
This book makes me not want to have my book translated. Ever. I’m giving the author the benefit of the doubt that the truly horrendous dialogue was the fault of the translator, but I suspect it wasn’t great to start with. I’m enamored with all things New Zealand right now, so a sweeping romantic historical epic set in New Zealand was an easy sell. I desperately wanted it to be good since it’s the first in a series, but it just doesn’t work. The story had the potential to be interesting, but it’s poorly written and littered with plot holes and anachronisms. The romance didn’t really work for me either. I got through all 667 pages, but more out of stubbornness than anything else. Definitely skip it.
Xander’s May Picks:
Ocean Wonders by Dorothea DePrisco Wang
Xander and I are both obsessed with this book! It features colorful images of sea creatures that slide out on each page. He chatters to the pictures and loves all the sparkly bits. This is the first book he has sat through, been excited about, and not tried to eat while I was reading it!
Good Night, Good Night Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker
X-man has construction in his genes. At 7 months, he has already seen his first concrete pour and watched a building demo with Daddy. I think he’ll be more excited about this one when he can understand it, but I read it to him all the time anyway because it’s the cutest! It goes through the heavy equipment on a construction site (by proper name!) as each one finishes work for the day and goes to sleep.
Let me know if none of these strike your fancy, and we can come up with something you’ll enjoy. The lineup for June looks like it will be heavy on memoirs and light on filthy romance novels with some classic Neil Gaiman thrown in…but we’ll see what happens! I’m always open to suggestions.
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