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Vacation Reading: Four Mini-Reviews

vacation reading

Well, I am home. After three weeks traveling abroad – London, Bath, Athens and Poros, then back to the United States – I arrived back at home on Sunday evening. I took a final vacation day on Monday to try and get a little bit settled, but I didn’t get much done – I’m still feeling the effects of jet lag and my post-vacation blues.

I have so many thoughts on the trip and some of the amazing things my sister and I got to see, but for now I wanted to share some quick reviews of the four books I managed to finish while I was away – all excellent in their own ways.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Beautiful Ruins was the first book I actually finished on the trip and wow, was it basically perfect for vacation reading – readable prose, distinctive characters, and enough mystery to keep the pages turning amidst the distractions of travel. There’s some comedy in the book – especially Walter’s critique of Hollywood culture – but also a ton of heart. I totally loved it and I hope Jess Walters has more like this that I can read.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels – four books exploring the coming of age of two young women in mid-century Naples – have been getting a lot of attention. My Brilliant Friend is the first of the quartet, introducing readers to mysterious Lila and bookish Elena, as young women in a small town in Italy. I thought this story was so engaging, and a wonderful look at two girls pushing back against the expectations set for them by their families and communities. I’m looking forward to seeing where their stories go next.

Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman

Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies by Hadley Freeman is one of the books I purchased on my trip, a staff recommendation at Foyles. Freeman is a columnist for the Guardian who writes about fashion and pop culture. Be Awesome reminded me a lot of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, in the way that each essay gives serious consideration both “high” and “low” culture and offers an unapologetic celebration of feminism. I want to consume every book and movie that Freeman recommends – I’ve got a big list to get through.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is the first book in a trilogy following the life and career of Thomas Cromwell, an ambitious lawyer and statesman who served King Henry VIII. I’ve had a bit of a Tudor kick this year, so this was high on my list of books to read. Despite my excitement, Wolf Hall isn’t really a vacation read – the style definitely demands attention that, for a lot of the trip, I couldn’t give it – but the book ended up working for me for a couple of reasons. First, since I binge-watched The Tudors earlier this year I came to the book with a decent sense of the Henry VII timeline and players, meaning I could fill in details I missed in the book. And second, since I was visiting locations in the book I had some extra motivation to push through some of the dense sections. It may not have been an ideal choice, but I definitely enjoyed it enough to grab the second in the trilogy, Bringing Up the Bodies.

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  • bermudaonion (Kathy) September 15, 2015, 7:42 am

    I can’t wait to hear more about your trip! I’ve had Beautiful Ruins for a while and look forward to it. I know Wolf Hall is not for me.

  • Kay September 15, 2015, 8:40 am

    Welcome back! Love the picture! Looking so relaxed. I want to read My Brilliant Friend and see if this quartet of books works as well for me as others.

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:27 am

      My sister took that one about an hour after we arrived on the island and sent it to my mom with the text message, “Kim is in her happy place.” Totally true.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey September 15, 2015, 2:01 pm

    I really enjoyed Beautiful Ruins too! And I can see it being perfect for the setting. It looks gorgeous in your picture!

  • Sarah's Book Shelves September 15, 2015, 7:14 pm

    Glad you had a fabulous vacation! And you’ve got me curious in Beautiful Ruins! I tried Wolf Hall awhile back and agree that it’s definitely not a vacation read. I actually DNF’d it around 300 pages in.

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:28 am

      Beautiful Ruins was a total delight. I wasn’t sure what to expect with it, just that the setting screamed “vacation!” to me, but totally fell in love.

  • tanya (52 books or bust) September 16, 2015, 3:11 am

    I’ve done quite a few Tudor binges in my time, and yet i can never seem to make it through Wolf Hall. I’ve heard that after about the first 150 pages it picks up, but I’ve never gotten that far. A vacation read it is not!

  • Susan September 16, 2015, 3:28 pm

    Welcome back. Where is the photo taken of ? — wonderful. I’m a bit interested in checking out the Ferrante books. And no Hilary Mantel’s books are not vacation reads. I read her Bring Up the Bodies but it wasn’t totally easy. Still I’m glad I got to it. But Wolf Hall, no.

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:29 am

      The photo was taken on Poros, a Greek island near Hydra (about an hour by ferry from the main port near Athens). It was just the most perfect place I’ve ever been.

  • Justice @ manuscripts & marginalia September 16, 2015, 11:21 pm

    So glad you enjoyed your trip! I’m taking Wolf Hall with me and I can’t wait to pick up Be Awesome!

  • Beth F September 17, 2015, 7:15 am

    Welcome back!! The middle two books looks super!

  • Jenny @ Reading the End September 17, 2015, 8:39 am

    Mmmmmmmmm, yeah, I’ve been very unmotivated to read Wolf Hall, and that situation has been ongoing for several years now. I bought a copy of Bringing Up the Bodies at a book sale because that one I genuinely DO want to read, and I was hoping that if I had it on my bookshelves, it would make me read Wolf Hall. So far, um, that hasn’t worked. :p

    Can’t wait to hear more about your fabulous trip!!

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:31 am

      The whole plot of Wolf Hall is sort of the boring stuff about Henry VII before everything goes to hell with Anne Boelyn. And because it focuses on Thomas Cromwell, you miss some of the juiciest Anne/Henry VII stuff that you get in other approaches. So, it’s kind of dense… but I don’t know. I just sort of decided I’d finish it and then did? It’s kind of a slog in parts though.

  • Jennine G. September 17, 2015, 10:46 am

    Nice! I long for the vacation where I’m away long enough and with down time to read a set of books. My day is coming! Glad it was a great vacation for you.

  • Julie @ Smiling Shelves September 17, 2015, 7:57 pm

    Four books is an impressive amount to get through on a busy vacation! So glad you had such a great time. I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Elena Ferrante’s books. Those just may make it onto my TBR list in the very near future…

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:32 am

      I read most of them after we left London and were traveling to Greece/sitting on a beach in Greece. It was sort of a binge of books in about five days, with little or no reading happening the rest of the trip!

  • Shaina September 18, 2015, 4:32 pm

    Ooh, lucky you that so many of the books you brought ended up being good vacation reads! I’m very excited to hear more about your travels.

  • Melissa F. September 19, 2015, 9:03 pm

    Love Jess Walters! If you haven’t already, read The Financial Lives of the Poets as well as his short story collection We Live In Water. They’re different than Beautiful Ruins, but equally fantastic. He’s incredibly talented.

    • Kim September 20, 2015, 11:33 am

      Jess Walter is definitely on my list of authors to look for now, thanks for the recommendations!