By Linda Nguyen
We regret to inform you that your free trial of Earth is expiring in seven days. Maybe. Wait, that was a book synopsis, not my script. Ahem.
With the days getting longer and local libraries opening up, the idea of relaxing on a sunny day with a good novel is starting to look more appealing. Imagine if you will.
Your back is against a tree while you sit in the grass. The soft wind makes little waves in the lake in front of you. Small rays of light peak through the leaves. Occasionally you hear quacking and chirping. Doesn’t that sound nice? Killing two birds with one stone: Vitamin D deficiency in the Pacific Northwest and quarantine fatigue.
But then that leaves the question, what book are you—curling up next to the water and basking in the sunlight—reading? I have five recommendations from a variety of genres that might fit the bill.
It Sounded Better In My Head
Starting with a romance. Set in Melbourne, Australia during the present day, “It Sounded Better in my Head” begins with a peaceful divorce between the main character Natalie’s parents. Only, she can’t wrap her head around how that’s possible and what that means for her future. Natalie seeks guidance from her two best friends Zack and Lucy when in pops Alex—Zach’s older brother—and his friends. Hop skip and a jump later, she’s going to a party with them. A party where she realizes there’s more to someone she thought she knew.
It’s the last year before Natalie, Zach, and Lucy head to university, and most of the conflict comes from Natalie’s insecurities: Her acne scars and the fact that she’s a third wheel to Lucy and Zack among others. It really sounds like you’re in her mind with all the overthinking, and tangents she goes one; I found myself relating to her more than I thought. Overall, it’s 260 pages and a nice light read. Here’s a peak at the first page; I’ll be reading excerpts from all the books on this list.
Chapter one: There’s no one to blame here.
It’s Christmas Day, we’ve just finished playing our annual post-lunch game of Scrabble (bonus points if you play a word with a Christmas theme), and Dad says we need to talk. He’s using his Bad News voice, and I figure he’s either going to give me another lecture about getting my driver’s license or tell me he’s reactivated his Twitter account.
“Natalie, this is really hard to tell you, but we are, uh, we’re separating,” he says.
“Your mother and I.”
“Separating.” The word feels strange and heavy in my mouth.
“Breaking up,” Dad says, because he can never resist hammering a point home once he’s made it because I can never resist hammering a point home once he’s made it. Mum walks in the kitchen then, eating an apple. She vowed fruit would be her only dessert at Christmas this year because she wanted to lose two kilos before January, which makes more sense now that I know she is prepping for single life.
“You’re breaking up?” My tone is friendly, giving them the space to say, Just kidding! In case it’s an elaborate prank, even though we are not a household that is open to pranks of any kind most especially unfunny, emotionally scarring ones like this.
Mum looks startled at my question, and spends a long time chewing every last bit of her mouthful of apple before speaking.
No, they’re not breaking up, [present tense, verb. They have Broken Up. Past tense, capital letters. This isn’t new information. I mean, it’s new to me, but they’ve known for ages. Ten months, to be exact.
I Hope You Get This Message
We regret to inform you that your free trial of Earth is expiring in seven days. Actually this time.
“I Hope You Get This Message” is an Apocalyptic Fiction set in modern Southwest America. A message light years away from a planet called Alma notfies Earth that they are its creators, and that they’re going to terminate all human life on it in a week. Chaos and panic ensues, but when three teenagers—Jesse Hewitt, Cate Collins, and Adeem Khan—cross paths at the end of the world, it might be the chance for them to set things right before it’s all gone(?)
The diversity in this book is casual. A couple characters are LGBT+, one has schizophrenia, and one of the protaginsts is Muslim. Since the world is possibly ending, there isn’t time to flesh out most of these traits, but I was fine with that; it’s a part of these characters, but not their defining characteristic.
I had an issue with the ending, but if you read this for the journey rather than the destination, you’ll enjoy it. I thought it would be more sci-fi—despite the book description emphasizing relationships. Rather, hope is the focus of this story, which I think is fitting considering the pantographic we’re in. Here’s the first page of “I Hope You Get This Message.”
The Official Records of the Interplanetary Affairs Committee
Trial: Termination of Project Epoch
Duration: Eight days
Annunciation and Roll Call: The Interplanetary Affairs Committee (IAC) designated this unit, Unit 212-G, to take these minutes as official record.
13 Scions—randomly selected citizens of Alma—compose the grand jury. The trial will be overseen by an Arbiter chosen by the IAC. Their task is to determine the fate of Project Epoch, a long-standing experiment to test the sustainability of life on another planet, which according to the results of Public Referendum 5571a, is now for review and potential termination. For the purposes of anonymity, the names of the 13 Scions will be omitted from these records.
The Joy Luck Club
This next one was highly recommended by my Asian-American friends. “The Joy Luck Club” is about four Chinese mothers and their daughters. It’s set in San Francisco and starts with one of the daughters, June, saying her mom died two months ago. The literal Joy Luck Club was formed by June’s mother and three other women shortly before their daughters were born, now June has to replace her mother. They play mahjong, eat dinner, gossip, and invest in the stock market. But before June even has a chance to pretend things are normal, one of her Aunties reveals something shocking. June knew she had twin half-sisters that were abandoned in Kweilin during WW2, and now she was being told they were alive. Her Aunties insist that June visit them, and tell them about their mother. June figures there is a deeper meaning to this request, and vaguely says yes. Granted, June isn’t the only main character. There are three other mother-daughter duos that the book talks about. But you’ll have to read it on your own to find out. Here is the prologue called Feathers From A Thousand Li Away—a short story about hope that sets the theme of the book.
The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look!–it is too beautiful to eat.
Then the woman and the swan sailed across an ocean many thousands of li wide, stretching their necks towards America. On her journey she cooed to the swan: “In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband‘s belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English. And over there she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning, because I will give her this swan—a creature that became more than what was hoped for.“
But when she arrived in the new country, the immigration officials pulled her swan away from her, leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for a memory. And then she had to fill out so many forms she forgot why she had come and what she had left behind.
Now the woman was old. And she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow. For a long time now the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, “This feather may look worthless, but it comes from a far and carries with it all my good intentions.“ And she waited, year after year, for the day she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English.
All The Light We Cannot See
Jumping back in time to WW2, “All The Light We Cannot See” is about the crossing paths of a blind French girl and a Hitler Youth boy. Marie-Laure and Werner start by describing the bombing. She hears the bombers getting closer to her great-uncle’s tall house by the sea—where she and her Papa had to flee from Paris—and she ends up hiding under her bed while clutching some piece of paper that was stuck in the window and a model replica of the city. Werner however, is in the middle of a hotel fortress and has to see the chaos around him.
As he makes his way into a cellar, he thinks about his family back home. It’s hard to hear anything over the bombs, but then, it’s done, and the light in Werner’s cellar goes out.
The part I was most excited to read was why that model replica was so important to Mary-Laure and such a “dangerous jewel.” The book is 530 pages so it’s definitely something you can pass an entire day with; just make sure you have tissues nearby. Here’s the first chapter:
(Chapter) Zero: 7 August 1944
At dusk they pour from the sky. They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses. Entire streets swirl with them, flashing white against the cobbles. Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, they say. Depart immediately to open country.
The tide climbs. The moon hangs small and yellow and gibbous. On the rooftops of beachfront hotels to the east, and in the gardens behind them, a half-dozen American artillery units drop down incendiary rounds into the mouths of mortars.
Where The Crawdads Sing
Our final story takes us to the marshes of North Carolina, where a murder mystery is unfolding. “Where The Crawdads Sing” follows the “Marsh Girl” Kya, who is suspected of murder after the body of a boy is found in the marsh. We learn early on that Kya had to grow up fast since her mother and siblings left her. Pretty lonely, which probably makes the “two young men from town becoming intrigued by her beauty” easier. We alternate between two time periods, the 50s when Kya is young and the 60s when the police investigation is ongoing. Sadly I spoiled the ending for myself. The killer i- Just kidding. Scary book, had to match the mood. Here’s the prologue.
Part 1: The Marsh
Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-movin creeks wander carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace—as though not built to fly—against the roar of a thousand snow geese.
Then within the marsh, here and there, true swamp crawls into low-lying bogs, hidden in clammy forests. Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light in it’s muddy throat. Even night crawlers are diurnal in this lair. There are sounds, of course, but compared to the marsh, the swamp is quiet because decomposition is cellular work. Life decays and reeks and returns to the rotted duff; a poignant wallow of death begetting life.
On the morning of October 30, 1969, the body of Chase Andrews lay in the swamp, which would have absorbed it silently, routinely. Hiding it for good. A swamp knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as a tragedy, certainly not a sin. But this morning two boys from the village rode their bikes out to the old fire tower and, from the third switchback, spotted his denim jacket.
There you have it folks! I hope something on this list sounded interesting or at the very least, that you can go enjoy the sun. All of these books can be found at our local libraries and I’ve included their websites down in the description; they deserve much more love, so go and check them out! If you’d like to see more Summer time passers, click on the top link down below. My video is just one part of The Pioneer and Post’s multimedia projects. Thank you all for watching, and have a great day!
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