April Round-Up Part II
I’ve been pretty good at keeping up with reviews as I finish books, at least during this second half of the cruelest month (which has actually been pretty lovely to me book-wise). Still, there are a few reads that I either didn’t get a chance to review or just didn’t feel passionately enough about to think that a full post was warranted. You should be able to tell by my ratings which books belong to which of these categories.
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale: I picked this one up off the library shelf sort of at random one morosely rainy day, and so I must give credit to whatever morose-rainy-day sixth sense drew my fingers to this book because it was a fantastic read. In certain moods, I love true crime, but I often feel that book-length studies of one particular crime or criminal tend to drag on, suffering a dearth of material which is repeated too often to meet some arbitrary page quota. Not so of The Wicked Boy. Summerscale did her research, about the crime (a young boy killed his mother and then he and his younger brother left her body in her bed to rot for days while they used the family savings to gallivant about at cricket matches and such) but also about Victoriana generally. Everything from the particulars of Victorian currency to circulating theories of child development is explained in a clear and wonderfully interesting manner, and Summerscale manages to make all the principle characters of this murder investigation sympathetic, even the murderer himself. 4.5/5.
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson: This book is about a troubled psychologist named Preston Grind who teams up with an elderly businesswoman turned philanthropist to perform a grand scale social experiment which they called the Infinite Family project. Ten families with newborn babies are selected to come live in what is essentially a compound; in exchange for agreeing to co-parent all ten children for ten years, the parents are provided with whatever resources they want or need to better themselves. The focus of the novel shifts between Dr. Grind, who I thought was the most interesting character, and a young woman named Izzy, the project’s only single mother. We follow them through the duration of the project, which hits the sorts of bumps in the road one would expect such a project to hit, and their stories are, by turns, amusing, frustrating, touching, and heart-warming.
And yet, and yet…the book still left me, overall, feeling cold. Probably I’m not really the best reader for this book given my rather limited interest in children and narratives about parenting. But I tend to glom on to anything that even hints of cultishness, so this book should have gripped me more, I think. Part of the problem was that the book has an enormous cast of characters, but most of them are more or less indistinguishable from one another. Those who do stand out do so only by virtue of their relations to Izzy (one is her best friend, one is the guy she kisses during a freak incident of spin the bottle, etc.). Also, Izzy herself seemed only two-dimensional at best: the premise of the book is that something revolutionary is happening, but she doesn’t seem to change. I think this book could potentially be very interesting if read and discussed within a particular context (i.e. as part of a larger discussion on the sociology of parenting), but as a stand-alone read, it left me a bit disappointed. 3.5/5.
American War by Omar El Akkad: I’m finishing up a longer review of this book that I’ll post in the next day or so, so I won’t say much about it now other than I loved it. This is one of the best dystopian novels I’ve read in a very long time, and, though it shook me to my core and left me nightmare-ridden for days, I would absolutely recommend this to anyone and everyone. There’s something here for almost every kind of serious reader, and while it’s incredibly haunting, all of that darkness serves a purpose and results in a very rewarding experience all around. 4.5/5.
So, that’s my April reading all wrapped up nicely! I finished twelve books this month (many of which were library books or Kindle reads which is why they aren’t pictured above in case that discrepancy was going to eat at you), and I struck a nice balance between light and heavy in my reading, so I’m pleased about that. I’m also super pleased with how well I kept up with blogging about it all, so a nice pat on the back to me there. I must admit that I did buy an embarrassing number of books this month, too many to even tell you all about because it’s too shameful (suffice to say that I discovered Book Outlet this month and I went to my local library book sale on dollar bag day). But I need to keep up this rapid reading pace to have any hope of finishing them all this year, so there’s a vague and unattainable challenge set for myself. Wish me luck!