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Easy Reads for Tough Times: Recommendations for When You Can’t Even

The pandemic has altered my reading tendencies. I’ve fallen deep into easy reads. When daily life feels heavy with upheaval, I need a book that entertains without asking too much of me. 


In reviewing the books I read in May, the books fell into one of two categories: easy and entertaining, or substantial and significant. 


Today I share with you 4 books in the first category. Some might scoff at these novels because they aren’t literary, but they suited me at this time. Rather than challenge or enlighten, these books serve to tell a story and to entertain.


Dead until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris


Having revisited Twilight last month, I read Dead Until Dark based on a friend’s recommendation to try a different vampire romance series. Dead Until Dark begins a southern vampire romance mystery series on which the show True Blood is based. 


Sookie Stackhouse, the leading lady, falls in love with a vampire named Bill at the same time as a series of murders threaten their town. While Sookie is caught up in her romance and becomes acquainted with the lifestyle of vampires, she finds that a gift of her own comes in handy to catch the murderer—unless the murderer gets to her first. 


This was utterly enjoyable. Yes, it was a bit formulaic, but I didn’t mind so long as I couldn’t solve the mystery in advance. On audiobook, narrator Johanna Parker does a lovely job, such that I hope to continue through the series in audiobook format. Also, in contrast to the Twilight series, this is no YA romance—I definitely blushed through scenes that made Twilight seem like child’s play. But to me, that was part of the fun. 


Deathless Divide (Dread Nation #2) by Justina Ireland


Deathless Divide was better than Dread Nation. First, Jane’s character growth makes her more likable here. In Dread Nation, the protagonist Jane irritated me. She took pride in making dangerous and foolish choices that perpetually led to trouble. In Deathless Divide, Jane no longer seems purely impulsive and foolhardy. She faces how her actions define her character, and she must decide who she wants to become. 


Second, Jane no longer narrates alone. Her friend Kate takes every other chapter to share the narration and balance Jane’s perspective. I like them together. Kate is both feminine and independent, but more importantly, she is loyal, a trait that catalyzes Jane’s personal growth. 


Last month, when I wrote that Dread Nation was bad like a Lifetime movie is bad, I admit I was a little harsh. Making that comparison diminished the potential of Ireland’s world she created, which is not merely zombie (or to use Ireland’s word, “shambler”)-ridden, but a world with strong Black women using their brains, cooperation, and skills to realize a better future that honors their full humanity. 


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman


The Bookish Life of Nina Hill is a lighthearted romance of the enemies-to-lovers trope. Nina, a bullet-journal obsessed bookworm meets Tom at a trivia night at a local bar. On an opposing team, Tom has knowledge for the topic in which Nina’s team is weak, sports, which takes his team to victory, much to Nina’s chagrin. Nina lives for reading, trivia, and her job at an independent bookstore. 


Then a lawyer shows up at her workplace to tell her of her father’s death and his will. Raised by a single mother and a nanny, Nina never knew her father growing up. Through his death she finds out about a huge family that she is now a part of and brings its own set of conflicts. Introverted Nina, who takes comfort in her schedule and daily goal-setting must learn how to let people into her life even if it throws off her plans. 


I always enjoy Abbi Waxman’s novels. They serve as excellent palette cleansers, figuratively speaking, after a deep literary novel or heavy memoir. Nevertheless, this book felt almost too superficial and generic. For example, Nina is shown to struggle with anxiety, which is predictable given she’s a controlling introvert who loves organization. It’s just not as interesting as I want it to be. I think it’s possible to create a light read whose characters are more complex than those here. In fact, I think Waxman does so in her previous novel, Other People’s Houses, which I also recommend.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan


Rachel Chu and Nick Young have been dating for two years in New York City where they both are professors at NYU. Nick invites Rachel home to Singapore for the summer to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. Rachel, who is Chinese-American, doesn’t realize until they are in Singapore that Nick and his family are rich—crazy rich—and that his best friend’s wedding is the social event of the season. Rachel is totally unprepared for Nick’s family, and they aren’t ready to welcome her, either. 


At first Kwan focuses on exposition, laying out the setting and characters with little plot. When creating images of opulence for the reader, Kwan knows no economy of language. It adds to the fun of the story to imagine all the decadence.  And pay attention to the details about the characters because it makes the rest of the story go smoothly to know them. If you have the hard copy, you’ll see a family tree at the beginning that comes in handy, but if you use the audiobook you’re on your own. 


If you can’t get enough of Crazy Rich Asians, take heart. China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems follow in the series, each more fun than the last. 


I hope you are finding joy in books no matter what is going on in the world. To all the readers out there, hang in there, and happy reading!


 
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