What I Read in April 2023
April was a whirlwind of a month, just like March. I only sat down on the first of May to write this post but actually finishing in the first weekend of May–oops! Looking back at the below list, I liked all of the books I read in April! FYI because I was out of town and traveling most weekends, more than half of the were audiobooks.
THE UNFORTUNATES by J K Chukwu – 4 stars
This debut provides a unique experience. The Unfortunates is a story of Sahara, a sophomore at Elite university who is consumed by her depression, which she endearingly calls her “Life Partner.” The narrative is written in the form of “thesis” addressed to the university committee, which allows you to see and understand Sahara intimately. I was warned by my Internet friend Busy Black Bookworm that there are a lot of visual elements to this book, and I could tell while listening to the audiobook which sections were visually realized. I really liked it but I think I would’ve loved it more if I read the physical book.
THE KINGDOM OF PREP: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE RISE AND (NEAR) FALL OF J. CREW by Maggie Bullock – 4.5 stars
As someone whose wardrobe is mostly J. Crew,The Kingdom of Prep was such a fun and fascinating read! Maggie Bullock chronicles the history and evolution of the brand from its early formative years led by father-daughter team Arthur Cinader and Emily Woods to the new chapters led by Mickey Drexler and then Jena Lyons. I would say the more recent years are relatively glimpsed over which is a minor complaint. While it is heavily researched and almost a business case study, I couldn’t put down The Kingdom of Prep! If you have any interest in J. Crew or fashion industry at all, I suggest giving this a go. I read the physical book which includes some of the iconic images Maggie Bullock references throughout the book but I wish there had been more (perhaps it was due to copyright issues?)!
아버지의 해방일지 (Father’s Liberation Diary) by 정지아 – 4.5 stars
Of the books I read in Korean this year (reading more Korean books was one of my goals for the year/for life), 아버지의 해방일지 was the most challenging book for me, both due to some of the vocabulary and the heavy dialect a lot of the characters verse in. During the three-day funeral following her father’s death (which was absurd, almost comically but just sad really), the protagonist reflects on the lives of her communist parents–the decisions they made in their youth forever impacting their lives, the family and friends they lost literally and/or figuratively… Perhaps because it’s inspired by the author’s relationships with her own parents, 아버지의 해방일지 captures the complex and unexplainable feelings one has about parents (yes, I did cry). I have not seen an English translation yet but I would not be surprised to it come out in a year or so!
THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Tiffany D. Jackson – 4.5 stars
I’m pretty sure I learned about The Weight of Blood from a TikTok video, and I cannot believe I didn’t know about Tiffany D. Jackson until now!!! Madi Washington is a biracial girl who is raised by her white father in small town Georgia. She is forced to pass for white her entire life until her hair gets wet at school one day when her classmates become suspicious and start bullying her. After a video of popular kids bullying Madi goes viral and highlights how racist Springville is, a decision is made to desegregate high school prom for the first time in the hopes of damage control.
The Weight of Blood begins with the aftermath of prom night so you technically know what is going to happen but the anticipation doesn’t dissipate. The story unfolds with unexpected twists and solid character development, it kept me on the edge of my seat. The book alternates between the past and the present in the format of podcast episodes which worked well in my opinion. The audiobook is a whole production, complete with background music that adds to the suspense. The podcast elements are seamlessly worked into the audiobook and it’s simply fantastic!
P.S. Supposedly this is a retelling of Carrie by Stephen King (fun fact: I’ve never read Stephen King books…)?!
GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson – 4 stars
Because The Weight of Blood blew me away, I had to immediately read another book by Tiffany D. Jackson. Grown was a hard book to listen to because of the topic. Enchanted, an aspiring singer in her teens, is a fan of R&B artist Korey Fields with whom she becomes acquainted at an audition she goes to. Their friendship develops into something more than it should be as Korey promises Enchanted of turning her dream into reality and literally takes her away from her family by bringing her on his tour.
As with The Weight of Blood, Grown opens at the end, when Enchanted finds herself tired, full of sighs and “beet juice” all over the place. There are beet juice chapters scatted throughout that capture Enchanted’s confusion and panic. Tiffany D. Jackson brilliantly writes the subtle and gradual ways Korey brainwashes Enchanted and the all-consuming gaslighting later on in their “relationship.” Considering the heaviness and triggers of this book, it’s hard to consider it a YA in my opinion but it definitely has a message that will help young girls.
VERA WONG’S UNSOLICITED ADVICE FOR MURDERERS by Jesse Q. Sutanto – 4 stars
I read Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Dial A for Aunties a couple of years back and I must say love Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers even more (my minor pet peeve about the downplay of murder/death still stands but maybe less so). Vera Wong is a widow, mother (to a son who never calls but who ms he calls every day) and owner of a tea shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown (which approximately has one regular customer). Her world becomes more interesting when a dead man (later identified as Marshall Chen) is found inside her tea shop one day. Vera, skeptical of the police’s investigative efforts, decides to take on the task to find the killers herself. During the following days, she befriends the “murder suspects” who show up to her tea shop and are all related to Marshall Chen.
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers reminded me of Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People in the unexpected and heartwarming way strangers can become friends but with so much of Jesse Q. Sutanto’s own flavor that perhaps I shouldn’t even draw this comparison…? The narration for the audiobook really brings out the personalities of the characters so I recommend listening to this one!
AGE OF VICE by Deepti Kapoor – 3.5 stars
Age of Vice is engrossing (it is 500+ pages after all), and the characters Kappor created are mesmerizing. Kapoor takes turns immersing the reader with each of three main characters: a poor servant boy Ajay who ends up working for Sunny Wadia; Sunny, the youngest of the Wadia family with all the power and money; Sunny’s lover Neda who is a journalist of a privilege background. I find it challenging to categorize Age of Vice–it’s about money and power, crime and corruption, love and friendship and all the nuances and complexities. I do wish Kapoor was able to tie it all together better at the end. Age of Vice starts cohesive but falls apart towards the end. I really enjoyed reading Kapoor’s writing though and I’m sure I’ll read more from her.
THE BANNED BOOKSHOP OF MAGGIE BANKS by Shauna Robinson – 4 stars
Sometimes I do this thing where I add books to my TBR list solely based on the vibe of the book cover, and The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks may have been one of them. And like Lessons in Chemistry, I might’ve thought The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks was going to be more romance-heavy based on the cover. But The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is much more than a cute romance! It’s about figuring who you are in your late 20s and finding your community.
After years of working short-term gigs and living with her parents in California, Maggie temporarily moves to Bell River, Maryland to cover her bestie’s maternity leave at a local bookshop that only sells classics. In the next few months, Maggie secretly transforms the bookstore, develops new friendships, and may discover (or finally recognize) her passion. The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks is lighthearted with a little bit of drama and interesting premise, which is just what I needed! I did this one on audio and enjoyed it.