Vacation Reads 2017: The good, the bad, the DNF, and more

Ah, vacation reading. So many decisions.

  • Light reads or heavy reads?
  • Which physical books to pack?
  • Which to download on your ereader?
  • Which books can you stand to read to your children a million times over the next week?
  • What book will soothe your frazzled nerves when Air Canada announces that your connecting flight to Saint John, New Brunswick has been cancelled and you are stuck in Toronto for two and a half days, and PS, so are thousands of other people from dozens of other flights, so good luck getting a hotel and PPS, despite widespread reports of labour shortages at Pearson airport, the cancellations are due to “weather” so they’re not even compensating you?

*deep breath*

Here’s what I’ve read over the past two weeks, in Toronto, Moncton, Saint John, and Edmonton.

The Good


I read China Rich Girlfriend on the way home, and it was just what I needed after a whirlwind trip. I liked this second book in the Crazy Rich Asians series even better than the first. Both books are hilarious and over the top, but the first dragged under the weight of its super bland protagonists Nick and Rachel. The second books gets it right: they’re a framing device, a way in for plebs like you and me, NOT the focal point.

I share Roxanne Gay’s wish, expressed in her Goodreads review, that Kwan were a little more ambitious with these books. There’s so much good material, but he’s a lazy writer. He brings in an “etiquette coach” rather than just show us the subtleties of social stratification among the 1%. A few chapters are presented as Rachel’s diary entries, but are written in the exact same voice and tone as the rest of the book, complete with fully quoted dialogue.

That said, I delighted in that etiquette coach’s reading list for rising socialite Kitty Poong. The Franzen book, crossed out, had me howling. Is anyone doing this as a reading challenge?

The Bad


I’m Thinking of Ending Things was about as hyped as a book by a midlist Canadian author can be, which is to say it got several good reviews and was recommended highly by several bloggers I trust. But my trust is wavering, you guys. This book was a pile of poop. Unfortunately, I was reading it on my ill-fated voyage to Toronto, and finished it towards the end of my second day stranded there. Upon reading the last page, I made such a sour face that I had to commemorate it, lack of makeup and harsh Pearson Airport lighting be damned.

The best thing I can say about this book is that a couple scenes in the middle were very evocative of an acid trip that’s turning from good to bad – Reid’s got that off-kilter, vaguely menacing, kinda nauseated vibe down pat. However, like dreams, one’s acid trips are not interesting to anyone but one’s self.

And the gimmicky, chopping, repetitious writing at the end? And the end itself? UGH. The worst.



Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler is the second in a series. I really liked the first, Dawn, which I tried upon hearing it described as “horny tentacled aliens who like to have threesomes with humans” on Literary Disco. They weren’t wrong, but it’s not what you think! The first book’s premise, an alien race saving humanity after we nearly annihilated ourselves in a nuclear war, is so good that it’s easy to overlook some of its shortcomings, but the magic is gone in the second book. I didn’t give a shit about any of the characters, nor could I tell many of them apart.

The Fantastic

desperate characters

Desperate Characters could easily have disappointed under the weight of my expectations:

  • It’s been personally recommended to me a few times
  • It’s the topic of a recent Backlisted podcast
  • It’s blurbed by Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace
  • The 1999 printing is introduced by Franzen
  • Author Paula Fox, who passed away this year, is Courtney Love’s grandmother

But it didn’t. It is fucking fantastic. There’s a passage in the middle that I want to quote to you so badly, but won’t because I don’t want to take away the pleasure of reading it in its proper place. And if you’re a Franzen fan, you really must read it. Freedom makes so much more sense now.

The Resting Smirk Face

I was (eventually) in Saint John for a wedding. Both my parents were born there, and lots of my family still lives there, so I’m a frequent visitor. If you know anything about Saint John, and let’s face it, you probably don’t, you might think of Loyalists*, the reversing falls, the Bay of Fundy and its crazy high tides, or maybe Moosehead beer. But for the past six years, Saint John has been notorious for the murder of prominent local business man (and member of that Moosehead family) Richard Oland. His son, noted for his resting smug smirking face, Dennis Oland, was convicted a couple years ago in a sensational trial, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. My mom dropped off her copy of this book a couple days ago and texts me daily to see how far I am so we can discuss. I don’t usually read true crime, but with this case going back to court soon, and with the action taking place on streets I’ve recently walked down, I couldn’t resist. I’m about halfway through.

And War and Peace, Duh

Yep, I dragged all 1200+ pages across the country and back. Worth it.

*please click through if you’re nostalgic for the internet of the late 90s. Wow.






  1. Rebecca Foster

    I read Kevin Kwan’s first book but couldn’t be bothered to pick up the second. But now that you tell me it’s actually better…

    I love that random fact that Paula Fox is Courtney Love’s grandmother!

  2. chiggins82

    I’ve tried to get China rich girlfriend but it’s not at the library. Good to know it was a decent read. I liked the first one and if I ever get through w&p I’m going to need something light!!

    • lauratfrey

      It’s nice to read a long with War and Peace. A lot of the inanity of Crazy Rich Asians is because they don’t have a war (or cultural revolution) to contend with, I think!

  3. annelogan17

    LOLZ your face at the airport!!! I fear I may have been one of the bloggers who led you astray with Ian Reid’s latest, I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but it’s ok for us book geniuses to not always agree haha

    Glad Kevin Kwan’s second was worthwhile, I may pick it up one day…

  4. Naomi

    Haha… “pile of poop” is what my son says about everything. I love your sour face!
    Well, I’m glad one of your books was fantastic. Now I’m curious what you think of the Dennis Oland book. I have to admit I haven’t been very interested in it – I feel like I’ve already heard enough on the radio over the years. But I bet the case is actually interesting to read about.
    I didn’t know *both* your parents are from St. John. My mother-in-law is from there.

  5. Pingback: The Superfluous Brothers Karamazov Read-Along Part 3: Father Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est? | Reading in Bed

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