The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon
If I had rated this book when I first started it, or even halfway through, I would have given it an enthusiastic five stars. I was immediately engrossed in the story, the characters and the rich world that Chabon created and I would stop every so often to re-read and savor a particularly delicious sentence. When details of the central mystery started to become more clear, however, the book lost me a bit. I don't want to spoil anything, but the story took a mystical, religious turn that in the end was anti-climactic for me.
Speaking of the religious element, Chabon liberally uses Yiddish words throughout the book, so much so that I frequently became confused. It wasn't until I was nearly finished that I realized that he included a glossary in the back, which I recommend consulting as you read. Despite its faults, I still loved this book, and would defy you to find another author who can write a description of literally anything the way Chabon can.
My uncle sent me this book to prepare me for our upcoming Egypt trip (nothing is booked yet, but we've both been crazy about Egypt our whole lives, so we're making it happen in 2018). I've been obsessed with Egypt since I can remember—probably thanks to my history-loving uncle—but I'd never really read much outside of museum placards and those mostly sensational History channel "documentaries" about the "curse" of the Pharaohs.
The Rape of the Nile is a classic, and rightfully so—this edition has been updated since its original publication, but most of the history still holds up. It's a bit dry at times, and like any scientific or historical account, there are a lot of names, dates and facts to juggle, but overall this history of excavations and antiquity dealing in Egypt is a fascinating story. My uncle also recommended the BBC series, Egypt (currently on Netflix), and I watched it as I read which was helpful in bringing some of the characters to life—like the Great Belzoni, a former circus strongman!—and helped me make sense of the complicated timelines.
The Leavers: A Novel, by Lisa Ko
I would have never picked this book up on my own, but at the suggestion of my friend Lindsey, I put it on hold at the library without having any idea what it was about. After I'd already started it, I read the cover blurb and honestly didn't expect to love it as much as I did. The Leavers is about a mother and her son and follows them throughout different periods of their (often separate) lives.
Polly Guo is an illegal Chinese immigrant, and for a while she works in a nail salon while living with her son Deming in the Bronx. One day Polly disappears, and shortly after Deming is adopted by a white couple upstate. The book weaves together both of their stories, and takes you from the Bronx, to Chinatown, to upstate New York, to China and back again. I won't spoil a few of the major plot twists, but I will say that I learned a lot about the immigrant experience in this country about which I was unforgivably ignorant before picking up this book. Like I said, I didn't expect to be so absorbed in these character's lives, but The Leavers snuck up on me and I'm glad I didn't trust my instincts on this one.
The Curse of the Blue Figurine (Johnny Dixon), by John Bellairs
This was a dollar Strand find that I bought based entirely on the nostalgia I often feel for books I read as a kid. I would have devoured this book—and others by Bellairs—when I was younger, and although I didn't feel the need to immediately seek out others in the series like I did after finishing The Mysterious Benedict Society, I did enjoy this brief journey into the world of 13-year-old Johnny Dixon.
I started reading The Curse of the Blue Figurine right after finishing The Rape of the Nile because the titular blue figurine is an ancient Egyptian ushabti, funerary figurines that were thought to accompany the deceased to the after-life (spoiler alert: the one Johnny finds in the basement of a church is cursed—or is it?). This book, the first of twelve in the Johnny Dixon series, was written in 1984 but takes place in 1948. Even if the writing and story feel a bit quaint and a touch outdated today, it's always nice to read a book that reminds me of the joy that reading brought me as a kid.
All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love and Petty Theft, by Geraldine DeRuiter
I just recently discovered The Everywhereist, aka Geraldine DeRuiter, when Lindsey alerted me to her viral (and hilarious) Mario Batali cinnamon roll post. I quickly became enamored with her writing and reserved her recent "travel" memoir at the library. It was a super quick, funny and insightful read and I was reminded how much I love smart, snappy books like this. I'll always be interested in medical nonfiction and books about death and dying, but taking a break from my regularly scheduled programming to read a book like this feels like a breath of fresh air. DeRuiter is not an expert on anything, really (and doesn't claim to be), but I love books like this that allow me to step inside of another person's life for a few days—especially when it's one that's as funny, interesting and thoughtful as DeRuiter's.