This month I set a goal to read 20 books. I did it. And now I’m ready to go take a nap.
Although I enjoyed my reading life this month, I didn’t read much that I’m shouting from the rooftops about aside from Lovely War. Also, my reading life was verrrry white this month, in large part because I read seven Nancy Drew books. I need to do better next month!
Lovely War by Julie Berry
Lovely War, a story within a story set during both World War I and World War II, is the love story of four mortals as told by four Greek gods and goddesses. It’s romantic historical fiction with a whimsical twist, equal parts heart-wrenching, inspiring, and funny. And I can’t say enough good things about this book. In fact, it pains me that I won’t be able to properly convey how I feel about Lovely War.
I felt every single emotion possible while reading this book. It is absolutely magical and like nothing else I’ve read before. I want it to be adapted as a movie or TV series. And at the same time I don’t want anyone to come near it and mess it up.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. But if you read it and don’t absolutely adore it, please don’t tell me.
The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
The Girl in White Gloves is a fictionalized biography of actress Grace Kelly. The book looks beyond the fairy tale story that most people think of when they think of Kelly and delves into the loneliness behind the headlines.
The book is very sweet and I enjoyed reading not only about Kelly herself but also about the golden age of Hollywood and the private lives of other movie stars of that era. You should read this if you’re a fan of Grace Kelly, if you enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo or if you just love historical fiction set in this era.
The Lion’s Den by Katherine St. John
The Lion’s Den is about Belle, a struggling actress whose best friend Summer invites her on the trip of a lifetime aboard her billionaire boyfriend’s yacht. But no one on board the yacht is who they seem to be, and things get scary, fast.
In this book the author gives you a Mediterranean vacation, a mystery, and a soap opera all in one. At times the book felt a little too ridiculous and melodramatic, but then I’d turn the page and there’d be a big twist that totally surprised me and won me over all over again. I love that about over-the-top reality TV, and I loved that about this book.
Not only were the characters delightfully unpredictable, but there were also a fair number of really likable characters! You don’t often get that in mysteries or stories about rich people behaving badly.
This is the perfect book for fans of Agatha Christie, Bravo TV, or The Young and the Restless. I can’t wait to see what Kat St. John writes next!
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan
Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan, the author of the Crazy Rich Asians series that I love so much, is a modern day retelling of A Room with a View. At the center of the book is Lucie, a wealthy young half-Chinese and half-American woman. The book picks up while she’s on vacation in Capri with her cousin, and then the story resumes several years later after she has graduated from college and is newly engage and living in New York City.
I really enjoyed this book and think most fans of Crazy Rich Asians will love it too, but it’s more of a distant cousin to the series and less of an extension of the Crazy Rich Asians universe and vibe. The feel of the book is much less exuberant and more restrained, which feels appropriate given its roots. In fact, it stays very true to the story and sentiment of A Room with a View.
My only small criticism is that I would have loved to see the character of George a little more fleshed out. Then again, it’s Lucie’s story, not his, so perhaps the mystery surround him was a deliberate choice by the author.
I’d recommend Sex and Vanity not only to readers who are already Kevin Kwan fans but also to those who never really connected with the over-the-top satire of Crazy Rich Asians.
The Switch by Beth O’Leary
The Switch is the story of Leena, a young woman living in London who’s burned out and struggling with severe anxiety after the death of her sister, and her grandmother Eileen. Eileen in 79, newly single, and a little bored with her life in the English countryside. Leena and Eileen decided to switch lives and homes for two months (à la the movie The Holiday) to see if they’ll benefit from a change of scenery.
Although the plot felt a little slow in the first third, it soon picked up. The themes explored in the book were fare more serious than the description suggests – grief, anxiety, abuse, etc – but they were handled very well and the book still didn’t feel too heavy. I loved all the characters, from Leena and Eileen, to their wacky neighbors, to the men in their lives. I felt like I knew them all.
This is the rare book that I think will be enjoyed by both those who like character-driven stories and those who prefer a focus on plot. And because it has some serious plot points in it, I think even non-romance readers would enjoy it.
Note: Thank you to Macmillan Audio, Libro.fm, and NetGalley for sharing an audiobook listening copy with me!
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert
The Voting Booth is about teenagers Marva and Duke who meet while voting in their first election. Duke runs into a problem while trying to cast his ballot so Marva decides to skip school and spend the day trying to help Duke vote.
This was our August #BookTheVote buddy read and I really enjoyed it! Marva and Duke are super relatable and although the book is an easy read, the author does a great job of exploring each characters’ motivations. The Voting Booth expertly covers issues of race, civic engagement, and family relationships in a way that is easily digestible for adults and kids alike.
The author is not specific about what year the story is set, what kind of election Duke and Marva are voting in, or even what party they support, so the focus really remains on the act of voting itself, ensuring that The Voting Booth will be a relevant read for years to come.
I’d recommend this book to adults who are passionate about civil rights, parents trying to figure out how to talk to their kids about voting, young adults, and those who love YA fiction.
American Royals by Katharine McGee
American Royals takes place in a world where George Washington became King after he lead America to victory in the Revolutionary War and the country has been ruled by monarchs ever since. The main characters are Princess Beatrice, soon to be the first Queen of America, her younger sister the rebellious Princess Samantha, Samantha’s best friend Nina, and Nina and Samantha’s former classmate Daphne.
Y’all know I’m a HUGE Katharine McGee fan, and I love all things royal, so I expected to be obsessed with this book. But it just fell a little short for me! It felt much more juvenile than I was expecting (while it is billed as YA, I hadn’t seen this tone flagged in any reviews by adult readers so I was caught by surprise) and I wished all the characters were more fully developed, especially Beatrice. And I guess I would have enjoyed hearing the perspective of some of the male characters as well. As it is they felt more like paper dolls than real people.
Nevertheless, I’m so excited to read the sequel Majesty just as soon as my copy arrives in the mail!
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
The Worst Best Man is a rom-com set in Washington, DC about Lina, a wedding planner who is forced to collaborate with her ex-fiancé’s brother Max as she tries to land a new job.
I liked the general premise but found the plot line about the two of them being thrown together as part of a month long job application to be too contrived. And this is billed as an enemies-to-lovers story but Lina and Max never seemed like real enemies, just people who needed to talk through a misunderstanding. Also, while I understand why Lina was closed off, I found that made it hard to feel like I knew her or cared too much about her. And fair warning, this book is steeeeeeamy. A little too steamy for my taste.
That said, I still liked this book and would definitely recommend it to fans of romance, specifically to anyone who loves Jasmine Guillory’s writing.
Strike Me Down by Mindy Mejia
Strike Me Down is a thriller about a forensic accountant, a fitness empire, and an embezzlement investigation. It was extremely unusual which I liked – neither the plot nor the characters reminded me of anything I’d read before. However I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and found the ending difficult to keep up with. That said, if you’ve grown tired of thrillers and mysteries that all seem very similar, I’d still recommend this book to you.
The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian world in which women are no longer allowed to read or have access to money, fertility rates are at an all time low, and fertile women, handmaids, are enslaved to couples who can’t conceive.
Before reading this book I’d never seen any of the TV adaptation or read much about the plot so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I picked it up. In hindsight, this was the wrong year to read this book. At at time when our democracy is so fragile, the postal service is on the verge of collapse, and protestors are being tear gassed in front of the White House, this book felt way too real.
Aside from that, the world Atwood built was so specific that I found it hard to picture, and I was confused by the way the timeline jumped around. Nothing about the plot or writing helped me to connect with any of the characters in the book. To be fair, I might have appreciated it more had I read it at a different time. It’s obviously a classic for a reason.
Not Like the Movies by Kerry Winfrey
Not Like the Movies is the sequel to Waiting for Tom Hanks, although you don’t have to have read Waiting for Tom Hanks to understand Not Like the Movies. The book, trying desperately to appeal to Gilmore Girls fans, focuses on Chloe, a young woman who serves as the sole caregiver for her father with Alzheimer’s, and her relationship with her boss, Nick. Chloe’s best friend Annie has just made a movie of Chloe’s relationship with Nick and while America is dead set on a happy ending for Chloe and Nick, Chloe isn’t so sure what she wants.
I can’t come up with anything that I liked about this book. No attempts have been made to flesh out the character of Nick. He is Luke from Gilmore Girls plain and simple. Chloe is a whiny pain in the ass. The writing is lazy. Skip this book and go watch Gilmore Girls instead.
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene
This is going to sound bizarre, but I also read seven Nancy Drew books. Yes, the classic children’s book series. I joined a group that is reading one book a month throughout the year, but since I joined late I had to catch up by reading all the one’s they’ve read so far. I won’t share reviews of individual books but I’ll say that reading them was just the fun that I needed this month.
So Here’s the Thing by Alyssa Mastromonaco
So Here’s the Thing is an essay collection by Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff in the Obama administration. It has everything from tough love advice to humorous anecdotes about famous people, and everything in between. So many similar books feel disjointed and half-assed, but neither this one nor her first book, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea (review here), fall into that category.
It’s specific enough that women in politics will feel like it’s written for them, but broad enough that you can enjoy it even if you had no idea who Mastromonaco was prior to reading the book.
I especially enjoyed the little lists that rounded out sections of the book like ‘Things You Should Never Say to or Around Your Boss’ and ‘Seven Things That Are Always In My Suitcase’. The interviews with friends and former colleagues like Amb. Susan Rice and Dan Pfeiffer were fun as well.
My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
My Own Words is a collection of speeches and writings from legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I read it this month in honor of the 27th anniversary of her swearing in to the court. The book contains some elements of biography and covers aspects of her personal life, but on the whole it is much wonkier than I was prepared for. Several sections went straight over my head and I didn’t find it to be an easy read.
However, I will never turn down a chance to read about Justice Ginsburg’s relationship with her late husband Marty, and I also enjoyed reading about her as a child and young woman. And I’ve never read so clear a description of how the Supreme Court works, how the Justices spend their time, as is written here.
While I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to casual RBG enthusiasts, readers shouldn’t be afraid to skim the book and focus on the parts that appeal to them.
And now it’s on to September! Among other things I’ll be reading three books for #BookTheVote buddy reads next month – Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden, The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris, and Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch. Sign up here if you’d like to join the fun!