Summer may just be beginning but, thanks to five days in the Dominican Republic, I’ve already read so many things on my summer reading list! My vision for the vacation was just to sit around and read fun books and drink fruity drinks while wearing cute outfits. And that is precisely what I did. If you’ve never taken a solo trip like that I highly recommend it!
One big update in my reading life is that I got a Kindle! I love to read outside and so have been very intrigued for a while by the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s lightweight, waterproof, and allows you to read in the sun with no glare or in the dark. Sounds too good to be true, right? Wrong. It also syncs with libraries and NetGalley which was the real selling point for me. And of course you can also easily purchase eBooks from the Kindle store.
Even though I’m no stranger to eBooks (I used to have a Barnes & Noble eReader and for the past few years have just read eBooks on my iPad and phone), I have found myself reading so much more with the Kindle Paperwhite. I cannot emphasize enough how small and lightweight it is – it’s small enough to fit in a pocket! Yet somehow the model that only has 8 GB of storage can still fit thousands of books on it. And a charge on the Kindle Paperwhite lasts so long that even when I’m using it a lot I only have to charge it every couple of weeks. Seriously.
Anyway, I don’t mean to sound like a walking infomercial but I did want to share a little bit about my experience with my Kindle so far in case you’ve been on the fence about getting one. Since it’s waterproof and glare proof it’s really the perfect tool for summer reading. Now without further ado, here are the 20 books (!!!) that I read in May!
It Had to Be You by Georgia Clark
If you love Love Actually, Gilmore Girls, and The Wedding Planner then It Had to Be You should be at top of your beach reading list this summer. Liv Goldenhorn owns a wedding-planning business with her husband Eliot. Their life together isn’t perfect but it’s steady. Until Eliot dies and leaves his half of the business to Savannah, a young woman he was having an affair with. Savannah and Liv overcome their differences to work together and the book chronicles the two of them and several of their employees all searching for love.
All of the storylines weave together nicely. I liked that it’s more of a rom-com and less of a hot and heavy romance novel. My one criticism is that I don’t know that any of these characters will stick with me long-term. Regardless, it’s the first thing I’d recommend right now to anyone looking for a classic beach read.
Note: Thank you to Atria Books who sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Klara and the Sun by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro is about Klara, a kind and observant Artificial Friend, and the relationships she develops with the family who adopts her. It’s hard to describe more of the plot without providing spoilers.
I don’t normally gravitate towards literary fiction but I found this book to be incredibly captivating. As with Never Let Me Go, the story is a real slow burn dystopian meditation that quietly explodes halfway through the book. The book is short and I tore though it quickly. However, it does give readers so much to think about that it may be more enjoyable if read at a slower pace. I had so many questions, both specific and existential, when I finished the book. If you’re an Ishiguro fan or have a high tolerance for ambiguity then you’ll love this book!
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
The Maidens is the second book by Alex Michaelides, author of bestseller The Silent Patient. A mystery set at Cambridge University, The Maidens follows a newly widowed therapist, Mariana Andros, as she investigates the murders of her niece’s friends who were all members of a secret society.
While the premise of the book has potential, the execution did not work for me. It felt flat and joyless and all over the place. I didn’t understand the ending at all and the climax seemed unearned. I’ll offer a caveat, though – I didn’t really enjoy The Silent Patient either and I was definitely in the minority there. So it’s possible that this book will still be a big hit for fans of thrillers.
Note: Thank you to Celadon Books who sent me an Advanced Review Copy of the book in exchange for a fair review. The Maidens will be published on June 15th, 2021.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I chose The Last Thing He Told Me as my May Book of the Month pick after my friend and author Allison Winn Scotch recommended it. The Last Thing He Told Me is the story of Hannah whose husband Owen disappears one day out of the blue. He leaves Hannah with nothing but a note telling her to protect his 16-year-old daughter Bailey who he has also left behind.
So many mysteries and thrillers these days feel very formulaic but this plot kept me guessing at every twist and turn. And it wasn’t scary or unsettling like many books in this genre are. Also, the characters were super likable and I was rooting for them the whole way. Not sold yet? Reese Witherspoon optioned it as a limited TV series for AppleTV+ that’ll star Julia Roberts!
Who is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
Who is Maud Dixon? is about a young woman, Florence, who’s hired as an assistant to a famous anonymous novelist, Helen (aka Maude Dixon). They travel together to Morocco for a research trip where Florence is involved in a car accident. She wakes up to find Helen gone. Florence realizes she can assume Helen’s identity and I think you can imagine that path leads to nothing but trouble.
This book was inventive and fairly well-written but all of the characters were so unlikable that I just didn’t find it to be an enjoyable read. I also found the last 1/3 of the book to be pretty confusing. But if you like character-driven literary fiction and mysteries, enjoyed Tangerine or The Talented Mr. Ripley, and don’t mind unlikable characters then I think this book might be a better fit for you than it was for me.
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The Plot is the brainchild of Jean Hanff Korelitz, the best selling author of You Should Have Known (the book that was the basis for the HBO series The Undoing). It’s about a struggling author, Jacob Finch Bonner, who’s teaching at an MFA program when he encounters the perfect plot. The problem? It’s the brainchild of another author, a student in his program. But years later, Bonner is still thinking about the plot and his own career is stalled. He finds out that the other author has died without ever publishing his book so Bonner steals the plot. Flash forward again and the book is just successful as predicted. Bonner’s at the top for the world. But someone knows he stole the plot and they won’t leave him alone until he’s ruined.
This book was fine. The author does a good job of stringing her readers along and keeping you surprised with every twist. And it’s got a unique feel to it. But once again, every single damn character in the book was completely unlikable! It made it very hard to care what happened. Bonner’s success was unearned so why get worked up about his downfall? The book within the book was the best part. If unlikable characters don’t bother you, though, then I would recommend this the next time you’re looking for a twisted and unusual book.
Note: Thank you to Celadon Books who sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.
The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
The last mystery that I read this month was The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. It’s a fictionalized take on what might have happened during the 11 days famous mystery writer Agatha Christie went missing in December of 1926. The plot device that the author used was interesting but did leave me a little confused at the end. And ultimately I didn’t feel like the potential explanation for the disappearance that Benedict laid out rang true. Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors and her unusual life has always fascinated me so I still enjoyed this book. But I’d probably only recommend it for readers who are already fans of Christie’s work.
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
The Idea of You is what you’d get if Fifty Shades of Grey was actually good, a lot tamer, and was about a mom having an affair with Harry Styles. Sounds bonkers, right? The thing is it’s brilliant, beautifully written, and so sweet and romantic. I’m not a huge fan of romances, especially really steamy ones. And yet the more I think about this book the more I love it. The connection between Soléne and Hayes was very natural – no plot devices kept them apart once they met.
Vogue called the book “the sleeper hit of the pandemic” and they’re right. Every book blogger I know has recommended it in the last year and I’m no exception. I’ve heard the author is currently working on a sequel (once you read the ending you’ll agree that a sequel is a must) and I couldn’t be more excited. Go read this book, even if the description doesn’t make it sound like your cup of tea!
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Hana Khan Carries On is Canadian author Uzma Jalaluddin’s take on You’ve Got Mail. It tells the story of Hana, a young Indian-Canadian woman living in Toronto with her extended family. She’s trying to build a career for herself in radio while helping out at her family’s halal restaurant. But their livelihood is soon threatened when another, fancier, restaurant moves into the neighborhood.
I really enjoyed Jalaluddin’s last book, Ayesha at Last, and, as with that one, Hana Khan Carries On taught me a lot about what life is like for Muslim families in Canada. However, I found the plot to be unbearably predictable. From the first chapter you could tell exactly how the entire book was going to unfold. That made it really hard to keep turning the pages – nothing in the book surprised me. But, it was cute, the characters were sweet, and I always enjoy reading about communities and cultures that are different from my own.
The Selection series by Kiera Cass
The Selection series is a dystopian Young Adult fiction series that’s a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor. In the world of The Selection, North American society is divided into numbered castes and ruled by a royal family. The future King, Prince Maxon, is coming of age and so it’s time for him to select a wife. Tradition calls for him to select a new wife from 35 girls from across the country, from across castes. They’re brought to the palace and compete for months in a televised event. The heroine of the story is America Singer who goes against her will even though she is already in love with someone else in her hometown. I think you can picture what happens next, right?
I know, I know, this is another one where the plot sounds insane. But you’ll just have to trust the 1 million plus people on Goodreads who’ve given it an average rating of 4.12 stars. I read the first three books in the series (The Selection, The Elite, and The One) in 24 hours. To be honest, each one gets progressively worse but on the whole they’re all very compelling. The fourth and fifth books in the series focus on different characters and I’ve heard they aren’t good so I quit while I was ahead.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Are you thinking, “Didn’t she just read Rodham?” Yes, yes I did! I just read and reviewed it when it came out last June. Usually I wait longer to re-read a book but for some reason I felt compelled to read this one again already. I enjoyed it even more than I did the first time. 10/10 recommend, although I think Sittenfeld’s American Wife (review here!) is still my favorite of her books.
The Martian by Andy Weir
After reading and loving Project Hail Mary last month, I had to go back and re-read author Andy Weir’s debut novel The Martian. The Martian finds astronaut Mark Watney stranded alone on Mars after his crewmates mistake him for dead and leave the planet in the midst of a dust storm. He struggles to survive long enough for NASA to mount a rescue mission to bring him back to earth.
I loved the book when I read it the first time and obviously I adored the movie, too. The Martian was more technical and less laugh out loud funny than I remembered but I still loved it. It’s rare to meet a character as creative and likable as Mark. His struggles will be relatable even to readers who don’t normally gravitate towards science fiction.
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
Last Tang Standing, a cross between Crazy Rich Asians and Bridget Jones’s Diary, is the diary of Andrea Tang, a thirty-something lawyer in Singapore who’s under constant pressure from her traditional family members to find a husband ASAP. If you like Bridge Jones’s Diary then you’ll enjoy this book. But I don’t enjoy books about adults getting drunk and behaving irresponsibly so this book wasn’t really my jam.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Right Stuff is Tom Wolfe’s telling of the journey of the Mercury Seven astronauts and the early days of the Space Race. Obviously I love space but I hated this book. I found it to be incredibly technical and dry. Wolfe seemed to have a real chip on his shoulder where some of the astronauts were concerned. He made no attempts to mask his dislike for them which made for a very weird read. And don’t get me started on the current of machismo that runs through every word in the book.
The Housewives by Brian Moylan
I love Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise so I’ve been dying to read The Housewives ever since the book was announced. The book is part Housewives history, part behind-the-scenes gossip, and part think piece. I didn’t really learn anything about the show that I didn’t already know. That may be partly because I’ve already read so much about the series. There was not much critical analysis of the show or the cast members which was a shame. I’d bet it’s because the author didn’t want to burn bridges with any of the women because he has collaborated with some of them on other projects in the past. That said, casual Housewives fans may get more out of this book than I did.
The Office: An Oral History by Andy Greene
Are you a superfan of The Office? Can you rattle off a list of your favorite episodes and one-liners at the drop of your hat? Then The Office: An Oral History is right up your alley! It covers everything from the creation of the original British version of the show to the way the program became the most watched show on Netflix and developed a cult following among Millennials and Zoomers (that’s what we’re calling Gen Z, right?).
I listened to Brian Baumgartner’s podcast, An Oral History of The Office, last summer so I’d already heard a lot of the stories in the book. Even so, more time in the world of The Office is never a bad thing and I rarely meet an oral history that I don’t love.
The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith
I guess I was on an oral history kick this month because I also read The Daily Show: An Oral History. And it turns out this is one I didn’t love! The Daily Show was must-see tv for me during the Bush era but I didn’t know much about the behind-the-scenes of the show. I was intrigued when I heard there was an oral history but found the book to be incredibly joyless. One review described the book as a “recounting of the show’s internal … personnel squabbling … [that] may feel slight, self-aggrandizing, and even petty”. That totally sums up my feelings. The highlight of the book was hearing that staff, writers, and talent all describe Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert as some of the nicest people in showbiz.
Average Expectations by Shep Rose
Average Expectations is the second memoir by a Southern Charm cast member that I’ve read so far this year. This one by my favorite cast member Shep Rose was no better than the first. It was disjointed and all over the place. Shep is a well-read and well-educated guy and I’m sure he has a great book in him. But this was not it.
So there we go – 20 books and 7,000+ pages. I hope I can keep my momentum, going throughout the summer. There are so many good books coming out and I want to read them all!