I read nine books in April, which was my most prolific month of reading yet. I’m thrilled by that! I think the trick was reading a lot of novels, which I’ve been enjoying more than nonfiction lately. However, I did sneak a few nonfiction (and historical fiction) books in…
To Sir, with Love, by Lauren Layne: This was such a sweet and fun rom com! A modern take on You’ve Got Mail, Gracie is falling in love with a guy on a blind online dating app, where neither knows what the other looks like. Meanwhile, in real life, she’s also falling for the enemy of her failing business – another guy she can’t have. How it all works out is obviously, but it’s a fun read, and in spite of the predictability of the premise, the characters aren’t dumb. The Manhattan setting was really fun, and I liked seeing the characters grow and change throughout the novel. Definitely recommend this!
The Four Winds, by Kristin Hannah: I really enjoyed this historical fiction novel, and found it hard to put down, but it was also pretty depressing. Elsa Martinelli and her family are living through the Dust Bowl in Texas, and this book follows their journey to survive the collapse of everything they’ve known. Although I knew in general terms about the Dust Bowl / Great Depression, my northeastern education focused more on the stock market crash than the brutal plight of the farmers of the Great Plains, so I learned a lot by reading it. I do, though, agree with another reviewer who points out that anytime Kristin Hannah writes historical fiction, she seems to try to incorporate every tragedy that’s ever happened in that time period, so the characters feel completely doomed. I fully understand that this was a pretty hopeless time for so many Americans, but I wished there was a little bit more balance for the characters in this book.
My Dear Miss Dupré, by Grace Hitchcock: While the initial premise of this book was a bit silly, it was a really fun read – basically, The Bachelorette but set at the beginning of the 20th century. Willow Dupre is an extremely well-educated young woman whose parents have set her up to take over her father’s sugar empire; however, the Board of Directors won’t let her do so unless she has a husband to run the business along with her. So, her family sets up a Bachelorette-style competition: 30 eligible suitors get gradually narrowed down until she decides to marry one. It’s not totally historically accurate, but it’s meant more as a light read than historical fiction, and it definitely served its purpose in keeping me reading and interested! This was lots of fun, I was still kept guessing by some of the twists and turns, and of course, it had a happy ending 🙂 Definitely recommended!
The Nine: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany, by Gwen Strauss: This book was incredibly powerful – a nonfiction account of nine women who were in the French Resistance, were imprisoned in Ravensbruck, and managed to escape together. Although I’ve read a number of books about World War II and the concentration camps, I didn’t know much about the French Resistance, and it was fascinating to read how young women risked their lives to help others. The book was written so that each of The Nine had her own chapter, and the narrative alternated between the “present day” escape and the history of how that woman came to be there. Although the detail was well-researched and certainly contributed to my understanding, there were times when I got frustrated to leave the main narrative; I think I might have preferred if the book were told chronologically, starting with each woman’s pre-camp work / history, rather than jumping around. Still, by halfway through the book, I couldn’t put it down. Definitely recommended.
Perfected, by Kate Jarvis: I really enjoyed this book, finishing it in just one day. It touched on some really interesting and thought-provoking ideas; however, it was also definitely a Young Adult novel, and some aspects were quite juvenile (particularly the romance). It takes place in the US, and is recognizable as such, but we are in a slightly dystopian version of our current society, where some humans are genetically bred to be pets for others. The book follows Ella, a sixteen year old pet, as she leaves her childhood training and meets / goes to live with her family. In addition to the ethical questions it brings up around genetic engineering for humans, it also made me think about my own dog and whether she’s truly happy living as a pet. I will definitely be looking for the rest of the books in this series.
Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart, by Rachel Hollis: This book unfortunately missed the mark for me compared to Rachel’s other books. “Girl Wash Your Face” and “Girl Stop Apologizing” shared broader advice on how to live a better life, providing more universal insights; in contrast, this book had a very specific purpose and wasn’t as applicable to those not in the depths of grief / depression. It felt like Rachel was pressured to write this book on a timely topic that she wasn’t quite as passionate about (or maybe wasn’t ready to give advice on); she ended up peppering in a lot of lessons from her other books rather than diving deep into new content on processing grief. I still love her “tell it like it is” tone and think her advice is good, but this book felt like it was too specific to grief to provide universal value, and too surface-level to really help people who are grieving. I think Sheryl Sandberg’s “Plan B” is a much better book for those trying to deal with adversity.
Arsenic and Adobo, by Mia P Manansala: Arsenic and Adobo is a “cozy mystery” where the main character, Lila, watches her ex-boyfriend die of poisoning in her family’s restaurant, and then has to try to solve the mystery to avoid getting herself thrown in jail as the killer. Maybe this just isn’t the genre for me, but the book starts out with a murder and then has several more before its conclusion – which felt really unrealistic, especially for the small town setting of Shady Palms. And conversely, while I assume a murder would be a much bigger deal in Shady Palms than in the nearby Chicago, the police didn’t seem to be doing much to make progress / solve the mystery. The main character wasn’t very likeable, which made it hard to get invested in the plot, but it did pick up about midway through. In general, the book felt a little bit over-the-top and cheesy, with a huge cast of characters, which wasn’t easy to keep straight. This was especially highlighted with the very fast wrap up, where the killer was revealed / taken away in just a few pages, and a lot of questions were left unanswered. After finishing, I realized this is intended to be part of a series, so perhaps the abrupt ending is intentional, but I likely won’t read the rest of the series.
Why I Held Your Hand, by Augusta Reilly: The premise of this book sounded excellent, but the writing made it a bit lackluster. Laura is a small town shop owner who hires a marketing consultancy to help invigorate her dying town, but she falls immediately for one of the consultants on the team. And then a second consultant on the team, while she’s still dating the first one. She came across as simultaneously old-fashioned and a bit simple, in how her life was incomplete without a husband, but also making terrible choices that hurt both men. And, there were SO many sex scenes written in an awkward and explicit way; it kind of felt like porn. I generally liked this book, but there was also something slightly off about it.
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett: When I started reading this book, I was bored to tears, eventually abandoning it about fifty pages in. I heard it hyped from so many different sources, but disliked it so much I still wasn’t interested in picking it up, until finally a book club I’m in selected it and I felt I had no choice. Turns out, it definitely picks up about 1/3 of the way through the book, and I found it really fascinating from then on. Stella and Desiree are twins who are light-skinned blacks, and Stella chooses to “pass” as white while Desiree lives as a black woman in her Southern hometown. About halfway through, the book follows their daughters, who live dramatically different lives, in part because of the choices their mothers made and the privilege (or lack thereof) that afforded them. The concept is awesome, but I felt like the author stopped short of delving into it fully. For example, when Stella “vanishes”, there is then a long time jump before she’s found again – but I think that part is one of the most interesting parts of the story, to understand what it was like to leave her whole life behind. Did she regret it initially or was it a happy hey day? We don’t know; we just see her ten years later. In all, I didn’t find myself invested in or rooting for any one character – perhaps because they weren’t written to be likable, or maybe because of how the book jumped around so much.
Any book recommendations for me? Follow me here on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.