Eight books read in May – I am picking up steam a bit! I stuck to almost exclusively fiction in May, with one non-fiction self-help-y book thrown in. (Though there were several historical fiction novels… so maybe that counts for something?) These days, I am finding the compelling storylines of novels to keep me reading much more than nonfiction.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel: I picked this up on a night I intended to go to bed early… and ended up staying up to finish it that same night! This was such an intriguing story. Eva and her parents live in Paris, having emigrated from Poland before Eva was born, and are caught in the German roundup of all Jews in the city. Eva becomes a forgery artist who helps create fake paperwork for others trying to escape persecution. I was at times frustrated by Eva’s naivete, but this being a fictional book, I knew there would be at least a relatively happy ending. This was on the lighter side as far as World War II books go, and included a romantic side plot, but I still appreciated the insight into a piece of the French resistance I hadn’t known about before.
The Dating Dare, by Jayci Lee: I loved A Sweet Mess, so was pretty excited for this sequel! Tara and Seth are friends-of-friends who have serious chemistry at a wedding, but both have been burned by previous relationships and don’t want a new one. The plotline is quite predictable, but I still really enjoyed the ride, even as I was occasionally beating my head against the wall with the characters not being honest with each other. I really liked how the big switched between Tara’s and Seth’s perspectives, which made it feel well-rounded. My only complaint would be how hard the chemistry between the two was pushed; it felt a little bit fake for two people to be THAT attracted to each other.
The Silent Patient, by Alex Michaelides: This was a really interesting thriller, and I appreciated that it wasn’t overly violent – even as it dealt with a murderer. Alicia is in a mental institution after killing her husband, and has refused to speak since the incident; Theo is a criminal psychotherapist who works with her to try to unravel the mystery of why she killed her husband. I didn’t see the exact twist coming, but I had an inkling of which part wasn’t adding up, so the big reveal wasn’t quite as shocking as I would have liked. Still, definitely recommend – the story definitely draws you in and keeps picking up as you get wrapped up in it!
Haven Point, by Virginia Hume: I really enjoyed this saga about a privileged East Coast family and their summers in the exclusive community of Haven Point in Maine. The book alternates storytelling between the 1940s and 2008, profiling family matriarch Maren as she meets / gets engaged to her husband Oliver, Maren’s daughter Annie and her struggles with addiction, and Maren’s granddaughter Skye and her visits to spend time with Maren at Haven Point. The writing was really beautiful and the characters were very well-developed, but there were a few (Annie and Oliver) who I really disliked and couldn’t empathize with. The author did a great job flipping back and forth between time periods, to explore all three generations of Demarest women, and for once I thought this was well-done rather than irking me that one storyline was at an exciting point and the author switched to another. My only quibble is that there was a lot of setup and the main plot points didn’t start to take shape until about halfway through the book.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars, by Kristin Harmel: I absolutely loved Harmel’s Book of Lost Names (above), and tore through it in one night, so I was really excited to pick this up. Yona is kidnapped as a toddler from her German family, and grows up with her captor in the woods; when her kidnapper dies in 1941, she happens upon a group of Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis. The story is somewhat based on real events, and Harmel does a great job describing in the afterward which parts are fact vs fiction. However, while I loved the story, I was a little frustrated by the elements of magic and mysticism (e.g., Yona’s ability to perceive future danger) that made it a bit less realistic. I would still highly recommend this book.
Just Last Night, by Mhairi McFarlane: This is my third Mhairi McFarlane book, and while the others I’ve read by her have been slow to get going but then were fascinating, this one was a bit more evenly paced but never got stellar. Eve, Justin, Susie, and Ed are a tight foursome of friends, even though Eve is secretly in love with Ed. A major tragedy happens to change everyone’s lives, and lots of secrets are revealed. Unfortunately, I found the main character, Eve, to be not very likable and somewhat pathetic, which made it hard for me to root for her. I was expecting this to be a light read, and while it does have a happy ending, there are a lot of serious themes of grief and loss, so it wasn’t quite what I thought based on the cover / genre.
Your Fully Charged Life: A Radically Simple Approach to Having Endless Energy and Filling Every Day with Yay, by Meaghan B. Murphy: I heard the author on the Ali on the Run podcast, and was SO excited to read this book. However, I almost felt like some of the ideas got spoiled there and the book itself didn’t hold my attention quite as much. The author, Meaghan Murphy, writes about transforming from a grumpy kid to a peppy and positive adult (though it’s clear that it’s never over the top; more just optimistic), and gives practical tips for building resilience and responding well to difficult situations. The examples all resonated with me a lot, and felt very doable – I particularly enjoyed that there was a lot of discussion of how COVID has affected Murphy and her family. Unfortunately, for some reason I didn’t find myself eager to keep reading, which is why I give it three stars – I ended up making myself read one chapter a night and then swapping it for a fiction book for the rest of my reading time. However, Murphy’s writing is light yet well-researched (see all my highlights for examples), and she seems like a genuinely awesome person I would love to meet and be friends with. It made me really excited to read through the acknowledgements and see many people I knew (both celebrities and personally), so maybe that will happen someday!
Surviving Savannah, by Patti Callahan: In 1838, the steamship Pulaski explodes on a voyage from Savannah to Baltimore, and sinks 45 minutes later – earning it the nickname “the Titanic of the South”. This book follows a family of passengers on the ship, as well as a present day museum curator named Everly who is trying to piece together the history of the passengers. Unfortunately, this was one of those dual timeline books where one narrative was much more compelling than the other. Everly came off as whiny and overdramatic, and the plotline involving her trying to survive her own tragedy felt trivial compared to those on the ship who lost all the members of their family. The present day sections moved so slowly that they really couldn’t hold my interest, and I think the book would have been much better had it just focused on the Pulaski wreck. One thing that I thought was interesting was the “present day” was set in 2018 – presumably to avoid having to write the pandemic into the storyline. I will be curious to see if this becomes a trend in novels?
Any book recommendations for me? Follow me here on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.