Well, I hit a record in April, reading 20 books over the course of the month! It was definitely an unprecedented month – I didn’t go back to work until the end of the month, and I had to isolate at home for several weeks for my IVF procedure, so there was a lot of bored time where I buried myself in books. I don’t anticipate to be able to hit this volume in any future months, but it was a good way to catch up / get ahead on my 100 book goal for the year.
With Love from Wish & Co., by Minnie Darke: This reminded me a lot of a Liane Moriarty novel, with all the interesting family dynamics, and I really enjoyed it! Marnie owns a small boutique, and her specialty is not just curating interesting items, but providing personal gift buying services for her clients. One of her clients has her regularly buy gifts for both his wife AND his mistress… and one disastrous day, Marnie mixes up the gifts, blowing up her client’s marriage. In spite of that excitement, I found the book started a bit slow, but a midway through, it picked up and became hard to put down. (I actually had the same feedback about Darke’s last book, “The Lost Love Song”… perhaps she could benefit from a better editor to tighten things up?) Either way, I would still thoroughly recommend this feel-good romance, especially to anyone who’s a fan of Liane Moriarty!
Made in Manhattan, by Lauren Layne: This is a modern day twist on My Fair Lady. Violet is the assistant to a wealthy CEO, Edith, who is like a grandmother to her. After her son’s death, Edith learns that she has a secret grandson, Cain, and she’s delighted to be able to pass her company on to Cain to run when she retires. But the board will never approve the appointment of a small town hick from Louisiana, so Edith asks Violet to transform Cain into a worthy candidate. Cain hates New York and hates the makeover / lessons, so at first, he and Violet are sworn enemies, both just trying to please Edith. Obviously, though, a romance unfolds. I didn’t really like Cain, and found it annoying when Violet started falling for the “bad boy” just because he was hot and swore a lot. However, it was fun to watch Violet’s transformation from people pleaser to woman who knows what she wants and will go after it. At the very end of the book, I was especially impressed with how she handled a delicate situation in staying true to herself without humiliating another character. I didn’t like this one quite as much as Lauren Layne’s other books, but it was still a fun rom com that I finished in one night!
Kiss My Cupcake, by Helena Hunting: Blaire is prepping for the grand opening of her cupcake and cocktails shop when she discovers that a new sports bar (complete with axe throwing) is opening next door. At first, she and the owner Ronan are bitter enemies, but then they try teaming up to cross-promote. It works well, but can they really work together when they are both vying for #1 in a national best bar competition? This was a sweet read (pun intended), and it was fun to go behind the scenes and see the business acumen that’s needed behind solid baking skills to run a bakery/bar. My only nitpicks were Blaire’s unbelievably crazy family, who were way too over the top and took away from the plot, and Blaire’s stubbornness at being nice or accepting help. Overall, though, this was fun!
The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again, by Catherine Price: I really enjoyed this book, which focused on paying thoughtful attention to the things that are fun in your life and then working strategically to have more of those experiences. Perfect for Type A personalities! Although that same concept was repeated numerous times throughout the book (with different variations on how exactly you identify “True Fun”), I felt like I learned a little bit more from each chapter and the repetition, so the length helped reinforce the concepts. I think this is great for anyone who’s stuck in a rut, or, like me, is trying to reestablish a “new normal” for life after the pandemic.
Meet Cute, by Helena Hunting: Back in law school, Kailyn had a big crush on her classmate Dax, a former child actor who she used to watch on TV. Eight years later, he’s in her office looking for legal advice to help with a custody battle after his parents die in a car accident and he’s trying to become guardian to his 13 year old sister. This was a fun rom com that was a bit predictable but was still thoroughly enjoyable. My main nitpick would be that for all the concern about 13 year old Emme finding out about the romance, Kailyn and Dax were comically bad in their lackluster efforts to hide it, which doesn’t jive with my experience of single dads dating.
The Apology Project, by Jeanette Escudero: Amelia is the only female partner at her law firm, but that title has been hard won – and her staff and colleagues refer to her as the “She-Demon.” On the eve of her 40th birthday, she tries to throw herself a splashy party, but literally no one shows up except one (handsome) stranger. This isn’t a rom com, though – while it has elements of that, it’s more of a self-discovery journey as Amelia tries to figure out what she really wants in life, and apologizes to the people she’s hurt to get where she is. I REALLY enjoyed this – Amelia was easy to relate to, and I could particularly empathize with her sudden break from work. Amelia’s apology list evolved over time, and I appreciated that she didn’t make meaningless apologies just for the sake of her goal. However, I didn’t enjoy the plotline about her adopted family, which felt like it dragged and distracted from the rest of the book. Some good gems in this though, and a fairly lighthearted read in spite of the transformation Amelia goes through.
Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know about Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong, by Eric Barker: I have read and loved Eric Barker’s blog for years, so I was thrilled to get his new book, examining the science of relationships and proving / disproving common advice. It did not disappoint! So many insights, but written in a very digestible and easy to use format. Just as with his blog, he sums each chapter up with a list of key takeaways, which is really helpful for processing the information you learned and actually putting it to use. Although I already knew some of the studies cited, Barker brought them together in a new way, and I appreciated that he takes you on the learning journey with him by pointing out different perspectives even when they don’t agree with each other. I didn’t remember any of the content from the blog, so it seems to be all new, which was refreshing for a blog-writer-turned-book-author, and Barker made sure each chapter led into the next (“now that we’ve talked about ABC, let’s go on to explore DEF”), which helped keep it engaging. Definitely recommend!
Passion on Park Avenue (Central Park Pact, #1), by Lauren Layne: When Naomi’s boyfriend dies suddenly, she learns that he’s been keeping secrets: he’s married, has another serious girlfriend, and also has several other women on the side. In a twist, she befriends her ex’s widow and other girlfriend, and the three become best friends who promise to look out for each other. This book is the first in the series profiling the three women, and it was delightful! Naomi grew up poor in New York, but now is CEO of a billion dollar jewelry empire – allowing her to buy a condo in a building her housekeeper mom once used to clean. Her new neighbor is the now-grown-up son that was her enemy as a kid, but she can’t decide: should she seek revenge, or allow herself to fall in love with him? The plot has a lot of twists and turns, but is still appropriately light for a rom com, and I absolutely loved it. My only quibble is that Naomi was a bit too stubborn and rather unfair at some points. Overall, solid read and I can’t wait for the next one in the series!
Love on Lexington Avenue (Central Park Pact, #2), by Lauren Layne: I dove right into this after the first book of the series, and it was equally delightful. Claire was a bit bland in the first book, but here her personality shone. Claire was widowed a year ago, and is now gut renovating her UES brownstone to make it her own, when she realizes that she doesn’t know who she is. She sets out to be “strawberry lemonade” (unexpected) instead of “vanilla” (basic), much to the dismay of her cantankerous contractor Scott, who tries to tell her it’s a terrible idea to put pink everywhere. Obviously, the clash leads to chemistry, and the plot that ensues is lovely. Rather than being cheesy, this felt like a really intimate and honest view of two people who’ve been hurt before now trying to open up. Since it takes place after Passion on Park Ave, I loved getting to see what Naomi and Oliver are now up to, and I can’t wait to see what happens between Audrey and Clarke in the final book in the series!
Marriage on Madison Avenue (Central Park Pact, #3), by Lauren Layne: After the first two delightful books in this series, I couldn’t wait for this one – and it didn’t disappoint! Going in, Audrey was my least favorite of the three women in the Central Park Pact, and the premise of this novel (Audrey and her best friend Clarke pretend to be engaged to boost her career and piss off his parents) seemed pretty hard to believe… but the feelings throughout the book were real, and it made me think a lot about my own tendencies to hide my true feelings rather than put myself out there. This was just as fluffy as the last two – which is to say, enough to be a light and enjoyable read, but not so much as to make me feel silly for reading it. Definitely recommend this whole series!
The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life, by A.J. Jacobs: I always love AJ Jacobs’ witty, sarcastic writing style, and The Puzzler is no exception. Jacobs explores the world of puzzles, from different types to history, and manages to cover a lot of ground in the variety of the challenges he takes on: from Sudoku, to jigsaws, to escape rooms, to riddles and brainteasers. As a bonus, he includes a ton of original puzzles for you to try your hand at solving – and there is a contest where you can win $10,000 by being the first to solve all the puzzles in the book, which lead you to a mega puzzle! Highly recommend this to anyone who loves an escape room or puzzles of any kind.
The Golden Couple, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen: Avery is a former therapist who’s lost her license and now practices non-traditionally, but is renowned for her unique methods and results – essentially, she is a combo therapist and private investigator, trying to dive into her clients’ lives to find out what they aren’t telling her. Marissa and Matthew Bishop come to Avery for help with infidelity in their marriage, but it soon becomes apparent that everyone is keeping secrets. This book had a dark undercurrent running through it that I really enjoyed, which kept me guessing who was not what they seemed, and there were plenty of side characters to choose from. The book is alternately told from the perspectives of Avery and Marissa, and I thought the two POVs worked well together. There were definitely some twists I didn’t see coming, and the end was really satisfying. Solid thriller!
Love, Lists, and Fancy Ships, by Sarah Grunder Ruiz: Yacht stewardess Jo has a “30 by 30” bucket list, which she used to blog about; however, she hasn’t felt like blogging since the tragic death of her nephew last summer. This year, Jo planned a two week trip to Europe to at least check off one item on her list, but instead finds herself taking care of her two teenage nieces for the summer – and the three of them heal together while working on her bucket list. This plot sounds serious and sad, but this is actually a pretty light rom com with a bit of extra depth due to the grief issues the characters are navigating. However, while it came highly recommended, I didn’t totally love it. Although Jo’s unique job was super interesting, the work scene in the first chapter is really the only time it’s touched on, which I thought was a big miss. I don’t like the trope of “two people are in love but won’t admit it to each other and go out of their way to hide their feelings”, and Jo seemed very immature. That said, it was still pretty good, and I’ll look for the next one in the duology, following Jo’s best friend Nina.
The Lifestyle, by Taylor Hahn: Georgina is Ms. Perfect – perfect husband, perfect friends, perfect job (partner at a big NYC law firm) – until one late night at the office, she walks in on her husband cheating on her with her junior associate mentee. After a weekend crying to her best friends, Georgina comes up with a solution: she and her husband will become swingers and embrace “the lifestyle” to recapture the spark in their marriage. It’s an odd remedy, and while at first I loved Georgina and related to her can-do attitude and desire to find a fix for anything, she soon started coming off as a busybody who thought she knew better than everyone else. This plot was supposed to be a hilarious modern retelling of “Emma”, but having not read “Emma” myself, I can’t say how well it mirrored the original (though I assume Jane Austen didn’t write about a swinger lifestyle?). I thought the premise was interesting, if odd, and I appreciated that the author profiled swinging without being at all graphic, but… this was not really for me.
By Any Other Name, by Lauren Kate: Lanie is a book editor who has emailed for years with her favorite author, Noa Callaway, but never gotten to meet her. The reclusive author has never made a public appearance, and only meets with the lead editor – but when Lanie is suddenly given a promotion, she gets to meet Noa, and the author is not what Lanie expected. A big plot point hinges on how upset Lanie is to discover the truth about Noa, and Lanie encourages Noa to reveal the secret publicly, but… I didn’t think it was that big of a deal at all, and I found myself really irked by Lanie’s anger. Who cares about the background of an author, if they write enjoyable books – surely fictional novels don’t have to based on someone’s own life experiences? Setting that aside, I enjoyed the last third of the book, once Lanie and Noa started working together as a team, and I particularly liked the ending.
The Cul-de-Sac War, by Melissa Ferguson: Bree is a stage actress, currently working in the chorus at a Virginia theater, when the theater announces changes to their contracts – rather than having a seasonal contract, all the actors will now have to reaudition. Unfortunately for Bree, they are changing the season roster as well, and she will need to get a part in Singin’ in the Rain – though she can’t tap dance. All this comes while her parents have struck a deal that if she can keep her job for one year, they’ll give Bree her deceased grandmother’s house, which she loves. Pressure! Bree handles it poorly, and takes her anger out on her new next door neighbor, Chip, starting a prank war that escalates to cause big problems for both. I had trouble liking Bree, since she seemed incredibly flighty and dramatic, and she kept escalating things even when Chip tried to apologize. As such, I didn’t root for the inevitable romance that developed – and it didn’t really happen until the very end of the book, at which point a hasty (and confusing) epilogue tried to suddenly wrap everything up as a happily-ever-after. Decent, but not my fav.
The Do-Over, by Bethany Turner: 38 year old McKenna is on the cusp of becoming a senior partner at her prestigious NYC law firm, a goal for which she’s worked her entire adult life, when she’s suddenly accused of embezzling $300K and asked to take a leave of absence. She heads home to her family in North Carolina, and finds herself falling hard for her high school rival Henry, now a famous filmmaker. However, McKenna is so embarrassed by the charges against her that she doesn’t tell Henry or her family the real reason she’s home and on leave – and this is where the book lost me. When she was first accused, why didn’t she try to figure out what was going on, instead of just running away with her tail between her legs? And why was she embarrassed by the charges when she knew she was innocent? McKenna was also pretty selfish and terrible to her family, so I found it hard to really like her, or even believe that she was in her late 30s (where I’d expect her to be a lot more mature). Overall, this was a cute premise, but the writing of McKenna just made it fall a bit flat for me.
All the Ways We Said Goodbye, by Beatriz Williams: This book alternates between women in three different generations: Aurelie, a young French heiress trying to keep her castle safe from the Germans in World War I (1914); Daisy, a Parisian housewife secretly helping her grandmother’s efforts in the French Resistance though her husband is a Nazi collaborator (1942); and Babs, a young British widow whose WWII veteran husband recently died (1964). Each chapter follows a different main character, and while I sometimes like this format, I found it extremely confusing in this case, and had trouble remembering what was going on in that particular time period. I didn’t realize until I finished the (very long) book that it was written by three authors, and that made things a bit more clear. I’m guessing each author wrote one of the character points-of-view, and that’s why there was such a disconnect between them for me. Don’t get me wrong, they clearly put work in to try to make one chapter segue to the next (e.g., a bonfire would be burning at the end of one chapter and then characters would be sitting by the fireplace in the next chapter), but it still felt really disjointed and hard for me to adjust from one time period to another. In the end, I liked the story when it all came together, but it took me a while to get into it and it wasn’t a book I was eager to keep reading.
Eleutheria, by Allegra Hyde: I really didn’t enjoy this book until about the last 20%, and probably should have abandoned it. Willa grew up in a family of doomsday preppers, with an odd childhood that reminded me of “Educated” by Tara Westover. When her parents die, she lives with two similarly strange cousins in Boston, and then eventually flees to the island of Eleutheria in the Bahamas, to be part of Camp Hope, a strange commune of ecowarriors with a goal of saving the world. I appreciated that the author tackled the terrifying topic of climate change and what the world may soon look like, with it being set in the not-too-distant future, though a year was not given. However, the plot jumped around in chronology, from the present day Camp Hope to Willa’s childhood to her strange relationship with a professor in Boston. I found it really difficult to get invested in either the plot or the characters, most of whom were so odd that I had to wonder what kind of mental health issues I was supposed to understand they had. This was very literary, with some beautiful sentences and phrasing, but the plot was so slow-moving and characters so unrelatable that I really can’t recommend it.
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty, by Akwaeke Emezi: This plot is hard to describe without giving too much away. Feyi is an artist in her 20s, who is widowed after losing her childhood sweetheart in a car accident a year after their marriage. That was five years ago; she now wants to get back out into the world and date, though she doesn’t want anything serious. The book opens with Feyi and her best friend at a party, where Feyi immediately seduces a guy to sleep with. The book eventually takes a more romantic turn, as Feyi falls in love with someone she shouldn’t, but the way she gets there is so wrong that I had a hard time supporting it. (And, the insta-love seems fake and not worth the wrongdoing.) Meanwhile, the characters all speak in such extreme Gen Z slang that I found it hard to take seriously; I can’t believe anyone actually talks like this, and it just made me feel like all the characters were extremely stupid, insecure / trying to fit in, or both. It was an interesting read, but not one I can really recommend.
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