Oops, a bit behind in getting this post up! I read a lot in May once again – 15 books – keeping me well ahead of my 100 book goal for the year.
Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan: I LOVED this thought-provoking novel and read it in one night! Teen hockey player Asher is deeply in love with his girlfriend Lily, and Asher’s beekeeper mom Olivia is thrilled… until she gets a call that Lily is dead, and Asher is wanted for questioning. It’s hard to write much about the plot without giving spoilers, but this riveting novel will make you think about how well you really know someone, how much of who we are is inherited from our parents, and whether / how much people can change. While I didn’t particularly enjoy Jodi Picoult’s last novel, “The Book of Two Ways”, this took me back to the classic Picoult plots I originally fell in love with that make me cite her as my absolute favorite author; it’s legal battle around a moral issue, with some big twists to keep you guessing. The moral issues touched upon made me rethink some of my own beliefs, as Picoult once again proved herself a master at providing nuanced perspectives without hitting you over the head with her ideology. I was thrilled for Picoult’s collaboration with Jennifer Finlan Boylan, as I really enjoyed her groundbreaking memoir, “She’s Not There”, and the post-script in this book about how Boylan and Picoult divided up the writing was really interesting. From a collaboration perspective, Boylan and Picoult did an amazing job: although the story is told from two perspectives (Lily’s and Olivia’s), and jumps around chronologically, it felt incredibly cohesive, and up until the post-script, I would have thought that it was written by one author and that the other was simply a collaborator. This book won’t come out until October, but it’s going to make a huge splash – highly, highly recommend! (Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an early ARC – this was the best book I’ve read in a while!)
Cover Story, by Susan Rigetti: It’s hard to write much about this plot without giving things away, but Lora is a summer intern at Elle Magazine who befriends Cat, a contributing writer and daughter of a Russian mogul. Cat lives in a suite at the Plaza, and when Lora loses her scholarship and is afraid to tell her parents, she moves in with Cat and becomes her ghostwriter for a new novel they both have high hopes for. The narrative is told through Lora’s prolific diary entries, interspersed with text messages, emails, and even text correspondence, and at first, I found the style a little confusing, but I quickly settled in… and then I couldn’t put this down, finishing this in one night! I haven’t seen Inventing Anna, but this is clearly a play on that, and the many twists work well. I absolutely loved this smart novel and highly recommend it.
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle, by Jennifer Ryan: Set during World War II, fashion designer Cressida Wilson’s home and shop are bombed in the London Blitz; she goes to live with estranged family in a village in the country. Her family includes her niece Violet, who is frivolous and flighty, not caring about the war except for its impact on her ability to land a rich aristocratic husband – but now is conscripted to serve as a driver for British troops. And Cressida also befriends Grace, the mousy vicar’s daughter, who is engaged to a minister out of duty rather than love. The book follows the three women as they try to adjust to their changing world, organizing a sewing circle to help other women have actual wedding dresses, and find love of their own along the way. This started off very slow, but my interest picked up as it went along, and by the last third, I was fully invested in each of the women. Prior to reading, I didn’t know much about what it was like to live in the UK during World War II, and it was fascinating to learn about the shortages and sacrifices that everyone had to make – the author did a nice job contrasting that with the visiting American troops / nurses and their tales of life not being all that different back home.
Stealing Home (The Sweet Magnolias #1), by Sherryl Woods: I had seen the first season of Sweet Magnolias, and not enjoyed it as much as I hoped. But I loved this sweet book that spurred the series! Maddie’s husband has left her for another, younger woman, who happens to be pregnant with his child; this novel is about the aftermath of that as she tries to rebuild her family and reassure her three kids, as well as start working again for the first time in years. I read this on a rough night when I couldn’t sleep, and am now eager for the rest in this series, which I liked so much more than the show.
A Slice of Heaven (The Sweet Magnolias #2), by Sherryl Woods: Dana Sue divorced her husband two years ago, but when her daughter Annie is hospitalized with anorexia, she doesn’t feel like she has a choice but to call him. However, Ronnie misses Dana Sue like crazy, and he wants to prove he’s worthy of a second chance. This was a fairly straightforward rom com, but the easy read was lovely even as it wasn’t totally brainless. I found Annie’s disordered thoughts and her recovery to be really interesting (even as I recognize the recovery was likely overly simplistic in its portrayal), and it made me eager to read the next in the series. I think I am hooked on Sweet Magnolias…
The Soulmate Equation, by Christina Lauren: Single mom Jess Davis is a data scientist; her best friend drags her into getting her DNA tested for a new startup dating app, which matches people based on DNA compatibility. To her surprise, she doesn’t just find a match, but she and the company founder, River, become the highest ranked match ever recorded – so their marketing team pushes the two to publicly date and potentially be a success story before the IPO. At first, I found the book a bit tough to get into – Jess was unnecessarily prickly, and I got frustrated with both River and Jess barely putting any effort in. But the more I kept reading, the more I enjoyed this – it was really interesting to think about how much of a relationship is chemistry vs commonalities vs working hard, and it made me think more than a typical rom com. My only other complaint would be that some of the scientific explanations dragged a bit (though certainly not as much as something like Andy Weir’s “The Martian”), but overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Marlowe Banks, Redesigned, by Jacqueline Firkins: This was really fun! Marlowe is a costume design assistant for a hit TV show, but she’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the only waitress costume is too small for the extra. Although Marlowe thinks she does the basic background work of pouring coffee, the cameras pick up smoldering looks between her and the star of the show, leading to an #IShipTheWaitress hashtag. Suddenly, Marlowe’s role gets elevated to long lost love interest… and she and the lead actor start crushing on each other in real life, too. This isn’t quite as light as your typical rom com, though – Marlowe is pretty frazzled and messy, not in an adorable / annoying Zoey Deschanel way, but in a realistic way. She’s had a bunch of failures in her life and she’s trying to figure out what her next step is, which was interesting (though honestly also a bit of a downer). My only dislike was the veryyyyyy slow burn of the romance, which made me wish Marlowe could take a leap of faith sooner rather than resisting far too long.
Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, by Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross: Economist Tyler Cowen and entrepreneur Daniel Gross take a combined approach in examining the art and science of hiring talent – and their two angles work well together, with theory balanced by practicality. I found myself highlighting so many sections of this book, with tips on good interview questions as well as what to actually look for, and there were a lot of surprises along the way. My only complaint would be that the book lost steam as it went – I found the earliest chapters the most compelling, where the final chapters felt like they needed to flesh out a longer book rather than being something the authors had a lot of evidence to back up or were passionate about. I would still highly recommend this to anyone who leads a team.
The Lost Apothecary, by Sarah Penner: Nella is an unusual 18th century apothecary, secretly selling deadly poisons to women who need to use them against men oppressing them. A 12 year old maid, Eliza, is sent to her on behalf of her mistress, and Eliza becomes so fascinated that she essentially volunteers to help – but then both are suddenly in danger. Meanwhile, in the present day, aspiring historian Caroline is on a solo vacation in London that she expected to be an anniversary trip with her husband – but she caught him cheating a few days before. The story goes back and forth between the two timelines, which obviously interconnect as Caroline learns about the serial killer apothecary and tries (200 years later) to figure out what happened. This was a fun mix of history and suspense, and the different storylines worked to further the story rather than distracting from one or the other, but it wasn’t the page turner I think it could have been. Most of all, I was disappointed that the author didn’t really delve into what to me was the obvious question about this plot: can vigilante justice be justified? (Though that would make it a good book club read if you discussed that after!)
The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig: Friends raved about this book for years before I finally picked it up, and while I liked it, it was also rather depressing to read. The plot: Nora Seed is depressed and suicidal, but when she attempts to kill herself, she discovers a world between life and death: in her case, a library, filled with an infinite number of books about her life, each one representing the life she could have if she made a different choice at any point in her life. It was certainly thought-provoking, but I found the main character of Nora to be rather boring and unlikeable. In all, while an interesting premise, I found the book to be a bit of a downer – which was not what I needed right now.
Inheritance (American Royals, #0.5), by Katharine McGee: The American Royals series follows a “what if” scenario where America is ruled by a royal family, the Washingtons; Beatrice Washington is the heir apparent, and her younger sister Samantha is “the spare” who rebels since she feels like she doesn’t have a purpose. The other main characters in this novella are Nina, Samantha’s best friend who also has a crush on Samantha’s twin brother Jeff, and Daphne, a social climber who is Jeff’s girlfriend. It’s been a while since I read the first two books in the series, so I wasn’t sure how much of this was new vs plots I already knew about (though maybe in less detail). However, it was a great way to get a refresh on the characters / plot before I tackle the third (full) book in the trilogy next week.
This Must Be the Place: Dispatches & Food from the Home Front, by Rachael Ray: I have always loved Rachael Ray – I learned to cook by watching her 30 Minute Meals show and cooking along, and I was delighted to learn that she grew up in (and now has moved back to) the same town where I grew up. I’ve heard rumors that she’s not very nice in real life, and unfortunately, this book cemented that. It’s a collection of recipes organized by month of the year, interspersed with narrative around what that month was like for her in 2020. Rachael endured a lot in 2020 – relocating from NYC to upstate New York, the death of her beloved dog, and then her house burning down. While a lot of the recipes sounded good (though I haven’t tried any yet), the narrative was a big turnoff – it was so much name dropping of her famous friends, and felt more like she wanted to impress people with her fame and her resilience than an authentic diary. I will continue to enjoy Rachael’s recipes, but give this book a pass.
Built to Last, by Erin Hahn: Shelby and Cameron are famous former child stars who had crushes on each other when they worked together – but now haven’t been in touch for years. Now, Shelby is living in Michigan doing furniture restoration and home remodels. When she gets a call to come back to the small screen as the host of a home renovation show, guess who’s been asked to learn the trade and be her co-host? Cameron had no intention of ever going back to show business either, but he can’t resist the opportunity to rekindle things with Shelby. Unfortunately, while the plot sounded promising, I didn’t love this one – too many obnoxious side characters that I just wanted the main characters to put in their place. I was hoping for a little bit more insight into what HGTV is like behind the scenes, and I also thought the romance was too slow burn given that Shelby and Cameron admitted their mutual attraction so early in the plot. It was sweet, but it could have been so much better.
Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not, by Robert T. Kiyosaki: Robert grew up with two dads – his own poor dad, and his best friend’s rich dad, who served as a father figure and had very different lessons to each. While the premise is fascinating, I found this book incredibly repetitive, and the “Rich Dad” lessons didn’t make all that much sense, especially with the cryptic way they were taught to Robert. But while the lessons were taught in a cryptic way, Robert breaks them down over, and over, repeating the lessons and even providing a TLDR at the end of each chapter, which I found more tedious than helpful. (Maybe I should have just read the TLDRs and skipped the chapters, since they were literally a summary of the narrative and not even just a list of takeaways.) There were a few concepts that made me rethink my own investment strategy, but a lot was too vague to put into action, and I spent most of the book feeling like the rich dad got lucky rather than his advice being completely replicable. I’d recommend a pass on this; pick up The Millionaire Next Door instead.
The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion: It’s been a long time since I read the Rosie Project, and while I loved that hilarious rom com, this sequel fell flat for me. In the Rosie Project, scientist Don Tillman creates a scientific survey to find the perfect wife – and while she fails the survey, he and Rosie fall in love. This picks up when they’re happily married and living in New York, and Rosie finds herself pregnant. This sends both of them into a tailspin, and Don gets pretty obnoxious in how he tries to cope – mainly, by micromanaging Rosie and making her miserable. I didn’t find this funny or amusing; mostly boring and annoying, and I will definitely not be reading the third book in the series.
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