I read eight books in October, which is right on pace where I like to be, even though I’m already well ahead of my goal of 100 books for the year. The three that I gave five stars to were all very different: a serious historical fiction novel, a light romance, and a business book that I can’t recommend enough about changing the hustle culture in corporate America.
The Golden Doves, by Martha Hall Kelly: As with all of Martha Hall Kelly’s books, I found this a bit slow to get into… but then I could NOT put it down, and stayed up till 2am to finish! (Oops.) In 1942, Arlette is a Parisian girl who begins working for the French resistance and is teamed up with Josie, an American living in Paris. They become best friends known as the “Golden Doves”, famously successful for the secrets they steal, and are ultimately imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp. Ten years later, Josie is working for the US Army Intelligence unit to track down some of the Nazi war criminals who escaped justice, while Arlette is still trying to find her son who was lost in Ravensbruck. The book alternates between Josie’s and Arlette’s perspective, and also alternates between 1942 and 1952, and I found that a bit confusing – numerous times I’d get to the second page of a chapter and realize I wasn’t sure who / when this was, and have to go back to the header to ground myself. The changing perspectives / timeline also pulled me out of the story at times, though by halfway through, I couldn’t get enough, and was ravenously reading both the past and present day to try to solve the mysteries before the main characters (my heart was pounding so hard that at one point I checked my heart rate on my watch only to realize I was in full exercise mode just from the suspense!). Some of the spy stuff seemed a bit farfetched, but so much of this period in history was unfathomable (see: the millions who couldn’t believe Hitler had actually set up extermination camps) and the author is so well-researched in her historical fiction that I’ll give those bits of the plot a pass. Overall, this was a fantastic book that I highly recommend buying when it comes out in the spring.
Take the Lead (Dance Off, #1), by Alexis Daria: Gina is a pro dancer on The Dance-Off, a fictionalized version of Dancing With the Stars. In an attempt to create a showmance, the producers partner her with Stone, the hot but quiet star of an Alaskan wilderness TV show. Neither one wants a showmance, but… the sparks fly. I loved this behind the scenes look at two types of reality TV shows, and the author went into a lot of fun detail on the dancing / rehearsal process that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have never seen Dancing With the Stars but I still found this book so fun! Really well-written romance that felt contemporary and intelligent rather than ditzy – I highly recommend this, in spite of the cover making it look like a Harlequin romance novel 😉
Corporate Rehab: Ditch The Hustle Culture And Thrive Again, by Jennie Blumenthal: This was EXCELLENT, and grabbed me from the very first page. Jennie Blumenthal is a senior partner at a top consulting firm, being groomed for even higher leadership roles, and held up to staff as an example of someone who “has it all” and has found the elusive balance they all want. When COVID hits, Jennie is suddenly forced to take a break from flying all over the country, and she realizes that not only is it refreshing to be home, but she actually doesn’t want the lifestyle that she’s being groomed for. So, she shocks the company by resigning, spending the next year on a personal journey to recover from burnout and focus on what really matters to her. This book is an extremely well-researched look at corporate America and its demands on individuals, and highlights how easy it is to get caught up in other people’s expectations rather than thinking about what really makes sense for YOU. The stories resonated really strongly and I found this impossible to put down… especially since I was reading it on my own cross country trip for yet another leadership meeting. Jennie does a fantastic job blending scientific studies with her own experience, and while I think someone of any gender would learn a lot from reading it, she particularly highlights the insidious ways that the system is stacked against women. Although the book is called Corporate Rehab, it’s not so much encouraging you to quit corporate America as it is about learning to set personal boundaries, figuring out what you want in life (rather than what’s been held up to you as what you SHOULD want), and working to change corporate culture going forward. Incredibly insightful and motivational – I am pretty sure I highlighted at least half the book, and highly recommend it to everyone in the business world! (Full disclosure that I am one of the women that Jennie interviewed… Can you guess my pseudonym in the book?? I have to confess that seeing my anecdote in print made me see it with a new perspective; I honestly didn’t think this incident was that bad until I read it as if it were someone else, and I winced to see how I brushed off something serious instead of recognizing it as a warning sign 🙈)
Over Her Dead Body, by Susan Walter: Ashley is a struggling Hollywood actress who thinks she’s getting her big break when she accidentally meets a casting director, Louisa, who promises to take Ashley under her wing. But Ashley’s break comes in a different way: the next day, Louisa dies… and leaves her $10M estate to Ashley instead of her own children. This was a really fun thriller that was hard to put down, though the twists were a bit telegraphed and easy to predict (e.g., when a character got a mysterious call and the author doesn’t name the caller until the next chapter, I immediately guessed who the caller was). In spite of me guessing what the twists would be in the moment, I didn’t see them coming ahead of time, and I still really enjoyed and would recommend this.
Slammed (Slammed, #1), by Colleen Hoover: After her dad dies of a heart attack, Layken moves to Michigan with her mom and brother. Immediately upon pulling into the driveway, she sees a cute neighbor guy and they go on a date… but while the two fall for each other, there are obstacles in the way. This was a quick read, but Layken’s immaturity (while quite normal for an 18 year old girl) kind of grated on me and made her hard to root for. On the bright side, I learned a lot about slam poetry and it made me interested in checking it out! This was REALLY different from the other Colleen Hoover books I’ve read, and I will probably avoid the rest of this series and stick to her more recent stuff going forward.
Not the Plan, by Gia de Cadenet: Isadora is the Chief of Staff to a US Congressman, who meets a cute guy on a plane but doesn’t get his number. Turns out – Karim was on the plane to move to Isadora’s town to work for her boss’ political rival! I loved that the characters were mature about not sacrificing their careers for their relationship, and they were also smart about discussing past relationships and baggage in a respectful way. This was a smart easy read – I really love this author and look forward to more of her books! This was an especially timely read for me as I just took on a new job as Chief of Staff (though in business, not politics).
Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World, by Eliza Reid: This book sounded fascinating, but I found it a bit hit-or-miss with how it captured my attention, and it took me a while to get through the whole thing. Author Eliza Reid is the First Lady of Iceland, but she was born in Canada and moved to Iceland after meeting her Icelandic husband at Oxford. That foreigner’s perspective helps her examine the unique culture of Iceland, which is extremely gender egalitarian. Reid emphasizes that Iceland isn’t perfect, and highlights a lot of areas where progress is still needed. Each chapter features a different group of “sprakkar” (extraordinary women), from politicians to athletes to immigrants, and is loosely themed around one particular area where Iceland is leading the way. Some of the stories were fascinating, others were less so, and there were times when the groupings of sprakkar didn’t go together and I found myself looking back to the chapter to remember the theme. While I appreciated also the insight into what it’s like to be a First Lady (volunteer position that you didn’t really sign up for but all eyes are on you), the book felt kind of all over the place rather than having a clear narrative.
Point of Retreat (Slammed, #2), by Colleen Hoover: This book picks up soon after the last left off – Lake’s mom has died, so now she and her boyfriend are both orphans raising a younger sibling each. Unfortunately, both characters are still very immature, prone to extremely petty fights, and while I picked this up to see where the characters would go and what would happen to them, I think I’m done – there is too much unnecessary drama and immaturity for me to continue the series.
Any book recommendations for me? Follow me here on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.