August 11, 2023

What I Read in July 2023

I read six books in July, which is closer to the pace I want to be going for my 100 book goal. That puts me at 43 books for the year, which is still way behind, but hopefully things are trending up. One book in particular (Do Tell) really dragged, and I’d like to do a better job of quitting books I’m just not enjoying. Life is too short and there are too many great books out there! To that end, I always welcome your comments and suggestions on what to read next 🙂

5 stars:

The Five-Star Weekend, by Elin Hilderbrand: Hollis is a popular food blogger who seems to have the perfect life – until her husband is killed in a tragic car accident. To cope with her grief, Hollis puts together the “five star weekend”: a luxury girls’ getaway island at her spectacular second home on Nantucket, to which she invites four friends, each from a different time in her life. Her high school best friend Tatum and college best friend Dru-Ann (who hate each other), her good friend Brooke who was part of her moms’ clique in Wellesley, and her new internet bestie Gigi, who’s been reading Hollis’ blog and seems to share a lot of things in common. There was a lot of consternation and hand wringing about Gigi joining the group when Hollis hadn’t met her, but as a blogger myself who’s made amazing internet friends, I loved this part and didn’t think too much of it. However, there is of course a lot of drama for each woman (and Hollis’ daughter Caroline, an aspiring filmmaker who joins to video the adventure) as the weekend unfolds. I loved Hilderbrand’s rich descriptions of Nantucket and its restaurants, beaches, and characters, and the plotline moved quickly and (beautifully) jumped from one character’s drama to another. It was nearly impossible to put down, and I finished it in just two days. This was great, and it makes me want to plan my own “five star weekend” of friends through the ages (though hopefully with less drama).

4 stars:

Gone Tonight, by Sarah Pekkanen: Catherine, a nurse in the memory care wing of a nursing home, has always been close with her mom Ruth. It’s always been the two of them, moving from city to city, and never really making room for anyone else to get close. But now, with Catherine’s background, it’s easy for her to see the signs of Alzheimer’s in her own mom. Catherine cancels her upcoming move, to stay and take care of her mom, but then she starts to question the secrets that Ruth seems to be harboring. The chapters alternate between Catherine and Ruth’s perspectives, and Ruth’s story goes way back in time to a dramatic high school incident that shaped the rest of her life. Unfortunately, while I liked this book, I didn’t love it nearly as much as most of Sarah Pekkanen’s amazing novels; the main characters were all really unlikable, and some of the major plot points were hard to believe. Things picked up a lot in the last quarter of the book, but it also got pretty violent in one of those “where are the police?” kind of ways, which made it end on a sour note for me.

Honor Bound: How a Cultural Ideal Has Shaped the American Psyche, by Ryan P. Brown: I heard about Honor Culture on the Hidden Brain podcast, and was fascinated, so I immediately picked up this book. In an honor culture, reputation is the most important thing, and people will defend their honor at all costs. There were a lot of compelling and thought-provoking examples of how this plays out and the long-term implications, but somehow the book just didn’t keep me reading, even as each time I sat down to read it I found it enjoyable and learned something. It ended up taking me a month to pick it up again and finish the last few chapters… but maybe that was just me? I do think the ideas are absolutely fascinating, and I’ve been searching out more information since I finished this.

3 stars:

Dances, by Nicole Cuffy: Cece, a very mature 22 year old, is promoted to principal dancer at the New York City Ballet – the first Black ballerina to reach the milestone. She’s catapulted into fame, but at the same time, she’s dealing with the ghosts of her past (her broken family and beloved brother’s drug addiction) and a messy present (roommate / dating drama and more). I found the depiction of the professional ballet world fascinating, especially the exploration of how diet fits into the lifestyle. I need to warn others that if you aren’t a dancer yourself, there are very lengthy descriptions of the movement sequences that may bore you unless you can picture them; however, this was one of my favorite parts of the novel! But the plotline about Cece’s family felt excessive, drawn out, and ultimately went unresolved – making me wish the author had stuck to just the dance plotline, which was plenty interesting on its own. 3.5 stars rounded down.

The Referral Program, by Shamara Ray: Dylan, Ivy, and Brooke are best friends in their mid 30s who are all single; they agree to set each other up with their single male friends. Pretty simple, but they inexplicably swore each other to secrecy about this – so even though the men knew they were being set up with a friend, they weren’t allowed to know that it was a “thing”. The plot was okay, though there were a lot of contrivances like that, but I found the writing rather awkward. There was a lot of back and forth dialogue between the women and their dates that was just dialogue line after dialogue line, with no “Brooke exclaimed” or “David sighed”, and there were multiple times when I got lost in who was speaking each line. More broadly, although the women had different careers, they were all a little bit interchangeable personality-wise, and it was hard to keep them straight. There were also some really uncomfortable sex scenes due to the language being used (kitty, garden, dew-drop covered flower, lol). Overall, I thought the initial premise was cute, but the writing and plot contrivances made it really hard to care about the characters.

2 stars:

Do Tell, by Lindsay Lynch: One of my friends reviewed this as “I like the idea of it more than I like the execution”, and unfortunately, that’s exactly how I feel after slogging through it. In the 1940s, Edie O’Dare is a Hollywood actress who’s finishing up the final year of her contract with renowned studio FWM. Although she knows everyone, she wasn’t terribly successful, so she’s not sure what to do next – until she gets the opportunity to write a gossip column exposing the scandals of all her former coworkers, including an assault (and Me Too) situation at a party she attends. While that outline sounds fascinating, the plot meandered all over the place, and the characters weren’t rich enough to even help me tell them apart. It was somewhat interesting to see behind the scenes of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but the plot was so bogged down in flashbacks and forgettable asides that it just made it a slow read that I wanted to give up on many times. (I stuck with it because reviews said it got better, but… it really didn’t.) I’m disappointed this wasn’t more enjoyable!

Any book recommendations for me? Follow me here on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.


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