What I Read in July

Thank You For Listening, by Julia Whelan

Thank You For Listening tells the story of Sewanee Chester, a former actress turned successful audiobook narrator (for reasons revealed early on in the book), who shares a whirlwind romantic night with a charming Irishman she meets at a book conference. Meanwhile, she’s tapped to narrate the last novel of a famous romance author with the reigning king of romance narration, Brock McNight. As Sewanee and Brock forge a connection, she will be forced to confront her own insecurities and skepticism of romance…and figure out how she can move forward.

I thought this book was so good! The romance was really fun and the leading man was super charming. The book delves pretty deep into Sewanee’s work as an audiobook narrator, which I LOVED. As someone who adores audiobooks and is interested in the behind the scenes of the publishing world, learning about the ins and outs of audiobook narration was just so fascinating. The plot is also very reminiscent of a certain rom-com we all know and love but I’m not going to say which one because it will give away a huge plot point. Suffice it to say, there was a fun twist (even though I guessed it early on).

The book also explored Sewanee’s complicated family relationships and the dynamics with her best friend, who continued on in acting after Sewanee was forced to give it up. A huge part of the book is about that – what happens when your dreams and the path you thought you’d take in life are snatched from you – how do you pivot and create a new life for yourself? And what scars are left behind? As you can see there was a lot going on in this book, but it never felt bogged down or too much. Everything flowed together so well and made for a plot that felt full and rich.

Of course I HAVE to recommend you listen to this one on audio, and of course I always recommend you listen through Libro.fm, which supports independent bookstores. The author, Julia Whelan, is an incredibly successful and talented audiobook narrator herself – so that aspect of the book is coming straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. She does an amazing job with everything she narrates so of course it’s great to hear her read her own work.

Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson

I must be the only person on the planet who didn’t love this book! I haven’t seen a single review that wasn’t absolutely glowing so maybe my expectations were just too high…or maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a historical read. Black Cake follows a brother and sister who have recently lost their mother. She leaves behind a recording for them to listen to, where family secrets, and the true story of who she was, are revealed.

I love family dramas but I would not call this a family drama. It was more historical fiction, as I felt the bulk of the book focused on the story of the mom’s life. To me that was the stronger part of the book, and the modern day parts with the brother and sister weren’t as compelling. I didn’t feel like those characters came to life and though I definitely recognize that this is a quality book, I didn’t find the writing to be particularly special. Again, maybe just because it was so hyped and my expectations may have been out of wack. I liked the food aspect and the way the special recipe for black cake was woven throughout the story. I can see why other people liked it but I was just bored. It kind of reminded me of a Kristin Hannah or something and that just isn’t my genre.

Anyone, by Charles Soule

This I absolutely LOVED. I truly could not put it down and was just absolutely captivated. Anyone takes us to a world where you can swap your consciousness into someone else’s body using a technology called “the flash.” It becomes completely commonplace and as widespread and ubiquitous as the internet. You remain yourself, but you leave your body and enter someone else’s. You’re the traveler and the body is a vessel you’re renting. The consciousness of the body you flash into goes into a dormant sleeping state while you’re in there, then comes back when you leave. Can you imagine the possibilities? And the possibilities for BAD sh*t to go down?! It’s completely fascinating and the author delves deeply into the many implications and moral quandaries, and even absolute horrors, that this technology brings to the fore.

Side note – this is what I didn’t like about the new Blake Crouch book Upgrade (review here) – he DIDN’T do that. He had this fascinating (albeit unoriginal) technology as the crux of his book, and he didn’t explore it at all. The impact on society, the way it would change everything, the ways people would use it and manipulate it – none of that was explored in Upgrade, and all of that was explored deeply in Anyone through a cast of well-developed characters. There were emotional stakes in Anyone (totally missing from Upgrade). And I have to point out how the technology in Anyone is also not wholly original (it was done on at least a few Black Mirror episodes, which possibly came out after this book, not sure, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been done other places too). And yet, this felt completely original, unlike the Blake Crouch book.

Anyway! Despite just completely dissing Blake’s book, I am still a big fan of his and I think this would definitely be a big winner with anyone who also likes his stuff, but at the same time I think anyone (ha) would enjoy this book. I’m not sure why it didn’t make more of a splash because I just thought it was fantastic and it seems like it should appeal to a wide range of audiences. Perhaps it just didn’t get the marketing dollars behind it that other books have.

The Oracle Year, by Charles Soule

This is the debut novel from the same author as Anyone. I liked this, but not nearly as much as the latter. The Oracle Year follows Will, who wakes up one day with 74 predictions in his head. And they all start coming true. It’s a kind of Twilight Zone-sounding premise but it didn’t go in that direction. It went in a more global direction and explored how the world would respond to one person having all these predictions come true. One interesting thing about it was the way it began – the author just drops you in, literally. There’s no backstory, no explanation. We meet Will after he’s received these predictions and we’re just following along as it plays out. It’s not explained to us and we’re not explicitly told what his life was like before or what happened when he received the predictions, how he felt about it or reacted. It’s all just apparent through the narrative. It was an interesting device or way of telling the story, I thought. So overall it was good but the way it played out with the government getting involved and wars and a sketchy preacher – wasn’t super compelling to me.

Every Summer After, Carley Fortune

So cute! So fun! So entertaining and so perfect for summer. This book is about Persephone and Sam, who meet as teenagers and spend every summer together at a charming lake in Canada (she goes with her family and he lives there year round). Flash forward ten years – something has happened to completely tear them apart and they haven’t spoken in years. The book follow a dual timeline. One is present day, over the course of one weekend, when Percy has to return to the lake (and Sam). In between, we flash back to the summers they spent together where we watch their relationship blossom. All the while we’re wondering what happened?! And can they repair what they lost?

I loved the setup here and the dual timelines totally worked for me. I liked the characters and found myself really caring about what would happen between them. Of course I also loved the summer vibes and lakeside setting. It reminded me a liiiiiiitle bit of The Paper Palace – I think just because of the summery-ness and lake setting and the flashbacks to previous summers – so if you liked that you might like this even though they’re definitely very different (this is much more light and fluffy and more of a romance). Overall just a really well-done romance for summer.

The Family Game, by Catherine Steadman

This was kind of over the top but ya know what. I liked it! The setup: Harriet has just gotten engaged to the man of her dreams – he’s charming, handsome, and comes from an old money New York family. Now it’s time for her to meet his mysterious family…and they may be more than she bargained for. Think: that movie Ready Or Not. I never saw it so I can’t speak to how totally similar they are but it’s definitely in that vein (though this wasn’t a horror novel, just a thriller).

I loved the setting of this book. I thought the author did a great job of evoking NYC at Christmas – the lights on Fifth Avenue, the icy streets, just the whole atmosphere. I loved the fiance’s family’s mansion on the Upper East Side, the Brooklyn townhouse where his brother lives, and the gigantic, secluded, gothic home upstate where they go to spend Christmas. So fun. It reminded me the tiniest bit of Rosemarys Baby – none of the devil worship/supernatural stuff at all, but just this young woman in NYC and everyone kind of manipulating things and keeping secrets around her. The book fell into my favorite genre – rich people acting crazy on the Upper East Side – so it seems I’ll enjoy anything that falls under that umbrella. Again, the whole thing was definitely a little far fetched and over the top but honestly, I enjoyed it! A fun, fast read that I think will be great for fall and heading into Christmas. This one releases in November!

In My Dreams I Hold A Knife, by Ashley Winstead

Super quick overview – a girl returns for her 10 year reunion at the idyllic New England college she attended, where one of her friends was murdered. The college friends she hasn’t seen in years come together again, and secrets start to come to light as questions arise about who really committed this grisly murder.

I liked this a lot! I simply love campus novels, dark academia, etc, and this fell squarely in that category. It was a solid thriller/mystery and even had a good romance subplot. Ashley Winstead managed to build a group of friends with distinct personalities and character traits so they didn’t feel like cardboard cutouts or generic copies of each other or anything (it’s a lot of characters so I can’t imagine that was particularly easy). It was fun and mysterious and I think it’d be a great fall read.

Marrying the Ketchups, by Jennifer Close

This was maybe my favorite book of the month and for sure will be in my top ten of the year. I absolutely loved this story of three generations of a family that owns a restaurant in Chicago. First of all, I love books that take place in restaurants. I loved the different storylines and the challenges that the characters were facing. It all felt so well-integrated. And it was funny! I love when a book is actually funny. I also liked the way it took place during the Trump presidency and that was part of it, but it certainly didn’t take over and it wasn’t heavy-handed. It was actually so true to life. She showed the subtle ways that that period of time sort of created or revealed fissures between people and cracked relationships apart slowly – in ways that maybe seemed silly, but actually weren’t. Like if someone wasn’t mad “enough” about something Trump did, it made you look at them differently and maybe respect them less. This book showed that dynamic so brilliantly. It’s not something I’ve seen in a novel before and it really hit home. I listened to a podcast interview with the author and the host talked about how this book was a quiet page turner – couldn’t agree more. I just loved it.

The Woman in the Library, by Sulari Gentill

This was the surprise of the month! I went into this with no expectations and really not understanding what it was because every synopsis was so confusing, so I was all set to not like it, and then suddenly I was totally sucked in! I’m going to try to explain it in a way that makes sense. Ok, so we have a successful novelist named Hannah Tygone. She’s writing a book. The bulk of the book we’re reading, is her book. The alternating chapters take us out of the book and into Hannah’s world. They are letters from a friend/beta reader, Leo, and they are his reactions to the preceding chapters we (and he) just read. I think where it got confusing in the synopses I read is that within Hannah’s book, her main character is also writing a book. So it was pretty meta. But anyway, most of the story we’re actually following is Hannah’s book, and within that book, there are four college students who meet in a library, where suddenly they hear a woman scream. From there, the mystery takes off.

So, I really really enjoyed this! I wound up loving the unconventional setup and I really enjoyed “Hannah’s book”, aka, the book we were reading. I was totally invested in those characters and that story, even though in that weird meta way, it was just a book and they were fake, made up by Hannah, so I was like, wait they aren’t even real…but duh, none of the characters in any book are real! It was so weird and funny in that way. I kind of saw where things were going with the character of Leo very early on, but it didn’t make it any less entertaining. This was just a really cool mystery with a very interesting structure, and I highly recommend!

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter

This is another book where the synopsis was so confusing that it kept me away for a long time…years, even. Despite feeling interested for so long, no matter how many descriptions I read, I couldn’t seem to get a handle on what it was about. Which that makes sense, now, after reading it. There’s a lot going on! And it’s not so much the fact that there’s a lot going on as it is the way the story is told. It’s circuitous, it twists and turns and doubles back and folds in on itself and jumps backward and forward in time. And yet – it totally worked! It wasn’t confusing, it flowed, it was great. This was a wonderful and unique book.

The novel follows an actress named Dee Moray in the 1960s, who travels to a remote island in Italy when she’s diagnosed with a terrible illness. There, she meets Pasquale, a lovely, sweet, shy Italian man who runs the villa where she stays. In a present day storyline, we meet Shane, a struggling screenwriter who’s kind of hapless and funny. We meet Michael, a ridiculous and villainous movie producer (one chapter of the book is a chapter of his memoir, and omg. It cracked me up, so funny). We meet Claire, his assistant who has her hands full between dealing with Michael as well as her porn-addicted, deadbeat (but hot) boyfriend. We go from the beautiful coast of Italy to the middle of LA and along the way, meet even more characters. It sounds chaotic and it kind of was, but it all meshed and slowly the pieces come together. As you move through the book, you begin to understand the connections between these people, as well as how their stories overlap and and connect. It was so good and again, such a unique book. I highly, highly recommend it on audio – the narrator, Edoardo Ballerini, was truly wonderful.

Counterfeit, by Kristen Chen

This was really good! The book centers on a woman who gets caught up in a counterfeit handbag scheme with a friend from college. I thought it was well-paced and moved along a good clip. It was interesting seeing the dynamic between the two women as well as the ways that the main character’s family pressures got to her and were a part of what pushed her into this “life of crime.” It had a bit of a “twist” that I felt like I’d read before in other books so I wasn’t totally enamored with it, but it added something to the story. I found it to be just a fast-paced, easy read for summer and I think it will make a great TV show (I think it’s been optioned).

Leave a Comment

  1. Gilly wrote:

    The book fell into my favorite genre – rich people acting crazy on the Upper East Side – so it seems I’ll enjoy anything that falls under that umbrella…………I have never felt more seen! Yes yes yes!

    Always love your book recommendations….thanks!

    If you wanted to do a top 10 rich people on the UES list I would be ever grateful x 😉

    Published 8.5.22 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      I love that idea, I will try to get to that!

      Published 8.9.22 · Reply
  2. Jenna wrote:

    I loved Every Summer After and I agree with you that it did remind me a little of The Paper Place, which I read last summer and also loved. I went down a rabbit hole on Goodreads and learned that a lot of people said Every Summer After reminded (varying opinions, some very strongly worded) them of Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren, which of course I just got from the library and started reading and sure enough, very similar story line. Not going to lie, I love the whole summer lake house setting for books. Just some interesting similarities in stories…anyway, love your book reviews – keep them coming!

    Published 8.9.22 · Reply
    • York Avenue wrote:

      I remember seeing a few people make that comparison to the Christina Lauren book! I’ve read their book The Unhoneymooners and enjoyed it, then tried another of theirs and did not like it…but maybe I need to give this one a try! Did you see that Carley Fortune is already making progress on her second book? I think it has a title and everything already! So excited for it!

      Published 8.9.22 · Reply