I read 10 books in May! That seemed like a lot but then I realized that I actually started a few the month before but finished them up in May, which helped. I wanted to also note that the current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and the horrible, tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have made me take pause and reflect on myself and my own attitudes and actions (as I know is the case for many people). In the context of reading it’s made me more aware of the lack of diversity in my choices and that’s something I’m looking forward to working on in my own life. I’m glad that I chose The Vanishing Half for my Book of the Month and I also just ordered a copy of Homegoing, which I’ve always wanted to read anyway. I also wanted to point out that I’ve linked to all of these books through bookshop.org rather than Amazon, as bookshop donates a percentage of their profits to independent bookstores. You can find a great list of black-owned bookstores here and order through them on bookshop if you want to show your support!
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH! This was the second John Boyne book I’ve read and it was very different from my first (A Ladder to the Sky, which I also liked). The Heart’s Invisible Furies is about the life of Cyril Avery, a man born in post-WWII Ireland. That description sounds so boring but trust me, this book is amazing. Not only is Cyril the most endearing (but also complicated and very much imperfect) character, but all of the other characters are equally interesting and three-dimensional. Even the minor characters are incredibly finely drawn, real, and lovable, or terrible (or both). The book is equal parts funny and heartbreaking; it was actually so witty, which I wasn’t expecting at all. I found myself smiling and laughing through so much of it. It touches on so many heavy topics, but humor is threaded all the way through which keeps it from feeling depressing. It actually reminded me a bit of A Little Life in the way it followed a character through his whole life and just the scope and breadth, but it was NOTHING near as heavy and sad. It was also a really interesting and eye-opening look at post-WWII Ireland through the years and up to present day. Ireland and being Irish play a huge role in Cyril’s life and that aspect was fascinating as well. If I could I would press this book into the hands of everyone I’ve ever met – I can’t imagine anyone not loving it.
Unfortunately this one wasn’t for me – which was disappointing because I had such high hopes for it! It’s a thriller centering on a group of young women at an all-female co-working space, and one of them disappears. Loved the concept but not the execution. The all-female co-working space angle was the big draw for me, but it really didn’t play into the plot as much as I would have liked…it kind of faded into the background to the point where you could have transported the book to any other setting and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the story. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly compelling, and that made it difficult to care what happened to them. Also, this is totally my own thing, but it featured the “mysterious backstory,” (for TWO characters!), which is the thing where a past event is constantly alluded to, and the audience is kept wondering what this mysterious traumatic incident is until it’s finally revealed. Lately EVERY book I read seems to feature this and to me it’s just getting old – again that’s totally just my own opinion.
Loved this one! This was speculative fiction that posits the question – what would Hillary Clinton’s life be like if she never married Bill? This is the first Curtis Sittenfeld that I’ve really enjoyed since American Wife (which I also loved). This book really drew me in right from the start, when Hillary is in college and meets Bill. Their relationship is a huge part of the first section of the book and it was a nuanced and compelling look at what could really be anyone’s relationship – the small moments that lead to falling in love, and the small moments that chip away at that love. My only quibble was that the middle dragged a bit – there were a lot of political events and just like “her campaign manager went here and did this, and her press manager went here and did this…” which got a bit boring, but that was really my only complaint. I loved how she wove true events in with the speculative fiction part, and she really seemed to capture Hillary’s essence in the narration. Can’t recommend this one enough!
Happy and You Know It
Loved this one too! This was another Book of the Month pick and it was fun, entertaining, and just a perfect mix of light and serious. I want to call this Nanny Diaries meets Primates of Park Avenue- with the caveat that I found PoPA disappointing, but I liked the IDEA of it – so I’d call this Nanny Diaries meets what I WANTED Primates of Park Avenue to be! It’s about a young struggling musician named Claire who gets hired to be the musician for a playgroup of Insta-perfect Upper East Side moms and their babies, and the story takes off from there as she becomes more and more involved in their lives and the secrets they’re hiding behind those perfect, shiny facades. The book had plenty to say about the pressures of motherhood and the quest to appear effortlessly perfect while raising kids, but it balanced that with Claire’s story of a single young woman chasing her dreams and figuring out how to forge her own path in life. There were secrets, lies, and lots of juicy drama, but it was also a bit satirical and had a lot of lighthearted humor. The author did a wonderful job at differentiating the women in the playgroup and giving them each a distinct voice and arc, in a situation where it would be easy for the characters to meld together. I could totally see this being a movie and I think it’s a PERFECT summer read with substance. Also the cover is the cutest ever!
The Guest List
This one was just meh for me. It wasn’t bad, it just felt too simplistic and I had a hard time suspending my disbelief for all of the coincidences. It’s about a wedding party on a remote Irish island and it’s got all the trappings of a great mystery book – the isolated setting, the dark and stormy night, and the cast of characters all with something to hide. I loved the setting and the “locked door” aspect (like Agatha Christie), I just really felt the characters weren’t developed enough (they felt kind of two dimensional), and there were just so many coincidences that I found myself rolling my eyes a bit. It also featured the “mysterious backstory” device I talked about above (ALSO for not just one, but two characters), and again that device is just getting so old to me. Realistically, how many people have giant, murderous secrets from their past that they’re hiding from everyone in their lives? According to my bookshelf, almost everyone!
A Good Marriage
This was a really good mystery/thriller and I devoured it in 24 hours. Set among the wealthy prep school families in Park Slope, A Good Marriage is a total page turner that expertly blends murder mystery and psychological suspense (with a dash of legal thriller thrown in!). Picture a darker version of Big Little Lies, with the backdrop of brownstone Brooklyn – which, let’s face it, is exactly the type of thing I want to read. You won’t be able to put this one down – it’s no wonder the series rights have already been snapped up by Nicole Kidman! I also recommend Reconstructing Amelia, another great mystery from the same author.
This was pretty meh for me. It’s about a young woman in NYC in the early 2000’s who’s chasing a music career. I really liked the first third but then it went in a totally different direction and I got pretty bored. The writing was good, I just lost interest in the story. I really think that’s just a me thing though – I think it’s a quality book that a lot of people would really enjoy!
The Apartment (e-galley)
This was pretty meh for me also, but I did finish it so it’s not like it was completely terrible. It’s a thriller about a recently divorced mom who moves into a new fancy and very exclusive apartment with her daughter where things just seem too good to be true – and they are. It reminded me a little bit of Lock Every Door by Riley Sager (which I also didn’t like). For both I liked the idea but not so much the execution. I guess it also had Rosemary’s Baby vibes but not as creepy and minus all the horror/devil worship stuff.
The Sun Down Motel (audiobook)
Really liked this one! The Sun Down Motel has two storylines – one is a young woman in modern day who is investigating the mysterious disappearance of her aunt Vivian in the 80’s while Vivian was working as a night clerk at The Sun Down Motel, and the other is that aunt’s story. Like Simone St. James’ previous novel The Broken Girls, this one blends thriller with a little supernatural ghost action, and I enjoy that because it kind of sets these apart from your typical psychological thriller. Also it had some genuinely creepy parts and I always find it to be an impressive feat when an author is able to pull that off. The motel itself was a great setting and gave off some The Shining vibes.
With or Without You (e-galley)
This was my least favorite of the month. It’s about a couple – the man wants to be a rock star and has had some success, and the woman is a nurse who wants to settle down. I don’t want to give anything away so I can’t say much more than that there’s a big event in the first bit which sets off the “action” – and I put action in quotes because for me there was a decided lack of it. I don’t know why – it was like stuff did happen, but I constantly felt that I was waiting for something to happen while I read. That doesn’t totally make sense but there it is. I just found it pretty boring but again I did finish it so it wasn’t terrible to me otherwise I would have DNF’d. It explores relationships and how we can change within them, and I think that other people may enjoy this one – just wasn’t for me. Out in August!
I had my eye on A Good Marriage and Happy If You Know It, so I may need to check those out! I just finished reading In Five Years. I thought that one was good, it definitely didn’t end how I thought it would and it takes place in New York, so you might like it (if you haven’t read it already). Thank you for the reviews 🙂
Yes, I read that one and I liked it! Glad you enjoyed the reviews!