Happy early August–it’s time for July’s book roundup! I have no idea how I read a whopping 14 books this month, but that means there are plenty to share here–and the even better news is that I really enjoyed most of them! I think that since I had less time spent at home due to a busy month of fun, work, and travel, I was more productive with the downtime I did have…who knows. Anyway, here we go…
Educated: Everyone has been recommending Educated over the past few months, and for good reason. I was enthralled by Tara’s story of her life growing up in a big Morman family in rural Idaho, being “home-schooled” (basically teaching herself how to write and do math, since her parents provided no real instruction), and miraculously making her way to college and beyond. The book does raise a lot of difficult concepts and has extremely uncomfortable moments (abuse by a sibling being one), and in some ways, I almost forgot it wasn’t a work of fiction because parts of it just seem so unbelievable–but in good ways, too. I think part of this is due to the fact that Tara’s life story truly is remarkable, but it’s also a reflection of her talent as a storyteller. Tara manages to accomplish things would already be outstanding for the most prepared student (studying at Cambridge and Harvard alike!), but knowing she had to guide and motivate herself each step of the way makes her story all the more fascinating. If you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy and are looking for something along the same lines or just want to learn more about a different subset of America, this is a must-read.
Crazy Rich Asians: I had been meaning to read this book forever and even own a hard copy, but somehow I kept prioritizing other novels and forgetting about it (#bookwormproblems). However, when I learned a few weeks ago that there would be a movie based on the book coming out later this summer, I knew I needed to hurry up and start it! The book follows young New York professor Rachel Chu on her journey to Singapore with her wealthy, fellow professor boyfriend, Nick–only Rachel doesn’t really know anything about Nick’s family background–or his money–until she is thrust into his extravagant culture and celebrations. Family secrets and controversies are plentiful throughout the book, and while it’s somewhat of a longer read, it will keep you interested the entire time. I actually started listening to it on audiobook when I was in the car going from North Carolina to Florida, and I enjoyed the storyline and narrator so much that I kept listening to segments on my walks to and from work. I can’t normally focus well when it comes to audiobooks and podcasts, but the book captured my attention right away and the narrator does a really good job switching from one character to another which made it easy to follow along–there are a ton of different characters in this book, and it switches from one person’s point of view to another fairly quickly. I did end up turning to my hard copy to finish the last few chapters of the book–I was getting impatient to finish it and realized I could read a lot quicker than I could listen–and now I’m excited to start books two and three sometime soon.
Eleanor Olephant is Completely Fine: This book was a little stranger than I could have imagined based on the ending alone, but it was sweet nonetheless. Eleanor Olephant is socially awkward (but thinks everyone else has problems interacting, not her!) and struggling to find her way in life at age 31. She befriends an IT worker in her office and their friendship blossoms, and Eleanor’s life begins to develop more meaning as she stretches outside her comfort zone. Overall, the book was a funny, easy read, though the ending was not what I expected from this type of book–it was a little more thriller-esque than I was prepared for and left me surprised!
Tell Me Lies: I’m obsessed with this book–it may be my favorite of the year, and I don’t know if my writeup can even do it justice! The story centers around two main characters, Lucy and Stephen, and is told from each of their perspectives. Lucy, a girl from Long Islans, meets Stephen during her freshman year of college in California, and the two begin a tumultuous, powerful romantic relationship that starts and stops many times over the years. Stephen is your typical self-obsessed player, though we learn that his issues run even deeper than he may let on. Despite his many flaws, Lucy can’t let go of him and struggles both emotionally and physically during her time in college as she wrestles with her relationship and personal issues from her past. Overall, it reminded me a bit of The Light We Lost in that it was partly chick lit and partly a thought-provoking, nostalgia-inducing read. It’s the type of book that I’d want to write about college–and all of the author’s details are so realistic to me; it’s clear that she also went to a small liberal arts school. I honestly think about the book all the time, even weeks later (during my walks to work!), and just need a friend to pick it up so that we can discuss it!
Sisters First: When I say that I would recommend this book to a friend regardless of his or her political affiliation, I mean it–even though I’m liberal, I loved reading about the Bush twins. The story isn’t all that political–rather, it explores the twins’ close sisterly bond and is peppered with funny, heartwarming stories about their immediate family and the Bush and Welch relatives. I smiled, I teared up a bit, and generally I couldn’t get enough! It was a great way to see who Jenna and Barbara are as people, and I really liked how they owned up to some of their mistakes, shared life lessons learned, and demonstrated that there’s a time and a place to take oneself too seriously, but it isn’t necessary to do so all of the time. Now I can only hope that Malia and Sasha will write something similar one day. 😉
The Kiss Quotient: This book was a little weirder than I thought…it very graphic and not as “innocent” as I imagined, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be about a woman with Asperger’s who hires someone to teach her about sex and relationships. Just be forewarned before you pick it up if you’d rather skip over those types of details–otherwise, it’s a cute and funny read! It’s gotten great reviews and is a pretty quick one to read in a day or so!
Marriage Vacation: I wasn’t as obsessed with this one as I thought I might be, given that I love Younger (if you didn’t know, Younger is centered around a NYC publishing house, and this book is supposed to be the one that (main character) Liza’s client Pauline is publishing in the show, so it was fun that it was turned into a real-life title! Also, related: the TV show Younger was based on a book by the same name, which I read a few years ago and loved!). Despite not being as glued to this book as I thought I would be, it’s still a fun summer read that explores one woman’s “marriage vacation” as she takes time to live in Thailand and find herself before returning to her husband and kids in NYC (the whole thing is supposed to be a “fictional” adaption of Pauline’s own marriage vacation from her husband in the show, Charles). I loved being able to learn more about the snippets of the book that were mentioned on the show–but even if you’ve never watched and are just in the mood for some good chick lit, you’ll enjoy this one.
The Financial Diet: I’d had this book on hand for a few months and had been meaning to start it for ages…oops! Luckily, it’s a very quick read that is designed to help 20-something women with money. I always think it’s interesting when the people writing these types of books have made major financial mistakes themselves, and Chelsea Fagan did a great job sharing her own struggles and lessons learned rather than coming off as judgmental (the worst!). While a lot of the information was not new to me, I love a good, practical self-help book (this one included recipes, tips on managing money in a relationship, and more).
Playing with Matches: I could NOT wait for this book to come out, as I’ve been following the author, Hannah Orenstein, on Twitter for ages (she’s hilarious! It also turns out that she’s a high school friend of one of my good friends from college, small world), and knew that whatever she wrote would be right up my alley. Playing with Matches was basically a rom-com in a novel and I loved every page of it. Recent college grad Sasha, who is dealing with various relationship challenges of her own, is working as a professional matchmaker in New York City (just as Hannah did) and learning what it takes to succeed in the biz. This book made me nostalgic for living in NYC in my early 20’s, and Hannah hit the nail on the head when it came to creating a likable narrator–there was nothing annoying about Sasha! This is the perfect summer pool or beach read for anyone who’s used dating apps, is curious about what matchmaking entails, or just loves chick lit.
The Rules Do Not Apply: Ariel Levy’s memoir is moving, inspirational, and addictive as she explores love, loss, and misfortune. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that Ariel has been through the ringer–her relationship, pregnancy, and stability all fall apart at the same time upon returning from a trip overseas. I had been wanting to read this book for awhile, and while it’s full of difficult moments, it’s a powerful and engaging read.
Bachelor Nation: In college, my friends and I would watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette in someone’s apartment and take turns bringing various unhealthy snacks and gossiping about which Ashley would be sent home that night (there were always like 8 Ashleys in any given season…and actually, true story: one of my friends’ families ended up going to Ashley H’s wedding in Maine after she left the show). While my Bachelor-watching hasn’t really continued post-college, I was still excited to see that there was a book out exploring all aspects of the show–how it came about, its initial challenges and failures, the scandals, how the audition process works, what it’s really like behind the scenes, and more (why didn’t I think of this as a sociology senior thesis?!). The author didn’t leave out a single aspect, and fans (or just fair-weather fans) of The Bachelor and its spinoffs will be intrigued by this super fun nonfiction book.
The Girl Before: Thriller fans, take note of this one–so creepy! The Girl Before alternates back and forth between two protagonists who lived in the same home a few years apart. It’s clear that something strange happened/is happening in the house, but who is causing the disruption is a mystery. I was actually surprised with how this book played out, which made it a good read–normally storylines are a little more predictable to me, and this one kept me guessing and freaked out for most of the book.
Pretty Baby: I read The Good Girl by Mary Kubica last year and had been meaning to pick up Pretty Baby for ages. It was your typical modern day thriller filled with distrust, loss, and secrets, and I was glued to the plot right away (a middle-aged woman spots a teenager and her baby at the train station, welcomes them into her home, and then begins to wonder if there’s something the teenager is hiding about her past). The woman and her family seem fairly normal until you realize that they have issues of their own, which also come to light.
The Perfect Stranger: I started this one right after The Girl Before and Pretty Baby because I was on a mini thriller kick (I liked this one best!). Leah, a former journalist who has moved to rural Pennsylvania to work as a teacher, is suddenly thrust into the spotlight when a coworker of hers is accused of murder and her roommate goes missing. Quickly, she wonders who she can and can’t trust–what are her students hiding from her, is the detective working on her case as earnest as he comes across, and was her roommate abducted or is she running away from something? Meanwhile, Leah is hiding a scandal of her own from her past, and we’re left waiting to find out what exactly happened that prompted her to leave Boston. This one kept me up late into the night and gave me chills in the way that a good thriller should!