Me You Everything by Catherine Isaac

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Hello, World.

 

I’m here today with a review of my final August TBR book! I realize it’s September, but I had trouble reading this book my last week home in California because I was trying to enjoy time with my family. Still, I finished it last Wednesday, and am so glad I got through it, even if it’s a bit late.

My final book in my August TBR group is Me You Everything by Catherine Isaac. I’d heard this pick was a perfect summer read and, if I’m honest, the cover is so beautiful I really wanted to read it. Interestingly, this was Catherine Isaac’s first novel as Catherine Isaac (she previously wrote under the pseudonym Jane Costello) and it was her American debut. In a recent interview, Isaac discussed the widespread attention and praise her new novel received, noting that she attributes the change to 1) being released in America and 2) the change in marketing from very girly covers to a more “gender-neutral” style. I think the discussion was really interesting about the “chick lit” controversy.

Getting into the novel, it covers the story of Jess and William, a single mother and her ten-year-old son who are going to France to spend the summer with Adam, William’s absent father. The reason for the visit is attributed to Susan, Jess’s mother, who is suffering from an, initially, unknown brain disease. Susan believes that Adam and William need to have a better relationship, and it is her wish that Jess make an effort to get Adam more involved. Jess, still harboring a lot of anger from the demise of her relationship with Adam, is reluctant to go to France, but ultimately knows that William craves a relationship with his father and should have one. So, their arrival in France sets into motion the plotline of the novel.

I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but I do want to discuss what I loved about this read. First, I really enjoyed Jess. Some reviewers felt she was whiney at times or unwilling to give Adam a chance. While she does seem to hold a major grudge, I feel it’s warranted given the chain of events leading to their relationship’s end. I liked that Jess was raw and open with her feelings and put William first, no matter what. She cares so deeply for her son and wants to give him the best life possible, but acknowledges that life as a single mother is not easy and sacrifices are inevitably made. I will also say, if you read the book, give Jess some deference. Her motivations and strong convictions are a bit unknown or seem a little too harsh at times, but the underlying reason, when revealed, justifies a lot of her actions and feelings.

William, the ten-year-old son, is kind and loves his mother but is also struggling to find the balance between loving his mother and growing his relationship with his father. He seems to blame his mom for his father’s absence. At his age, it’s reasonable that he either wouldn’t know or wouldn’t want to acknowledge that Adam is very much the reason for Adam’s absence in previous years. Despite how loving William can be toward his mom, he is iPad obsessed, a phenomenon I imagine is quite common with younger generations.

Adam, the absent father, starts out quite unlikeable. At one point I had to put down the book for a moment because I was so annoyed by his utter lack of understanding of what it means to be a parent. Watching him disappoint William at times was heart wrenching and exasperating. Throw in a much younger girlfriend, who clearly believes Adam is more like the cool uncle who will do away with the ten-year-old son at the end of summer, and it makes for bumpy encounters.

There are a handful of other great characters in the book. I loved how the characters were written because they all felt real and raw and genuine. Sometimes characters come across flat or the main characters are strong but all background characters feel like they fit a mold to serve the plot. This story felt like just that: a story about a group of real people trying to navigate life when it isn’t going as well as hoped.

This story was much deeper than I expected after receiving the “perfect, light summer read” review from a fellow blogger. I told my roommate recently that a lot of the books I read recently had harder, deeper aspects than I imagined. But I think that’s because life isn’t easy. While it’s easy to find the happy-go-lucky, minimal hardship books, I don’t typically reach for those. I like a read that is gritty, that gets into the details of life that make it harder. The endings usually feel sweeter when you weren’t sure the characters would make it to the point you wanted.

I highly recommend this book! Once I hit a particular point, I was reading 100 pages a night (after full days of law school) because I just could not put it down. I had many internal “just one more chapter” debates. If my review isn’t enough of an enticer, it was announced that the book was optioned by Lionsgate for a film!

Up next on my TBR is my August Book of the Month pick, Goodbye, Paris!

Truly,

Callie leigh

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The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

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Hello, World.

My second choice for Book of the Month for July was The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. This is also the third book of four for my August to-be-read. I’d heard really great things about this read, and after loving The Lost Vintage, I wanted to read more historical fiction. This book takes place in three different years: 1930, 1951, and 1969. All great years! It also takes place on a small island off the east coast and it felt like the perfect summer read.

Book of the Month called this book “movie-ish” and I think it’s a good descriptor. It read very much like a movie. It was romantic, descriptive, and engaging. I will say the first chapter was a bit confusing, but Williams ties together the three storylines so well that after the 50/60 page mark, I was deeply invested. I didn’t think I’d finish this book by my goal, but I blew through the last 170 pages pretty quickly.

This book is so beautifully written. The language is lyrical and thought-provoking and I loved the way she described love, where new and young or old and matured. I appreciated her understanding of relationships and it’s hard to explain why without giving spoilers, but just know that this read depicts relationships in a real, raw way. Sometimes it felt far-fetched, but then I thought about my first serious boyfriend, and I thought, ‘yeah, I felt like that.’ It captures the naivete that love can create within people. Even when know something is bad or dangerous or uncertain, we dive head-long into it, ignoring signs or exits.

Williams creates real characters in a detailed manner. You really feel like they’re people you know and you’re watching their story unfold quietly around you. The level of detail is something I enjoyed about this book. The characters didn’t feel like cookie-cutter stereotypes, despite the fact that this book very much depicts class issues. However, no character feels like a trope. They feel real and connected and separate all at the same time.

I highly recommend this!

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller

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Hello, World!

I recently got a notification from Goodreads that I met my year-long reading goal, which was to read 12 books. So far this summer, I’ve read nine books. That’s more than I’ve ever read during summer and more than I’ve read for fun in a long time. When I realized Louise Miller had a new book coming out so soon after her first book, I was so excited. I read The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living last December and fell in love with it. I loved Guthrie, Vermont, the cast of characters, and the writing. It felt cozy and warm and happy.

So, when her new book came out I went and bought it immediately and added it to my August TBR. I was not disappointed. While I like her first novel a little better, I still really enjoyed this story. Following Nora Huckleberry, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, this is a book about sisters, finding yourself late in life, and loving again after a failed marriage. It was hard for me to fully relate to Nora, as we don’t have similar experiences, but I still really loved her character and wanted her to succeed. I loved that she was strong and independent and compassionate and loving. What I liked about this story was it had themes of starting over and loss, but also loving again and not being afraid to venture out into the world again. So many of us get comfortable being alone, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lonely.

Bon Appetit said that Miller’s first novel was, essentially, Gilmore Girls. This may explain my deep appreciation and love for her stories. As my longtime readers know, Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time. I adore Guthrie, with its cozy vibes and eccentric but deeply connected community. I love Miller’s metaphors and similes. The way she compares experiences is so honest and accurate. When reading her stories, I find I have trouble putting them down. Her novels are, in my opinion, more character driven. There is always a plot and a good plot that works itself out in an authentic way, but its the characters that keep me turning the page. I’m desperate to know what happens to them and where their stories are going.

If you want the coziest summer read, I highly recommend this book! I also will, once again, recommend Miller’s first novel. Both are seriously the coziest reads I’ve ever read. It’s almost like a Hallmark holiday movie but one thousand times less cheesy and more real. Until now, I’ve read books where I liked the setting, but the way Miller describes Guthrie makes you feel like you’re there, enjoying the beauty of rural Vermont. It makes you crave a slower, calmer life that is simple but so full.

What are you reading?

Truly,

Callie leigh

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

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Hello, World.

I recently finished my first August book, which was Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. I’d heard really great things about this book, and loved the episode of “No Thanks We’re Booked” where Katie and Mollie interviewed Walsh. I recently joined Book of the Month club, and I’m so excited. I wanted to join for roughly a year and I never thought I’d be able to read enough to justify the subscription, but after reading so much this summer, I want to make reading for fun a bigger part of my daily life. If that means waking up a bit earlier, so be it. I decided to sign up when there was a special where you got a bonus credit, so I got two books for the price of the subscription. I also love that you can skip months (which is partially why I ended up going with this subscription). Anyway, Ghosted was my pick and The Summer Wives was my bonus book.

Ghosted was so cute! The perfect light, summer read that starts out addressing the ghosting trend in modern dating that turns into a romance (a complicated one, but a romance). It’s hard to discuss this book without giving away spoilers, so my review probably won’t be as in-depth as it usually is! When I started this book, I immediately liked the characters, but it did feel a bit slow for a portion of the beginning. However, once I hit the fifty-page mark, it was such a page-turner. I appreciated this book because all the plot-twists actually felt like twists. Usually, I can predict where a book is going, but with this one as soon as I thought I knew, it went somewhere else that still felt true to the story. I don’t like twists that seem really out of left field but I also don’t love when I already guessed what was happening. So, know that if you read Ghosted, and think you know what’s coming, you most likely don’t! This makes the reading experience far more fun.

Something I enjoyed about this book was the protagonist is older, and successful, and intelligent, and still does some crazy stuff when she’s ghosted. I think Walsh addresses really well the panic and self-doubt that comes with being ghosted and how hard it can be with how much social media stalking someone can do. We can get answers so easily, but usually, the information we find just makes things worse. Still, even when it’s perfectly obvious our date didn’t’ die, lose his phone, or fall off a cliff on his way home, we can convince ourselves something must have happened, something other than he just didn’t pick up the phone. Dating is rough and it’s even harder when we can check whether the person is alive and well and just choosing not to reach out. Also, having so much access sometimes sends even the most rational, confident people in a downward spiral. I really enjoyed how this book highlighted dating and ghosting and self-doubt, and how they intersect and interact.

This being my first BOTM pick, I was very happy and looking forward to the months ahead! I also recommend Ghosted if you like romances and want to read a thoughtful book.

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

August TBR

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Hello, World.

I am so excited to announce my August TBR. Honestly, reading so much this summer has reminded me how much I revel in a good story, how excited I get when I read the last paragraph of a book I loved, and how fulfilling reading stories can be. As an English major, reading became sort of rote. I did the reading, took the notes, participated in the discussion, and moved on. But after two years of law school, reading just to read and enjoy a good story feels so right.

This month’s TBR list is a bit like a class syllabus. I have the four or so books I definitely plan to read, and then, time allowing, a few others. I’m hoping my reading streak will continue and maybe even grow while I’m visiting my family in California. I won’t be working anymore, so I theoretically have more time to read. However, I want to ensure I’m spending quality time with my family. Still, I predict a lot of reading by the pool and in the morning and evening. So, without further ado, here is my August to-be-read:

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh | I recently signed up for Book of the Month. I know, I know… no money on books was my goal. BUT, I’m loving reading and I think one book per month is manageable during the academic year. Also, the monthly subscription is cheaper than buying one hardcover book at a bookstore, and even some paperbacks, so #winning. Anyway, Ghosted seems like a great summer beach read. I think this will be a fun read on modern dating! The synopsis reads:

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call. Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened—there must be an explanation. Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams | I don’t typically reach for historical fiction. My best friend from college would just die to know that, as she typically always reaches for it. However, I prefer contemporary stories for whatever reason. Still, this read caught my attention. I love a good romance and this story seemed particularly interesting. Also, I used the Goodreads app to preview the first few pages, and it seems like just my kind of book. The synopsis on the BOTM website reads:

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island as a schoolgirl from the margins of high society, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda’s catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans: the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse with his mysterious wife. In summer, Joseph helps his father in the lobster boats, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph’s enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and as the summer winds to its end, Miranda’s caught in a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the landmark summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same—determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather 18 years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naïve teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice for the man she once loved … even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

The Late Bloomer’s Club by Louise Miller | I LOVED The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller’s debu​t novel. I had originally chosen a different book for this month, but once I remembered this book was coming out at the end of July, I wanted to make it a priority for August reading. I love Miller’s writing style and her stories are so cozy and real. This novel also takes place in Guthrie, a fictional Vermont town that has serious Gilmore Girls vibes! I’m so excited to get my hands on a copy! The description reads:

Nora, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, is perfectly happy serving up apple cider donuts, coffee, and eggs-any-way-you-like-em to her regulars, and she takes great pleasure in knowing exactly what’s “the usual.” But her life is soon shaken when she discovers she and her free-spirited, younger sister Kit stand to inherit the home and land of the town’s beloved cake lady, Peggy Johnson.

Kit, an aspiring–and broke–filmmaker thinks her problems are solved when she and Nora find out Peggy was in the process of selling the land to a big-box developer before her death. The people of Guthrie are divided–some want the opportunities the development will bring, while others are staunchly against any change–and they aren’t afraid to leave their opinions with their tips.

Time is running out, and the sisters need to make a decision soon. But Nora isn’t quite ready to let go of the land, complete with a charming farmhouse, an ancient apple orchard and the clues to a secret life that no one knew Peggy had. Troubled by the conflicting needs of the town, and confused by her growing feelings towards Elliot, the big-box developer’s rep, Nora throws herself into solving the one problem that everyone in town can agree on–finding Peggy’s missing dog, Freckles. When a disaster strikes the diner, the community of Guthrie bands together to help her, and Nora discovers that doing the right thing doesn’t always mean giving up your dreams.

You, Me, Everything by Catherine Isaac | The cover of this book screams “beach-read.” I just love how inviting it is, and yes, this is me judging a book by it’s cover. However, I also have on good authority that it’s a fun beach read that is perfect for summer (i.e. – all the bookish Instagram accounts I follow and Carly Heitlinger). I’m so looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. It seems like it has the makings of a great read. The description is:

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like?  Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene.   Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heart-wrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.

So, there you have my current list. ​If time allows, I plan to add All We Ever Wanted, the new Emily Giffin novel and potentially one more pick, depending on the BOTM options for August!

Truly,
Callie leigh

Euphoria by Lily King

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Hello, World.

For the first time all summer, I’m actually ahead on my to-be-read! I just finished up Euphoria and I’m glad I read it. It’s a good book with insightful passages and honestly, a book I probably wouldn’t normally read. I like to challenge myself with narratives outside my norm. I think having no TV helps me push through a book I’m hesitant about. I knew I was having reservations about this story when I started it, so I pushed through the first fifty pages pretty quickly. I’m glad I did because it ended up being a worthwhile read.

Based on anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson’s brief time together in Papua New Guinea in 1933, this read is a love-triangle centered novel. This novel follows Nell (Mead) and her husband, Fen (Fortune) who are in New Guinea but are headed to a new study area in Australia when they run into Bateson, who convinces them to stay in the area and study a new tribe there. Bateson, lonely and battling his own demons, is desperate for interactions with them after spending years alone in the jungle. The three become fast friends, working and studying together. However, Fen is a bit more aggressive than it first seems and there is a struggle between Fen and Nell for power in their relationship. Meanwhile, Bateson and Nell share undeniable chemistry, both physical and intellectual.

The writing in this novel is rhythmic, poetic, and well paced. It’s fairly short read, coming in around 250 pages, and I read quickly. Knowing nothing about Mead going into this read, it was fun to watch this story unfold. However, it is important to note this is a fictionalized work, so while it’s based on real people and events, their story doesn’t track the real one exactly. Now that I finished the novel, I plan to read up a bit on the real events just to see what was true and what King took liberties within her writing.

I enjoyed Nell’s character a lot, but I also loved Bateson. Fen, well, I didn’t like him. I liked that Nell was strong, unapologetic in her pursuit of understanding, warm, and so intellectual. I appreciated that what drew people to Nell was her intellect and her instincts. Bateson was likable, funny, warm, and I adored his interactions with Nell. I will say, I expected a bit more sex, but I like that this love-triangle was more about intellect than a physical connection.

There is an unexpected twist at the end. I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say I didn’t see it coming but also found it so appropriate. I really enjoyed this book. While it wasn’t my favorite book, I’m glad I read it and enjoyed the story. I do recommend it to anyone interested in anthropology, travel, love triangles, and strong women. There are some really beautiful passages in the book that made me pause and absorb! Up next, I’ll be reading Ghosted by Rosie Walsh. I’ve heard it’s the perfect beach, summertime read, which will be great for the beginning of my time in California. I will be sharing my August TBR soon!

Truly,
Callie leigh

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

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Hello, World.

I am so excited for my review of this book. I actually finished this book in Starbucks and had to try very hard to not tear up. As you know, I’ve been trying to read as much as possible this summer, and I’m really proud of myself for actually accomplishing that goal. It’s been so refreshing to reach for a novel rather than a TV show (though I still watch The Bold Type each week because it’s amazing). Anyway, I’ve read seven books (!!) this summer so far. Of the seven, I think The Lost Vintage may be my favorite. This book was a perfect blend of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, coziness, intrigue, and romance. Honestly, it’s the total package. Also, wine snob that I am, I was so happy with the wine component of this book. I now kind of want to read up on the Master of Wine test… *begins thinking about taking the exam someday*

I’m one of those people who likes to research a book before I buy. I usually read reviews, look at what press attention the book receives, stalk the Instagram hashtag to see first impressions, etc. This book, however, I saw on Instagram and decided to just go for because the person who posted it had similar feelings about The Female Persuasion as me and I decided that was enough for me to plunge into The Lost Vintage. Also, there is the fact that upon my third re-watching of Under the Tuscan Sun and my fourth re-watching of Eat, Pray, Love, I was desperate for a book that would transport me to a wine-filled, cozy corner of the world and Burgundy, France seemed like just the place. I’m mildly concerned this review is going to be too long, so bear with me, and pour yourself a glance of wine if you want!

This book follows Kate, a young woman who lives in San Francisco, but her family has owned a vineyard in France for generations. Swearing to never return to France after a disastrous break-up, Kate is now living her life in San Francisco where she is studying for the Master of Wine exam, an intense exam where you have to identify all aspects of wine by blind taste and answer a series of essay questions on wine theory. The test is a “three strikes you’re out” kind of test, and she’s already failed twice. So, in an attempt to pass, her mentor recommends she go spend time on her family’s vineyard to learn more about French wine, the only wine she consistently messes up on the exam. So, she heads to Burgundy, France to assist her family in the year’s harvest. Running alongside her narrative is the narrative of her relative during the German ccupation of France in WWII. Only the reader is privy to this story, though it is interwoven in Kate’s narrative as well.

Two narratives, two heroines, can be hard to accomplish as a writer. When I read books that are written in this manner, I often greatly prefer one story over the other. This one, however, kept me wanting more from each story. The reason I think this book works so well is that we watch Kate and her family attempt to piece together her relative’s life and fate through the history left behind, despite holes and uncertainties. But as the reader, we know the truth, so when Kate missteps or misunderstands we feel anguish and sadness for her relative’s legacy is remembered incorrectly. The other reason I enjoyed the WWII aspect is that I was largely unfamiliar with the Occupation, the separations that occurred within families as some members resisted German control and others believed succumbing to the Germans was the only means of survival. I also have never studied what the French did to Nazi sympathizers or collaborators. While I think the actions of the people who supported Nazis were despicable, it was hard to swallow what happened after the war, especially knowing women were often bearing the brunt of French anger while the men who collaborated went largely unpunished. In this regard, this novel gave me so much to think about and absorb and made me want to learn more about the Occupation, post-liberation France, and the familial divides that occurred.

I adored both heroines of this story. Kate was spunky, stubborn, but also funny, warm, self-aware. Helene was strong, unwavering, and so very intelligent. I loved that this book explores what happens when we learn things about our ancestors we don’t like, how we can take accountability, how we can be better than those who came before us. While I did think one part of the resolution-portion of the novel was wrapped up a little too quickly and perhaps not tenderly enough, I still adored this novel. I found myself thinking about it all day, trying to figure out how much reading I could squeeze into the day. To be honest, this was the first book where I really liked all the characters (well, all the characters I was supposed to like). I read this book so quickly because I couldn’t put it down, I wanted to figure out the mystery, I wanted Kate to know the truth about her relative, and I wanted to know if she’d pass the exam. I was thoroughly engrossed in every aspect of this story and did not want it to end.

I will say, without giving any spoilers hopefully, that I felt like Kate’s inability to master French wine, specifically white burgundy, was intertwined heavily with an emotional block. She had repressed so many emotions she had for the people who produced the wine that in doing so she became unable to learn the wine. This mirrored, in my mind, some actions by people in the WWII narrative and how, upon refusing to acknowledge certain people or realities, they became unable to fight. I’m not sure how to articulate this idea without spoilers, so I will just say read the book!

I’m surprised this book hasn’t received more critical attention. The only press attention I could find was pretty meager in comparison to books I read earlier this summer. Perhaps because Ann Mah is a newer author The New York Times, The New Yorker and other publications haven’t reviewed her yet. But they certainly should as this novel is so important and places Mah among some of the strongest voices in contemporary fiction. This novel was touted as Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale and though I haven’t read The Nightingale, I would say that the description is accurate. The Nightingale focuses on WWII France (beautifully from what I hear), and the amount of wine and wine culture in this book clearly aligns with Sweetbitter, though our protagonist is more akin to Stephanie Danler (author of Sweetbitter) than her protagonist, Tess, because Kate is very well-versed in wine unlike Tess, who is only beginning an appreciation for good wine. So, if you pick up one book from all the books I’ve read this summer, make it this one. I have a serious book hangover and will probably need a day or two before I start Euphoria, the next book on my July TBR.

Important takeaways as a reader: I should reach for more historical fiction. When done well, historical fiction can be a mesmerizing, humbling, deeply emotional experience.

I am so excited for Ann Mah’s future books and I sincerely hope this book begins capturing the attention of more readers. Again, if you need a new read, make it this one! I never say this, but I may re-read this book in the future. I went through it so quickly, I hope to revisit the story again. For now, next up is Euphoria by Lily King… I won’t lie, this one is a bit outside my comfort zone and I debated swapping it out for Emily Giffin’s new novel, but alas… I will read it! It’s going to be my last book while in DC and then I have some Book of the Month books waiting for me in California.

Truly,
Callie Leigh

She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop

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Hello, World.

I am so excited about this review because this book was a bit lighter than some of the previous reading I’ve done this summer. She Regrets Nothing is Andrea Dunlop’s second novel, and now I’m hoping to pick up a copy of her first soon. Her writing is captivating and fun and kept me turning pages so quickly. Usually I’m a slow reader, I like to absorb a story slowly, really enjoy the words, but this book kept me guessing I wanted so badly to know where the story was headed, that I blew through 20 or 40 pages during my morning reading session and 60 or 80 pages during my after work reading session.

I was seeing this book all over the Bookstagram corner of Instagram in February and March, but I was still on a book-buying freeze. Then, however, Alyssa of @sweptawaybybooks announced that she was giving away a signed copy of the novel. I entered, thinking I probably wouldn’t win and moved on. Then I got a DM that I’d won! Two days before I left for my DC summer, the book arrived at my home, signed with a little note from Dunlop. I had already purchased some other summer books, so decided to get through them first (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) before starting this one. Once I picked this novel up, I couldn’t put it down.

If you’re wondering what it’s about, the synopsis is as follows:

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Point, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy, She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

In my words, it’s about a Laila Lawrence, a twenty-three year old who will do just about anything for security, belonging, and comfort. She strikes me as a more mature Jenny Humphrey (in season one of Gossip Girl, not the seasons when she lost it). Once the full cast of characters was introduced, I had so much fun with the story. I kept waiting to see who could be trusted, who was merely there to serve plot, and who was there to stand in for a stereotype. Though I really didn’t like Laila, she’s pretty cold-hearted, I found myself wanting her to redeem herself with her family and have some semblance of home. My favorite character, the one I found to be the most genuine, was Liberty, Laila’s older, literary agent cousin. Some characters made me roll my eyes and others made me want to yell “get over yourself!” but overall, the group was a fun one to follow.

Ultimately this is a story of ambition, sex, and upper-class wealth in New York City. While a lot of people are, for good reason, comparing this book to Gossip Girl, I was getting major Revenge vibes while reading. Laila has a card to play, but she soon realizes the table at which she’s playing is a bit big for her, a bit out of reach, and just slightly too secluded for her to really find her footing on her chair. She orchestrates her life around the fact that she knows a secret and wants to get to the bottom of why she was denied a life she thinks she should have had. In that way, it reminded me of Revenge.

This book is the perfect combination of light and fun while also discussing some really real issues. For example, the book discusses, in pretty good detail, the double standards for men and women and the age gap in relationships and who should hold what role. I liked Cameron and Liberty’s relationship because it felt so much like how this would actually go (up to a point). Liberty’s ambition and drive is what draws Cameron in, but later is what he expects her to tone down so as to not outshine him. This, and so many other moments, highlight that regardless of class the role women are expected to play is often one of the ambitious but willing-to-comprise woman.

This read was so much fun in that it felt like Gossip Girl for grown-ups with a heavy dose of Revenge. I kept wanting to find out people’s motivations and who, ultimately, was keeping the largest secret. I will say, some people had massive issues with the Act Three twist in this novel. While I was kind of like, “hmm seems random,” I didn’t feel it was completely out of left field. Given the already high stakes in the book, it seemed to fit. However, I will say the last few chapters kind of felt a bit disconnected as they shifted focus. I’d been concerned about Laila and her story for most the book, and suddenly I found myself hearing from one of the, previously seeming, lesser characters. I would have liked to experience the ending through Laila, but I understand why the last few chapters focused on a different character. Still, despite this twist, I loved the read and would recommend it!

Truly,
Callie leigh

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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Hello, World.

I usually wait a day or two to write a review after finishing a book, but after finishing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, I have so many emotions that I wanted the feeling I have to be reflected in my review. Honestly, few books leave me with a physical reaction to a book. But this book has my chest tight, my eyes watery, and my heart heavy. To be perfectly honest, I’m a bit surprised by my final reaction to this read because initially, I was having trouble getting into the story. I was lukewarm on the characters. I didn’t dislike them, but I was also having trouble liking them. However, the struggle with whether I liked them or not was fitting by the end because the story doesn’t have a “happy” ending, but it has closure, which I think is better. I will say this book is beautifully written. I found myself loving the language, loving the similes, the comparisons, and the unraveling of complex human relationships that are sometimes beautiful, often messy, and seldom perfect. The book’s synopsis reads:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

During the first third of the book, I felt like I was gaining into a relationship and lives that I shouldn’t have access to. It felt so deeply personal, probably because roughly 50 pages is just letters between characters, which feels like an exchange I shouldn’t be able to infiltrate. Once I hit the 200-page mark, however, I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted so badly for things to work out, for things to improve, for things to sort themselves out. While this book is very focused on the criminal justice system, race relations in this country, and the problem of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I think it ultimately portrays how circumstances outside our control cause inadvertent changed and shifts within us that affect our relationships immeasurably and forever in ways we never imagined. Circumstances happen and then we react and sometimes we react imperfectly and that’s a hard thing to expect. What I struggled with while reading was that some characters felt like they didn’t seem to have empathy for Roy, the man who is convicted of and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. I wanted to shake Celestial and Andre and say, “Can’t you see you’re being horrible and lacking understanding?!” But at the end of the day, they make choices that they have to accept and those choices play out how you’d expect for the most part.

I didn’t necessarily love any one character, but I appreciated that they were fleshed out, real, raw, and human. Specifically, it was interesting to watch them fight against stereotypes that were trying to attach to them, stereotypes they thought they’d escaped long ago only to realize that such things weren’t always in their control. There is an exchange between Roy and Andre in which Roy is basically saying that his situation could easily have happened to Andre, and Andre acknowledges this and shakes it off in the same breath. Roy, however, knows that he lived his whole life trying to avoid a certain fate, only to have that fate catch up to him in the worst way.

A theme I loved that’s threaded seamlessly throughout this book is time. The inevitability of it, the malleability of it, having too much, too little, how much time affects things. Time brings distance in ways miles don’t. Time morphs a person, internally and externally. With time, people discover who they are, who they aren’t, love grows and shrivels and fades only to return. I think time, more than anything, reveals to us which path is ours. Roy, throughout the book, segregates time into a “before” “during” and “after.” He clings desperately to his “before” life, his during life is stagnant and unchanging despite everyone not in his situation moving full steam ahead with their lives, and the after is shaded by the reality of before, the expectations developed during, and the fact that nothing is the same after. For Roy, time stands still and though he’s changing he’s certain things are going to be the same. Celestial, by comparison, can’t seem to find a firm grasp on anything related to the “before.” Andre realizes he never fully addressed his feelings, which complicates things. Andre irritated me because despite claiming he knew Roy’s situation was transferrable to him had he been where Roy was when Roy was arrested, he seems to have a bit of a superiority complex. In short, all three characters are so layered, so complex it’s hard to know how to feel until the final page.

As I read the last paragraph of this book, tears filled my eyes. I just felt a deep sadness for the characters. What happened to Roy was so far from his control and even those that should have fiercely defended him and attempted to ease the pain fell away, leaving him even more alone. And yet, Roy, resilient as ever, still digs deep within himself to let go of the perception of the life he imagined for the life that he has after prison. This book has some amazing quotes, so I wanted to share my favorites:

“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

“But home isn’t where you land; home is where you launch. You can’t pick your home any more than you can choose your family. In poker, you get five cards. Three of them you can swap out, but two are yours to keep: family and native land.”

“Sometimes when you like where you end up, you don’t care how you got there.”

“Is it love, or is it convenience?… She explained that convenience, habit, comfort, obligation- these are all things that wear the same clothing as love sometimes.”

“Human emotion is beyond comprehension, smooth and uninterrupted, like an orb made of blown glass.”

AND MY FAVORITE

“But mostly my life is good, only it’s a different type of good from what I figured on.”

Have you read this book? If so, what’d you think?!

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

July TBR

 

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Hello, World.

I’m here to share my July to-be-read list! Below are the three novels I hope to tackle this month.

She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop | What happens when you’re at a relatives funeral and family members you’ve never heard of, much less met, show up? Dazzled by the glittering relatives hailing from NYC and the intrigue associated with them, Laila Lawrence goes to NYC to uncover the world she’s never known in the wealthy family she’s been deprived of throughout her life. A story of family dynamics, long-held secrets, and self-discovery, this book is Gossip Girl for the early twenties woman.

I’m so excited to read this! I actually won my copy of this in a Giveaway from @sweptawaybybooks Instagram account. So, thank you to Alyssa, who runs the account, and Dunlop, who sent me my signed copy! This book seems to have all the elements that usually make me reach for a book, so I’m so ready to start it. Also, I’ve read a lot of heavy books this summer, so this one seems like the light, dramatic one I need.

Euphoria by Lily King | Recommended by Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter, I wasn’t sure I would pick this up immediately but made a mental note to read it. I originally planned to read Harvard Square by Andre Aciman this month, but because I have no mailing address this summer, I must rely on bookstores to purchase books. There is an Amazon Books in Georgetown (so cool!), so I popped in to pick up Harvard Square and The Lost Vintage. However, I could only find one. I then spotted Euphoria, which seemed like a fairly quick read. So, I added it to my July TBR. Set in 1933, it follows a love triangle among three anthropologists studying together in New Guinea. I’m very curious to read this, as I know Danler thoroughly enjoyed it!

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah | After seeing this on the Instagram account @butthechildrenlovebooks, I was intrigued. I’ve been on this wanderlust kick lately where I watch all my favorite movies about American abroad (Under the Tuscan SunThe HolidayEat Pray Love, etc.). I love any story about family, coming-of-age, wine, and Tuscany. So, this sounds like the perfect blend (pun intended). Sweetbitter is one of my favorite novels, so when I saw it compared to that novel, I knew I had to pick it up, The Goodreads blurb describes the book as:

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.”

For those who remember I promised not to buy new books, I received an Amazon gift card that I used to purchase Euphoria and The Lost Vintage! I’m so looking forward to reading some more “fun” reads! I’ve been on a reading kick and loving all the books I chose this summer, so I’m hoping to continue that.

I’m currently a bit behind on my June TBR, so I hope to finish An American Marriage this weekend and then start the next slate of reads! My second to last week in June was a marathon, which hindered my ability to read as much as previous weeks, which is why I’m behind on An American Marriage, but from what I can tell, if I have a few hours, I’ll blow through it.

Looking forward, I will probably try to get through four to five books in August, as I’ll be done working and home with my family. I tend to read a ton when home because my family goes to bed early and there are days by the pool! For July, the month already looks a bit hectic, so I know I’ll want to be realistic about how much time I will have to read. I also want to soak up my time in D.C.

What’re you reading?

Truly,

Callie leigh