July Book Reviews

 Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy

(Many thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for the complimentary advance review copy!) Despite some good reviews from folks I trust, this novel of a small town girl taking a job as a bunny at the Playboy resort just didn’t work for me. I was going into it with a lot of high hopes, as I have actually stayed at the resort at the center of the story (now The Grand Geneva), and my mom worked for Playboy’s Chicago offices back in the 70s (first in data entry, then in purchasing, ahem!) and, yes, she met Hef on occasion. I was hoping to love it and recommend it to her. Alas.
It was just one of those books that felt as if someone were describing a story, rather than putting me into the story - a lot of tell, and no show. Even foreshadowing was announced, rather than implied with the writing, which is a peeve of mine: Little did she know! This is a pivotal moment! Make note! Then big swaths of time go by in the second half of the book in order to come to an ending that was a big slap in the face for the main character that just left me kinda sad.
I also found it weird that it was set in the 80s. There weren’t many markings of the time, except for a concert at Alpine Valley (which I have also frequented!), and I felt as if this was a missed opportunity. Maybe it is because I recently finished an excellent and immersive book set in the 80s where the author wrote multifaceted characters while supplying me with every scent, sound, taste and feel of the time and place. (Malibu Rising, obvi.)
Again, this one just did not work for me, but I believe that there’s an audience for every book! The fun tidbits and all of the idiosyncratic rules about working as a playboy bunny ALONE made this book worthwhile. So, definitely pick this up if that sounds entertaining and you want to read a book that does not demand too much of you as a reader this summer.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary was definitely the most fun reading experience I’ve had so far this year! Like most of the readers who loved it and convinced me to pick this up, I was VERY hesitant despite loving The Martian, because I did not like Artemis. I even ended up buying a copy because I didn’t put Hail Mary on hold at the library (convinced I wouldn’t read it) and when I finally caved, the list was just too long to wait! Now I’m so glad I have my own copy to put on the ol’ favorites shelf.
Because of my ignorance around this novel, I went in pretty blind and I definitely suggest this approach. I was surprised at several turns, especially a few whoppers near the end. There’s so much I’d love to tell y’all about why I adored this story, but I’d be giving a lot of plot away. Generally speaking, it has that sense of urgency (much late night reading) mixed with humor that worked so well in The Martian and, dare I say, even better in this novel. The heartwarming feels, too, are off the charts. Like The Martian, it’s an absolutely universally appealing book, not just geared towards sci-fi fans. Amaze! (IYKYK) Please read it and gush about it with me!

Nobody, Somebody, Anybody by Kelly McClorey

(Many thanks to Bibliolifestyle and Ecco Books for the complimentary advance review copy!) If I were to summarize this novel, it would seem pretty straightforward. It’s about a woman trying to turn her life around when she goes to shambles after the death of her mother. And yet…
There was something foreboding about Amy’s inner thoughts, about her feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing that seemed tied to some horrible actions on her part. I kept expecting a major reveal as to why she acted the way she did, sometimes rather alarmingly. Alas, even though the narrative is reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, there was no real denouement and the ending was open to interpretation.
I did find Amy to be a fascinating character, the relationship she began to forge with her landlord was endearing, and it was a super fast read. But, contrary to the publisher’s description, I never once laughed out loud - or quietly. The overall tone felt sad and anxiety ridden, a tale of someone in desperate need of mental health care. I think it’s a read-alike for fans of Convenience Store Woman, and it would definitely an interesting book club selection.

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

This collection of short stories was INTENSE. I laughed, I cringed, I gasped, and I smiled big. I'm always so impressed with short stories that can pack so much emotion and story in fewer words. Not a single one wasted. Listening to the audiobook definitely added to the intimate feeling of each woman's story, like a girlfriend whispering some JUICY gossip in my ear. 

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Chalk this one up to 'Bookstagram made me do it' and it was cute, it was fine. This story of a divorced mother mistaken for a hitman in a Panera bread and hilarity ensues is just not my bag. If you are looking for something that doesn't require a lot of your attention, this makes for very easy listening on audiobook. For me, the far fetched and silly just didn't grab me. I needed something more and this didn't deliver much more than exercising my suspension of disbelief.

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

(Thank you to Little Brown for the the complimentary finished copy!) I went into this with trepidation. On one hand, it's a summer ritual for me to read her latest book. On the other, I have been disappointed with some of her choices as an author - practically bullying folks who give her book even a slightly negative (but not mean) review, and the thought process behind a few lines in this particular book. However, given that she has apologized and owned up to her mistakes rather than digging in (looking at you JK Rowling) I gave Golden Girl the benefit of the doubt. It was a usual Hilderbrand read: the pages flew by, the food and atmosphere of Nantucket sumptuous. Her concept of the main character experiencing the afterlife was fun, in a 'Good Place' kind of way, too. However this story was a little too creepily close to her real life. The main character Vivi is also a novelist, of beach reads, on Nantucket, not a native to the island, has three kids plus a Black friend of the family considered a fourth kid, is divorced...THE LIST GOES ON. The first quarter of the book I seriously was wondering if Elin had broken up with her boyfriend the way Vivi did, thinking hmmmm - he hasn't made much of an appearance on her Instagram... Just all around weird feeling! It also felt like a creative shortcut. But, if you are a fan of her novels, this will definitely scratch that yearly summer itch.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley

Yep, I am in agreement with all of the glowing reviews: The Guncle is very cute and sweet. It was a perfect summer read, full of brunch (and linner!), caftans, cocktails and Palm Springs atmosphere. The story had some heft and thoughtfulness about a tough topic. No - not about gay uncles, but grief. Each character was dealing with grief in different ways and it felt real, not saccharine. 

The Star Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman

This novel really hit all the sweet spots for a perfect wanderlust summer read. Even though I've been to Italy (main tourist spots like Rome, Venice, Florence) I've never been to the coasts and I think the Amalfi coast will be the first vacation my husband and I will take when we are finally able to travel without kids again one day! It's a sweet story about unrequited love and becoming who you are meant to be, not what is expected of you. My only beef is that I have a hard time with characters that let people walk all over them, I get a lot of righteous anger on there behalf and Emilia made me want to scream on multiple occasions. There were one too many missed opportunities for her to stand her ground, and it got a little exasperating. But the adorable great aunt Poppy and her sweeping love story made up for my quibbles!