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Chrissie’s Mid-Summer Reading Reviews and Recs

I love to read, and read a variety of things – leaning towards fiction, historical fiction, biography, and memoirs. Recently I have read (some on Kindle, some on Audible) a bunch of different types of things. Some ‘lighter’ and some not. Most good, just a couple great, some just so-so. And a couple of the ‘books of the summer’, that have gotten rave reviews and been on celebrities ‘book club’ lists, I thought were just so-so. It’s personal for sure!

Here are my thoughts  (in no particular order) on what I’ve read most recently, rated A-F, as it gives me a bit more flexibility than a 1-5 star rating scale. I’m a tough grader – an A is hard-earned, and is not given out without it being a book a really, really love and would recommend to anyone I meet!

The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende
Rating: A-

I am a Isabel Allende fan, with my favorite recent book of hers being Violeta. Although I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Violeta, I really enjoyed it. The book has two storylines, both about children who are ‘orphaned immigrants’. In one storyline a boy is sent by his mother to England to escape Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1938. In the other, a young girl escapes violence in El Salvador in 2019, becoming separated from her mother after reaching the US at which time she is put into the US child refugee system. The two stories intersect towards the end of the book. The two storylines are very different from each other yet the similarities of the situations are what the book is really about. Also, if you are an Isabel Allende fan in general I recommend listening to Julia Louise-Dreyfus’s interview with her on the Wiser Than Me podcast.

The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry
Rating: B+

In the huge sea of books that take place in WWII, this one focused on a British girl who was sent to the countryside with her sister to escape the London bombings and the tragedy that occurred while there. It then also takes place 20 years later as the same woman comes upon a book that makes her question what really happened, and may help lead her to understanding what happened to her missing sister. It’s not a ‘war’ book, but more about family, love, the sisters’ bond, and rediscovering your past. A nice, easy read that I wanted to keep picking up.

 

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai
Rating: A

Banyan Moon is about three generations of Vietnamese women who are dealing with the loss of the matriarch. The book takes place in Florida, where the matriarch emigrated, as well as in Vietnam via flashbacks to her childhood. The granddaughter is facing a crossroads in her life when her grandmother passes away and her return to the family home in Florida after the death makes all the women in the family reevaluate their lives and relationships. The book is about motherhood, relationship, single mothers, and honesty between mothers and daughters. It’s beautifully written and I really enjoyed it.

 

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
Rating: A

Oh I loved this book! It’s about a boy, William, who comes from a broken home and a family of 4 sisters, each of whom is totally different yet fully committed to one another…until they aren’t. An homage to Little Woman, Beautiful Women is about the relationships that occur between William and the sisters, and the relationships between the sisters. When a tragedy occurs we see how those bonds will, or will not, hold together. It’s just so beautifully written and I enjoyed every word.

 

The Kingdom of Prep by Maggie Bullock
Rating A-

For those who grew up on J.Crew and those who enjoy retail, this is a great book. It is the history of J.Crew, starting with it being a mail order catalog run by a family company. I didn’t know anything about the company’s early (pre-Mickey Drexler and pre-Jenna Lyons) years and found it fascinating! We learn about the personalities and business decisions that drove its successes and its declines. I raced through it. And after you learn about Jenna Lyons ascent to Creative Director of J.Crew you can then tune in to watch Jenna Lyons as she takes her next step as a new castmate of the Real Housewives of New York as it focuses on a new cast of career-oriented women (launched a week or so ago)!

 

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
Rating: B-

This is one of the books on the list on which my thoughts are going against public opinion. This is on every ‘best books of the summer’ lists around…but it wasn’t for me. It’s about a woman who steals her friend’s unpublished novel after a freak death and publishes it as her own. Her friend is Asian and she is not, and the book she ‘steals’ is set in China. Many reviews are saying it’s a terrific book about diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation. Yes, those things are dealt with, but I found it to be a very minor part of the story. I just found the main character totally unappealing (it’s clear that what she did was wrong and the author did not make me feel anything positive toward her as I read it) and I couldn’t wait for it to end. Just my opinion…and apparently I’m in the minority on this one!

 

The Guest by Emma Cline
Rating: B-

This is the another book on the list with which I disagree with most people it seems! It’s also on all the ‘great new books’ lists and I just didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s about a woman who, after being dumped by her rich boyfriend while in Long Island, has to grift her way through the week, finding places to stay and people to scam as she has no home or money.  Maybe it’s because she is a self-destructive person which brings me angst to read about and ‘angsty’ storylines are not enjoyable to me. It just made me so uncomfortable watching her lie and ‘make poor choices’ as she goes through her days. I didn’t like the character, didn’t find myself rooting for her, and just didn’t like the book or the ending. Just wasn’t for me….but apparently, it’s for a lot of other people who just love it which is great!

 

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall
Rating: B+

One of my book clubs read this historical novel this month (we haven’t met to discuss it yet) and I’m really glad we did. It it about three women and takes place in Canada in present day, in the early 70s and early 80s. It deals with motherhood, having children and the right to have an abortion and how these three women’s lives interact around these topics. Most interestingly, the book describes a secret ‘Jane’ netowrk in which heroic doctors offered their services illegally so pregnant women could get safe abortions and I was fascinated to learn about it. Given where we are today in women’s reproductive rights it was a very timely book to read and made me sad or how little had been achieved in this area over such a long time span. A friend told me yesterday there is a movie on the same topic called Call Jane which she recommends, as well as a documentary call The Janes which was also highly recommended about these hero Janes!

 

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld
Rating: A-

I’ve written about this one in another post, but included it here as I think it’s a good summer beach read (one of two on the list) given that the writing is good with fun, witty dialog, and the premise is a fun one. It’s set in an SNL writers’ environment and is about one of the writing staff who falls for a guest host. It’s not going to win the Pulitzer but is a fun one to pick up for a quick read.

 

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See
Rating: A-

I really enjoy Lisa See historical novels. I especially liked The Island of the Sea Women, as well as The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and Shanghai Girls. She takes real-life people/events and writes wonderful novels around them. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is based upon a real-life woman in 1500s Mind Dynasty China who because a female doctor, which was extremely rare. She is an upper-class woman whose life is altered when her mother dies of an infection from her bound feet. After going to live with her grandparents, both doctors, and befriending the midwife’s daughter, her medical education begins. The book follows her life as a woman who is not expected to ever leave the family compound – not to even venture outside the walls until marriage – but is still trying to find her way in the world. I found it interesting learn about how women in that period lived, how she found her way to continue to learn about medicine, and about the direction her life was, and was not, able to go given the many many restraints of women.

 

Trust by Herman Diaz
Rating: B

My other book club chose this Pulitzer Prize-winning book this month (and we also have not met to discuss it yet). I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up and was not expecting it to be basically three different tellings of the same elite people/events set in NYC in the roaring twenties and the Depression, as told from three different perspectives (which still took me a minute to figure this out while reading it). I liked the first ‘telling’ of the three the best. I didn’t love the story, but it was well-written. It shows us how the ‘truth of history’ is subjective as it is remembered differently depending upon who it is telling the story. Trust takes us down this path, helping the reader to discern which ‘story’ is in fact the ‘true’ one.

 

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
Rating: A

Epic book. It’s long (700+ pages), and it spans three generations in southern India between 1900 and 1977, telling the story of their lives, their loves, and their afflictions. There is a ‘curse’ whereby one family member of each generation is said to die of drowning and although this is part of the book it is really not the focus of the book, yet only a thread woven amongst it.  It’s just a beautifully written book that tells a story about the people in each generation of this family as they struggle to survive, to love, and to live. Loved it.

 

The Celebrants by Steven Rowley
Rating: A-

My other ‘summer beach read’ rec on the list. You might think it will be lighter than it is based on its cover art etc, but it is not a ‘meet cute’ summer read, although it does have witty banter and an overall ‘lighter read’ feel. A group of college best friends, after losing one of their gang while at Berkeley, vow to reunite at a moments notice to have ‘living funerals’ for one another as needed in their lives. The book then tells of each of these friends’ lives, why and when they opt to have their own living funerals and what effect these have on their lives. It’s about friendship, love, and the bonds of life that are formed at an early age when tragedy strikes a friend group.

 

Happy Place by Emily Henry
Rating: B-

This is the summer beach read that everyone loved except me (and Joanne). Emily Henry is known for putting out the ‘it’ book every summer and this one is a best seller for summer ‘23 but I just found it annoying and silly. For me, reading this book was not a Happy Place. Will they or won’t they get together….?! You know they will of course, and it just takes a lot of pages and silliness to get there. Not for me.

I’d love to know of any books you are reading this summer that you recommend! (email me via chrissie@fablist.co)

Also, please check out all of our FabList book recs – we have the broken down by category and only put those we love on the site (ie all of the books above will not make it to our list)!

Also please feel free to follow me on Goodreads if you want to have a full list of the 700+ books I’ve reviewed over the years, but just know that I give our 5-stars very rarely, so if it has a 5-star review it’s a great book in my opinion!

 

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Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

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