Beach Read by Emily Henry: I think this might be classified as a romance novel and I don’t even care! I loved it. It was so sappy and sweet and sad and happy, and it was exactly what I needed. ON top of that, I have to say the writing was excellent. The characters will wonderfully rich, and the dialogue was amazing. I’m not sure why I don’t read this genre ALL THE TIME because it just made me happy and hopeful.
The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth: Loved this family drama about a neighborhood where everything looks perfect but most certainly is not. Each family has its secrets and suspicions, and things intensify when Isabelle, a single woman, moves into this neighborhood of families.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: This is a familiar story in the mode of The Odyssey and Huck Finn: a boy and his friends, all outcasts, journey down the river in a canoe. It’s the Great Depression, and they are all orphans on the run from an abusive orphanage for Native American children. (I did find it problematic that the hero of the story has to be one of only two white children in the orphanage, but anyway.) The first half of the novel was engaging and well told; however, the second half leaned more and more toward too many coincidences, narrow escapes, and, well, too much going on. I think the author was trying to fit everything in and wrap everything up perfectly, and it just got out of hand. So, it was a pretty good read but nowhere near the caliber of Krueger’s Ordinary Grace, which was one of my favorites.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave. Hannah doesn’t even know Owen is missing yet when she gets a note scribbled on notebook paper that says simply “Protect her.” The obvious “her” is Bailey, Owen’s 16-year-old daughter. When a US Marshal and then the FBI show up looking for Owen, Hannah and Bailey realize they have to find out for themselves why Owen has disappeared. The novel swings back and forth from “before” times to the present, as Hannah and Bailey uncover Owen’s real past and figure out how they can best survive the future. This mystery was fast paced with plot twists revealed at just the right moments. I definitely recommend it.
Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen. Tabitha, a TV journalist in her early 30s, discovers that her biological clock is about to run out. If she wants babies, she’d better figure out how to have them fast. She’s suddenly overwhelmed with her future. She’s a Black woman who is up for a major promotion, in a white male-centered business; she’s trying to navigate fertility options as a single woman; she has strong, supportive friends who are also dealing with major life issues; she’s in a confusing relationship with Marc; and she’s trying to figure out who she is and where she comes from. A lot happened in this book, but also sometimes, there was just a lot of repetition. The dialogue was fantastic, but sometimes there was just too much of it. Like, it didn’t move the plot forward; it was just regular dialogue like “Do you like cream in your coffee?” I liked the characters OK. I’d read the next one in this series just to see how things turn out, but I’m not dying to read it.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I was totally not expecting to enjoy this, especially when I read something that compared it to both Willy Wonka and The Matrix. Willy Wonka I adore; The Matrix I do not. But this was a book club book, and I always read our book club books! I was shocked how much I loved this from the very first page. I mean, I was somehow immediately sucked in, and I wanted to read it every spare moment I had. The story takes place in 2044, mostly in OASIS, a virtual utopia. There’s a contest that’s been going on for 5 years. The creator of OASIS made a quest out of his inheritance. The gamer who finds the treasure wins his billions of dollars. I know basically nothing about gaming, and I think people who are true gamers hate this book. But I loved the author’s explanations, the quest itself, the revealing of the characters toward the end, and the 80s pop culture references. It was a fun twist on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I would probably like The Matrix if I could have understood it as well as I did this.
Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney. Why do people love this so much? I found it extraordinarily tedious. All the characters were annoying. Simon was the only one I liked, but even he was annoying. Except for one, they were all exceedingly self-focused, whiney, pretentious, and bratty. The one who wasn’t completely self-centered and whiney (Simon) was almost likable, but he he suffered from too much inaction. I wanted to tell all of them to stop thinking about themselves so much and go out and actually DO something. Very unpleasant people. (And speaking of pretentious, I found Rooney’s stylistic choice to not use quotation marks in her dialogue terribly pretentious.) I couldn’t wait to finish this novel, but I was invested enough that I did finish it. II think mostly I kept thinking that surely it must get better! As one reviewer said, “when i was diagnosed with covid i thought that being isolated to my bedroom for two weeks was the most boring thing in the world - Sally Rooney has now proven me wrong.” I think that sums it up.
Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena. A fast-paced but predictable thriller.
When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash. Really liked this story about a small town coastal sheriff, a mysterious plane crash, a dead man, and the sheriff's daughter. Wiley Cash is one of my favorite contemporary Southern authors; his writing is lyrical and lovely to read. Highly recommended; it's sad but also hopeful.
The People You Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry: Very cute. It’s just a happy book with snappy dialogue and lots of funny, sweet moments. Definitely another vacation read by the author of Beach Read!
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth. Another engaging mystery by Hepworth. I really like her writing and her explorations. Interesting and well developed characters.