Hey friends, who's ready to fill up their library book queue and Amazon carts with amazing books?? I haven't done a book review since January (you can read it here!) and figured it's high time I get back in the saddle...especially since I just launched a book club here in Asheville! The little girl whose idea of playing sports meant finishing a stack of books before supper time is in happy disbelief right now, and feeling so so grateful :)
If you're new to my book reviews, welcome! I always start with a snippet of spoiler-free plot summary then follow with my own impressions of the book. Afterwards I share what's next on my reading list if you're looking for more 'what to read' recommendations. This edition has some heavy-hitters, y'all. Some of the BEST books I've read in my life, or at least in a long time. If you're looking for something to read choose something from this list, it will NOT disappoint!
A Coming-Of-Age Tale About Love, Loss, and Family Dynamics
Tell The Wolves I'm Home // I can't tell y'all how powerful this book is, it's just a wow. The plot summary describes a young girl coping with her uncle's death from AIDS in the '80s and I worried it might be too bleak for me. I am SO glad I gave it a chance because it's one of the BEST books I've ever read!!! The author describes the peaks and valleys of the human experience so beautifully it moved me to tears on several occasions. June, the fourteen YO protagonist, is grieving from her loss when she learns about Toby, a man she never knew but who clearly knew her deceased uncle. Just as she's closing off her heart in sadness and solitude, Toby's arrival forces her to ask questions, take chances, and show some compassion. Where that leads her is such an amazing journey, I couldn't put this book down! I identified so closely with June in so many ways even though our stories are nothing alike. That's what makes this novel so dang good -- the universality of the highs and lows of our lives, and the healing power of love. Our book club is reading this for May and I cannot wait to discuss it in a group setting.
If you like this, try: Where The Crawdads Sing
If You Could Go Back In Time To Heal Old Wounds...
The Dinner List // Everyone's played this game before: name five people, living or dead, you'd want to have dinner with. In this book, Sabrina actually gets her chance when she shows up to her birthday dinner to find some surprising guests, including Audrey Hepburn. Whenever I've played this game I always thought of it in terms of what I would ask the other people. In The Dinner List, the author turns it around and forces Sabrina to both ask and answer some pretty tough questions before the stroke of midnight. Two particularly daunting conversations are the ones she has with her deceased father who abandoned her, and the lost love of her life. How do you find closure from a life's worth of heartache in a four hour dinner? By some miracle, if you were given the chance, would you try? How would you even know how to start? Hindsight is a gift but sometimes it arrives too late. I totally connected with Sabrina which made the whole story so much more powerful. Especially the ending, when I bawled my eyes out.
If you like this, try: All We Ever Wanted
A Misunderstood Woman Who Came Before Her Time
A Well Behaved Woman // If you live in Asheville the name 'Vanderbilt' equals local royalty with the Biltmore House in our backyard. This book delves into the life of George Vanderbilt's sister-in-law, Alva, as she marries into the Vanderbilt family and consequently embarks on a personal mission to make her newfound family the toast of American aristocracy. But Alva's past is complicated, her own southern roots disintegrated in the wake of the Civil War with the loss of her both her parents and her fortune. Before poverty comes to claim her and her sisters, Alva adopts a "whatever it takes" attitude to marry into money and save them. But Alva's future winds up being complicated, too, since her morals and ethics were quite progressive for her time. In an era when rich white women equated to pretty decorations for their husbands, Alva refused to play by those rules and, apparently, suffered a blow to her reputation because of it.
I really enjoyed Fowler's interpretation of Alva's story and couldn't help but ask myself how I would've handled the repressed role of wife, woman, and mother in the late Victorian era. I think it's easy to say you wouldn't stand for it, but if it's all anyone knew up until that time, would you have the strength to buck tradition? To forge new paths when society shunned you for standing up for yourself? It's an interesting question and one I admire Alva for handling as she did. I loved this novel's blend of gilded history with a look at the female condition we're still striving to improve all these years later.
If you like this, try: The Perfume Collector
WW2 Historical Fiction with Strong Female Characters
The Huntress // A dive into the ugly consequences of war, The Huntress digs into the lives of three individuals affected by die Jägerin, a cold-blooded Nazi gone underground in the post-war frenzy. One is a Siberian-born Russian pilot who miraculously survived a tangle with The Huntress. Another, a British wartime journalist whose brother wasn't so lucky. The third, a teenaged American girl and budding photographer who suspects her new, demure stepmother isn't telling the whole truth about her past. Weaving together different timelines from both during and after the war, I became engrossed in the lives of all three Huntress hunters and, of course, the hunt for her itself. Inspired by real WW2 criminals and the people who persevered to bring them to justice, I couldn't put this book down. Fans of general and WW2-based historical fiction should love this one, but so will anyone who likes a juicy plot that builds in suspense.
If you like this, try: The Bronze Horseman; Lilac Girls; Lost Roses (on my Spring Reading List!)
Southern Debutantes Get Thrown in the Pokey, Gowns and All
Little White Lies // This YA book has everything you want in a soapy beach read: a southern grandmother with scathing one-liners; a kid from the wrong side of the tracks thrown into high society; well-to-do families hiding some serious skeletons in their closets. Little White Lies opens with four debutantes locked up in the local jail for an unknown crime. Then the story goes back nine months earlier when Sawyer Taft, estranged from her mother's family, agrees to go live with her rich grandmother in exchange for $500K to put towards college. OH - and the chance to finally figure out who her dad is! If you ever watched The O.C., Sawyer is the Ryan Atwood character trying to make sense of this hifalutin world that's way more complicated than she imagined. Pretty soon after she moves in she finds herself complicit in a crime and the story dominoes from there. It ends on a cliffhanger of sorts and I guarantee you'll be dying for the sequel to see how Sawyer will navigate the latest bombshell to explode in her life. I read this in three days, it's so fun and quick!
If you like this, try: The Thousandth Floor
What's next on my reading list
A Sky Painted Gold // Apparently this one has Gatsby vibes so I'm already all in! Set in England, 17-year-old Lou admires the empty grand home of her neighbors for years until one day the glamorous Cardew family returns and sweeps Lou off her feet with dazzling parties and high society. But are the Cardews' lives actually as perfect as they appear? Lou is challenged to stay true to herself and her own life goals as she gets swept up in the gilded Cardew lifestyle.
Look Homeward Angel // Required reading for Asheville natives and fans of American literature. Wolfe thinly disguises his hometown of Asheville in this coming-of-age tale about a man who wants to leave his small town behind in search of bigger and better things. His loquacious writing style makes me a little nervous about how long it'll take to get through this one but it's been a goal of mine for years and I'm finally going to do it.
The Hating Game // Oooh, a juicy workplace drama! Lucy and Joshua work at the same publishing company and they HATE each other. Up for the same promotion, their rivalry reaches new heights until the game changes and they realize maybe they don't actually hate each other...or maybe they're just pretending not to in order to get a leg up in their race to the top. Sounds juicy!
Paris, The Novel // If you love the City of Light and romanticize its storied past, this novel may be for you. Moving back and forth through time, Paris follows various families and friends as they negotiate their lives through some of the most formative eras throughout the city's history. Dancing back and forth from the French Revolution, to the reign of Louis XV, to Paris's ascendance to the throne of arts and refined culture, Paris brings the pages of history to life. I can't wait to read this!
My Favorite Half Night Stand // This romantic comedy centered around the pitfalls and moral ambiguity of online dating sounds so fun! Millie dives into the world of online dating with no success as she crosses the boundary of friendship with one of her best guy pals and has the night of her life! They decide to keep things platonic which pushes Millie back into the online dating pool...only this time she creates a fictional profile and starts to find real connection. But what does her heart really want? Doesn't this sound like a great beach read??
My Brilliant Friend (The Neopolitan Quartet) // Book one in a four-part series, this novel follows two girlfriends as they grow up in a post-WW2 Italian village. It's a tale of the journey and evolution of life and friendship between women as they grow into themselves and their roles as mothers and leaders. Reviewers say that while nothing climactic happens to drive the plot, it's just a beautiful story that's driven by relatable, connective life experiences. I love a good series and this one comes highly recommended!
The Mister // A new book from E.L. James of Fifty Shades fame pens another passion-fueled drama of a rich aristocratic Brit named Maxim who finds himself enamored of the mysterious Alessia. Having recently inherited his family's vast wealth and estate, Maxim's playboy past is challenged by his new responsibility but even more so by his dangerous obsession with Alessia and the need to protect her.
Lost Roses // From the author of Lilac Girls and inspired by true events, this prequel features Eliza, Caroline Ferriday's mother, as she travels to Russia with her girlfriend Sofya, a cousin of the Romanovs. What starts as splendored journey takes a harsh turn when war is declared and Russia's imperial dynasty starts to fall. While Sofya's family must flee for their lives, Eliza heads home to America and desperately tries to save her friends from the horrors of revolution.
What books have you read lately that made a big impression on you? I always love recommendations from other women versus just going off of online reviews. Hopefully you found something in today's post that interests you!