Mini Reviews of Recent Reads: July 2019
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While my reading lately hasn’t been as stellar as I might hope, it has been pretty solid. I’ve been seeking out some books that seem fitting for summer reading–and my scattered mind–and have had some success finding enjoyable reads and listens.
This year I seem to be following an island theme; three of the books I read this past month are set on islands. There’s no particular reason for this theme, other than they feel right for summer.
July 2019 Book Reviews
The Snakes: A Novel
When Bea and her husband Dan decide to take a long holiday from their small London flat and Dan’s soul-sucking job, they visit Bea’s brother Alex in France. They find him alone in the old hotel his rich parents have bought him, with the understanding that he would improve and run it. But the hotel is empty, save for the nest of snakes in the attic and the fake entries in the guestbook. When their parents pay a surprise visit, resentments and secrets simmer below the surface, and then tragedy strikes and brings everything crashing into the fore.
This book is filled with snakes–luckily (for my phobia) most of them are not the ones in the attic. While the majority of this book was a bit slow-moving and overlong for me, the last few chapters had me on the edge of my seat–the combination made it a solid 3 stars. If you like a dark, slightly creepy book filled with family dynamics and the dark side of wealth, this one might be for you. Readers with a bit more patience than me will be rewarded with an ending that pays off.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Nina is an introvert, bookworm, and trivia buff. She is happy with her regimented, small life working in a bookstore and competing on a trivia team (and trying to decide how she feels about an intriguing competitor). Her life is upended when she is named in the will of the father she’s never met–and suddenly she has a large and complicated family.
Nina has moments of mild abrasiveness, excellent snarky humor, and extreme introversion–but I loved how she was quite social, on her own terms. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill was funny, charming, and relatable–I enjoyed it immensely, and it was excellent summer reading. If you’ve read other Abbi Waxman books, the characters from The Garden of Small Beginnings appear here. You miss nothing if you haven’t read the other book, but it is a fun nod to a previous read. Waxman’s brand of humor, cultural references, and quick-witted dialogue reminded me a little of Gilmore Girls–if that’s up your alley, you might enjoy this book.
After the End
Young parents Max and Pip must make an impossible decision when their three-year-old son’s brain tumor damages his brain beyond repair. He can no longer walk, talk, or communicate, and there will be no change. When the two don’t agree on what to do, the court must decide.
The premise of this book reminded me a bit of some Jodi Picoult books, especially My Sister’s Keeper. Though the stories are quite different, they have in common the sick children and intervening courts. I think many readers were let down by the ending of My Sister’s Keeper, and that is always a risk with these types of books. This book, I felt, handled the situation exactly right. It takes a Sliding Doors approach to the story, and tells what would happen with either outcome. I think most of us want a clean answer: which is the right decision? Mackintosh proves it’s more complicated than that.
This was an excellent read–knocked down maybe half a star from five for the effort I had to put into keeping track of the two storylines, but that’s minor. The characters are sympathetic and the story is relatable (especially knowing that Mackintosh went through something similar herself). It goes without saying that it is sad, so be prepared.
The Islanders: A Novel
One summer on Block Island, three strangers’ lives intersect: Joy is a single mom, struggling to keep her pie business afloat; Anthony is an author, brought down by scandal and trying to put himself back together; and Lu is a mom of two young children, struggling with her feelings of discontent and her desire to build a business.
I am really into island settings this year and I loved visiting Block Island–it was a change from the wealth that underlies Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket. Some of the characters in this novel frustrated me, and I struggled to like them, though I believe they were meant to be sympathetic. I did enjoy reading a book with a blog as a main plot point. If you like Hilderbrand, give this one a try–the tone and writing felt very similar.
Normal People is the story of the complicated relationship between Connell and Marianne. They meet as teens in school, and at Marianne’s home where Connell’s mother is employed; Connell is popular while Marianne is reserved and lonely. They forge a secret connection and then are separated when both go to college at Trinity College in Dublin. When they meet again, the tables are turned; Marianne is the center of her social circle while Connell is on the outskirts. They continue in one another’s orbit for years, drawing closer and then apart, but never able to pull away.
While I love listening to an Irish audiobook, I do wish I had read this one in print instead. Many of the nuances of language and relationships for which Rooney has been receiving accolades were not as impactful on audio. I was intrigued by Connell and Marianne, and this is a rare audiobook that I may revisit in print.
The Blue Bistro: A Novel
I’ve read a few Elin Hilderbrand books now, and this one is my favorite so far. Set in a wildly popular Nantucket restaurant, The Blue Bistro reminded me a little of Sweetbitter, but with more likable characters. Adrienne is new to Nantucket and desperately needs a job. Despite having no restaurant experience, Thatcher Smith hires her as the hostess. Thatcher himself is intriguing, but so is the talented and notoriously private chef, Fiona. Adrienne falls in love with life in the restaurant, while growing closer to Thatcher and trying to unravel the secrets surrounding Fiona.
This is perfect summer reading/listening; light and easy enough to follow easily, with enough gravitas to make me care about what happens next. Also, I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, but I am starting to love a good food-centered book. The descriptions were mouthwatering!
Silver Girl: A Novel
After Meredith Delinn’s husband Freddy is charged with cheating investors out of billions (think Bernie Madoff), she flees to Nantucket to her old friend Connie’s home. She hopes to hide out, resurrect their friendship, and clear her name. The past and present are both complicated, and both Meredith and Connie find themselves looking back on how they got here, while also trying to imagine futures without the husbands who defined their lives for so long.
While this isn’t my favorite Hilderbrand–it feels a little darker than some others–I did appreciate the older women protagonists and the focus on their friendship. This did jump back and forth in time a lot, so it was a little harder to follow as I started and stopped listening, but overall this was another good audiobook choice.
I’d love to squeeze in some more escapist summer reads in the next couple of months. Let me know what books are working for you this summer (bonus if they are set on an island!).
Really excited about the Bookish Life of Nina Hill and have been curious about The Snakes. Great reviews!
I’m so excited for The Bookish Life of Nina Hill! For some reason, I was thinking it came out later this month, so I’m excited that it’s already come out–my library honored my request to buy it, so I’m first in line 🙂
After the End sounds like a fascinating premise, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough to read it! At least not until after summer…summer for me is a time of fun reading, and then I save all the serious stuff for fall, ha ha.
I just finished Ayesha at Last, which, while the ending wasn’t fabulous, I quite enjoyed overall. It hit a lot of fun summer reading points for me.
I hope you enjoy Nina Hill!
Yes, After the End can definitely be a difficult read for parents–I don’t blame anyone for skipping it.
I’ve been seeing a lot about Ayesha at Last–I may need to try to fit it in!
I dinged After the End a half star as well- not for the split narrative, but because the end was way more ambiguous than I like. I had to reach out to both Sarah and Susie to ask them what they thought happened!
I can’t score any island points, but I really loved The Most Fun We Ever Had. It’s a sprawling family story that works as summer reading, but with a bit more depth.
I’m typically not big on ambiguous endings either, but I felt like it worked in this case.
I have The Most Fun We Ever Had on hold at the library–so glad to hear you loved it!
The Blue Bistro is my favorite Hilderbrand so far, too! That’s good to know a few characters from early books show up in Nina Hill. I might go read those first while waiting for the new one at my library.
I think Waxman’s books are good on audio as well–she, Elin Hilderbrand, and Joshilyn Jackson are becoming my go-to audiobook authors.
I’m so glad you liked After the End so much. I thought she did a fabulous job with it, especially considering it was so different from anything else she’s written. I can see how Normal People might not hold up so well in audio. The writing was so good and so involved that often times I needed to reread passages.
I’m looking at the description of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and it reminds me a bit of Eleanor Oliphant. Have you read it? Do you think they could be similar? I really enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant, and I think I could enjoy Nina Hill too 🙂
Have a lovely day!
Hi Maggie! Yes, I think if you liked Eleanor Oliphant you will like Nina Hill. Nina is more social and less damaged (though she has her issues), and the book overall is funnier and lighter.
Quick note: I found your comment in my spam folder–I don’t know why. Not sure if you’re having issues commenting on other sites, but a few weeks ago all my comments were going to spam. I contacted Akismet directly and they helped fix it.
I love the cover of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I feel like I’ve been seeing it everywhere. I loved Evvie Drake Starts Over for a light summer read.