Happy Monday, and happy August (and how the hell is it already August!?)
This was a great month of reading, mostly because I was on vacation for a big chunk of it. I read eleven books (six of which were thrillers… I really indulged myself, true reading for pleasure). Of everything I read I LOVED Ace of Spades. I’m so excited because it’s our Bad on Paper August book club, so we’ll be talking about it on the pod at the end of the month. I think you know this, but I’m on a constant mission to find great thrillers written by Black authors and this was just so good and twisty. I cannot wait to revisit it for the pod. The other book I really loved was The Third Door – I found it so engaging and interesting… and also very inspiring.
I love your recs!!! In the comments, tell me what you’re reading / send any and all recommendations – I love getting them. I’m especially interested in reading thrillers by authors of color.
IF YOU’RE NEW HERE AND ARE LOOKING FOR A BOOK, DON’T FORGET THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS CHECK OUT MY BEAUTIFUL BOOK CLUB PAGE.
Every month I update it with everything I read – it includes every book I’ve read in the past six years. The best part is that now you can filter + search by genre. Now you can also filter by GRADE to find exactly what you’re looking for or just peruse my top picks. If you’re feeling like you need even more book recs, check out last month’s list! And, just in case you missed it… everything I read in 2020, ranked by genre. Also, follow these women in publishing!
Everything I Read in July 2021
This Month’s Thrillers
The Maidens, by Alex Michaelides
I was really excited to read this book as I loved The Silent Patient (also by this author). It did not disappoint. Mariana Andros is a therapist living in London. When a friend of her beloved niece Zoe is murdered at Cambridge University, she rushes to her niece’s rescue. She becomes convinced that Edward Fosca (beloved, charming professor of Greek tragedy) is the one who did it. The only problem is, no one believes her: Fosca is much adored by both the staff and students of the university; especially within a group of his favorite, most talented female students: The Maidens.
And why would he kill his own students? When another body turns up, Mariana knows he is guilty and will do everything it takes to prove it to the world. But will she be too late? This one kept me on my toes. Everyone was guilty. But I didn’t guess the ending. I loved that, and also loved all of the references to Greek mythology. I read it on the airplane home from LA and couldn’t put it down. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: B+
The Hunting Wives, by May Cobb
I read this in a day while on vacation with my family. I’m not entirely sure where I net out on it. There’s a lot to unpack. This is about a group of housewives in Texas who are (in some cases) bored in their marriages. They get together on Friday to drink and skeet shoot, drink, and hunt. Our narrator Sophie has recently moved there. Struggling with a bit of boredom after ditching her glamorous job as a magazine editor, she starts a gardening blog and yearns for female camaraderie. She quickly becomes obsessed with Margot – a beautiful, mysterious, (and very wealthy) brunette.
There’s a lot to unpack. First of all, (and I like to drink so this should tell you something) there is SO much drinking. I felt a little hungover at times while I read it. These women in their late thirties constantly swigging bourbon and taking tequila shots. I swear I’m not a prude but MAN. Also: the levels of infidelity made me super uncomfortable at times. There’s an Idea of You-esque plotline but more sordid – I won’t say anymore. My last complaint: the first sixty percent of the book was like watching a really bad trainwreck about to happen. You want to shake the main character and I felt so frustrated by her actions.
But, there are good points too. The plot kept me guessing. There were some good steamy parts. And the ending was really good. A great twist that I didn’t see coming. I would say that if you like murdery stuff and you want a fun beach read that you’ll breeze through in a day or two, pick this up. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: B
One by One by Ruth Ware
I never miss a Ruth Ware book and (though a little late to reading it) I really enjoyed this one. It had a great twist and the ending was really scary!!!! It’s set in the French Alps and right from the start you know it’s going to be gruesome as it opens with a newspaper article talking about the house of horrors and deaths that have taken place after a horrible snow storm and avalanche.. It begins as a retreat for a tech startup (a music-related social media company), and sounds like an absolute dream: a luxurious chalet with a private chef and housekeeper? Sign me up! But when one shareholder presents a buyout opportunity, everything goes awry and the team members begin to argue about the future of the company.
When a dramatic avalanche occurs they are snowed and cut off from the outside world without electricity, heat, or cell phone reception and one by one, different team members begin to disappear. A killer is among them and no one knows who it could be. Everyone is a suspect. I really liked that it was told from the perspective of two different women on the trip (who also happen to be outsiders in their own ways). And I couldn’t put it down and loved the twisty surprise… I didn’t guess the killer! Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: A-
The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle
I wound up only being medium on this one but I loved the angle of the story/plot so still really enjoyed this? The plot reminded me a tiny bit of Ringer with Sarah Michelle Gellar – an old CW show from years ago… I love a thriller about twins! Sisters Summer and Iris are mirror twins: both beautiful and smart, but still so different. Life seemingly comes so easily for Summer: she has the perfect life. A beautiful home, a handsome and loving husband… she’s always happy and content with whatever life throws her way. Meanwhile, Iris is more complicated and cynical. Happiness doesn’t come as easy for her, and even though they look exactly alike, she’ll always see Summer as the more beautiful twin.
When the sisters sail Summer’s yacht from Phuket to the Seychelles, an accident happens and Iris suddenly finds herself all alone in the middle of the ocean. She’s tempted: could she take over Summer’s life? Pretend to be her sister and step into an easy, worry-free life? Meanwhile there is another plot line: the girls’ father has left his hundred million dollar fortune to just one of his seven children… the first to produce an heir. This is a fun, fast read. I loved the plot but parts fell flat for me (I can’t quite articulate what?). Even though I’m only giving it a B I would still absolutely recommend reading it! Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: B
Two Great YA Thrillers!
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Oh my gosh, I don’t want to say much more than READ THIS BOOK if you want a twisty, fast-paced YA thriller because it is one of those books where the less you know, the better. A podcast listener posted about it in the Bad on Paper Facebook group saying that it was a must-read. I ordered it on the spot. Becca ordered it before I did, and she loved it. We loved it so much that it’s going to be our August book club. I read this in just a couple days. I couldn’t put it down.
Devon and Chiamaka are the only two Black kids at Niveus Private Academy. They couldn’t be more different: Devon is secretly gay, a bit of an outcast, but a musical prodigy. Meanwhile, Chiamaka is popular, pretty, and on track to attend Yale. When they are both selected to be senior class prefects, the year is off to a great start. But then, someone going by Aces begins to target them, sending anonymous text messages and revealing their deepest, darkest secrets. Things get scary. I cannot recommend this book enough. It is simultaneously a suspenseful and fun book to read while also an important social commentary tackling race and class issues. Buy this book! Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: A
They’ll Never Catch Us, by Jessica Goodman
This one *just* came out and I was really excited about it as I love the running angle – I ran track and cross-country in high school so could definitely relate to a lot of it. Set in a small town in the Catskills with a sordid past (Edgewater, known as Deadwater – thanks to a series of gruesome murders that targeted female runners ten years ago), the story is told by two sisters: Stella and Ellie Steckler. The school has one of the best cross-country teams and both sisters are incredible runners (and incredibly competitive) but could not be more different.
Stella, a junior, is the team captain and openly gay. She also has a reputation for having a violent streak. Meanwhile Ellie is a sophomore, and secretly sleeping with her team-mate’s boyfriend with secrets of her own. When newcomer Mila joins the team, she winds up forming an unlikely friendship with both sisters. Stella finds herself unable to concentrate and finally understood by someone; Ellie accidentally confides her biggest secret to. One day, Mila goes missing. Did she run away? Is the serial killer from ten years ago back? Or did something else happen? The Steckler sisters find themselves suspected by everyone in the town. I enjoyed this so much… I read it in a day and could not put it down! Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: A-
This Month’s Romance
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This book was so fun. As I read it on Cape Cod I saw reprimands come in via DM. People were horrified that I hadn’t read it yet. It’s just not my usual genre. Though we read a lot of romance and royal books for the podcast they aren’t my usual thing (though I will read anything by Katharine McGee or the Fug Girls which I think is why people think I like royals stuff). Caveats aside, I really loved this book. In a fictional world, Ellen Claremont is president of the United States. Her son Alex Claremont-Diaz gets into a bit of a skirmish with Henry, Prince of England. Their feud threatens to derail Ellen’s reelection (and cause a rift between the US + Britain), so Henry and Alex are forced to spend time together.
When the totally unexpected happens (I mean, expected for the reader, haha) and they fall in love, a wild ride ensues. I couldn’t put this down, I really enjoyed it. I think the reason I loved it so much was that in addition to the romance there was also an election race and I loved the dynamic between the two sets of siblings. The plot was great and it kept me on my toes, reading as quickly as I could as I needed to know what would happen next (there was a great twist with a political scandal toward the end that I LOVED). Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: A-
While We Were Dating, by Jasmine Guillory
This was the last book of The Wedding Date series. I hesitate to call them a series, as you can 100% read each of the books alone… it’s just that the characters from previous books make little cameos. Anna Gardiner is a Hollywood movie star, determined to make a name for herself. When she stars in an ad campaign produced by (handsome, former backup dancer) Ben, sparks fly between the two of them. A flirtation develops between the two of them, and then sex… and then they become “fake” boyfriend and girlfriend to help Anna advance her career and promote her next movie.
But what if the feelings between them aren’t fake? Jasmine Guillory has a formula for her books which usually looks something like this: Boy and girl meet. Sparks fly. But it’s just for fun and they can’t be together. But maybe they can be together? Satisfying reunion. And as much as I know the formula and can guess exactly what is going to happen, it’s still incredibly satisfying. I really enjoyed this. Party of Two is still probably my favorite of hers but this was a fun read. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: B+
An Excellent Historical Saga
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
This had been recommended by so many of you, so I had it sitting in my TBR pile forever! I decided to take it with me to Cape Cod and I am so glad I did. While it took me a while to get into (to be honest, the first parts dragged for me a bit as there were so many characters, I had a hard time keeping them straight. But by page 200 (it’s a long book!) I was INVESTED and could not put it down.
The book begins in Korea, following a poor (but hard working and respectable) family starting in the 1930’s through 1989. The plot really begins when Sunja (the only daughter of a crippled man and his wife) accidentally gets pregnant. She is disgraced as her wealthy lover already has a family that she didn’t know about, and can’t marry her. A handsome pastor offers to marry her and bring her to Japan, saving her dignity and giving her a new life. The book then follows their children, and then their grandchildren. It is fascinating. I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know about the anti-Korean racism in Japan. I enjoyed this book immensely and also learned a lot from it. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: A
For Fans of City of Girls….
The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison (out 8/10!)
I received an ARC (advance reader copy) of this one and was drawn to it as I loved City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert so so much. This wasn’t as good as that but I still really enjoyed it. Fun and feminist, and I love reading books set during Prohibition New York. Olive McCormick moves to New York from Minneapolis in 1927, where she becomes a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Her family (her father, really) is unsupportive of her dancing: they find it disgraceful and force her to make a decision between them (and living a nice life at home) and performing.
She chooses performing. It’s the thing she loves most, the thing that lights her on fire. When she meets handsome, wealthy, Archie Carmichael, she thinks she’s found the one: a man that accepts her career and desire to be on stage. But as they continue to see each other and ultimately get engaged, she realizes that she has to choose and that she can’t have both things: does she give up the man she loves for the life she loves… or give up the life she loves for the man she loves? I really enjoyed this. It took me a little while to get into but once I was hooked, I couldn’t stop. And it had a really satisfying ending too. Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon.
- Overall Score: B+
Non Fiction Picks
I’ve been slacking on the non-fiction front but absolutely LOVED this book!
The Third Door by Alex Banayan
Oh my goodness, this book. It was a great re-entry into nonfiction as I was so taken with it that I just couldn’t put it down and wound up reading it in just a few days. It’s so many things. First, it’s a coming of age story (the author was 19 when he started writing the book: the night before finals, he hacked The Price is Right, won, and used the money to fund his dream). So that in itself was pretty interesting. He made it his mission to interview the world’s most successful people and learn from them. In doing this, he noticed a theme that he referred to as The Third Door.
The idea is that life and business are like a nightclub. Some people wait in line and never get in. Others (billionaires, mostly) walk right in. But what about a third door – being scrappy and creative and figuring out your own way in? Throughout the book he talks to some of the most inspiring people – everyone from Bill Gates to Lady Gaga. I could not put it down. And I loved the plot (his friendship with Elliott Bisnow, founder of Summit, was wonderful). I found myself laughing, crying, and also taking notes. I cannot recommend it enough! Order on Bookshop.org or Amazon!
- Overall Score: A
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Photography by Clay Austin.