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  • The Soulmate Equation

    A
    Grade: A

    The Soulmate Equation

    This was SO. GOOD. Go pre-order it immediately. You might remember that I was not the biggest fan of In a Holidaze which broke my heart to say as they (Christina Lauren is two people!) are one of my all-time favorite authors. This redeemed that; it’s up there with Love and Other Words – it is definitely one of my favorite books they’ve written. Jess is a single mom, about to turn 30. Dating is not a priority – she’s cynical and just trying to piece together a living. River is a handsome scientist turned matchmaker… his company has actually figured out a way to make a match based upon genetics. When Jess’s friend peer pressures her into taking the DNA test, a surprise match (Diamond, the highest level) occurs between Jess and River. They’re both shocked by this… especially as they don’t really like each other too much. Still, the results are too compelling to ignore. They begin dating (at first for publicity), but is their “diamond match” for real? I don’t want to give anything away but I loved this book so much and think you will really enjoy it!

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  • Layla

    B+
    Grade: B+

    Layla

    If you are a regular in these parts then you already know what a big fan of Colleen Hoover I am. With her books, you truly never know what you’re going to get. They are always very emotional and will rip your heart out in one way or another. Maybe it’s a wild and disturbing thriller like Verity (my favorite of hers), maybe it’s YA like Heart Bones… the one uniting thing is that they are dramatic and will have your stomach in knots. This one was a thriller and wow did it go WAY off the rails. I don’t want to say anything to ruin the surprises but it deals with paranormal activity. Leeds and Layla are madly in love – one of those fated romances where everything is just perfect and a dream… until Layla is brutally attacked. Layla spends weeks recovering in the hospital and Leeds has the idea to sweep her away and take her to the B&B where they first met. But from there, things just get weirder. Layla is even less like herself and strange things keep happening in the house. Leeds finds himself developing a connection (and attachment) to another guest, Willow. But Willow also needs his help and Leeds must make a choice. I know I am being vague but I’m trying not to give it away! I will say I was really annoyed with Leeds for most of the book but it all ultimately makes sense in the end!

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  • The End of Her

    B
    Grade: B

    The End of Her

    After DNFing several books I was kinda just like, “I just want a murdery thriller that I won’t be able to put down.” A reader had recommended this and I loved The Couple Next Door (this was by the same author), so I picked it up. It did not disappoint. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it was engaging and fun to read. Stephanie and Patrick have just had twin girls and are adjusting to the new realities of parenthood when Erica Voss arrives in their life. She and Patrick have a history and she has some pretty shocking allegations about Patrick and his first marriage (his wife had died in a tragic accident, years ago). Patrick maintains he’s innocent, but Stephanie isn’t sure what to believe. Meanwhile, Erica is pretty hell-bent on dismantling pretty much everything in Patrick’s life. Who is lying? Who is the sociopath? The answer may be EVERYONE. I read this in a day, it cleansed my palette after a vicious news cycle, but the ending felt a little bit lazy. Still, I enjoyed it?

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  • All Girls

    B-
    Grade: B-

    All Girls

    I had been really excited about this one (it’s gotten a lot of hype and has been compared to The Girls meets Gossip Girl with a dash of My Dark Vannessa and Taylor Jenkins Reid even blurbed it) but it just fell flat for me. It’s set in modern day (or at least 2015/2016) Connecticut at a prestigious prep school. It’s about teens, but I wouldn’t classify it as YA. A horrible scandal has just taken place (a woman who graduated ten years earlier accuses a professor of rape, and the professor still works there). The book follows nine young women attending the school, from eager young freshmen to seniors on the brink of the next steps of their lives, as they find their voices and figure out how to help make the school they love so much a better place. Honestly, maybe the book was hyped up to me so much but I just didn’t love it. I felt like the writing was slow (it’s been compared to Sally Rooney’s books which I get but even when Sally’s books are slow they just have that something extra that makes you want to keep reading), and I just didn’t care enough to keep slogging through. Not a bad book, but not a great book and just… slow! Not my personal cup of tea, but not poorly written or a “bad” book… just not my thing.

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  • The Lynching

    A
    Grade: A

    The Lynching

    This book chronicles the trial(s) surrounding a horrible race-based killing of 19 year old Michael Donald that took place in Alabama in 1981 that ultimately took down the KKK. I listened to it and at times felt sick to my stomach, and just plain angry. And at times also just really grossed out as the attitude of some of the good ole Southern boys (men) involved reminded me a lot of our last president. Donald was abducted off of the street, beaten, had his throat slit, and ultimately hung from a tree. All because these klansmen were upset that a jury had been unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a Black man accused of murdering a white man. So you know, they retaliated by brutally killing a Black Man. One of the killers, Henry Hays, is sentenced to death (at the time a monumental decision – it was rare to sentence a white man to death for killing a Black man). But Morris Dees (the famous civil rights lawyer) wasn’t content to leave it there. He then filed a civil suit against the klan, charging them with conspiracy… and ultimately flattening the organization. The book was fascinating and dramatic. A little dry at times (as with, for me, most history books) but excellent and incredibly documented. I think it’s a very important book to read or listen to.

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  • The Mothers

    B
    Grade: B

    The Mothers

    This had been sitting on my shelf since summer. I loved The Vanishing Half so much so I ordered this one immediately after but for whatever reason, took my time actually picking it up. (I think my mom had said that she didn’t like this one, I feel like that’s what happened!). Anyway, this book is beautifully written and I’ll read anything Brit Bennett writes but I was kinda bored by this one – I just didn’t really care about the subject matter. It’s set in a modern day Black community in San Diego and is about a group of three teenagers: Nadia Turner who has just lost her mother, the pastor’s son Luke, and Nadia’s very religious best friend, Aubrey. Nadia and Luke, both going through a rebellious period, spend a summer fooling around and she gets pregnant. They decide to have an abortion, but do not tell anyone: not Nadia’s father, her best friend, anyone. The book is really about the aftermath of the coverup as they grow into adults. There is a love triangle, heartbreak and betrayal… it’s well written but for whatever reason I just didn’t really like it!

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  • If I Had Your Face

    A
    Grade: A

    If I Had Your Face

    First of all, this is going to be our February 2021 Bad on Paper Book club book… I can’t wait to talk about it with you! Set in modern day Korea, this book is a wild look at Korean beauty standards  and plastic surgery (I found myself googling different procedures and gasping!). I had thought that maybe it was an exaggeration but many of you chimed in to say that no, it is not!  Aside from that, this is the story of five women and their struggles and friendship. I absolutely LOVED each women for different reasons, and thought the character development was incredible, especially the protective friendship between Sujin and Ara. There is Ara, mute after a horrible accident, who is a hairdresser and obsesses over a Korean boy band star. Her roommate (and best friend from childhood) Sujin is obsessed with beauty and saving for the operation(s) that she believes will change her life. Across the hall is Kyuri (who is drop dead gorgeous and has had many operations) and works at a “room salon” where she entertains businessmen while they drink (becoming a room salon girl is Sujin’s biggest goal). Kyuri’s roommate is Miho (an artist who lived in New York for school), who is dating a very wealthy guy. And downstairs from the four girls is Wonna, newly married and trying to have a baby. Ultimately, this is a book about friendship. I loved these women. I loved their friendships. And I tore through the book. Highly recommend!

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  • Infinite Country

    A+
    Grade: A+

    Infinite Country

    If you take one thing away from this post, pre-order this book. It is absolutely wonderful, thought provoking, and utterly captivating. It came HIGHLY recommended to me by my friend Morgan Hoit, who knows her stuff and told me it could be THE book of 2021. I am inclined to agree with her. It is beautifully written (I found myself feeling jealous at times, wishing I could write even a fraction as well as the author) and centers around a family divided between Bogota, Colombia and the US. It opens with Talia who has just escaped an all-girls prison (the book opens with her tying up a nun) in the mountains of Colombia. When not imprisoned, she lives with her father Mauro who was deported from the US back to Bogota when she was just a baby. Meanwhile, her mother Elena and her two siblings Karina and Nando, are still living (undocumented) in the US. Her siblings are trying to fit in at the local high school as her mother works to earn enough to support them and send money back home. Told from the perspective of all five family members, this is a novel about family, pain, suffering, and sacrificing for the people you love. One of my priorities this year is to read books about people and families with backgrounds different than my own and this one is particularly poignant especially when thinking about immigration and undocumented workers. Add to that the writing, and this is a book you just can’t miss. It flies by in under 200 pages – please read it!

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  • The Midnight Library

    A+
    Grade: A+

    The Midnight Library

    Oh wow, this book was just… excellent. The writing is exquisite, it’s evocative and thought provoking… it’s one of my favorite works of fiction I have read in a long time. This is a book about regret. Nora Seed showed so much promise. At one point, she could have been an Olympic swimmer. At another, a rockstar. But bad decision after bad decision leads her to a sad and lonely life. When her cat dies, she decides it’s time to end her life. But in between life and death, she arrives at a place called The Midnight Library. There, she meets her childhood librarian who shows her around. Each book on the shelf represents a different regret or decision, and the life she would have had if she’d chose differently. But as soon as she finds a life to be disappointing she is taken back to the library to take out another book. And so Nora goes on to live tons of different lives. In one, she’s a former Olympian. In others, she’s a mother. In one, she’s a famous rockstar. In another, she didn’t break up with her ex-fiance. I could go on. Needless to say I could not put it down. It’s thoughtful and creative and such a great conversation starter (and I loved the lessons – on love, being present, and not dwelling on what could have been because maybe it isn’t as good as you imagined it to be). I cannot recommend this book enough!

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  • Joyful

    A+
    Grade: A+

    Joyful

    I finally finished it! I have been reading this for months. This book came highly recommended to me by my sister and I can’t recommend it enough. The reason it took me so long to read is that I was taking copious notes like a good little student. But she mentions so many different artists, architects, creators… that I wanted to stop, pause, look them up, and then keep reading. So I’d read maybe a quarter of a chapter at a time and I do not regret that. I learned so much from it. This book is all about the power of aesthetics and objects to impact our happiness. From the way we delight over rounded objects, to why we are drawn to symmetry, and beyond. It is such an interesting read… if you are someone who nerds out over good design OR are just somebody who wants to create a personal space that leaves you feeling joyful, absolutely read this book. I loved it and learned so so much from it.

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  • Big Magic

    A+
    Grade: A+

    Big Magic

    This was not my first time reading this book, but I’d never reviewed it here! We did an entire podcast episode about this book (and then had Elizabeth Gilbert on to talk more). This book. I don’t even know where to begin but I will say that everyone should read it, even if you don’t necessarily identify as a “creative person.” The content is just so valuable, it’s a fairly quick read, and every time I read it I take something different away from it. The things for me that really resonated were the parts about fear, and letting fear hold you back. And approaching your creativity (or your whole life for that matter) from a perspective of curiosity as opposed to fear, or even passion. This book is truly life changing. I love that Becca re-reads it every January and may start doing the same exact thing. If you are feeling in a rut, uninspired, a little bit stuck, not sure what you want to do next, OR you’re about to start a new project, read this book!!!!

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  • Heavy

    A
    Grade: A

    Heavy

    I listened to this in audiobook form and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s going to blow you away and I can’t recommend listening to it enough. You know that I love a good memoir, and this is just wonderful as an audiobook. It’s poetic, powerful, beautifully written, honest, vulnerable, I could go on and on. Written as a letter to his mother, Laymon takes us through his childhood (and the trauma he endured growing up Black), walking us through his complicated relationships with weight (dealing with both obesity and anorexia), growing up “big and Black,” women and sex, and ultimately gambling. He combines personal stories with history lessons. Anecdotes and stories that can be humorous at times but dark and heartbreaking at other times. This was one of the books on my personal anti-racist reading list. I really believe that one of the best things we can do is to read more books by diverse authors to (a trite expression) put yourself in their shoes. I absolutely love this book – I could not stop listening to it and felt sad when it’s over (I recommend listening to The Stacks’ episode with Kiese to quench your book hangover!

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  • An Object of Beauty

    A
    Grade: A

    An Object of Beauty

    This was recommended to me in the Facebook group after I gushed about The Talented Miss Farwell last month. SUCH a good one. It’s a bit older (from 2011) and written by Steve Martin – yes, THAT Steve Martin the actor. I had absolutely no idea what an incredible, keenly observant writer he is. I was all at once impressed and surprised! Lacey Yeager is young, beautiful, clever and smart… working her way up in the art world of New York City. The book follows her career through the nineties and into the two thousands as she begins her career at Sotheby’s and climbs the social and career ladders in front of her. From the rise of the art world to the tragedy of 9/11 to the recession of 2008 and beyond. It’s told from the perspective of her friend Daniel and along the way we find out that the two of them have done something unethical together, but you don’t find out just what that is. I couldn’t put it down, I thought that the writing was excellent, the characters were so fantastically developed… it’s just so smartly written and interesting. I can’t recommend it enough!

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  • People Like Her

    B
    Grade: B

    People Like Her

    You know I can’t resist a thriller, especially when it’s about an influencer. This one was creepy, and I will admit it probably best got down the influencer job better than most books about influencers I’ve read… (so often they dumb down the job to just opening packages and snapping selfies!). The authors (it’s a husband and wife duo) clearly put in the time to do the research. And it was fast paced – I read it in a day. Emmy Jackson is an “instamum” in the UK, with over a million followers, a handsome writer husband Dan, and two adorable kids. Her brand is based all on honesty and telling it like it is… except she is not exactly always h0nest. The book alternates between the perspectives of Emmy and Dan (so you quickly see how disingenuous Emmy can be, though you still do root for her most of the time) and… Emmy’s stalker who blames Emmy for a series of terrible tragedies in her own life. Emmy’s stalker is hell bent on hurting Emmy. The book is suspenseful and hard to put down, but at the same time it was a little bit predictable and you kinda knew what would happen next. I did like the character development of Emmy and the way the book explored the darker side of influencer culture though, so I would still definitely recommend it!

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  • The Wife Upstairs

    A
    Grade: A

    The Wife Upstairs

    Oh boy I LOVED THIS. Loved it. Read it in a day. This is a fantastic-ly twisty, very Gone Girl-esque thriller and I adored it. It’s actually a modern re-telling of Jane Eyre, which I didn’t even realize until after. But even if you’ve never read Jane Eyre (I actually have not), you’ll still enjoy it. Jane is new to Birmingham, with a dark past. We don’t know much, just that she has been in and out of foster care her whole life. Upon moving to Birmingham, she starts walking dogs in the ritzy community of Thornfield Estate. Think rich housewives decked in diamonds and giant mansions. When she meets rich, gorgeous, (recently widowed) Eddie he seems too good to be true. But is he? He lost his wife just six or so months ago in a boating accident. Eddie could be the solution to all of her problems… but will her past catch up with him? Or, is Eddie not as he seems? The two fall in love and things escalate quickly but of course with books like this, all is not perfect. This is suspenseful and fun and even though I did end up guessing the big twist I needed to know what happened and could not put it down! I absolutely loved it. If you are looking for a deliciously twisty thriller, read this!

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  • What Would Frida Do?

    A-
    Grade: A-

    What Would Frida Do?

    I would describe this book as… part biography and part self-help book! As a long time fan of Frida Kahlo I was really excited to pick this one up and it did not disappoint. Frida Kahlo was a feminist icon, a style icon, and an incredible artist. She was known for her signature bold, colorful style and (equally bold) politics just as well as she was known for her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Through her life she experienced horrible heartbreak (both in her marriage and in her struggles with her health and infertility) but she was never afraid of living boldly, staying true to herself, and making a statement. I was pretty familiar with her story but loved the format of the book: it breaks up Frida’s life into chapters (like love, heartbreak, sex, etc.) giving us an inside look at her life and how she handled each of these things, with advice at the end. Her story is pretty incredible: she’s survived so much, from polio as a child to being impaled by a hand rail in a bus accident to her husband’s multiple affairs (even cheating on her with her own sister). It’s part history book/biography and part pep talk. Such a fantastic idea and also a really great inspirational book as we usher in a brand new year.

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  • A Promised Land

    A+
    Grade: A+

    A Promised Land

    First of all, I can’t believe I finished this book (I listened to it) in a month as it was a whopping 29 hours! It wasn’t difficult though, the book was so interesting that I found myself waking up and having coffee with Barack, and then taking him along on walks while I was in Charleston. If you decide to read this I highly recommend the audiobook, it truly was so soothing and wonderful and felt like spending time with him! This is the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs, taking you through both is personal and political life from his earliest aspirations to running for senate to getting elected, to capturing Bin Laden. I found it so interesting to hear his perspective (having had some distance from being in office now on his foreign policy, cracking down on Wall Street, the early days of Donald Trump (and the birth certificate nonsense), and everything in between. I especially enjoyed the more personal stuff, his family life, marriage to Michelle, etc. It is beautifully written, intimate, and deeply introspective. He is such a brilliant writer and it genuinely felt like sitting down with my old friend the ex-president, reliving his glory days, vulnerably talking about his mistakes and disappointments, etc. It’s poignant and hopeful and was the perfect palette cleanser after the election. I did not want it to end and am really looking forward to the next one!

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  • Admission

    B+
    Grade: B+

    Admission

    This book is a great exercise in empathy. Like many of you I was fascinated (and really upset) by the college admission scandal with Lori Loughlin and her daughter Olivia Jade, Felicity Huffington, etc. This book is a fictional look at what it would be like to be the daughter of one of those parents. To feel like you were so stupid that your parents had to buy your way into college. To lose your friends and boyfriend and feel like the whole world hates you and you’re just totally screwed. Told from the daughter’s perspective, it definitely presents a more empathetic (though fictional) take on what happened. I struggled for the first 40% of the book (the older I get the less I like YA unless it’s about rich unsupervised teens or a thriller) as it was slow and very high school (a silly critique of YA, yes yes I know!) but ended up enjoying it. I felt like it was just a little young but duh, it is a young adult book! All of that said, it gave me a different perspective. While it won’t be a Bad on Paper book club pick, I do think it would make a great book club book as you’d have such a great conversation about the book and the admission scandal in general.

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  • This Time Next Year

    A-
    Grade: A-

    This Time Next Year

    British Chick-lit is not really my usual genre but every now and then I get a craving and will spend a whole weekend day curled up reading one. And that’s what I did with this book, (which I’d heard such good things about)! It lived up to all the hype – it’s very cute and perfect for fans of Josie Silver (while not a Christmas book, it definitely had those missed-connection but fated to be together One Day in December vibes to it). Minnie Cooper is convinced that her New Years’ birthday is unlucky, and it’s all Quinn Hamilton’s fault. You see, they share a birthday and on New Year’s Eve when she and Quinn were born, Quinn’s mother wins the hospital’s cash prize for being the first baby born in the new year – AND she stole her name (Minnie was supposed to be Quinn Cooper). Minnie is convinced that she’s just unlucky and has a bit of a permanent chip on her shoulder. Each year, her birthday is more and more of a disaster, leading up to 2019’s New Years Eve when she and Quinn meet in a chance encounter at his birthday party. They’re both seeing other people but spend 2019 bumping into each other, developing feelings and non-feelings. Minne’s business is struggling and life just always feels hard; whereas Quinn’s life just feels easy by comparison. Of course, things are not always as they seem. This is a cute and fun “will they or won’t they” sort of romcom; I really enjoyed it!

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  • White Ivy

    A
    Grade: A

    White Ivy

    A few of you recommended that I read this book! It is NOT a thriller but it is incredibly suspenseful, and while drawing you in with a page-turning plot it is also a complex look at the constructs of both race and class. Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar, raised by her Chinese grandmother (who teaches her how to steal) and intense (borderline abusive) parents. She grows up poor in a suburb of Boston, attending private school. There, she develops an obsession with Gideon Speyer, the golden boy with the perfect life from a wealthy political family. Years later, after college, she reconnects with Gideon’s sister Sylvia. Gideon and her begin dating, fulfilling Ivy’s wildest dreams. Suddenly, her life is glamorous and exciting: fancy dinners and parties, weekends at the family beach house… Ivy has everything she’s ever wanted! But then (ominous music!) another man emerges from Ivy’s past. His presence threatens to upheave everything she’s worked so hard for  and she is forced to decide what she really wants and figure out who she really is. This book is dark and suspenseful, with slight Talented Mr. Ripley vibes. I really enjoyed it. The middle does lag a bit, but I didn’t mind as it’s so sharply and perceptively written! Highly recommend.

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  • The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

    A
    Grade: A

    The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany

    This book was passed to me (and highhhhly recommended) by my mom, who is my go-to for book recs. Her taste is a little less murder-y and crime-y than mine but we pretty much always agree on what we like and do not like. First of all, if you are craving an adventure, this will satisfy that as you will feel as though you are in Italy. I finished reading and felt like I had been on a trip through Venice, Tuscany, and the Amalfi Coast! It also has one of Becca’s favorite tropes: a loveable, eccentric older woman. In this case it’s a great aunt and not a grandmother but that doesn’t matter. Same thing, giving me slight Matchmaking for Beginners vibes. The Fontana family is cursed. Because of a past family feud, no second-born daughter will ever find lasting love. Emilia Fontana is happy living a quiet life baking at her family deli. Her cousin Lucy is absolutely desperate for love and trying to break the curse. When the girls’ estranged great aunt invites them on an all expenses paid trip to Italy AND promises to break the curse on her eightieth birthday on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral, they accept, heading off on a once in a lifetime adventure (and getting to know their Aunt Poppy, who is just an absolutely wonderful character!!!). I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Cannot recommend it enough!

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  • The Cousins

    A-
    Grade: A-

    The Cousins

    You know by now that Karen McManus is one of my favs! She writes the best YA thrillers. (If her name sounds familiar, you’ve probably read One of Us is Lying or One of Us is Next). This one kept me on my toes and I did NOT guess the twist, which you know I love. Cousins Jonah, Milly and Aubrey Story have grown up not knowing each other – their extremely wealthy grandmother cut their parents off before they were born (she left a brief and cryptic note: You know what you did!) and they didn’t make an effort to stay in touch after that. Now, the cousins are all around the same age and are summoned to their grandmother’s island resort (off the coast of Cape Cod) to spend the summer working, and getting to know their grandmother. But when they arrive, it’s clear she had different intentions for them. And everyone has some pretty big secrets, past and present. I really enjoyed this. I liked the relationships between the cousins and the family dynamics that arise throughout (I can’t say much more!), I loved the mystery, and of course I loved that it kept me guessing throughout! Highly recommend for a fun, “read it in a day” sort of thriller.

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  • The Talented Miss Farwell

    A
    Grade: A

    The Talented Miss Farwell

    OH did I love this book! This is probably my favorite book from this month. This one was a recommendation from the comments section here (THANK YOU to those who recommended it), and it was a combination of so many of my favorite things. Art. Cons. Glamour. Rags to riches… small town to big city.  I will say that reading it gave me a major case of secondhand anxiety (similar to the feeling I got watching The Talented Mr. Ripley– does anyone else find themselves stressed for the characters when reading a book about a con artist?) This is the story of how Becky Farwell, a practical and trustworthy girl living in a small Illinois town, where she works tirelessly as the town’s financial controller. It’s also the story Reba Farwell, art collector extraordinaire – living the glamorous life in New York with a multi-million dollar collection. Becky is embezzling I found Becky/Reba to be such a compelling and interesting character, and the book was just so compulsively readable (I found myself wanting to abandon everything else I was doing to just READ, which is a great sign). I didn’t realize it until the author’s note at the end but it’s actually inspired by the true story of Rita Crundwell who committed off the biggest municipal fraud in history. That in itself has led to it’s own little rabbit hole!

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  • In a Holidaze

    B-
    Grade: B-

    In a Holidaze

    I’m going to be really honest: Christina Lauren (it’s two writers!) are one of my most favorite authors. I love everything they write. I’m fanatical about them as authors. It kills me to say this (and know that Becca and my mom both really enjoyed it) but this one was not for me. I am not going to say don’t read it (especially if you are a big romance person and love the Christmas genre – I know a lot of people do!!!) but this is probably my least favorite of their books. Again, I don’t want to drag it as I love their books SO, SO much… this one just fell flat for me. I think that this is mostly because it was really hard to identify with the protagonist (I was annoyed by her a lot, maybe it was because she was so young but I found her whiny and loathsome), and I didn’t like the ending. I also hate time loops (a specific thing I know but when life feels like a time loop – hello, quarantine) it makes me antsy. So, this was not my favorite but I think if I were younger I probably would have enjoyed it more!!! I will say that I did really like the theme of “what makes you happy?” which is what she asks herself at the beginning of the book and is something we all need to be really thinking about right now.

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