Looking for your next great beach read as we head into the final month of summer? I’ve got you covered.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This is technically the last book I’ve read, having just finished yesterday, but I’m choosing to list it first because really, no other book matters besides this one. It’s one of those books that the second I put it down, I didn’t want to start a new one because few can live up to it.
I’ve been a fan of Hannah’s for more than a decade now and have read at least half of her 22 novels, but none came even close to The Nightingale in terms of story complexity, brilliant prose and an excess of emotion. The bare bones of the plot is this: Two dramatically different French sisters lost their mother and father at a young age, took divergent paths and both wound up doing her part to help out during World War II—one as a renegade smuggling downed pilots over the border of the Pyrenees into Spain; the other a teacher who saves the lives of Jewish children. This book was heartbreaking around every turn, particularly in light of recent world events, and the tales of life in a concentration camp, as well as the Nazis’ treatment of villagers in their occupation zone—rapes, beatings, even cold-blooded murder—seemed far more realistic than other war books I’ve read. Parts of it reminded me of Sarah’s Key, so I found it interesting to read in the author’s notes that Tatiana de Rosnay helped her out with the historical research.
Moral of this story: Don’t read this book without a box of Kleenex close by.
My rating: 5 out of 5
Lies and Other Acts of Love by Kristy Woodson Harvey
I knew nothing of this book—or its author—until she reached out to me via social media to see if I’d take a glance at her book. I’m all for supporting writers, and so I added the advanced copy to my digital queue. And I’m glad I did, too. In short, this novel was a really pleasant, easy read, Southern fiction at its finest. The two protagonists, a grandmother and granddaughter, reminded me of Fannie Flagg characters—and Flagg has long been one of my favorite authors—funny, almost silly at times, but whip-smart and likable. While the book is tinged with tales of infidelity—not to mention, a death or two—it’s surprisingly lighthearted and won’t leave you sad like The Nightingale. At the core, it’s a story about unbreakable family bonds and how you never really know somebody, blood relative or not.
Ultimately, this is an indulgent beach read for all you gals looking for something to tear through on your summer vacation.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes
If you read (and liked) You, I’d venture to say you’ll find its sequel even more riveting. And if you haven’t yet read the precursor, do that first—but be forewarned it’s very graphic in nature (tales of torture, stalking and sex) and not at all for the prudish among us. Mom, I’m talking to you!
Hidden Bodies follows Joe Goldberg out to LA, where he’s stalking his next victim, who left him high and dry at his NYC bookstore when she emptied out the cash register. He goes on a witch hunt to track her down, trying to piece together how to find someone in a city of four million residents while also getting by. Along the way, he falls into a group of high-rolling Angelenos, someone landing a girlfriend in the process. While I wouldn’t call this thriller scary per se—I’m a wuss and still can’t bring myself to crack the spine of Dark Places if that at all gives you a glimpse into my literary leanings—it is deeply unsettling, and the first-person narrative takes you right into the mind of a serial killer where you, at times, even go as far as to sympathize with him.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
This was one of those books I read because so many of you had recommended it in the comments. Alas, it seems everyone wants to read this book—at least here in Nashville where my library is headquartered—as it took six months for my turn on the hold list! But once I had it, I devoured The Good Girl in 48 hours flat.
The story of a kidnapping gone wrong, this quick read told from the perspective of a handful of different narrators, including the mother of the victim, the kidnapper, the victim herself and the detective, chronicles a family wrapped up in blackmail as they search for Mia and try to get to the bottom of the case. I hate to be a cliche, but it’s true: For those of you who liked A Girl on the Train and/or Gone Girl, you’ll love The Good Girl (so many Girl novels out right now!). It’s got several parallels while also slamming you with a zinger—an unexpected plot twist, always—that hits you like a ton of bricks at the very end.
I’ve now added every other book of Kubica’s to my library list, so thank you for those of you who insisted I give her a go.
My rating: 4 out of 5
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
With all the thrillers and chick lit I’ve read of late, this was a great way to break up the monotony. I’m not entirely sure where I first read about Americanah, but if we’re being honest, it’s not the type of book I’d normally pick up. I feel like with all the racial tension in the media that consumes my daily reading, that’s the last thing I want to read for fun before I go to bed. But this book, by a well-known Nigerian author, presents the plight of Africans living in America (very different than African-Americans, please note) in an insightful, comic and eye-opening sort of way.
After reluctantly leaving her home country for education in America, Ifemelu decides to return to Lagos more than a decade later, and much of the book deals with her apprehension to leave her fiance and adopted New England home and return to what was once familiar. Despite our origins, I felt many similarities to Ifemelu, the fiery main character, who was a magazine editor-turned-blogger, and I loved the oft-somber but also enlightening picture painted of life in Nigeria, a very foreign-to-me country I’ve yet to explore beyond these pages.
In short, anyone who loves travel memoirs, discussions of racial issues or feminism is bound to find Americanah fascinating.
My rating: 4 out of 5
Me Before You by JoJo Meyes
While Me Before You has long been on the bestseller list, I only downloaded it to read because the movie is out and I love me some Emilie Clark. This is also a great example of why I insist on sticking to most books even when I loathe them in the beginning. While it didn’t necessarily start out super slow, it felt like it was quickly veering into Nicholas Sparks territory, and while I like The Notebook as a movie, I have never read a single thing of Sparks’ that I could stomach. I nearly put this book down several times as I was itching to start Eligible but seeing as I had just spent $12.99 on the download—versus getting it from the library like I usually do—the money-pinching CPA’s daughter in me regretfully made myself finish it.
And I’m so glad I did. The main characters, Lou and Will, both started out as unlikable, but by midway through I was rooting for both of them: a quadriplegic who had everything before he was mowed down by a motorcycle and an unambitious twentysomething who didn’t come from the best of circumstances. Guys, this book isn’t exactly the happiest of reads—I mean, considering the subject matter, would you expect it to be? and you’ll need tissues at the end—but the sentiment was sweet, and I am happy I plowed my way through it.
My rating: 4 out of 5
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
After not loving Sisterland, I was nervous this book. So by a couple chapters in when I realized the Curtis Sittenfeld I had fallen in love with over Prep and American Wife was back, I did a silent cheer and proceeded to devour this fun spin on Pride & Prejudice over the course of the weekend. Sittenfeld puts the Bennet family in present day Cincinnati, but uses Austen speak, and I loved the dichotomy of the two, full of tales of reality show drama, Crossfit, transgenders and yoga. Liz is a magazine editor living in Manhattan who comes home to Ohio when her father falls ill and must pull her crumbling family—including a pair of spoiled little sisters who have never left home—back together. She meets Mr. Darcy, a surgeon from a wealthy California family, and well, you know how the tale turns out. This was a brilliant retelling of a beloved book by so many, and I think any Austen fan would be happy with the outcome.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
Up next, I started Lauren Weisenberger’s latest read while I wait for the next Royal Spyness book to hit my Kindle on Tuesday. And I swear this will be the month I finally finish All the Light We Cannot See!
But I do need several good reads for my upcoming three weeks in Europe, so please share with me: What’s the one book you’ve read lately that made you never want to pick up another for fear it wouldn’t compare?