Thanks to a crowdsourced recommendation from earlier this year, I picked up The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis. I generally like Davis’ historical fiction and this was a particularly good one. “Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death. Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes, but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.” (Amazon) The back and forth between the two stories and the information about the Fricks made this an easy, fast read. Highly recommend.
Looking for something light and fun? Beth O’Leary is always a good choice and The Road Trip is a solid selection. “Four years ago, Dylan and Addie fell in love under the Provence sun. Wealthy Oxford student Dylan was staying at his friend Cherry’s enormous French villa; wild child Addie was spending her summer as the on-site caretaker. Two years ago, their relationship officially ended. They haven’t spoken since. Today, Dylan’s and Addie’s lives collide again. It’s the day before Cherry’s wedding, and Addie and Dylan crash cars at the start of the journey there. The car Dylan was driving is wrecked, and the wedding is in rural Scotland—he’ll never get there on time by public transport. So, along with Dylan’s best friend, Addie’s sister, and a random guy on Facebook who needed a ride, they squeeze into a space-challenged Mini and set off across Britain. Cramped into the same space, Dylan and Addie are forced to confront the choices they made that tore them apart—and ask themselves whether that final decision was the right one after all.” (Amazon) There’s nothing deep here, but it’s a decent beach read.
The Paper Palace by Miranda Crowley Heller has gotten a lot of hype in the past few years and it’s been on all kinds of best-of lists. I finally got my hands on a copy and, to me, it wasn’t worth the hype. It held my interest and picked up the pace toward the end, but overall, it was too depressing and “already done.” Amazon: “It is a perfect August morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace”—the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside. Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.” While many have enjoyed this one, it wasn’t for me.
Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann was only so-so. “The Briscoe family is once again the talk of their small town when March returns to East Texas two years after he was caught having an affair with his brother’s wife. His mother, June, hardly welcomes him back with open arms. Her husband’s own past affairs have made her tired of being the long-suffering spouse. Is it, perhaps, time for a change? Within days of March’s arrival, someone is dead, marriages are upended, and even the strongest of alliances are shattered. In the end, the ties that hold them together might be exactly what drag them all down. An expansive tour de force, Olympus, Texas cleverly weaves elements of classical mythology into a thoroughly modern family saga, rich in drama and psychological complexity. After all, at some point, don’t we all wonder: What good is this destructive force we call love?” (Amazon) I didn’t hate it, but probably, if I hadn’t been stuck on a plane with time to burn, I would have abandoned it.
The slim volume, The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka was appealing because I loved her other books (The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine). Amazon: “The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief. One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. For Alice, the pool was a final stand against the darkness of her encroaching dementia. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps she is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice’s estranged daughter, reentering her mother’s life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline.” I didn’t love the disengaged voice that told the story. While it was in first-person, the story was too rambly and disjointed for me. However, at only 150 pages with little text on each, it wasn’t a long commitment.
Happy Memorial Day – the weekend I publish my summer reading recommendations and my own list for summer reading.
I have already posted my choices for good summer reads that I have vetted. This post covers those I am looking forward to biting off myself.
Let me know if you have read and enjoyed or hated any of them. They will be packed in my beach bag…
As I do each year, I have listed here my favorites for the first six months of the year so you can easily find them to take to the beach. Like last year, 2022 has been light on 5-star books, but there are a good number of 4.5-star choice to enjoy.
I will post another list of those I am reading this summer – who knows if they are going to be good or not…happy summer, everyone!
The Mighty Queens of Freeville
Finlay Donovan is Killing It
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life
An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good
Just Last Night
Wish You Were Here
Small Things Like These
Links to read my past summer blog posts below.
The No-Show by Beth O’Leary is a solid beach read. Most of her books are light, but more substantive than some and without terrible writing. “Siobhan is a quick-tempered life coach with way too much on her plate. Miranda is a tree surgeon used to being treated as just one of the guys on the job. Jane is a soft-spoken volunteer for the local charity shop with zero sense of self-worth. These three women are strangers who have only one thing in common: they’ve all been stood up on the same day, the very worst day to be stood up—Valentine’s Day. And, unbeknownst to them, they’ve all been stood up by the same man. Once they’ve each forgiven him for standing them up, they are all in serious danger of falling in love with a man who may have not just one or two but three women on the go….Is there more to him than meets the eye? Where was he on Valentine’s Day? And will they each untangle the truth before they all get their hearts broken?” (Amazon) It’s entertaining and has a unique premise, but it’s not earth-shattering.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan was a wonderful short story that’s perfect for COLD weather reading. I read it in an hour, so it’s perfect for in between longer books when you need just a little something different. “It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church.” (Amazon) This was a sweet bite that I really enjoyed.
I had given up on Jodi Picoult a while ago after really loving a lot of her early works. Her books became too predictable and formulaic. However, I read good reviews of Wish You Were Here and thought I would give it a try. “Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time. But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes. Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.” (Amazon) This story was really engrossing and had a surprise twist that I am still thinking about. In ways, I was annoyed by the twist/ending, and in ways, I really liked it. So, overall, I would really recommend it.