Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
One of the greatest things about being a book blogger is getting free books!
Now that I’m a professional book reviewer, I get advanced reader’s copies (ARCs) of books before publication. More often than not, the Fed Ex truck pulls up to my house with a book from a publisher. Plus, my inbox is constantly flooded with book review requests.
However, the most irresistible source of ARCs is a website called NetGalley. As a book blogger, I have access to their catalog of thousands of books to review.
If you’ve ever fallen victim to the addiction of online shopping, imagine online shopping for books – that are all free. Then imagine what happens when you realize you have to read and review all those books!
The theme for my July reading was ARCs. I wanted to completely clear out all my obligated reviews. Then I would have more room in my reading schedule for backlist books I’ve been meaning to read.
Although I still have a few ARCs left, I already feel like my reading life is reaching the balance I prefer.
Always remember, your reading life should be enjoyable. If it’s not, then it’s time to mix things up a bit.
July Reading List
Cloud Cuckoo Land
From the author of All the Light We Cannot See comes an ambitious work of literary fiction. Doerr’s novel toggles between three timelines – the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, present-day Idaho, and interstellar ship far in the future. Each piece explores the power of stories as a fictional ancient Greek comedy weaves throughout the entire book.
I predict that Cloud Cuckoo Land will be hit or miss with people since the plot doesn’t converge as powerfully as it should. Yet, the awe-inspiring power of the written word that Doerr evokes in every sentence will be appreciated by literary fiction lovers.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Scribner through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Last Thing He Told Me
Before Owen Michaels disappeared, he smuggled a note to his new wife Hannah: Protect her. Hannah knows he’s referring to his sixteen-year-old daughter Bailey, but Bailey doesn’t want anything to do with Hannah. As Owen’s boss gets arrested and the FBI comes knocking, Hannah and Bailey must come together to discover Owen’s secrets.
I found myself completely immersed in Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick from May. As Hannah tries to unravel Owen’s true identity and learn to connect with her stepdaughter, the suspense keeps you turning pages. Instead of a high-action plot like in a John Grisham thriller, Dave opts for a thought-provoking character study that I found intriguing.
What Comes After
In a coastal Washington town, everyone was shocked when popular student goes missing and his childhood friend, Jonah, confesses to his murder before committing suicide. While struggling with his son’s murder, Isaac, a devote Quaker, takes in a pregnant teenager who shows up at his door. At first, her presence seems like a blessing, but as Isaac and Jonah’s mother get to know Evangeline, their overlapping pasts threaten to derail the shared future they are building. What Comes After is a slow brooding debut novel that completely draws you in with its character study of the effects of grief, anger, and the need for connection.
Where the Truth Lies
When Abi disappears from a teenage party, the police in her insular Colorado mountain town assume she ran away. As Emma investigates her best friend’s disappearance, she begins to learn that she didn’t know Abi as well as she thought. Although the premise has all the hallmarks of a great summer thriller, Where the Truth Lies was all cliches and stereotypes of small-town American life, possibly because the author is British. The bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and domestic abuse were all overplayed, lacking in even an ounce of nuance, while the culprit was the most obvious character.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Atria Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Rock Paper Scissors
After winning a trip to a remote Scotland getaway for the weekend, Adam and Amelia try one last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Amelia is tired of Adam putting his work as a screenwriter before her and Adam is just tired of Amelia. As things start to unravel and their past is revealed through secret anniversary letters Adam has never read, you find that someone is lying and someone doesn’t want them to end happily ever after. While I was reading, I wavered between enjoying the mystery and being annoyed by it. Overall the book was good, if a bit unbelievable, but the twist is so artfully executed that it elevates the entire novel up a notch.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Flatiron Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Once There Were Wolves
Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with one purpose – to reintroduce gray wolves into the highlands despite the fierce resistance from the local population. When a farmer is mauled to death, Inti buries the evidence, terrified the locals will accuse her beloved wolves. But if the wolves aren’t to blame, who caused his death? And will it happen again?
McConaghy’s August 2021 book release is a hauntingly beautiful novel about healing from trauma – in people and in nature. McConaghy masterfully navigates communicating her message of conservation while still giving an enthralling fictional story that hooks you from the beginning.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Flatiron Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Sum of Us
Why do so many people think of racism as a zero-sum game where advances for minorities only come at harm for the majority? With a specialty in studying the economy, Heather McGhee takes an extensive look at how racism hurts us all. McGhee looks at the root of the problem and the incalculable costs of racism and paints a brighter vision for America.
As with most books about racism, McGhee makes plenty of powerful points about how race affects America much more than we might even imagine. Yet, I didn’t love McGhee’s style of conveying the information. The personal stories in each chapter didn’t often coordinate well with the corresponding theme and McGhee’s conclusion was a jump instead of a natural extension of her work.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Light of Days
The untold story of a group of Jewish women in Poland who became Resistance Fighters during World War II. In the Jewish ghettos, the Jewish women transformed their youth groups into the ultimate freedom fighters – bribing the Gestapo, flirting with soldiers, and bombing train depots.
Judy Batalion’s well-researched work does an excellent job showing the complicated nature of life in the Jewish ghettos during the war. However, her research is also her downfall. The book is extremely informative but Batalion fails to give you a compelling narrative to draw you in. A quarter of the way through, I found myself dreading picking it up, and with over 400 pages to go, I finally just threw in the towel. I think I’ll enjoy it more once the story is narrowed down for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film adaptation.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from William Morrow through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Martha Hall Kelly
In a spin-off prequel of her bestseller, Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly tells the tale of Caroline’s ancestor, a story inspired by true accounts. During the Civil War, Georgeann Woolsey feels trapped in a life of luxury and boldly enlists to become a Union nurse. There she meets an enslaved girl who joined the Union Army to flee her cruel mistress. Together they must face the cruelties of war and the inhumanity of their day.
Although I was excited to read Matha Hall Kelly’s foray into the Civil War, I’ve been putting Sunflower Sisters off for months because reading a 500-page novel is a large time commitment, even for me. Unfortunately, during the first few chapters, I found myself bored to tears. Maybe the story gets more interesting later, but every character was so flat that I decided it wasn’t worth wading through 400+ pages to find out.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ballantine through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
What happens when a knock on the door shatters your life as you know it? Only five weeks after deploying to Afghanistan as a physician assistant, Captain Cory Jenkins was killed by an IED. Suddenly a young widow with a 9-week old daughter, Brooke is set on a path she never expected to trod.
Critically speaking, the writing is good, but not excellent. Her transitions and childhood stories didn’t blend as seamlessly into the story as they should. Walters touches on the juxtaposition of having her private grief so publicly displayed, and I would have loved for her to diver deeper into more universal themes.
However, Walters does a great job conveying the overwhelming mix of emotions from her experience. I read the memoir in one afternoon and sobbed through the entire middle of the book. An emotional look at healing from loss, learning to forgive, and finding faith amid tragedy, Coming Home is a great read for anyone who loves personal memoirs.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, who is a friend of mine. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Family Plot
Growing up, Dahlia Lighthouse’s family was like no other. Obsessed with true crime, her parents isolated the family in their secluded island mansion. When her father dies, a body is discovered already in his grave – Dahlia’s twin brother who disappeared when they were teens. Now Dahlia must dive deeper into her eccentric family to learn what happened to her brother.
Truth be told, The Family Plot is just plain weird … and not in a good way. Everything was unrelatable from top to bottom – the characters, the circumstances, the true-crime obsession. Instead of being intrigued by the quirkiness, I was annoyed by the irredeemably flat characters and the bizarre story. I honestly can’t believe I wasted as many hours as I did reading this terrible book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Atria Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Vietnam War has been hard on Gibby’s family. One brother never returned and the other returned only to spend three years in prison. When a day at the lake ends with a riot aboard a prison transport that will result in the murder of a young woman, Gibby dives deep into his older brother’s war history to prove him innocent. The Unwilling started strong with the complicated relationships of Gibby’s family. However, the story didn’t have enough suspense to compensate for the highly unrealistic characters and plotline introduced halfway through the book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
Code Name Verity
Code Name Verity immerses you in a world of intrigue with the story of a British spy, Agent “Verity.” Captured when her plane crashes in occupied France, Verity is interrogated by the Gestapo in an attempt to learn of her mission. As she confesses under torture, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat wondering what secrets she is willing to exchange for her life. How far is she willing to go for her mission? Just as brilliant and emotional when I read it a second time, Code Name Verity makes for a great book club recommendation.
In 1938, the single biggest newsmaker was not Hitler or Mussolini, but the crooked-legged racehorse Seabiscuit, an unlikely hero who became an American icon. When Charles Howard wanted to own racehorses, he teamed up with Tom Smith, a mysterious mustang breaker from Colorado, and Red Pollard, a half-blind former boxer turned jockey, in a partnership that would transform bad luck and injury into an inspirational success story. With long shot odds and dramatic twists and turns, Seabiscuit has all the hallmarks of a great sports story and Hillenbrand’s brilliant narration will thrill any reader, no matter your interest in horseracing.
A professor of psychology and marketing, Adam Alter describes the rise of behavioral addiction in America – such as the unhealthy attachment to smartphones and social media, the out-of-control gaming, the desperate need to check email – and discusses the troubling problems such addictions foreshadow. Although only a few years old, Irresistible already felt outdated to me, probably because social media is evolving so rapidly. In all, Alter’s research made for an interesting read but didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know.
Made to Stick
Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Why do some ideas stick – no matter how true – while others go in one ear and out the other? Chip and Dan Heath break down the elements that made ideas memorable and teach you how to create stickier messaging. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell or Charles Duhigg, the Heath brothers use interesting anecdotes to illustrate the concepts of stickiness. Made to Stick is informative and entertaining at the same time, but I’m not sure how useful it will be in practical application.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back in August to see which ones I read.
Which Books Did You Read in July?
What books did you love this month? Which books did you hate? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Book Lists to Enjoy:
Holly Kukkonen says
I just finished Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves, Carolyn Chute. I really appreciated that she brought up many concerns in our world. I also appreciated that she dealt with a segment of society that is not alway portrayed sympathetically. It was hard for me to relate to many of the characters. Have you read anybody her books?
I enjoyed reading What Comes After.
It grabbed me from the start and was an interesting blend of sort of mystery with some Anne Tyler-type domesticity thrown in to develop the characters more fully.
It lets you know from the start what the outcome will be, but then takes you back to explain what happened. That can be hard to pull off, but in this case the story held my interest.
I’ve been in a bit of a summer slump, but this book was good enough to pull me through, after having picked up several others I did not feel interested enough in to finish.
Rachael I finished The Light of Days. Yes, it was a long, demanding read, but as I’m recuperating from surgery & it’s winter here, I kept on. The writer, Judy Batalion has certainly done her research. What interested me was the women’s persistence, & what seemed to me a strong admixture of fear & courage. It’s an amazing hitherto untold story of women during WW2. Appreciated the bibliography at book’s end.
-Longer than 400 pages: “Girls with Bright Futures” by Tracy Dobmeier (loved)
-A WWII Story: “The Piano Teacher” by Janice Lee (3 stars)
-Eye Catching Cover: “The Nantucket Inn (Nantucket Beach Plum Cover, #1) by Pamela Kelley (good beach read)
Terra W says
– Book Club Favorite – “What She Knew” by Gilly Macmillan
– Book about Frienship – “Between Friends” by Debbie Macomber
– An Audiobook – “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova
– Set In Australia – “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty
Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books) says
I DNF’d THE FAMILY PLOT after a few chapters. It was too weird for me. Sounds like it didn’t get any better as it went along!