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My Girlish Whims Book Club #50 & Favorite Reads of 2022

How fitting that my 50th book review post (!!!) will include a round up of my favorite books I read in 2022! I read 35 books this past year and considering the year started with welcoming preemie twin boys into the world, I think that is quite an accomplishment! 2022 was certainly an amazing year - dare I say my best one yet :)

I have three final books that I read in December to review in this post first, but keep scrolling after these are done for my top books I read this year. Here's what I finished up the year reading:

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A Merry Little Meet Cute

By Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone. Synopsis from Amazon:

Bee Hobbes (aka Bianca Von Honey) has a successful career as a plus-size adult film star. With a huge following and two supportive moms, Bee couldn’t ask for more. But when Bee’s favorite producer casts her to star in a Christmas movie he’s making for the squeaky-clean Hope Channel, Bee’s career is about to take a more family-friendly direction.

Forced to keep her work as Bianca under wraps, Bee quickly learns this is a task a lot easier said than done. Though it all becomes worthwhilewhen she discovers her co-star is none other than childhood crush Nolan Shaw, an ex-boy band member in desperate need of career rehab. Nolan’s promised his bulldog manager to keep it zipped up on set, and he will if it means he’ll be able to provide a more stable living situation for his sister and mom.

But things heat up quickly in Christmas Notch, Vermont, when Nolan recognizes his new co-star from her ClosedDoors account (oh yeah, he’s a member). Now Bee and Nolan are sneaking off for quickies on set, keeping their new relationship a secret from the Hope Channel’s execs. Things only get trickier when the reporter who torpedoed Nolan’s singing career comes snooping around—and takes an instant interest in mysterious newcomer Bee.

And if Bee and Nolan can’t keep their off-camera romance behind the scenes, then this merry little meet cute might end up on the cutting room floor.

Well this was a cutesy holiday Rom-Com like no other I have read before! If you are looking for a Hallmark style Christmas novel with (there is really no other way to put this) a side of porn - this is the book for you. Whew! I picked four different Christmas themed Rom-Com to put up for a vote for my December book club holiday party and this steamy novel was the winner.  You have to know going into the book that there will be some heat involved since the main character is literally an adult film star, but just beware that it really doesn't shy away from any of the details.  Steam/sex/etc aside, I did think this was a pretty cute and funny book.  The original conflict in the story begins with a last minute accident at a festival which takes out most of the "regular" movie production team and the producer of the film (who is also an adult film star producer, unbeknownst to the squeaky clean Hope Channel team) has to fill in the cast with Bee as the lead star and some of the crew with his adult film crew.  Since no one is supposed to know about the X rated side gig most of the team is involved with, it leads to a lot of amusing interactions between the wardrobe manager who is used to dressing a cast in much less clothing, a lighting tech crew used to lighting a lot more flesh and a lot less horseback riding scenes, etc.  I enjoyed the female empowerment portion of this book and that the lead character was unashamedly plus size and how that was celebrated in the novel. Plot wise it delivered on a typical Rom-Com storyline - nothing earth shattering but enough to give you some fuzzy feel good vibes and some laughs along the way. 

My Girlish Whims Book Club #49

Last week we got to celebrate our first Thanksgiving as a family of four and it truly was our best Thanksgiving yet! Experiencing the holidays after you have kids truly changes everything for the better - even though my boys are still young it was so fun to dress them up, watch them interact with family and gobble up some turkey, stuffing and veggies at both Thanksgiving feasts we shared with each of our families. We've been doing baby-led weaning with them for over four months now where they eat real food instead of baby food and so both kids were fully prepared to share in the large meal with us (Jack especially did not disappoint and loved the extra servings he got, hah!)

I'm definitely looking forward to experiencing the entire Christmas season with them. Before I get into full on holiday mode, however, I need to finish rounding up the last books I read this fall since I popped in with my last set of reviews. Here is what I have been reading lately!

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The House Across the Lake

By Riley Sager. Synopsis from Amazon:

Casey Fletcher, a recently widowed actress trying to escape a streak of bad press, has retreated to the peace and quiet of her family’s lake house in Vermont. Armed with a pair of binoculars and several bottles of bourbon, she passes the time watching Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple living in the house across the lake. They make for good viewing—a tech innovator, Tom is powerful; and a former model, Katherine is gorgeous.

One day on the lake, Casey saves Katherine from drowning, and the two strike up a budding friendship. But the more they get to know each other—and the longer Casey watches—it becomes clear that Katherine and Tom’s marriage isn’t as perfect as it appears. When Katherine suddenly vanishes, Casey immediately suspects Tom of foul play. What she doesn’t realize is that there’s more to the story than meets the eye—and that shocking secrets can lurk beneath the most placid of surfaces. 

Packed with sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy plot twists, Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake is the ultimate escapist read . . . no lake house required.

This is my first Riley Sager book I have read and actually enjoyed! I read it during October and it gave me just the perfect amount of chilly/freaky reading vibes without being overly scary (not my jam!) I enjoyed/was surprised by most of the twists, however I will admit one towards the end of the book made me a little mad and I wish it was left out. I still thoroughly enjoyed this book  - even though it had potential to be a bit similar to The Woman in the Window with the voyager/watcher theme, I still thought this story was fresh and different. I liked Casey as the main character - she was a bit of a mess and her drinking added to the potential unreliable narrator situation, but somehow despite that she was still very likable and you wanted to watch her see the mystery through. For a contemporary, mildly scary book, this book really fit the bill for me and I loved reading it.

My Girlish Whims Book Club #48

It has really started to feel like fall this week and it is giving me all the cozy reading vibes! Since this is our first fall as parents we are of course enjoying getting out to enjoy some festive fall activities like our annual apple picking trip.

The boys may not have been much help with the actual picking, but they sure were cute companions! 

They have also fully enjoyed eating all the apples we gathered - especially little Jack here. He is my smaller twin (two pounds lighter than Tyler!) but has a ferocious appetite for solids these days and has LOVED chowing down on these cooked apple slices :)

When we are not out and about though I'm always in the middle of a good book so I'm back to review the most recent four books I read since my last set of reviews. A few of these are leftover "summery reads" so it's about time I get to it!

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Every Summer After

By Carley Fortune. Synopsis from Amazon:

They say you can never go home again, and for Persephone Fraser, ever since she made the biggest mistake of her life a decade ago, that has felt too true. Instead of glittering summers on the lakeshore of her childhood, she spends them in a stylish apartment in the city, going out with friends, and keeping everyone a safe distance from her heart.

Until she receives the call that sends her racing back to Barry’s Bay and into the orbit of Sam Florek—the man she never thought she’d have to live without.

For six summers, through hazy afternoons on the water and warm summer nights working in his family’s restaurant and curling up together with books—medical textbooks for him and work-in-progress horror short stories for her—Percy and Sam had been inseparable. Eventually that friendship turned into something breathtakingly more, before it fell spectacularly apart.

When Percy returns to the lake for Sam’s mother’s funeral, their connection is as undeniable as it had always been. But until Percy can confront the decisions she made and the years she’s spent punishing herself for them, they’ll never know whether their love might be bigger than the biggest mistakes of their past.

Told over the course of six years and one weekend, Every Summer After is a big, sweeping nostalgic story of love and the people and choices that mark us forever.

This book was a very popular new release this summer, and unfortunately it just didn't live up to the hype for me for as much buzz as it got.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the book, but I just got a bit bored with it.  It's a very familiar friends-to-lovers story with a second chance romance involved, but it read a bit more like a young adult book versus a modern and moving love story because the bulk of the story takes place when Percy and Sam are young teenagers.  The story does flip flop back and forth between present day and teenage years, but the present day story was pretty predictable and the meat of the story is about two 13-year-olds who fall in love at a lake house.  If that's your jam, give it a read - it was a quick and easy read for me - but personally I wasn't overly moved or impressed with it.

By Gabrielle Zevin. Synopsis from Amazon: 

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

I enjoyed this book, but my biggest qualm with it was that I think it was too long! I know it takes place over 30 years but unfortunately the last 1/3ish of the book just got old and pretty tiring to me and this would have been a much more positive review if it would have been wrapped up a bit earlier.  The characters in this book are extremely well written - Sam and Sadie were each damaged and quirky but extremely likable in their own individual ways.  I also really enjoyed Marx's character and Dov (even though he was a dick he was still pretty funny). The cast of characters was just wonderfully done and you really come to care about their lives.  This book is very much about video games - playing them, creating them, marketing them, etc. - but I still found it very enjoyable and easy to follow as someone who's gaming experience was just a few rounds of Mario Cart back in the day. There were very moving moments in this book - powerful and sad and even empowering, but I still hold the same thought that the book would have been a lot better wrapped up sooner.  I kind of grew tired of the back-and-forth in Sam and Sadie's relationship over dumb misunderstandings, and the entire "Pioneers" chapter felt completely out of place, long and drawn out.  Still a good book, lots of memorable moments and one I will remember positively (I'm just glad that I'm done it now...lol!)

The Lioness

By Chris Bohjalian. Synopsis from Amazon:

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie’s best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.

I'd like to call this a "fun read" because the setting in the savannah of Africa and action was so very different than any other book I've ever read before, but it's hard to label it as "fun" when there was so much death and a bit of horror involved! I did really enjoy this book but just a heads up - don't go into it expecting anything lighthearted and some parts are a tad gruesome.  Despite that, I thought the characters in this book were just excellent. I liked learning about each of their backgrounds in the flashbacks each chapter alternated with current events, how there were some cathartic moments in many of their stories, and how you grew to love some and hate some as well. I thought the story did a great job weaving in bits of African culture/history, safari and wild animal facts, racism and privilege issues, and old Hollywood stardom.  If you are up for reading about all of those things with some action and death on an African safari - this is a book for you!

The Lion's Den

By Katherine St. John. Synopsis from Amazon:

Belle likes to think herself immune to the dizzying effects of fabulous wealth. But when her best friend, Summer, invites her on a glamorous getaway to the Mediterranean aboard her billionaire boyfriend's yacht, the only sensible answer is yes. Belle hopes the trip will be a much-needed break from her stalled acting career and uniquely humiliating waitressing job, but once she's aboard the luxurious Lion's Den, it soon becomes clear this jet-setting holiday is not as advertised.

Belle's dream vacation quickly devolves into a nightmare as she and the handful of other girls Summer invited are treated more like prisoners than guests by their controlling host—and in one terrifying moment, Belle comes to see Summer for who she truly is: a vicious gold digger who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Belle realizes she's going to have to keep her wits about her—and her own big secret closely hidden—if she wants to make it off the yacht alive.

I was very prepared to write a very mediocre review about this book until I finished it.  I don't want to give too much away, but this book ended up having a lot more depth to it than I expected and it ended up surprising me! Granted, there is a good amount of fluff in this book - petty girl drama, over-the-top lavish gifts and settings, boyfriend stealing & pining after, friends stabbing other friends in the back...ok, ok, maybe this isn't all just fluff after all...but parts of the book did seem a bit superficial.  How many times can Belle let Summer walk all over her? How original is a young, beautiful girl going after an old sugar daddy who is likely going to turn out to be an evil, cheating business man?? All that withstanding, I liked this one. Some parts were unrealistic, you wanted to knock Summer over the head with her Louis Vuitton bag a zillion times during it, but you still were always routing for Belle to succeed and it was a quick, easy and enjoyable read for me.

I'm currently finishing my next in person book club novel, but after that I am ready for some spooky reading in preparation for Halloween! I like books that are a little creepy but not downright frightening - let me know if you have any favorites for this season I should give a read!

My Girlish Whims Book Club #47

I'm back to wrap up some of the most recent books I read, many over our summer vacation last month! We went back down to Chincoteague Virginia for a week with our family and it was such a perfect little getaway.

As always, traveling with twin babies is a LOT of work but it's still so much fun to get a change of scenery and enjoy a few relaxing moments when they pop up. The boy's morning nap was my favorite time to sit out on our balcony enjoying the breeze, views, and a good book!

And of course, when the sun was shining an afternoon beach trip was my favorite place to crack open a beverage and a book while the boys were busy exploring and playing in the sand (I don't even want to think about the amount of sand they consumed on this trip...so much sand everywhere!!!)

I managed to finish two books the week we were away, so here is the round up of the books I have finished recently! (Previous round up found here)

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My Girlish Whims Book Club #46

It seems I'm much better at reading books these days than getting my reviews up in a timely matter, go figure, lol.  Instead of a bunch of fluff about my life before getting into the reviews, here's a quick picture collage of our recent trip to the Finger Lakes - our first trip up there bringing the boys! If any one is interested in a full recap of our trip, let me know (maybe I'll get that posted quicker than these reviews??? Probably not!) But suffice it to say it was such a fun getaway! A lot of work with twin babies for sure, but looking at these pictures again already makes me ready to plan our next trip away.

I brought "Lessons in Chemistry" along on this trip (spoiler alert - I LOVED THIS BOOK!!!) and got some reading done after the boys were in bed each night.  Here are the other books I read since my last round up and we can get right into my thoughts on all of them!

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By Blake Crouch. Synopsis from Amazon:

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.

I absolutely loved Dark Matter and Recursion by Blake Crouch so I was super excited to get a copy of this book from Net Galley to read before it was released.  My favorite thing about Crouch's books is that they definitely fall in the Sci-Fi category but they are not SO heavy laden with scientific terminology that they are difficult or confusing to read for me (someone who's worst subject in school was probably science!) The science in them is extremely believable as well: this book focuses on the fact humans have developed a way to tweak genes and DNA to change species for better or for worse which I thought was very interesting.  The book itself read very much like a thriller and had a lot of action in it, but also still had a lot of focus on family and relationships - Logan's troubled past with his mother, his new battle with his estranged sister, and his struggle to watch his relationship with his beloved wife and daughter slip away from him due to his upgrade.  There is an overarching theme in the book about the world being doomed because us humans are killing ourselves and the earth (ho-hum, blah blah, lol) and the major action scene at the end of the book got a little excessive to me, but this was still an enjoyable read for me. I liked his first two books a bit more than this one, but at this point I would say Crouch is an auto-read author for me because I really enjoy the change up to a sci-fi genre with the interesting stories he comes up with!

By Bonnie Garmus. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results. 

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo. 

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

This will for sure top my list of favorite books I read in 2022: I just adored this book! The title and the book cover really did not appeal to me - it looked like a cooky modern romance novel with a chemistry trope by the cover to me and I just have never been a fan of modern romance books these days, so it was completely off my radar until an instagram follower touted its praises to me and said she thought I would love it too.  Bingo - she was so right! It is not a romance book at all but a frustrating and heartwarming tale of one female chemist Elizabeth Zott.  So many of the scenarios in the book make you extremely mad and frustrated at how poorly Elizabeth is treated as a woman in the 1960s.  The cooky but lovable protagonist fighting her way in the world reminded me a bit of The Maid which I read and loved earlier this year (posted about here) which also had a female lead, Molly, who was a bit odd but still very endearing and others took advantage of her. The book was heartwarming with such a cute cast of supporting characters - sweet Mad, busy body Helen, and the best character of all: six-thirty the dog.  Yes, there is a dog as a character in the book and it was hilarious! I loved every inch of this book and emoted so hard with Elizabeth throughout all the chapters - do yourself a favor and pick it up to see for yourself why!

{Edited to add after my book club meeting for any of the publishing powers out there: we think this book would have been much better off titled "Supper at Six" with a less modern cover, but just our two cents! The writing and story speaks for itself though, and I would recommend this book to anyone!)

This Time Tomorrow

By Emma Straub. Synopsis from Amazon:

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

I checked this new release out from my local library that I FINALLY went to visit and signed up for a library card! It's a pretty small library but I was impressed by their new releases section and availability.  I had seen this one mentioned a few times by authors I like/bookstagram accounts so I grabbed it from the library with one issue - I could only check it out for 7 days since it was a new release with no extensions! I was a little worried about finishing in time but turns out I was worried for naught - I finished with two days to spare! I enjoyed this book so I read it pretty fast, my only qualm with it is that this same scenario I feel like is just overdone: protagonist travels back in time to try and fix her life before figuring out the alternate lives you thought you may have wanted may not be better after all (it gave me lots of The Midnight Library vibes). While the story structure was not unique, I don't want to critique too harshly because I enjoyed Straub's writing a lot. This was my first book from her and I liked her modern style and I enjoyed the characters a lot.  I thought the book would be a bit depressing since so much of it focuses on her ill father and his pending demise...but even with that at the forefront it wasn't overwhelmingly sad.  My favorite quote from the book was "Happy endings were too much for some people, false and cheap, but hope - hope was honest. Hope was good." This is a story about self-discovery and learning to appreciate the things you have in life at every moment along the way and I enjoyed it! 


By Elin Hilderbrand. Synopsis from Amazon:

From marriage, infidelity, and the mayhem of motherhood to scandal, tragedy, and illness—three women seek peace and comfort in Nantucket as they cope with life's challenges.

Three women—burdened with small children, unwieldy straw hats, and some obvious emotional issues—tumble onto the Nantucket airport tarmac one hot June day. Vicki is trying to sort through the news that she has a serious illness. Her sister, Brenda, has just left her job after being caught in an affair with a student. And their friend Melanie, after seven failed in vitro attempts, is pregnant at last—but only after learning that her husband is having an affair. They have come to escape, enjoy the sun, and relax in Nantucket's calming air. But into the house, into their world, steps twenty-two-year-old Josh Flynn.
Barefoot weaves these four lives together in a story with enthralling sweep and scope—a novel that is as fun and memorable and bittersweet as that one perfect day of summer.

I saw this older book from Elin Hilderbrand sitting on an end cap at my local library I just joined and took it as a sign that I needed to grab it.  I am a hardcore Elin fan but have not read a few of her older novels so it was perfect timing to grab this one as a free rental from the library.  It was published in 2007 and some of the differences from just 15 years ago cracked me up (I laughed out loud when there was a reference to the computer game Snood which I used to play all the time!) Even if it's 15 years old, I still enjoyed reading this one - the Nantucket magic Elin depicts is always timely to read and escape to in the summertime. The book was not entirely light hearted though: I actually had to google when Elin herself was diagnosed with breast cancer because the way she wrote about Vicki fighting through lung cancer with the chemo treatments and the impact it had on her family was so heartfelt, I really thought Elin was speaking from experience (she was not diagnosed with cancer until 2014 though!) One thing I appreciate about Elin's stories is how sometimes they end how I believe things really happen in real life, verses how we want things to always end in a magical fairy tale. The characters she paints and their struggles and drama may be fictional, but I think they parallel real life people and situations extremely well without a lot of extra BS thrown in. This was an enjoyable back-list read from Elin for me, and I plan to continue with the rest!

I'm almost done my fourth book for my next set of books - so I will be back again soon{ish} to update you all on my next reads! Hope you are all clinging to the last bits of summer and reading time like I am :)