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My Girlish Whims Book Club #55

Well it's been about 3 weeks since summer ended and I'm finally piecing together the rest of my book reviews I read over the summer since I posted my last set of reviews! Life with twin toddlers and one more on the way (surprise!!!) sure is busy so I focused a bit more on relaxing with my reading instead of rushing to get these review posts up every time I finished four novels and so now I have THIRTEEN books to round up for you! There's a mix of some summer reads, debuts, thrillers, and backlist reads all tied up in here with lots of good ones in the mix! I'll throw a few pictures of what we were up to during the second half of summer in-between the reviews :)

Bardwell Baby Boy due March 5th!

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Onto the books! Let's start with one of my favorites:

A Man Called Ove

By Fredrik Backman. Synopsis from Amazon:

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

Fredrik Backman’s beloved first novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

This book was SO good! I've loved every book I've read by Backman so I'm surprised it took me so long to read his original novel. It was worth the wait though because I just absolutely loved it. The main character Ove is obviously a cranky old man, but he is a cranky old man with a surprisingly large heart (😉) and a group of neighbors who just won't leave him alone to die in peace. One of my favorite characters was probably the mangled cat he gets stuck with who will not go to the bathroom in other people's homes (Ove turning on the radio for the cat so it wouldn't be scared by a specific loud noise in the one scene? Even facing death Ove was considerate of his feline). This book had humor, charm, and so much depth. The back stories sharing the hardships Ove had endured throughout his life were heart wrenching and maddening, but through it all Over had his Sonja who was always such a positive, shining light in the worst of situation, until of course he didn't. I think my favorite chapter in the book was where the backstory of Ove and Rune's feud and grudges and ultimately their personal tragedies were explained fully through the types of cars they drove over the span of a few years. It sounds strange but it was an utterly moving and emotional way to share the history and pain of two men who would rather talk or tinker around with their vehicles than be vulnerable with their own emotions. It takes a lot for me to cry while reading a book, but the ending of this one had me full on ugly crying over breakfast when I finished it.  When a book can bring you to tears, you know it's a good one. 10/10 would recommend! 

We took full advantage of our gym pool this summer with the boys! I rarely got any reading done while they were at the pool with us, hah, but we still all enjoyed going often as a family :)

The Five Star Weekend

By Elin Hilderbrand. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Hollis Shaw’s life seems picture-perfect. She’s the creator of the popular food blog Hungry with Hollis and is married to Matthew, a dreamy heart surgeon. But after she and Matthew get into a heated argument one snowy morning, he leaves for the airport and is killed in a car accident. The cracks in Hollis’s perfect life—her strained marriage and her complicated relationship with her daughter, Caroline—grow deeper.

So when Hollis hears about something called a “Five-Star Weekend”—one woman organizes a trip for her best friend from each phase of her life: her teenage years, her twenties, her thirties, and midlife—she decides to host her own Five-Star Weekend on Nantucket. But the weekend doesn’t turn out to be a joyful Hallmark movie.

The husband of Hollis’s childhood friend Tatum arranges for Hollis’s first love, Jack Finigan, to spend time with them, stirring up old feelings. Meanwhile, Tatum is forced to play nice with abrasive and elitist Dru-Ann, Hollis’s best friend from UNC Chapel Hill. Dru-Ann’s career as a prominent Chicago sports agent is on the line after her comments about a client’s mental health issues are misconstrued online. Brooke, Hollis’s friend from their thirties, has just discovered that her husband is having an inappropriate relationship with a woman at work. Again! And then there’s Gigi, a stranger to everyone (including Hollis) who reached out to Hollis through her blog. Gigi embodies an unusual grace and, as it happens, has many secrets.

The Five-Star Weekend is a surprising and captivating story about friendship, love, and self-discovery set on Nantucket. It will be a weekend like no other.

The one thing I always appreciate about Elin Hilderbrand books is that she doesn't shy away from "dirty" drama - it can be salacious, juicy, but also very much this-could-happen-in-real-life drama and not something all the way out of left field drama.  While any "beach read" may capitalize on some juicy drama to give it some "je ne sais quoi" to captivate and pull a reader in, I think Elin has a realistic grasp on some of the very real human faults. I appreciate how she weaves them into her stories and one of the big juicy secrets that came out in this novel did not disappoint! Of course I enjoyed her 2023 summer novel release, I can't read an Elin and not like it! My only fault with this one was a personal fault - I just felt like I couldn't connect very well with any of the characters for some reason.  Hollis was too much older and in a different mindset than me, and her daughter was too much younger and immature for me to "click" with either of them, but not being able to click/relate to a character is not a reason to not read a book obviously. I could still emote with the challenges everyone went through, enjoyed all the delicious food description in the book, the Nantucket backdrop, and even the funny & petty friend drama all of Hollis' friends endured during the Five Star Weekend. If you enjoy Elin you will enjoy this one, but also if you are a little closer in age to the majority of the characters I think you will enjoy it even more!

By Jeneva Rose. Synopsis from Amazon:

Sarah Morgan is a successful and powerful defense attorney in Washington D.C. As a named partner at her firm, life is going exactly how she planned. The same cannot be said for her husband, Adam. He’s a struggling writer who has had little success in his career and he tires of his and Sarah’s relationship as she is constantly working. 

Out in the secluded woods, at the couple’s lake house, Adam engages in a passionate affair with Kelly Summers. But one morning everything changes. Kelly is found brutally stabbed to death and now, Sarah must take on her hardest case yet, defending her own husband, a man accused of murdering his mistress. 

The Perfect Marriage is a juicy, twisty, and utterly addictive thriller that will keep you turning pages. You won’t see the ending coming . . . guaranteed!

This was my book club pick for July and I really liked it! It has tons of great reviews on Amazon and is offered as a free ebook if you are a prime member so this was a no brainer to read. I really enjoyed all of the characters and overall story - I mean there is so much room for drama when a man has an affair, is accused of killing his mistress, and then his wife decides to step up and defend him still as his lawyer. I thought there was a good pace to the story, the details/mystery pieces fell into place at the right time to keep you guessing but not bored. I will say that overall I had so many people message me saying “omg the ending!!” So I really wasn’t shocked or that surprised when I got to the ending, but it still didn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the book. There was still a bit of evidence revealed at the end I wouldn’t have guessed at all! Some of the writing style I thought was a tad cringy at times (Adam”s internal dialogue about becoming an ant so he has purpose in life??) and I don’t know why but all of constant mention of labels “Range Rover,” “Channel” etc felt a little like it was trying to force pushing Sarah into this bad and boujee realm that overall read a little odd to me, but these are minor nitpicking things.  I thought this was an entertaining and enjoying thriller - easy to pick up and read and keep you engaged!

Posting lots of mocktail pictures during my girls trip to Florida before I announced to the rest of the world I was pregnant again!!

Local Woman Missing

by Mary Kubica. Synopsis from Amazon:

People don't just disappear without a trace…

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they'll find…
This is one of the books I read awhile ago, didn't review right after the fact, and now can't quite remember  anything notable/not notable about it excepts that I liked it, hah! I do know for sure that I started it on my flight down to Florida for VERY RARE girls trip and it started with a pretty harsh first scene with a young child in held in captivity in a basement so even though it got tons of recommendations for me to read I had to say "nah, not what I'm going for right now" and stopped after a chapter or two and picked up Bad Summer People (review below) for a easy summer read.  I did pick it back up after the my trip though, and I'm so glad that I did! This book had a lot of moving parts, and I do remember very surprised by the ending. So...yeah. Can't remember much else anymore except I liked following the mystery a lot, and it's worth pushing through the first few chapters for!!!

The amount of reading I got done on this girls trip was HEAVENLY haha. I was just gone for a long weekend but had so much fun catching up with a group of my gal pals, floating around our Air BnB pool, reading on the beach, and getting dressed up to go out each night!

Bad Summer People

by Emma Rosenblum. Synopsis from Amazon:

None of them would claim to be a particularly good person. But who among them is actually capable of murder?

Jen Weinstein and Lauren Parker rule the town of Salcombe, Fire Island every summer. They hold sway on the beach and the tennis court, and are adept at manipulating people to get what they want. Their husbands, Sam and Jason, have summered together on the island since childhood, despite lifelong grudges and numerous secrets. Their one single friend, Rachel Woolf, is looking to meet her match, whether he’s the tennis pro—or someone else’s husband. But even with plenty to gossip about, this season starts out as quietly as any other.

Until a body is discovered, face down, off the side of the boardwalk.

Stylish, subversive, and darkly comedic, this is a story of what's lurking under the surface of picture-perfect lives in a place where everyone has something to hide.

I started this book after abandoning another book that wasn't cutting it on flight to a girls trip to Florida when I wanted something beachy and drama filled and this book was exactly what I was looking for.  I shouldn't read reviews of books I've read before I review them but (alas) I read one from a popular blogger saying this one was terrible and to skip it and it made me so mad for some reason! In my defense, in that same blog post she could not stop singing the praises for The Senator's Wife which I reviewed earlier this year and thought was one of the worst books I've read this year, so obviously we have different tastes in reading, hah. Toe-mate-toe, toe-mat-tao as they say - but I really did love this one. It's a quick read set in a small beach town with a small group of main characters but with small and close knit community who loves to gossip. I loved the drama. I loved finding out who was sleeping with who and who wanted to sleep with who. The novel spans a summer and gives you a beach town, scandal, murder, wealth and sex (hah). I think this was just what I needed for a quick beach read that yes, wasn't earth shattering but still kept me interested in the story and wrapped everything up tightly at the end.  I think it's a mood read book for sure so seeing as we are now going into fall, maybe add this to your TBR for next summer, but I still loved it!

We took our first day trip to the beach with the boys in July to Ocean City! I was craving beach time so this hit the spot for a quick trip to walk the boardwalk and play on the beach...and load back into the car by about 12:30 because the boys were exhausted and needed a nap, hah! Short and sweet but a fun day for sure! 

The Mother-in-Law

By Sally Hepworth. Synopsis from Amazon:

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had envisioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago. 

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body. 

But the autopsy finds no cancer. 

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation. 

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every page in this twisty, captivating new novel from Sally Hepworth. 

This was my third Sally Hepworth book I've read and was another one I enjoyed! I think I'm just super biased now though because The Good Sister was the first one that I read from Hepworth and I absolutely ADORED it and none that I've read since then have just quite been as good.  For this book though I still enjoyed the story and really liked Lucy's character.  I think the desire to connect, get along with and even bond & become close with your mother-in-law is extremely relatable and I found Lucy's struggle to get to know and get along with Diana very realistic.  There were no earth shattering twists but a few fun surprises along the way that added to the story and I ultimately think the motive behind the real reason for Diana's death (while extremely sad and unfortunate) was driven from a lot of raw and all consuming grief & and pain from a hardship that is impossible to understand unless you have walked through it before - but I think Hepworth was spot on that it could lead drastic consequences. Ambiguous, I know, hah! But I'm really trying to avoid spoilers here.  The cast of characters is pretty small in this book so there are not a ton of options for where this story could go.  I will still read more from Hepworth, but if you want to start with one I still prefer The Good Sister better!

Pretty views of the water channel behind our house in Chincoteague where we vacation every August - we would normally spend mornings at the beach with the boys and come back to the house for nap time where I continued to enjoy some sunshine and reading & relaxing out here!

The Marriage Pact

by John Marrs. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Britain. The near-future. A right-wing government believes it has the answer to society’s ills—the Sanctity of Marriage Act, which actively encourages marriage as the norm, punishing those who choose to remain single.

But four couples are about to discover just how impossible relationships can be when the government is monitoring every aspect of our personal lives—monitoring every word, every minor disagreement…and will use every tool in its arsenal to ensure everyone will love, honor and obey.

I enjoyed this book! I know it got some buzz on bookstagram but doesn't look like the craze followed over to the rest of the Internet, but I think it was a good story and worth the hype. I loved the idea/concept behind it: I really liked the slightly dystopian-feeling society that was still not too far off the realm of being realistic.  I love how the book focused on marriage and all the reasons behind why married couples were supposed to be better (aka cheaper) for society. It was very interesting to learn about all the extra incentives and bonuses couples who upgraded to a "smart marriage" would receive and I loved all the included flyers/pamphlets/basically propaganda pieces included in the book trying to sell society on why smart marriages were the way to go.  I loved the story of the old man with the long term marriage at the beginning the story (ugh, oh my heart), I had fun watching Roxi obsess over her social media and climb the ranks as an influencer (with no regard to the detriments it caused to her family along the way) and I really liked the evolution of Anthony's character as a "cog" in the machine workaholic for the government who eventually decides he needs to stand up to start making changes.  The only part of this book I didn't enjoy is that it's not an all the way around happy book, and certain events/things that happened to some of the characters were hard and unfair to watch! Obviously, not every character of every book is going to get a happy ending but I mean, maybe just maybe I could wish that they would, LOL. I still would recommend!

Took the boys on their first boat ride on our Chincoteague trip this summer! Grandpa Bob was a great captain. I loved getting to see the wild ponies again and catching up on some reading on our balcony at night after the boys were asleep!

Mad Honey

By Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan. Synopsis from Amazon:

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start. 

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
I think this was a good book, I just read it at the wrong time. I picked this one up from a little free library and thought I'd give it a go since it has been agessss since I've read anything from Jodi Picoult. I know she's an amazing author though so I figured I would jump back in with this new book from her. I surprisingly loved the information and parallels made from the bee keeping business/knowledge that Olivia has and shares throughout the book. It was interesting and oddly not boring at all and fit certain sections of the book extremely well. I enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the love and fierce protection they had over each other, and I loved that there was a major plot point dropped around 1/3 or 1/2 way through the book that I didn't see coming and wasn't advertised and added a lot more depth and drama to the book. Overall though this book is a bit heavy - covering murder accusations and the death of a young girl and biases and hate and suicide attempts. I read this at the end of summer when it still very much felt like summer outside and I really was just feeling like something a bit more light hearted. I am very much a mood reader, and just don't think I started this one at the right time/in the mood for something heavy. I think if you enjoy literary fiction and have read Picoult before you will still enjoy this one, I think it's much better suited for the fall/heading into winter reading season coming up anyway!

I spent lots of this summer trying to sneak in a few pages on our deck while the boys played with their water table or kiddy pool!

The Castaways

By Elin Hilderbrand. Synopsis from Amazon:

With rumors of infidelity straining Greg and Tess MacAvoy's marriage, the couple head out on their sailboat one early summer day to celebrate their wedding anniversary, hoping the roughest waters are behind them. But in an accident off Nantucket, they mysteriously drown, leaving behind two small children as well as three couples who have long been their closest friends. Tragedy brings to the surface long-simmering conflicts and emotions, and the MacAvoys' six grieving friends find themselves unprepared for the revelation of secret upon secret as they struggle to answer the question: What happened to Greg and Tess?

The Castaways probes the boundaries of friendship and forgiveness as it tells a page-turning story of passion, betrayal, and suspense, filled with the perfect details of summer island life that have made Elin Hilderbrand's novels beloved bestsellers.

I love any book from Elin, this is of course no big revelation over here! I decided to read this backlist read of hers after I read a pretty heavy book (Mad Honey reviewed above) while I was still craving summer reading because I know Elin's books won't disappoint at least! Supposedly some of the characters in this book make a reappearance in Elin's next and final summer Nantucket novel so I grabbed it from the library to read leading up to our last summer beach trip of the summer. This book starts with some heavy subject matter - a younger couple dies in a boating accident leaving two kids behind and their close friends who go through waves of grief in the aftermath, but despite the death & grieving I still enjoyed this one! It's an older one from Elin (it was published while I was a freshman at college, hah) and by far from one of my top 3 favorites for her but I still liked it! I liked learning about all the surprising (and juicy!) dynamics going on behind the scenes with the four couples, and I appreciated the raw and crazy grief that Andrea goes through losing Tess and that Phoebe went through from losing another family member during 9/11 and the impact and long lasting fallout it had on her life.  With plenty of drama and the ideal Nantucket backdrop and character stories we all love from Elin, I'm glad I picked this backlist read up from her.

Family trip to Cape Charles for a long weekend - our first visit and the BEST beach to visit with toddlers. We had the best time!!!

Drunk on Love

by Jasmine Guillory. Synopsis from Amazon:

Margot Noble needs some relief from the stress of running the family winery with her brother. Enter Luke: sexy, charming, and best of all in the too-small world of Napa, a stranger. The chemistry between them is undeniable, and Margot is delighted that she lucked into the perfect one-night stand she’ll never have to see again. That is, until the winery’s newest hire, Luke, walks in the next morning. Margot is determined to keep things purely professional, but when their every interaction reminds her of the attraction still bubbling between them, it proves to be much more challenging than she expects.

Luke Williams had it all, but when he quits his high-salary tech job in Silicon Valley in a blaze of burnout and moves back to Napa to help a friend, he realizes he doesn’t want to tell the world—or his mom—why he’s now working at a winery. His mom loves bragging about her successful son—how can he admit that the job she’s so proud of broke him? Luke has no idea what is next for him, but one thing is certain: he wants more from the incredibly smart and sexy woman he hooked up with—even after he learns she’s his new boss. But even if they can find a way to be together that wouldn’t be an ethical nightmare, would such a successful woman really want a tech-world dropout? 

Set against a lush backdrop of Napa Valley wine country, nothing goes to your head as fast as a taste of love—even if it means changing all your plans.

I grabbed this book at an adorable little bookstore/coffee shop in Cape Charles on our last family vacation (along with a slew of kiddo themed Halloween books) when I was close to finishing The Castaways and knew I would need another book to start at the beach which called for something light hearted and fun.  It's been ages since I've read anything from Jasmine Guillory and even though romance isn't my favorite genre (she may be a mix of romance and chick-lit - but this one read more romance to me) I remember liking The Wedding Date from her ages ago so when I picked this one up to see a synopsis about a steamy love story with the backdrop of a winery in Napa, I figured it was worth a shot :) I really enjoyed the first part of this book - there was a lot of chemistry between the main characters which I loved and I enjoyed  the set-up of the story. The longer the book went on though the more it dragged on me. There was not a lot of action/plot points and I thought Margot's work stress was mostly in her head and the "drama" between Luke, Avery, his mom and his old job was very inflated and not that drama worthy.  I still liked the book overall, and it definitely fit for a beachy, light-hearted steam read and I still loved the winery setting, but I think the original ones I liked best by Guillory - The Proposal and The Wedding Date (at least if my memory serves me well) were still ones I enjoyed a little more. 

Seriously - Cape Charles was the cutest beach town ever. I hope we get back again!
By Sian Gilbert. Synopsis from Amazon:

Annabel, Esther, Tanya, and Chloe are best friends—or were, as children. Despite drifting apart in adulthood, shared secrets have kept them bonded for better or worse, even as their childhood dreams haven’t quite turned out as they’d hoped. Then one day they receive a wholly unexpected—but not entirely unwelcome—invitation from another old friend. Poppy Greer has invited them all to her extravagant bachelorette party: a first-class plane ticket to three days of white sand, cocktails, and relaxation on a luxe private island in the Bahamas.

None of them has spoken to Poppy in years. But Poppy’s Instagram pics shows that the girl they used to consider the weakest link in their group has definitely made good—and made money. Curiosity gets the better of them. Besides, who can turn down a posh all-expenses-paid vacation on a Caribbean island?

The first-class flight and the island’s accommodations are just as opulent as expected...even if the scenic island proves more remote than they’d anticipated. Quite remote, in fact, with no cell service, and no other guests. The women quickly discover they’ve underestimated Poppy, and each other. As their darkest secrets are revealed, the tropical adventure morphs into a terrifying nightmare.

Endlessly twisty, sharply observant, and deliciously catty, She Started It is sure to shock readers until the very end. 

This was a book of the month pick for me a few months back and the synopsis had me pretty excited: a lush tropical island location, an extravagantly planned bachelorette party, and past girl drama for sure to ensure...and yet I just don't think the book lived up to the location/set-up hype. A lot of the characters read very similar so it was hard to keep track of who-was-who for awhile, and for some reason no one was extremely likable.  There were plenty of reasons why we shouldn't like the four friends who bullied Poppy, but despite that I still didn't find Poppy to be a protagonist that I felt my heart bend over backwards to go out to either.  Part of the twist did catch me by surprise, so props to that, but overall the book still fell short to me.  I wish there was more tropical island excitement and less long segments of recounting the past to build the suspense of the novel that just overall felt...not entirely suspenseful. There were only five people on the island, things can only work out so many ways. Wouldn't recommend!! 

We paid for our first non-family baby-sitter over the summer! Our first time was really just to meet the sitter before we used her for when I went away on my girl's trip so we really didn't have any plans for the day we needed a sitter for...so we went to the gym pool and enjoyed actually sitting and relaxing for once instead of chasing toddlers, hah! Before we cleaned up to grab an early dinner together too :)

Pineapple Street

By Jenny Jackson. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Darley, the eldest daughter in the well-connected old money Stockton family, followed her heart, trading her job and her inheritance for motherhood but giving up far too much in the process; Sasha, a middle-class New England girl, has married into the Brooklyn Heights family, and finds herself cast as the arriviste outsider; and Georgiana, the baby of the family, has fallen in love with someone she can’t have, and must decide what kind of person she wants to be. 

Rife with the indulgent pleasures of life among New York’s one-percenters, Pineapple Street is a smart, escapist novel that sparkles with wit. Full of recognizable, loveable—if fallible—characters, it’s about the peculiar unknowability of someone else’s family, the miles between the haves and have-nots, and the insanity of first love—all wrapped in a story that is a sheer delight.

It's been ages since I read this book (I should have reviewed it right after the fact!) so this review will be brief. Overall - I remember liking this book a lot without a lot of specific reasons for liking it, hah! I found myself just very interested in the lives of this family and those that married into it.  I liked the wealth, the family drama, the family dynamics, and of course all the scandal along the way. The book was easy to read and didn't have a ton of plot/moving parts but was very focused on the lives of the characters and I enjoyed following along with them.  Maybe an unpopular opinion...but my least favorite part of the book was the ending where the author tried to "make everything right." Maybe what I liked best about the book is that the characters were rich and a bit stuck up??  I just thought the whole "lets all try to be good people and sing "kumbaya" deal was a little flat and I liked the flawed character parts better, lol.

Despite these sunny pictures I read part of this book after kiddo bedtime on our Chincoteague family vacation on our screened in balcony during a thunderstorm - it was the perfect spooky setting for a book with an equally spooky location!

Never Lie

By Freida McFadden. Synopsis from Amazon:

Newlyweds Tricia and Ethan are searching for the house of their dreams.

But when they visit the remote manor that once belonged to Dr. Adrienne Hale, a renowned psychiatrist who vanished without a trace four years earlier, a violent winter storm traps them at the estate… with no chance of escape until the blizzard comes to an end.

In search of a book to keep her entertained until the snow abates, Tricia happens upon a secret room. One that contains audio transcripts from every single patient Dr. Hale has ever interviewed. As Tricia listens to the cassette tapes, she learns about the terrifying chain of events leading up to Dr. Hale’s mysterious disappearance. 

Tricia plays the tapes one by one, late into the night. With each one, another shocking piece of the puzzle falls into place, and Dr. Adrienne Hale’s web of lies slowly unravels.

And then Tricia reaches the final cassette. 

The one that reveals the entire horrifying truth.

Well confession: I completely forgot I read this book until I was scrolling through my phone looking for pictures of all of the above books/memories from this summer and then a picture of this book popped up and I was like oh! Yes I did read that one too, hah! But don't let that be a detriment for you from wanting to read this one - I remember loving it! I've read 4 Freida McFadden books now and my latest one (that I am actually going to save for my next review post, whenever that may be) I didn't love, but all of the others I have, this one included. I think Freida is great for a quick, interesting and surprising thriller read.  I loved the setting of this one - kind of gave me Rock Paper Scissor vibes with a house out in the country in a snow storm and there was a lot of depth to this mystery and I was very invested in the story.  My details on this review again will be weak since its been awhile since I've read it 😂 but I definetly was sucked into this mystery and through all the twisted and messed up places it went, felt like the ending fit the book perfectly. I read this in summertime since I knew Freida would be good for an entertaining read but would for SURE recommend this one for the colder months coming! 

Well looks like I am FINALLY caught up with my reviews! For now :) Just in time for me to head to my October in person book club tonight to review our spooky pic for this month - I'll be back *hopefully* much sooner to share my Octobers reads with you! 

My Girlish Whims Book Club #54

Summertime is the best time :) We've only been away on one mini trip as a family so far this summer to the Jersey shore but even a few days at the beach is enough to make my heart happy! 

Summer is still my favorite season back at home: we've been enjoying taking the boys to our gym pool a few evenings and afternoons on the weekend when the weather cooperates and of course when the sun is shining you don't have to drag me very far to get out and enjoy it! I'll fill up our kiddy pool and water table on the deck and let the boys splash around so I can sneak in 5 minutes of reading before someone tries to climb up and join me ;) 

Despite the five minute chunks, I'm chugging right along with my summertime reading! Here's what I've read and my thought on each since my last set of reviews

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Happy Place

By Emily Henry. Synopsis from Amazon:

Harriet and Wyn have been the perfect couple since they met in college—they go together like salt and pepper, honey and tea, lobster and rolls. Except, now—for reasons they’re still not discussing—they don’t.

They broke up five months ago. And still haven’t told their best friends.

Which is how they find themselves sharing a bedroom at the Maine cottage that has been their friend group’s yearly getaway for the last decade. Their annual respite from the world, where for one vibrant, blissful week they leave behind their daily lives; have copious amounts of cheese, wine, and seafood; and soak up the salty coastal air with the people who understand them most.

Only this year, Harriet and Wyn are lying through their teeth while trying not to notice how desperately they still want each other. Because the cottage is for sale and this is the last week they’ll all have together in this place. They can’t stand to break their friends’ hearts, and so they’ll play their parts. Harriet will be the driven surgical resident who never starts a fight, and Wyn will be the laid-back charmer who never lets the cracks show. It’s a flawless plan (if you look at it from a great distance and through a pair of sunscreen-smeared sunglasses). After years of being in love, how hard can it be to fake it for one week…in front of those who know you best?

This book was SUCH a letdown for me!!! I loved Henry's debut novel "Beach Read" (reviewed here) and also really enjoyed "Book Lovers" (reviewed here) but this one was just a BAD read for me.  I thought the story was slow, the characters were nothing noteworthy/not super likable, and the drama between the main characters was essentially a misunderstanding blown out of proportion and not worth writing an entire novel about.  Despite the "crazy chemistry and sex life" Harriet and Wyn supposedly had while dating it didn't translate well into their present day relationship that you SHOULD be rooting for. I just kind of felt overall indifferent towards them and really didn't care one way or the other if they ended up back together.  One of my my favorite parts of Henry's writing is her fast paced dialogue and witty banter between characters, and even that couldn't help salvage this book for me. I still love this author but would not recommend this one. Iwish I would have skipped it!

The Good Sister

By Sally Hepworth. Synopsis from Amazon: 

"There's only been one time that Rose couldn't stop me from doing the wrong thing and that was a mistake that will haunt me for the rest of my life."

Fern Castle works in her local library. She has dinner with her twin sister Rose three nights a week. And she avoids crowds, bright lights and loud noises as much as possible. Fern has a carefully structured life and disrupting her routine can be...dangerous.

When Rose discovers that she cannot get pregnant, Fern sees her chance to pay her sister back for everything Rose has done for her. Fern can have a baby for Rose. She just needs to find a father. Simple.

Fern's mission will shake the foundations of the life she has carefully built for herself and stir up dark secrets from the past, in this quirky, rich and shocking story of what families keep hidden.

This was the very first book from Sally Hepworth I have read and it IMMEDIATELY became a favorite! I absolutely adored this book. Fern was such a great character: she has sensory issues and operates a little differently than most adults, but she is also the most loyal and kind, smart but straightforward, and entertaining and eclectic main character you fully support and cheer for.  I loved the fact that she was a librarian, I loved her crazy outfits, I loved the journey of her relationships with her co-workers, and I loved every part of her budding relationship with Wally (the date with the headphones and goggles? Sweetest thing ever). I also really enjoyed the underlying mystery/sister drama/twists that went on in the book - down to the very last lingering chapter. I would recommend this to anyone to read - 10/10!

The Soulmate

By Sally Hepworth. Synopsis from Amazon:

Picture a lovely cottage on a cliff, with sloping lawns, walking paths, and beautiful flowers. It’s Gabe and Pippa Gerard’s dream home in a sleepy coastal town. But their perfect house hides something sinister. The tall cliffs have become a popular spot for people to end their lives. Over the past several months, Gabe comes to their rescue, literally talking them off the ledge.

Until one day, he doesn’t. When Pippa discovers Gabe knew the victim, the questions spiral. . . .Did the victim jump? Was she pushed? And would Gabe, the love of Pippa’s life, her soulmate . . . lie? As the perfect façade of their marriage begins to crack, the deepest and darkest secrets begin to unravel. Because sometimes, the most convincing lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Since I loved The Good Sister so much I decided to keep the Sally Hepworth trend going by reading her newest release that I got in one of my book of the month deliveries this summer.  I still enjoyed reading this one, I just didn't love it quite as much as I loved The Good Sister  which seems to go along with the consensus of other reviews I've read. Since this was only my second Hepworth novel though I still really enjoyed a twisty plot that had a lot of surprises thrown in along the way. To be honest I am writing this review very belatedly (I think I've read about 6/7 novels since this one, whoops!) so I don't have anything knit-picking bad I remember to point out, it just wasn't quite as memorable of a read for me. I would still recommend it - the location of this novel by the cliff, relationship dynamics between Pippa and Gabe, and all of the surprises built into the story all really worked for me and kept me entertained for sure!

Remarkably Bright Creatures

By Shelby Van Pelt. Synopsis from Amazon:

After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late. 

Shelby Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

This was our book club selection in June and oh my heart! I just loved this one so much. The premise of the story seems kind of silly by just reading the description of the book - like how is an octopus going to be a main character in fictional novel without it coming off as corny or even fantasy like??? It seems silly but somehow it just worked SO well and the short chapters written from Marcellus the Octopus' viewpoint were seriously my favorite.  There's a little bit of mystery in this book but one that the reader can catch onto pretty quick and then you just have to wait in anticipation for the characters of the book to figure it out as well.  The characters in this book were amazing - I wanted to give Tova a big hug, chat with Ethan at grocery store checkout, and have a cup of coffee while catching up with the Knit Wit ladies. This book is a bit heartbreaking but mostly astoundingly heartwarming and it will be one of my favorites that I have read this year!

Four more reviews checked off ☑️ and now to catch up on reviewing the five books I've read since this before I head off on a girls trip to Florida next week! Since I will actually be childless for a few days (gasp!!!) I should be able to sneak in some beach and pool reading in longer chunks than 5 minutes and I'm excited for some more summer novels to tackle!

My Girlish Whims Book Club #53

Alright friends: it's just about here - can you smell it? Can you feel it? Can you taste it? SUMMER READING SEASON is right around the corner!!! Even though the season's don't make much of a difference in my schedule these days except lots more time playing, walking, and hanging out outside as a SAHM of toddlers, I still love summer time and the promise of at least a few of beach trips to plop my butt on the beach and read a few pages of a good book.  I think there will be considerably less plopping this year (toddlers), but I'm excited none-the-less! Per normal, I am extremely far behind on updating you on my most recent books I've read since my last set of reviews so let's get down to it so I can start working on writing the reviews for the four books I've read since these five! 

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My Girlish Whims Book Club #52

It's book review time! This time I just HAVE to share some pictures of where I got my reading done for a few of these books. I recently went on a trip to the Bahamas on a Bachelorette party for a wedding I am in next month.  This was my first big trip since having kids and of course came with a huge mix of emotions.  I was very excited for a tropical vacation, but obviously very worried about leaving Jack and Tyler (especially because they both got sick right before I left, OF COURSE) and how my husband would handle me being away from Thursday - Monday. Luckily we are blessed with great support from our families so my husband had help everyday which made leaving easier. I was worried all the way up until I walked out the door Thursday morning...but then I had to realize that my husband is extremely competent, he encouraged me to go on this trip, and after I was gone worrying would do nothing for me...so I truly embraced vacation mode!!

Thursday was a travel day but we still had time to hit up the beach, explore our resort, and go to a nice steakhouse dinner. Friday morning was quite possibly one of the most blissful moments I've experienced in the last 15 months though. I woke up early (as is normal for me - even on vacation, sigh) and went and found some coffee and breakfast while my roommates were still sleeping.  I contemplated hitting up the gym at the resort but as I enjoyed the sunshine looking out over the beautiful water from the balcony in our room and saw that there was literally NO ONE on the beach yet, I cancelled any plans for the gym and immediately changed into my suit, packed a book and a mimosa to go, and went to the beach!

We stayed at "One Particular Harbor" which is part of the Margaritaville resort in Nassau.  There was a private beach just for our resort and I had the whole place to myself for a solid hour. I had the most peaceful and relaxing time reading, enjoying the sunshine and views, and the very large mimosa in my tumbler pictured below, lol.

We had lots of other activities as a group during the afternoons and evenings: having fun at the water park at Margaritaville, fancy dinners out, visiting some of the local casino resorts,  boating and fishing adventures, and time spent spoiling and celebrating the bride-to-be! I enjoyed all of our activities and celebrations but this morning right here was my picture perfect idea for my ideal morning away on vacation and I am SO glad I was able to enjoy it with a good book :)

If only I could have these kind of views for the books I'm reading now back home!!! Since I've already finished two more books since these four, it is due time to round up my current books since my last set of reviews!

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The Writing Retreat

By Julia Bartz. Synopsis from Amazon:

Alex has all but given up on her dreams of becoming a published author when she receives a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: attend an exclusive, month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo. Even the knowledge that Wren, her former best friend and current rival, is attending doesn’t dampen her excitement.

But when the attendees arrive, Roza drops a bombshell—they must all complete an entire novel from scratch during the next month, and the author of the best one will receive a life-changing seven-figure publishing deal. Determined to win this seemingly impossible contest, Alex buckles down and tries to ignore the strange happenings at the estate, including Roza’s erratic behavior, Wren’s cruel mind games, and the alleged haunting of the mansion itself. But when one of the writers vanishes during a snowstorm, Alex realizes that something very sinister is afoot. With the clock running out, she must discover the truth—or suffer the same fate. 

A claustrophobic and propulsive thriller exploring the dark side of female relationships and fame, The Writing Retreat is the unputdownable debut novel from a compelling new talent.

I was pretty excited for this book, but unfortunately it really did not live up to my expectations.  I liked the beginning of the book, but just enjoyed it less and less as it went on. I didn't get the hype and obsession with crazy author Roza, I didn't expect all the love triangles or a sex scene with a demon while tripping on LSD (yeah....) and when things spiraled out of control as the retreat went on it and the drama increased it still became less and less enjoyable to read for me.  There is also a bit of a "book within a book" here with the novel Alex (who couldn't write a word for a year before this retreat, but now somehow manages to crank out 3,000 words everyday??) is writing for the retreat, and I found that entire novel super cringey and the writing style just super forced - trying to be overly descriptive and in no way some up-and-coming best selling novel like Roza is coaching Alex to believe it could be. I've read oodles of books that involve getting trapped in a big house during a snow storm where people end up dead/missing and much drama ensues and this was probably the worst one I've read with that set up.  If that's a setting you enjoy - pick up Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeny or One by One by Ruth Ware.  So much better than this one in my opinion! 

By JoJo Moyes. Synopsis from Amazon: 

Nisha Cantor lives the globetrotting life of the seriously wealthy, until her husband announces a divorce and cuts her off. Nisha is determined to hang onto her glamorous life. But in the meantime, she must scramble to cope--she doesn’t even have the shoes she was, until a moment ago, standing in.

That’s because Sam Kemp – in the bleakest point of her life – has accidentally taken Nisha’s gym bag. But Sam hardly has time to worry about a lost gym bag--she’s struggling to keep herself and her family afloat. When she tries on Nisha’s six-inch high Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, the resulting jolt of confidence that makes her realize something must change—and that thing is herself.

Full of Jojo Moyes’ signature humor, brilliant storytelling, and warmth, Someone Else’s Shoes is a story about how just one little thing can suddenly change everything.

I really enjoyed reading this book!  The synopsis almost had me thinking this was going to be a "freaky Friday" situation where the two protagonists magically switch lives when they switch gym bags, but luckily the shoe swap really just is a swap of shoes (not bodies!) and it bode very well for this cute storyline. Female friendships and empowerment were at the forefront of this novel and I loved cheering for each of the characters.  Even though Nisha comes off as rude, cold and stuck up at the start of the novel, you truly get to watch her reach her lowest of lows and see her fight to reclaim what she deserves and find out what real happiness and friendship looks like. I wanted to pound my head against the wall in frustration right along with Sam watching her deal with her depressed husband and despicable boss and thought her struggles were very relatable.  The supporting characters of Andrea and Jasmine gave great humor and really made this book shine. I absolutely loved "You Before Me" by JoJo Moyes and while that one left a bigger impact on me, this was still an enjoyable feel good read by a great author!

The IT Girl

By Ruth Ware. Synopsis from Amazon:

April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford.

Vivacious, bright, occasionally vicious, and the ultimate It girl, she quickly pulled Hannah into her dazzling orbit. Together, they developed a group of devoted and inseparable friends—Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily—during their first term. By the end of the year, April was dead.

Now, a decade later, Hannah and Will are expecting their first child, and the man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when a young journalist comes knocking and presents new evidence that Neville may have been innocent. As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide…including a murder.

I liked reading this book, just did not love it quite as much as some of Ruth Ware's other novels. I really enjoyed the friendship between April and Hannah and how April came off as such a happy-go-lucky party girl, but also had a lot more depth to her even when she was not always the nicest person. I liked seeing the plot explained by alternating from the past and present and how determined Hannah was to find out the truth about April's murder.  Parts of her relationship with Will really irked me, but I still really overall enjoyed the mystery and was very invested in finding out the truth, and enjoyed all the drama and build up to the end and was surprised and satisfied by the ending!

The Senator's Wife

By Liv Constantine. Synopsis from Amazon:

After a tragic chain of events led to the deaths of their spouses two years ago, D.C. philanthropist Sloane Chase and Senator Whit Montgomery are finally starting to move on. The horrifying ordeal drew them together, and now they’re ready to settle down again—with each other.
As Sloane returns to the world of White House dinners and political small talk, this time with her new husband, she’s also preparing for an upcoming hip replacement—the latest reminder of the lupus she’s managed since her twenties. With their hectic schedules, they decide that hiring a home health aide will give Sloane the support and independence she needs postsurgery. And they find the perfect fit in Athena Karras.

Seemingly a godsend, Athena tends to Sloane and even helps her run her charitable foundation. But Sloane slowly begins to deteriorate—a complication, Athena explains, of Sloane’s lupus. As weeks go by, Sloane becomes sicker, and her uncertainty quickly turns to paranoia as she begins to suspect the worst. Why is Athena asking her so many probing questions about her foundation—as well as about her past? And could Sloane be imagining the sultry looks between Athena and her new husband?

Riveting, fast-paced, and full of unbelievable twists, The Senator’s Wife is a psychological thriller that upends the private lives of those who walk the halls of power. Because when you have it all, you have everything to lose.

I was very excited to read this book because I read and LOVED "The Last Mrs. Parrish" by this same author back in 2018 (book review here!) so I was pumped to read something new by this author duo. I received an ARC of this book which will be released in May of this year courtesy of Net Galley.  Unfortunately I was NOT impressed with this one and did not enjoy it at all! The dialogue was the WORST: it was so drab and forced and almost flat out embarrassing.  Parts of the book were a bit predictable, but I did get duped by one major plot point.  Even with the twist, it was still a miserable read because all of the conversations were just so downright awkward and the characters seemed pretty one dimensional. What a waste of time! 

Two of these books were misses for me, but I know I already have three great reviews coming up in my next review post so stay tuned for some more positives soon :)