My Girlish Whims Book Club #51

Well it's almost March but I am finally here to review the first four books I finished reading in 2023. It's been a fun year so far! We got to celebrate our twins turning one in January and have been enjoying lots of family time together with them.  It's been a bit unseasonably warm around here lately with no snow at all and I personally have not minded one bit! It's been so nice getting outside for some fresh air and to let the boys crawl around and explore.

Life has been pretty normal with our steady routine these days.  I've been prioritizing getting my workouts in daily, getting out for stroller walks with the boys when it's not freezing, and we've even started taking swimming lessons as a family! I've enjoyed hosting some playdates with other moms with kiddos in the area, getting together with my in person book club, going out with my hubby for a Valentine's Day date, and getting to spend some time at my craft room desk creating some new jewelry pieces during the boy's afternoon nap.

Of course I am still reading during any extra down time I have (which is still limited, hah, and hence why my book review posts are coming a little slower these days!) Here's what I've read since my last set of reviews from last year!!

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By Julia May Jonas. Synopsis from Amazon:

“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”

And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.
With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It really surprised me as well - based on the cover art you'd think it was going to be a steamy romance novel, but it was so much deeper and complex than I was expecting. I thought the main character was great - very intellectual, confident in some ways and yet overly conscious in other ways (namely getting older, her waning metabolism, cellulite, etc. etc. which I thought gave her a  very likable human crutch.) There are some polarizing topics in the book - open marriages, sexual assault and the "me too" movement, and while those moved the plot along it still wasn't the full focus of the novel. In fact, most of the novel takes place in our protagonist's head - her obsession with Vladimir, her disdain at her lack of a writing career, her persistent insecurity over how old does she actually look? My favorite part was the writing - deeply descriptive, intellectual and blunt.  (I still cackle at a passage that described John stretching and farting before he left the bathroom). But also loved: 
"I wanted to take substances into my body like an immoral and immoderate businessman traveling on a company credit card.  I wanted everything that passed my lips to be decadent, full of sulfites or iron, with mouth-screwing flavor, to taste rich and deep"

This book was not what I was expecting, but found that I was very pleasantly surprised by it.  I would recommend picking this one up this winter season still - while I enjoyed it immensely I would say it is better suited for cold, dark nights at home vs. sunny beach day reading!

By Deepti Kapoor. Synopsis from Amazon: 

New Delhi, 3 a.m. A speeding Mercedes jumps the curb and in the blink of an eye, five people are dead. It’s a rich man’s car, but when the dust settles there is no rich man at all, just a shell-shocked servant who cannot explain the strange series of events that led to this crime. Nor can he foresee the dark drama that is about to unfold.

Deftly shifting through time and perspective in contemporary India, Age of Vice is an epic, action-packed story propelled by the seductive wealth, startling corruption, and bloodthirsty violence of the Wadia family -- loved by some, loathed by others, feared by all.

In the shadow of lavish estates, extravagant parties, predatory business deals and calculated political influence, three lives become dangerously intertwined: Ajay is the watchful servant, born into poverty, who rises through the family’s ranks. Sunny is the playboy heir who dreams of outshining his father, whatever the cost. And Neda is the curious journalist caught between morality and desire. Against a sweeping plot fueled by loss, pleasure, greed, yearning, violence and revenge, will these characters’ connections become a path to escape, or a trigger of further destruction? 

Equal parts crime thriller and family saga, transporting readers from the dusty villages of Uttar Pradesh to the urban energy of New Delhi, Age of Vice is an intoxicating novel of gangsters and lovers, false friendships, forbidden romance, and the consequences of corruption.It is binge-worthy entertainment at its literary best.

I really enjoyed this book! I picked it for my first book club meeting of 2023 and while it was loooong at 546 pages, it was a good long. I was very unsure of what it would really be about even after reading the description, but suffice it to say I enjoyed diving into India from the richest of rich to the poorest of poor. There are a multitude of characters in the book but the three main are Ajay: a humble and hardworking servant, Neda: beautiful, messy heroine, and Sunny: rich, entitled and sloppy dreamer.  Three extremely different characters but somehow you find yourself emoting with everyone along the way and caring fiercely for each one of them. I enjoyed how the story got told at times in "circles" - you saw part of the story play out through the eyes of one character but then had to wait until the POV changed and another character took over to get the real details of what happened.  The storytelling was simply wonderful in this story and I was completely drawn into the world of corruption, greed, excess, and those struggling to find their way through it.  A great read for 2023!

The Last Housewife

By Ashley Winstead. Synopsis from Amazon:

While in college in upstate New York, Shay Evans and her best friends met a captivating man who seduced them with a web of lies about the way the world works, bringing them under his thrall. By senior year, Shay and her friend Laurel were the only ones who managed to escape. Now, eight years later, Shay's built a new life in a tony Texas suburb. But when she hears the horrifying news of Laurel's death—delivered, of all ways, by her favorite true-crime podcast crusader—she begins to suspect that the past she thought she buried is still very much alive, and the predators more dangerous than ever.

Recruiting the help of the podcast host, Shay goes back to the place she vowed never to return to in search of answers. As she follows the threads of her friend's life, she's pulled into a dark, seductive world, where wealth and privilege shield brutal philosophies that feel all too familiar. When Shay's obsession with uncovering the truth becomes so consuming she can no longer separate her desire for justice from darker desires newly reawakened, she must confront the depths of her own complicity and conditioning. But in a world built for men to rule it—both inside the cult and outside of it—is justice even possible, and if so, how far will Shay go to get it?

I was super disappointed in this book.  I heard a lot of buzz about it from some big Bookstagram accounts online so I was extremely excited to start reading it.  I even offered it as a selection for my in person book club and it was voted the winner for our February meet up, but after I got a heads up from another member that it had a lot of sensitive topics in it (the book actually literally starts with a content warning - something I've never seen before!) I decided to skip it for my book club and BOY am I glad I did.  The only reason I finished it was because...well...I always finish books no matter how terrible they are. Hah! Why was this so terrible? For me it was a mix of a crappy main character, crappy weird sex cult, and a crappy story structure that I couldn't get into.  I'm not huge on true crime/podcasts in general which this book is definitely in the genre of.  What bugged me is that so much of the story is told through Shay being "interviewed" for a podcast which went through pages of storytelling with pharagraphs full of dialogue, description, etc. This may be a minor point for some, but I was like - no way would Shay be able to recount word-for-word verbatim all those scenes that happened in the past. I'm not a prude and am never opposed to sex in novels, but the "adult" content in the book was just WEIRD. The sex cult was weird, and even though she had a tough past I hated Shay and just couldn't feel bad for her.  Also hated the ending of this one.  Overall, by the amount of times I am throwing around the word HATE in this review, suffice it to say this was not a good read for me and I would NOT recommend! 

The Guncle

By Steven Rowley. Synopsis from Amazon:

Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is, honestly, overwhelmed.

So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick's brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of "Guncle Rules" ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled acting career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting--even if temporary--isn't solved with treats and jokes, Patrick's eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you're unfailingly human.

With the humor and heart we've come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.

This book has been on may TBR list for AWHILE and I found it on a random outing at my library with the boys so I finally nabbed it to give it a read! It won the vote for my in person book club in March (still forthcoming) but this was a pretty quick and easy read for me so it's going in this post for my first books read in 2023! This book is EXACTLY what I needed after reading (and hating) The Last Housewife reviewed above.  It was funny, heartwarming, quirky and relatable all in one! I loved how Patrick was broken by his own past tradgedies but strong when needed and willing to step up to the plate to take care of Maisie and Grant.  Grant's little lisp spelled out with varying words in the story always made me smile and I totally wanted to accompany GUP on a brunch or linner outing and listen to him recount quotes from plays and rattle off Guncle rules. In true heartwarming fashion, even though Maisie and Grant are originally the ones in "distress" and needing caretaking, it soon becomes clear how much healing Patrick himself needs and how two little wards, one shelter dog, and a few words of wisdom from his family and the "throuple" neighbors living next door (yes, seriously) can help him find the closure he needs.  Loved this one and would recommend!

I am currently dealing with a little cold so I think I will have a bit more downtime this week to hopefully fit some more reading in! I'm actually reading two books at once (one on my kindle, and one physical book) which I NEVER do but it's surprisingly working out well this time around! Looking forward to sharing more with you all soon :)

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