Recent Reads, August 2021

It was another good month for reading for me! There were a few books that I flew through in a day or two. I continue to notice that when I have my iPad out and available (and charged) I’m so much more likely to read a few pages here and there. I’ve been reading (instead of watching TV) while I drink my first cup of coffee, and while I do my skincare at the end of the day, and it’s just such a great way to bookend (pun intended…) my day.

So here’s what I’ve been reading.

A collage of books read in August 2021: The Cave Dwellers by Christina McDowell, The Betrayals by Bridget Collins, The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig, The Turnout by Megan Abbott, The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam, The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, Animal by Lisa Taddeo, They'll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman, and The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn.

The Cave Dwellers by Christina McDowell

This book starts with a gruesome murder of a wealthy DC family, but it’s really all about the power plays and (white) privilege in the district. It follows a bunch of characters – parents who are involved in politics/the administration in some way, and their kids who attend an elite prep school. I liked, but didn’t love, this one – it could be confusing to keep track of the many characters, and sometimes the writing seemed a little bit… young. But after reading the author’s note at the end, which explained her person connection, I actually appreciated it more. I wish the note had been at the beginning, rather than the end.

The Betrayals by Bridget Collins

The Betrayals is set at Montverre, an elite academy where students learn about grand jeu – “the great game.” It’s some kind of combination of math and science and art and music, but frankly, by the end of the book I still didn’t really get what grand jeu actually WAS. But even so – this book really drew me in and I kept thinking about it long after I put it down. A student at Montverre is sent back there years later, as an adult, as a kind of political “punishment.” The story then goes back and forth between the present time and in the past, when the man was originally a student. There was a twist near the end that I wasn’t expecting but was really satisfying.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

I really wanted to like this book. Mariana is a group therapist who goes to Cambridge after her niece Zoe calls her about a murder that occurred on campus (where Zoe also attends). She decides to stay there and try to covertly solve the case of who the murderer is, and she learns about a secret society type group of women (“the maidens”) who are studying under one certain professor. There are a lot of references to Greek mythology, which I really loved. But there was a twist to the murderer that I decidedly did not enjoy, and found disturbing and unnecessary. I can’t say that I’d recommend it, but if you did/do read it, e-mail/DM me and let me know your thoughts!

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

I really enjoyed this book – it drew me in so quickly. I had dinner plans with friends while I was reading and almost didn’t want to go so that I could keep reading! It follows Annaleigh, one of twelve daughters living at Highmoor, and estate of sorts on a (fictional) island. It’s a bit of fantasy, and a bit of fictional mythology, and a bit of a mystery – Annaleigh’s sisters have been dying, and she wants to find out what’s happening and stop it. It kept me guessing until the end, and totally and completely drew me into the world of the book.

The Turnout by Megan Abbott

In The Turnout, two sisters, Dara and Marie Durant, are lifetime dancers and owners of a small self-owned studio that they inherited from their parents, who died in a car crash years earlier. After Marie accidentally sets a fire with a left-on space heater in the studio, the sisters and Dara’s husband (who also works at the studio) hire a contractor to fix the damage and expand the studio space. But things keep going wrong and Dara works to understand what’s going on. The whole book is written in a dark and gloomy manner, and unsurprisingly, nothing is exactly as it seems.

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure that I was into it. But WOW, I’m glad that I stuck with it, because it is incredible. Asha is getting her PhD in artificial intelligence, but then she reconnects with her childhood crush, Cyrus, after the funeral of one of their teachers. Because of Cyrus, Asha writes the code for a new app/service that provides customized rituals for each user (based on Cyrus’s knowledge). It takes off, Asha quits her program, and they (along with Cyrus’s best friend) get to work at a super-exclusive tech incubator. It’s a little bit feminist novel, a little bit of a look at a start-up, a little bit a look at technology and privacy and our lives… it’s just so good, all around. Highly recommend.

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

This is another one that I really loved. Nella is the only Black woman working at a publishing firm. After Hazel, another Black woman, is hired, Nella is excited to make a new friend and not feel so alienated in the office. But then things get strange – Nella starts getting threatening notes at work, and she starts to feel like Hazel is taking her place and is her competition rather than her colleague. The book also starts years earlier, following another woman trying to escape from the city without being recognized. In the end, the two storylines come together – I liked the ending, but it did feel a little bit rushed after so much slow build up. Still, even with that caveat, I really liked the story.

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

(TW: rape, pregnancy loss) Okay, this book was… rough. It was dark, and it was HARD to read – not only content wise, but hard to fully follow the plot and understand what’s going on. Honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about it… and I read it way back at the beginning of the month. Joan moves across the country to LA after some yet-unknown traumatic event, and it becomes quickly clear that she’s dealing with some deep, deep damage. She’s searching for a woman, Alice, and finds and befriends her without telling her the real reason she’s sought her out. Joan then gets a rather unexpected visitor, and eventually has to confront her past and her history. I’m keeping this purposefully vague so I don’t spoil anything, but I just want to reiterate – this is a DARK book.

They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman

This is another book about sisters – Stella and Ellie are high school track stars at a school that has a dark cloud hanging over it – years ago, other runners from the school were murdered, and the person was never caught. A few weeks into the school year, the new student slash star runner goes missing and is found murdered. Stella, who is known to have anger issues, seems to be the prime suspect. Stella and Ellie each seem to be hiding things from each other, and you want them to come clean to each other SO BADLY! It’s a young adult novel, which is to say that I wasn’t shocked when the murderer came to light, but it was a good, quick read.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Another thriller! This book jumps back and forth between present day and 14 years ago – Amb’s freshman year at college. Desperate to fit and with the “cool” crowd, Amb finds herself doing increasingly wild and reckless things to impress another classmate, Sully, who she wants to be befriend. But in the present day, Amb and Sully are no longer friends, and it’s their 10 year college reunion. When she’s there, she and Sully gets threatening notes and messages about something mysterious that happened while they were in college. It’s a really good, twisty, psychological read.

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