This post may include Amazon links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
It’s been a minute! Last time I posted was the end of June when I shared that month’s favorites. I fully intended to do the same with my July favorites, but things just got away from me. To be fair, I was in Tahoe at a long overdue family reunion from July 25th – 31st. I never even thought about it until four or five days into August. Oh well! It was a wonderful time. My family has been doing this Tahoe reunion every three years since my kids were little, but with COVID and all, it just hadn’t happened for too long. The wait was worth it!
Just because I wasn’t thinking about sharing great books, does not mean I wasn’t reading great books. It was so hard narrowing down my list that I just decided to include all the books I loved. (One of these I initially rated lower, but it’s stayed with me so much that I’m including it.) And, huge surprise, I have two nonfiction books in this list!
These books are shown in the order I read them. Most were published in July and August, but a few were earlier. They made for some wonderful summer reading and I’m sure you’ll see more than one on my Best Books of 2023. As always, you can follow me on Instagram @novelvisits, where I most often share books near their release date. (It may be the only place to see my reviews come 2024.)
My Thoughts: Some people might shy away from a book set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic. Others may be wary of books with a disintegrating marriage at its heart. Luckily, I fall into neither of those categories. I found 𝗣𝗘𝗧𝗘 𝗔𝗡𝗗 𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗖𝗘 𝗜𝗡 𝗠𝗔𝗜𝗡𝗘 by debut novelist Caitlin Shetterly absolutely wonderful.
Pete and Alice are at a serious crossroad in their marriage just as NYC shuts down and the wail of sirens becomes almost constant. The two reluctantly flee to their summer home in Maine along with their 11 and 5-year old daughters. There they must initially work together to procure food, supplies, internet, and to keep their children engaged. At times it may even feel like their relationship is healing, but don’t be fooled. The kind of damage they’ve experienced is not so easily repaired.
This is a rich character-driven story of a marriage on the brink. I think those who enjoyed 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘏𝘢𝘭𝘧 𝘔𝘰𝘰𝘯 by Mary Beth Keane or 𝘔𝘰𝘯𝘰𝘨𝘢𝘮𝘺 by Sue Miller will also like this. Be prepared for a slower pace, for as many questions as answers, but do give 𝘗𝘦𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘈𝘭𝘪𝘤𝘦 𝘪𝘯 𝘔𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘦 a try. The right readers will be very glad they did. Days after finishing, I’m still thinking about this book. Grade: A-
Thanks to Harper for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Who could have known that I would love 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗔𝗥𝗧 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗘𝗙 by Michael Finkel so much? It was an absolutely fascinating exploration of the “accomplishments” of the world’s most prolific art thief. This was a man who, with the help of his girlfriend, boldly stole from museums and churches across Europe. Even more intriguing, he didn’t do it for monetary gain, but for his love of art. He never sold a single piece. They were all for his own personal collection…billions of dollars worth of art.
Michael Finkel beautifully told this story, just as he did with 𝘈 𝘚𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘳 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘰𝘰𝘥𝘴 several years ago. I think the fact that I listened to this one made it even better. Narrator Edoardo Ballerini was so easy to listen to. the combination of his reading and Finkel’s writing had me listening to the entire book in two days and I don’t listen at a crazy rapid speed! I just couldn’t stay away from 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘈𝘳𝘵 𝘛𝘩𝘪𝘦𝘧. It’s my favorite nonfiction of the year and the only one I’ve given five stars. (Up until that point!) Grade: A
Thanks to Knopf and PRH Audio for free copies of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: 𝗜 𝗖𝗢𝗨𝗟𝗗 𝗟𝗜𝗩𝗘 𝗛𝗘𝗥𝗘 𝗙𝗢𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗥 by Hanna Halperin is one train wreck of a romance and I mean that in the best possible way. Leah is 24, far from home in a two year MFA program in Wisconsin. Her first year there she bonds with the five other writers in her cohort and slowly grows more confident in her own writing abilities. At the start of her second year, Leah meets a slightly older local man and their attraction is immediate. At the same time, something is off about Charlie. Leah knows it, but she doesn’t want to see. She has issues of her own, making it easier to forgive Charlie’s flaws.
That’s about all I want to say and I highly recommend passing on the publisher’s blurb. (It’s practically 𝘊𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘧 𝘕𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘴!) I went into this story pretty blind, mainly relying on the fact that so many readers I trust had loved it. That was a good call. I was both surprised by, and frustrated with, Leah and Charlie’s tumultuous relationship, but I could not look away. I also loved that so much of the book focused on the MFA program, all it entailed, and the many small details about the writing process.
This is one that will pull at your heartstrings, but will do so with an all too real story that’s packed with substance. Grade: B+
My Thoughts: We’re going to be hard pressed to find a more weirdly wonderful book than 𝗦𝗛𝗔𝗥𝗞 𝗛𝗘𝗔𝗥𝗧 any time soon. After reading the synopsis and seeing that gorgeous cover, I knew this was a book I 𝙃𝘼𝘿 to read and am 𝙎𝙊 glad I did. It was a completely original reading experience, one I wish I could have deeply savored, but instead flew through.
Debut author Emily Habeck tells the story of newlyweds, Wren and Lewis. Shortly after their wedding Lewis is diagnosed with the Carcharodon Carcharias Mutation, a condition that has him slowly turning into a great white shark. Yes, you read that correctly. Just accept it. In this story, people-to-animal mutations have been going on for a while. It’s widely known and reluctantly accepted. Though Lewis’s slow change is a big part of this story, it’s still only a part of it. This is also a love story. How can Wren do what’s best for Lewis? Can he survive without her? How will she carry on without him? And why did Wren enter their marriage as such a lonely soul?
I feel like my words here don’t do the book justice, but it’s difficult to describe without going too far. Just know it’s a book that will pull at your heartstrings and stay with you for a very long time. With a debut like 𝘚𝘩𝘢𝘳𝘬 𝘏𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘵 I cannot wait to see what Emily Habeck does next! Grade: A
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll when it comes to love stories. Usually romance is not my thing, but when you add in some angst or tragic dynamics getting in the way of love, then I can often be all in. That’s exactly what Claire Daverley delivered with her debut, 𝗧𝗔𝗟𝗞𝗜𝗡𝗚 𝗔𝗧 𝗡𝗜𝗚𝗛𝗧.
In very broad strokes it’s about Rosie and Will who meet as teens. She’s sort of a nerdy, very academically minded girl and he’s the handsome school bad boy. There’s undeniable attraction between the two, but that’s just the start of their story. There are walls that grow between them. Walls that become higher and higher over the years, with only occasional glimpses over the top. For 400 pages, I reveled in Rosie and Will’s relationship, the lows, the highs and so much in between.
Some have described it as melancholy and I would agree, but it was also beautifully told and character-driven, two bookish qualities I love. I occasionally grew weary of Rosie’s martyrdom, yet this was one of those books I could not put down and I think many others will feel the same. If you liked 𝘕𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘢𝘭 𝘗𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘭𝘦, 𝘈𝘴𝘬 𝘈𝘨𝘢𝘪𝘯 𝘠𝘦𝘴 or 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘗𝘢𝘱𝘦𝘳 𝘗𝘢𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦, then 𝘛𝘢𝘭𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘢𝘵 𝘕𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 should work perfectly for you. While it’s not exactly like any of them, it has elements of them all. This book is not without tragedy, so if you’re a sensitive reader I’d recommend doing a little research, but for most, I’d say, “Just read it!” Grade: A-
Thanks to Pamela Dorman Books for an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: To be perfectly honest, 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗥𝗢𝗔𝗗 𝗧𝗢 𝗗𝗔𝗟𝗧𝗢𝗡 by Shannon Bowring was not a book on my radar. I have Autumn Toeniss from Europa Editions to thank for putting it in my hands and I’m so glad she did because this is exactly the sort of quiet, literary story I love.
The book takes place over a single year, in Dalton, Maine. Dalton is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone, and where for the most part they try to overlook each others’ flaws, offer friendship when they can, and aid or comfort when called for. They may be holding onto secrets and may not always like each other, but they’re willing to put up with each other because, like it or not, their lives are connected.
Bowring (yet another incredible 2023 debut author) did a beautiful job bringing to life this small community. With each chapter her main focus was on a different citizen of the town, but also within each we got bits and pieces about others. It really was a book of tightly connected stories. Eventually, the entire book was woven into a rich tapestry of a town going through change, tragedy and grief, while trying to hold up those who needed it most.
I went into this story almost completely blind and am glad I did. The synopsis wouldn’t have spoiled it for me, but I really enjoyed not knowing where it was headed. The unfolding of the story was in itself a beautiful journey. Those who liked 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘕𝘦𝘵 𝘉𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘢𝘵𝘩 𝘜𝘴 or 𝘈 𝘛𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘊𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘚𝘰𝘭𝘢𝘤𝘦 might especially enjoy it, but I think almost any fan of literary fiction will be glad they read this one. Grade: A-
Thanks to Europa Editions for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Expectations can be a dangerous thing, especially when expectations and reality don’t quite align. That was my 𝘪𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘢𝘭 experience when reading 𝗧𝗢𝗠 𝗟𝗔𝗞𝗘 by the amazing Ann Patchett. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn’t the quiet, family story that was unfolding before me.
This entire story takes place over a week during the summer of 2020, when cherries are at their peak and must be picked. Lara is secretly happy to have all three of her adult daughters living back at home since the pandemic’s onset. They’ve convinced Lara to finally share (in detail) her brush with fame long before they were born. It’s a story they’ve always known parts of, but never all. On and off, over that week Lara shares her past, most of which centers on her summer stock experiences while playing Emily in 𝘖𝘶𝘳 𝘛𝘰𝘸𝘯 at Tom Lake.
At the start, I was a tad concerned. The story seemed slow and maybe too quiet for me, but I shouldn’t have worried. Ann Patchett worked her magic and little by little drew me in. On the surface it may have seemed like there wasn’t a whole lot to this story, but as I let it wash over me, I realized just how much Patchett was saying without really saying it. We’re all entitled to our own lives, our own secrets. The past isn’t always what it seems. The grass isn’t always greener. Family is everything. And, even a nod to women’s reproductive rights (bravo)! Days after finishing, I still feel like I’m sitting at the farm with Lara and her family, about to go out and pick more cherries, hear more stories and I’m happy to be there. Grade: A-
Thanks to Harper for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: I’m just not a huge nonfiction reader, but the nonfiction I like most consistently are memoirs. 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗠𝗔𝗡𝗬 𝗟𝗜𝗩𝗘𝗦 𝗢𝗙 𝗠𝗔𝗠𝗔 𝗟𝗢𝗩𝗘 by Lara Love Hardin has definitely solidified that trend. In fact, so far it’s my favorite memoir of the year and the only one I’ve given five stars. There’s something about this book that is everything: sad, painful, tragic, heartfelt, uplifting, wise, redemptive, joyful, and healing. All the feelings!
From the onset of the book we know the author found herself in the unenviable position of being in jail both on drug and many other felony charges. This is the story of how she got there, the devastation it brought to her sons, and how hard she battled for a different life. At times it was horrifying, but at others inspiring. Hardin’s memoir brimmed with not only exhaustion and defeat, but also with hope and determination. “𝘔𝘢𝘮𝘢 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦,” as she came to be known in jail, truly has lived many lives and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her personal account of them all in this honest, cautionary memoir. Grade: A
Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Simon Audio for free copies of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Let me start this review with the book’s author, Claire Fuller. She is nothing less than brilliant. If you have not yet read her, it’s time. Fuller has written five books and I’ve read them all. Of those, only one was a little iffy for me, but the other four more than made up for it. Her last novel, 𝘜𝘯𝘴𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘎𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘯𝘥, was one of my 𝘉𝘦𝘴𝘵 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 𝘰𝘧 2021 and is one I still think of often. Last week I read her latest offering, 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗠𝗘𝗠𝗢𝗥𝗬 𝗢𝗙 𝗔𝗡𝗜𝗠𝗔𝗟𝗦, and I was once again blown away. Fuller is amazing for many reasons, starting with the fact that ALL her books are completely different from each other. (No formulaic writing here.) She does a beautiful job building worlds and delivering unforgettable characters AND her writing itself is simply the best.
I’m going to stop fangirling now and get to 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘔𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘈𝘯𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘭𝘴. Obviously, I loved it, but it won’t be a book for everyone. The story takes place in London during a vastly more deadly pandemic than our own. At its heart is Neffy, a struggling young woman, who’s one of five volunteers in a vaccine trial who were abandoned at the inpatient clinic where the trial was occuring. Outside their windows is an almost unrecognizable world. Inside are limited resources and a variety of opinions as to what they should do.
Top that all off with a little magical realism and for the right readers you have one fantastic story. I was the right reader and I hope many of you will be, too. And finally, Claire Fuller, thank you for sharing your talent with the world. Grade: A