Happy August! I had a pretty great reading month in July. Within the first few days, I finished a non-fiction book I started in the last week of June, read the perfect romantic comedy to go along with the summer season, and returned to the YA genre for the first time in years. In the later half of the month, I encountered some books with slower, more unexciting paces, but finished July with a beautiful book that totally won over my English major heart.
Some of my early reading plans for this month include picking up Crazy Rich Asians and Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, and I have some fun-sounding books on my Kindle that I bought through my Amazon ebook deal emails. July was definitely a month of preferring to read rather than watch TV or movies. so we’ll see how August goes. Until then, enjoy my insights on the seven books I read in July!
American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, by Leslie Carroll (★★★☆☆)
I get that it’s way too soon to read a book about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that really gets it. I think the reason the only royal family biography I’ve finished and really loved was Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is because so much of the Queen’s life and reign is already behind her. Delivering a book that feels comprehensive and accurate about any other member of the family is trickier because they’re either still too young or haven’t risen to their full power yet. Wouldn’t you rather read a biography about Prince Charles that handles how he took over his mother’s role as ruler rather than what he’s been doing the past decade to pass the time?
That being said, while reading this, I did learn a lot about Meghan’s upbringing and young adult life that I didn’t know before. The craziness of her love story with Harry still gets me every time. This book shifted between Harry and Meghan’s lives and what they were doing at parallel moments, eventually culminating in how they met and became engaged. Seeing as it was published before the actual royal wedding, the book flanders a bit at the end, hence the lower rating.
Playing with Matches, by Hannah Orenstein (★★★★☆)
I saw this debut author speak at Her Conference on a book-writing panel last summer, and since then, we now work for the same company. I’ve never met her, but I definitely recommend following her great Twitter feed. Based on Orenstein’s own experiences working as a New York City matchmaker, Playing with Matches is about a recent college grad who snags a matchmaking job in Manhattan out of desperation. Working with much older and experienced clients, she basically has to fake it till she makes it. When her longtime boyfriend betrays her, one of her client’s hunky matches may soon complicate the professional approach she has to maintain over her clients’ love lives.
This was such a fun, light book, and the specifics of the story are so unique that it definitely stands out from the typical “young people in NYC” book. If you want a rom-com read that revolves around modern-day dating and apps, this is for you.
Someday, Somewhere, by Lindsay Champion (★★★★☆)
I went into this book with so little knowledge or expectations, and oh my goodness, I think it’s one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Mark it down as a 4.5-star read! It’s been forever since I read YA, probably because I just read so many “it’s senior year and things are magical” stories in high school and the first half of college that I had to take a multi-year break. I forgot how darn delightful yet heart-wrenching it can be.
Dominique is a high school student from a tough, impoverished area of New Jersey who has abandoned her dreams of becoming a dancer. On a school field trip to a Carnegie Hall concert, she spots Ben, a prodigy violinist who is studying at the city’s top conservatory. Instantly drawn to him, Dominique tracks him down and, feeling ashamed of who she really is, pretends to be a NYU student training to dance. Lovers of New York and music will find it easy to fall for this story, but Someday, Somewhere actually has a very emotional, unpredictable second half that was so engrossing. Several weeks after reading it, I’m wondering why I didn’t give it a full 5 stars — maybe because I wanted a bit more from the ending? Regardless, I couldn’t recommend this book more.
I See London, I See France, by Sarah Mlynowski (★★★★☆)
Someday, Somewhere clearly set me on a brief YA kick. I read some of Sarah Mlynowski’s Magic in Manhattan series in middle school, but other than that, I didn’t have much experience with her work. The plot of this book was what drew me in — a girl goes on a summer trip around Europe with her best friend, but the friend’s ex-boyfriend and his hot friend show up for the ride. As her friend goes back and forth between wanting to forgive her ex as they hit up European hotspots, Sydney develops feelings for the ex’s friend despite warnings about his playboy persona.
I’ll always have a soft spot for European travel stories. This book was definitely on the simpler side of YA compared to Someday, Somewhere, but it was so much fun. The best parts were just the girls’ adventures in each city, even though their friendship did veer on the more immature side at times. The book’s ending felt so ambiguous that I was tempted to bump down my rating to 3.5 stars, but it brought me so much joy that I ultimately couldn’t do so.
The Summer I Met Jack, by Michelle Gable (★★★☆☆)
You know that I love my non-fiction about the Kennedys, but I don’t think I’ve ever read fiction based on the family until now. This book starts with a Polish refugee, Alicia, moving to Hyannis, Massachusetts, in the 1950s to join a fellow refugee there and eventually start working as a maid at the Kennedy family compound. She falls for then-Senator Jack Kennedy, and the two ignite an on-and-off-again affair that follows her for the rest of her life. I actually enjoyed the earlier part of the book when Alicia develops feelings for Jack, adjusts to American life, and has such a sweet friendship with the simple, slightly dimwitted George. But when she leaves that life behind to pursue an acting career in Hollywood, the book quickly went downhill for me.
Alicia just became so unlikable and distant compared to how she initially appeared, and I didn’t even realize until finishing the book and reading the author’s afterword that Alicia, her life, and its circumstances were real. I don’t know if I just completely missed out on the book’s real-life nature before starting it or if the reader wasn’t meant to know it was a fairly true story, but only finding that out at the end annoyed me. This was a slow, disappointing read, and I stuck with it until the end to see if it ever improved. Nope. However, I did like that the story focused so deeply on the more controversial, twisted side of the Kennedys and their roles within the country.
Campaign Widows, by Aimee Agresti (★★★☆☆)
I never buy physical books anymore because I don’t have the space and I feel bad if I buy a new book and don’t really like it, but I made an exception for this. Look at this pretty cover! Campaign Widows follows four women and a man who are living in D.C. and whose partners are all embedded in their jobs with several prospective presidential candidates’ campaigns.
This sort of felt like one of those Garry Marshall holiday movies that mesh together characters who are all connected in some way. It jumps very quickly from one character’s story to the next, but honestly, the only person whose life felt significantly changed as a result of the story’s events by the end was Cady, a TV producer who gets engaged to a campaign staffer at the beginning of the story and has to start a new life from scratch in D.C. Everyone else was just kind of…there. I had some bigger expectations for this, but the story just never picked up. Meh.
My Oxford Year, by Julia Whelan (★★★★☆)
Again, this feels like more of a 4.5-star book, but I always craved a smidge more from the writing and detail that I never got. Ella is a Rhodes scholar simultaneously studying at Oxford for a year and working remotely as a education consultant for a political campaign back in the States. She falls for her professor, Jamie, who has a secret. The story comes equipped with poetry excerpts and some beautiful passages of writing. I saw a blurb that called it perfect for JoJo Moyes fans, and it definitely has a Me Before You vibe to it.
The writing in this initially felt very naturalistic and simple, but the more you read, the more complex and heartbreaking some of its revelations are. Anyone who studied English in college or considers themselves an Anglophile has to read it. Picture Tom Hiddleston as Jamie while you’re at it — you’re welcome.