Happy November 1!
I’m kicking off the month with a look back on all my October reads. Last month was an unusual one where I read some books I liked but also read more than one where I finished without knowing exactly how I felt. I liked them . . . but I also didn’t . . . but I didn’t actually hate them. Does that even make sense? They had things I enjoyed and things I didn’t and it felt kind of strange to read books so close together that I couldn’t really discern my feelings for. Maybe I was just feeling off personally or maybe it was the book choices, but either way, despite not knowing if I liked them all, I have lots of thoughts on each one. Let’s get into it!
Summer at Lake Haven by RaeAnne Thayne
Samantha is an aspiring fashion designer living in the heavy shadow of her mother’s expectations. Ian is a single father of two who is also struggling with the weight of family expectations and duty. When Ian rents the summer house next-door to Samantha to work on his research and attend his sister’s wedding, the two find their lives intertwining quickly. The question is, can they keep their hearts from intertwining as well?
This was a win for me because this book exactly met my expectations: I liked the cast of characters, I liked the dynamics, I liked the charming setting, I liked the fact that there were a lot of cameos from characters I’ve met before. It was predictable but with enough substance to still be fun to read. This was another installment of the Haven Point series, and I reviewed a bunch of the other books in this post. This book fell right in line with the others – a light, sweet, slightly cheesy, feel-good, Hallmarky read that you can read pretty quickly. Reading this book felt like returning to a nostalgic vacation spot and I really enjoyed popping back in to Haven Point again. When you’re in the mood for a nice, easy, rated-PG romance read, this series is a great choice!
The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon
No matter what she tries, Taylor is struggling to make ends meet and get her personal training business off the ground. Then Jamar comes to one of her pop-up boot camp classes and offers her a mind-boggling deal: he’s willing to pay an obscene amount of money for Taylor to help him train to get back into the NFL. The catch is, no one can know she’s training him. When they’re accidentally spotted together and rumors start, Taylor tries to cover as his girlfriend. They find themselves having to fake a pretend relationship for the public, but pretty soon it doesn’t feel like there’s anything pretend about it.
A couple months ago, I read The Boyfriend Project and enjoyed it. When I happened to see this book on the shelves by the same author, I decided to check it out. It turns out it’s kind of a series – in The Boyfriend Project the story was about Samiah and heavily focused on her friendship with two other women, Taylor and London. The Dating Playbook was now Taylor’s story (with both other women making multiple appearances) and at the end of the book there was a note that London’s story is coming soon. If I’m being completely honest, I did not enjoy this book as much as the first one. I wasn’t quite as invested in Taylor’s character and found the repetition of her struggles to be tiring. At 350+ pages, the book felt much longer than it needed to be. I did like Jamar, I did like their dynamic, I did like a certain plot line that I won’t give away here but that spoke to my heart, and I did like that female friendship was portrayed as strongly as the romantic relationship. It wasn’t a home run for me, but I did enjoy it enough that I’ll probably give London’s story a try when it comes out.
The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
1924 – Gin Kelly is a flapper who frequents Christopher’s, a speakeasy thriving in the midst of Prohibition. After a raid, she’s brought in by Prohibition agent Oliver Anson who wants her to help take down the operation of a powerful bootlegger: her stepfather. 1998 – Ella Gilbert needs a safe place to land after her marriage falls apart and moves in to the apartments at Eleven Christopher. She’s told there is a speakeasy in basement and she hears the music playing…but then learns the place has been empty for decades. What exactly happened in that speakeasy sixty years ago? And why is there a scream heard in the middle of the music?
When it comes to favorite authors, Beatriz Williams ranks highly for me. She’s delivered book upon book that I’ve devoured and loved so I went into this one with some pretty high expectations. It made the shock even greater when those expectations were not at all met and I was left feeling confused and disappointed.
There is a writing principle called Chekhov’s gun and the simplest way to explain it is: if a gun is introduced to the plot in the first part of the story, it needs to go off before the story ends. In other words, when an object/person/event of significance is introduced, it needs to contribute to the plot or the significance needs to be explained at some point. This book violates that principle multiple times and leaves so many loose ends and questions! I ended it feeling really frustrated and unsettled and went online to find out what other readers thought. At that point, I discovered it is actually the first book of a series! I read the synopses for the future books in the series and let me tell you, I’m confident I already have several of the connections/future twists figured out. I can’t say this for sure, but judging by this book and the things I’ve already guessed, I bet that this series could’ve been condensed down into fewer books with faster paces.
Overall I’m not really sure what I think. The pace was slower than I normally like and we got breadcrumbs along the way but no connections or real answers. There are some disturbing moments and the whole book left me feeling disoriented. But…if I had known all along it was a series and not a standalone story (it’s absolutely not able to stand on its own), I would have had a different set of expectations and might have enjoyed it more. I just don’t know! I’m still debating if I want to continue with the series but if I do, at least I’ll know more of what to expect.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving an unnerving letter and plea for help from her newlywed cousin, Noemi heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, to figure out how to help. Upon arrival she finds the house is falling into disrepair and neglect, her cousin is acting very strangely, and the family is unwelcoming and secretive. Before long, Noemi starts to feel her mind being invaded by nightmares and strange visions and it seems everything, including the house itself, is hiding a sinister darkness.
The horror genre is far outside my typical choice but this book was recommended to me several months ago and I’ve had it on my TBR list ever since. I decided Halloween week was the perfect time for a gothic novel and finally dove in. I’m not sure I liked it, but I also didn’t hate it? I do think the book might be over-hyped, or maybe it’s just not a genre I’m ever going to really connect with. There are some really creepy and disturbing descriptions and the isolated setting is eerie, but the pace was not great for me. The first 2/3 were slow and that lead to me skimming quite a bit. It’s hard to truly be immersed in a horror if you’re skimming, but I just wasn’t interested enough to absorb every word. There are also a lot of situations where it’s difficult to discern reality and follow what is happening to Noemi’s mind (it’s confusing, but also leads to a nightmarish vibe which I’m sure was the goal). So much was crammed in the last 1/3 of the book and for me, that’s when things started to get really interesting (and really horrifying), but it was a little too late to save the whole book. All that being said – it may not be my favorite, but I’ll probably be thinking about this one for a while. It’s just so bizarre and sinister and macabre. I’m not surprised to see it’s being developed for a Hulu limited series – I think it will translate really well to an on-screen horror. I’m still not sure I actually liked it, but I can’t deny it leaves an impression. If horror is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this one!
Whew! There you have it. Four books in October. One I really enjoyed, one that I thought was pretty good, and two that I’m just not sure if I really liked or not. What a month! I’m really hoping that November has some knock-my-socks-off reads so if you have any recommendations of books you loved, please share them in the comments below!