A weird month in reading for me, this.
I didn't really read that many books that I cared enough about, or had enough to say about, for a full review - and I feel like this month was mainly tiding me over until August, when there are some new releases I'm particularly excited about (see my August TBR for more details). So, anyway, apologies for the silence - but nothing particularly excited me this month, so hey ho. There were a few standouts, though: namely Take a Hint, Dani Brown, which was a romp of pure wonderful enjoyable delight and provided some real delightful escapism in what was a pretty shitty mental health period for me; and three books of real literary value, specifically All Adults Here, Au Bon Roman, and Writers & Lovers. I recommend all four.
Also, the Man Booker longlist was announced, and those are some real exciting books.
Best book of the month: Take a Hint, Dani Brown. This month was a weird one, so I'm putting my favorite book of the month here - reading this made me happy and since it's been a bit of a shitty month other than that, that's why it's the best book. If you don't like it you can kiss me.
Most 'pleasant surprise' of the month: The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. I was expecting it to be a light, fluffy, fun read (which it was), but I didn't expect it to also pack a bit of an emotional punch.
Most disappointing book of the month: Missing, Presumed. I was hoping for a proper mystery thriller and I got an introspection novel instead. Fine - but advertise it that way. Also, my interest was not piqued enough for me to bother with the rest of the series, and so failing in the very primary task of a first novel in a series is an unforgivable character flaw in a book.
Worst book of the month: Belle-Amie. Was meant to be a reimagining of the Maupassant book, but really just fell flat. The main character is meant to be an amoral, charming anti-hero but instead he is just a scumbag. The plot is far-fetched and ludicrous, and is not rescued by an even more far-fetched and ludicrous and utterly nonsensical plot twist at the end. The writing is heavy and clunky, and does not fit the style. Bad dialogue, too.
Belle-Amie (1.3★/5), by Harold Cobert: I'm sick of books where the main male character's defining personality trait is a belief that women are interchangeable and disposable. And I'm well fucking sick of that trait being rendered 'charming' by male authors as a sign of the character's ambition and appeal, instead of just being gross.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown (5★/5), by Talia Hibbert: Talia Hibbert is the best active writer in the romance genre. THERE, I SAID IT. You can read my review of this wonderful, sweet, lovely little rom-com book here.
Sex and Vanity (3.7★/5), by Kevin Kwan: Not as good as his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy; and maybe I'd have appreciated this story more if I'd read the book it was originally inspired by. The dialogue was a bit clunky and the foundational premise of the book's conflict a bit of an unrealistic stretch - but it was still good, fluffy fun and I laughed out loud in more than one bit, so will be reading the other books in this planned series. Another winner from Kevin Kwan.
Writers & Lovers (4.5★/5), by Lily King: A good, enjoyable, well-written read that tackles some serious subjects head-on. Full review here.
Les Heures indociles (3.1★/5), by Éric Marchal: A fine book. A bit too much going on, and Marchal isn't very good at writing women - the main (only) female character was massively annoying when she was supposed to be sympathetic. Also, I'm really fucking sick of the lazy trope so many male writers have of a woman being threatened with rape in order to justify the hero complex she has for the person who 'saved' her from it. And the final plot twist/resolution is a bit plot-devicey, but overall, a fine book.
Missing, Presumed (3★/5), by Susie Steiner: A fine mystery. Nothing particularly dramatic or gripping. The novel seemed to be more about the internal monologues and struggles of the main characters, which is fine - but then don't market it as a thriller mystery. As it is, the mystery is ocmpletely tangential to the main narrative thrust, and the resolution comes about because of a lucky conicdence rather than anybody sitting down and actually attempting to solve the puzzle. I don't care enough about Manon Bradshaw or her life to read the other two books in the series. I do, however, give props for some truly lovely sentences and some well-worked metaphors, and for Susie Steiner's ability to write a compelling, nuanced, multi-layered, complex, relatable character that is thoroughly unlikeable.
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (5★/5), by Abbi Waxman: A very cutesy book. An easy, fun read that's like eating madeleines in a wonderfully warm bath. Nothing majorly life changing in terms of quality literature, but the dialogue was realistic, the story was funny and I laughed out loud at lots of parts, and I learned lots of new trivia. The main character is a massive bookworm who's favorite book is Pride & Prejudice, color-codes her planner, and (quite appropriately) loves office supplies and trivia. I can't believe I'm not getting royalty payments for this.
All Adults Here (4.7★/5), by Emma Straub: Another winner by Emma Straub. I love a book that explores the complexity and nuance of family relationships, even the ones that aren't toxic or difficult; but rather explore all the little, myriad of ways we interact with the people who shape us into the grown-ups we are. Also, it is so refreshing being able to read books about people who are struggling to fit into the world in ways that can appear mediocre and everyday, because as someone who struggles with that constantly, it's just really nice to see that reflected somewhere else, even in fiction. Emma Straub is really gifted at writing internal monologues for all her POV characters, and can switch between teenagers and adults with compassion and deftness. Some lovely paragraphs of just truly marvelous writing in there, as well. A definite recommendation.
Rodham (3.9★/5), by Curis Sittenfeld: Not as good as the other two books of hers I've read. The writing is very obvious and clunky in parts, and the dialogue isn't as whip-smart. As a thought exercise, it was both interesting and really weird - there were some bits that I found deeply unsettling, and some bits that I thought could have been spun out or developed a bit more. I wish Sittenfeld had done more than tangentially touch on intersectionality, especially since I think she was setting out to make an actual statement about it. Plus, I was deeply uncomfortable about the 2008 primary being pitched as black man vs. white woman - but maybe that was how it was pitched in 2006-2007 and I was just too young to remember it? Anyway, as far as a book that's meant to make you think, it certainly does that; but I'm not sure about it as a piece of alternative fiction. Sittenfeld is, however, a deft writer and I look forward to her next set of books (I highly recommend both American Wife and Eligible).
If I Had Your Face (3.5★/5), by Frances Cha: Could not quite tell what the genre was for this book, or what the plot was either. Don't know if that has to do with my lack of knowledge about Korea more generally, or if the story just didn't really shine through. Writing was a bit choppy for my tastes, but the setting and the atmosphere was chilling and creepy, and the intricacy of the details layering on top of each other was well-handled. Was a bit like a literary version of one of the creepier Black Mirror episodes.
Tyll (3.4★/5), by Daniel Kehlmann (trans. from the German by Ross Benjamin): A very, very profoundly weird book. Could never really tell what it was trying to do or what story it was trying to put forward, or if it was satire, historical fiction, fable, or what. Not sure how much of that is down to the translation, but there were some lovely bits of writing in there and the character of Elizabeth Stuart was heartbreakingly pathetic. It remains a weird book though, so I recommend to anybody who likes their novels a bit meandering and not in chronological order, and especially if you like books where you never really know what's happening. A lesser, German version of If on a Winter's Night a Traveller.
Au Bon Roman (4★/5), by Laurence Cossé: A bit of a ridiculous one, but if you lean into it it's very enjoyable. My review is here.
La Délicatesse (2★/5), by David Foenkinos: Meh. David Foenkinos is a bit hit and miss for me - some of his stuff (Le Mystère Henri Pick, Deux Sœurs) I really love, and some of it is downright bad. La Délicatesse is right there in the middle - the story is interesting, and the writing is good in parts, but it's never nuanced or explored enough to actually properly hold your attention. Also, the central character was literally a nothing person and all the male characters were absolute, absolute creeps who were meant to be seen as romantic. Listen, dudes: following a woman you don't know home isn't romantic. It's fucking terrifying.