Once and For All by Sarah Dessen
I have always loved Sarah Dessen, but this one not so much. I don’t know if my interests are changing or she is, but this just wasn’t for me. What I love about Dessen novels are the rich plots and world-building; romance always features, but there are typically other plotlines that are just as important. I didn’t get that feel here. Also, I hated Ambrose, the love interest. The kind of disrespect he shows other people at the beginning of the novel was not cute, and it’s like he switched personalities from then until he started hanging out with the main character. That really, really kept me from rooting for the couple. I did like the MC’s mom and business partner, and the wedding business had fun details. I still enjoy Dessen; this just didn’t work for me.
40 Love by Madeleine Wickham
Another typical summer author for me that also disappointed in that it wasn’t what I was expecting. I’ll admit I liked this better than the Dessen above, but there were several things that made this meh. For one, it wasn’t as funny as Wickham/Kinsella novels are normally, and I feel like nothing in the plot was actually resolved. If you go into it expecting a fictional plot that’s really a muse about what makes people happy, you might like this. It specifically focuses on money versus friendship and career choice based on money versus career choice based on passion. All the characters were interesting and pretty well developed as well.
The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
The last Ruth Ware I hated really must have been because of the audiobook format, because this was fantastic. The sense of the place setting itself as a character was just as good as it was in Ware’s The Lying Game; I think that makes her books unique in the thriller genre. The characters were great in that all of them were real-life ambiguous, which I love. And the main plot revolved around a family drama, which I also love. The mystery plot and the drama were both done very well, so this was a fun, fast-paced read. I did predict one twist, but not the big reveal at the end. I’ll continue to read Ware’s work, just not in audio form.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
This was a good historical fiction; not amazing, but solid. It was told in two storylines, past and present, and I just didn’t connect with the present one as well. I think I didn’t like the present main character as much as the past one; there wasn’t as much substance to her and her development felt a bit forced. The writing was also good but not amazing; several things were overexplained and I noticed a few small plot holes (nothing that would mess the up main plot, but overlooked details nonetheless). I ultimately enjoyed this though; I wouldn’t reread it, but it made me want to learn more about female spies during the world wars, so that’s a win overall. I’d still recommend it.
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker
This was probably the best book I’ve read this summer. There was so much in this; themes on what makes a family, codependece, substance abuse and depression, a sense of self, trauma…this is one that would be good in a classroom setting because there is just so much there. It was fast-paced, easy to follow, and the characters were absolutely beautiful. It was fun to learn a bit about the animation world; there weren’t a ton of details about this but it was something I haven’t encountered before in fiction. There was a nice juxtapostion between urban and rural life as the characters spend time in both NYC and rural Kentucky, and each place they went felt alive. I also liked that is wasn’t pretentious; the art world can get that way (see: The Goldfinch) but this didn’t, which was nice. Had deep themes but wasn’t depressing. I highly recommend this one.
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolizter
As far as literary fiction goes, this wasn’t bad, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t really love or hate anything in particular about this, and that might have been because it kind of reads as a giant fictional comparison essay on “old feminism” versus “new feminism,” and while I appreciate feminist themes, I wanted this to be about the characters more than feminism itself. It felt a bit like there were as many stereotypes squeezed in as possible, but it also wasn’t in-your-face stereotypical. I didn’t really like Faith’s character either (although maybe you weren’t supposed to?). The multiple POV could have possibly been done a bit better, but even that wasn’t awful. My favorite part of this book was Cory Pinto and his family and plot. This was interesting enough and with good enough characters to be a solid read.
All covers from Goodreads except The Female Persuasion. Cover of the Female Persuasion from Amazon.