Y’all, I was really excited about my April releases (and I had a lot of them on my radar) and they actually exceeded my already high expectations! And, my 2019 Summer Reading Guide (coming in late May) will thank April for bringing it so many great books!
Favorite Books of April 2019
Plot Summary: Irish teenagers Connell and Marianne are first drawn to each other in high school when Connell’s mother works as Marianne’s parents’ housekeeper…and, their relationship becomes confusing as they navigate the social dynamics of both high school and college.
My Thoughts: Normal People (which has been long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize) is my first experience with Sally Rooney, but many readers loved her previous novel, Conversations with Friends. This is the kind of relationship book that is utterly riveting, but also made me feel a little uncomfortable in the best way possible (like White Fur and Tender). Connell and Marianne’s relationship is far from straightforward and is downright maddening at times, but I was rooting hard for them and completely engrossed in their story. Rooney made their story feel incredibly intimate, to the point where I almost felt like I was invading their privacy. I also loved the exploration of social and class dynamics in high school and college (when the story begins in high school, Connell is working class, but popular and Marianne is wealthy, but an outcast) and how those can change over time. There’s a bit of a coming of age element as they both wrestle with their identities and they face challenges stemming from Marianne’s family life. This is an unconventional love story and a character-driven novel I couldn’t put down…I could’ve read it in one sitting if I’d had a good chunk of time! 5 stars! PS – I should tell you this story involves a fair amount of sex and also does not use quotation marks for dialogue (neither of those things bothered me, but they might bother some people).
He can’t help Marianne, no matter what he does. There’s something frightening about her, some huge emptiness in the pit of her being. […] Still, he would lie down and die for her at any minute, which is the only thing he knows about himself that makes him feel like a worthwhile person.
Miracle Creek is absolutely one of my favorite books of the month (5 stars!), so I wanted to include it in this round-up. But, it’s also perfect for an Alcohol & Advil pairing, so stay tuned for that next week!
Also Read These
Plot Summary: Mary Laura Philpott had an enviable life by conventional standards (i.e. happy marriage, children, career, house, etc), yet she still felt unsettled and unsatisfied. These essays are about her experience trying to navigate that.
My Thoughts: I’ve been on a kick with “women who get women” memoirs over the past few years (i.e. maybe because I’m in the marriage / kids and “who am I through all that” stage?) and Mary Laura Philpott is an excellent addition to my club of go-to authors (also including Anna Quindlen and Kelly Corrigan). Philpott writes about this unsettling stage of life with openness, humor, and relatability. She’s got spunk and she’s someone I could imagine grabbing a glass of wine with. She’s a Type A personality who got satisfaction from achieving each “success” rung on a clearly defined ladder (ex: grades in her youth, job promotions post college)…when adult life hit and there was no clearly defined success ladder, she struggled with feeling satisfied. I can totally relate to her in this respect (I also relate to her dislike of habitual lateness!) and it’s one of the reasons I started the blog and the podcast. She nails very specific experiences…handling your children’s holiday gift lists, volunteering at your children’s school and/or on charity boards, and motherhood in general. If you enjoy “maintaining your identity through marriage and motherhood” books, I Miss You When I Blink should be next on your list! And, it would be an excellent book club pick. PS – Philpott works at Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville (author Ann Patchettt is co-owner!) and is a hilarious follow on Instagram!
The to-do list was supposed to get smaller and smaller as you checked off everything you meant to do and approached the finish line of bona fide adulthood. Instead, you got to the end of the list and didn’t feel like you’d arrived anywhere.
Plot Summary: When uber-successful Chloe Taylor’s lawyer husband (Adam) is murdered in their East Hampton home, her sister Nicky (who is Adam’s ex-wife) re-enters the picture to help Chloe navigate the investigation and support Adam and Nicky’s son (Ethan).
My Thoughts: The Better Sister is my second Alafair Burke thriller (my first was The Wife) and she’s becoming a go-to mystery / thriller author for me. She’s a former prosecutor and it shows in her thrillers. They’re marketed as psychological thrillers and do have certain elements of those, but there’s also excellent legal / courtroom drama…and that’s what sets Burke apart for me. The Better Sister is actually more courtroom drama than psychological thriller, but it’s also a dysfunctional family story. It’s about marriage, divorce, keeping up appearances, sisters, and teenage angst. And, Burke does not resort to gimmicks to shock the reader. She just uses straight-up suspense without all the outlandish twists. If you’re sick of all the ridiculous gimmicks in psychological thrillers these days, The Better Sister (and Alafair Burke in general) is for you! PS – the cover is terrible and has nothing to do with the actual story.
“When girls feel lost, they hurt themselves. Boys hurt others.”
Plot Summary: When debut novelist James Smale sells his semi-autobiographical novel to Doubleday (his editor turns out to be Jacqueline Onassis), he is forced to address his frayed relationship with his mother.
My Thoughts: The Editor is a marriage of a dysfunctional family novel and a publishing world / literary life novel…with some fun celebrity allure sprinkled on top. The premise of having Jackie O be Smale’s fictional book editor could have been preposterous and silly, but she really was an editor at Doubleday during her “third act” of life and James Smale’s experience probably did happen to multiple authors, so it came across as whimsical and poignant to me. Plus, Rowley didn’t have Jackie overtake the story…he worked in just the right amount of Kennedy anecdotes in a way that didn’t feel forced. Rowley’s real life family is intimately intertwined with his novel and I loved seeing how events with his family played out as he tried to work out the next step with his novel. The Editor is a delightful (but, not annoyingly so) book if you’re looking for a fun, light read.
“May I say,” Jackie begins before pausing. “Without knowing the circumstances. Women like your mother and me, from our generation, we were duty bound. Things were expected of us, marriage and motherhood. But we were girls once, with dreams and aspirations of our own. When we see our children succeed, of course part of their accomplishments are our own. But it also reminds us that life doesn’t turn out for everyone the way they dreamed.”
Cape Mayby Chip Cheek (April 30, 2019)
DNF at 11%
This debut novel about a newlywed couple from Georgia honeymooning in Cape May, New Jersey in the 1950’s and falling in with a group of cosmopolitan socialites was fine, but kind of boring. Not good enough to make my 2019 Summer Reading Guide, so I put it down.
Like Lionsby Brian Panowich (April 30, 2019)
DNF at 35%
I loved Panowich’s 2015 Grit Lit thriller Bull Mountain and was excited for the sequel. Sadly, there were just too many new characters I didn’t really care about and too much violence without a purpose for me.
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (April 9, 2019)
DNF at 3%
This one is getting lots of hype from the critics, but I don’t think it will catch on with regular readers. The writing was virtually indecipherable for me…very stream of consciousness, which is not my thing. I knew very quickly this one wasn’t for me because of the writing.
Pin this post…
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this month?
Do you want a monthly personalized book recommendation from me and access to our private Facebook Group?
Support Sarah’s Book Shelves on Patreon for access to these special bonuses (more details here)!