Y’all—I have read so many good books this summer. In the past, on weekends when I had a downtime, I usually spent the hours with my laptop in my lap, watching TV, and working on my blog. While I still do that from time to time, I’ve been more intentional about just taking a few hours to do what I truly want to do, and not what I feel like I have to do, so I often find myself curled up on the couch with the AC blasting, a good book in hand, and a cold La Croix nearby. It sounds so simple, but it always feels like such an indulgent afternoon!
Like last month, I wanted to make note that I’ve been so lucky because over the last year because Random House will send me some of their new titles each month. I’m under no obligation to post about them, so I really can tell you my own opinion (good or bad—as you can see below!) about them. This month, I’m reviewing four books that Random House sent over and I’ve starred them with asterisks so you know which ones they are. Any questions about this, let me know!
As always, you can keep up with what I’m reading in real time over on Goodreads—feel free to friend me if you want!
NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA // CHANEL CLEETON
I picked this book up on the recommendation of my friend, Julie, and I am so glad I did! This novel tells the story of Elisa, a daughter of a sugar baron, who flees Cuba with her family during the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and her granddaughter, Marisol, who returns in 2017 after Castro’s death to spread her grandmother’s ashes. In Cuba, Elisa and her three sisters, her brother, and her parents lived a life of luxury, attending the most exclusive parties, wearing fashionable clothing, and wining and dining with fellow Batista supporters. Like many members of the upper class, when it becomes apparent the revolutionaries are gaining ground, they flee to Miami, burying their valuables in the backyard and leaving the only home they’ve ever known in hopes of returning. Marisol grew up hearing stories of Elisa’s youth in Cuba, and returns to the island to stay with her grandmother’s best friend to find a place to lay her grandmother to rest. While she’s in Cuba, she has the chance to explore her heritage, and in the process, dredges up decades-old family secrets. There are also several plot twists and two love stories. I thought this novel also did a great job at exploring how Cubans in exile remember a Cuba that no longer exists—one that’s been romanticized and passed on generationally—while Cubans who stayed must contend with poverty and an authoritarian government, yet are scrappy, practical, and proud.
This novel was particularly interesting to me because my Aunt and Uncle (a sister and a brother who married my Dad’s brother and sister) are both Cuban and their family has a similar story of fleeing Cuba during the Revolution for safety in the United States. Every year at Christmas Eve, our toast is that of a people in exile—”next year we’ll be in Cuba!”
Would I recommend it? 100%. I literally will not shut up about this book, and have recommended it in-person to my friends a few times daily for the past week.
FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL // BECK DOREY-STEIN*
I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but I was excited to read this memoir by Beck Dorey-Stein partially because the cover art is so bright and colorful. After I read the first few pages, I was hooked and ended up reading this one within 24 hours. Beck is a young professional working a few jobs in DC when she finds a job on Craigslist that turns out to be an opportunity to be Obama’s stenographer, aka the person who transcribes everything the President says publicly. The memoir covers her whirlwind life in DC and on the road with 44—the trips in Air Force One, the official state visits abroad, the days huge legislation was passed in DC. Beck offers an intimate look at life inside the White House, the relationships she built with other staffers, and the times she spent at hotel gyms with Obama himself—it’s all incredibly personal and entertaining.
Would I recommend it? Yes! I think young professionals on both sides of the aisle, especially those who call DC home, should read this memoir.
THE ROMANOV EMPRESS // C.W. GORTNER*
A great piece of historical fiction, The Romanov Empress recounts the life of Maria Feodorovna, daughter of Denmark’s Christian IX, wife of Tsar Alexander III, mother of Tsar Nicholas II, and grandmother of Princess Anastasia. Prior to picking up this novel, I knew very little about Maria’s life, but by the end, I was so impressed by her role as matriarch of the Romanovs. The story begins with her childhood in Denmark. Her Father was not initially meant to be King, and thus the family lived a relatively simple life. Her favorite sister, Alexandra, marries Edward VII of England, and soon after, Maria is betrothed to the heir apparent of the Russian throne, Nicholas. He suddenly died of meningitis on a tour of Europe, and Maria follows through on his final wish and marries his brother, Alexander. The story then follows their marriage and children, the years before the Russian revolution, and, ultimately, Alexander’s assassination and Nicholas II’s ascension and abdication of the throne. Unlike many of her children, Maria is able to flee Russia during the Revolution and lives out her days in her homeland, Denmark. The dialogue and story was so vivid, at points I forgot I was reading a (well-researched) work of fiction and not a memoir.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was that it really helped me understand how many of Europe’s monarchies are related to one another via King Christian IX, Maria and Alexandra’s dad and “the father-in-law” of Europe, and Queen Victoria, Alexandra’s mother-in-law and Edward VII’s mother. (For instance, King George V and Tsar Nicholas II were cousins via their mothers, and two important figures in WWI.) There’s a family tree in the front of the book, and you can bet I referred to it often!
Would I recommend it? Definitely—especially if you’re interested in the Romanovs.
COTTAGE BY THE SEA // DEBBIE MACOMBER*
Annie decides that this year, she isn’t going to fly home to Seattle for Thanksgiving to spend time with her parents and her brother and his family. Instead, she’s going to stay in LA and enjoy a four-day weekend with her friends and cousin. On Thanksgiving morning, she wakes up to a frantic call from her Aunt asking her if she had seen the news—there was a landslide in her family’s neighborhood and there were no survivors. Annie spirals into a deep state of grief. Thinking about her happiest times, she heads to the seaside town she vacationed in growing up. On a stroke of luck, she finds a Physician Assistant position at the local family practice, convinces the reclusive landlord to rent her the summer cottage her family used to stay in, and decides to move away from the big city to the small seaside town. The rest of the novel follows Annie as she rebuilds her life from the ground up.
Would I recommend it? Eh—if you need an engaging beach read, go for it! But, I think there are better novels in the chick lit canon out there.
SURPRISE ME // SOPHIE KINSELLA*
Surprisingly, I’m not usually a huge fan of Sophie Kinsella’s novels, but this one was really cute. After being married for ten years, Sophie and Dan are told they have 68 years left together and panic sets in. To keep things new, they decide to surprise each other so their marriage never becomes boring. Only the surprises begin to go awry and family secrets are spilled. I can’t say much more without ruining the plot—but I thought all the characters in this story were well-developed and had depth, which made this an enjoyable read.
Would I recommend it? Sure—especially if you are a big Sophie Kinsella fan.