In August, I was on holidays.
And holiday reading is always the best reading.
Mostly in New York, I was tearing through books I primarily borrowed from my local library. This month’s reads saw me following along on the comeback attempt (decided at a US Open final) of a tennis pro who regretted having to leave the sport years ago at the top of her game, when plagued by injuries. My next novel was set entirely in New York, an engaging, opposites attract romance with a New York librarian who manages a community garden romantically pursued by the handsome, ambitious property builder intent on clearing out said garden for his latest development.
Next, I was jet-setting between Rome, London, Moscow and New York in the 1940s and 1950s in this Cold War era spy tale, focused largely on what selling out one’s country meant to the spouse and family of the defector. Next I flew across the world, to Cambodia in the waning days of the Khmer Rouge and during an earlier timeframe, when Pol Pot’s brutal regime came to power, when the idealistic protagonist dreaming of the communist revolution she yearned for in her college years comes face-to-face with the harsh reality.
Afterwards, I journeyed back to America, alongside the nanny who cared for the Lindbergh baby, leading up to the fateful night in 1932 when America’s most famous daring pilot and his wife lost their young son to a kidnapping-ransom that would go horribly wrong. And finally, I was in the heady New York of the 1920s, complete with flappers, Prohibition-era bathtub liquor and strains of jazz, as four impressive young women take the Big Apple by storm, claiming pride of place in the witty and exclusive Algonquin Round Table social circle.
Thrilled to have travelled the globe and across time for six fabulous novels that accompanied my enjoyable time in New York.
Full reviews below for my wonderful August reads!
Carrie Soto is Back
Taylor Jenkins Reid
This is my third Jenkins Reid novel, and definitely my favorite. I also enjoyed reading this in New York in the lead-up to The US Open.
Carrie Soto was a tennis phenomenon until injuries forced her into retirement. At thirty-seven as she watches the 1994 US Open, she makes the daunting decision to make her comeback, with her doting father once more as her coach.
I loved this look into the mind of a completely obsessed athlete, one who has constructed her entire identity around tennis and the competitiveness it fosters … and is finding life on the sidelines difficult.
For me, Carrie’s toughness and “unlikability” only made her more interesting as a character. Tennis is a very individual sport, and Carrie and her former-tennis player father, have created a tight cocoon around themselves, making Carrie’s entrée into post-professional tennis life even more complex.
A fascinating exploration of what it takes to reach the pinnacle of professional tennis, many of the hard choices along the way, and how to rediscover oneself to handle life without the all-encompassing competitiveness and the cheering of adoring crowds.
My Book Boyfriend
I’ve read and enjoyed all of Kathy Strobos’ novels, and was pleasantly surprised to learn she has her newest out this month. My Book Boyfriend was a fun romance/women’s fiction novel, set in New York City, with great characters and snappy dialogue.
Lily is a New York librarian who is passionate about her job, reading, and making a difference in her community. This community focus follows her post-work, as she works to build a community garden that brings young and old together and offers cultural activities for local families.
Unfortunately, the future of the community garden is at risk, and Rupert is set to bulldoze the unofficial community garden to complete his newest building project for the family firm. After all, his grandfather, who detests any sign of weakness, hasn’t yet named him CEO. And this project can make or break him.
Lily has been spectacularly unlucky in love and Rupert is handsome, smart and loves reading, but is this nascent love story destined to fail as Lily and Rupert square up to fight one another? You’ll enjoy this fast-paced, feel-good story.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy – all thoughts are my own.
Our Woman in Moscow
I love stories set in the Cold War, but I’ve never been drawn to action-based spy stories. This spy story worked so well for me because it delved into family relationships and the personal toll it took to betray one’s country and to place one’s ideology above all else.
This story was told primarily though the perspective of sisters Iris and Ruth during three time periods. In 1940, Iris and Ruth are living in Rome with their brother, who is working in the US Embassy. There, as the shadow of war intensifies, Iris falls in love with her brother’s embassy colleague, Sasha Digby.
Like many of his age and class, Sasha is influenced by a utopian view of socialism. With his naïve idealism, he is quickly drawn into the Soviet sphere of influence and Sasha, his wife Iris and their children go missing from their London home in 1948. In 1952, Ruth hears from her estranged sister from Moscow, and must attempt to make a daring rescue.
The story is told mainly through the perspective of Iris and Ruth, with a small segment narrated from a female KGB handler. It moves back and forth between time periods, and delves into the choices made in the name of ideology, and the resulting impacts on families, loved ones and one’s own conscience. Highly recommended.
The Lindbergh Nanny
This novel has long been on my radar, and so I snapped it up in the library on my recent visit back to New York.
Although, like most, I was familiar with the notorious Lindbergh baby kidnapping, when the young son of world renowned pilot Charles Lindbergh was snatched from his home in 1932, setting off a press furor and massive search, only to have the body discovered two months later a few miles from the Lindbergh home.
In this novel, we see events leading up to the kidnapping, the fateful night, and the investigation that ensues, through the watchful eyes of Scottish nurse Betty Gow. This was a fascinating perspective, although important to read alongside the historical notes about what was real and what was fictionalized, of this infamous kidnapping.
The Foreigner’s Confession
This was an impressive and ambitious novel from a writer who based her story on research she carried out in Cambodia documenting the atrocities of Pol Pot and the agrarian revolution he led.
The tale is told in two timelines. American attorney Emily moves to Cambodia in the early 1990s, as Khmer Rouge power begins to wane. A horrific accident has left her an amputee, but the deepest scars are internal. She hopes helping Cambodian amputees will help restore a sense of purpose to her life, but she quickly grasps how little she understands about the history of her new country and her inability to recognize the internal wounds many of the locals choose to keep hidden. A portrait resembling her at the former prison turned Genocide Museum leads her to delve more deeply into Cambodia’s recent past.
In 1970, Milijana is a young Serb who met her husband, a Cambodian, in Paris. Caught up in the communist ideology fashionable at the universities at the time, Milijana attends the Sorbonne, alongside a young Pol Pot. Milijana’s activism converts her into a communist revolutionary, welcoming Cambodia’s agrarian revolution as a chance to rebuild a more just society. Now married and a young mother, Milijana urges her reluctant husband to return to his homeland to take part in the glorious, new society. But Milijana quickly – and tragically – learns that political philosophy on paper and radical political movements in practice have little in common. In diaries we learn the heartbreaking fate that befalls Milijana and her family.
Badgely does a masterful job of weaving these dual timeline stories together and bringing the locales to life on the page. A gripping story of a complicated period of Cambodian history, told through the alternating perspectives of two strong women.
The Manhattan Girls
Absolutely adored this book. Set in 1920s New York, with the heady backdrop of speakeasies and jazz, this novel follows four women of the famed Algonquin Round Table.
Although I was familiar with writer and famous wit Dorothy (Dottie) Parker, I was completely unfamiliar with the other three women: Jane Grant, first female reporter at The New York Times and co-founder of The New Yorker, glamorous Broadway actress Winifred Lenihan, and magazine assistant who moonlights as a novelist, Peggy Leech.
This novel delved into each woman’s world, through chapters with alternating points of view, and, as a reader, I enjoyed being a fly on the wall during a complicated time as women were first entering into the urban, professional workforce in significant numbers, yet still struggling with their new place in society and claiming their place alongside men. I wanted the jazz to play and the (bad, bathtub) gin to flow forever. A brilliant, must-read novel.