When you purchase through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commision.

It was a very successful reading month for me, with books that were lighter than my usual fare but were exactly what I wanted to be reading. Let’s get to the reviews!


The Gift of Limitations: Finding Beauty in Your Boundaries, by Sara Hagarty: This book about the beautiful ways God uses our personal and circumstantial limitations came to me at just the right time. You can read my full review of the book, as well as some personal takeaways, here.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (Rounded to 5 Stars on Goodreads) // Book Format: Kindle

Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself, by Crystal Hefner: Crystal Harris was just twenty-one years old when she was plucked from a crowd of pretty faces at one of Hugh Hefner’s notorious parties and chosen as one of his girlfriends. Crystal was no stranger to the partying lifestyle and had experienced loss, family trauma, and a string of broken hearts that led her to seek security and intimacy in all the wrong places. Before long, Crystal had become Hef’s number one girlfriend, then his wife. Despite the glamorous lifestyle, Crystal felt like a prisoner in the mansion, trapped by Hef’s strict rules and high standards and subject to the temperament and whims of the narcissist who could never offer the love she desired.

I knew almost nothing about Hugh Hefner, the Playboy mansion, or Hefner’s infamous lifestyle before reading this book. I didn’t realize that shows had been made about the Playboy universe, or that Hugh Hefner was no longer alive. But I was intrigued by this book described by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves as a “surprisingly deep and well-written memoir,” and having now listened to the book myself I have to agree with Sarah’s assessment. This was a captivating but ultimately tragic tale of the hollowness in a life spent chasing after wealth, pleasure, and notoriety.

Crystal highlights the toxicity surrounding Hugh Hefner’s sex-crazed life, and her story speaks to the moral depravity of all things Playboy. Hefner famously claimed that he was a beacon of liberated sexuality, but Crystal’s story—and that of the many Playboy girls before her—is evidence that there was nothing liberating or beautiful about Hefner’s approach to sex. This is the story of one woman in one situation, but really it is the story of our generation that is striving after carnal pleasures and discovering how little they have to offer. It is also an important look at power dynamics within relationships and the true nature of love and intimacy.

Though I found the book itself to be mesmerizing, I struggled to sympathize with Crystal who takes very little responsibility for her own poor decisions and the part she played in her story. I also wonder about the reliability of her narration: her actions are largely painted as altruistic and kindhearted, yet many of her choices speak to the contrary. She is candid and superficially self-aware, yet she seeks answers in all the wrong places, and the realizations she’s had in her years since Hugh’s death paint the portrait of a woman who is still very confused and broken.

Narrator aside, this is an enlightening look at the destructive nature of a culture that elevates impossible beauty standards, youth, and hedonism over morals and good character. It probably goes without saying, but content warnings apply including some very frank discussions of sex, including graphic depictions of Crystal’s time with Hefner and the other girlfriends in the bedroom (though this is not glamorized in any way).

My Rating: 4 Stars // Book Format: Audiobook (The author reads her book, and while her narration is monotone and hollow, this tone adds rather than distracts from the haunting nature of the story.)

Swipe Up For More: Inside the Unfiltered Lives of Influencers, by Stephanie McNeal: Like it or not, Influencers are a huge part of modern culture. They inform what we wear, the purchases we make, the recipes we cook, how we parent, and inevitably how we feel about ourselves. In this timely book, Millennial journalist Stephanie McNeal examines the ins and outs of the multibillion-dollar industry of content creation. McNeal takes us into the heart of Influencer world through the portraits of three popular Influencers (none of whom I knew before reading this book): fashion blogger Caitlin Covington, runner and plus-sized advocate Mirna Valerie, and mommy blogger Shannon Bird. McNeal shares the origin stories of each of these Influencers, and of the Influencer industry at large, describing the rewards and struggles of each woman. Beyond their individual stories, McNeal gives us a look into sites dedicated to snarking on Influencers; examines the relationship between Influencers and brands; looks at the expectations placed on Influencers to have appropriate takes on a range of cultural and political issues (asking whether or not this is fair, and exploring how it is handled by various Influencers); and questions the ethics behind mommy blogging and the commodification of minors within this profitable industry. 

I have complicated thoughts regarding Influencer culture, so it’s not surprising that my thoughts on this book were also quite complicated. I enjoyed getting a closer look at the real lives of three prominent Influencers (though this would have been more meaningful if I had been familiar with these particular women). But I struggled with the book’s “fan girl” tone and overwhelming praise for an industry that I feel has done more harm than good. McNeal stays shallow on a subject that demands depth: I wanted more details on the nature of partnerships (especially the amount of money involved, as McNeal declines to answer these questions with real numbers and is disparaging towards those who are curious about how much money Influencers can make), and a closer look at the ways that Influencers spend their self-reported 100-hour workweeks. I also expected more of a journalistic take on the harmful nature of Influencer Culture—on both those who are being influenced AND the content creators themselves; McNeal is sympathetic towards the creators without holding them accountable for their questionable ethics and decisions, and also without accountability for those of us who are mindlessly consuming their content and contributing to cultural (and personal) degradation as we do so. 

The book touches on the discrepancies between relatability and authenticity of Influencers, and how societal expectations have gradually shifted (moving beyond wanting Influencers who are aspirational to demanding that they be authentic and relatable above all else), and I wanted much more conversation around this particular challenge. Is it even possible for an Influencer making millions to remain relatable in a meaningful way? Is this truly what we want? When is authenticity being taken too far? When is transparency needed, and why . . . and how? So many questions that at least deserve discussion if not solutions. 

This book was frothy and entertaining, but lacked the nuanced and unbiased reporting that I’d hoped for. McNeal’s own liberal politics and her gushing enthusiasm for Influencers in general (and for the three featured women in particular) overshadowed what might have been a productive discussion that needs to be had. McNeal says that her purpose in writing was to make a case for why Influencers matter. In that, she has succeeded, but she has not answered the question of whether or not they SHOULD matter, and to me that is the more important question that we all need to ask.

My Rating: 3 Stars // Book Format: Audiobook

Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey, by Florence Williams: Florence Williams thought that she was happily married, so when her husband of 25 years told her their marriage was over she did not take it well. To cope with the physical and emotional pain of her heartbreak, Williams put on her journalist’s hat and turned her personal loss into a story as she embarked on a quest to understand the science of heartbreak. Her exploration of her own pain takes her on a meandering path from divorce workshops and interviews with therapists and scientists, to psychedelic experiments, rigorous personal challenges (including a solo adventure through the wilderness), dabbling in the online dating world (with startling and at times disturbing results), and meetings with other heartbroken individuals (among them a cohort of women who were formerly trafficked). Williams brings us along for every step of her healing journey and together we learn about loneliness, the powerful mind/body connection, and all that is involved in falling in and out of love.

With its unique blend of personal divorce memoir and scientific exploration, this book offers a wide-ranging portrait of grief, heartbreak, and healing. I expected more science and would have appreciated more of a sociologist’s/psychologist’s take on the subject, but actually found the memoir aspect to be the most compelling. I appreciated Williams’ candor and her ability to share her own story without wallowing in self-pity, and I admired her ability to confront her pain while remaining cordial towards her ex-husband. There is a level of maturity here that I have not seen in similar memoirs (such as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild). While I could have done without the profanity and the details of Williams’ post-divorce sexual encounters, these aspects do add color and humanity to her experience. The grittier elements also had me hoping for this heartbroken woman to find the love of God in the midst of her pain, and though there are references to spirituality, this is sadly a very agnostic tale.

I HIGHLY recommend the audio version that has some of the best production of any audiobook I’ve listened to. Williams’ prose is interspersed with recorded interviews as well as pieces from her in-the-moment audio journals, all of which elevate this from a mediocre book to one that “reads” like a riveting documentary.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars (Rounded to 4 stars on Goodreads with 5+ stars for the audio production.) // Book Format: Audiobook


The False Prince, by Jennifer A. Nielson: Sage, a 14-year-old orphan with a reputation for trouble, is going about his usual business of stealing from the local butcher when he becomes an unwilling pawn in a malicious nobleman’s scheme: Carthyan regent Bevin Conner has devised a plan to unite the kingdom and further his own political ambitions by presenting an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son, Prince Jaron, and installing him as a puppet prince. Sage is among the four orphans who are “invited” (essentially kidnapped) to compete for the role and taken to Conner’s palace for training. Knowing that his life and the future of the kingdom are at stake, Sage consents to the ruthless competition, and over the coming weeks, Sage encounters treachery and betrayal at every turn. What unfolds is a breathless tale of ruthlessness, treachery, and shocking revelations as Sage fights to become Conner’s false prince and, hopefully, the savior of the kingdom of Carthya.

I read this one aloud with the kids and we were all riveted from start to finish. It is a fast-paced story with plenty of twists and turns, engaging characters, and the perfect mix of mystery and adventure. Sage is a complex and captivating protagonist whose voice brings humor to a tense plot. And though this isn’t theme-heavy by any means, the story does touch on messages of loyalty, courage, and sacrifice.

The book has an ending we absolutely did not see coming, and though it is the first in the series it easily stands alone. This one wins bonus points for zero objectionable content issues (minus violence and some frightening moments). I’m grateful to Sarah Mackenzie for tipping us off to this delightful story that is technically Middle Grade but good enough to be enjoyed by readers of any age.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (Rounded to 4 stars on Goodreads.) // Charleston’s Rating: 5 Stars // Book Format: Print


The Husbands, by Holly Gramazio: This book is everywhere right now so you likely don’t need a synopsis, but on the off chance that this one is new to you, here’s our set up: Lauren returns to her London flat after an evening of partying and is greeted by her husband, Michael. Which is confusing for Lauren because she is not and never has been married, and does not know this strange man who claims to be her husband. But the evidence of their marriage is there: her flat is decorated differently, she has pictures of their wedding on her phone, and all her friends and family confirm that Lauren is indeed Michael’s bride. Lauren is stilly trying to puzzle through this strange situation when Michael makes a trip up into the attic and disappears, and a new man—also claiming to be Lauren’s husband—emerges.

Lauren quickly discerns that her attic is magical, capable of creating an infinite supply of husbands, each of whom comes with a new life for Lauren. If a husband isn’t to her taste, or if she’s unhappy with the life associated with this new man, she sends him back up and everything resets. Now Lauren must make a decision: how will she decide which husband is her soul mate? How many husbands should she cycle through before deciding on someone and settling down? And how will she know when (or even whether) she has found The One?

This book wins for most creative premise! It goes down easy, but even as it masquerades as breezy brain candy it is deceptively deep. On one level, The Husbands can be read as a commentary on the modern dating world, with its constant offering of “swipe right” opportunities and the endless quest for the perfect match. It also gives us a fascinating thought experiment on what we look for in a partner, and it explores the nature of marriage and singleness; the implications of a repercussions-free life with endless possible resets; the various stages of a romantic journey; and the importance of memory and history within a healthy relationship.

With its endless train of faulty husbands, this book could easily become tedious for the reader (though I can only imagine how much fun the author had in coming up with the many “reasons” to toss out a husband!), but the novel takes some unexpected turns as Lauren’s “lives” play out in very different ways. These twists, along with the story’s inherent ethical questions and range of interesting characters, keep it from growing dull. I flew through this one and though I worried about a fizzling ending, I found the conclusion smart and very satisfying.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars (Rounded to 5 Stars on Goodreads) // Book Format: Kindle

Funny Story, by Emily Henry: Daphne’s childhood was one of change and unpredictability, so she loves the stability that her fiancé Peter has brought into her life. But after following him to his lakeside hometown in Michigan, adopting his friends and his hobbies as her own, and willingly moving into the home that he purchased in his name alone, the life she imagined with him comes crashing down when Peter arrives home from his bachelor party announcing that he is leaving her for his (she thought) platonic childhood best friend, Petra. Finding herself homeless, Daphne accepts an offer for a room from an unexpected source: Petra’s ex, Miles. And before she realizes what she’s gotten herself into, Daphne is posing as the girlfriend of her ex-fiancé’s new fiancé’s ex-boyfriend!

Bartender Miles is Daphne’s opposite in every way—scruffy, carefree, and everyone’s best friend, while Daphne has always been practical, buttoned-up, and reserved. But Daphne is short on friends and Miles is a willing tour guide through the beaches, farmer’s markets, and other abundant wonders that a Michigan summer has to offer. Daphne is committed to her fake relationship, and with her library job keeping her in town through the end of summer, she soon finds she is not just tolerating her time in Michigan but actually enjoying herself. . . and possibly (more than possibly, it IS a Romance novel after all) falling in love.

Romance readers count down the days to Emily Henry’s annual summer novel, and while I have not loved all of her books, I liked this one a lot (though not as much as Book Lovers, my favorite of hers). The story has a wonderful sense of place that had me itching to scoot off to Michigan to experience its magic for myself this summer. And of course Henry’s trademark banter wins the story: nobody does fun and quirky dialogue quite like this Rom-Com Queen.

Miles and Daphne are both easy to love (something I’ve discovered is a must for me with this genre), and though I had to give some side-eye to their mismatched relationship (those NEVER work in real life) and heavy-handed emotional baggage, I enjoyed watching these characters sort through their personal issues as they fall for one another. Via their backgrounds, Henry delves into a few deeper themes such as enmeshment, the expectations we place on ourselves and others, and hangups to intimacy (in romantic relationships, friendships, and within families).

Daphne is a children’s librarian which adds an especially fun bookish touch to the story. And beyond her love for books and children, I could relate (for better and for worse) to many aspects of Daphne’s character including a craving for predictability and a hesitancy to expect much from others despite a reluctant tendency towards romanticism. It’s not always easy to see one’s personality reflected so clearly in literature, but it shed some important light on my own relationships.

There is far more profanity in this book than I care for. But on a positive “content” note, the book is fairly light on explicit steam, and the three-ish bedroom scenes are easily skimmed. Overall, this was a fun seasonal read to kick off my summer reading.

My Rating: 4 Stars // Book Format: Kindle

Zorrie, by Laird Hunt: This quiet novella tells the extraordinary story of one ordinary woman. Zorrie was orphaned at a young age, then again at the age of 21 with the passing of the aunt who had raised her, leaving the young woman to fend for herself in rural, Depression-era Indianna. Zorrie drifts through odd jobs, landing at an Ottawa factory where she becomes one of the “ghost girls” who glow from the radioactive material they touch all day.

With radium still coursing through her veins, Zorrie returns to Indiana where she finds love and community and the satisfaction that comes from hard days managing her farm. As loved ones come and go and the decades slip by, Zorrie works the farm and endures hardship and, in her own quiet way, makes sense of life and faith and friendship and the “fragile film of the present that [is] buttressed against the past.”

This lovely, timeless, and deeply literary story explores themes of grief, dreams, healing, and the linear-yet-cyclical passage of time. It spans decades but is small in scope, focusing solely on our singular protagonist and her insular world. Though the tone is melancholy, the story is shot through with hope, and despite the harshness of Zorrie’s life (very reminiscent of Victoria’s in Go as a River, a book I found gratuitously depressing), the novella length, impeccable prose, and flawless pacing of Zorrie pulled me through the sadness and towards the beauty and inspiration of this woman’s story. This is a recent title, published in 2021, but there is a timelessness to the story and style and I imagine it is a book that will be read and studied for decades to come.

My Rating: 4 Stars // Book Format: Kindle

None of This Is True, by Lisa Jewell: Alix Summer is a popular podcaster known for her interviews with women who have overcome huge obstacles on a path to success. While enjoying her forty-fifth birthday dinner, Alix is approached by a homely woman named Josie Fair who happens to share Alix’s birthday. Josie believes she has an idea for a new podcast project and convinces Alix that her life—though seemingly mundane—deserves to be documented. Alix and Josie, the “birthday twins”, begin recording Josie’s shocking story of becoming a teenage bride to a man in his forties and raising two wayward daughters with the man she describes as a cruel and merciless pedophile. Alix is deeply disturbed by the horrors Josie has experienced but senses there is more to this woman and her story than is being told. The present narrative alternates with “scenes” from a documentary—set three years in the future—about Alix’s eventual true crime podcast, adding foreboding to this story we know will not end well. But how much of it is true?

This book is incredibly clever, from its suspenseful title to its unique construction to the final pages that tilt the entire story on its side (a polarizing trademark of Jewell’s writing that I personally love). But it is also incredibly creepy and incredibly dark, much darker than Jewell’s other works. This one hits on every possible trigger—murder, abuse, addiction, infidelity, pedophilia, neurodivergence, and more—with several warped storylines and at least one very twisted character. I was terrified by this book, but could also not turn away and finished it in just two days (and I am not a fast reader!).

I loved the author interview included at the end of my Kindle edition, which sheds light on some of the major storylines, Jewell’s writing process, and her intentions with this book. I was struck by her admission that she does not intentionally incorporate themes into her stories—“I never go into a novel to explore themes, I’m not really interested in themes and it often surprises me when publishers and reviewers assign themes to my books after the event”—because there are a number of well-drawn ones here, including feminism and a woman’s agency in her own story (or the telling of it); the fragile relationship between fact and fiction, particularly in media; motherhood and the lengths parents will take to protect their children—and at times, the even greater efforts mothers will make to protect the version of family that the rest of the world can see. The book is also a fascinating look at how and why we allow people into our lives and how much we can truly know about those closest to us. These themes, along with the narrative structure, sense of suspense, and “ick” factor, reminded me a great deal of Confessions (reviewed just last month).

I was a little behind the crowd in reading this one and understand why it was so popular. It’s hard to stomach but even harder to put down.

My Rating: 4 Stars // Book Format: Kindle

The Summer Swap, by Sarah Morgan: In this feel-good summer story, three generations of women swap their usual lives for something different as they seek second chances at love and pursue the lives they really want. Recently-widowed Cecilia Lapthorne has no desire to participate in her own seventy-fifth birthday party, so she makes a covert escape, retreating to the remote Cape Cod cottage she had shared with her artist husband, Cameron. But the cottage is not empty: after dropping out of medical school, aspiring artist Lily has also escaped to Cape Cod, where she spends her days cleaning homes. . . and has decided to take up residence in Cecilia’s seemingly uninhabited cottage. When a connection is discovered (Cecilia’s granddaughter was Lily’s former best friend), Cecilia invites Lily to remain as her guest and a friendship forms. Meanwhile, Cecilia’s middle-aged daughter, Kristen, is trapped in a marriage to her surgeon husband—a workaholic who has spent decades ignoring his family for the sake of his patients. With her children grown and her mother MIA, Kristen is desperate for a change that arrives in a way she never would have expected.

There is quite a bit going on with this story, yet it fits together nicely and worked surprisingly well for me on audio (this is the first novel I’ve managed to read on audio in almost a year). Heavy on drama and predictability, it was just the type of light Romance I needed right now in my audiobook life, with some common but important themes of acceptance and agency and reevaluating one’s life. While I didn’t particularly care for these characters who are selfish and make repeatedly poor decisions, I found their stories engaging and especially enjoyed the light mystery woven throughout the book, as well as the connections to the art world (which seems disproportionately represented in fiction but is always something I enjoy). I’m a huge fan of intergenerational friendships between characters, and the bond that forms between Cecilia and Lily is a sweet one. (In fact, I found their chemistry much more believable than any of the three women’s romantic connections.)

This book is tough on marriage, with lots of infidelity and other poor marriage choices. I did not love this aspect of the book but I DID appreciate the author’s acknowledgment that even tough marriages are not all bad and can be filled with glimpses of joy and even redemption. Overall, the saga of broken relationships was also a good reminder of the sacredness of my own marriage and the importance of making connection and honesty a priority in my home.

I would recommend this (with a few caveats) to fans of light women’s fiction and multi-generational stories, and readers seeking a closed-door beachy romance. As I mentioned, the audio is excellent.

My Rating: 4 Stars // Book Format: Audiobook

The Unmaking of June Farrow, by Adrienne Young: Growing up working her family flower farm in the small town of Jasper, North Carolina, June Farrow has always realized she was different. As one of a long line of Farrow women who have gradually gone mad, June knows the curse is coming for her too. June’s mother Susanna succumbed to the madness just after June’s birth and the whole town still talks about Susanna’s unexplained disappearance . . . just one of many Farrow casualties.

When June begins experiencing strange visions at the age of thirty-four, she’s disturbed but not surprised. Then her beloved Gran (the woman who raised her) dies, leaving a string of clues that bring more questions than answers. Could this be June’s opportunity to end the family curse for good? The next time a mysterious door appears—the door that June had previously passed off as a hallucination—June crosses the threshold into a past she could never have imagined, with some familiar faces but a new life that is destined to haunt her dreams.

This incredible time travel story is a tale of mystery, suspense, romance, and the search for identity. We follow June as she comes to terms with her own fate and the role she may play in her destiny, and along the way we are treated to a heartwarming story of family, loyalty, and courage. The magical realism portions of the story are complicated and initially confusing, but answers materialize as the story spirals towards an unforgettable resolution. This magical tale that reads like historical fiction deserves so much more attention than it has received, and it is in my Top Five books so far this year. Perfect for fans of The Ten Thousand Doors of January or Starling House (but without that book’s horror!).

My Rating: 5 Stars // Book Format: Kindle

Have you read any of these titles? I’d love to hear your thoughts! And please share what YOU have been reading this summer!

Get In Touch