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I can’t quite use the term “maternity leave” since I’m self-employed, but I was able to take some time off once my second daughter, Harriet, was born. During those early postpartum months I definitely did not read much (or sleep!), but I did manage to squeeze in a few good books.
Here are the books that kept me company in my sleep-deprived state.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
Content warnings: EDs; OCD; schizophrenia; alcoholism; PTSD; sexual, religious, psychological, and emotional abuse
Yes, this one is as shocking at the title suggests. Most of the books I read after Harriet was born were light, fluffy rom-coms. But wow—this is not that. I’m Glad My Mom Died was one of the most riveting, heartbreaking celebrity memoirs I’ve ever read. I really think Jennette McCurdy is a talented writer.
I’m fascinated by child stardom and the family dynamics beneath the surface. If you’re a sensitive reader, definitely look up your content warnings for this one—there are a lot. I’m actually shocked I gravitated toward this in my “fourth” trimester when emotions and hormones are all over the place.
Here’s the synopsis:
A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
I’m Glad My Mom Died was published on August 9, 2022, from Simon & Schuster.
Flying Solo by Linda Holmes
Content warnings: Death of a relative (past)
There’s a bit of mystery and humor thrown in, which is ultimately why I think Linda Holmes is the queen of the rom-com. Her real strength is dialogue and family dynamics. It always feels so spot on. Flying Solo didn’t blow me away (pun intended)—and I think Evvie still has my heart—but I really enjoyed it.
Here’s the synopsis:
Smarting from her recently cancelled wedding and about to turn forty, Laurie Sassalyn returns to her Maine hometown of Calcasset to handle the estate of her great-aunt Dot, a spirited adventurer who lived to be ninety. Along with boxes of Polaroids and pottery, a mysterious wooden duck shows up at the bottom of a cedar chest. Laurie’s curiosity is piqued, especially after she finds a love letter to the never-married Dot that ends with the line, “And anyway, if you’re ever desperate, there are always ducks, darling.”
Laurie is told that the duck has no financial value. But after it disappears under suspicious circumstances, she feels compelled to figure out why anyone would steal a wooden duck—and why Dot kept it hidden away in the first place. Suddenly Laurie finds herself swept up in a righteous caper that has her negotiating with antiques dealers and con artists, going on after-hours dates at the local library, and reconnecting with her oldest friend and first love. Desperate to uncover her great-aunt’s secrets, Laurie must reckon with her past, her future, and ultimately embrace her own vision of flying solo.
A woman returns to her small Maine hometown, uncovering family secrets that take her on a journey of self-discovery and new love, in this warm and charming novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Flying Solo was published on June 14, 2022, from Ballantine Books.
I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown
Content warnings: Alcoholism, addiction, kidnapping, drug abuse, infertility, body shaming
As a twin myself, I will pretty much read any book about twins, especially suspense fiction. I was pretty captivated by I’ll Be You, and the dual timeline was well done. There’s a pretty heavy cult theme in this book, which a lot of readers didn’t love. But I thought it was fascinating. This was also the second book I read about child stardom!
I will say, I have a hard time categorizing I’ll Be You as a thriller—in my opinion, it’s more women’s fiction/domestic suspense fiction—but I think if you go into it with the right expectations, it’s an entertaining read.
Here’s the synopsis:
Two identical twin sisters and former child actors have grown apart—until one disappears, and the other is forced to confront the secrets they’ve kept from each other in this twisty thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Things.
“You be me, and I’ll be you,” I whispered.
As children, Sam and Elli were two halves of a perfect whole: Gorgeous identical twins whose parents sometimes couldn’t even tell them apart. They fell asleep to the sound of each other’s breath at night, holding hands in the dark. And once Hollywood discovered them, they became B-list child TV stars, often inhabiting the same role.
But as adults their lives have splintered. After leaving acting, Elli reinvented herself as the perfect homemaker: Married to a real-estate lawyer, in a house two blocks from the beach. Meanwhile, Sam has never recovered from her failed Hollywood career, or from her addiction to the pills and booze that have propped her up for the last 15 years.
Sam hasn’t spoken to her sister since her destructive behavior finally drove a wedge between them. So when her father calls out of the blue, Sam is shocked to learn that Elli’s life has been in turmoil: Her husband moved out, and Elli just adopted a two-year-old girl. Now she’s stopped answering her phone and checked in to a mysterious spa in Ojai. Is her sister just decompressing, or is she in trouble? Could she have possibly joined a cult? As Sam works to connect the dots left by Elli’s baffling disappearance, she realizes that the bond between her and her sister is more complicated than she ever knew.
I’ll Be You shows Janelle Brown at the top of her game: a story packed with surprising revelations and sharp insights about the choices that define our families and our lives—and could just as easily destroy them.
I’ll Be You was published on April 26, 2022, from Random House.
Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne
Content warnings: Murder, grief, death of a parent (past)
It’s been sooo long since I’ve read YA! Pretty Dead Queens was a fun thriller that “scratched that itch,” but I wouldn’t say it was anything super spectacular. I thought it was entertaining enough if not somewhat predictable, but I still enjoyed it.
I loved the premise—didn’t care too much about the characters—but Pretty Dead Queens was still a page-turner.
Here’s the synopsis:
Seaview High’s homecoming queen is dead . . . and she’s not the first. From the critically acclaimed author of The Ivies comes a nonstop thriller about a decades-old mystery, a copycat killing, and the teen who won’t stop until she discovers the truth.
After the death of her mom (screw cancer), seventeen-year-old Cecelia Ellis goes to live with her estranged grandmother, a celebrated author whose Victorian mansion is as creepy as the murder mysteries she writes. On the surface, life is utterly ordinary in the California coastal town . . . until the homecoming queen is murdered. And she’s not Seaview’s first pretty dead queen.
With a copycat killer on the loose, Cecelia throws herself into the investigation, determined to crack the case like the heroines in her grandmother’s books. But the more Cecelia digs into the town’s secrets, the more she worries that her own mystery might not have a storybook ending.
Pretty Dead Queens was published on October 4, 2022, from Crown.
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
Content warnings: Death of a parent (past), grief, pregnancy, family pressure
So I started Book Lovers on bed rest when I was about thirty-two weeks pregnant. It took me forever to finish—not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I was, ya know, having a baby.
Book Lovers had all the ingredients I love in a good rom-com: cute banter, hilarious main character, sweet sister friendship, quirky small town—and of course, book love! This one was pretty hyped when I started reading it, but I’m happy to report the hype was spot on for me.
Here’s the synopsis:
One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming. . . .
Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.
Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.
If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
Book Lovers was published on May 3, 2022, from Berkley.
The Love of My Life by Rosie Walsh
Content warnings: Adoption, mental illness, postpartum depression, infidelity, infertility
If you’ve heard our interview with Rosie from back in the No Thanks We’re Booked podcast days, you know I’m a big fan. I thought her book Ghosted was so much fun, and The Love of My Life didn’t disappoint, either.
It definitely deals with some pretty heavy topics, e.g., adoption, mental illness, death and grief, et cetera. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I think I was more emotionally invested in Ghosted.
Here’s the synopsis:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Ghosted comes a love story wrapped in a mystery: an up-all-night page-turner with a dark secret at its core
I have held you at night for ten years and I didn’t even know your name. We have a child together. A dog, a house.
Who are you?
Emma loves her husband Leo and their young daughter Ruby: she’d do anything for them. But almost everything she’s told them about herself is a lie.
And she might just have got away with it, if it weren’t for her husband’s job. Leo is an obituary writer; Emma a well-known marine biologist. When she suffers a serious illness, Leo copes by doing what he knows best—researching and writing about his wife’s life. But as he starts to unravel the truth, he discovers the woman he loves doesn’t really exist. Even her name isn’t real.
When the very darkest moments of Emma’s past finally emerge, she must somehow prove to Leo that she really is the woman he always thought she was . . .
But first, she must tell him about the other love of her life.
The Love of My Life was published on March 1, 2022, by Pamela Dorman Books.
Nora Goes Off Script by Annabel Monaghan
Content warnings: Divorce, infidelity, loss of a parent (mentioned)
Nora Goes Off Script really surprised me. It’s very sweet with a slow-moving romance and lovable characters. The conflict wasn’t really convincing for me about halfway through the book. But for a light and fluffy read, Nora Goes Off Script is delightful.
Here’s the synopsis:
Nora’s life is about to get a rewrite . . .
Nora Hamilton knows the formula for love better than anyone. As a romance channel screenwriter, it’s her job. But when her too-good-to work husband leaves her and their two kids, Nora turns her marriage’s collapse into cash and writes the best script of her life. No one is more surprised than her when it’s picked up for the big screen and set to film on location at her 100-year-old-home. When former Sexiest Man Alive, Leo Vance, is cast as her ne’er do well husband Nora’s life will never be the same.
The morning after shooting wraps and the crew leaves, Nora finds Leo on her porch with a half-empty bottle of tequila and a proposition. He’ll pay a thousand dollars a day to stay for a week. The extra seven grand would give Nora breathing room, but it’s the need in his eyes that makes her say yes. Seven days: it’s the blink of an eye or an eternity depending on how you look at it. Enough time to fall in love. Enough time to break your heart.
Filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, Nora Goes Off Script is the best kind of love story—the real kind where love is complicated by work, kids, and the emotional baggage that comes with life. For Nora and Leo, this kind of love is bigger than the big screen.
Nora Goes Off Script was published on June 7, 2022, from G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
I also read a few other books that were good but couldn’t hold my attention for whatever reason, including Upgrade by Blake Crouch and Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. I’m chalking it up to wrong place, wrong time. Like my hormones, my reading tastes can’t be trusted in this sleep-deprived state!
Books in busy seasons
As you can tell, a lot of the books keeping me company haven’t been life changing.
But they have given me what I’ve needed during my early newborn days, whether that was something to keep me awake while pumping or something to listen to while I washed bottles. And I’m really looking forward to my most anticipated new releases of 2023!
I love that motherhood, for me, is marked by my reading life. I’m thankful to the publishers that have sent me advanced reader copies or new releases. What a joy, this bookish life.
These are books I read with a new baby. What have been some of your favorite books to read in busy seasons?