I’ve been subscribed to Book of the Month since… the end of 2016, I think? and I’ve been slowly breaking up with them for the past year or so. Even though I skip most months I have yet to pull the trigger and cancel my subscription, but I think it’s going to happen very soon. I’ve become increasingly frustrated with them over the years: their selection is appealing to me less and less (I feel like there was a lot more literary fiction when I joined than there is now), subscription price has gone up, the physical quality of their books has gone down, and they now charge you for the month if you forget to click ‘skip’ which is frankly ridiculous and a really insidious way to hold subscribers hostage for longer than they’re interested.
But I do still have a fondness for BOTM; it’s the only book subscription service I’ve ever used, and I enjoy the simplicity of it (I like watching unboxings but all the swag in OwlCrate and whatnot stresses me out; if I could have a subscription that did literary fiction and tea, maybe with the occasional mug, I would be very happy). And waking up on the first of every month and looking at the selection will never not give me a thrill (except now they announce it randomly like two and a half days beforehand so there’s always a bit of a panic when I realize the list has been up for a few days and I’ve been wasting time by not selecting anything, but I digress).
I realize that most posts that specifically talk about a service tend to be more positive than this, so I realize this hasn’t been the best opening for BOTM-enthusiasts, but I just wanted to be honest about my experiences, which have ultimately been mixed over the years. I’d love to hear from you if you also subscribe to BOTM, whether you have the same frustrations that I do or whether you’re still happy with what they provide.
I’ve purchased 28 books through Book of the Month over the years, and of those, I’ve read 19. That leaves 9 that are still on my TBR. I wanted to take a look at those now to hopefully inspire myself to pick these up sooner rather than later.
Going chronologically from publication date, with summaries from Goodreads in italics and my own thoughts below:
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.
It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.
When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”
Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.
And someone is hunting him.
This is a textbook case of ‘the hype made me do it’. Science fiction really isn’t my thing, but I feel like I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, enough that I ended up adding this as an extra to one of my boxes a while back. I still haven’t gotten around to picking it up (obviously), but I do still have FOMO about this one and want to pick it up before the end of the year.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.
But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.
I actually remember vividly that none of the selections appealed to me the month I chose this, but I had just been in the mood to buy a book. So, here we are. Of this entire list, this is the one that I’m most likely to unhaul without reading it, but the completionist in me shudders at the thought. We’ll see. If you loved this, convince me to read it!
Still Lives by Maria Hummel
Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others—and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.
As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances. Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala. Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.
I have heard… almost nothing positive about this book, but the combination of feminism and art history in its blurb convinced me that it was something I was going to love. I don’t remain quite as convinced at this point, but I do want to read this as Hummel is a local (Vermont) author.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it’s so unnerving that she’s arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart. The magazine where she worked has folded, and the college where her husband had tenure has closed. The dilapidated house is also home to her ailing and cantankerous Greek father-in-law and her two grown children: her stubborn, free-spirited daughter, Tig, and her dutiful debt-ridden, ivy educated son, Zeke, who has arrived with his unplanned baby in the wake of a life-shattering development.
In an act of desperation, Willa begins to investigate the history of her home, hoping that the local historical preservation society might take an interest and provide funding for its direly needed repairs. Through her research into Vineland’s past and its creation as a Utopian community, she discovers a kindred spirit from the 1880s, Thatcher Greenwood.
A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new theory recently published by Charles Darwin. Thatcher’s friendships with a brilliant woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor draw him into a vendetta with the town’s most powerful men. At home, his new wife and status-conscious mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his financial worries and the news that their elegant house is structurally unsound.
It would be a stretch to say that I’m a massive Kingsolver fan since I’ve only ever read The Poisonwood Bible, but I did really love that. I actually only picked this up because I was convinced that it was going to be a strong contender for the Women’s Prize longlist: obviously that did not happen. Unsheltered has been polarizing, but I remain curious about it.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….
I have a rule that I don’t read thrillers written by men (I find that poorly written female protagonists and using sexual assault as a plot point both occur much less frequently in female-authored thrillers; yes, I’m aware this is a generalization, sue me), but I’m breaking that rule twice in this list. Further down it’s a favorite author who I discovered before I implemented my female-author-only thriller rule, and here’s in because this book sounds absolutely marvelous. It’s a loose retelling of Euripides’ Alcestis, a play and a story that I adore, so I am very curious to see how Michaelides has interpreted it here.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, he makes one last request of his Chinese houseboy: that Ren find his severed finger, lost years ago in an accident, and reunite it with his body. Ren has 49 days, or else his master’s soul will roam the earth, unable to rest in peace.
Ji Lin always wanted to be a doctor, but as a girl in 1930s Malaysia, apprentice dressmaker is a more suitable occupation. Secretly, though, Ji Lin also moonlights as a dancehall girl to help pay off her beloved mother’s Mahjong debts. One night, Ji Lin’s dance partner leaves her with a gruesome souvenir: a severed finger. Convinced the finger is bad luck, Ji Lin enlists the help of her erstwhile stepbrother to return it to its rightful owner.
As the 49 days tick down, and a prowling tiger wreaks havoc on the town, Ji Lin and Ren’s lives intertwine in ways they could never have imagined. Propulsive and lushly written, The Night Tiger explores colonialism and independence, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry and first love. Braided through with Chinese folklore and a tantalizing mystery, this novel is a page-turner of the highest order.
Historical fiction set in East Asia is one of my favorite things to read, and I don’t think I’ve read anything set in Malaysia before. The magical realism element… makes me a bit nervous, but I ultimately decided to bite the bullet and give this one a try, since I just find the premise so intriguing.
The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer
In 1940, Varian Fry—a Harvard-educated American journalist—traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of imperiled artists and writers he hoped to rescue within a few weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in France for thirteen months, working under the veil of a legitimate relief organization to procure false documents, amass emergency funds, and set up an underground railroad that led over the Pyrenees, into Spain, and finally to Lisbon, where the refugees embarked for safer ports. Among his many clients were Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall.
My biggest interest outside of the bookish world is art history, so I was never going to be able to resist this premise. World War II fatigue aside, I think this sounds incredible, and I’ve heard some really amazing things about it. I’m a bit intimidated by the length, but I shouldn’t be!
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.
I barely know what this is about but I think I’ve been told to read it four times this week alone. Alright, I give in!
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.
As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.
Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.
I haven’t even read the summary that I just copied and pasted here but in my opinion Riley Sager is one of the best thriller writers working today. Final Girls is arguably my favorite-ever thriller, and though I wasn’t quite as enamored with The Last Time I Lied overall, I couldn’t put it down and I thought the final twist was all kinds of brilliant. So regardless of what this newest offering is actually about, I cannot wait to dive into it.
So, that’s that! Have you read any of these books, and if so, which would you recommend that I pick up straight away? If you haven’t, are you interested in any? And have you ever subscribed to Book of the Month, and what are your thoughts on their subscription service? Do you have other [adult lit] book subscription services you’d recommend? Let me know all your thoughts!