M.J. Stark’s life is picture-perfect—she has her dream job as a magazine editor, a sexy doctor boyfriend, and a glamorous life in New York City. But behind her success, there is a debilitating sense of loneliness. So when her boss betrays her and her boyfriend offers her a completely new life in California, she trades her cashmere for caftans and gives it a try. Once there, M.J. is left to fend for herself in a small beach town, with only the company of her elderly neighbor, Gloria, and an ocean that won’t shut up.
One afternoon, M.J. discovers that Gloria has suddenly moved to Paris with her friends to honor a fifty-year-old pact. And in lieu of a goodbye, she’s left a mysterious invitation to a secret club—one that only reads erotic books. Curious, M.J. accepts and meets the three other hand-selected club members. As they bond over naughty bestsellers and the shocking letters they inherited from the original club members, the four strangers start to divulge the intimate details of their own lives… and as they open up, they learn that friendship might just be the key to rewriting their own stories: all they needed was to find each other first.
In the wake of her family’s deaths, M.J. Stark has buried herself in her work. To be sure, she has risen to the top of her field and is in line for a HUGE promotion, but there’s more to life than just work. Or so her seriously long-distance boyfriend keeps telling her. With no intentions of significantly altering her life beyond the promotion, M.J. is blown away when the promotion offer is not at all what she expected or worked for. In a moment of pure rage, M.J. quits her job and leaves he beloved NYC for a sunny beach town in California.
Domesticity isn’t all M.J. thought it would be, and though she enjoys (not loves!) being with her boyfriend, she doesn’t enjoy being bored and having to face her real life when she’s alone. As she is struggling to adjust to her new reality, M.J. meets her somewhat eccentric neighbor, Gloria who opens up almost instantly about her life and best friends. With Gloria nearby, M.J. is certain she can make her new life work, and then, one day, with nothing more than a note, Gloria is gone and M.J. is utterly lost. Except, Gloria’s note came with more than an abrupt goodbye, it also came with an invitation to join an exclusive club, a club that has, over the decades saved Gloria’s life and sanity on more than one occasion.
To have a club, there has to be more than one member and M.J. quickly finds herself in a private room with three other somewhat lost ladies, each hand-picked by one of the original club members. The rules of the club are simple, be open, honest, and supportive of one another, tell no one outside of the club about the club, and be prepared to read and discuss a dirty book at each month’s meeting. While the rules seem simple and clear, the women chosen to carry on this next version of the club are anything but simple. M.J. is floundering in both her personal and professional life, Britt is a highly successful real estate agent stuck in a marriage she isn’t sure is at all viable any longer, Jules is a supremely naïve matchmaker whose husband is absent more than he’s present, and Addie is a bold and brash nurse who wants nothing more than to get the hell out of town. Their personalities are disparate, their lives are complicated, and they each have no idea if they can trust the others gathered. All that’s left to do is follow the rules and choose a dirty book to read 😊
As the weeks and months go by, each woman is profoundly affected by her individual and club life. As individuals, the women experience a huge range of ups and downs, betrayals and successes. As club members, they learn to trust one another with their fears and troubles, hopes and dreams. While the friendships don’t necessarily form quickly, they are strong friendships designed to last a lifetime. As each new book is read and discussed, the new members/friends are also directed to read a letter left by one of the original club members. The letters as much as the secrets and books bond the new club members, and help them to truly understand the history and intention of The Dirty Book Club. Turns out, their predecessors were right . . . . about a lot of things!
The Bottom Line: The Dirty Book Club had such an intriguing synopsis, I immediately wanted to read it, and then I damn-near DNF’d it thanks to how truly unlikeable M.J. is. Though I never changed my opinion of M.J., I am so glad I didn’t give up on this book. The other three women, Addie, Britt, and Jules more than made up for M.J. and I became completely invested in the story. Each woman has so many issues, issues that would likely crush an individual, but are more easily dealt with when there are friends to support you. The Dirty Book Club is about so much more than a group of women reading erotic novels. The Dirty Book Club is about friendship, trust, companionship, strength, love, the trials and tribulations of life, and the successes that come when there is a strong support system in place. While the lives of the new generation are certainly interesting, it is in the letters of the original members that I found the most enjoyment in this read. The weaving of the past and present is one of my favorite tropes, and The Dirty Book Club certainly delivers on this front. There are a few surprises along the way that really liven up the story and keep the reader guessing. In all, a delightful standalone!