It has been over six weeks since the temperatures outside have been above 40 degrees. I don’t think we’ve ever had that long of a cold snap that just lasts and lasts and lasts. This has absolutely been the most unusual winter I can ever remember…and we haven’t even hit our snowiest, wettest, or coldest months yet. On the bright side, I’ve been reading lots of great books which really helps me care less about what’s going on outside!
Hello Beautiful (an upcoming release) and The Road (a backlist book) were the real standouts this month, with Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, being my favorite nonfiction book of the month.
- Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano – Here’s my first five star book of 2023, and boy did I fall hard for the Padavano family and William Waters! When William was young, his family was struck by tragedy. From that moment on, he lived in near silence as his parents completely pulled away from him. Basketball was the only respite he had and eventually gained a scholarship to play in college. There, he meets Julia, one of four sisters, who immediately plans their futures out together. From this point, I don’t want to give too much away, but the themes of love, acceptance, healing, and forgiveness make this complicated situation one that you won’t forget. I was absolutely blown away by the unconditional love that was presented in this story – and could only wish all families knew how to do this – especially with their in-laws. It was a gorgeous portrayal of acceptance. Napolitano is masterful at the slow burn…but part of that slowness comes from her incredible character development. She deep dives into the essence of her characters and reveals them in stunning layers. By the end, you’re left with a deep appreciation of everything that makes them who they are. You can’t help but become invested in their thoughts, feelings, actions – their lives. I was hesitant going in because I wasn’t a fan of Dear Edward (Napolitano’s debut), but she gut-punched me with this one. There is literally one line in the book that took my breath away, brought tears to my eyes, and made me actually hug the book! I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the impact of a single sentence like that before. This one comes out March 14, 2023, so get your preorders in now!
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy – I feel like I either tried to read this one years ago, or I did and I just don’t remember it. I’m glad I gave it a second chance though because it really hit me hard. Yes, it’s bleak. It’s dark. It’s horribly heartbreaking. It follows two survivors – an unnamed man and his son – as they travel through an absolute wasteland of destruction that’s covered in ash. They’re foraging for food and trying their best to avoid other gangs of cannibals. At this point in time, these two are almost as afraid of living as they are of dying. I think the parent perspective is what hit me the hardest. I tend to think I’ll be one of the first people to volunteer to die in a post apocalyptic scenario like this, but I also know if either of my two children are still alive, I will have no choice but to continue to do my best to protect them at all costs. And that’s what this father did for his son – continued to scavenge for food and provide hope to a kid that doesn’t quite have the awareness of the full picture like his dad did. The last few pages absolutely gutted me…and I can’t stop thinking about what happened next.
- Spare by Prince Harry * – After finishing Spare yesterday, I am filled with SO MANY THOUGHTS; I think I could write a book with everything I want to say! First, it’s very, very clear that Prince Harry has struggled most of his life with intense grief and trauma. It totally broke my heart how he and his brother’s emotions and grief around the loss of Princess Diana were largely ignored. They were so young and it made me wonder how different things could have been now, had someone recognized their need for therapy and help then. Would the brothers’ relationship been better? Would Harry not have had to seek validation elsewhere and been able to find peace with his birthright? In my opinion, the PTSD surrounding the British media and his instant response to the sound of a shutter clicking was only exasperated by his relationship with Meghan Markle…which ultimately led to the split within the Royals. I personally don’t think Meghan is to blame – I think the media’s obsession with her and Harry was a catalyst, and Harry is so fearful of one of his family members being hunted down like his mom. It hurts my heart how it seems as if no one in his family can see or understand that. While I don’t think you ever fully heal from grief, it seems like Harry is in a good place now. I’ve watched the interviews, specifically the Steven Colbert one, and he is as charming as ever. I know the Royals would like me to think Harry is a petulant, whiny, ungrateful spare – now 6th in line – but the more I see him, the more I adore him. Sure, there are a few things I could say if I wanted to, but overwhelmingly, he (and, spoiler alert: Meghan) have won me over!
- All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers * – Twenty years ago, Margot’s best friend was murdered. The case was never solved, and for the most part, life moved on. But when Margot moves back home to care for her ailing uncle, another girl is found murdered and Margot, a recently fired journalist, can’t help but wonder if the two cases are somehow linked. Through twists and turns, I thought I knew all along who the murderer was – and then I thought I was even proven right! – only to be twisted again in a direction I truly didn’t see coming. I really liked this debut book written by the host of the podcast, Crime Junkie. I thought her writing was engaging and compelling. Given the author’s personal interest in the JonBenet Ramsey case, there are a lot of references to that which I was totally interested in as that case happened just 45 minutes away from where I grew up. I loved those tie-ins and it help me to invest more fully in the story. The only complaint I have is that the ending is very abrupt – it almost felt like there were missing pages from my book! I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but this one literally felt like something got left out. There were some loose ends I just would have preferred being addressed and tied up! Truly though, this was a strong debut that I would definitely recommend!
- Still Life by Sarah Winman – With themes of unconditional love, found family, and Italian food and culture, this is a lyrical and beautiful story. From the first pages, I knew that Ulysses was going to be a character to remember forever – just like Cyril from THIF, Jude from ALL, and Evelyn from TSHOEH. For me, he definitely made the book, but the supporting cast members – Evelyn, Peg, Alys, Col, Cressy, Pete, and more – were also quite wonderful. Throughout the story, I felt a desire to book a trip to Italy as soon as possible. Winman described with such eloquence that it felt like I was there – that I could taste the food and wine and smell the cypress trees on the breeze. Even though these descriptions felt a little over done at times, if I were in a slower place of life, I would have relished in them for awhile! Spanning many, many years, this book was a historical lesson – a nostalgic trip through 20th century Europe. For the most part, I fell in love with it. I would have preferred a little less length and I really wish there would have been quotation marks used…and for those small reasons it wasn’t quite the five star read I was expecting.
- Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel – I think I like what I read?!? For real though, I flew through this one and believe there are layers and layers to unpack. I feel like I got the point, but I also feel like I got a little last in the last pages. What I read and understand was incredible, but I’m just a little hesitant to rave because I do feel like I missed something. Anyway, suffice it to say that I’m glad I read this one even if it maybe really intimidates me. To be honest, I think it’s sort of like my reading experience was with How High We Go in the Dark – can’t really give you a plot summary, I probably missed quite a bit (could really use some Cliff Notes to get the full experience), but also really loved it because of what I think I figured out, because the writing was beautiful and engaging, and it made me think. Sorry I can’t give you a better, or even more detailed, review, but I think most people should give this a try and I think most people will enjoy it. 🤪🤷🏼♀️😬
- Acne by Laura Chinn * – Reminiscent of The Glass Castle, this memoir is about Chinn’s traumatic childhood who struggled with divorced parents, a brother with brain cancer, and exposure to lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol. It always amazes me when people like Chinn can write so candidly about so much trauma. I laughed, I cried, and I ached for this poor teenage girl who was given very little direction from her parents. Often raising herself, she was in so many precarious positions – even dropped out of school because it truly didn’t matter one way or the other if she was even there. Chinn is able to look back on her life and recount various tragedies with the humor of a teenager, somehow lightening what is really tough reading. While I went into her story wondering how she could talk about acne so much, I came out with an appreciation for the power of forgiveness and the resilient nature of humans.
- Finding Me by Viola Davis 🎧 * – I really didn’t know much about Viola Davis before this book. Generally speaking, I’m not really a TV/movie watcher (I’d rather be reading a book), but with so many rave reviews and Top Books of 2022 lists with Finding Me on them, I figured I’d give it a try. And I’m not sorry I did! What makes this book absolutely stand out is the audio – narrated by Viola Davis herself. It is true perfection…and felt like an Oscar-worthy performance that captured me from the very first minutes. Audio is totally the way to go to get completely wrapped up in Viola’s life and experiences! Davis overcame a whole bunch to enjoy the success she now has. She hurdled obstacles, persevered, persisted, and ultimately, triumphed over a life of trauma, poverty, and uncertainty. I feel like she’s gained a fan in me after having read this book!
- Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Adichie lost her father rather quickly at the beginning of the COVID pandemic (his death was not COVID-related). She then wrote this short book (80 pages) that brilliantly portrays grief and the beautiful bond between a father and his daughter. This is a great book for any one who has experienced loss, particularly father-loss.
- Atomic Family by Ciera Horton McElroy * – I absolutely loved how this book took a deep dive into a part of history I have never read about – the Cold War – and made the fear, anxiety, and confusion of that time come alive and jump off the pages. I was fascinated by the things I learned! There were themes of war, propaganda, nuclear threats, and environmental damage due to radiation exposure. As mentioned before, I’ve never read anything on these topics; historical fiction seems to focus quite heavily on WWII, so it was exciting to read about a different era. However, as much as I liked this exploration, there was something lacking in the rest of the book for me. It felt like a much longer book than it actually was (never a good thing) and the characters lacked depth and connection. There were abrupt jumps in the timeline that would catch me off gaurd and require me to refocus my attention which didn’t help the flow of the novel. (I do wonder how much of this is simply due to the digital ARC copy I received – it was jumbled, didn’t have clear headings/transitions, and different font types interspersed with the title in the middle of sentences. Unfortunatley, it really just lent to a difficult and jumbled reading experience.) I feel like McElroy has promise as an author, but the book needed a tighter edit.
- Every Summer After by Carley Fortune * – I trusted y’all! You screamed from the highest mountains and proclaimed your love for this book! It was at the top of all your Top 10 lists…so I gave in, and I read it. This was my first book of 2023, and I was really going for a solid 4⭐️, maybe even a 5⭐️ read to start my year of on a strong note, but sadly, this wasn’t it. 😭 I’m sorry! And I know I’m really in the minority here, but I could not get invested in this story at all. Percy and Sam felt young – so young – that I questioned if this should have been more of a YA book. The “twist” was not revealing or unexpected, and the ending was just too quick, neat, and tidy. There are clearly a lot of rave reviews out there, so don’t simply rely on my opinion!
- The Two Lives of Sara by Catherine Adel West – This book was good enough (plot not so great or engaging, but West’s writing itself is wonderful), until the last 10% which actually ticked me off and made me want to throw it across the room. I really never understood the desire to throw a book across the room until this one. I absolutely HATED/DESPISED Sara’s last choice of the book. No spoilers, but I can’t, no matter how many different angles I try to come at it from, wrap my brain around her decision. I’m mad about it and I’m not sure I can be talked into acceptance. I can say that West’s writing was stellar, just like in her debut novel, Saving Ruby King. She crafts sentences that grip you and glide you along. I don’t have a complaint at all about her talent, and I will definitely read her next book, but I did not like the choice she made with Sara!
12 Friends + 12 Books + 12 Months – We are only a month into 2023, and I have already read three of the books selected for me!
Now for something new I’m trying this year…a monthly stats round-up. More than likely, no one really cares about this like I do, and I’m mostly hoping it’ll be easier to round-up my yearly stats in December.