Which books are worth the read and which should you skip? Find out what books I’ve been reading lately and whether I recommend them.
You know that feeling when you look at the calendar and realize the year is almost over and you haven’t finished all the things you meant to do (or read)?
I swear it happens every year. I start the year with good intentions and resolutions. Then December rolls around and I realize I haven’t finished my own Reading Challenge! Plus I have a stack of books I promised I would finish this year, that I still haven’t touched.
My December reading list clearly shows my juxtaposition between finishing off backlist books and covering upcoming 2023 releases. Luckily, I seem to be ending the year on a high note: a January 2023 release that had me laughing harder than any book has made me laugh probably since I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.
December Reading List
When Ann Stillwell gets a summer job working for The Cloisters, a gothic museum studying divination, she finds she enjoys researching the history of fortune-telling and tarot cards. As Ann gets caught up in the drama of The Cloisters, she finds a 15th-century deck of tarot cards that may actually tell the future. Desperate to make an academic breakthrough, Ann must decide who she can trust and how far she is willing to go to make her name in the world.
I’ve been seeing Read with Jenna’s book club praise this book up and down social media, and I just don’t get the hype. Admittedly, Hays does a great job painting the perfect dark academia setting. However, the story itself was glacially slow, full of unlikeable characters whose motives didn’t really make sense. Unless you are obsessed with academia, I’d skip this overrated bestseller.
Five years ago, Geeta’s no-good husband simply walked away and she never heard from him again. However, in her small Indian village, the rumor persists that Geeta killed him. Geeta doesn’t mind since no one wants to mess with a black widow. Until women start asking Geeta for advice on how to off their own husbands and they won’t take no for an answer.
It’s been a long time since a book made me laugh this hard. Shroff’s dark sense of humor eases the very weighty topic of gender expectations and limitations in Indian society. Heartwarming and hilarious all at once, The Bandit Queens has a well-rounded story and witty characters that make for an enjoyable, yet thought-provoking, read. Easily five stars from me (though be warned it has some language), I’ll be shocked if one of the celebrity book clubs doesn’t choose it in January.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ballantine Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
A year ago, Isabelle Drake’s life was dramatically changed when her toddler was taken while she and her husband slept in the next room. Once a sleepwalker but now suffering from crippling insomnia, Isabelle is obsessed with finding Mason. When she turns to a true crime podcaster for help, Isabelle begins to doubt her memories and worries that she might have been responsible.
Stacy Willingham’s sophomore novel is an excellent domestic thriller, even better than her debut. With plenty of red herrings and great twists, All the Dangerous Things will keep you gripped to the page, never knowing which character you can trust. Even better, the character development is top-notch. Full of nuanced women, the story shows so many facets of motherhood, both good and bad.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Minotaur Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In a wealthy New England neighborhood, the death of Eden Perry puts the residents under the spotlight. Quickly, suspicions fall upon the three teenagers Eden was partying with – sweet but unstable Hannah, popular bully Jack, and outsider Christopher. When Christoper is arrested, the parents turn on each other, willing to risk anything for their kids.
Amidon’s domestic thriller is more of a family drama than thriller, feeling like a less-satisfying version of Liane Moriarty’s popular books. Locust Lane focuses solely on the parents, each desperately trying to protect their own, causing the truth to get tangled up and lost. However, the fractured storytelling with so many point-of-views resulted in a lot of backtracking, slowing the pace too much.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Celadon Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Forget hustle harder and work smarter. What women really want are lives of fulfillment. Jenna Kutcher, the host of the popular Goal Digger podcast, teaches that instead of trying to have it all, you should be striving for a work/life balance that lets you actually enjoy your life. Kutcher wants you to understand who you are, and to help you build a support system that will enable you to build a life full of success, joy, and time to enjoy it.
I’ve listed to the Goal Digger podcast on and off for years, so I was curious to see what Jenna Kutcher had to say in her new book. Instead of getting into online marketing, helps you remember that success is more than just a number on a spreadsheet. Advocating for constant check-ins, Kutcher knows that what you think you want isn’t always what you really want. Although I appreciated the mindset approach, I was hoping for more expert-level marketing expertise similar to her podcast.
Ana Montes was one of the US government’s top experts on Cuba, working her way up the ranks to the Defense Intelligence Agency. The daughter of an Army Colonel, Ana’s family was full of patriots; her siblings were FBI agents, and her sister Lucy was responsible for hunting out Cuban spies. Yet, even Lucy was shocked when, in the days after 9/11, Ana was arrested as a secret agent for Cuba. With Ana Montes’s release from prison scheduled in January 2023, Jim Popkin details the opposite routes two sisters took and how one turned into the most-damaging spy against America.
Who knew the story of the most deadly spy in US History could be so completely and utterly boring? With stilted writing full of cliches, Code Name Blue Wren was more informative than interesting. Popkin failed to add any force behind his writing, and I finally gave up at the 25% mark, realizing that the writing would never improve enough for me to care about this book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harlequin Trade Publishing through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
For years, whispers about how he treats women have followed Ames as he has moved up the corporate ladder at TruViv, Inc. Working alongside Ames, Sloane, Ardie, and Grace each have their own perceptions of him. When the CEO dies, the board is eyeing Ames for promotion and the three women are eying him for another reason: his inappropriate advances toward a new hire. At what point is enough, enough?
Although there is an overarching suspicious death investigation, I’d classify Whisper Network as a drama more than a thriller. I liked how Baker tackled the #MeToo movement (and loved her author’s note), showcasing some of the gray areas and hesitations when it comes to reporting workplace conduct. However, the unique formatting slowed the story way down, making this slow-burn mystery a little too slow for my taste.
Brand marketing expert Kubi Springer teaches you what it takes to build your own unforgettable personal brand. Covering everything branding from colors and logo, your purpose and target audiences, and marketing campaigns and budgets, Springer’s advice is for those who want to make big impacts, whether individuals in a corporation, small business owners, or even large business marketers. With solid advice, Springer conveys her expertise in concise and understandable language free of cliche business jargon.
I randomly picked up I Am My Brand at Barnes & Noble, thinking it would help me become a better Instagram influencer. Springer’s book is not about being an influencer, it’s a legit brand marketing that was more in-depth than I was expecting. Although I don’t think I’m quite at a high enough level to really benefit from her advice, I did find the mindset and purpose chapters insightful and will be referring back to her book as my business grows.
In a Middle Eastern country on the brink of civil war, fierce Nadia and gentle Saeed begin a romance, nestled securely in love as the city erupts around them. As violence escalates, they begin to hear rumors of doors with the ability to whisk you away to another part of the world. Yet as the world changes, so do Nadia and Saeed. With just a hint of magical realism, Exit West is a unique work of literary fiction that provokes more thoughts than emotions. Hamid dispassionately tells a tale of desperately clinging to the past while trying to forge a new future.
When you google the best books for bloggers, Ruth Soukup’s classic is generally the first result. Speaking to new bloggers, Soukup gives advice on content marketing, using social media and improving the visual appearance of your blog. In her updated third edition, she heavily focuses on blogging methods with a high return on investment – advertising vs affiliate marketing vs selling your own products.
In 2019, I purchased the 2nd edition of Ruth Soukup’s blogging book just weeks before she dropped the 3rd edition, so it was interesting to be able to compare the two. In her previous edition, Soukup focused more on specific techniques, many of which have gone out of date. (I’m looking at you, Pinterest!). However, her 3rd edition is more timeless, helping beginner bloggers understand the big picture of how to really be profitable (think more products and fewer ads).
Soukup’s book is aimed at beginner bloggers, which after five years of blogging, I am not. I will say all of her advice is solid, and even though it’s all the stuff I already knew I needed to work on, reading How to Blog for Profit again left me with a long list of things to work on.
With their dark cloaks and shadowy ways, the Rangers have always terrified Will. Some say they practice magic that makes them invisible. When Will is chosen as a Ranger’s apprentice, he finds they are the protectors of the kingdom, and the kingdom desperately needs protecting. For the exiled Morgorath is amassing forces to retake the kingdom in this fun series of fantasy novels for younger young adults.
My 11-year-old son is obsessed with the Ranger Apprentice series, so he was ecstatic when I asked to borrow the first book from him. The series kicks off with The Ruins of Gorlan, a very short read that was really fun despite being full of predictably common tropes. Aimed at a younger audience, The Ruins of Gorlan makes for an excellent entry into the series. Because it’s very short, you can test and see if your kid will like it. And if they end up loving it, there are about 30 more books they can read and enjoy.
After three witches prophesy that he will be King of Scotland, Macbeth, a respected general, sets out to seek the foretold power. At the urging of his wife, Macbeth kills King Duncan and becomes King. Yet when others begin to question him, Macbeth commits more and more murders, turning into a tyrant and leading to a civil war.
I think I was in high school the last time I read Macbeth. I found the play a captivating story about power (cue the 2023 Reading Challenge prompt!). One thing that really impressed me was how many famous books got their titles from Macbeth. I mean, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and The Sound and the Fury are titles from the exact same paragraph.
James Joyce pushed 1920s literature to new levels with this classic book. With a story loosely based on The Odyssey, Ulysses captures a single day of ordinary Dubliners in 1904, using experimental technique, lyricism, and vulgarity to make it a ground-breaking work.
Ulysses is the kind of book that I think only English majors read. Surprisingly, the stream-of-consciousness writing worked in some of the earlier segments but then got overwhelmingly hard to read. Although Ulysses is often cited as the best classic ever written, I will definitely be removing it from my list of 100 classics to read in your lifetime. Read it if you want, but I don’t think it’s for everyone … or even most people.
I always seem to have multiple books going at once. Here’s a peek at what I’m currently reading.
My To-Read List
What’s up next for me? Before I let you go, here are a few of the titles I’m hoping to get through this upcoming month.
Be sure to come back next month to see which ones I read.
Which Books Did You Read in December?
What books did you love this month? Which books can you not wait to read? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Book Lists to Enjoy: