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.
I can’t believe it’s already time for me to share my monthly book reviews. February being a shorter month always throws me.
My February reading goal was to make a dent in the advanced review copies I have received from publishers. Sometimes publishers send me hard copies of books, but I usually receive e-books for review through NetGalley. And February was the perfect month to read on my Kindle since I spend a week sick with a bad cold and then a week traveling.
This month, my reading ran the gamut from so horrible I could not finish to so compelling I could not put it down. I had three five star reads, a did-not-finish at 40% and a book so boring I should have DNF’d it.
So enjoy my book reviews and, as always, be sure to let me know what books you’ve been reading this month in the comments!
February 2023 Reading List
The second son of King Charles III and his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry has always known he was the spare prince. Traumatized by his mother’s death, Harry struggled to live such a public life, constantly plagued by the ever-hungry paparazzi. In his highly anticipated memoir, Harry discusses his life and his public falling out with the royal family, feeling they did not support his wife enough when she was hounded by the British press.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Spare since I’m not particularly into Royal drama, but I absolutely loved it. I found Harry’s story so compelling that I could not put it down. The shocking family revelations have gotten the most attention, but Spare is mainly about Harry’s lifelong battle with the paparazzi. Harry brilliantly describes the monarchy’s twisted relationship with the press: hating them but also desperately wanting their praises. Harry’s stunning story reminds you that being royalty isn’t a dream come true.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing
Known for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends, at one point, Matthew Perry had the number one tv show and movie at the same time. Yet, while his career was hitting a high, Perry struggled through some of his darkest days. In this candid memoir, Perry discusses his lifelong battle with addiction and the persistence, hope, and friends who helped him along the way.
Perry’s memoir gives you a powerfully intimate look at addiction and its overwhelming power. You can feel Perry’s pain as he constantly tries to escape the feeling of never being enough that drives him throughout his whole life. Yet, the nonlinear timeline made the disjointed narrative hard to follow and I was glad I didn’t listen to the audio version.
Stars in an Italian Sky
In 1946, Vincenzo and Giovana fall desperately in love in Genoa, Italy. Although they come from different worlds, they find themselves inseparable, until politics forces them to choose opposite sides. Now in 2017, Cassandra and Luca are in love although their families don’t get along. When Cass’s grandmother and Luca’s grandfather pose for a painting, a long-buried secret changes everything.
Jill Santopolo’s post-World War II tale was an utterly predictable feel-good story with overly simplistic writing. Santopolo goes into inane detail about everything, yet fails to give any proper depth to any of the characters. Like many historical fiction books with dual timelines, the modern story felt forced. Unless you are in the mood for a mindless cute historical fiction, I’d give this one a pass.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from G. P. Putnam’s Sons through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Writing Retreat
When Alex is invited to attend a month-long writing retreat at the estate of feminist horror writer Roza Vallo, she knows it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Upon arrival, Roza explains that each attendee has a month to write a novel from scratch and the winner will receive a large publishing deal. As strange things begin to happen and one of the writers vanishes in a storm, Alex goes from wanting to be published to wanting to make it out alive.
One of my biggest pet peeves: when the publisher’s description doesn’t prepare you for a book. The previous paragraph is how the publisher describes The Writing Retreat. However, the publisher fails to mention that The Writing Retreat is a spicy sapphic thriller with major horror vibes.
Our protagonist Alex spends the first part of the novel obsessing over Wren, her ex-best friend who ditched her after they hooked up. As Alex gets over her writer’s block, she feels like she is almost channeling the house’s spooky history and her dreams are full of sexy hookups with the other writers.
It doesn’t bother me that The Writing Retreat is a sexy sapphic thriller/horror novel. It bothers me that it isn’t well-advertised as one. If that’s what you want to write, then sing it loud and proud. That way you can pull in readers who would love to read your book. And detract readers, like me, who are looking for something with less steam.
Though, I think I would have still hated this book even with less steam.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Atria Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The London Séance Society
In 1873, spiritualist Vaudeline D’Allaire has made quite the reputation for herself in Paris for conjuring the spirits of murder victims and revealing their killers. Although skeptical, Lenna Wickes has come to Vaudeline for answers to her sister’s death and agrees to become her assistant. When the pair travel to London to help solve a high-profile murder, they suspect they are being used by the killers.
I wanted to like Sarah Penner’s latest after loving The Lost Apothecary, but I just could not get into it. The beginning was terribly slow, with mind-numbingly boring descriptions of Victorian England spiritualism. Although the narrative finally picked up a bit in the middle, I found I didn’t care too much about any of the characters. Although I enjoyed Lenna’s blend of skepticism and desire to believe, I thought Vaudeline was an underdeveloped empty shell and the alternating chapters from Morley’s point of view were grating.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Park Row through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In 1937, Stella North is thrilled to be competing as the only female pilot in Europe’s first air race for young adults. Between Spain’s civil war and the Nazis gaining power, the world is looking for something uplifting to follow. But the competition quickly turns cutthroat when a competitor is killed and each of the pilots has their own dangerous past to hide.
Elizabeth Wein, the author of Code Name Verity, delivers another fun and cute young adult WWII historical fiction novel. Stella makes for an excellent female protagonist: sharp, clever, and confident. I found the descriptions of flying fascinating; they were explainable without being overpowering. The high-action plot and the cute romance keep you flipping pages trying to guess the mystery. Yes, Stateless is a bit over the top, but in a good YA kind of way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Before We Were Innocent
Ten years ago, Bess and Joni spend a summer in Greece with their best friend Evangeline. When Evangeline dies, Bess and Joni find themselves suspects, their brash personalities vilified by the media, but ultimately no charges are filed against them. Since then, Bess has kept the lowest profile possible while Joni has become an outspoken motivational speaker. When Joni’s fiancée disappears, Bess comes out of hiding to support Joni and must face what really happened all those summers ago.
I was immediately drawn into Berman’s captivating story about intense female friendships, for it’s always the ones who know us best who can hurt us the most. Before We Were Innocent is a slow-burn mystery that serves as a fascinating character study. I loved the look at Bess, Joni and Ev’s friendship and the examination of how easily our lives can be cherry-picked to paint us white or black, when we are all shades of grey.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Only Survivors
Ten years ago, on the way back from a high school service project, two vans were in a tragic accident and only nine students survived. Yet none of the survivors feels like a hero, each ashamed of a decision they made that fateful night. Every anniversary since, they have met at a North Carolina beach house to check up on each other. Cassidy Brent has tried to distance herself from the other survivors, but when she finds out one has recently died, she finds herself drawn back in. When the group realizes that someone has been talking, they begin to suspect each other, and Cassidy wonders if one would go to great lengths to keep them all quiet.
The Only Survivors is an excellent slow-burn mystery, emanating a tense atmosphere as Cassidy suspects each classmate in turn. Slowly, Miranda reveals the true story of the accident, exposing how the weight of their secrets has influenced each of their lives. The high-action climax was a bit overdone, but I absolutely loved the final twist in the story. A solid 4 stars for me, The Only Survivors is my new favorite of Megan Miranda’s thrillers.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Scribner through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Just as Sadie finds she is a finalist in an art competition, she has to undergo an unexpected brain surgery. Suddenly, Sadie finds she has face blindness, hopefully, just a temporary complication that she is determined to hide. As soon as she meets her new vet, Sadie instantly starts fantasizing about their future wedding. Yet before they can even go on a date, Sadie finds herself increasingly drawn to her annoying neighbor. As Sadie struggles to paint a portrait without being able to see faces, her personal life implodes around her, teaching her love can come from the most unexpected of places.
Katherine Center’s latest romance is predictable in that way you want romance books to be predictable. Although the storyline was a little hard to swallow and the characters were so one-dimensional that it was a bit ludicrous, the cute and quirky premise makes it a perfect read-it-and-forget-it story for when you just want a mindless love story.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Erin E. Adams
Although she doesn’t have fond memories of growing up as one of the only Black girls, Liz Rocher returns to her Pennsylvania hometown for her best friend’s wedding. When the couple daughter’s disappears during the reception, Liz flashes back to another summer night. In high school, the only other black girl was found dead in the woods with her chest ripped open. Now Liz realizes there’s a pattern of black girls going missing and scrambles to find Caroline before the evil in the woods is finished with her.
Considering I don’t particularly like horror, I surprisingly liked Jackal. Adams’s atmospheric writing does an excellent job of drawing you into the mystery and filling you with a fear of the woods. Though the novel started strong, the second half was a bit out there, fully shifting into a horror scenario that didn’t work for me.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bantam Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Foul Lady Fortune
In a spinoff of her bestseller These Violent Delights, Chloe Gong returns to 1930s Shanghai with a tale of dueling spies. After an experiment makes her ageless and immortal, Rosalind Chang becomes a spy for her country hoping to redeem her traitorous past. When the Japanese are suspected of a series of murders, Rosalind must go undercover posing as the wife of another spy to investigate a series of murders.
Though promoted as a spinoff series, Foul Lady Fortune is actually just the third book in the These Violent Delights series. Gong toned down the supernatural vibes of the series in favor of a spy novel, at least until the ending. To me, the story didn’t stand out, lacking the vibrancy of the original. However, I imagine fans of the series will find it an enjoyable read.
From the Backlist
Before We Were Yours
In this emotional coming-of-age book, Lisa Wingate bases her story on a notorious real-life scandal of an adoption agency that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families. In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Floss is asked to watch her four younger siblings while her father takes her mother to the hospital to give birth. Suddenly, a group of strangers arrives and takes Rill and her siblings to a Memphis-based orphanage where Rill must fight to keep her siblings together under the eye of the cruel director. Meanwhile, in the modern day, the privileged daughter of a senator starts digging into her grandmother’s history.
Before We Were Yours is historical fiction at its finest, bringing a horrifying historical event to life with a powerful story. Rill’s story is heartbreaking and all too real, highlighting all the layers of abuse Georgia Tann inflicted on victims of her black market adoption scheme. As with so many historical fiction stories, Before We Were Yours is told in dual timelines, and Wingate excels at making the modern story compelling which keeps the pacing level throughout the book.
Red, White & Royal Blue
When the President’s son falls in love with the Prince of Wales, international relations take on a whole new term. At first, America’s darling Alex Claremont-Diaz can’t stand the royal British heir, Prince Henry. Forced to develop a fake friendship for the publicity, the two soon realize that no faking is required.
Everyone has been talking about Red, White & Royal Blue for the last few years, so I decided to see what I thought. To be honest, it wasn’t really my thing. I’m more of a will-they-won’t-they kind of girl who prefers fade to black. Red, White & Royal Blue definitely did not fade to black. Basically, the whole middle of the book described the clandestine hookups and snarky love emails between the two main characters. Full of irreverent humor, McQuiston’s silly romance was utterly predictable, tying everything up in a neat little bow at the end. If overly sweet queer romance books with plenty of smut is your thing, then you’ll love this book. Else, I’d give it a pass.
From a lifetime obsession with laundry, Patric Richardson is the laundry guru you didn’t realize you needed. Having run Laundry Camp at Mall of America for years, Richardson has all the tips and tricks for you to wash everything at home, saving you time and money and making your clothes look fabulous.
Boy, does Richardson love laundry. His energy makes you feel like you can conquer the world and completely redo your laundry routine. I listened to the audiobook and I wish I had purchased a print copy instead. While his narration was surprisingly entertaining, a hard copy would be much more convenient to use as a reference guide for all your future laundry needs.
The Confidence Code
Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
Study after study shows that women are less confident than men, with far-reaching social and economic impacts. In a thought-provoking book about women’s empowerment, Kay and Shipman explore the nature of confidence. What exactly is confidence? How much of it is genetic and how much of it is learned? Interviewing notable scientists and leaders, they teach women how they can overcome their self-doubt, be more confident, and take more action.
The Confidence Code is an interesting book, looking at confidence through genetics and brain physiology, and comparing nature vs nurture vs the hard knocks of life. Kay and Shipman have some good takeaways, yet I think I’d have preferred to read a long article on the subject instead; The Confidence Code was more in-depth than I needed. My biggest takeaway – it’s okay to feel nervous and process a situation. Confidence doesn’t need to be blustery or brash, but you do need to take action and make decisions.
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 February?
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 List to Enjoy:
Wow, thanks for all the great reviews. I enjoy Megan Miranda and am looking forward to reading her new book. I’ve added Before we were innocent to my TBR. This one intrigues me.
My top books for February:
Year of yes by Shonda Rhimes
Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett
Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy
Cheryl Westlake says
The Nightingale-Loved it
Code Name Sapphire-it was just mediocre. The premise was so similar to Nightingale. It’s a 3 star for me.
How to Walk Away-5 stars. It’s my book for #7 in your 2023 Challenge.
My reading slowed down with a house full of family visiting at the end of the year & has yet to pick up speed. I kind of lost my reading “mojo!” I’ve lowered my 2023 reading challenge on Goodreads from my usual 50 (I only made it to 45 last year) to 30. We’ll see if I can at least accomplish that!
Spare was my first read of the year. I liked it okay. I shouldn’t judge the guy, but feel like for people that do not want to be in the spotlight, they manage to call attention. I felt like some of what Harry wrote about the way Meghan was treated, only perpetuated the situation. Although I know it became a safety issue for his family. So that needed to be addressed. It just may have been TMI in some parts. Okay. Enough of that.
Next book was Maame. I liked the story, but it was kind of a mixed bag, wasn’t it?? I almost DNFd it a the very start, but glad I did not. I liked the bits about her father & Ghanaian culture. Heck, I liked Maame, the character & her voice in general. I did not like all the Googling as much & felt like less of it would have been better. Made me want to skim over those bits. And there were times I got whiplash with change of topic, from very serious to suddenly silly dating stuff. I also could have done without how graphic it got toward the end. All in all a good debut. But as I said: a mixed bag.
Currently reading Unlikely Animals and feel I may have finally gotten my groove back! More up my alley, so to speak.
Also reading Love, Pamela, but it is so like the documentary (I watched that first), that I may not read it all.
I cannot tell you how many TBRs I have. Embarrassing really. I somehow have developed a very bad habit of jumping on wait lists at the library at the earliest mention of an upcoming release & my stack is out of control. I am a bit of a new release hoarder & cannot possibly read all these books! I guess it is a bit of FOMO left over from the start of the pandemic.
I do have the new Jojo Moyes! Along with The Sun Walks Down (recommended by Ann Patchett). But I fo have about 18 other library books checked out at the moment.
Also bought an old paperback copy of The Far Pavilions. That is a suggested read from Queen Consort Camilla. She mixes old and new titles, which I like. It is a thick book, so not sure when I will tackle it.
And last but not least, I will get on the library list for Rebecca Makkai’s I Have Some Questions For You. See, I cannot seem to stop.
Run, Jane, Run was a light thriller that had me guessing at the storyline.
I also read Before We Were Yours, as you did, and I found it to be an emotionally compelling story! What a horrific life for a family!!
Before We Were Innocent was not on my radar before, but looks very interesting! Your reviews are great! I have added to my TBR.