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.
Is there a better way to start 2023 than with some great books?
Maybe there is, but I’m perfectly happy with my reading so far in January. I was able to pick up a couple of books everyone is talking about, with mixed results. I also dived right into my 2023 Reading Challenge, checking off 7 books already.
For the last several years, I’ve had to rush in December to finish the reading challenge. But this year, I am determined to finish early. My secret weapon: audiobooks! I’m focusing my audiobook picks on reading challenge categories to help keep me on track.
However, the exciting thing about this month’s book reviews: they aren’t all by me! It’s about time I introduce you to my assistant, Kiki Clark. Kiki helps me out behind the scenes at Booklist Queen. And one of the perks of working with me is access to books! Kiki’s tastes are completely different than mine, so you’ll get a peek at what Kiki’s been reading lately in Kiki’s corner.
January 2023 Reading List
Age of Vice
In the middle of the night in New Delhi, an expensive Mercedes jumps the curb and kills five people. When the dust settles, only a stunned servant is left to explain what happened. An Indian version of The Godfather, Age of Vice tells the interconnecting crime thriller and epic family drama of Sonny Wadia, the playboy heir of a mobster; Neda, his journalist girlfriend; and Ajay, his loyal servant.
Age of Vice starts with a bang, gripping you from the start with the tale of Ajay, an Indian boy born in poverty, then sold into slavery, who eventually becomes the personal manservant of the son of a mob boss; at this point, I was completely feeling all the five-star reviews.
Once the narrative shifts away from Ajay, the story stumbles. Kapoor recycles the narrative, this time showcasing Neda’s backstory, which is less interesting but still manageable. Then, the plot shifts again, into the train wreck that is Sunny’s current life plus random backstories of other characters that dragged on and completely lost me. The fast-paced ending was hard to follow and left you without a resolution for any of the characters. Which is how I found out it’s the first book in a planned trilogy; a trilogy I have no intention of finishing.
What Lies in the Woods
Kate Alice Marshall
At age eleven, best friends Naomi, Cassidy, and Olivia spent the summer roaming the woods. Until Naomi was attacked, surviving 17 stab wounds, and the girls’ testimonies put a serial killer in prison for the death of six other women. Except, they lied. Now Olivia wants to tell and Naomi must discover the dangerous truth of what really happened in the woods that summer.
If you are looking for a solid thriller to curl up with this winter, What Lies in the Woods delivers a fun quick read. I was worried the story would be too predictable, but even though several of my guesses were correct, there were still twists I did not see coming. I won’t say it’s the most original thriller I’ve ever read and the characters weren’t the best developed, but it was an enjoyable weekend read.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
Both vulnerable and hilarious, Jennette McCurdy’s tell-all memoir sends a poignant message about the dangers of child acting. McCurdy brilliantly embraces her inner child by describing how desperately she wanted to please her mom by acting, even if it lead to an eating disorder and a chaotic relationship with her family. McCurdy idolized her mother so much that she didn’t fully understand the abuse she underwent until attending therapy after her mother’s death.
With its brash cover and title, McCurdy’s memoir has been on top of the bestseller lists since it was released, and for good reason. In this excellent memoir, McCurdy perfectly vocalizes the childlike desire to please your mother, assuming that your mom must only want what’s best for you. From being forced to fulfill her mother’s dream of acting to being taught anorexia, McCurdy gives an in-depth look at abuse by a narcissistic codependent mother and the mental and physical effects that had on her life.
Two Weeks Notice
Online marketing expert Amy Porterfield knows just how scary it is to leave a 9-5 corporate job to step out on your own. Now the owner of a successful business and host of the Online Marketing Made Easy podcast, Porterfield gives you a detailed blueprint to show you just what it takes to build your own business.
I’ve listened to Porterfield’s podcast for years, and have found that she gives great marketing advice applicable to all kinds of online businesses. However, Two Weeks Notice has a very focused target audience: corporate girls ready to leave their 9-5 jobs. If that’s you, you’ll find great advice on how to start your own online company – how and when to transition, how to find your niche and target audience, and how to earn money (with an emphasis on creating courses). If this doesn’t describe you, I’d pass on this one in favor of a book that will speak more to your situation.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Hay House through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise
Tanner Quimby would rather sit around playing video games all day, but life takes money. So she finds a job as the live-in caregiver of an elderly woman. Indignant that her daughter is forcing a nanny upon her, Louise wants nothing to do with Tanner. When Tanner begins to wonder if Louise is actually an infamous jewel thief, they set out on an adventure to outrun the mistakes of their pasts.
Even though I loved The Invisible Husband of Frick Island, Oakley’s last novel, I had a really hard time getting into this cheesy light-hearted story. I will say that I enjoyed Louise’s sense of humor but Tanner wasn’t a great protagonist, veering more toward annoying than likable. Readers seem to be raving about this one on Goodreads, but I wasn’t impressed with the story or the writing.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
From the Backlist
Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey offers a memoir on his approach to getting the most satisfaction out of life. McConaughey poured over decades of his diaries to share the highs and lows of his life and the funny stories that shaped him along the way.
Have you ever watched Matthew McConaughey’s Lincoln car commercials where he waxes philosophical in his slight Texas drawl? Apparently, that’s his actual personality. McConaughey is an interesting character who knows exactly how to tell a story. You should definitely listen to the audiobook; McConaughey’s narration brings depth to the text, and I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I had read the printed copy.
As she turns one hundred, Violeta Del Valle writes a letter to her true love telling how the upheavals of the last century have shaped her life. Born in 1920 as the Spanish flu ravages her South American homeland, Violeta’s childhood is marked by the Great Depression. As she grows older, Violeta’s life is shaped by the world events that rage around her – the struggle for women’s rights, the rise and fall of dictators, even a second pandemic.
If I just told you the basic plot points of Violeta, you’d think it was this epic read. But you couldn’t be furthest from the truth. Instead, Violeta read like the Wikipedia article of someone’s epic life. Told with the dullest storytelling ever, I felt absolutely nothing as I read the book. The dispassionate writing style kept you at a remove from the characters, not allowing you to share in their joy or sadness or frustration. Violeta ended up being an absolute waste of my time.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ballantine Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
One Two Three
Seventeen years ago, contaminated water runoff from a chemical plant caused deaths and birth defects throughout the small town of Bourne. One Two Three tells the story of sixteen-year-old triplets: Mirabel, a genius trapped in a wheelchair using a computer to speak; Monday, a neurodivergent bookworm; and Mab, who feels guilty for being “normal.” When the company decides to reopen the chemical plant, the sisters become obsessed with finding the necessary proof to stop them with the help of the owner’s grandson who just moved to town.
I have mixed feelings about One Two Three. The highlight of the book was the Mitchell sisters, with chapters cycling between the three, each with a distinct voice. The interplay between the sisters fascinated me and I loved seeing how their actions and abilities affected each other. Yet, the evil corporation storyline was a bit trite and the second half of the book was overly long and repetitive.
Crown of Midnight
Sarah J. Maas
In the sequel to Throne of Glass, Celaena Sardothien finds being the king’s assassin no easy task. Secretly working against the evil king, Celaena finds herself unsure whom she can trust, weary even of her closest allies: Crown Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol, and Princess Nehemia. When an unspeakable tragedy occurs, Celaena must decide where her loyalties truly lie.
Crown of Midnight was an excellent sequel, keeping the excitement of the first book without just copying it. The fast-paced plot keeps you turning pages, as you follow Celaena with her ups and downs and she relaxes in love but is gripped by betrayal. Maas does a great job of foreshadowing future events, leaving you in anticipation of the next books in the series.
The Other Boleyn Girl
At fourteen, Mary Boleyn catches the eye of King Henry VIII. At her family’s urging, she becomes the king’s mistress, bearing him two children. Yet, when the king’s attention drifts to Mary’s sister, Anne, Mary is forced to step aside by her family’s ambitions. Eventually, Mary decides she will no longer be a pawn, choosing instead to follow her heart.
I found The Other Boleyn Girl surprisingly gripping considering it revolves around the world of courtiers where the way to power is by sleeping with the king. Gregory brings history to life, painting a real-life game of thrones that changed history. Mary was an excellent choice as a protagonist, showcasing the limited freedom even upper-class women possessed, and growing from a naive girl to a fierce woman refusing to play other people’s games.
In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart became a household name when she was kidnapped from her Utah home in the middle of the night. For 9 months she was held captive and abused by Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. In her memoir, Smart recalls how her faith allowed her to maintain hope through her traumatic ordeal and how she was able to forge a new life afterward.
I vividly remember when Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping captivated the nation a few months after the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook version because I enjoyed how thick her sarcasm came through. Smart explains the entire timeline of her kidnapping, helping you understand the mental conditioning that kept her from trying to escape. All in all, it’s a heartbreaking story that thankfully has a happy ending.
David McCullough chronicles the lives of rarely heard of settlers in the Ohio Valley. Among the pioneers willing to brave the newly opened Northwest Territory, Manasseh Cutter and General Rufus Putnam felt lured forth by the promise of freedom of religion, universal free education, and the prohibition of slavery.
After covering such historical figures as Truman, John Adams, and The Wright Brothers, I was less than impressed with the extraordinarily narrow focus of The Pioneers. While it contained some interesting details, the book was basically an in-depth history of Marietta, Ohio, making for a rather dull read, even for an Ohio girl like me.
In the third book of his Underground series, Russell Brunson, co-founder of Click Funnels, explains how you can direct traffic into your sales funnel. Using his Dream 100 technique, Brunson teaches timeless marketing tactics that will work no matter what platform and that can adapt as algorithms change. Brunson focuses on the bigger picture but gives plenty of examples to showcase how to adapt the techniques to different platforms, knowing that when the platforms eventually change, you’ll know how to adapt with them.
I love reading books about blogging, and I randomly picked Traffic Secrets up at Barnes and Noble, without having read the first two books. Since I don’t actually sell anything or run sales funnels, Brunson’s book didn’t quite apply to me. Yet, since his techniques are more about the overarching process than about the minute details, I still learned a lot about marketing and think I will see positive benefits in my business for years to come.
Kiki Clark is my amazing behind-the-scenes assistant, my real-life best friend, and a beauty unboxing YouTuber. And the best benefit of working for Booklist Queen: free books to review!
The Italian Ballerina
Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K sickness, The Italian Ballerina journeys from the Allied storming of the beaches at Salerno to the London ballet stage and the war-torn streets of WWII Rome. Exploring the sometimes heart-wrenching choices we must make to find faith and forgiveness, The Italian Ballerina shows that saving just one life can impact countless others.
Despite reading WWII books since grade school, I had never heard about Syndrome K before and it made an excellent premise. Although there were multiple stories within multiple timelines, Cambron kept the story coherent and enjoyable. However, I wish she had reduced the number of love stories since none were as drawn out as I would have liked. The Italian Ballerina was a pleasant well-written read that I would definitely recommend.
I received an advance copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair review.
A Most Agreeable Murder
A true crime-obsessed Victorian debutante, Beatrice has to hide her quirky passion from her family. When someone drops dead in the middle of a minuet, Beatrice seizes her chance to put her skills to use. As a storm rages outside, the evening descends into a frenzy of panic, fear, and betrayal when it becomes clear they are trapped with a killer. Contending with competitive card games, tricky tonics, and Swampshire’s infamous squelch holes, Beatrice must rise above decorum and decency to pursue justice and her own desires – before anyone else is murdered.
Since I love cozy mysteries, I had high hopes for this book. However, A Most Agreeable Murder was more a melodrama than a mystery, quickly devolving from being rather silly to being a complete farce. With a convoluted murder mystery that didn’t entirely make sense and plenty of annoying anachronisms, I didn’t like the book and would only recommend it to overly silly young girls.
I received an advance copy of this book from Random House through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
The Fossil Hunter
After being an ambulance driver on the front lines of World War I, Mellie Vale tries to find her place back home. She finds herself drawn into a mystery over 50 years old. Searching for fossils and answers in a small Australian town Mellie tries to uncover what caused several girls and a female paleontologist to never be seen again.
With strong females confidently doing jobs still reserved for men, I loved the premise of this well-written book. The duel timelines really added to the atmosphere and enhanced the mystery. However, the more modern story focused so much on the negatives of the characters’ relationships that I had difficulty connecting with them.
I received an advance copy of this book from Harper Muse in exchange for a fair review.
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 January?
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:
I’m almost at 5 books off the 2023 challenge!! So far this year I have tackled:
An Impossible Imposter by Deanna Raybourn (Veronica Speedwell #7) I adore this series!
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
The Power by Naomi Alderman (Highly recommend the audiobook!!!)
The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore (listening for book club)
The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake
Librarian Nancy says
I finally got around to The Measure by Nikki Erlick and really enjoyed it. Just picked up Fatty Fatty Boom Boom by Rabia Chaudry from the library. Rabia is the lawyer who was instrumental in getting Adnan Syed’s murder conviction overturned. This is her memoir of growing up with weight issues. I just finish Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati ( loved it – anyone who liked Madeline Miller’s Circe or Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships will enjoy it). Also have The Bandit Queens by Parini Schroff and Hello Beautiful by Ann Neapolitan in the queue. Love your blog! It helps me keep up with new releases.
Slow start to my 45 book challenge for 2023. I had a house full with family visiting. I started a Graham Norton book. His first (backlist) called Holding. I like it, but put it aside to read a copy of Spare I got from the library today! I figured I will not be able to recheck Spare bc of wait list, so it was a great way to pass a rainy day.
I felt the same about the rating of Violeta. Although I have loved Allende in the past.
I am embarrassed to say how many possibly wonderful great books I checked out during my New Year slump, only to be returned unread.
I took a photo of all of them as a reminder to get back to them at some point. Too many to list here.
I am surprisingly liking Spare. But puzzled as to why on the spine it only has “B” for biography and “Harry.” Thought that was odd & wondered if it was the same at all libraries. Bios usually have the first three letters of subjects last name. Can Harry no longer be associated with Windsor? Maybe the book will explain. My book also has no call number? Maybe just a boo boo?