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.
Let it snow. Let it Snow. Let it Snow.
Here in Utah, winter shows no signs of abating. It’s snowing right now and on Monday we had over a foot of snow at my house, resulting in a “remote learning day” that brought up painful flashbacks of pandemic homeschooling.
Things have been beyond crazy in my house for a lot of complicated reasons. I haven’t been able to blog much, but I have been able to fit in a lot of reading.
My focus this month was on new and upcoming releases. I wanted to read as many of them as I could before I posted my Best Books of Spring 2023 list last week.
Scroll down to hear my thoughts and, as always, be sure to let me know in the comments what you’ve been reading lately!
March 2023 Reading List
In London, Maddie spends most of her time either at home taking care of her father with advanced Parkinson’s or at work in a job she hates where she is the only Black employee. When her mother returns from Ghana, Maddie is thrilled to move out and experience life for herself. After tragedy strikes, Maddie begins to understand her unconventional family and the joys and fears of putting her heart on the line.
Sometimes you read a book that speaks to you at a deeper level; that has the exact message you need to hear at that very moment. A lot has been happening in my life, some I’ve talked about and lots I haven’t. But George’s debut touched me on so many levels. Maddie grew up too young, learning to always place herself second and just give, give, give. Maddie is forced to grow up in a different sense, learning about love and mental health and dealing with racism. I loved watching Maddie find her own voice and finally put her foot down to demand more. While my journey is different, I so personally relate to many of Maddie’s struggles as they are things I’ve been wrestling with in my own life.
Someone Else’s Shoes
Spoiled rich Nisha Cantor has the perfect life money can buy until her gym bag is stolen. Then her husband completely cuts her off, forcing her to work as a maid in the five-star hotel where they lived, desperately trying to get her possessions back. Meanwhile, downtrodden Sam Kemp is caught in a marriage with a depressed husband who ignores her and in a job with a sexist boss who mistreats her. When Sam tries on a pair of expensive shoes from a gym bag she took by accident, the jolt of confidence inspires her to recognize she deserves more in life.
Jojo Moyes delivers a fun contemporary read perfect for the beach or your next vacation. The story is funny and light although the character’s situations are depressing. Someone Else’s Shoes is nowhere near the author’s best work, lacking depth and relying heavily on overexaggerations. Yet, Moyes did enough to make this far-fetched tale enjoyable that I would still recommend it.
I have no desire to talk about religion on my blog, so I debated if I should even attempt to review Bad Mormon. However, as a professional book reviewer who attended BYU and has lived in Utah for over a decade, I feel uniquely qualified to give a fair review of Heather Gay’s bestselling memoir.
I will not be giving a star rating for this book. I’m not here to tell you how I felt about the book but to give you an idea about how you’ll likely feel reading Bad Mormon.
Utah businesswoman and reality star Heather Gay was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but publicly left the religion during the first season of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. In her memoir, Gay discusses her faith journey and her departure from the LDS faith.
First off, let’s talk about the quality of the memoir. I thought Gay was a pretty good writer for an amateur. She uses an overabundance of pop culture references and she has a tendency toward repetition, especially when she is trying to make a point.
Some reviewers have complained that she is “playing the victim,” but I thought she was in line with every other celebrity memoir I’ve read. I feel that every memoir must be taken with a grain of salt because they are, by nature, only one side of a story. And humans always tend to paint themselves in, if not the best light, then at least a more flattering one.
Gay did a good job selecting moments of her life to illustrate her arguments, except when it came to her marriage. She talks about her incompatibility with her husband but only gives one example from her honeymoon, a story that wasn’t powerful enough to represent her point. As a reader, I wanted a few more details, but, as a woman, I respect her choice not to drag on the father of her children.
But what you actually want to know is if you should read Bad Mormon. And that depends on your relationship with Heather Gay and the LDS church. If you are an RHOSLC fan, then you’ll likely be disappointed. The RHOSLC content doesn’t come in until the very end and Gay gives background detail about the start of the show, but no juicy gossip about her castmates. Unfortunately, it’s the worst of both worlds. Housewives fans will be disappointed with the lack of gossip and non-Housewives fans will be bored by excessive detail.
If you decide to read Bad Mormon to learn more about the LDS church and the Mormon faith, it’s a mixed bag. Gay may gloss over her personal life, but she is very candid about her experience in the LDS Church. Gay was not a fringe LDS or an extremist; her life was very much in the realm of the typical mainstream Mormon experience. Although she tries to explain terms to laymen, you might get lost in the Mormon lingo and cultural references.
Active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will most likely be offended by Bad Mormon. Gay goes into minute detail about the religion, specifically about the temple ceremony that members hold very sacred. I won’t claim the book is 100% accurate, but it definitely has been fact-checked and is highly accurate, though obviously everything is viewed through a disillusioned lens.
The real target audience of Bad Mormon is individuals who consider themselves post-Mormon, specifically those who grew up in the LDS church and were “all in,” but then left as adults, generally after hitting the major milestones of college, mission, and/or marriage. Although their personal experiences will obviously vary from Gay’s in many regards, such readers will likely find Gay’s story highly relatable.
What Have We Done
Twenty-five years ago, five teenagers formed an unbreakable bond when they shot and buried someone while living at Savior House, an abusive group home for wayward teens. Although they didn’t keep in contact, they’ve all gone on to lead successful lives: a drunk rock star, a judge, a tech billionaire, a gambling-addicted tv producer, and a former assassin. When the judge is murdered and assassination attempts are made on all the others, they are forced into a reunion none of them wanted to find the killer.
What Have We Done is a non-stop action-hero thriller. The plot was utterly ridiculous; one girl was basically just Black Widow from the Marvel comics. Is it great literature? Of course not. The character development was terrible and the narrative had absolutely no nuance. However, I will say the high action keeps you flipping pages, so if you want something mindlessly entertaining, What Have We Done will do.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Minotaur Books through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Beyond That, the Sea
In 1940, Millie and Reginald Thompson make the heartbreaking decision to send their eleven-year-old daughter Beatrix to America to escape the dangers in London. For the next five years, Bea finds herself enveloped into the Gregory family, sandwiched between sons William and Gerald. Although Bea has made a life for herself in America, she is forced to leave her new family behind to return to England after the war, finding herself caught between two worlds.
Told in short vignettes from different point-of-views, Beyond That, the Sea is a bittersweet character-driven story about being caught between two worlds. And by short vignettes, I mean very short vignettes; most chapters are only a page or two. I absolutely adored this enveloping story. The story spends much of its time on the war years, developing the relationships between all the characters. Then the narrative jumps forward twice more to reflect on the evolution of their relationships in a slow, thoughtful way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Celadon Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The House is on Fire
On December 26, 1811, Richmond, Virginia’s only theater is packed with holiday revelers waiting to watch the Placide & Green Company perform. When the theater goes up in flames, split-second decisions by four people – a new widow who realizes how little women have in the world, an abused slave who sees her chance for escape, a young stagehand got in a moral quandary, and a local enslaved blacksmith hailed as a hero – have lasting repercussions in this novel based on a true event.
Beanland takes the true story of the Richmond fire and then gives a peek at how it might have changed the lives of four people. Quickly you are caught up in the world of slavery of colored people but also a world that disempowers women. Beanland keeps the historical fiction fairly grounded, making each of the characters feel very plausible. The blacksmith actually was a hero of the fire. Although the story lacked a powerful concluding message, I found the story interesting and engaging.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Simon & Schuster through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
With My Little Eye
When increasingly disturbing letters written in fruit-scented markers are sent to actress Meribel Mills, she turns to the police for help. Yet without a name, the police can do nothing to help. After realizing he’s been in her home, Meribel desperately moves her and her autistic teenage daughter to Atlanta. But Meribel can still feel eyes on her and begins to question the motives of every man she meets: her ex-husband, her ex-boyfriend, and her new neighbor, wondering if they might be the crazy stalker who refuses to give her up.
Usually I can count on Joshilyn Jackson for a compulsively readable escapist thriller, but With My Little Eye was just so unsatisfying. More than anything, Meribel was irritating. Although she’s a good mother, the entire book is dedicated to her thoughts on the men in her life. To make it worse, the chapters from the deranged male characters’ point-of-view were off-putting. I will say, the one bright spot of the novel was Meribel’s daughter, Honor. She was a fantastic character brilliantly written and was the absolute highlight of the book.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from William Morrow through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Warrior Girl Unearthed
Perry Firekeeper-Birch’s laid-back summer hits a snag when she crashes her car and is forced to work at her indigenous tribe’s summer internship program. Soon, Perry becomes fascinated with the federal law about the return of ancestral remains and sacred items but is caught between the glacially slow pace of diplomacy and working within the law and the desperate desire to take action into her own hands. When Native women start disappearing and her family is caught in the middle of a high-profile murder investigation, Perry plans a heist to save her ancestors and her tribe members before all is lost.
Warrior Girl Unearthed is not exactly a sequel to Firekeeper’s Daughter. Set 10 years later, it can be read as a standalone, but reading Firekeeper’s Daughter first will help you understand the side characters better. Like her previous book, Warrior Girl Unearthed is a fun Young Adult novel, conveying a deeper message along with its high-action plot. Although I felt like I learned a lot, the story felt a bit forced and over-the-top.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Henry Holt and Co. through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
The Half Moon
Mary Beth Keane
When his boss retires, longtime bartender Malcolm jumps at the chance to buy The Half Moon. But Malcolm quickly learns that turning a profit is harder than he anticipated. Meanwhile, his wife Jess’s long battle with infertility has her reassessing her life dreams. Three months after Jess walked out, Malcolm learns a secret about her, a bar patron goes missing, and a blizzard strikes in this tale of a marriage in crisis.
Having loved Keane’s last novel, Ask Again, Yes, I found myself disappointed while reading The Half Moon. Keane’s novel takes place over a week, but the excess of long flashbacks of their complicated marriage interrupted the flow of the story. The emotional draw just wasn’t there; I didn’t really feel for any of the characters. I’m not even sure what message the book was trying to convey.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Scribner through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Just before graduation, an apartment of students at Berkley is shocked when their roommate Alec overdoses. Gathering together, they make a pact that when they are in desperate need, they can each request a living “funeral” – a gathering where they are reminded that life is still worthwhile. They’ve been there through Marielle’s divorce, Naomi’s parents’ death, and Craig’s art fraud conviction. But now Jordan’s diagnosis has him and his husband facing a living funeral that might preceed an actual funeral.
I wanted to like The Celebrants more than I did. I liked the idea of the book – the examination of life’s struggles and our need for deeper connections. Yet, the characters fell flat for me and the friendships didn’t seem genuine. In Rowley’s last book, The Guncle, I felt drawn to every single character but in The Celebrants, none of the characters evoked any emotion in me. The funeral format of the plot resulted in a lot of telling about the characters instead of showing details of their lives. In all, The Celebrants was a heartfelt story that missed the mark for me.
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.
From the Backlist
If We Were Villains
M. L. Rio
While studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver Marks and his theater classmates get caught up with dangerous drama backstage. When one student ends up dead, they use all their acting ability to convince the police that they are blameless. After serving ten years for a crime he may or may not have committed, Oliver is released and the soon-to-be retired Detective Colborne is desperate to know what really happened.
I read If We Were Villains looking for a good dark academia book that would contrast with The Cloisters for my Read This Not That post. Rio’s novel had all the dark academia vibes akin to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but you had better know Shakespeare because the references are thick and inescapable. In all, I thought the story was okay though the character motivations were undeveloped. My advice to readers is that you’ll know right away if this book is for you: if you don’t like the beginning, you’ll want to DNF instead of pushing through because it doesn’t get any better.
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!
Tress of the Emerald Sea
The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when Charlie goes missing, Tress must stow away on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Can this fair maiden save the day?
Tress of the Emerald Sea is a fairy tale turned on its head, with the prince, or rather the duke’s son, needing saving. The writing is so beautiful and clever that I wanted to share passages that I was reading with anyone around. I simply adored the book. I particularly loved the character growth and the storyline, and I am now reading it to my children.
The Curse of the Marquis de Sade
Warner details the history of The 120 Days of Sodom, a scroll written in the Bastille by the notorious Marquis de Sade, the man who inspired the word “sadism.” The life of the Marquis is intimately intertwined with the life of the scroll, which seems to curse anyone who owns it. An interesting well-written book, The Curse of the Marquis de Sade shows a side of history that is not usually discussed in school. Although I enjoyed the story, I wish I could have known the end of all the characters. Unfortunately, the author could not wait for the French legal system to finish the book, or he could be waiting forever.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Crown Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
A Perfect Time to Murder
N. R. Daws
In January 1941, grounded female pilot Lizzie Hayes decides to help the local detective solve a mysterious death at a mining camp. With danger at seemingly every turn, Lizzie and DI Kember do not know if they will make it out of the camp with their lives, much less solve the crime. While this is the third book in the series, you do not need to read the previous books to understand and enjoy the plot. However, the mystery wasn’t as well-thought-out as I’d have liked. It was disappointing to try to figure out the clues along with the story, only to have the character find answers seeming out of thin air.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Amazon Publishing UK through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
The Little Wartime Library
In World War II London, Clara Button helps the city turn an unfinished part of the tube station into a library. In this veritable city underground, Clara and the other librarians try to come to terms with love and loss in this inspiring story of succeeding against all odds. Despite loving the idea of The Little Wartime Library, because the characters were constantly blaming themselves for things that were not their fault, I found the book difficult to read. Picking up the book felt heavier and heavier each time I read it, and I had to force myself to just get to the ending.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
I always seem to have multiple books going at once, except this month. 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 March?
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:
Just finished walking through a wooded area and seeing lots of beautiful cardinals!!
Then got to my car and saw this post
I see only 3 stars for The Half Moon. I am on a wait list for that, so may trade it for something else.
The House Is On Fire looks interesting.
I am currently just getting around to Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister. I wasn’t sure about the premise, but have to admit the writing is pretty great, so I am still reading.
Finished Hello Beautiful and although I liked the writing (liked Dear Edward as well), I think too much has been made of the Little Women connection. It was a good read though. Maybe a little overhyped.
I recently went in to pick up a hold All That Is Mine I Carry With Me & also picked up a couple of Booker Prize short & long listed titles. One, Cursed Bunny (Bora Chung, Korea) has a really, really strange story: The Head. It was different, I’ll give it kudos for that. This is a series of short stories.
Also picked up a currently long listed Is Mother Dead, by a Norwegian author.
And lastly another long listed Booker title: Pyre, set in Southern India.
These Booker Prize nominated books are always excellent reading. And these are all fairly short reads.
I am trying to break a habit of getting wait listed for new releases, but it is a very hard habit to break!!
Laura Casey says
Enjoyed reading your latest post, have you read/reviewed HORSE, by Geraldine Brooks?
I’m going to propose the title T our next book club meeting.