I read ten books in November, and am well ahead of my goal to read 100 books in 2022. In fact, I’ve already read 113 books this year – which is more than I’ve ever read, and there’s still a month to go! I’m really excited to see where I end the year, especially with December break coming up.
Chief Of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Organization, by Tyler Parris: I recently became Chief of Staff for my company, and was recommended this book to better understand the expectations. The author has interviewed hundreds of Chiefs of Staff and their executives, and uses this to outline the many ways that the role varies from company to company (or even executive to executive at the same company) and how it can be effective. Although the book targets executives who may be looking to hire a Chief of Staff (and the reasons why you should / shouldn’t do so, how to find the right person for the role), I found it incredibly useful as a Chief of Staff to see the various ways the role can go as I shape it for myself. This book helps me not only perform better in the role, but also better articulate my role to others. This was a really easy and high-level read, and while it could have gone into much more detail, I found it very helpful for where I am now / what I was looking for.
The Widow, by Kaira Rouda: Jody Asher is the wife of Congressman Martin Asher, who’s been in office for more than 30 years; now, he faces a scandal that could ruin them. The narrative switches back and forth between a few perspectives, and is generally centered around the ruthless (and possibly psychopathic) Jody and her attempts to regain control of her life. Jody was extremely power hungry and conniving, but while she wasn’t relatable, I still looooooved this novel and couldn’t put it down! It was really fun to get a look behind the scenes of the House, and the brief interjections of Jody’s tips for new Congressional spouses made me feel like an insider – though I have no idea how true to life this is. Overall, highly recommend, and I can’t wait to check out more books by this author.
The Winners (Beartown, #3), by Fredrik Backman: It’s hard to succinctly summarize the plot of this (perhaps too) long book, but the small towns of Beartown and Hed have always been hockey rivals; now, those tensions explode. This is the final book in the Beartown trilogy, and at first, I struggled a bit to remember the details of the first two novels – I read the second, Us Against You, back in 2019. That one is still my favorite in the series, but all three are definitely worth reading – and this soon sucked me in. Backman does an excellent job weaving a sense of foreboding into his writing, frequently talking about what will happen in the future with characters (e.g., “someday, she’ll be telling this story to her children”) and making you eager to find out what’s going to happen next. This was absolutely excellent, and I loved reading, but it was so long (688 pages) that at times it felt a chore to pick it up again, which is why I knocked off a star. Backman is a master storyteller, but I think this needed a bit of an edit.
Tell Me Lies, by Carola Lovering: I found this strangely compelling, reading it in 1.5 days, but the main characters were incredibly frustrating. Lucy is in her mid 20s and going to her college BFF’s wedding, where she knows she’ll bump into her ex – and that terrifies her. The book proceeds to flash back to Lucy’s college experience, alternating POVs between Lucy and her ex Stephen, who seems to be a narcissistic sociopath. I had a hard time respecting Lucy when she kept going back for more, and Lucy also came off as incredibly juvenile in how she kept referring to “The Unforgivable Thing” that caused a rift between her and her seemingly great mom. However, as much as I disliked pretty much all the characters, and how it made me feel old (is college really this drug-filled since I left?) I couldn’t look away. I did find it interesting to see inside someone who couldn’t get over an ex (oof, I’ve been there), but Lucy handled it in such a juvenile way that it just made me frustrated.
Hello Stranger, by Katherine Center: Sadie is a starving artist who finally gets her big break: she is a finalist in a national portrait competition that could pay out a big prize plus give her a lot of exposure. However, a medical emergency results in her becoming completely face blind: she can’t see faces, which means not only is she struggling with everyday life (is that person who just said hi a friend or foe?) but she is failing miserably at painting even a basic portrait for the competition. The medical and social aspects of face blindness were fascinating, as well as their implications, but I struggled to really like Sadie as a character. While Katherine Center’s protagonists are usually awesome, strong women, Sadie’s constant vilification of her family seemed somewhat unwarranted, and her general immaturity made her hard to identify with. I still loved this book enough to stay up and read it in one night, but it wasn’t quite as great as Center’s others.
The House Across the Lake, by Riley Sager: Casey is a 30 year old actress who develops a drinking problem after the death of her husband; she loses her job, and her mom offers her the choice of going to rehab or going to their family lake house to pull herself together. Casey chooses the latter, and spends the time drinking herself into oblivion while using binoculars to spy on her neighbors – and uncovering some seemingly terrible things. I got pulled into this book quickly, but it soon started to lose my attention and slog along. Then, a major plot twist involving the supernatural completely turned me off, but at that point, I was too invested to abandon it. I wished the author hadn’t taken the plot in that direction, and kept things more realistic, as it was otherwise a really exciting thriller.
The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict: I didn’t know anything about actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr prior to reading this book – and in fact, I didn’t know this book was about Hedy Lamarr until about halfway through! (I got this for a book club and just dove right in.) Hedy is a Jewish actress in Austria who gets engaged to an arms dealer who cozies up to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party – but she manages to escape to America, where she becomes a Hollywood actress while hiding her Jewish background. This part of the story was all fascinating, but then the attention turns to the story of Hedy becoming an acclaimed inventor of wireless communications – and while that’s factual, the author didn’t dive into Hedy’s intelligence sufficiently or go into enough detail on how exactly she invented these technologies to make it seem plausible. While I found this part of the book boring, I think it would have been really interesting if the author had really explored this section rather than making it a weird end chapter or two.
Confess, by Colleen Hoover: Auburn is a 21 year old who has just moved to Dallas, and stumbles into an art studio with a unique twist: the artist, Owen, invites the general public to anonymously submit their true confessions through a slot in the door, and then he chooses some of them and makes art inspired by the confession. Auburn and Owen meet and are instantly attracted to each other, but Owen is hiding a secret: he already somehow knows Auburn’s history (we don’t find out why until the end of the book). I found the characters to be rather juvenile (though they are only in their early 20s) and annoying, and the overall plot to be a bit farfetched with its villains, but it still kept me reading. I’ve now read half a dozen Colleen Hoover books, and while a few (Verity) lived up to the hype, the ones about teenage / early 20something romance just miss the mark for me.
Dance All Night (Dance Off, #2.5), by Alexis Daria: At a New Year’s Eve party, Nik (a stage dancer) and Jess (a ballroom dancer on a reality TV show) fall for each other and kiss. But while Jess is settled in LA, Nik splits time between New York and touring – until he decides nearly a year later that he misses Jess, and comes back to see if things could work. Jess offers a challenge: Nik has three dates to not only convince her to date, but also convince her that Christmas isn’t that bad (she’s kind of Scrooge-like). I liked this book, which was very Hallmark movie-esque, but hated the instalove – it didn’t feel real. I also was bummed that the plot wasn’t more centered around the TV show, like the first book in this series.
Community Board, by Tara Conklin: Oof, I had high hopes for this based on the title and premise, but it REALLY missed the mark for me. Darcy’s husband announces he’s leaving her, so she goes to her childhood home in Murbridge, Massachusetts to regroup – but ends up becoming a recluse, subsisting on her parents’ oversupply of canned food and entertaining herself by reading the neighborhood online community board. And then… a whole lot of nothing happens. Darcy wallows for the majority of the book, and the stream-of-consciousness writing style made the conversations a bit hard to follow. I wanted to give up about a quarter of the way in, but reviews said it picked up; unfortunately, it really didn’t. Darcy’s dysfunction was really frustrating, and the narrative wasn’t helped by the inclusion of dozens of National Geographic articles she was reading in her boredom, which I eventually started skimming over. The small town drama was interesting, and I wish the book had focused more on that / the community board for which the novel is titled, but Darcy was pathetic and frustrating and even the ending wasn’t at all satisfying. My biggest regret is that I kept reading rather than giving up when I realized this wasn’t my cup of tea.
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