February 12, 2023

What I Read in January 2023

2022 was a huge reading year for me – 122 books, my highest total ever! I don’t think I’ll match it in 2023, though, so I’m keeping my perennial goal of 100 books for the year. Given that I’m a lot more active this year than last year, and with less time for reading, I think it will still be a stretch – and I’m looking forward to the challenge.

In January 2023, though, I read nine books – so that started me out with a bang! Only one that I gave five stars to, but I can’t recommend it enough, and am predicting it’s going to be a bestseller when it comes out in May.

Pre-order The Wishing Game now – you’re going to love it!

5 stars:

The Wishing Game, by Meg Shaffer: I LOVED this novel so much, even insisting on some quiet reading time during a girls’ getaway weekend because I couldn’t put it down! It starts a bit slow – Lucy is a broke teacher’s aide at an elementary school who really wants to adopt Christopher, an orphan in foster care, with whom she shares a love of reading. But she’s not allowed to do so because of her finances – so when reclusive children’s author Jack Masterson announces a contest to win the only copy of his first book in years, and Lucy gets a sky blue envelope inviting her to play the puzzle game on his private island, she thinks it might solve all her problems. This book is awesomely described as Willy Wonka for book lovers – and it was such a delightful read once the plot got going! The island was magical and whimsical, the riddles and challenges entertaining, the plot was heartfelt (I teared up a few times), and there was even a little romance to make things interesting. This is definitely going to be a smash hit for 2023 – put it on your TBR list and order now!

4 stars:

It Starts with Us (It Ends with Us, #2), by Colleen Hoover: This is the sequel to It Ends With Us, which I really enjoyed a few months ago. I was glad I read them pretty close together, as the sequel kind of jumped right in. Lily is now separated from her abusive ex-husband Ryle, but trying to co-parent their daughter Emerson, as he tries to convince her that he’s changed and is safe to be around; meanwhile, her childhood love Atlas comes back into her life and asks her on a date. I really loved this continuation of the first story – a reminder that a “happily ever after” ending still has a lot to work out. My only complaint would be that Atlas was just a little TOO perfect and kind, which made him seem a bit one-dimensional. Definitely read It Ends With Us first, but then pick this up to see where the story goes.

The Last Word, by Katy Birchall: Harper is a popular celebrity editor at a London magazine. She loves her job, but is frustrated that her boss doesn’t respect her work, so it really rankles when the new guy, Ryan, instantly becomes the bro favorite of her boss… especially because Ryan is Harper’s nemesis from her first internship. You can probably guess where this storyline is going, but I’ll avoid spoilers! This was a fun read, but I found Harper’s disorganized personality rather annoying, and while the narrative is that she’s excellent at what she does, I found that a bit hard to believe with all the examples of her mistakes / lateness / messiness / etc. Still, I enjoyed the slow burn, and the last half of the book picked up considerably and really drew me in.

Maybe Someday (Maybe, #1), by Colleen Hoover: Sydney is a student living with her boyfriend of several years when she learns he’s cheating on her with her best friend. Ouch! But then she finds herself falling for the cute musician, Ridge, who’s given her a place to stay in exchange for writing lyrics for him. Problem is, Ridge has a girlfriend he loves, so she’s inadvertently being just like her (former) best friend. This felt really juvenile when I first picked it up, but it got progressively better, and by the end I was hooked – and am definitely looking forward to the next two in the series. However, I’m realizing that I don’t love Colleen Hoover’s books about teens / twenty-somethings as much as those featuring actual mature adults… perhaps I’ll start selecting her books to read more wisely.

The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why?, by Gary L. Thomas: A friend recommended this, and I didn’t realize going in that it was a religious book (duh). However, I found it really insightful no matter what your beliefs. One of the key themes is that a successful marriage needs to be built on shared values, goals, and a vision for the future – but that so many people allow infatuation / love to influence their decision, which is why so many marriages fail. I have always had a lot of respect for arranged marriages, and this voiced what I have always suspected about why they’re so successful. Your emphasis should be on asking questions to understand what someone will be like ten years down the line, rather than focusing on near-term fun. “Going to the movies, biking through the park, eating out – of course that kind of activity is going to produce and maintain a certain level of affection. But it’s not real life; it’s often not even real relating. It’s just playing. It doesn’t tell you squat about how a man could face a medical or vocational crisis, what kind of courage a woman has, what values each person lives by, or what drives the other person. Instead you find out that you both like vegetables on your pizza and movies that have a plot – that’s something, I guess, but it’s not much on which to base a lifetime decision.” If you aren’t religious, there are parts of the book that dive into devout Christian beliefs that probably won’t resonate with you (e.g., get married young and have kids early), but I would actually still recommend this to my friends of all beliefs – most of the advice is really sound, and the rest is presented in a really thoughtful way that helps you understand the why behind various practices.

The Second Ending, by Michelle Hoffman: Prudence Childs was a child prodigy and household name, playing piano all over the globe while in elementary school. But as soon as she turned 18, she stopped performing and turned to writing commercial jingles. They made her wealthy, but left her unfulfilled – and now as a 48 year old empty nester, she starts to consider playing again to get her spark back. Meanwhile, Alexei Petrov is the star judge for a wildly popular dueling piano show on TV – he’s in his early 20s and in the prime of his career, but wondering if he’s too invested in his work and not making time for anything else. The narrative alternates between the retired prodigy and the exhausted wunderkind, and I found myself rooting for both of them and loving the contrast. There are a LOT of different plotlines to follow (Prudence’s ex-husband and her nosy / annoying HOA president, both of whom cause all kinds of drama), and I kind of wish the author had simplified a bit more, but I still loved this book and it helped me reconnect with my own joy of piano / music from childhood. I agree with those who say this novel was a love letter to music – it will make you rethink how you listen to music and what you get out of it, and truly appreciate an amazing artist.

3 stars:

The Favorite Daughter, by Kaira Rouda: It’s the one year anniversary of the death of Jane’s older daughter, Mary, a college student who had a tragic accident while on summer break at her family home. Jane is finally setting aside her pills and emerging back into the world for two important events: a memorial service for Mary and her younger daughter Betsy’s high school graduation. The novel is told from Jane’s perspective, and it quickly becomes clear that Jane is absolutely crazy: narcissistic, delusional, and just plain mean. While I normally love getting into the minds of villains, in this case, I just found Jane unlikable – and unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the other characters either. I kept reading in hopes of a redeeming character or plot twist, but this was nowhere near as good as Rouda’s other novels that I’ve read.

Real Love, by Rachel Lindsay: Maya is a serious finance professional living in Miami who is invited to be the lead on “Real Love” (aka The Bachelorette); she turns it down and her best friend Delilah does it instead. But watching Delilah from the sidelines makes Maya question her own life choices, particularly putting her career ahead of finding love. The novel follows Maya’s evolution to figure out what she really wants in life, and while I liked it, I didn’t love it. There was just enough of “Real Love” to be a tease, but not enough to satisfy; this book is written by Rachel Lindsay, real life star of The Bachelorette, and I expected some juicier details about how the show works. Meanwhile, I found Maya’s personal evolution a little bit cliched and unrealistic, and some of the characters were caricatures (e.g., Maya’s flighty and idiotic little sister), which made it hard to take seriously. Overall, this missed the mark for me, but I think it was in large part because how of how it’s billed (a romance about a reality show) instead of what it was (a self-discovery book where there was a very peripheral side plot about The Bachelorette).

Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, by Ken Page: I was intrigued by the premise of this book, but found the writing really woo and hard to take seriously. The first part of the book focuses on discovering your “Core Gifts”, then “honoring” them by leading with them instead of hiding them and bringing relationships into your “Gift Zone”. There was a LOT of detail here, but it was fairly vague, and I would have preferred more specific examples of what someone’s “Core Gifts” might be in order to better understand my own. I liked the second half of the book much better – rather than focusing on “relationships of deprivation” (chasing after what you can’t have by hiding your flaws), focus on “attractions of inspiration” and people who appreciate the real you. Although there were some good concepts in the second half of the book, I found this very hard to get through and can’t really recommend it.

Any book recommendations for me? Follow me here on Goodreads to keep up with what I’m reading in real time.


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