January 8, 2024

What I Read in December 2023

I read nine books in December; that average of 1.5 books a week is what I should have been reading all year, but because I was less prolific most months, I only closed out the year at 81 books. That’s one of my lowest book reading years in a while, and I wouldn’t have even gotten to 81 if it hadn’t been for Bookmas! I am still keeping my 2024 goal at 100 books, though, as I think it’s a good stretch goal… and hopefully December starts a trend of me taking more intentional time for reading, especially in my new foothills home.

Three very different novels! Powder Days was an incredible memoir, The Underground Library was beautiful historical fiction, and Nora Goes Off Script was a great women’s fiction novel.

5 stars:

Powder Days: Ski Bums, Ski Towns and the Future of Chasing Snow, by Heather Hansman: I absolutely LOVED this memoir, and have been recommending it to all my mountain friends! (I’m an instructor at Beaver Creek and split time working between Vail and Boulder.) Hansman tried the ski bum life in her twenties, but now is a successful writer coming back to revisit the ski bum world. She travels to various mountain towns to drink and ski with storied ski bums still living the lifestyle, and try to figure out if it’s still possible to live as a ski bum when the towns are gentrifying and it’s harder and harder for the working class scrape by. She doesn’t ever really answer that question, but explores a lot of the different factors involved. I thought this was a fabulous love letter to skiing, and I learned a lot about the history of the places I love to ski. I absolutely loved the stories, but found myself liking the author herself less and less as the book went on – she was pretty name droppy, and while she claimed to be more grown up now and “looking back”, it felt to me like she hadn’t matured much since her ski bum days (e.g., she brought a half-drunk case of beer as a hostess gift for someone she stayed with, while other people crashing at the same house brought veggies and cooked a meal for everyone). Still, these are nitpicks and I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves life in the mountains!

Nora Goes Off Script, by Annabel Monaghan: Nora is a scriptwriter who writes bubbly romances for The Romance Channel (aka Hallmark), but she’s finally sold a serious movie, and they are filming on location at her cottage in upstate New York. In her personal life, her (crappy) husband walked out on her a few years ago, so she’s a single suburban mom raising two kids. She’s delighted that along with the movie filming comes the opportunity to hang out Hollywood superstar Leo, who’s starring in the movie, and even more delighted when Leo asks if he can stay a week longer in her guesthouse and she can continue crushing on him longer… but is it just a one-sided crush or does he feel the same way? The way I described the plot, this sounds like a typical light rom com, but this was really broody and serious and realistic, and I didn’t think it was going to have a happy ending. Having been dumped with no explanation by a “big love” myself a few years ago, this hit really hard, and I was a little disappointed by how it ended as it made me question some things in my own life. This was a wonderful novel, though, and SO much more than a rom com! It reminded me a lot of Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Romantic Comedy” in its honest look at human emotions and heartbreak, and after a bit of a slow start for the first few chapters, I devoured it in one night.

The Underground Library, by Jennifer Ryan: Three women from very different backgrounds meet at the Bethnal Green Library just as the Blitz is beginning in London in 1940 – and when the library is bombed, they take it upon themselves to move the books to the London Underground, so that others hiding from the bombs can take solace in the book. Juliet is the deputy librarian who’s come to Bethnal Green to escape heartbreak after her fiance deserts in the war and doesn’t return home; Sofie is a Jewish refugee from Germany who has left her whole family behind to escape; and Katie is about to begin studying at university when she receives two shocking pieces of news that force her to abandon her plans. I loved the friendship that develops that between the women, and I LOVED the attention to detail and glimpse into what life was like in London during the bombings – although I’ve read a lot about World War II, I had only heard about the Blitz in small anecdotes. I thought the novel was extremely well-researched, but the details added to the plot rather than being tangential, and the three main character plotlines also wove together well where I wasn’t paging through one to find out what would happen with another. Highly recommend this book, and I will be looking for the author’s other novels!

4 stars:

Emergency Contact, by Lauren Layne, Anthony LeDonne: Katherine, a high-powered attorney on the cusp of making partner, gets a concussion for a taxi accident and has to be monitored for 48 hours, right at Christmas. But the bigger problem is that they call her outdated emergency contact, her ex-husband Tom, and he reluctantly ends up taking her to his parents’ home for the holiday, where he’s supposed to be meeting his current girlfriend and proposing. This is obviously a light second-chance romance, and it’s perfectly fun for the holidays. The POV alternates between Katherine and Tom for each chapter, but the story is perfectly sequential (no time shifts), and it moves very quickly; my only dislike was Katherine herself, who is obnoxiously antagonistic even when it’s to her detriment.

In the Likely Event, by Rebecca Yarros: Izzy is a congressional aide who’s on a dangerous trip to Afghanistan, and she’s shocked to see that her assigned bodyguard is Nate. Ten years, the two were seatmates on a commercial plane that crashed – and whether it was the heightened emotions from the crash or something real, there’s always been a connection between them, even if they haven’t actually “dated.” The plot shifted back and forth between the past and present, gradually revealing the relationship between Izzy and Nate over the last decade, but frustratingly spending a long time hinting at “what happened in New York” only for it to be not that big of a reveal. However, I still really enjoyed this novel, and it didn’t feel like a typical rom com. It definitely wasn’t cheesy or predictable, and the main characters felt very “real” rather than making dumb mistakes as they dance around their feelings. Highly recommend.

3 stars:

The Bandit Queens, by Parini Shroff: Geeta’s abusive husband left five years ago, and she has no idea where he went – but the rumor around her small village in India is that she killed him. She’s fine with that rumor, as it means she gets to live with relatively more freedom than the other women in her village – and soon, some of them start to envy that and ask for / blackmail Geeta into helping them kill THEIR husbands too. The book description made this sound somehow like a comedy (and the friends who recommended it praised the humor), but I didn’t think it was funny at all – a lot of serious topics (abuse, rape, poverty, murder), and the ending had a pretty violent scene that made this feel more like a whodunnit mystery. Overall, not my favorite, though I appreciated the look into a culture I don’t know.

Housemoms, by Jen Lancaster: This was all over the place – sometimes I was enjoying it, other times I was considering DNFing. Cece is a wealthy heiress whose husband has absconded with all of their money, including millions from her own charity, “Homeless NOT Homely”, which makes over homeless people – and I think with that, you can see how vapid she is. Janelle, on the other hand, is the “house mom” of a New Jersey strip club. They both suddenly end up as house moms for sororities at a fictional university in the midwest, but that doesn’t happen until well into all the build up, and what felt like it should be 75% of the book was stuffed into the last 25%, with an abrupt ending. In the author’s note at the end, she says this started as a TV pilot for a series – but it seems like she took the initial pilot episode that explains the premise and turned it into this book, without actually getting to the interesting narratives that would be the bulk of a sitcom. I’d be interested in a potential sequel, but this left me disappointed.

Penelope in Retrograde, by Brooke Abrams: Penny is a single woman in her 30s who is a romance writer – a career she knows has disappointed her parents, as she’s done in so many ways. She’s flown home for Thanksgiving and is shocked to bump into her ex-husband at the airport; they share an Uber together and he ends up roped into her family’s Thanksgiving plans. Meanwhile, Penny’s mom has invited one of her dad’s colleagues as a setup, and Penny latches onto Martin to be her fake boyfriend and prove to her ex-husband that she’s doing fine. Penny is, frankly, a hot mess, and I found her rather unlikeable, not just because of that but also because she never accepts any blame herself and is always playing the “woe is me” card. I think I was supposed to empathize with Penny, but instead I felt bad for her family (especially her sister) for all she puts them through. However, while I swear there were 50 pages dedicated to the awkward Uber ride with Penny’s ex, the rest of the book was actually interesting and enjoyable… so stick with it, if only to see Penny finally grow up and act like an adult.

By the Numbers, by Jen Lancaster: Penny is an uber-organized actuary who is a bit of a workaholic, but somehow, she lets everyone walk all over her. Her daughter wants to throw her (ridiculous) wedding at Penny’s home; her ex-husband gets hurt and is dumped by his new girlfriend, so Penny feels obligated to have him move in with her so she can take care of him; and Penny’s other daughter has come to live at Penny’s house too, bringing a poorly-behaved dog that she isn’t mature enough to take care of. I liked Penny and could relate to her career, but it didn’t compute for her to be so spineless, and it was really annoying. Overall, this was a decent read, but not nearly as engaging as I wanted it to be, and fairly implausible with how much of a hot mess Penny was.

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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