Book List

Let's face it, if you're a reader then you're in the market for book recommendations.  I write about the books that I'm currently reading in my weekly posts and do a "best of the best" list in my year end wrap up, but after accidentally writing an "everything I read in 2022" post I thought it would useful to keep a live page of this year's books.

Here's everything that I've read in 2023 so far.  I'll keep this page updated and then archive it into a regular post at the end of the year.

Disclaimer about DNF's and negative comments: it takes two to tango.  If I don't like a book, that's a reflection on both the book and me.  I used to avoid saying anything negative about anything, but I think that it's helpful for you to see what I don't like so that you can assess how well my reading tastes line up with yours.  I just want to be very clear that because I don't like something at a particular moment in time doesn't mean that it's bad or that it won't work for you.  I also like to point out that my number of published books is zero, so it's at least one less than any author whose work I don't like.

2023 Booklist

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister.  I loved the journey and took my time with this one.  Once I got to the destination, I kind of lost interest.  But yes, good book and I'd recommend it.  

  • How I heard about it: everyone on the planet read it before me.

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz.  DNF only because I started it too soon after reading another book by the same author.  I will most likely come back to it later on.

  • How I heard about it: big fan of the author, I've got her bookmarked for when I need a surefire hit.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.  Loooooved it, but you should know that I'm currently obsessed with touring Frank Lloyd Wright houses, so I may be biased a little bit. 

  • How I heard about it: a tour guide at a FLW house recommended it.

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.  Meh.

The Social Climber by Amanda Pellegrino 😻😻😻

Just One Look by Lindsay Cameron.  The wrong email gets in the wrong hands and oh my...I loved this "temp job gone wrong" thriller. 

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (audio).  A beautiful book about hard things.  Steer clear if you're not down for a "my mom died of cancer story", pick it up if you're looking for beautiful writing and food talk. 

  • How I heard about it: everyone on the planet read it before me.

The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin.  Lenni is 17, Margot is 83, their combined age is 100, and they're both terminally ill.  I LOVED THIS BOOK, but heads up that I spent the last 10% of it sobbing and had a good cathartic cry afterwards.

These Silent Woods by Kim Cunningham Grant.  When you're a decent guy with some issues who just wants to live off the grid in the woods with your young daughter but all of a sudden you have a house guest.  Parts of the book felt slow and I did a bit of skimming but overall this was a good one.

A Brave and Lovely Woman by Mark Borthwick.  The nonfiction version of Loving Frank.  Technically I can't claim that I *read* it - it was too dry & too dense for my taste so I skimmed it and looked at the pictures.  It's a tall order to write a biography when not much is known about the subject.

  • How I heard about it: somewhere on the internets.  I think it was plugged on a FLW Facebook post or something like that.

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jeannette McCurdy (audio).  This is basically Crying in H Mart with an AWFUL mom, a Hollywood backdrop, and an eating disorder instead of Korean food.  With that said, IMO this is an excellent read.  I'm glad Jeannette wrote this book!

  • How I heard about it: everyone on the planet read it before me.

Jackie and Maria: A Novel of Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas by Gill Paul.  When you're the biggest opera star in the world and you meet the perfect guy...but then he gets a notion that Jackie K should be Jackie O and it's all over.

Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels by Paul Pringle (audio).  A true story that starts with the hotel manager of an upscale LA hotel learning that a guest has OD'd.  She's an attractive young woman, the room is full of drug paraphernalia, and there's a creepy old guy hanging around who doesn't want him to call an ambulance.  Pringle is such a good writer that he could publish his grocery list and I'd be hanging on to every word.  If you haven't read this I don't even know what you're doing with your life.

Choosing to Run by Des Linden (audio). If you're into running at all this is your book.  It turns out that the weather was the least of the drama at Boston 2018.

  • How I heard about it: Duh, every runner has heard of it.

Hello Molly by Molly Shannon (audio).  I don't watch SNL and I can't say that I've seen anything else that she's been in but it doesn't matter.  I came into this cold and not knowing what to expect and I think that's the right background.  This was a wow from start to finish.

  • How I heard about it: Nicole (HI NICOLE!)
The Switch by Beth O'Leary.  A grandmother and granddaughter swap houses for two months - granny gets to live the Big City life while granddaughter gets to chill in the country.  This is lighter than my usual fare and at times it came close to being a DNF.  What saved it for me was that the characters were believable and relatable, but I did skim quite a bit of the community planning details.

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore.  When it's pre-WWI England but your parents aren't around and you're stuck in a Victorian Gothic world and only your brother understands you.  Or as my blogging friends described it "a weird little book about incest".  But also not about incest.  This was a beautiful, moody book and I can't wait to read more by this author.

  • How I heard about it: co-recommendation from Jenny and Engie.

Like Family by Paula McClain (audio).  A memoir about growing up in the foster system.  The standout is the writing.  Hearing her words gives me the same feeling that I got from looking at the hand carved woodwork in a Frank Lloyd Wright's serious craftsmanship that puts me in awe.  Note to self: read more of her books ASAP.

  • How I heard about it: I loved When the Stars Go Dark by the same author and needed to use up an Audible credit and somehow this popped up on my radar.

"You Just Need to Lose Weight": and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon (audio).  I'm a fan of the author but I couldn't even and DNF'd one hour in.  Yes I agree that fat shaming is a very real and awful thing, yes I agree that the stats on weight loss are dismal, and yes I agree that weight loss isn't always possible/desirable and that all of these things need to be discussed more.  My issue is that I feel like she's saying that these things are true 100% of the time and that too much of the content was recaps of research and statistics which frankly was not compelling listening.  If you're interested in this book I'd recommend the "reader's digest" version in the companion podcast episode.

Trespasses by Louse Kennedy.  When it's 1970s Ireland and you're a young school teacher by day working in a bar at night and you've met an irresistible married man.  I totally got why she fell for him and like her, totally did not see the consequences of the affair coming.

Before We Were Innocent by Ella Berman was a quick DNF, more my fault than the author's.  The "we're lifelong friends but Something Bad Happened a long time ago and it's a Big Secret that we Never Speak Of" genre is a tricky one for me.  I liked the first 50 books that I read on this topic and then it just got old.

  • How I heard about it: for the life of me I don't remember.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrille Zevin was another quick DNF.  This is a very polarizing book that people either loved or hated.  I was neither, it just didn't grab me enough to keep reading.

  • How I heard about it: everyone read it before me (and either loved or hated it).

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain.  Historical fiction about the early aviator Beryl Markham, whose life was so fascinating that the aviation part only starts at 85% of the way through the book.

  • How I heard about it: I LOOOOOOOOOVE the author and I needed a sure fire hit after two back to back DNF's.  I'm telling you right now that I will read all of her backlist before 2023 is over.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. 😻😻😻  I was getting "over hyped" vibes from the internets so I wasn't expecting much...and then I started reading it.  The hype is legit.  I didn't really know what the book was about going in and I think that's the perfect background.  Heads up that this book made me cry, and I don't mean a few tears.  Once I got to the 75% mark it was one big fat ugly sobfest with kleenex flying everywhere.  And yes I loved this book.

  • How I heard about it: everyone on the planet read it. 

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche (audio).  Everyone says how hard it is to make new friends as an adult, and the author went on a quest to get the scoop by committing to go on 52 "girl dates" in one year.

Stash: My Life in Hiding by Laura Cathcart Robbins (audio).  An addiction memoir with a twist.  Robbins is a black woman who built up a successful PR career from nothing - high school dropout plus a brief drug stint.  She married a Big Deal Hollywood director, had two children...and had a miserable life.  Enter a casual Ambien prescription and everything fell apart.  I'm just going to say right now that if I ever have to life in the A list Hollywood world I'd need A LOT of pills to get through it because it does not sounds like fun.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  The great classic fiction that takes its basis in fact.  Atwood was very strict about only using real life examples of things that have happened to women to craft a dystopian world where women are valued...differently.

  • How I heard about it: duh, everyone has heard about this, it's one of the greats of all time.  After encountering some Atwood history on vacation this summer I finally picked it up. 

The Good Enough Job: Reclaiming Life from Work by Simone Stolzoff (audio).  An exploration of how work went from what we did to feed ourselves to our identity.  The stories were interesting, but I didn't really get an "answer" to the problem.  Meh.

  • How I heard about it: no idea.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau.  It's 1975 and Mary Jane is teenager from an uptight family who lands a summer babysitting gig.  The parents are everything that hers are not, and they've got some fascinating summer house guests.  How long can she keep her parents from finding out how cool her summer job is - and she's got to keep them from finding out because once they do, it's going to be over in a hurry.  This was a near perfect book - good writing, a straightforward story, and compelling characters.

  • How I heard about it: Engie

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.  Historical fiction about Hadley Richardson, aka the first Mrs. Ernest Hemingway.  I was looking for a sure fire hit for a vacation read and McClain delivered yet again.

  • How I heard about it: I'm working my way through this author's backlist.

Smile and Look Pretty by Amanda Pellegrino.  A tale of four executive assistants to the rich and famous who get tired of their bosses behaving they start an anonymous blog and spill the tea.  So dishy, so good.

  • How I heard about it: see above 😻😻😻 rating for Pellegrino's The Social Climber, which was the book that recharged my reading life a few months ago.  I love her so much I cannot say.

I Could Live Here Forever by Hanna Halperin.  When you meet the perfect guy, but something seems a little off.  I was very lucky to come across this book while I was stuck at the airport waiting for a delayed flight, because let me tell you that once I started it I could not stop reading.

The Chateau by Jaclyn Golds.  When a 95 year old grandmother summons her granddaughters to her chateau in France to discuss her will and Something Happens.  The story is razor tight but I had a bit of trouble with the people.  The story is told in alternating viewpoints of the main characters, but everyone is so similar that I lost track of who was who.

The Many Lives of Mama Love: A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing by Lara Love Hardin (audio).  What's the best opening line for a memoir about heroin addiction and the crimes committed to support the habit?  How about "Reading was my first addiction"?  Yep if you pick this one up you won't put it down.

No One Needs to Know by Lindsay Cameron.  A thriller about a neighborhood Facebook page gone wrong.  Great idea, wrong neighborhood since it was set in hoity toity NYC.  I tried but the characters were just too caricaturist to be believable.  DNF at 25%.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  When you're Sam Spade and everyone you meet wants you to find The Black Bird.  Super good, highly recommend.

  • How I heard about it: I've only seen the movie one million times, my latest rewatch prompted a reread of the book.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith.  This one had a strong start with its tale of a theater designer biding her time working in a department store while waiting for the next theater job, but I lost interest by chapter 2. My first ever Highsmith DNF.

  • How I heard about it: a random Youtube video on the locations used in the movie version (Carol).

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  This is my first time at the Book Club Rodeo and Engie picked the right book - go here to get in on the fun - yes the book club is over but there are a lot of good thoughts and it's worth checking out.  I remembered the book as being "good" but I wasn't prepared for how good it was.

  • How I heard about it: duh it's a classic that everyone has heard of and everyone loves.  I think I saw the movie first (remember nothing about it) and then read the book for the first time in late high school/early college.  There have been a couple of rereads since then.

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer and How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark.  Every once in a while I get ambitions to up my writing skills.  The ideas are good, but right now I don't have the bandwidth to sit down and absorb the material.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (audio).  This book is a jewel case packed full of gems.  I enjoyed it in my 30s but I related to more of it on this listen in my late 40s.  I'll be revisiting this once I get to the age where I feel bad about my neck.

  • How I heard about it: I read it back when it came out, this rereading was prompted by Nicole's rave.

Pictures of You by Caroline Levitt.  The aftermath of a fatal car accident in a small town.  Rated M for meh.  It was good enough to finish but didn't grab me as The Best Book of All Time.

Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith.  I read this because I was looking to get more juice out of the ATGIB squeeze...unfortunately Tomorrow turned out to be one bitter lemon.  ATGIB was about poor people, coming of age, families, and Brooklyn.  Tomorrow is just about poor people.

  • How I heard about it: same author as ATGIB.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang.  When you and your frenemy are authors, but she's famous and you're not, she writes everything on paper and you don't, and you just happen to find her latest manuscript on the night that she dies and you just happen to take it home with you, rewrite it, and publish it.  And your publisher decides that because your book is about China that it's fine if they tweak your name a bit so that everyone thinks you're Asian.

  • How I heard about it: dude, everyone has heard of it, it's one of the year's hottest books.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron (audio).  Another very concise jewel case full of Ephron gems.  I read this a long time ago and didn't remember it's not a self fulfilling prophecy of the title, it's because it's very similar to I Feel Bad About My Neck, so in my memory I'd merged the two books into one.

  • How I heard about it: see I Feel Bad About My Neck above.

Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron (audio).  A collection of essays from the late 60's, long before the days of I Feel Bad About My Neck.  This was a DNF about halfway through because a lot of the essays were just too dated - example the very long expose on Women's Wear Daily, the snarky takedown on Frommer's Travel Guides.  However the first two hours were brilliant.  If you're looking for an analysis of Helen Gurley Brown followed by a takedown of Ayn Rand this is your book.

  • How I heard about it: part of my (abruptly winding down ) Nora Ephron binge.

The Violin Conspiracy by  Brendan Slocumb.  All I knew going in is that it was, duh, about a violin and all that I'm going to tell you is that, duh, it's about a violin and OMG IS THIS BOOK GOOD PLEASE DROP EVERYTHING AND GET IT!!!!!!!  So good and I cannot wait to read his second book, Symphony of Secrets (due in any moment on Libby)

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Mass.  I know this is the "it" series and has been for some time, but I just couldn't get my head into it and it was a quick DNF.

  • How I heard about it: um everyone has and it was a long hold to get it on Libby.

Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent.  At first I had mixed feelings- the writing was excellent, the main character was very compelling, but there was a dark side that was too dark for me so I skimmed those parts of the book (and picked up the plot points from the parts of the book that I read)  The other thing that I struggled with is that this book has a character and plot points that are WAY TOO close to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and another (unnamed for spoiler reasons) book.  It was literally like these two books had a baby.  But the author took it all to a completely original and stunning place so I'm cool with it.

Where I ended up is that this is one of the best books that I read this year - but I would not recommend it to my mother.

Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb.  A musician is hired to transcribe a recently found long lost opera by a famous composer of the early 20th century - but the further he gets into his work, the more evidence he sees that someone else may have written it.  Overall I liked this book BUT it's a "but" book....I liked it BUT, it was good BUT...I felt that the big conspiracy to suppress the evidence was way too heavy handed and the way that the bad guys were stopped (spoiler?) was just way too convenient.

Happiness Falls by Angie Kim.  A nonverbal boy and his father go out for a hike, and only the boy comes home.  This author's first book was a DNF for me but I've heard such great things about this one that I wanted to try it.  Unfortunately history repeated and I found myself not being able to get into the characters or caring one way or the other what happened to the father.  I lol'ed at a recent Sarah's Bookshelf Podcast episode where Sarah rated it her best book of the year so far and Catherine said she DNF'd at 96%!!!!!  I feel good about DNF'ing this one at 30%.

How I heard about it: Sarah's Bookshelf Podcast

The Art of Scandal by Regina Black.  When you're the black wife of a white mayor and your husband's political career is heating up...and you're at a party and he sends you a dick pic...and you realize that it wasn't intended for you.  It was a great set up, but I found myself losing interest after the dick pic.

How I heard about it: Sarah's Bookshelf Podcast.

Currently Reading

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute.  A reread of one of my all time favorites.  A WWII veteran learns that he will die from the injuries that he sustained in the war.  His life is empty and his marriage is a mess, so what to do with his remaining time?  Spoiler: the answer that he finds takes care of the empty life and the marriage problems.

How I heard about it: Shute is one of my all time favorite authors.  I feel a rereading binge coming on.

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