Happy 2021 to you all! Things sure are off to a rip-roaring start, huh? I’m sure anyone who follows me knows my politics and doesn’t need me to mention that I find what happened at the Capitol last week, and the entire Trump presidency, to be incredibly disgusting, despicable, and horrible in every way. This isn’t a post about politics but it seems wrong to write my first post of 2021 and not acknowledge the historical, deadly insurrection that just took place against the US government. It’s beyond shameful and like most of you I’m sure, I’m counting down the days until the inauguration and also vehemently believe that everyone involved should be held accountable. That includes the dishonest and horrible people at Fox News who have been fomenting division and spreading lies throughout the entire last four years (and before), who recently compared Republicans being deplatformed on Twitter to Kristallnacht. That is despicable. Same for Mitch McConnell and the House and Senate Republicans who have refused to acknowledge the validity of the election, purely for their own political gain, when they know full well that it was fair…they are all complicit and should be ashamed, and held accountable.
Things got busy and I haven’t posted any reviews of the books I’ve read since the summer – but I have been reading! I did a poll on Instagram to see if people wanted reviews of these books and the majority said yes, so here we go. I’m just going to do super quick, stream of consciousness reviews here because there’s way too many to get into plot summaries or anything deeper (and you can just click the link to see the publisher’s summary anyway). I hope you find some good ones for your TBR list here! And as always, I’m linking these books to bookshop.org, a website that is super easy to use and where your purchase benefits independent bookstores. Independent bookstores need our help always but especially right now because of the pandemic, so I hope you’ll use bookshop.org!
Without further ado, reviews!
The Shining Girls: I liked this one! It was horror and it was gory (so beware if that’s not your thing), focusing on a serial killer who can travel through time. I thought the concept was really creative and I enjoyed it.
The Choice: This is a Sliding Doors type of book, where one choice leads to the story breaking into two depending on what the decision was – like a choose your own adventure. It went to places I wasn’t expecting and was almost like two novels in one, due to the structure. I’ve only read one other novel like this where it splits in two and that was The Post-Birthday World, which I liked better (but also the plot was totally different).
Broken Monsters: I liked The Shining Girls so I went for Lauren Beukes’ second novel. I didn’t dislike it but I didn’t like it as much as The Shining Girls. Again it was pretty gory…the story wasn’t quite as compelling to me because I think I liked the time travel aspect in the other one more. It was good though!
The Heir Affair: I loved The Royal We and was excited for the sequel, but it didn’t hit the level of the first one for me. I found it pretty slow and I found some of the things the main character did to be annoying. But I love royal fiction and definitely highly recommend The Royal We!
The Night Swim: This was just OK for me. It’s billed as perfect for anyone who likes true crime podcasts, but the whole podcast angle really was superfluous to the story (as least in my opinion). I just found it pretty forgettable as far as thrillers go, and I much preferred the author’s first book, The Escape Room.
Leave the World Behind: This book! So divisive. People love it, people hate it, but everyone was talking about it. I’ve had a hard time articulating my feelings on it. One thing that really annoyed me was that it was billed as a thriller and I’m sorry, it is not. It has a simmering tension under the surface for sure, but then for me, that tension just…died. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it didn’t. So I felt anti-climactic and dissatisfying in that regard. I do think he’s a really good writer but that he writes books where nothing happens.
Jurassic Park: LOVED it! I mean, how could you not? It’s like the movie, and both are great! It’s a page turner, it’s fun, you can’t put it down, it’s action-packed, it’s pure entertainment. I thought because I’d seen the movie it wasn’t really worth it to read the book, but I was wrong. Definitely read it.
The Comeback: Not for me. I think I’ve just come to realize I do not like books about celebrities, or washed up celebrities, or former celebrities, or anything in that genre (I DNF’d The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which everyone else seemed to love). It had a Me Too storyline and I don’t know…I just didn’t care about the characters at all. Another one I thought was kind of billed as a thriller and it wasn’t. I think a lot of books are being billed as thrillers nowadays because it’s an easy, unambiguous identifier for readers as well as being a very popular genre (and I totally get it, ya gotta sell!), but I find myself pretty disappointed when those books don’t align with the way they’re marketed.
When No One Is Watching: Really liked this one! This actually was a suspenseful thriller and it also had a component about gentrification in a Brooklyn neighborhood woven into the plot. The author is a romance writer and threw a little romance in there too, which I appreciated. Definitely recommend this one.
Too Good To Be True: This comes out in March, and I really liked it! It’s a domestic thriller, which like, what isn’t these days? So I’m usually judging them in comparison to one another, and this was a cut above for sure. It kept me guessing and had some whaaaat moments, and I actually think that of all the many, many books that have been billed as the new Gone Girl, this one lives up to that! (even though it’s not actually being billed that way – I just personally think that!). I also absolutely loved the author’s first book, Tell Me Lies.
One By One: I’m a big Ruth Ware fan but this is my least favorite book I’ve read from her. It fell flat for me. It flipped back and forth too much with super short chapters which made it feel choppy, the climax was anti-climactic to me, I didn’t care about the characters. I did like the setting and that it was a locked-door mystery and I did finish it, so that’s two points in its favor for me.
Boyfriend Material: So fun! I totally recommend this if you’re looking for a fun romance with an LQBTQ focus, or if you’re not, I still recommend it because it was so cute. All romances kind of follow certain tropes, and this was the “fake dating” trope. I thought it was funny, kind of wacky with British humor I enjoyed, and I cared about the characters a lot. I listened to it on Libro.fm and I definitely recommend that – it was great on audio and the narrator really contributed to the humor.
Eat A Peach: This was one of my top reads of the year. I love foodie memoirs and I didn’t know much about David Chang of Momofuku, but I heard him interviewed on Keep It and was really excited to read the book. It was well-written and just a really interesting reflection on his life growing up and his career in the food industry. I liked it because it was raw and he didn’t hold back from really being honest about the ways he’s screwed things up, his experience with mental illness, and the ways he knows he needs to change or has changed. It was great.
True Story: This was another top book of the year for me. I think I liked it so much because it was surprising, completely not what I expected from the description, and kind of defies categorization or being placed in one genre. I listened to it and it was great on audio. I highly recommend!
The Searcher: I’m probably one of the biggest fans of Tana French out there, so I liked this, but it was SLOW. It wasn’t really anything like her Dublin Murder Squad series, which are my favorite books from her and ones I highly recommend. It was, of course, beautifully written, like all of her books, and I wanted to see what would happen, but it’s a much quieter book than her others.
The One: I want to be honest and just say I thought this was bad. This is the second book I’ve read from this author because the premise sounded great, and the second time I’ve been let down – won’t be making that mistake again! I thought the writing was not great and also the stories just didn’t hit the level of interesting that I thought they should for how interesting the premise was. There was also a scene of gratuitous violence that just seemed thrown in for shock value and it annoyed me.
Rebecca: LOVED it. This is a fantastic book, that’s all there is to it. Daphne Du Maurier is a master of the gothic romance, creating an eerie, creepy atmosphere – and aside from that, the writing is beautiful generally. I just love it. And I recommend her short stories as well!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: I liked this a lot but I thought it was too long. It was really good, very well-written, I cared about the characters, but it could have been cut down by 200 pages (in my opinion) because there were a lot of superfluous scenes that (again, just my opinion!), didn’t need to be there, and they made it feel like more of a slog than it should have.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation: Another favorite of the year for me. I had seen this book around for years and wanted to read it because of the amazing cover but the premise always sounded so weird and I wasn’t sure if I’d hate it. Wound up loving it. I wish I could pinpoint precisely why I liked it so much, but sadly it’s hard for me to put into words. It’s the writing, obviously – I just felt like I was there, in the apartment with her..and it wasn’t necessarily pleasant to be there even, but that matters to me – when I can really see it in my head. It was also funny and kind of satirical. I just felt connected to it.
The Survivors: This is out in February or you can get an early copy now by joining Book of the Month. I LOVE Jane Harper and this did not disappoint. She’s just so good! Her books are wonderfully written, her characters come to life, Australia comes to life almost as a character, and they’re also suspenseful page-turning mysteries. What more could you ask for? She’s at the level of Tana French for me – an autobuy and one of my favorite authors.
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style: Loved this! A fun, in-depth and well-written look at the clothes worn by the royals (specifically Kate, Meghan, the Queen and Princess Diana), and how they use them to convey messages to the masses. I appreciated that all of the photos were super high-quality (not always the case in coffee table books, weirdly), and carefully chosen and arranged. I read the whole thing cover to cover so it was definitely more than just pretty pictures. But, it looks super pretty on my coffee table 🙂
You Love Me: Big disappointment for me. I’m telling you, NOBODY loves the book You as much as I do! I read it twice, I love it, I’m obsessed with it. I also liked the sequel, not quite as much as the first but definitely liked it. I read that twice too! And then this…I’m sorry to say it but I thought it was so bad. It was almost like someone else was writing the character of Joe. What makes the first book so good is his voice, his inner monologue…and here it was so different. He was just annoying. Aside from that the plot was so implausible, the side characters were big nothings to me, and it just lacked all of the spark and magic of the first one.
The Lions of Fifth Avenue: I liked this! I always like Fiona Davis books, but they’re kind of surface level. There’s always something missing with the writing for me, but I still like them. This one took place in the NYPL which was cool. You always learn interesting secrets about New York City in her books. I shared a more in-depth review here!
The Wife Upstairs: I didn’t like this very much. It’s a domestic thriller/retelling of Jane Eyre and I just thought it wasn’t that good. The main character was unlikable – which is not a dealbreaker by any stretch, but I thought she was boring in her un-likableness. (Ladder to the Sky, if you want an enjoyable main character you will hate). I also read something else recently where a major plot point was the same, but I thought that whole book was better, so that dampened it a bit for me I think.
The Roommate: Loved it! This was such a fun romance. It was the “opposites attract” trope plus the “forced proximity” trope I guess (I’m not an expert on these tropes, lol), and I liked the characters, I loved the chemistry between the two, it had a unique plot point that I’ve not seen before – it was great! Fuller review here.
The Return: I liked this one! A horror novel that also explores the complexities of female friendship and how those relationships change over time. It creeped me out and kept me interested. I shared a more detailed review here.
Friends and Strangers: Liked it a lot! It was an interesting exploration of the friendship that develops between a woman and her babysitter and the plot was really interesting. There was a lot going on with all of the characters and it was well-written.
Louisiana Lucky: This was cute! It’s about three sisters who win the lottery and what happens after. It was a super quick read and the plot went in unexpected directions.
The Hating Game: This book was kind of weird for me because I liked it, but I also found the writing to be kind of odd. It was almost like at certain points, the writing just didn’t make sense. I thought maybe it was just me but then I saw another Goodreads review who said the same about her second book (here’s that review), so I feel sure it’s not a me thing. Anyway though, it was the enemies-to-lovers trope which is my favorite and the chemistry was good between the characters, so I liked it but it was also weird.
The Dearly Beloved: This was a really good book! It’s totally character-driven which sometimes is hard for me to deal with, and yet those are often the books that I find stick with me the most. I shied away from this for a long time because I thought it might have a religious agenda behind it, but it didn’t – I think it could be enjoyed by anyone no matter what their religious views, and I appreciated that. If you liked Ask Again, Yes I think you’d like this one.
Godshot: This was good! I liked it, didn’t love it. It’s about a religious cult and a girl who gets into trouble in it. I’m not too sure what to say about it – it was just solidly medium good for me.
A Promised Land: WOW. So good! President Obama is an incredibly beautiful writer – he’s reflective, insightful, and really dives deep into what motivated him to get into politics and what it was really like being President, as well as what it was like being a husband and father during those eight years. It’s just so so good, I can’t recommend it enough. I guess to tie this back to the opening of this post – it was actually really emotional to read this and realize what good hands we were in during his time as President. He’s just so caring, and smart, and IDK, just an incredibly good person. He also surrounded himself with and chose for his Cabinet the most skilled, intelligent, talented people. And even then, things were difficult because they faced so many incredibly complex, gigantic problems – and this book just covers his first term! It was amazing and I also highly recommend this one on audio, because it was great to hear him read it.