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January-February Reading Wrap-up

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

JANUARY READS

1. Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson (YA Mystery) (445 pages) (4.25⭐️)
This is the fifth installment of the Truly Devious books which follows amateur detective Stevie Bell as she solves crimes. This one sees Stevie and her friends solving a cold case in England. In terms of the mystery itself this one is my favorite of the series thus far. This series are my comfort books and I am happy I made it my first read of the year. There is good mental health representation (Stevie has an anxiety disorder) and main LGBT+ characters.

2. When in Rome by Sarah Adams (Adult Romance) (320 pages) (4.25⭐️)
Overwhelmed and overworked, pop singer Amelia Rose takes a vacation in the small town of Rome, Kentucky. Her car breaks down in the front yard of a grumpy pie shop owner named Noah and he allows her to stay with him while her car is being fixed. This is one of the best romances I’ve read in a while. The characters were endearing, the flirty banter was perfection, and there wasn’t some dramatic miscommunication and third act conflict.

3. The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (YA Thriller) (368 pages) (4⭐️)
In the conclusion to the conclusion to The Inheritance Games trilogy Avery Grambs is on the cusp of inheriting billions from the late Tobias Hawthorne. Before that day comes she and the Hawthorne brothers (Tobias’ grandsons) must uncover the identity of the man who has kidnapped Toby (Tobias’ son). This was my second favorite book in the series. Just like the first two it’s fun, fun, and thrilling, though this one has the highest stakes yet.

4. Caraval by Stephanie Garber (YA Fantasy) (402 pages) (3.75⭐️)
Scarlett and her sister Tella escape their abusive father by attending Caraval, a yearly game on a magical island run by a mysterious man named Legend. This year the goal of the game is to find Tella who has been hidden by Legend. Having first read the companion series to the Caraval trilogy I can definitely tell that Garber has refined her writing since this debut. Even still I liked the mystery of the game, the sisterhood, and the love interest Julian. The ending also left me intrigued.

5. Legendary by Stephanie Garber (YA Fantasy) (443 pages) (4⭐️)
This is the sequel to Caraval and sees Tella taking Scarlett’s place as the main character for another round of Caraval games. This book takes place in the world’s capital (Valenda) and features a plot about the Fates (powerful beings who have been imprisoned). This was a slight improvement over the first book in terms of characters, world building, and general plot. I found Tella to be a more enjoyable main character to follow and she had better chemistry with her love interest.

6. Finale by Stephanie Garber (YA Fantasy) (470 pages) (4.5⭐️)
As the title implies, this is the conclusion to the Caraval trilogy. Both Scarlett and Tella are third person POV characters and the plot revolves around the consequences of the events at the end of the previous novel. There’s lots of romance, angst, magic, danger, and Fates aplenty (which was my favorite part of the novel). Fittingly, this novel has the highest stakes in the trilogy and was also my highest rated among all three books in the series. You can really see how Garber grows in her craft with each successive book.

7. The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka (Adult Romance) (317 pages) (4.25⭐️)
Nathan and Katrine are former cowriters whose partnership fell apart when they started developing feelings for each other while Nathan was married. Now Nathan is divorced but Katrina is engaged and they’re back together to write one more book. This book reminded me of Emily Henry’s Beach Read and I’d 100% recommend this book to fans of that one. This novel read more like a love letter to the writing and writers than it does a love story between the two characters. As a writer of many years myself it was like someone was seeing into the very heart of me and that was such a special experience.

8. Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo (Adult Fantasy) (478 pages) (5⭐️)
This is the sequel to Ninth House which was about Lethe, a group who monitors the secret, magical societies of Yale. In this book Alex, Detective Turner, and Dawes join forces to try and save Darlington from hell. This was my first five star book of the year and since it was one of my most anticipated reads of 2023 that is even more thrilling! The characters in the book are a very ragtag team but I am attached to them all. The plot could feel bloated at times but all those threads came together to form the big picture. It ends on a cliffhanger but I’m not holding my breath because this sequel came out over three years after the first.

9. When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica (Adult Mystery) (336 pages) (5⭐️)
Jessie’s mother dies of cancer. After she’s gone Jessie begins to believe she was kidnapped by her mother years ago as her social security number belongs to a dead girl. The ending of this book was…polarizing and made me consider lowering the rating. I can’t deny, however, that it’s well written. Kubica both leads you as the reader right to the answer while also offering you another, equally plausible option to mislead you. I have my review on Goodreads hidden because it includes spoilers for the twist/reveal so don’t read it if you don’t want to know.

10. By the Book by Jasmine Guillroy (Adult Romance) (313 pages) (3.25⭐️)
Isabelle is an editorial assistant at a publishing house who temporarily moves into the house of former celebrity wild child Beau to help him write his memoir. This is a contemporary Beauty and the Beast retelling. Isabelle and Beau were probably the healthiest couple in all of the romances I’ve read. The reason I rated this so lowly is because I like the idea of it being a retelling more than the execution. I would have preferred for the references to the Disney movie to be subtler.

11. Sofi and the Bone Song by Adrienne Tooley (YA Fantasy) (394 pages) (3.75⭐️)
Sofi is training to become her father’s Apprentice. He’s a Musik – one of only five people who can publically perform music and leave their kingdom. During Apprenticeship auditions she loses to a girl named Lara. She is then determined to expose Lara as a fraud. If you’re looking for an LGBT+ fantasy or a fantasy standalone then Tooley’s books are worth checking out. Her strong point is most definitely in her world building with both this book and her debut (Sweet & Bitter Magic).
DNFs

1.I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney (Adult Thriller) (read 82 pages)
This book follows an actress named Aimee whose husband goes missing. I was trying to read all of Feeney’s books to do a ranking of them and I had this one and one more left. I had to make the decision to DNF this book because it was incredibly triggering for me. I try to stray away from mysteries and thrillers when they involve something awful happening to a young child because both as an auntie and just as a human being it leaves me very distressed. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but if you are triggered by that as well I don’t recommend reading this book.

FEBRUARY READS

1. Stay Awake by Megan Goldin (Adult Mystery) (340 page) (4.25⭐️)
A woman named Liv wakes up every day forgetting everything that has happened over the last two and a half years. Due to the nature of Liv’s amnesia the book could get a tad repetitive at times. There’s also kind of a plot hole though it didn’t ruin the book for me. The atmosphere was perfectly tense at the exact right times. I never guessed who the culprit was other than questioning if it was Liv since so much evidence leads to her. In spite of suspecting her I did genuinely care for Liv and had my fingers crossed for her.

2. Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen (Adult Magical Realism) (287 pages) (5⭐️)
This is the story of the residents (both human and ghost) of a condo complex set on an eclectic island. It’s going to be difficult for another book to top this one as my favorite of 2023 – bold statement this early in the year, I know. I love found family stories and that’s exactly what this is. It’s very much a character and not plot driven story. Reading this was an emotional roller coaster but a good one.

3. Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (Adult Thriller) (355 pages) (4⭐️)
The titular Finlay is a struggling romantic suspense writer. Her conversation with her agent is overheard and she is accidentally hired to murder a problem husband. She and her children’s nanny Vero now must get away with murder. This was a reread for me in anticipation of the recently released third book. This is the kind of book that you’ll enjoy most if you’re not taking it too seriously. Finlay and Vero are the perfect duo, and it’s meant to be an over the top, wild ride. I enjoyed it more the second time around.

4. The Escape Room by Megan Goldin (Adult Thriller) (357 pages) (2⭐️)
A group of coworkers are trapped in an elevator where they are forced to participate in a deadly game. The big gimmick of this novel is the titular escape room and the setting of the elevator was undoubtedly the best part. That’s not saying much, though, as the rest of the novel was either irritating (the characters) or snooze inducing (descriptions of the mundane lives of the employees prior to the escape room). I know this author can do better as I liked Stay Awake (see above) so that makes this one even more of a letdown.

5. Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead by Elle Cosimano (Adult Thriller) (353 pages) (4⭐️)
This is the sequel to Finlay Donovan is Killing It and was also a reread for me. It follows Finlay and Vero as they try to save Finlay’s ex-husband Steven from a hired hit man. This book, like the first, is fast paced and wild with a need for a suspension of disbelief. As with the first book I also had more fun the second time reading it.

6. Finlay Donovan Jumps the Gun by Elle Cosimano (Adult Thriller) (294 pages) (4.5⭐️)
This is the third Finlay Donovan book. In this one Finlay and Vero attend a citizens’ police academy in order to discover the identity of a contract killer named EasyClean. There’s really not much I can say about this book that I haven’t already said about the previous books. This one is just as fast paced and just as fun. There were so many times I gasped and laughed out loud while reading.

7. The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser (Adult Romance) (431 pages) (3.75⭐️)
After being cheated on by her husband of almost two decades Thea moves to a small Scottish town and falls for a local bookstore owner, Edward. This is a languid, friends to lovers romance. Thea is a mature, kind protagonist and Edward is thoughtful and not as grumpy as he first presents himself. The couple are well suited and bring out the best in each other.

8. The Girl in Kellers Way by Megan Goldin (Adult Thriller) (318 pages) (3.75⭐️)
Detective Melanie Carter is investigating the murder of a woman whose body was found on Kellers Way. The key to her investigation may be a jogger named Julie West. This book has a number of similarities to Stay Awake including a police detective POV and an additional unreliable POV. Certain characters made my skin crawl and I as engrossed in the story. I just wish the ending was a little bit less predictable.

9. One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (YA Fantasy) (392 pages) (5⭐)
Elspeth Spindle lives in a world where magic comes in the form of magical cards. If all twelve of the cards are united the magical mist and dangerous fevers afflicting the kingdom will be lifted. Elspeth and her allies are trying to collect the cards. This was a top tier fantasy for me. The characters were very well written, the story was compelling, the setting was atmospheric, and the magic was fascinating.

10. The Prison Healer by Lynette Noni (YA Fantasy) (403) (2.75⭐)
Kiva is a prisoner at the dangerous and notorious Zalindov. When the rebel queen is captured she is very ill and Kiva must take her place in a series of trials to save her life. The characters in this novel were very strong and endearing. Yet the plot was so recycled. I can name at least half a dozen YA fantasy books I’ve read before that this book read like a mishmash of. Also, I had questions about the world building that were never answered. I won’t be continuing with the series.

STATS:
TOTAL BOOKS READ: 21
TOTAL PAGES READ (JAN-FEB): 7,898 AVG. BOOK LENGTH: 376.1 pages
AVG. STAR RATING (JAN-FEB): 85/105 (4.05)
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